Month: August 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

Reader’s Notebook, August 2010, Part 1

August was a busy month, reading-wise. I threw a wrinkle in my reading, as well, so the month gets two Reader’s Notebook posts. In Part 1, I discuss why I read what I read. Part 2 will cover the books themselves.

I’ve begun running into the big downside of the Kindle: the expense. I had been rolling through books so quickly that I was buying more than one a week. Thus, I decided to spend the month exclusively reading either free or low priced books.

I had scanned the free book section on Amazon many times before, but the offerings seemed to fall into four categories:

  • Science Fiction. I can handle good sci-fi, but there is the fear that free sci-fi books will suck.
  • Christian fiction. No offense to my more religious friends, but not my bag at all.
  • Romance. Also not my bag.
  • Classics. While there are a lot of old classics that are out of copyright and available for free, I have to be in the right mood to tackle these.

But after committing to a month of low cost reading, I dug deeper and found a number of interesting reads to keep me occupied. In fact, I still have several queued up that I bought for less than $3 that I’ll sprinkle in-between my $10 reads.

I’ll sum up the month as a qualified success. I read a couple books that were brutally bad. I read a couple that were excellent. The rest were all solid. I also learned you have to be careful with Amazon user ratings of these cheaper books. One especially bad book received great user reviews. After finishing the book, I went back and reread the reviews to see if I had missed something. It was only then that I noticed most of the reviews were clearly by people who knew the author and were trying to pump up the book’s average rating. Oh well. I spent less than $1 on that one, so I can’t complain too much.

Oh, and I knocked out seven books this month. That’s pretty solid.

I’ll spend most of my time reading standard priced volumes, it’s nice to have the option to mix in some cheaper books without sacrificing too much in quality.

Something To Get Excited About

There’s something pretty cool going on just a couple hours from my house. The Cincinnati Reds have survived the summer and are poised to enter baseball’s final month with a comfortable lead in the National League Central.

Some writers picked the Reds as a team with the potential to surprise last spring. But after they stumbled out of the gate, it looked like another long summer for Reds fans. The Cardinals, as expected, were going to run away with the division and Reds fans could only hope that their young arms would get some experience and be ready for a run in 2011.

Then April turned to May, the Reds righted the ship, the Cardinals cooled off, and by June the Reds were in first place. Despite a contentious series in Cincinnati last month, which featured a bench-clearing brawl and a Cardinals sweep, the Reds have gotten hot, the Cards continue to scuffle, and suddenly the Reds’ lead is up to five games.

I’ve written here before that it’s tough for me to jump on the bandwagon of any National League team. Growing up an American League fan in the days when the NL won just about every All-Star game made it tough to like the senior circuit. My preference for the AL style of play – more offense, the DH, fewer silly late innings moves – added to that reluctance. Other than when the Yankees make the World Series, and I automatically root for the NL team, I still tend to default to the AL.

The Reds are, technically, Indy’s major league team. I would imagine there are more Cubs fans here, plenty of White Sox and Cardinals fans, and healthy swaths of Yankees and Red Sox fans. However the Reds are the team whose games we see on our local FSN affiliate and the easiest team to hear on the radio.1 I’ve watched my share of Reds games since we moved to Indy, but as they’ve either been not very good or out-of-the-race by August, it’s never been more than a handful each season.

As they’ve stuck in the race this year, though, I find myself watching more of their games. On nights when I want to listen to a game, it’s been the Reds I pull up on the iPhone instead of the Royals. That says something about how enjoyable they are to watch play, as the Reds broadcasting teams are awful.

Anyway, I won’t say I’m becoming an NL fan or that I’m even officially on the Reds’ bandwagon. It has been fun, though, to watch some games that matter for a quasi-local team. I have several friends here who are big, lifetime Reds fans and it adds to my enjoyment to see them getting excited about their team for the first time in years. It gives me hope that someday that might happen for the Royals again.

Of course, now that I’ve outed myself as following the Reds, I’m sure they’ll go into the tank. Blame me when it happens. Sorry, Reds fans.


  1. The Cubs are on local radio, as well, but on a much lower powered station than the Reds. 

On Having Less

During my summer blog redesign project, I added a number of design websites – both general design and web-specific – to my daily reading list. Through them, I’ve learned more about what I’ll call the Cult of Minimalism.1 Minimalist web design puts an emphasis on strong, simple design elements that easily convey a site’s message to the reader. That means fewer widgets and graphic embellishments in favor of a sparse, but carefully designed, look.

That aesthetic has been my goal in my blog redesign. The interesting aspect of Minimalism is that it takes as much effort to make something simple and beautiful, while avoiding being boring, as it does to pile on element after element.

The Cult is about far more than design, though. Many people live their lives according to minimalist principles. They pare down their possessions to only what they need each day and carefully consider each purchase before adding something.

The two articles below highlight this minimalist take on what we own. While I think the hyper-minimalists go a bit far in their efforts, two things about their lifestyle appeal to me. Their embrace of digital living, for starters.

One of the things I love most about computers is how powerful they have become in our lifetimes. Today a computer isn’t about just creating spreadsheets and business letters or playing games. They’ve become our primary communications devices and where we store much of our lives, making data that was once stationary endlessly portable. Not everything can be digitized, but the idea of having as much of your life as possible on a few hard drives and always having it handy appeals to me. We all kind of do that, but to go all in and not have a desk full of papers, bookshelves full of reading material, and photo albums or CDs lying around has a certain allure to me.

Second, reducing your possessions and thinking more about your purchases is something we can all do better at. I find it’s way too easy to click the Purchase button on a website, or throw in an extra item or two at Costco or Target without really thinking about whether I need them or not. The digital age has made it easier to replace Need with Want when we are shopping, whether online or in person. Each time I clean out my office closet or the attic or go through my clothes at the end of a season, I think that I should be wiser about replacing the times that I’m throwing out or giving away. And yet I keep buying shit. A lot of shit.

I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation – cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts will be a fact,” said Mr Sutton.

Another unintended philosophical nugget of the project was to understand that many things are worth less monetarily than you think. Some of your possessions might even have a negative value.

The final article explores the opposite extreme: never getting rid of anything. These stories – the ones about people with homes that are literally full of junk – always fascinate me. It’s one thing to have all of your storage spaces crammed full of stuff. It’s another to let it take over your living space completely. These people always feel like they should be at the center of a mystery novel, because they clearly have some interesting stories to tell.

“It’s little by little,” he said, stumbling to explain his compulsion. “If I don’t need it now, I’m going to need it later.


  1. Cult is a strong word, but that seems to be the standard naming convention these days for any movement that is small but has an extremely devoted following. 

Bringing The Old To The New

Scene: A father and his three daughters are cruising in the family Swagger Wagon. Father is flipping through radio stations and passes the local retro station, which is playing DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night.”

M: “Oooh, dad, turn it back.”

Dad: “OK. You like this song?”

M: “Yes! Is it the same man who sings the werewolf song?”

D: Laughing “No, that’s Michael Jackson. This man sounds like him a little, though. His name is El DeBarge.”

M: “What???”

D: “El DeBarge. It’s kind of a silly name, isn’t it?”

M: “Yes. Dad, is it old music?”

D: “Yes, I was 13 or 14 when this song was out.”

M: “Oh, ok. So it is old. I like that man’s voice.”

C: “Hey, that’s not a man singing!”

D: “Yes it is, C. He just sounds kind of like a woman, doesn’t he?”

C: “That’s a man singing?!?!”

D: “Yes, everyone’s voice is different and some men sing a little like woman.”

C: “That’s not a girl singing?”

D: “No.”

C: “Are you sure, dad?”

Week One

We survived week one of school. M. did fantastic, for the most part. We had a few challenges with afternoon pickup once she began full days, but those were all parental errors and we had smoothed them out by Friday. S. was off last week, so hopefully things continue as smoothly this week when I’m on my own.

M. seemed to have a great time each day. She was always happy and excited about what she had done that day when we picked her up. By Friday she had a BFF and was planning a play date with her. We’ll see if how soon she has a new BFF. Also, when she hopped into the van Friday, she screamed that she had lost a tooth. We didn’t even know it was loose, but tooth #5 popped out during recess. Quite a cap to her first week.

Last week was also the first week of high school football here in Indiana. I was originally scheduled to cover a game, but as one of our sister papers was already covering it, my editor chose to pick up their story rather than send me. I was pumped for the season to begin, so was a little disappointed to not get out for week one. I am scheduled to cover what should be an excellent game this week, though. I get to see a solid 5A team play the #1 3A team in the state. This will be the first game I’ve been assigned to that isn’t a blowout, at least on paper. I’m not holding my breath, though.

Redshirting

It’s been interesting to see all the first day of school pics on Facebook over the past couple weeks. What’s struck me most is the distribution of kids M.’s age. Many are starting kindergarten this fall. Others are, like her, going through kindergarten for the second time. A smaller group is going on to the first grade.

This article doesn’t completely fit what we did but it still struck close to home. I don’t know that we agonized over our decision. We did put a lot of thought into it. But repeating kindergarten seemed like the best decision for M.’s happiness and comfortable development. It also seemed like what most parents we know around here with kids similarly aged were doing. In fact, we think every kid that was in her kindergarten class last year is repeating this year.

I occasionally have some qualms about our decision. I’m mostly worried about her being bored by repeating material from last year. It’s my hope being in a different environment with a different curriculum and a longer day will offer her enough challenges that the areas in which she is proficient, reading for instance, don’t become problematic as the class slows to bring along her classmates.

The two big takeaways, though, are: teaching is tough, especially at the younger ages where age differences of 18 months can make a huge difference in development. We ask a lot of our teachers. Second, it’s easy to become paralyzed as a parent. You can second-guess yourself endlessly about every decision you make concerning your kids. My best advice: do lots of research, ask lots of questions of other parents, then trust in what you believe to be the best path.

<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/fashion/22Cultural.html?pagewanted=1&amp;_r=1&amp;partner=rss&amp;emc=rss”>Cultural Studies – The Littlest Redshirts – Postponing Kindergarten</a>

What once seemed like an aberration — something that sparked fierce dinner party debates — has come to seem like the norm. But that doesn’t make it any easier for parents.

Going Through The Bones

I’ve been doing some closet and attic cleaning this week. Digging through old boxes of stuff, looking for things that can/need to be thrown away, or items that can be sent to my sister-in-law for her up-coming garage sale.

I dug through a huge pile of Far Side books that I’ll be flipping through in the next few weeks. Those should be fun. Was there a surer Christmas gift in the late 80s through mid 90s than Far Side collections?

I found an old scrapbook, mostly from the fall of 1980 and that year’s playoffs and World Series. But a bunch of other random items have been stuffed into it over the years. I found a program from my third grade play. The roster from my fourth grade football team. The year-end stats from my seventh grade baseball team. All kinds of certificates of achievement for various school activities. The funny thing about the rosters and programs is that I circled my name in all of them. It was especially amusing in the play program. I had the big part of Davy Crockett, so my name appeared twice. I circled it both times.

Why the hell was I circling my own name in elementary school lists? In case someone broke into my room, dug through my box of scraps, and wanted to know who all this belonged to? In case of amnesia or old age and I needed a reminder of my identity? Or just the early signs of my gigantic ego?

Among the boxes of books that will be going to the garage sale will be a large collection of Hardy Boys books. I guess I hung onto them all these years in case I had a son. I doubt the girls will be very interested in boys high school mystery stories from the 1950s. Thanks to Happy Days I had some idea of 50s culture when I was reading the books in third and fourth grades. I knew what a jalopy was, for example. Do kids today have any understanding of the context of the stories, or is it almost like reading Chaucer, where it was kind of English but nothing like what we speak?

It was also funny to see the covers of the later books in the series. Mirroring the TV show of the late 70s, Frank and Joe had feathered hair and preppy clothes on. Sadly, it looks like they finally killed the series five years ago, although the series has been rebooted to modernize them.

Finally, the funniest thing I found was in an old Star Wars comic book. I was flipping through it, as it was probably one of the first comic books I ever owned, and came across an ad for Grit magazine. Apparently little seven-year-old me wanted to get a subscription, because I had filled in the order blank. In the space labelled “Male or Female?” I filled in “Boy”. I’m not sure if I didn’t know what those words meant, yet, or if I thought you weren’t a male until you’re a man.

More George Lucas Slamming

Early George Lucas collaborator Gary Kurtz finally talks about why he parted ways with Lucas after The Empire Strikes Back.

<a href=”http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/herocomplex/2010/08/star-wars-was-born-a-long-time-ago-but-not-all-that-far-far-away-in-1972-filmmakers-george-lucas-and-gary-kurtz-wer.html”>Did ‘Star Wars’ become a toy story?</a>

“I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz said. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.”

 

First Day

And she’s off!

M. started kindergarten today at the school we plan for her to attend for the next nine years.1 She was up early and excited to get her uniform on and get out the door.

We walked her to her class, put her things in her cubby, and helped her find her seat. She sat and started coloring and we drifted away to the parent welcome coffee in the cafeteria. She knows two boys in her class, one from her preschool and the other is a family friend, so she’s not flying blind.

The school had an ice cream social last week, where we got to meet the teacher and her assistant and get a feel for the policies and expectations in the class. Her teacher is young but seems to have her stuff together. She was highly recommended by other friends who have been through the school.

Today and Tuesday are half days; normally M. will be in school from 8:00-3:00. When we picked her up at noon, she was full of things to tell us. They had chocolate milk at lunch! They got to go outside two times! They read a book she had read two years ago in her fours class! It seemed like the day went well.

When we got home, she rushed in to change her clothes then ran out to tell Grace, the five-year-old next door, all about it.

“My new school is the greatest!”
“You have to walk to the playground but once you get to the black concrete, you can run as fast as you want!”
“I’m best friends with the two Graces in my class!”
And on and on and on.

Not a bad start. Although she did question why she had to wear a uniform to school on the way home. I guess the honeymoon there is already over.


  1. A reminder that M. is repeating kindergarten this year despite attending last year at her old pre-k. Her late birthday was the biggest factor in our decision. She’s ready for first grade in many ways, reading being the biggest, but could use an extra year of growing up in other areas. She seems cool with the idea, so we’re not sweating it. 

I Trust This Won’t Affect My Grade

<p>I have a longer Required Reading post in the works, but this link deserves its own entry.</p>

<p><a href=”http://chronicle.com/article/Professors-Hot-at-Their-Own/123822/”>Professors: Hot at Their Own Risk</a> examines the challenges that attractive academics face.</p><br />

<p>The idea of appealing educators being harassed by their students seems a little gross as I approach 40. When I was in college, though, there was always that hope at the beginning of each semester that one of my classes would be taught by a hottie. As best as I can remember, it only happened once.<a href=”1″ id=”fnref-1″ title=”see footnote” class=”footnote”>1</a> </p>

<p>The graduate student who taught one of my Spanish classes was a looker. She was smart, funny, spoke four languages, had a cool sounding name, and her looks were right up my alley. Since I had trouble talking to random girls at bars or parties, there was no way I could pull off making a move on Senorita Dias. But over the semester, we established a nice rapport so there was always that tiny chance that perhaps we would run into each other out on the town and one thing could lead to another.</p>

<p>I know, this from the guy who walked right by the hot TV anchor he was in love with when she was staring at him a few years later.<a href=”2″ id=”fnref-2″ title=”see footnote” class=”footnote”>2</a></p>

<p>Anyway, as I tended to do back then, I skipped a number of classes over the semester and missed some assignments. Since she was a student herself, and super cool, she opened her office at the end of the semester for everyone to come in and complete all their missed assignments after our final oral exam. When I arrived for my presentation, one of my friends from class was in the corner knocking out all of his missed assignments. This both put me at ease and gave me a shot of confidence: he struggled in class so I was going to seem fluent in comparison.</p>

<p>The exam was basically a conversation. The instructor would ask a question to start and our job was to carry on a conversation, completely in Spanish, for 5-10 minutes. I was in the zone! I was conjugating verbs correctly, remembering obscure words, and so on. It was going great. </p>

<p>I finished up and swapped places with my buddy. I worked through all my missed assignments as he struggled to put more than three words together correctly. From time-to-time our teacher gave him permission to ask me for help. I was both being generous and padding my grade! </p>

<p>His exam ended, he left, and I wrapped up my make-up work. The teacher said something about having missed her bus. I had driven to campus that day and offered her a ride. She seemed a bit nervous but accepted. We walked to my car and talked about our plans for the holidays. At one point she tripped over a coat hanger that was lying on the sidewalk, getting her feet caught inside. She was either very clumsy or very nervous. Was she nervous because she was hanging out with a student, or because she was interested in me, too?</p>

<p>We got to my car, I drove her home, we said our goodbyes, and&#8230;I never saw her again. Naturally. I know a normal guy would have made some kind of move, either seeing what she was doing before she left for home or giving her a call when the new semester started. Not me, the champion of failing to pursue romantic opportunities. </p>

<div class=”footnotes”>
<hr />
<ol>

<li id=”fn-1″><p>&#8220;I never thought something like this could happen to a guy like me, but&#8230;&#8221;<a href=”1″ title=”return to article” class=”reversefootnote”>&#160;&#8617;</a></p></li>

<li id=”fn-2″><p>There&#8217;s no doubting I would have blown it, but who doesn&#8217;t at least smile and say hello? Me, that&#8217;s who.<a href=”2″ title=”return to article” class=”reversefootnote”>&#160;&#8617;</a></p></li>

</ol>

 

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