Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Caution: Possible malware issue on my home page

Folks, a fan just notified me of getting a malware warning when trying to access my home page. I found the files had been altered yesterday and uploaded clean copies from my computer, but I’m still getting the warnings on my laptop browsers, although I get through fine on my smartphone. I’ve contacted the webmaster to find out more, and I’ll keep you posted.

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Getting back from travel

Okay, I’m back home from Detroit. I didn’t post during my trip since something was wrong with my aunt and uncle’s wifi, and I was occupied with other stuff anyway. I guess I could’ve posted from my smartphone, but it didn’t occur to me as something I needed to do.

I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Cousin Cynthia, though Uncle Harry was away with my other cousins because of health issues delaying his return home. I wish him a speedy recovery. Thanks to Shirley’s vegetarian cooking, I tried my first Thai food, rice noodles with satay (peanut and coconut) sauce, and found it fairly interesting. I generally don’t care for Asian cuisine because I’m not fond of soy sauce or sweet-and-sour sauce, and I’d heard that Thai food was very spicy so I wasn’t tempted to try it, but I like peanuts and coconuts, so this was agreeable. The other favorite home-prepared thing I had was some sweet-potato gnocchi that we had along with spinach and onion omelets (another thing I usually don’t eat — I’m not an egg person, generally). And on my last full day, we got a nice “spinach supreme” pizza from a local place, and I got to take a few pieces with me for lunch on the drive home and dinner when I got back.

One evening I went on a bike ride with Shirley and Uncle Clarence (who lives nearby), and it’s fortunate it was a slow ride; I didn’t bring my own bike, and the only one available was a rather unusually structured one that wasn’t quite recumbent but had a seat with a back you could lean against. I don’t remember the brand name of it — something that started with Re-.  (Edit: Cynthia tells me it’s a Revive.) It took a little getting used to, particularly since I’m out of practice at bike-riding anyway (I’ll avoid the obvious joke), but I did okay for the relatively brief duration of the ride.

And I finally got a chance to look through what we call “The Grampa Book,” a Bennett family genealogy that was compiled some decades ago, but that my father never got a copy of because he wasn’t very family-oriented. I do recall getting to see it at least once before, but that was many years ago, and in my more recent family interactions, it wasn’t until now that we actually tracked it down for me to look at. I learned a number of things I hadn’t known before, even about my own branch of the family. I never knew, for instance, that my maternal grandmother had the same first name as my sister. I lost touch with that side of the family after we lost my mother, and I was very young when that happened, so I only knew my maternal grandmother as “Grandmama.” (Which was how I distinguished her from my other grandmother, “Grandma.”) But I learned some other things too. For instance, a couple of my ancestors testified at the only colonial witch trial held outside of Massachusetts, a 1692 trial in Fairfield, Connecticut of an alleged witch named Mercy Disbrow or Disborough. Unfortunately they testified on the wrong side, against her. She was convicted, but spared due to a technicality. (Cousin Cynthia once just randomly discovered that an acquaintance of hers was descended from Mercy Disbrow, a rather astonishing coincidence.)

Also, it turns out that some of my paternal ancestors were a lot more religious than my grandfather and his progeny — his older siblings included some people with unusual Biblical names, like Philander Bennett (it originally meant “lover of men,” as in a philanthropist, but it seems to have gotten confused to mean “a loving man” at some point) and Zadok Alonzo Bennett. I think I’m going to swipe “Zadok” as a Vulcan name in my current novel.

And I finally found out where the Bennetts came from. I’ve known since my first, long-ago glimpse of The Grampa Book that my ancestors have been in the US since colonial times, but I was never clear on where they came from before that. It turns out that the first Bennett in the New World, James Bennett, was born in County Kent, England around 1616. He may have been the son of a tailor named Jacobus Bennett of Appledore (who’s listed in the Canterbury marriage licenses, 1609), but there’s no proof of that. He sailed in December 1634  aboard a ship called the Hercules of Sandwich, which sounds like a slogan for a fast-food offering. He was one of seven servants of a yeoman (i.e. landowning farmer or minor nobleman) named Nathaniel Tilden, the former mayor of Tenterden in Kent and the most prominent passenger aboard the Hercules. They settled in the colony of Scituate, Massachusetts, where Tilden became ruling elder of its first church. I find a number of online sites about the Hercules and its passengers, but poor James B. tends to get lumped anonymously under “servants” in the manifests. Most of my other paternal ancestors seem to be English, mainly from the home counties (i.e. southeast England around London) but some from around Yorkshire or Hereford as well as one from Scotland. Although apparently my paternal grandmother’s ancestry was largely German.

Unfortunately the family genealogy doesn’t go back beyond the first generation of colonists in the 1600s, since the compiler never got the chance to visit England and continue his research there. Still, it’s nice to know this much. I’ve always been an Anglophile, so it’s cool to know I have roots over there.  And I’m rather pleased to find I’m descended from a commoner rather than a nobleman.

(I’m afraid I don’t know much about my maternal ancestors, but doing a web search now for my mother’s rather uncommon maiden name suggests that they were originally from Scotland, part of a wave of Scots and Irish settlers who came to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the 1770s — and apparently never left, since that’s where my mother was from.)

Well, my smartphone did prove useful on my trip. I was able to use a weather radar app I downloaded to warn me when a rainstorm was approaching, which let me sit it out at a rest area while it passed, and I was able to pass the time websurfing on my phone. Although that kind of backfired, since I then ran straight into a severe traffic jam, and by the time I finally got up to Michigan over an hour behind schedule, I ran into the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid, as well as rush hour traffic. Oh, and having unlimited texting was really helpful, because it let me text ahead and let the folks know when to expect me, including updates on my delays. I also used a gas price app to find the least expensive fuel along the route (in the Toledo area), and GPS to get directions to that station and then back to I-75, and then for the final leg to my aunt’s house — although I think I misunderstood an instruction and took the wrong turn, but that just put me on the route I usually take anyway and the phone GPS adapted. However, I found that GPS use really drained the battery, so I had to plug in the backup battery pack that Cousin Mark got me last Christmas. I’d been thinking of getting a car lighter to USB adapter, but I thought I’d try going without one this time to assess the need. The verdict is that next time I really should have one.

Still, as cool as the GPS navigator is, it’s the sort of thing that would work best if I had a passenger to monitor the phone for me so I could keep my eye on the road. Although I suppose they probably make some kind of bracket for placing the phone on top of the dashboard, so I wouldn’t have to glance down at the phone in the cupholder.

The GPS was of mixed use on the trip home. It was helpful for directing me from my aunt’s house to I-75 (a route I’d taken before and brought along printed instructions for, but it was handy to have the directions read aloud to me), and then I didn’t think I’d need it anymore. But I hit rush-hour traffic getting into Greater Cincinnati, so I decided to take an early exit and make my way to a familiar road. But at first I wasn’t sure whether the computer was trying to direct me back to the interstate or not, so I had to pull into a parking lot and pull up the list of directions to make sure it was directing me to the route I wanted. It was, and it even corrected me when I took a wrong turn shortly thereafter (since I was coming at a familiar intersection from a new direction and got confused). But then I realized that it was, indeed, trying to direct me to the next I-75 on-ramp. Fortunately, by that point I already knew the rest of the way home, so I could turn it off. Otherwise, my drive home was uneventful, except for hitting a brief, fierce rainstorm not far out from home. Although I guess most rain is fierce when you’re driving through it at highway speeds.

I managed to get some writing done on the trip; on the drive up, I was able to work out how to proceed with the scene I’d begun before I left, and I got it finished by Saturday evening. Also, Cynthia (who’s from the Bay Area) was able to give me some insights into San Francisco for some material set around Starfleet Headquarters in my novel, so that was helpful. But then I let my mind wander to other things, so now I need to get back to work. The vacation is over.

Getting ready to travel

I’ve been gearing up for a trip to Detroit to visit my aunt and uncle. It’s a trip I’ve been hoping to make for months, but I wanted to wait until my cousin Cynthia was in town to visit them too, and she had bought a “standby” (?) plane ticket whose date kept getting bumped back because of all the flight delays caused by the winter storms this past season. But she’s finally there, so I’m going to drive up tomorrow and stay the weekend.  This is a good time to go on a trip up north, since it’s oppressively hot and humid in Cincinnati right now.

One reason I got my smartphone last month was so that I’d be able to use it to assist me with travel — I now have GPS navigation, a weather radar app to track storms, and a gas-price app to help me find low gas prices (which would be particularly helpful at the moment). Unsurprisingly, the weather forecast for tomorrow has gotten rainier with each passing day, so I may have been wise to get that radar app.

It’ll also be good to be able to check my e-mail and use the Internet while on the road, assuming I stay where I can get a good signal (which shouldn’t be much of an issue along the major interstates, I gather). For some reason, the e-mail program I use on my laptop has trouble sending out e-mail from locations other than my home — I’ve never quite figured out why that is — but now I can just reply from my phone if I need to.

Also, within the past week or so I’ve finally gotten around to copying all my CD collection onto my computer and then saving most of it onto the new 16GB microSD card I got for my phone, so now I have plenty of music to choose from. I’d probably prefer to use my car CD player while I’m actually driving, but it’s good to have the option of listening to whatever music I want at other times during my trip, or just in general. (Unfortunately my car stereo is old enough that it has no input for an MP3 player or an SD card or anything other than CDs inserted in the slot and radio through the antenna.)

I have to admit, after I put all that music onto my phone, I found myself expecting it to be heavier. Really, it’s amazing that that tiny little shard of plastic and metal, smaller even than my little fingernail, can hold as much music as the whole shelf full of CDs in my living room, and still be less than half full. Truly we live in the future.

And it’s a good thing I remembered to copy the photos and other files from my old, 2GB microSD card onto the new one. Fortunately I have two different microSD adaptors, one for a standard SD slot and one for a USB port, so I was able to plug both cards into different ports on my laptop and just copy directly from one to the other, which was handy. (The one thing I still haven’t gotten to work is the software that’s supposed to let you sync media files between a laptop and the phone. I tried downloading two different versions of it and neither one seems able to recognize my phone. So any file transfers, for now, have to be done by removing the SD card from the phone, which is harder to do than with my old phone because I have to take off the whole back rather than just open a slot on the side.)

Oh, and this trip may be an opportunity to make use of that backup phone charger pack my cousin Mark got me last Christmas. My phone does seem to need charging on a daily basis, and I intend to top it off before I leave tomorrow, but it’ll be good to have a reserve power supply on the road in case I need it. I was thinking of buying a car lighter-to-USB adapter, but I don’t think this trip will be long enough for me to need it, given that I already have the battery pack. (After all, I won’t need GPS just to remember “keep going north on I-75.” If I need it, it’ll only be for the last leg of the trip.)

So anyway, I think I’m all ready except for the packing, and I’m glad this trip is finally about to happen.

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Why do we still call them phones? Redux

Here’s a probably incomplete list of the things I’ve done with my new smartphone since I got it two weeks ago:

  • Browsed websites
  • Looked things up on Wikipedia, IMDb, and elsewhere, by both typing and voice entry
  • Posted to Facebook/checked status
  • Checked mail regularly
  • Received a couple of texts from the wireless carrier
  • Taken a few photos
  • E-mailed a photo to my laptop
  • Recorded a test video
  • Listened to portions of my complete Star Trek: TOS soundtrack collection while out on walks (and this morning used it to drown out that annoying Whitney Houston song my neighbor blares every so often)
  • Used the voice recorder to dictate writing notes to myself
  • Checked the weather regularly
  • Entered upcoming appointments and events in my calendar
  • Used GPS navigation to direct me from the movie theater to the grocery store
  • Used the calculator to compute my gas mileage
  • Used the astonishingly bright built-in flashlight
  • Downloaded a magnifying-glass app
  • Downloaded and played a chess game and a bubble-zapper game
  • Used the front-facing camera as a shaving mirror (or tried to — might work better if I magnified the image)
  • Used the memo pad to remind me how much I spent at Taste of Cincinnati
  • Checked the bus schedule online after Taste of Cincinnati
  • Watched a couple of short YouTube videos

Here is some of what I have not yet done with my smartphone as of this writing:

  • Made a phone call
  • Received a phone call

Admittedly, I’m not the most social person around, so going two weeks without making a phone call isn’t unusual for me. I’m sure I’ll get to try out that function soon, since I’m planning to visit family in Detroit later this month. But I still find it amusing that we still refer to these powerful computer/data interface/multimedia devices in our pockets as “phones” when that’s become such a small part of their function.

Indeed, that’s one reason I decided it was time to upgrade to a smartphone, even though it meant spending more money. Sticking with the cell phone I had was a false economy, since the only thing it did that wouldn’t incur an extra data fee was making phone calls, which I hardly used it for anyway, so I was basically spending nearly 50 bucks a month for something I only really used to dictate notes to myself. (Its music player tended to glitch and freeze up the phone, apparently a systemic problem with that model, so I couldn’t use it for that either.) Now I’m spending a certain amount more per month, but I’m getting immensely more value out of it. (Unfortunately it has unlimited talk and text but a finite data limit per month — I wish it were the other way around, since I don’t need the talk and text that much.)

I also haven’t yet figured out how to get it to sync files (i.e. audio, video, photos) with my laptop when it’s hooked up, since the software I downloaded isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. There’s a number I can call where they can fix that, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet. In the meantime, I’ve purchased a MicroSD card with 16 gigabytes to replace the 2GB one I’ve been using, so that I’ll be able to copy and save all my music CDs to it. (Now if only I had a way to do that with my old LPs and cassette tapes.)

I’m particularly glad to have a working portable music player at last. I haven’t had a reliable one of those since the days of the Walkman. (The portable CD player I had didn’t have any kind of strap or carrying case, which was awkward unless I had my backpack with me, and it didn’t handle being jostled well.)

One drawback of the smartphone is that it uses a lot of power. I have to recharge it daily, much more often than my old phone. But then, I’m using it so much more. I guess it’s the same as it was with the fee — I didn’t expend as much before, but much more of what I did expend was wasted.

Although it will help if I remember to turn the flashlight off when I’m done with it…

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He’s got a TV in every room…

Well, not anymore. For many years, I’ve had a small TV in my bedroom, equipped with an antenna (no cable hookup) and attached to a VCR. But a few years ago, the broadcast stations switched to digital and I didn’t bother to buy a converter; I figured I’d just keep the TV around if I wanted to watch a tape before going to sleep or something. But I hardly ever did that (I prefer to read before bed), and the VCR doesn’t work well anymore — the playback head seems dirty or corroded and I have nothing to clean it with. So the whole thing was basically taking up space. But I’m a pack rat by nature, loath to get rid of things in my possession and preferring to keep them around “just in case.” So I just left the TV and VCR where they were, atop my dresser.

Yesterday morning, though, the thought finally overcame my mental inertia: Why do I even keep them plugged in if I don’t use them? I don’t even bother to set the VCR clock, since there’s a clock radio right next to it. Having them plugged in may have only used up a trickle of power, but it added up over time. So I figured I might as well unplug them until or unless I had reason to use them. So once I’d done that yesterday morning, it only took until afternoon for me to take the next step: If they’re unplugged now and just taking up space, why not just put them in the closet and clear up some much-needed surface area in my bedroom? So I did that, and I moved a crate which I use as a bookshelf into the vacant space, which cleared up some room to rig a couple of makeshift bookshelves where the crate had been (one out of a cardboard box with its flaps duct-taped back, one out of a plastic drawer I recovered and cleaned from someone’s curbside trash, which is almost exactly the same size as the box), and that let me ease the overcrowding on the bookshelves for my general SF/fantasy/other paperbacks.

But that got me looking at the other bookshelves I have on top of the general-SF bookcase, the shelves where I keep my non-Star Trek tie-in books, mostly a whole bunch of Target Doctor Who novelizations from way back. (I used to have a comprehensive collection, though eventually I got rid of many of them, keeping only the novelizations of stories I liked and all the missing stories. But it’s still a pretty sizeable collection.) The main case I use there is one of a pair of cardboard bookcases, printed with a wood grain pattern, that I realize I’ve had for over 30 years. Each of the cases has three shelves, the top two of which are just tall enough to hold paperbacks and the third of which is just tall enough for standard hardcovers or trade paperbacks. The problem, though, is that I mostly just have standard paperbacks in the bottom shelf, and an extra row of paperbacks on top of the case adding weight, so one of the sides of the case is buckling at the bottom and the structural stability of the unit is compromised.

So clearly I need a new bookcase to put there, but my search online has been unproductive. Bookcases are expensive, more than I’m comfortable spending right now. And I can’t find anything like those cardboard bookcases. I found one site that seemed too good to be true, offering a 3-foot by 3-foot oak bookcase for under 15 bucks when it was normally sold for over 200 bucks — but then I found out that the catch is that the shipping cost is nearly 150 bucks. So much for that idea.

Maybe the problem is that people don’t read as much anymore. Perhaps I should be looking into DVD shelving instead, since DVD cases are a little taller than paperbacks.

Anyway, I’m just glad I’ve finally made at least a small start at rearranging my bedroom. I get tired of living in the same unchanging environment after a while, and I’ve been in this apartment over 10 years now. Sometimes I look sideways into my bedroom mirror to see the reflection of the room, and I always think “Wow, that room looks so much nicer than mine.” Because it’s different. When I was younger, I’d periodically find ways to rearrange my existing furniture and bring some novelty to the space I inhabited. Unfortunately, the layout of my apartment and the configuration of my furniture leaves me very few options for rearranging things. Even making a small change is rewarding. I just hope I can solve the bookcase problem before I have a collapse.

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Aloha, Professor: RIP Russell Johnson

January 16, 2014 1 comment

I just read the news that veteran character actor Russell Johnson, known best as the Professor (Roy Hinkley) from Gilligan’s Island, passed away. The news was broken on Twitter by his co-star Dawn Wells, now one of the last two survivors of the original cast along with Tina Louise.

This is very sad news. Johnson was something special as the Professor, bringing an air of great intelligence and dignity to the role. He was the straight man, but with the charm of a leading man. And he was, much like his contemporary TV star Mr. Spock, a science nerd who made science nerds look cool and sexy. In a lot of ways, I think he and Spock were two of my most influential role models as a child. I was kind of nerdy and socially inept myself, but I was good at science and knowing stuff, and it was heartening to see that the Professor and Spock were people whose strengths were mainly intellectual but who were valued and appreciated for it. Although my attempts to emulate them didn’t work out too well, since real schoolchildren don’t respect the nerdy science guy as much as island castaways or starship crewpeople do. Still, I don’t blame the Professor and Spock for that. Judging from the other men in my family, I was probably going to turn out much the same way anyway, which is probably why I had such affinity for characters like the Professor.

But Johnson deserves enormous credit for making the Professor as heroic and engaging as he was. He actually made this silly sitcom seem educational at times. I once heard of a study where one group of students was shown an episode clip of the Professor explaining how to make a battery with lemon juice and metal strips, and another was shown a more conventional educational film explaining the same thing — and the group that saw the Gilligan’s Island clip learned it better! I think public television passed up a great opportunity — they should’ve hired Johnson to be the star of an educational show teaching about science. He could’ve anticipated Beakman and Bill Nye by a decade or two.

It’s also a shame that the special-effects technology of the ’60s and ’70s wasn’t up to a live-action Fantastic Four, since Johnson would’ve been absolutely perfect for Reed Richards. Anyone who’s seen Alex Ross’s renderings of Reed in Marvels knows that he feels the same way.

One can fairly say that Johnson deserved a better career than he had, that typecasting as a result of his Gilligan role may have kept him from the leading-man roles he was easily qualified for. But the Professor was a great, iconic role in its own right, and a great legacy for Johnson to leave. He will be remembered.

Massive website update!

Since I’ve had multiple different things coming out over the last couple of days, I’ve just done probably the biggest single update to my website since I founded it over a decade ago. It includes:

Updated Only Superhuman annotations encompassing the hardcover, paperback, and audiobook editions.

New annotations for Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures.

New annotations for “Make Hub, Not War.”

Amendments of my Original Fiction and Marvel fiction pages to feature the new editions of Only Superhuman (MMPB) and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder (audiobook).

I had most of this ready to go by yesterday afternoon (luckily I had the foresight to do the “Make Hub” annotations months ago, for a change), but I figured that if I was going to make such a big, all-encompassing update, I should add the RotF:ACoF annotations to the mix as well. So I’ve spent several hours last night and most of the day today doing those annotations, and now I’m exhausted.

So the rest is up to you to explore:

Knock yourselves out. Like I just did.

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Matrix misfires and food follies

Well, that fancy new collagen matrix that was supposed to replace my lost gum tissue hasn’t worked out too well. The doctor says I’ll have to come back in for the standard gum-graft procedure where they take some existing gum tissue from elsewhere in my mouth. So I’ll have to go through that same procedure a second time, only it’ll be more unpleasant. Ugh. At least I get to wait a few weeks, since right now I’m busy finishing up Tower of Babel and right after that I have the Shore Leave convention.

At least for now, I’m finally able to resume a normal diet. For about six weeks, I had to avoid biting into anything with my front teeth. I managed to have the occasional peanut butter sandwich or hot dog by cutting it into pieces with a knife, but it just wasn’t the same. For the moment, I’m back to normal and enjoying getting to bite into stuff again.

I actually had a pretty full head of lettuce in the fridge when this started, wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag with a hole or two poked in it for ventilation and stored in the back of the crisper drawer. I’ve been afraid to take a look at it, expecting it to be badly wilted at best, if not rotten. But to my astonishment, it was still quite crisp and pristine. I guess that storage method really works. I’m not entirely sure it’s actually been in there for six weeks — that seems unlikely — but I can’t think why I would’ve bought lettuce in the interim, since I couldn’t have burgers or sandwiches with crunchy stuff in them.

Unfortunately, now that I can have sandwiches again, I’ve discovered that two of the local sandwich places I frequented, Arby’s and Jersey Mike’s, have both closed, and the nearest remaining ones of both are across the river in Kentucky — though there are others in parts of town I occasionally have other reason to drive to, and indeed I got an Arby’s sandwich after leaving the periodontist’s office the other day, the first meal I had after being cleared to bite stuff again. Still, it’s frustrating not having them in walking distance. There are several other sandwich places locally, including two or three that just opened in the newly constructed plaza by the university, but they’re not the same.

There seems to be an increasing dearth of restaurants specializing in roast beef. There used to be one called Rax that I really liked, many years ago, but then they closed and I had to settle for Arby’s, whose roast-beef sandwiches weren’t nearly as good. Then Arby’s came out with the Market Fresh sandwiches, which were really good, but I usually had the turkey & swiss. Now Arby’s stores seem to be getting thinner on the ground. I guess maybe the trend has been toward more generalized sandwich shops that offer a variety of meats, and that’s absorbed the market for the more specialized ones (and Arby’s barely even qualifies as a roast-beef specialist anymore, even though that’s what the name means — sound it out).

But, although I’ve lost two sandwich shops within walking distance, I recently discovered that there’s a Donato’s Pizza about to open near my local post office. I’ve long been fond of their pizzas, especially their Hawaiian variety, but it’s been a long time since I’ve lived close to one of their stores. So that makes up for the loss somewhat.

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Enter the (collagen) matrix

Nearly a year ago, I posted about the minor periodontal surgery I had to deal with the receding gumline on my lower front teeth. I said there might be a second procedure to graft gum tissue from my palate into the receded area (to protect the roots of the front teeth), but I was hoping that wouldn’t be necessary. It soon enough became evident that it would be necessary, but I put it off as long as I could, until finally the peridontist’s office called me last month to schedule the procedure, which was done yesterday.

Turns out that putting it off worked out well, though, because in the interim, the doctor began doing a new version of the procedure which he offered me as an alternative. Instead of taking gum tissue from my upper palate, he could implant an artificial graft, basically just a scaffold of collagen (porcine in origin — I guess from pig hooves or something, but carefully purified and sterilized) that my own fibroblasts would grow into, forming new gum tissue to replace what was lost, with the collagen eventually breaking down and being “resorbed” into my body. So instead of taking existing gum tissue and moving it elsewhere, it’s enabling me to grow new gum tissue where the old tissue was lost.

The high-tech nature of the procedure appealed to me, as did the fact that it would simplify the operation and let me avoid the cutting into my upper palate. But I still took care to ask questions and read the documentation about the graft. There didn’t seem to be any significant drawbacks and there were definite advantages, so I agreed to the new procedure. It wasn’t very pleasant getting Novocaine stuck into my gums (though he used the sonic wand that temporarily numbed my nerves to ease the pain of the needle going in) and having him go in and pull things back and stitch things in, but it was easier than it would’ve been before the new grafts became available.

And now it’s the same drill as last time — ice packs and ibuprofen, soft foods and nothing hot for the first day or so, then no biting with the front teeth for about a month. Last time I found I was able to get by with a pretty normal diet so long as I cut things into small pieces, but I think I’ll still be having fewer sandwiches and more pasta salad for a while.

And within a couple of months or so, as long as I’m careful to avoid putting too much pressure on the area and crushing the collagen matrix so the cells can’t grow into it, I’ll have a nice new intact gumline there. I wish there were other parts of my body I could regenerate like that. Hopefully, by the time I need to, medical science will have made it possible.

Categories: Science, Uncategorized

Brown-bagging it

I noticed the other day that a new sandwich shop called “Which Wich” has opened across the street from the local post office, so I decided to try it out. Their gimmick is that below the wall menu is a bunch of hoppers with different paper bags in them, one for each category of sandwich (e.g. turkey, ham, specialty, etc.), and printed on each bag is an order form where you can use the provided markers to check off the type of bread, toppings, etc. you want, whereupon you hand it to the cashier, who rings up your order and then hands it to the preparer to follow like a deli order slip, sliding it along until the completed sandwich reaches the end of the prep area and is inserted into the aforementioned bag. It seemed like kind of a neat idea at first, and maybe it would make things more efficient when things are busy; but I was the only customer ordering and it seemed to me that it just added more complications to the process. Even with my clearly marked instructions on the bag/form, I still had to watch the guy preparing the sandwich and remind him I’d asked for cucumber.

At least the guy had his salesmanship down, asking how my day was going and then saying it would get better once I got the sandwich. But it didn’t live up to the hype; the sandwich was okay but fairly ordinary, a lot like Potbelly or maybe Penn Station. The ordering gimmick is the main thing that distinguishes it. And I don’t know if that gimmick would really appeal to the university students who are likely to be the store’s main clientele, and who have enough bubbles to fill out on forms as it is. “Now you can have the fun of pretending to take a test while you order lunch!” Yeah, that’s a good idea…

Still,the menu did list some varieties of sandwich I haven’t seen elsewhere and might want to try, like chicken pesto or black-bean patties — and they offer spinach as well as lettuce, which is good. So if I should again happen to find myself at the post office around mealtime, I may decide to give it another try. At least it’s good to have another option.

Actually there’s a lot of new construction around the university these days, new apartment buildings going up all over the place to accommodate the student market, and there are a number of storefronts included on the ground floors. I’ve noticed a few new signs already going up closer to home, including a Mexican restaurant, a frozen yogurt place, and a Waffle House — which is cool, since I’ve long lamented the lack of a breakfast-type eatery in the area. And there’s still plenty of room for other businesses. I wonder what other dining options might materialize in the neighborhood soon.

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There is such a thing as a (semi-)free lunch

I went for a walk today to enjoy the 70-degree weather, and I decided to take a path that would a) include a long, moderate uphill climb so I could get some decent exercise and b) bring me to an area near the university where various sandwich shops and the like were located, in case I decided to buy lunch at one of them. But I wasn’t really in the mood for the available options, though I was leaning toward one.

But then I noticed that there was some kind of food cart on the corner, and decided to investigate. It was someone giving out free samples of Sabra brand hummus. Never one to pass up free food (if it’s a kind I like, and I do like hummus), I took a couple of samples and decided my lunch selection had been made for me. I already had some pitas and vegetables in the fridge, so now I’m having hummus pitas with tomato, cucumber, and onion, and they’re reasonably good. The hummus has a little too much bite for me, but it works better blended with the other flavors, and it’s got a good texture. I think I’ll stick with the hummus mix I usually buy, but a little variety now and then isn’t bad. Especially when it’s free.

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I’m in Detroit

I’m posting from a motel room in Detroit, where I’ve been in town for my Aunt Shirley’s 85th birthday bash. They didn’t have room for me to stay with the family, since so many other relatives came in for the event. It was good I was able to make it, because it makes up for missing Thanksgiving last year. I was finally able to give out some of my complimentary copies of Only Superhuman to the clan. And one of Shirley’s friends works for the local library, and I donated a copy which she will put in their collection. I also gave Shirley a copy of the audiobook, since her eyes aren’t what they were; I was hoping I’d have more to give out, but the copies I was expecting this week didn’t arrive in time.

Anyway, the motel (officially a hotel, but let’s face it, it’s a motel with a slightly fancier lobby) hasn’t been all that pleasant. The bed’s too hard, the room’s too noisy, and the soap literally stinks. For once, I won’t be taking any motel soap or shampoo home with me — it just smells too bad. I always tend to have a sleepless night on the first night of a trip, due to adrenaline and the new setting and whatnot, but my second (and fortunately last) night wasn’t much better — I think I got 5 hours sleep at most. But the continental breakfast is okay and the wi-fi works. This morning I finally decided to try one of those waffle makers they have at motel continental breakfast buffets — there are individual cups of pre-measured quantities of batter, and you follow the instructions and pour one in the preheated griddle, close the lid, use the handle to flip it over around the axle, wait until it beeps, then flip back and extract with the tongs, resulting in a largish Belgian waffle. It wasn’t bad, but not easy to cut with the flimsy plastic knife and fork they supplied. And I wish there’d been a better topping available, like fresh blueberries. The syrup was fine, but I wanted more fruit. And I wasn’t in the mood for an apple or an unripe banana.

One other annoyance about the room is that the TV is stuck on the wrong aspect ratio and there’s no way to adjust it. The TV in the breakfast room has the same problem. I continue to be bewildered by all these widescreen TVs that default to stretching out conventional 4:3 images to fit the frame so that everything’s flattened out. It looks ridiculous. I don’t understand why TVs are even made to be capable of doing that. It seems like it should be a given that correct aspect ratio is more important than fitting a certain frame width. One reason I still haven’t upgraded to a widescreen TV at home is because I’m worried about whether I can find one that defaults to the correct aspect ratio every time. My computer monitor does that automatically when I watch videos online, so why wouldn’t TVs do the same? It’s the natural way to do it, and I’m bewildered and annoyed that TV designers seem to think otherwise.

(Oh, by the way, yesterday morning, they had a local newscast on the breakfast-room TV, and a reporter mentioned something about “secretarian conflict” in Iran. So there’s violence between the receptionists and the filing clerks? Oy. People hired to be newsreaders should be better readers.)

Anyhoo, I’ll be checking out in an hour or so, stopping by to see the family one more time after that, then heading home, which should be about a 6-hour trip, or less if I’m lucky. There’s some snow in the forecast along my route, though not as bad as I hear it is further west. Hopefully I’ll avoid any substantial snowfall.

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Tea rose… and fell in my estimation

Oh, what a terrible pun. So naturally I couldn’t resist. Anyway…

Sometimes taking a chance on something new works out well — like last year when I decided to try out the Earl Grey teabag I found in a hotel room where I was staying and rather liked it. But sometimes it doesn’t work out at all — like yesterday, when I finally decided to try the bonus sample of French vanilla chai that came in the box of Earl Grey teabags I had bought as a result of that discovery. (I don’t have tea very often, so I’m still working through the first box.) Or rather, it was a blend of black tea with French vanilla and spices which I think were cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. And I found it so repulsive that I dumped it down the sink after the first test sip (well, the second, but they were really tiny sips), rinsed out the cup, and made some Earl Grey instead. What’s more, I was still detecting whiffs of its cloying aroma as recently as this morning. Not pleasant. Well, at least it was a free sample (I think).

Apparently “chai” is the term generally used in the West for a sweetened, spiced Indian variety of tea properly called Masala chai (since chai is simply the word for tea in many Asian languages), and this was apparently a pretty typical example of that in terms of the spices, though with French vanilla added. Maybe that makes sense; I gather Indian cuisine is quite spicy and aromatic. I’ve never actually tried it, though, which may be why I didn’t know the flavoring in the chai would be so overpowering. Well, now I know.

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I’ve been interviewed by’s book reviewer, Robert Lyons, has posted his latest “Book Roundup” article, which includes an interview he conducted with me in which I discuss both Enterprise: Rise of the Federation and Only Superhuman. Here it is:

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Another interview link

Recently I did a print interview for author/blogger Cody L. Martin, which can be read here:

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Feeling better

December 21, 2012 4 comments

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how stressed I was from the tight deadline on my Trek novel, anxiety about how Only Superhuman was performing, and pain from over-exercising, and how I was starting to feel better as I got close to the deadline. Well, after the deadline passed, I started to feel worse again. The pain came back, my indigestion kept getting worse, and so the stress returned too. I’d lie awake in the middle of the night feeling this ache in my side and be afraid it was an ulcer or a hernia or a tumor or something rather than just the muscle strain that, in the light of day, I knew it probably was.

So I did a few things. One, I went to the doctor and got reassured that it was just a muscle strain, and got some advice on how to cope with it. That actually caused me a little more pain for a couple of days because of one of the tests he had me do, but that finally cleared up a few days later. Two, on my doctor’s advice, I started to cut back on my food intake a bit in order to lose some of the excess weight I’ve put on over the past year or so — fewer between-meal snacks, smaller portions, less peanut butter, fewer desserts. Although I still try to eat pretty healthy, I may have simply been eating too much, and my peanut butter habit was maybe the worst contributor of excess calories.

Three, I got a new mattress and boxspring. My old ones were getting kind of saggy and I thought maybe they might be worsening the pain in my sides; plus I was often feeling quite sleepy and faint-headed during the day. I actually wasn’t sure at first if the new mattress would help, if I’d gotten the right kind that would give me enough back support and what-have-you, if its “pillow top” was too lumpy for me to get comfortable on it. That was itself a source of stress for a while. For the first couple of nights with it, I was awake in the middle of the night and had to get up and then go back to sleep later, but that was due to the humidity or my side pain or whatever, so I couldn’t specifically pin it on the mattress. Still, it caused me some concern.

And four, although this seemed like a long shot, I got a new bottle of the heartburn medicine I take. My recent digestive problems seemed to begin not long after I bought a new bottle of the generic stuff at a different pharmacy than usual. So I’d begun to wonder if maybe there was something wrong with that particular batch, but it was a pretty big bottle and I’m pretty stingy so I didn’t want to buy a new bottle just on a suspicion. I figured that my digestive upset was probably more due to the deadline pressures and so forth. But since the problems were still getting worse even after the deadline, and since there wasn’t that much left in the bottle anyway, I decided to go ahead and buy a new bottle elsewhere.

So the upshot is, it all seems to be working. I’m still a bit sore in my sides, but it’s gradually improving. I’ve adjusted to the mattress and I’m sleeping better and feeling more rested. And my indigestion seems to be clearing up, though I can’t be positive it’s because of the new bottle; maybe getting a better night’s sleep is just reducing my stress, or maybe eating a bit less is putting less strain on the ol’ pipes. Maybe it’s just a placebo effect. But whatever the reason, I am feeling better at long last. Yesterday afternoon and evening, in fact, I felt more relaxed and content than I have in ages. It’s weird, though, but what really seemed to spark my good mood was going for a walk in the heavy rain yesterday. Maybe there were some good ions in the air or something. Maybe it was because I enjoy the sound of the rain, or because it was pleasing to see the little waterfall that formed on the steps of the walkway on the other end of the apartment complex. Whatever the reason, it felt cleansing. And I’m in a better place now psychologically, and increasingly physically, than I have been all month. Hopefully it’ll last.

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Aren’t improvements supposed to be better?

November 15, 2012 3 comments

The New York Times has just “upgraded” its crosswords page, and every change they’ve made is, from my perspective, a change for the worse. There’s no longer a one-click option for downloading puzzles in AcrossLite. You have to scroll much farther down the page to get to the bonus puzzles. And there’s no longer a list of archived puzzles right there on the page — you have to click to a different page. Every one of those changes makes it less convenient for me. The new format looks like it was designed to be more vertical, probably for compatibility with smartphones and mobile devices. But it’s not a change for the better from my perspective.

Meanwhile, the Opera web browser I use has been upgrading frequently over the past several months, and each major upgrade seems to introduce more problems. For the last few editions, there’s been a glitch in page scrolling that causes the progress bar at the bottom to scroll with the page, or causes glitches or gaps in the display. None of the upgrades since has fixed it. And the latest upgrade has disabled my ability to use Ctrl-key combinations to toggle bold, italics, or underlining on the TrekBBS, the main bulletin board I frequent. It still works fine here on WordPress, but not there.

Let’s see, have any other recent “improvements” made things harder for me? Well, there’s Facebook, but that goes without saying. And I’m annoyed that the 2007 version of MS Word I’m now using as my primary word processor has cruder, more awkward table editing tools than the 2002 version of WordPerfect I recently stopped using.

Anyway, that’s enough griping. Sorry the blog’s been so quiet lately — I’ve got a tight deadline on my novel.

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September 16, 2012 2 comments

Lately I’ve been trying the occasional game of chess against the computer at a website I found at, but I’m badly out of practice at the game, so it’s been frustrating — the lowest skill setting poses no challenge at all, but the next one up — called “Easy” — has been embarrassingly unbeatable. But I just managed to make some lucky moves or something, and managed not only to win a game at last, but to win it in 13 moves without losing a single piece — and without taking anything but one pawn! The whole thing was just maneuvering pieces around to threaten or hem in the opposing (black) king and to counter potentially threatening moves by black, until finally I had the king backed into a corner and just needed to figure out the right way to finish it off.

Okay, admittedly, I undid a couple of moves here and there when I realized I hadn’t made the best choice. Since I was playing a computer, I could do that without penalty. But even so, it’s the first time I’ve managed to remember some of what little I used to know about chess strategy, so I’ll take it. I think what made the difference is that I pulled back from the aggressive, capture-what-you-can playing style I’ve been using and focused more on strategy and positioning my pieces to threaten the king. Usually I try to wear down the opponent’s forces so I’ll have a clearer shot at the king, but generally end up sacrificing too many of my own in the process. Focusing more on the ultimate goal helped a lot, and there’s a lesson there.

Here’s the whole game in the site’s chess notation, in the format (white move, black move):

  1. e3, d5
  2. Bb5+, c6
  3. Qe2, Kd7
  4. Nc3, Kd6
  5. e4, Bd7
  6. e5+, Ke6
  7. Nh3, f6
  8. Nf4+, Kf5
  9. d4, Na6
  10. Bd3+, Kg5
  11. h4+, Kh6
  12. Ne6+, g5
  13. hxg5#

So that last move, the only capture in the game, was just a pawn taking another pawn… yet by so doing, that pawn put the black king in checkmate along with my king’s rook, and with the black king’s paths of retreat blocked by my queen, king’s bishop, and king’s knight. And of my sixteen pieces, I only moved seven: three pawns, both knights, the queen, and the king’s bishop. Black also moved only seven pieces: four pawns, the queen’s knight and bishop, and the king. But fully half of black’s twelve moves were of its king, and the last 2/3 of those were to get out of check — and I checked it with a pawn three different times! The triumph of the little guy! Also I only moved my queen once, just sort of using its position as an anchor point for the formation I assembled to keep the black king on the run.

Admittedly, the whole thing was mostly luck, but still, that’s one heck of a game — to lose no pieces and to win by taking only a single pawn. I doubt I’ll manage the like of that again even if I manage to improve my chess skills to the point that I really know what I’m doing.

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I finally made the climb

I’ve mentioned before how I realized that Findlay Market, the city’s main farmer’s market, is within walking distance of my apartment but way, way downhill. Once I went downtown by bus and decided to brave the really steep steps that would take me back up to my street, and it was really exhausting; so as I described in that earlier post, I got to thinking that maybe it would be easier to walk the more roundabout route that the bus takes — a longer trip, but not as overwhelmingly steep. But I never got around to trying it.  The one time I almost did, I was too exhausted by the time I got to the first bus stop along the route home, so I gave in and took the bus the rest of the way.

This morning, I wasn’t even planning on going to the market; I was just out for a walk in the park near my place. But the park was getting a bit crowded for me, and I remembered that at the grocery store yesterday, I’d forgotten to get a green pepper.  (How I was reminded was odd; apparently the clerk inadvertently entered the code for green pepper when ringing up some other produce item and then cancelled it, and I happened to notice that on the cash register screen and realized that I should have gotten green pepper, but it was too late to go back.) So I got to thinking, maybe I should forget about the park and get my exercise by walking to Findlay Market and back. I wasn’t sure I was in good enough shape to attempt it, but I decided to take a chance, figuring the downhill part would be comparatively easy and if I really exceeded my limits I could take the bus back. So just on the spur of the moment, I headed down to the bottom of the street and the really long staircase.

I was wrong about the downhill part being easier; walking down a slope that steep is hard on my knees. But I made it to the market, and I picked up a nice-looking green pepper and a couple of ears of corn.  Then I sat and rested for a few minutes before heading back, and I paced myself.  I rested again for a bit once I reached the bus stop, assessing whether I was up to tackling the rest of the trip on foot, and this time I decided to go ahead with it — again, by the more roundabout but less steep route.

And it turned out pretty well. It was an effort, but it wasn’t nearly as exhausting as going up the steps.  And I finally got to take a long, slow look at the scenery I’ve only driven or ridden by before, particularly of the cliff face that drops down from the park to the street below.  I stopped to take a look at a big stone construction and wondered what it was, and then realized it must’ve been the support columns for the old incline track that used to run between the park and downtown. I checked the aerial view on Google Maps when I got home, and indeed it was in just the right place for that.  I probably knew that at some point but had forgotten it.

The corn was a mixed bag, though.  It tasted fine, but there was some kind of worm or larva inside at one end, which kind of creeped me out. I cut off that end anyway since there was a bit of a brown, rotted (or eaten?) area, and I didn’t even discover the worm until I noticed that one of the brown bits that had fallen into the sink was moving. Eww. I checked the other ear of corn to make sure it was worm-free, then hastened to dump the husk residue out on the yard-waste dump behind the building while the corn was cooking in the microwave. So that turned out okay, but it was a part of the whole organic-food-buying process that I could do without. Why does nature have to be so darn… natural?

So anyway, that turned out pretty well and wasn’t as hard as I feared, and I got a good workout. I’ll have to do it more often.

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Mirror quest

No, this post isn’t about some new Mirror Universe story I’m writing, but about my efforts to replace the cracked side mirror on my car.  My sister suggested that I should find an auto salvage yard and get a used mirror there, then get a garage to install it, which would be cheaper than the alternative.  I found the prospect a little intimidating, but I researched it.  I found a relatively nearby yard with a “self-serve” policy — you bring your own tools, pay a small fee to get in, and detach the desired parts yourself.  Okay, but did I have the tools?  Hmm, I realized, I have that emergency kit I bought for the trunk — that probably has some tools in it.  I checked, and indeed it did — plus I realized it also included jumper cables, which would’ve been useful to know when my battery died a few months ago.  I haven’t used the kit since I bought it a couple of years ago, so I’d forgotten what was in it.

However, one thing I was hoping to get was a new wheel cover (why don’t they call them hubcaps anymore?), since the one on the front left wheel has some noticeable cosmetic damage.  And the emergency kit didn’t have a socket wrench attachment big enough for the wheel nuts.  Okay, I thought, that won’t work.  But then later I thought, Wait a minute — logically the car itself would come equipped with the necessary tools for changing a tire.  So I went back out to the car and checked the manual, and it took me a few minutes to figure out where the tire-changing tools were kept — behind a flap on the left wall of the trunk that I’d never realized was there.  I really should’ve put more effort into figuring all this out when I got the car.

So now that I knew I probably had the right tools, I checked the yard’s website this morning to make sure they had my make and model of car — plus I noted the location of another one from a year earlier as a backup.  That didn’t guarantee they had the parts I wanted, though, and the person I talked to on the phone confirmed that they didn’t keep track of that and I’d be taking my chances.  Still, I decided to go ahead and drive up there.

The cars were all laid out in rows and I had to track down my target vehicle myself; it was just at the far end of the row, wouldn’t you know it.  And it was missing both mirrors and all its wheel covers.  Darn!  I half-heartedly looked to see if it had anything else I might find useful, but no luck.  Then I remembered the other car from a year earlier, and made my way over to it.  No wheel covers, but voila, there was an intact driver’s-side mirror!  Carefully, remembering how my mirror had come loose and how I’d been able to pop it back on and pull it off again (which I shouldn’t have done because that’s what broke it), I pried loose the mirror from the mechanism that reoriented it, and that left it dangling from a pair of blue wires.  Okay, so how to disconnect the wires?  I didn’t see any way.  The connectors looked fused to the mirror.  I remembered some instructions I’d looked at online about how to dismantle a mirror, and I pulled off the panel inside the door, exposing the wire connections within.  I managed to unplug a set of five wires in a plastic thingy, but I couldn’t figure out how to disconnect the two blue wires from the thingy.  I tried detaching the entire mirror assembly (conveniently, it was the right color), but the bolts were too rusted for my toolkit pliers to work, and they must’ve been metric since none of my socket wrenches would fit them.  (Is there a non-metric size between 3/8″ and 7/16″?)  So much for the handy-dandy ready-for-anything emergency kit.  (I should look into getting another one, maybe.)

Finally another patron walked by and I asked him if he knew anything about how to disconnect a car mirror.  He took one look at it, asked for pliers, and pulled out the blue wires from the connectors in the mirror (apparently for its built-in heating element).  I had misread what I was looking at before; the parts that were fused to the back of the mirror were the bits that the wires clipped onto, not part of the wires themselves.  The connectors were of a type I’m not familiar with, so I hadn’t recognized how they worked.

So now I had the mirror, but looking at it, I wasn’t sure it was the right shape; it seemed too wide.  I told the guy who helped me that it was from a year earlier than my car’s model and wondered if it would fit, and he said it probably wouldn’t.  “Think about it,” quoth he.  “That would make it too easy.”  But it was the only option I had, so I went to the checkout place and told the clerk that I was unsure of the part’s suitability.  She let me leave my license with her while I checked it out, and it turned out to be a perfect match.  The reason it looked too wide is that I was used to looking at my mirror from an oblique angle rather than head-on, of course — and probably because the shape of the housing made it seem rounder.

Satisfied, I collected my license and paid for the mirror, then wrapped it carefully in rags for the drive home.  I would’ve liked to try installing it then and there, before I had to drive anymore, but there was a sign saying not to work on cars in the parking lot, so I had to wait.  Also, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to risk installing it myself.  What the guy at the yard had done looked simple enough, but I’d broken the other mirror trying to reattach it; maybe it took a more skilled hand to do it right?  Maybe I should stop by the local garage and ask them to do it?  But then, the “skilled hands” at the garage in Pennsylvania had cracked it even worse than it had been before.  And it did seem pretty simple, so long as I was careful.  But wait, I wondered.  How do I avoid getting the two blue wires mixed up?  But the answer quickly came to me.  There was a roll of electrical tape in the toolkit; all I needed to do was mark one of the wires with a bit of tape.  And what if it turned out that, despite having the same shape, there was some difference in the rear connection and it wouldn’t go on easily?  But no, I figured that since it was the exact same shape, and only one model year off, they probably just reused a standardized component.  So I decided that I would try to install it myself.

And it was quite easy.  It was so quick and simple to disconnect the one mirror and attach the other that I hardly even needed the tape to tell the wires apart.  (I’m not even sure it would’ve mattered if I swapped them, but better safe than sorry.)  And it did click into place properly, although I was too tentative the first time and it didn’t fully engage.  So I pushed a little more firmly, but carefully, and as far as I can tell, it’s now properly attached.  Then it was just a matter of spraying on some glass cleaner and gently wiping it off, then getting in the driver’s seat and adjusting the mirror angle.  The replacement mirror still has a couple of tiny smudges or scrapes on it, but that’s a whole lot better than the multiple cracks on the old one.  (Come to think of it, it’s hard to believe I could’ve broken the mirror just by removing and reattaching it.  It doesn’t seem they’d be that fragile.  It seems more likely that the impact caused a hairline crack or two, and my subsequent handling exacerbated them.)

So I feel relieved and kinda proud now, and grateful to my sister for the idea.  I have an intact mirror again, I can feel safer when I drive, and I was able to achieve it for just over ten bucks, a lot less than I would’ve had to spend otherwise.  And while I didn’t get a new wheel cover, I gained a better understanding of my car and its onboard tools.

Now the one lingering issue I have with the car (aside from the slight cosmetic damage here and there, most of which was already there when I got the car from my father) is that the ride seems bumpier since I left the garage in PA.  I wonder, did they somehow tighten the suspension when they did the alignment after replacing the tires?  Or is it like my bicycle, the way it transmits the shocks more when the tires are freshly filled and rigid?

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