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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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