Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Outre commas

Last week, Newsweek ran a great column by Robert J. Samuelson about the has-been status of the comma. Read it here, if you like. He digresses often into curmudgeonly angst over our multitasking lifestyle (who doesn't, these days?) with comments like this:
The comma is, after all, a small sign that flashes PAUSE. It tells the reader to slow down, think a bit, and then move on. We don't have time for that. No pauses allowed. In this sense, the comma's fading popularity is also social commentary.

My favorite part is near the end:
Over the years, copy editors have stripped thousands of defenseless commas from my stories. I have saved every last one of them and piled them all on a secluded corner of my desk. They deserve better than they're getting. So here are some of my discarded commas, taking a long-overdue bow: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.

What else is there to say, but, maybe, and, just for good measure,,,

Monday, July 30, 2007

Author Writes Novel on Cell Phone!

And then gets eaten by aliens!

Well, no, not the aliens part. But an Italian writer has written his 384-page novel on a cell phone. The story's on Mediabistro.

Why? you may ask (I did). His publisher's PR person says: "It really was a time management issue. He had a book in him and really wanted to write it but found he just didn't have the time to sit and do it on a computer."

Maybe it's sour grapes on my part, but has anyone reviewed this novel? It's sci-fi, and if it weren't in Italian I'd volunteer. I'm sure any author, no matter what he writes on, would rather be famous for writing a good read, rather than a novelty manuscript.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Crowdsourcing and Assignment Zero

According to Wired Magazine, the results are in. Read the whole report on Assignment Zero here, or settle for my mish-mosh, which follows

Crowdsourcing, btw, is the idea that instead of paying a person, you can toss a job out to the masses and have them do it piecemeal, for free. Wikipedia is an example of world-wide crowdsourcing.

(To freelancers scrambling to somehow find paying work, crowdsourcing is a Very Bad Thing.)

However, crowdsourcing seems not to be the big ol' threat I initially feared. It just doesn't work that well for most projects.

Wired crowdsourced a story/report on crowdsourcing in January 2007. Now, as they tell it, the report is done. Lessons were learned that may facilitate crowdsourced projects in the future, but as for this experiment, called Assignment Zero:

In the 12 weeks the project was open to the public, it suffered from haphazard planning, technological glitches and a general sense of confusion among participants. . . . it might best be considered a highly satisfying failure. It fell far short of the original aim of producing over 80 feature stories, but in over a dozen interviews conducted by phone and e-mail, contributors uniformly described a positive, “though frequently exasperating,” experience.

Lest we write crowdsourcing off completely, though, article author Jeff Howe says he found, "at least three-quarters of the Q&As to be equal to or exceeding the quality of thought and insight found in any national magazine."

Ouch! Jeff, c'mon, a little loyalty to the profession might be nice!

One more quote: “Why are these people willing to work for free?” — Jay Rosen in Wired News, on the launch of Assignment Zero

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Study finds that Fat People have Fat Friends. . . duh!

First off, I have been varying degrees of fat my whole life, so I do not write any of this to make fun of fat people.

But criminy, doctors needed a computer survey of 12,000 people to figure out that people tended to have friends of like weight? News story here.

This is news? To whom?

What a shock! Friends--surprise!--eat together frequently and use each other for excuses! Every person I know has made the excuse that his or her friends dragged them to McDonalds, or an Italian restaurant, or a gelato bar, etc. etc. How many of us have friends that enable our eating because that way, we're bigger than them? Ooohhh, lookit all the hands!

Everyone who's ever lost weight has also--and this is brutal--lost friends. Or at least, an aspect of friendship. If you don't want to be naughty and eat pancakes with them, they stop inviting you out. That aspect. Sucks.

This isn't the first time I've read a front page report about something that no one needed research to know! But I guess the rule with doctors and scientists is that if you can't cite a study, you can't make an assumption.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I have just learned about this device. Go to http://www.pingomatic.com when you complete a new blog entry, type in your blog name and adress, and a magical nudge will be sent to places like Technorati, My Yahoo, etc.--letting them know there is new content on your blog.

Monday, July 23, 2007

It's A Tough World Out There

Take heart, rejected columnists!

And savor this, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

A few months ago, she [Condaleeza Rice] decided to write an opinion piece about Lebanon. She enlisted John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems as a co-author, and they wrote about public/private partnerships and how they might be of use in rebuilding Lebanon after last summer's war. No one would publish it.
Think about that. Every one of the major newspapers approached refused to publish an essay by the secretary of state. . . . it was sent to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and perhaps other papers before the department finally tried a foreign publication, the Financial Times of London, which also turned it down.
If Condi can't get published by the big-time papers, who am I to whine about my rejection letters?
C'mon, everyone: group cackle!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Unprecedented Crowd in Montclair

Montclair is hardly a hot spot. That I was number 500 to walk in for my Harry Potter book at 11:30 on Saturday shocked me--especially as Barnes & Nobles, in the same mall, was having a better-publicized event. So I had to take pictures; who will believe me 20 years from now?

I currently have the headaches and nausea commonly associated with a hangover. Can one get a reading hangover?

Ollivander, as I suspected, makes an appearance in the first part. No, I won't give away any more than that. You probably aren't here unless you've read the book anyway.

I even ran into someone I know! Really know--I'm not talking about the several Professor Trelawny's or the dozens of Hogwarts students. Here is Tizsa, enjoying the wait. She came much earlier than I did, and left earlier too.

For the record, I had my book and was back in my car at 1:42 AM. And now I see that ny worst fears have been realized.

OK, I'll blow the plot. No spoiler alert, no nothing:
Harry gets caught by You-Know-Who and is forced to clean up Borders at 4 AM on July 22. Yeah, there are fates worse than death.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Neville and Ollivander?

I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince so that the characters will be fresh in my mind when the new book comes out.

And I'm reading it a bit slowly--as opposed to the first time I got my hot little hands on it and whipped through during a couple of all-nighters to see who died. (No!)

Something strikes me:
Neville Longbottom and his Gran bought Neville a new wand from Ollivander's the day before Mr. Ollivander disappeared. That's on page 137, and another reference to Ollivander's disappearance is on page 106--pointing out that there was no sign of a struggle.


Was Neville meant to have that wand, or was it a plant?

Was Ollivander selling wands under the imperius curse?

If no, did he sell a wand he wasn't supposed to sell? Was he dragged off as punishment?

If under the imperius curse, was he forced to sell the wand to a friend of Harry's, or to Neville himself?

Are we absolutely certain that Ollivander was one of the good guys?

The Opposite of Change

Think of the opposite of change.

Are you imagining a cozy fire in an ivy-covered cottage, far from the madding crowd? A snug home that keeps the wild world at bay?

A Mayberry-like town where haircuts are a quarter, or maybe just a tavern, where everybody knows your name?

I used to think of our old vacation home, where we'd go every August and every Easter.

My parents had a vacation home in northern California. It sat along a lake, which nestled in hills an hour removed from any of the major freeways. Nearby towns were small and filled with retirees or folks who rented cabins for a few weeks of fishing. The Catholic priest said Mass in the high school gymnasium when he visited each Sunday, and the high school serviced students from as much as forty miles away.

Piers jutted into the lake, some with roofs and rails. A few 19th century homes were falling apart and we collected hand-crafted nails from them. We also rooted around in our yard for obsidian arrowheads. We found them by accident when we dug a pit for fish guts after a productive day fishing. Soon we realized that we could dig just about anywhere and find an ancient campfire about a foot down, with discards and half-completed spearheads.

Idyllic, huh?

As adults, we ached when our Dad sold the place, but 15 or 20 years later my brother stopped by the lake when he had the chance, spent a couple of days, and took pictures.

"Hasn't changed at all," he told me.

"That's great!"

"No, listen to me. It hasn't changed." He paused to emphasize the point. "In all this time, nothing has happened. No one's painted their house or built a new pier. Everything's falling apart. People die and no one buys their home. Yards wither. Stores have gone out of business."

He showed me the pictures. Bait shops and old markets that we remembered were either boarded up or barely surviving in buildings that were more decrepit than ever. Cabins stood abandoned, overgrown with weeds. It was a sad sight, and not a place you'd ever take your family to, not anymore.

I'm happy to report that since that time, wine growers discovered the area and it's become popuar--in a limited way. It's still hours from major freeways and it will never rival Napa, but there are new homes, new retirees, restaurants, and stores.

The point of all this is?

The opposite of change is stagnation.

It's about as idyllic as rot and decay. Hey, even Cheers had to get repainted and order new barstools once in a while.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Most Expensive Residential Property Ever!

The home formerly occupied by William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies is for sale.

Did I say "home" ? My bad.

Homes are managable pieces of real estate that eat up 2/3 of an average paycheck. Homes house families, but usually not multiple families. Homes have a set number of rooms that you can count on your fingers.

The Hearst-Davies property, as reported by the Los Angeles Times this morning (here) has the following:
  • 29 bedrooms

  • 3 swimming pools

  • a disco

  • a movie theater

  • 4 houses, an apartment, and a cottage for security personnel, spread across 6.5 acres.

The price? $165,000,000

Just for the record, Hearst bought the house in 1947, twenty years after it was built. He paid $120,000 for it then. Hearst, already in his eighties, lived there with Davies until his death in 1951. Davies died ten years later and the property was sold.

If the Hearst-Davies pedigree isn't enough for you, this house was used in the first Godfather movie. Remember the scene where the guy woke up to find the horse's head in his bed? Pony up $165 million and you can sleep in that same room every night!

No US property has sold for over $100 million . . . yet. There are several on the market, including a vacation home of Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar in Aspen, Colorado, priced at $135 million. But I bet he never had a severed thoroughbred in his bed.

The selling agent's website is here. Just in case.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thanks a Lot, Tongues o' Flame

Appropos of an earlier blog entry about fire and archaeological sites, I just came across an L.A. Times article from November 28, 2000 that I saved in my alphabetical file. (You know, the file where you stuff all sorts of interesting things that you think you might actually want to refer to, someday. I bought a big accordion file for them. Makes me feel organized.)

The L.A. Times article, titled “Tongues of Flame Reveal the Past,” starts off:

The Sequoia wildfire leveled forests but also opened spaces previously inaccessible to archaeologists. Relics found in the ashes suggest that Native American settlers had a more complex culture than previously thought.

OK, we’ll ignore the note of condescension. The meat of the article is this: In July and August of 2000, an 80,000-acre fire swept through the Sequoia National Forest. In parts of that forest, mechanized travel was verboten, so archaeologists never had much access. Bulldozers had to build emergency roads to get to the fire, though, so the archaeologists got to run around and find things, which is What Archaeologists Do.

They discovered cliffside pictographs denoting a solstice, areas full of grinding stones, lots of imported obsidian for arrow and spear tip manufacture, and pottery shards indicating trade with tribes hundreds of miles away. More than 400 sites, some dating back 3000 years, were documented.

Not much detail is given, for fear of attracting looters. This is a big problem in California’s forests, where the forest service dollars are spread in a pitifully thin veneer.

OTOH, the fire—called the Manter fire--was so intense and destructive that officials estimate the forest will take 300 years to fully recover. The unspoken caveat, of course, would be “assuming another fire doesn’t do even more damage.”

Given the dryness of the area this year, three centuries without a fire is an awfully idealistic hope.In fact, fire now threatens a couple of sites important to movie buffs: Vasquez Rocks off Highway 14, and the town of Lone Pine, on Highway 395, heading up to Mono Lake and the eastern edge of Yosemite. You can read about that on my hubpages entry.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Frieda Kahlo Turns 100

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday Frieda Kahlo

Happy birthday to you!

She would have been 100 years old, 7-6-07.

She has been dead longer than she was alive.

Can you imagine what sort of work she might have been producing had she lived years more? I can't.

This picture, painted in 1943, is titled "Thinking of Death."

Photo credit is Raphael Deniz, for the Banco de Mexico and INBAL Mexico, 2005. Found at Tate.org.uk

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Good article on Starv...Freelancing

Mediabistro (a sterling organization to which I proudly belong) has an article based on interviews with five relatively successful freelancers, here.

The article reminds us of the importance of perserverence. Yes.

Usually, my queries get about a 15-20% acceptance rate. Every 5th or 6th letter gets a call or email telling me they like me, they really like me (sniff!) .

But this year has been rough.

Maybe it's because I'm sending out more queries than ever before--which translates into more opportunities for rejection than ever before. And boy, do editors love to sieze those opportunities! Their silence has been deafening.

Of the 28 queries I sent since May 1, I got one "yes"--and that's the hubpages.com blog, the wonderful essays you see to the top right. Please click on one and give it a thumbs up. Please.

I also got a call from the editor rejecting my story idea but telling me she liked my clips, so maybe in future. . . and that's encouraging. Believe me, I am not complaining that an editor took the time to call.

(did you click on an article? I'm begging here; there must be something that interests you!)

The rest? Nada. Two editors commited their rejection to writing, which I accept as a courtesy. The others, no doubt buried in a sea of pitches (though none as wonderful as mine) do not respond, which is, of course, an answer.

I'm not whining about the editors, but this has been an unusually long dry spell. And it's 105 degrees out.

OTOH, I do still have the textbook work, for which I am grateful. And so is my landlord and his property manager. Evictions are nasty affairs.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Every newspaper covered the Versailles pageant celebrating Dior's 60th anniversary. Yes, Versailles, a name and site synonymous with self-destructive excess.

The celebrity-packed spectacular was followed by a party: According to the LA Times, "roving musicians, tents with chandeliers and pans of paella the size of backyard trampolines. It was an extravaganza. . ."

Check out the video, courtesy of HelloMagazine : here.

The paper went on to point out that within days, Valentino will outdo Versailles in a 3-day frolic "amid the ruins of the Imperial Forum." In fall, Fendi will have models on the Great Wall of China.

In a related story, journalists lament that they've run out of synonyms for such extreme superlatives of showmanship, necessitating a deep breath of . . . hmmm . . . common sense?

Is everyone nuts, or is this just our kneejerk biological reaction to global warming? To show that we can indeed sink further into a morass of self-indulgent panoply? Maybe it's a sequined, strutting shout-out: "Screw you, reality!"

Someone pinch me, please.

Monday, July 02, 2007


It's 105 degrees and not likely to get any cooler for weeks. The security guard at the bank had a personal private mister that he said he got at Walmart. I've been looking and this is the closest I've seen to what he had.
They come from mistymates.com, and cost about $20 for a 10-oz pump.
The security guard's put out a steady spray from an uncoiled hose no more than a 1/4" around. It had the wrist strapp like this. A life saver in the heat!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

House Beautiful

In the 1970s, Dr. Roger Agache, an archaeologist and pilot, realized that he could see the outlines of ancient buildings from his plane. He took hundreds of pictures of the Picardie region in France, plotting out where Iron Age farms and later Roman estates stood.

In this picture, which was on Wikipedia’s French site, the circular forms are Bronze Age ditches (possibly temple sites?) and the large rectangular enclosures indicate Iron Age farms.

But what did the farmhouses look like? The materials that might have decorated them are gone. We tend to imagine big, rustic places with a central firepit, a couple of benches, and lots of pots.

Our images of ancient houses are probably wrong.

It’s likely that wattle and daub or plastered walls were decorated with paint. Drapes of bright fabrics, in checks and stripes, might have been hung—either on the walls or subdividing the living spaces into private areas.

In fact, it’s possible that screens or wood walls gave residents privacy. Wood, fabric, thatch—all those things DON’T survive for thousands of years. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

When remains of ancient houses are found, they usually include the holes where wooden posts once stood, and the stones around the hearth. Not much else is left, especially after centuries or even millennia.

The post holes give archaeologists the dimensions of the building. Ditches and trenches give impressions of outbuildings. But nothing tells us what the place really looked like.

Here’s a BBC story about a 2,000-year-old roundhouse found in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the largest Iron Age dwelling found in that country. The place was 20 meters wide, which is about 65 feet, or 22 yards. That’s huge. Most city shops aren’t that deep, but this measurement is for the width and depth of a round house. HUGE!

Not too hard to imagine that such a large house—which must have had several hearths (the article doesn’t say) would’ve had partitions of some sort. The archaeologists assume that it was a house for the aristocrats because it was big. It might have housed whole families in different sections.

In North America, many Indian tribes lived in large longhouses, at least during the winter months. Iroquois longhouses could be up to 150 feet long (over 50 meters) and hold up to 20 families. Like the longhouses or farmhouses found in France, very little remains beyond the post holes and hearth stones. We do know that the Iroquois moved their villages, abandoning the old houses, every ten years or so because ten years in the same place drained all the local resources. Is it possible that Celtic clans moved for the same reasons?

BTW, some American tribes used wattle and daub structures too. Here’s an article about excavations in Mississippi on such houses that are 400-500 years old.