Archive for August, 2010

The Complete Guide to Sharpening – by Leonard Lee

An excellent book on sharpening all sorts of things, mostly tools related to woodworking. There are a couple of sharpening tools and techniques not covered, but considering the copyright date of 1995 that is not surprising. Since the sharpening techniques given in the book work very well without those more recent developments there is no real reason to bemoan their absence.

In addition to sharpening instructions, there is a discussion of sharpening tools and materials, as well as tool metallurgy and how the tools actually cut wood. This book will stay on my bookshelf as a great reference on sharpening.

(Finished 8/26/10)

why gambling sucks

How the hell can you go for week after week after week of getting no numbers in the lottery? Well, not exactly true. On rare occasions I manage to get one number. How does that happen? Cripes. Sure makes you wonder why the hell you play the damn thing in the first place.

In reality, it’s only been the last several months that I’ve been playing again. Once a week, when I buy gas, I get a “quick pick” for the next Mega Millions and Powerball drawing. A big two dollar a week gambling habit. No, not a lot of money, and like they say, if you don’t play you are certain not to win. But the results I have been getting so far are the reason I quit playing in the first place. Still, what the heck does two dollars even buy nowadays? If I lived or worked in the city I would probably be better off dropping the two dollars into some panhandler’s hat. At least then someone would get enjoyment out of it.

It sure seems like you should have figured out your life by the time you have hit sixty, doesn’t it? ‘Fraid not, chillun. Ain’t no closer now than when I was sixteen. I have a marriage that didn’t work out because I never was, and never will be, the man that my wife really wanted as a spouse. I have another romantic relationship that started out strong, but feels like it has hit a permanent roadblock.

I have a boring, unrewarding job, but at this point in my life I ain’t gonna change that. I have no desire to deal with looking for another job and all that entails, and who wants to give up five weeks of vacation? Besides, after all these years of working and having different jobs, you come to realize that one job is just like another. Retirement? Ha! No money for that. I’ll only retire when they pry my pencil from my cold, dead hand.

Sure makes you wonder why you get up every morning. Guess I shouldn’t worry about that because it probably won’t be long before that inevitable wake-less morning comes. Can you tell I’m having a good day?

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories – by Truman Capote

I had not had the opportunity to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s before. I have a couple books of Truman Capote’s short stories, but that particular story was not included in any of them. I bought this book just for that one story. In addition to the main story, there are three short stories I have read before: House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar, and A Christmas Memory.

Truman Capote is one of my favorite authors and Breakfast at Tiffany’s did not disappoint me. He has an evocative way of writing that makes it easy to see what he is writing about. Yes, every author should (in my opinion) strive for that, but some are much more successful at it than others. It’s a shame there aren’t more of his stories for me to read, except In Cold Blood, which somehow does not hold the same attraction for me as his other stories.

This is a short book to read and a good place to start with Truman Capote. If you like this one, go on to the rest of his stories. I think you will be glad you did. On the other hand, if you don’t find anything appealing here it’s doubtful you will care for much of his other writing. Maybe try reading In Cold Blood.

A side note – A Christmas Memory has been put on film twice, to my knowledge. The first version was made in 1966 for television with Geraldine Page as the main female character and Truman Capote narrating. There was a second version made in 1997 with Patty Duke in the lead role. I’ve not seen the 1997 version but I have seen the original version several times. It has been years since I last saw it.

When I read A Christmas Memory I could not help but hear Geraldine Page’s and Truman Capote’s voices in my head. In my memory the original production was wonderful. Hearing their voices in my head brought back the nostalgia of watching the movie in the past. Wanting to renew my familiarity with the original version, I went looking for a place to buy it. Originally filmed in color, it now appears to only be available in black and white, and I wanted to see the original version. However, fate intervened.

Searching for the movie brought me to YouTube where someone has uploaded the black and white version of the original. I decided to watch a little of it to see if it jived with my memory. It did not. My memory is much better than the film itself. Geraldine Page (from the perspective of my current age) is too young to play the role of Sook and the acting of the boy in the story leaves a lot to be desired. Even Truman Capote’s voice seems more, I don’t know – whiney? – than I remember.

So it has been decided. A Christmas Memory will always be on my reading list, but the movie I will let slide into the back of my memory where age only improves it.

(Finished 8/19/10)

sorting out the phish

Sometimes sorting out valid emails from phishing emails can be very confusing. “Phishing,” for those of you who have been under a rock for the last few years, is the practice of spammers sending emails that appear to be from legitimate sources. These emails usually state that there is something wrong with your account and that you need to take a certain action to correct it. They provide the means to make this correction, either by telling you to respond directly to the email or by directing you to a web site, but in any case it is a direct connection to the spammer rather than the apparent sender of the email.

This can be particularly disconcerting when the email has all the appearance of really coming from an organization such as your bank, PayPal, UPS or Federal Express, or even the government. The emails may carry the actual logos of the company involved and may even warn you about spam right in the email. When you click on a link to their web site, it too can look for all the world like a legitimate site from the organization. So how do you tell the difference? Here’s a few ideas, as well as some suggestions on how to avoid the emails in the first place.

First and foremost, if the email you receive asks you to reply to the email with your user/account name and password, it’s spam, plain and simple. No legitimate company will ask for this information through an unsecured means such as email. So you click on the link in the email and it takes you to a web site that looks legitimate and it asks you to sign in – should you do so? Hell, no – you’ll just be giving the spammer your log-in information! If it is a company that you normally do business with, instead go to that business’s regular web site where you usually log into your account. If they need something from you, odds are that they will tell you as soon as you log in. If the email really, really looks legit and you don’t get any notice when you log into your real account, call the organization (and don’t use a phone number that came with the email) and ask them if they need anything from you.

Normally, you can spot illegitimate web sites by their URL’s. If you hover the cursor over a link in an email the web site address may be seen. A web site address should contain the company’s real web address as part of the base address. In other words, if a link takes you to something like “http://www.hytrremb.paypal.com” it is probably legit. Note that the “paypal” part has to be next to the “.com” part. If the address reads “http://paypal.hytrremb.com” it is NOT linking to PayPal, but to the “hytrremb” domain. Don’t click on it. This can sometimes be difficult to determine, though, because spammers create links that are meant to disguise the true URL.

Unfortunately, even legitimate companies use newsletter services, polling companies, etc., that do not link directly to the company’s home web address. Also, really clever spammers can make links look like you are going one place while the link actually takes you elsewhere. You take a risk clicking on those links, but as a rule if you are not asked for personally identifying information just clicking on the link is ok. Note – I said “as a rule.” THIS IS IMPORTANT! There are web sites designed to automatically download malicious software, viruses, etc., if you merely visit the web site. You may not see anything happening and the web site may look legit, but you can get really screwed if this happens. I strongly suggest that you never click on a link that comes in an email. Always go directly to that company’s web site to take care of whatever issue is involved. If you chose to do otherwise, I hope you have a really good computer condom on.

How can you sort out the spam from the legit emails? Other than the above, I have a pretty effective system. Since I have my own web site and my hosting company lets me create up to one hundred email addresses, I have one main address that I use for most of my public contacts, such as signing up for mailing lists, advertising, etc. This is the account with the most public exposure and where I get the most spam and phishing emails.

I then create special email addresses for each important web activity. For example, all financial matters may go to higgle@hytrremb.com. I can even create an email address for each individual account, if I want. Then, if I receive any email from one of the companies that has that address I can be pretty sure it came directly from them. If I receive any email from them addressed to the main address I am sure that it is not legitimate and I can ignore it. Was that clear? In other words, if PayPal sends an email to the email address I set up for them, it’s most likely valid, but something that appears in my main email address purporting to be from PayPal is almost certain to be a phishing attempt.

Usually your ISP (Internet Service Provider) will let you set up more than one email address. Even if it is only as few as five or ten this can still be an effective system. Also, you can use Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo mail for the same purposes. Yes, it can get to be a hassle dealing with all those email addresses, but with an email client on my computer like Thunderbird (Mozilla’s email solution) or Outlook, I don’t find it onerous at all.

In the end, suspicion is the key. Never believe what ANY email says. Deal directly through the supposed sender’s verified web site – one you have visited before – and you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

up off my butt

It’s a beautiful summer day here today; the kind of day that somehow reminds me of the summers of my youth. Maybe that’s just selective memory. They say that as we get older our memories tend to retain the happier memories more than the nastier ones, so maybe I’m just forgetting about those sweltering, summer vacation days of long ago before my parents could afford an air conditioner when I would lie in bed at night, clammy sheets sticking to me with sleep almost impossible.

No need for an air conditioner today, though. A very pleasant break from the hot, humid weather that has been the hallmark of this summer. Oh well, that’s what summer is. I’ll take it over winter any time, no matter how hot and humid. I don’t have to wear layer upon layer of clothing just to keep warm every time I go out of the house (and sometimes inside) and I don’t have to shovel humidity. And, unlike my childhood, I can enjoy the luxury (you mean it’s not a necessity?) of air conditioning.

I’ve just finished cutting my lawn, trimmed it up and blew all the grass clippings off the driveway. I filled all the bird feeders and washed out and filled the birdbath. I even took care of some Styrofoam packing material that needed to be broken down and put in the trash. (I sure hate doing that, but I can’t find any other way to get rid of it. They sure use a lot when packing something big, too.) Sure is nice to do something active for a change instead of sitting at my desk at work all day.

So far today it would seem that I have been doing my health a favor. Even if I’m not exercising, at least I’m on my feet, and a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology indicates that people who sit more in their leisure time than stand are more likely to suffer higher rates of death and disease. Unfortunately, I sit all damn day at work and my leisure activities tend to be those (like sitting in front of the computer) that require sitting. Independent of that study I had been attempting to quit sitting so much. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that being on your feet more would be better for you than sitting on your ass. If nothing else you are actually using more muscles standing than sitting.

That is easier said than done, but I still need to do some laundry today and I hope to spend a little time in the workshop, so that will count against my sitting time. So, guess I better get up off my buns and do something!

eye, eye, eye, eye

Sigh.

It just keeps getting better. A trip to the optometrist yesterday could have been cheerier, but I suspect anything to do with my physical being is going to be less cheerful with each passing year.

I wear contact lenses, mostly because I can see “better” with them than with glasses. Let me explain “better.” If you are nearsighted, particularly as badly nearsighted as I am, you will notice a world of difference between wearing contacts and wearing glasses. It may be hard to understand if you haven’t had this experience, but with contacts everything looks “big” compared to how things look with glasses. Actually, it’s the reverse; with contact lenses everything looks normal, as it would to a person with good vision, but with glasses everything looks smaller, as though you were looking at things through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. Sure, everything is clear, but it feels like the world has moved away from you. I much prefer the view with contacts.

As far as glasses are concerned, with the state of my aging eyes a single correction is no longer sufficient. You’re thinking I’m going to talk about bifocals? Hell, no – try trifocals. Bad enough to need correction for both distance and close-up; I also need correction for in-between to be able to see, for example, the computer screen. If you think it might be a little difficult using bifocals – needing to position my eyes just right for either seeing distances or for reading – you are correct. Add in that third division for trifocals and I can start to look like a bobble-head doll trying to find the right section of my glasses to look through, not to mention the neck strain that can result from that activity.

So why was my trip less than cheerful, aside from the fact that I couldn’t get everything taken care of in one trip and have to be back again in two weeks? After he examined my eyes he told me there are cataracts starting to form in both of my eyes. That is not unexpected as I get older, but in someone as nearsighted as I am cataracts apparently tend to appear earlier. My father had cataract surgery and I think my mother did, too, so if genetics plays a role, combined with my extreme nearsightedness, I’m a natural.

I’m not really as upset about it as I could be. Not too many years ago I would have been really depressed over such news as the prognosis would have most likely been eventual blindness. Today they have refined the surgical techniques to such a point that it is almost foolproof. The doctor said that they don’t even wait as long as they once did to do the surgery because they are now getting such good results. This is a good thing. Besides that, cataract surgery replaces the lens in you eye, which means that you are getting your correction built in. No more glasses! Well, maybe reading glasses, but I could live with that. Hell, I could live with a slight correction if I had to. At least it wouldn’t be the Coke-bottle-bottom glasses I need now.

So while getting older sucks for one more reason, at least it’s not something that is the end of the world. I’m sure that will come, though. Call me an optimist.

a penny spent

I recently purchased a tool for my workshop. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t even close to a monthly rent payment. In the past, I loved buying new “toys” and would do so when even remotely possible. This inclination did not do my financial situation any good at all, but the things I bought made me feel good – for a while. Then the glow would wear off, the bills would come due, and I would start looking for my next “fix.” It was a vicious cycle that I thought I might never break, but those days are now gone.

I debated the purchase of this tool for a long time. The decision to buy was truly based on utility this time instead of its worth as an emotional pick-me-up. I also did not use credit to purchase it. What has changed?

The simple answer to that is that I have gotten older, but there are many facets to that answer. Perhaps foremost is the realization that I am not going to have a lot of money to spend after I retire. Actually, my intention is to never retire, but sometimes you don’t have a choice in that. So, the less money I spend now means more money later, or at least theoretically. Then there’s the flip side to that same thought – I won’t have the money later to buy the things that might make retirement worth living through, so I better buy them now while I can.

There’s another consideration that may sound strange to anyone who is not at my point in life. Wouldn’t it be better to not have so much stuff that people will have to go through when I die? I watched my mother go through a cleansing binge when she was just a little older than I am now. She emptied cupboards, bookcases and display cabinets, giving things away or selling them to relieve all the clutter in her life. After having cleaned my father’s house out after he died I became intensely aware of the situation. So much stuff accumulated over a lifetime, and most of it means nothing to anyone else. Why add to the clutter?

Another constraint on spending is the desire to never get into debt again like I once was. Through the good planning of my father, and sadly his death, I was able to clear the decks, financially speaking, and do not ever want to find myself so close to being underwater again. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but if I have any say it will not be because I was buying things just to make me feel good. In the end, using credit only makes me feel bad.

And finally, buying things no longer makes me feel good. All those things I just mentioned have taken the joy out of buying something for the sake of buying something. The thing itself does not generate joy – only the use of the thing can do that. If whatever I want to buy cannot be used in the pursuit of a further goal, then it has no inherent worth. I’ve never been someone who loves fancy clothes or jewelry and such, and have considered such extravagances silly. At this point there are even more things that fall into the category of extravagance, and that helps keep things in perspective when considering a purchase.

It is a scary thing going into your old age with what will likely never be enough money, but it is downright crazy to drill holes in your own boat with frivolous purchases. I think I have finally figured that out.

bookmark: american gods

American Gods – by Neil Gaiman

This was a good tale generated from a fascinating concept; the idea that the immigrants who came to the United States brought with them their religious beliefs and in so doing brought their gods along, too. After generations, those beliefs fade and are challenged by new cultural paradigms engendered by developing technology – technology that creates its own pseudo-gods. The old gods still exist, but without the same level of recognition as in the old days they have faded in their aspects. There is a storm brewing, pitting the old against the new.

I did enjoy this book. The author had me right with him up to the denouement of the main plot line. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown. It seemed too simplistic. Almost a Rodney King “Can we all get along?” moment that was way too weak. Besides that, other sub-plotlines were tied up in a way that also felt like, “Hmmm, I have to wrap this book up and move on . . . how can I end this quickly?” Additionally, there were other sub-plotlines that seemed like they were going to go somewhere, but wound up on the road to nowhere.

If you have time to kill, I can think of worse books to kill it with, but I can certainly think of better books, too. This was my first Neil Gaiman book and it has made me wonder if it is worth reading his other books. Since my son loaned me the book, as well as another, at least it didn’t cost me anything but time. I’ll try the other book (Anansi Boys) and see where I go from there with this author.

(Finished 8/6/10)

reading, reading, reading

Lately I’ve been on a real book reading jag. My television watching has dropped to almost nothing and my magazines are stacking up. I suppose it has a lot to do with the books on writing which I recently read. They really made me appreciate what an author can do.

I read a mix of fiction and non-fiction, but mostly non-fiction. Non-fiction appeals to my rational, analytical, learning mind. I can schedule my reading, leaving off and picking up at natural breaking points in the book. Unless it is a very complex subject I usually don’t have any problem continuing the chain of thought from where I left off reading. Non-fiction is well-mannered and adapts itself to my schedule.

Fiction is crack. Fiction is a mistress with a whip and me pleading for more. Fiction is forgetting how late it is because I ain’t gonna stop reading until my eyes cross and I pass out. Fiction is, “Awww, mom, just a few more minutes, please?”

Or at least good fiction is. Bad fiction, as well as bad non-fiction, is merely a waste of a finite amount of time. I am not one of those readers who feels compelled to finish a book no matter what. I’ve gotten halfway through a few books in my lifetime and said, “Enough is enough. This sucks and I’m not reading any more.” At least with bad non-fiction there are usually (but not always) a few good facts that you can walk away with. The only benefit of bad fiction is the knowledge that you may not care for anything else that the author has written and can avoid wasting that time. Well, I guess it also serves as an example of how not to write, too, if you are a writer yourself.

Reading fiction – good fiction – takes me out of my life entirely. I start to live and breathe within the story. I am compelled to keep reading because it is as though I am reading my own story and I must know how it turns out. My life is no longer my own; it belongs to the book and I MUST READ!

I have to admit that I tend to consciously avoid fiction. It can be very emotionally draining to be so involved with a book. The story stays in your mind even when you are not reading. It haunts your dreams and daydreams. It is as close to being obsessive as I ever get.

Some people would argue that that is the reason for reading fiction – escapism! Who would want to read a book that didn’t take you away from your normal, hum-drum existence? The only problem is that when you are done reading you have to go back to the real world. That’s tough when the book paints a world in which you want to stay, but then again, not so had when you were already anxious to crawl out of the book, and that does happen.

Even with all the emotional upheaval I’m still not ready to stop reading. I just wish there was more lifetime to spend doing it.