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August, 2011:

Old Faceful

OldFaceful190Wide.jpgCarol bought a new water bottle the other day. She put some juice in it for our shopping wander this morning, and we set out, with the bottle in the cupholder in the front console. We spent some time at Best Buy, shopping for smartphones, all the while the August sun sweltered down upon the 4Runner. When we got back forty minutes later, the car was an oven. The juice was warm but it was still fluids, and necessary in our land of 20%-or-less humidity. She grabbed the bottle, flipped up the little straw thingie in the lid…

…and got a face full of juice.

On the surface, the design would seem like a good one: With the straw up there’s a vent port that lets air in while you draw fluids out. With the straw down the bottle is sealed, and won’t spill fluids if it’s not dead vertical. However, if you leave the bottle in a hot car, the air above the juice expands, and evidently the pivot mechanism in the lid opens the path to the straw just before it opens the vent port. Whooosh!

Science lesson learned. The bottle is going into the recycle bin, and we’re back to looking for something similar with a slightly better awareness of basic physics.

Our Reading At Who Else! Books


As I mentioned in my entry for August 10, 2011, Jim Strickland and I landed a reading/signing slot yesterday afternoon at the wonderfully quirky Who Else! Books at The Broadway Book Mall in Denver. I wasn’t sure what to expect; but let’s call that needless anxiety. It was all good: Who Else! Books owners Nina (pronounced Nye-Nah, not Nee-Nah) and Ron Else were wonderful, and had the coffee machine running and a table set up for us long before we got there. How many people would show was the great mystery. I was expecting six or seven–and by my count, we got 19. That was actually a lot of people for a smallish space filled with that many books, especially on a hot Saturday afternoon in the summer.

We followed Mark Stevens, a local writer of what I might characterize as eco-mysteries set in western Colorado. Mark has two well-regarded novels in print from People’s Press, and I think most of the people who attended stopped by to hear him. However, almost no one left when he was finished. Our friend Eric Bowersox was there, as was our fellow workshopper Sean Eret from Taos Toolbox 2011. Sean, who had broken his ankle shortly before the workshop began and was wheelchair-bound the whole two weeks, was on a walking crutch yesterday and is getting around pretty well.

I did a brief intro to the Drumlins World concept, and then Jim and I both did short readings from Drumlin Circus and On Gossamer Wings. After the readings we took questions. One gentleman in the first row looked familiar, and asked some excellent questions. It was a hard virtual whack to the side of the head to realize that this was Ed Bryant. I had met and spoken with Ed at some length back at LACon in 1984, but as I suggested (and he confirmed) I’d had more hair then, and he less.

A few rows back was Eytan Kollin, author (with his brother Dani) of The Unincorporated Man and its two sequels, The Unincorporated War and The Unincorporated Woman. Eytan asked whether 800 people (the number cast away on the Drumlins World) represented enough genetic diversity to survive long-term. I’d fretted over that issue, and added another thousand or so frozen embryos to bring it up closer to 2,000 genetically distinct individuals. Eytan suggested (and there’s research to back him up) that the number is closer to 10,000–but that’s a big starship! (I’ll freely admit that I fudged a little there, though I’ve seen some speculation that fewer than 5,000 individuals were the forebears of nearly all of modern humanity.)

So overall it was a very sharp crowd. We sold some books, we had a lot of superb conversation, and I dropped $80 on various titles at the store, much but not all of it SF. The photo above is toward the end of the event, after most people had left the store. L-R: Ed Bryant, Jim Strickland, Eric Bowersox, and Ron Else.

Overall a fine time, and very heartening to see a small indie bookstore almost literally packed to the walls with people. I came home with a head full of ideas for another short novel called Drumlin Strongbox, and those notes still need to be taken. Tomorrow fersure.

Odd Lots

Jeff & Jim at Who Else! Books in Denver

Carol and I just got back from a short trip to the mountains near San Isabel, Colorado, so we’re a little bit beat and (especially Carol) just a little bit sunburned. We rented a cabin at Aspen Acres campground, and walked the dogs all the way around Lake San Isabel. Not much else got done there, which was the whole point. Some new scenes from Ten Gentle Opportunities occurred to me, and that’s as far as the doing went.

But I do want to remind my Denver metro-area readers that Jim Strickland and I will be at Who Else! Books this coming Saturday, August 13, to talk about and read from our double novel Drumlin Circus / On Gossamer Wings. We’re slotted at 3 PM. The bookstore is at 200 S. Broadway, Denver 80209.

I’ve not been to the Broadway Book Mall before, so I may be up there a little earlier than that to poke around. I’m hoping to find some evidence that independent bookstores are on the rise again, after two decades of deepening eclipse. I remember the first time I ever saw a Borders, when Carol and I visited Rochester NY in 1991. I recall thinking: This is going to put a huge dent in the indie bookselling business, and I was right. What I couldn’t guess in 1991 was that the Internet was eventually going to put a huge dent in Borders–like, right between the eyes.

The Internet can do a lot. It can’t do everything. Something will replace Borders. Sooner or later we’ll find out what.

Anyway. I like bookstores. Always have, always will. Most that were in Colorado Springs when we arrived in 2003 are now gone. We have to go to Denver for certain things like Elfa shelving, and it’s starting to look like we’ll have to go there for books as well. I’ll be going on Saturday with my usual hunger for serendipity, and if you’re in the area see if you can stop by.

Odd Lots

The Mystery Hi-Fi AM Tuner and Amp

Jeffs1974StereoSystem.jpgHere’s a challenge for some of my older readers, particularly those who were in the hi-fi hobby in the 1960s. While looking for the photo of Carol’s banner mentioned in my entry for July 31st, I ran across a blurry photo of my basement office in 1975, including the portion shown at left. The unit on the top of the pile is definitely a Heathkit FM-4 monaural FM tuner. I had it for quite a few years after 1975, and may still have the manual somewhere. I don’t clearly remember the identity of the other two. The middle item is an interesting one: an AM-only hi-fi tuner. I dumped both the AM tuner and the stereo amp on the bottom shortly after I married Carol and bought a Realistic STA-64 AM/FM stereo amp unit for Christmas 1976. Bogglingly (but why dump it if it works well?) the Realistic is still our main stereo here.

AM hi-fi tuners are something of an oddity, and unless I misrecall, the unit shown above had very good sound for the bass-deprived, static-enhanced AM pop radio signals we all listened to in the 1960s. I think it’s an AJ-21, the AM partner to the Heath AJ-31 FM tuner. The color scheme is about right, including the red Heathkit logo on the lower-left edge of the front panel. The knobs look wrong, but it’s as close as I’ve come in scanning Heathkit photos on Google Images.

As for the stereo amp, I have utterly no clue. I’m almost certain it wasn’t a Heathkit. Any ideas?

The system worked very well as a sort of college-kid junker “stereo” (both tuners were purely mono) from 1971 or so to 1976. I am not an audiophile and don’t have an especially good ear, so equipment like that may have been precisely what I needed at the time, as it was all hamfest-cheap. I don’t need a tube stereo amp anymore (I built my own back in 2005) but it would be interesting to see what the two Heath tuners would do with it.

Dipping Into Books: Conjuror’s Journal

Conjuror's Journal Cover 300 Wide.jpgOne of the most obscure of the best books I’ve read in the last 30 years is Conjuror’s Journal, by Frances L. Shine. As best I can tell Miss Shine published just three novels, all with Dodd, Mead, between 1968 and 1978. There is almost nothing about her online, and given that she seemed to be 60-something in her 1978 jacket photo, I’m guessing that she’s passed on.

The novel is a Pepys-style diary from a mulatto conjuror (parlor magician; nothing paranormal about it) traveling around Boston in the 1790s with his dog Socrates, giving magic shows while trying to unravel the mystery of his parentage. The story is by turns insightful, funny, and sweet, with just a touch of melancholy here and there, mostly in Joshua’s recognition of the pain he sees in the people he entertains. It ends well (nay, triumphantly) in a way that few stories do anymore, and a lot of what I like about it is simply that. Perhaps the best way to persuade you to hunt up a copy (there are plenty on the used book sites for a dollar) is to give you a quick sample here. I hope to do this now and then with obscure books that I think deserve more attention than they’ve gotten.

February 15, 1794.

Man is a hapless creature, after all, upon this earth; all his vaunted powers as nothing in the face of Loss. This have I tried and proven more than once.

This day I was met in the Lane by a small lass in a sore way of crying; who called out my name and seized my coat in her little hand. She had hung about the door waiting for me; and, 0, Sir, look! Could I not make it to be alive again? Wrapped tenderly within her apron was a dead canary.

I was stricken by her simplicity. Having marvelled at such wonders as her childish eyes found in my sleight-of-hand, she thought on me as a kind of miracle worker who could, an’ he would, make all well again. There was in her utter trust an innocent blasphemy that made me shudder.

Most tenderly, I spoke to her; explaining how far my poor gifts at conjuring fell short of what she asked. My words brought forth a fresh burst of tears. Then my bird’s dead! Charlie’s dead! My heart welled with pity. How can one speak to Six Years of the bending of man’s stubborn will to the Divine purpose? All I could find to do was to palm a coin, fumble in her hair with a “What have we here?” and proffer the coin to purchase another bird.

Child-like, she made pause at the bright money. But then she shook her head mournfully. She wanted no other bird–she wanted only Charlie. Off she went a-weeping, the dead bird cradled in her apron.

Poor little maid! Perhaps till this day her heart has known naught but joys. My bird is dead. Be it youthful dreams, or first love; be it the sense of infinite possibility contained in one land, one idea; we all, soon or late, must utter that same cry.