Friday, May 28, 2010

Seeking Its Own Level

They say if you release pedigree dogs—great dane, bulldog, rat on a string, whatever—they will, in a few generation, revert to your bog-standard mutt; that animal most of us think of when someone says the word, “dog.”

It seems to be that way with the Internet, as well.

(Oh no, he’s going off on one of his, “I’ve been around this Internet thing a long time, so gather ‘round, kids, while grandpa tells you a story” binges again.)

In the beginning, before there were web pages, there were bulletin boards. In this text world (Yes, kids, text; you only saw writing on the screen, and there was no such thing as a mouse!) people logged on and sought out like-minded people to exchange porn, I mean, ideas with. This was the forerunner of the newsgroups, chat rooms and fourms.

Then web pages arrived. The early days saw some interesting evolutionary branches, but eventually an accepted pattern emerged: a main page with changing text on it and a collection of relatively static pages containing other information, such as About Me, Other Writing, Buy my Shit, etc.

Your average website

Then came blogs.

We HTMLers hated them. They were crass, vulgar and, well, really really easy, so one by one we sold our souls. But some of us, like myself, would not compromise. My main blog is graphed into my old web site so the static pages co-exist with the ever-changing main page. This took no small effort and is not for the faint of heart so most people contented themselves with a link to their real web site.

But so strong, so natural, is the pattern of main page linked to static pages that blogs have now evolved into, well, web sites. Wordpress has had this feature for some time, but if any of you lived through my ill-fated foray into the world of Wordpress with me you’ll know this was a painful time.

And nowBlogger—the slag of blog software—has jumped on the bandwagon. Pages are, once again, a standard feature, only now they are as easy to set up and maintain as a blog.

The new look of Blogs

I expect I’ll make full use of them, at least on my other blog (though this one might serve as a guinea pig). At least I see an innovation that doesn’t make me go into “Grumpy Old Man” mode, but only because this isn’t really an innovation, it’s a return to the way things were meant to be.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review - Take II

Now that I am a little further in the book I mentioned in the previous post, I thought I should provide an update.

Before I do that, however, I wish to remind you that the observation was about the book starting off slowly, whereas my boss said it grabbed him from the first page. I still hold to that; I was nearly a third of the way through the book before it really got a grip on me.

It came about slowly. As I mentioned, I was determined to stick with the book because I was confident it would pick up eventually. I doggedly read through chapter after chapter, then one day found myself wondering about the characters, and the plot and speculating on what might happen next.

Eventually, I began to look forward to my next opportunity to read on. And today I gave the book the highest possible compliment: I missed my bus stop because I was so engrossed in reading it.

This has happened only once before, when I looked up from my reading of “Postcards From No Man’s Land” by Aidan Chambers (I bet you thought I was going to say, “Postcards From Across the Pond”) to find I was at St. James Park and had to get off the Circle line and double back to Victoria Station.

So “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” now has my full endorsement. You could do worse than to go out and buy a copy.

But if you find that it starts off a little slow, stick with it; it will pick up eventually.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Girl With . . .

This isn’t so much a review as it is a cautionary tale about recommending books to your friends and colleges.

Because I don’t live under a rock at the bottom of the ocean, I have been aware of the series of books titled, “The Girl …” followed by a variety of phrases: “…With the Dragon Tattoo,” “…Who Played With Fire,” “…Who Kicked the Badger,” “…Who Swam with Dolphins,” “…Who Played Canasta on Saturday Nights With a Bunch of Her Old College Friends.” Okay, I made some of those up, but I anticipated seeing them in the near future if the speed with which the first three books came out was any indication.

Despite their wild popularity, I avoided them for this reason: they had appeared nearly simultaneously and I must (no, I really, really must) read books in the order that they were written. When I discovered Minette Walters and Meg Gardiner, I had to look on their web pages to find out what order their books were written in so I could start with the first and move forward. When I found myself reading a Val McDermid book out of sequence, I immediately put the book aside, bought and read the previous one and then went back to the one I had started with.

But “The Girl…” series was like the sequels to “The Matrix,” all out at once and stepping over each other. I wasn’t having it. So strong was my fear of getting them out of order that I didn’t even get close enough to them to notice they are clearly marked as volumes 1 to 3, but that’s beside the point. The point is I had no intention of reading them, not until my boss started effusing about them, that is.

My boss is a calm, steady and almost irritatingly unflappable person. He never swears, or shouts at his PC, or pound on the keyboard, and he never raises an eyebrow when I do. He is composed; never angry, never excited, simply in a chronic state of Zen. So when he began to unabashedly gush over this book he was reading, I paid attention, especially when he went on to gush several days in a row. It was marvellous, it gripped him from the first page and just never let go, an incredible read. Praise like this was amazing coming from him (he’d read my book, after all, and had hardly said a thing) so I proposed to buy the book, but only after I confirmed, from two independent sources, which was the first in the series.

I has not gone well.

As is my habit, before settling into the story, I read all the reviews and the “about the author” section, where I learned why, after popping up from obscurity with three obscenely profitable novels, there have been no follow-up books from the author, Stieg Larsson: the poor man is dead.

Seems he handed over the manuscripts to his agent, and then unexpectedly checked into the big slush pile in the sky. As a writer who is looking forward to, not only being published, but basking in the glow of the adulation and money that will surely follow that happy event, news of Mr. Larsson’s inconvenient demise depressed me beyond words.

It was some time before I felt mentally fit enough to tackle the story. At which time I found out it was originally written in Swedish and translated into English. Please don’t think I have anything against translations—I don’t think I lost anything by reading the first three Harry Potter books in American instead of in their original British English (yes, they actually do translate British books into American English)—but I am always vaguely uneasy with the text of a translation, as I can never truly get to grips with the style of the author; was it a good book that was badly translated, or a rubbish book that was brilliantly translated. To my mind, a translated book tells me more about the translator than the author.

Despite these setbacks, I began to read. I am three chapters in and I can sum up my opinion of the book in two words: BORE-RING!

Not only has no one died yet, I have learned more about industrial finance in post Soviet Era Eastern Europe than I even wanted to. And having the information dump stuffed into an animated conversation between two friends drinking on a boat did nothing to make it any more scintillating than it sounds. I cannot imagine this book gripping anyone on the first page unless they are a closet accountant.

I am, however, not giving up; I am convinced the book will get better. All those people raving about it can’t all be wrong and, sooner or later, I hope the story will begin to grip me as it has obviously gripped so many others.

I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Package From America

When I arrived home from work today, this was sitting on my door step:

I’d been waiting for it since last month, it having made a rather circuitous route to my home. First, I’d spent several days tracking it down on the Internet. Then, because about an eighth of the world doesn’t know the other seven eights exist, I had to have it shipped to my son in the US so he could send it on to me.

And this is what I was waiting so expectantly for:

Yes, they’re paper pads.

But not just any paper pads, these are number 30-721 Ampad memo books. Aren’t they beauties?

I’ve been using them for as long as I can remember. They have 50 lined sheets and are small enough to fit neatly in a shirt pocket or the back pocket of my jeans. For size and convenience, I have never found anything to rival them. I call them my Perfect Paper Pocket Pads.

Back in the States, I could buy them at Wal Mart, and whenever I found them I always bought out the lot. When I came to the UK, I brought enough over with me last, well, about eight years. And so, eight years later, I began my Internet search, only to discover Ampad no longer makes them. The Ampad representative, however, was able to put me onto the company that had bought out their stock.

So now I’m flush with PPP Pads, just as I found another (I’m such a paper pad slut).

This new pad won’t take the place of my cherished PPP Pads; it isn’t like I’ve found a new love that I’m abandoning a long-time partner for. It’s more like a mistress, one I acquired by accident.

This is how it happened: Last weekend, I was short-sighted enough to leave the flat with nothing to write on. I’m sure you’ve been there, and know the gnawing panic that comes from being unable to jot notes on the run. So I slipped into the local book shop, grabbed a pad from the display, paid and left.

It wasn’t until later that I began to realize how much I enjoyed taking notes with it. I usually hate to write in longhand, but here I was writing outlines, plot sketches and even short articles. The book was small but held ample, sturdy pages that begged to be written on. In the back was a pocket for holding odds and ends, a serial number on a sticker and a leaflet telling the history of the pad.

It was a Moleskine product, and the story behind the notebook was every bit as inspiring as the price was breathtaking. Having come to understand that they are considered the fillet mignon (with a side of broiled potatoes and French-cut green bean) of notebooks, I belatedly checked the receipt; it had cost ten quid. (About $15)

I didn’t let that put me off, I just considered it a nice gift to myself.

So now I carry two notebooks; my PPP Pad for writing messages and organizing my ToDo lists, and my Moleskine notebook, for jotting ideas and letting my imagination wander into places where a word processor can’t fit. They seem to work together well. But I haven’t introduced them yet; I’m not sure how well they would get along.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

One Of The Girls

I had a different post ready to go up, but I was diverted by some arresting statistics. This worked out nicely because I was going to post a secondary item in the sidebar but that item lends credence to what these statistics pointed out so, thanks to being so alert (or easily distracted, take your pick), I can post now everything in a single article, the premise of which is:

Over the course of my life, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the company of women.

I don't mean to say I am a modern incarnation of Don Juan, wooing women on two continents (having recently and successfully stormed Europe). No, I mean I just always seem to be around women, through no fault (or complaint, for that matter) of my own.

As a young lad, I had an older sister, a doting mother and an absent father. Dad was around—he often stopped in between shifts at the mill and sessions at the bar—but he didn't leave much of an impression. Mostly it was me, mom, my sister and about 6,000 cows.

I was, however, a Boy Scout, so I managed to do my share of male bonding during my teenage years, but just as it looked as if I was on my way toward a wall-balanced life, I joined a charismatic Christian cult. While I did make some male friends there, these organisations tend to draw more females than males, but not the sort who would do you any good, if you get my meaning.

After checking back into hotel reality, I got a job as a keypunch operator. To say this field has a disproportionate number of women would be like saying the ocean is damp; I was the only male in the entire department.

When my children were growing up, I was working nights while my wife worked days, so me and the other moms all got together at day care and, later, for school meetings and such.

As a born-again bachelor, I took up scuba diving, a truly manly sport. But then, ignoring the advice of a good friend (a woman, I might add) I went scuba diving in the Caribbean and, as it had for her, the experience spoiled me. I could no longer face the dark, cold lakes of the Adirondacks, so I sold my gear and became an Irish dancer. I mean, what choice did I have?

I was actually surprised by the predominance of women there, what with Michael Flatley being all the rage, but there was only one other man in the entire class.

So I went to Ireland, met my current wife and settled in Britain. And started a blog. Or three. And, without meaning to, I began to acquire followers. But is what I discovered about them while doing routine blog maintenance this afternoon:

Of my followers, 82.2784810126582% on my Postcards blog, 91.4285714285714% on the Pond Parleys blog and 88.4615384615385% on my writing blog are women. Now, this isn't a complaint, simply an observation, but my intent was to promote myself as an expatriate writer a la Bill Bryson and, instead, I seem to have become an honorary member of the mummy-blogging circuit

So what's a guy to do when he find himself, once again, surrounded by women? Go out and do something that puts him in contact with other people, of course. And that's what I'm going to do.

I have volunteered to assist my wife in her latest endeavour—a sponsored walk. She's doing the walking; I'm just helping out by being a steward. And you can help out by sponsoring her.

Click this link: to donate money toward the cause. The walk is to raise funds for St. Catherine's Hospice, a worthy charity. It's only a half-marathon, and they are only walking, but they are doing it between midnight and six in the morning, so she deserves a bit of support.

Oh, and did I mention this is the Midnight Walk for Women? Twelve hundred women, two thousand flashlights (torches), eighteen hundred bottles of water and me. I expect there will be a few more men there, but here I go again.

Don't worry; I'll bring my camera. Updates to follow.

And thank you for your support.