COMPUTERS, ICE, WINTER, WHATEVER

Yesterday Garry’s computer up and died. It apparently didn’t die of not having a battery because (are you ready?) — it doesn’t have a battery. It’s got some other weird thing in it. On the positive side, my previously hot computer is still really hot. Aside from having a rather full hard drive left, it is a computer worth fixing. Forever. That is the point of buying a really good computer. If you need to fix it, you can. Meanwhile, it’ll do fine on Windows 7 for at least the next few years.

Hands in motion

Hands in motion

I was doing okay, all thing considered … until my Kindle died. It was one thing over the line. I could cope without my second computer. I wasn’t happy, but I was okay. Garry needed a computer? I had one.

But when the Kindle stopped working, I totally, utterly, lost it. Not that too. It turned out for reasons someone knows (but I don’t), my Kindle was no longer listed on Amazon. None of my audiobooks were listed. There are other Kindles there too, but for some reason, this “main” one seems to be the only one that really counts.

Three hours later, having given up on every possible other thing, we had to de-register, then re-register the Kindle. Then wait while 1,500 audio and regular books … maybe more like 2000 … loaded. That’s a lot of books. A lot of audiobooks. I didn’t even bother to deal with the email. Too much like work.

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Meanwhile, it tuns out, our guy can fix Garry’s computer. For the $100, it’s cheaper than anything I could buy. Whatever that thing which isn’t a battery is, it’s being replaced. I will use it and let Garry use “the much better one.” I need one on which I can write. A keyboard and a screen. This will be fine … and amusingly, it will be my computer again because it was my computer, then it wasn’t. Now, mine. Again. They come, they go.

I did totally lose it last night. To lose Garry’s computer and then the Kindle in one single day was one thing over the line for me. It’s weird. All kinds of other stuff can happen to me, but losing a computer? That’s where the buck stops. Take away everything, but leave me the WiFi, router, modem … and a computer.

Meanwhile, my granddaughter came over, stayed the night. Leaving her car at the bottom of the driveway. Who leaves their car at the bottom of a long, sloping driveway in the winter? Really? She got it out eventually. We are getting rain for a few hours and Garry’s going to “hit the grocery” while he can. By nightfall, it will be freezing. Everything will turn to ice. Even the computer guy knew not to put his car at the bottom of the driveway. Sheesh.

So, everything will work out. One way or the other. As long as nothing else breaks down.

ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and allow yourself to be surprised.

I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

Heinlein All You Zombies

In a strange infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears.

During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.

Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.

Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.

The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.

I found this amazing diagram on the Heinlein Society’s web page. They have lots of other cool stuff too and if you’re a fan, take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

all-you-zombies-heinlein-time-twisterThe circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.

Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have been forgotten by many people, but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines — newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.

I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the ultimate paradox where the past, present and future come together.

All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.

CRITICS

CRITICIZE | THE DAILY POST


Terrible reviews. Everyone hated it. One of our favorites.

Terrible reviews. Everyone hated it. One of our favorites.

I almost never read the “professional” critics these days.  By professional critics, I mean those men and women who are paid to review entertainment: television, movies, and books. Reviews by “the pros” never seem to have anything to do with me. I don’t know from what planet these folks are coming, but it isn’t my part of the galaxy.

Do they see the same movies? Read the same books? Watch the same TV shows? Almost all my favorite moves were panned by critics, though many have since achieved “classic” status. Many favorite books were ignored by critics but have ultimately done pretty well, if they had a publisher who believed in them.

Got mediocre or bad reviews -- we loved it

Got mediocre or lousy reviews — we loved it

It’s easy to slam something for its imperfections. It’s harder to find the good and put the less good into perspective. I have wondered why critics are so negative so much of the time. Is is laziness? Are they are just taking the cheap and fast way out? Are they jaded? Do they get paid more for bashing than praising? Are they completely out of touch with the idea that entertainment should be “fun” — and that entertaining fun is a legitimate “good thing” — not to mention that it’s the stuff most of us want from TV, books, and movies?

Serenity got tepid or worse reviews. Love it. Of course.

Serenity got tepid or worse reviews. Love it. Of course.

So here’s how it works. I read the review. If the critic totally hates it, I might love it or at least, enjoy it. If they love it, I might enjoy it, but probably won’t. If the words “poignant,” “sensitive,” “heart-rending,” or “artistic” appear up in the review, I’ll probably run screaming from the room.

And then, there are the movies and TV shows about which I have to ask: “Did they actually see this show/read this book — or did they write the review based on a summary provided by the publisher/producer/publicist?” I can’t help but wonder.

SHARING MY WORLD – ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

Share Your World – February 6, 2017


Regarding your fridge, is it organized or a mess inside?

It is an organized mess.

Do you prefer your food separated or mixed together?

Separated. I like to taste each thing as itself. Otherwise, I’d just throw it all in one big pan and cook it together.

Do you prefer reading coffee table books (picture), biographies, fiction, non-fiction, educational?

I mostly listen to audiobooks these days, but regardless of form, speculative science fiction and fantasy is my top genre with detectives and mysteries running a tight second and history running a very close third. I tend to read in waves. When I find a new author, I read everything he or she wrote, sequentially if possible and sometimes, twice. Favorite authors (in no particular author) include Gretchen Archer, Kim Harrison, Ben Aaronovitch, Mike Carey, Jim Butcher, Barbara Tuchman, Jodi Taylor, Connie Willis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough, James Lee Burke, Jasper FForde, and Anne Golan. I’m forgetting dozens more because I haven’t had nearly enough coffee.

I have a particular love for anything funny, witty, involving time travel, and the undead (except zombies … I’m really not into zombies). I do not like dystopian future stuff because it depresses me. Reality is entirely dystopian enough. I do not need to feed the beast.

I also love a good thriller and historical fiction, as long as it isn’t too sappy. My love of history started long years ago with Thomas Costain’s books and of course, the brilliant and oft-overlooked Angelique series. Fiction got me hunting real history and taught me that no matter what people make up, the stuff that really happened is more bizarre. You can’t make that stuff up.

Close your eyes. Listen to your body. What part of your body is seeking attention? What is it telling you?

My right shoulder, the one with the bad rotator cuff, is trying to kill me. I wanted to get it repaired years ago, but was told (and I think I should have gotten another opinion on this) that it was beyond repair. Usually, if I’m careful, it doesn’t bother me. The problem is that I am short and that shoulder really hates when I raise my arms to get something from a cabinet … all of which are above me because I am really SHORT. The stretch and lift thing is lethal. I have reached a few times too many recently. Now, as I sit here with the heating pad on my back, I realize I am going to have to give it a rest. If I don’t, it will keep getting worse until I can’t do anything at all.

ADJ150-RodeoGarMarHorseback

This is another reminder of the days when I rode horses and fell off a few. I yanked that right shoulder out of joint a couple of times. Eventually, it began popping out of the socket whenever I used the arm fully extended. I had to tuck the arm in and keep the elbow bent and below shoulder level. I didn’t count on shrinking as I got older and having every cabinet above my head.

My shoulder is telling me to stop, just stop. Give it a rest. This is extremely inconvenient because it’s my right shoulder, which is attached to my right arm, which is further attached to my right hand. Guess what? I’m a rightie.

Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 

Grateful to the Pats for winning the Superbowl.

Shamelessness, thy name is sports fan. For nearly a hundred years, no team in New England won anything. Except the Celtics (basketball, for the sports-challenged) who had an incredible run from the late 1950s through the 1960s during which period they were the best (and dominant) team in the sport.

Otherwise, it was a long, barren time for New England fans. A pathetic and seemingly endless run of embarrassments, near misses, and coulda, shoulda, woulda. Then the world turned the corner into the 21st century. The Sox got new owners. In 2004, they won their first World Series since 1918. They won again 2007, and 2013.

Meanwhile, the Pats got Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Brady wasn’t supposed to be the “real” quarterback. He was filling in for Drew Bledsoe, who was injured. Talk about Serendipity.

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The rest, as they say, is history. This year’s Superbowl was, even as spectacular sporting events go, spectacular. If you aren’t a sports fan or are a hardcore “I hate the Patriots” sore-loser, too bad. Because that come-from-behind victory in the first-ever overtime in Superbowl history was amazing. The Pats were toast. They couldn’t win. Down by 25. Then, magically, the game was tied with just 57 seconds left on the clock.

Overtime! They won. With a politically challenged, 39-year-old quarterback, they won. Roger Goodell got a well-deserved and totally earned booing. The Patriots made all kinds of history. Falcon’s fans sat in their living rooms stunned, wondering what hit them. Perk up Falcons and fans. You’re a great young team. Time is on your side.

It was a very good night for New England and a bright spot in what has got to be the most depressing year I can remember.

As for next week? I can just hope it isn’t too awful.

TIME TRAVEL, PARALLEL UNIVERSES & THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT – ELLIN CURLEY

I am fascinated with the concepts of time travel, parallel universes and the Butterfly Effect. Fortunately for me, there are several TV shows today that deal with these things. One is Timeless and another is The Flash. The Flash is a Marvel comic based series in which the hero can run so fast that he can bend time. He can move both forward and backwards in time. Timeless follows a government team of time travelers who have to keep going back in time to prevent the ‘bad guy’ from messing with major past events and drastically changing the timeline.

In both of these shows, each trip back in time results in an altered present. In each, a seemingly random individual who is important to one of the main characters, is either dead in the present or was never born and no longer exists in the present timeline.

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This brings up the Butterfly Effect, a theory popular with time travel enthusiasts. The theory, mostly used in science, states that a small change can result in a large, unrelated change down the road. In everyday life, this means that unimportant decisions, like whether to go out to dinner or eat in, can lead to very different ‘storylines’ in your life.

There is both a movie and a play that depicts the parallel universes created by a minor life decision. The movie is “Sliding Doors” from 1998 and stars Gwyneth Paltrow. It tracks the different careers and love lives that the heroine would have if she a) catches a particular subway train or b) misses the train. For example, if she catches the train, she also gets home in time to catch her boyfriend in bed with another woman. If she misses the train, she also misses this tryst. Her life takes very different paths depending on that fluke of timing.

butterfly-effect-cartoon

The play was a musical called “If/Then”, starring Idina Menzel. The show follows the heroine’s parallel lives if she either chooses to go to lunch with friend ‘A’ or if she chooses to go to a play with friend ‘B’ instead.

Interestingly, in both the movie and the play, the heroine ends up with the same ‘love of her life’, just at different times in her life. Her career paths diverge but I think most people like to believe that some people are ‘destined’ to be together. The Jewish concept of ‘Beshert’ says that every soul is a half soul and that there is another person in the world who is their perfect ‘other half’. So in time travel shows, many aspects of life are allowed to be affected by chance. But we don’t seem to want to accept that chance can also change the big things in life, like true love.

TimeTravelSome time travel writers have a different theory. They talk about the fact that the past ‘resists’ change. Rather than believing in the Butterfly Effect as it relates to time travel, many believe that at least the major events in history are more predestined and less susceptible to change. It might seem easy to keep a major past event from happening, especially if small changes in the timeline can eventually result in big ones. But time writers feel that events, like WWI, the assassination of JFK, or the sinking of the Titanic, will find a way to take place no matter how hard you try to prevent it. You might want to read Stephen King’s brilliant book “11/22/63” about attempting to go back in time to prevent the JFK assassination. It was also made into a mini series, but the book is much better.
I guess it is easier to accept the idea that relatively small things, like the details of an individual’s life, are changeable and not ‘meant to be’. Maybe this is because on a small scale, cause and effect is more linear and knowable. On the other hand, historians are still arguing about the multiple and interrelated causes of the Civil War.

delorean time machineMy grandfather was hit by a truck and killed when he stepped off a curb too soon at the age of 88. I used to obsess about what led him to that exact spot at that exact time. I used to imagine the tiny things he could have done differently that would have gotten him to that spot even a second earlier or later.

For about a year after that, I would imagine each time I reached a curb, that it could be my last moment on earth — if the stars were so aligned. Maybe this is the root of my love for some of these theories.

THE ANNUAL GEORGE R. STEWART-JIMMY STEWART CHRISTMAST POST

Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post


If It’s a Wonderful Life can be a tradition at Christmas, why not this post from a year ago about the connections between that great film and George R. Stewart?  So here it is, with only minor editing to bring it up to date.

But it has a bonus at the end – a radio interview with one of the stars, who was – of course – doing charitable work in the Central Coast area when Tom Wilmer of local PBS station KCBX found him:

It’s A Wonderful Story


This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 54th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and, of course,  It’s a Wonderful Life.

Here in Arroyo Grande, the local theater,  owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.  …To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost.  Now we watch movies on TV, but usually alone, and always less intently – a kind of digital sampling of the films.  Like a CD, we miss much when we do that.  But in the theater watching Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street  we missed nothing.  And – how long since you’ve experienced this? – the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus.  It was a fine traditional twentieth century American Christmas experience.

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For most of the people I know, It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans should know about the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart was raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson,  planned to be a teacher, and even helped found a school nearby (which would become the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family; so he went into the mercantile business.  He  had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they  shared only one possible distant relative.  And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents went to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways.  GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California.  Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California.  GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed.  Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love.   GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself.  Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions.  Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Their paths apparently never crossed.  GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, when he was 12.  That was the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.  Since the film we now consider a classic failed in its initial run, it is unlikely GRS would have seen it even if he did go to the movies.

Yet, in this Christmas season, we should remember there is one thing they shared; and thanks to the film, we share it with them:  The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century.  Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place.  For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Please follow the rest of the story at: The Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post

DISCOVERING SOMETHING ELSE – SERENDIPITY IN ACTION

Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was drawn entirely from the media. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars. Or even had a talking role.

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But extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice.

Otherwise, we waited. And waited. Then waited some more. While we waited, we had to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom — without permission. Permission was from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.

It was confusing, tiring, and dull. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment. Your presence or absence was (apparently) life or death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.

It was mid-November. Night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers and I was cold. My feet hurt. Not to mention my back. I needed to pee. I was bored.

old favorite books

The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would exceed 250 takes of this scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case.

I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read. That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.

I sidled over.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”

She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.

I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.”

Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.

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Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one.

Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but better and faster. And bigger, lighter, and takes (and sends) pictures.

I can’t imagine life without my Kindle. I don’t want to. I’ve got hundreds of books, audiobooks, music, everything on it. It goes with me everywhere.

A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand. And where was the light?

This may sound like no big deal. Just another toy, one more electronic gadget. But it isn’t. It was a game changer. Finally, I could travel with a whole library of books. Audio and print. I would never again run out of reading material, no matter where I was in the world.

Kindle and iPad

I’ve gone through four or five iterations of the Kindle experience since. By now, all my friends have them. Many of us have several, in different sizes and styles. I can’t imagine reading without them.

And finally, after my most recent upgrade to the next to the latest version of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ super tablet, I gave my iPad to my granddaughter (hers was pretty beat up and mine has 64 gigs rather than 32, like hers). After I got the newest (for me, but there is an even newer version available and probably will be yet another generation shortly), I had no further interest in the iPad which had always annoyed me anyway.

So everyone is happy. Skyping and reading and listening and watching … all because I met a lady when I was briefly (very briefly) a movie extra in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Watson, the game is on!