The Pleasure of Finding: A Lost Joy

Dictionaries. Thesauri. Encyclopedias. Card Catalogues.

I used to have a large dictionary in my classroom, one that I inherited from the previous resident. The students disliked when, after they asked to use their “device” to look up a word, I’d hand them the dictionary, then teach them how to use it. That was work! It was so much easier to have $SEARCHENGINE$ do it. The dictionary vanished last year. I don’t know if one of the English faculty borrowed it and accidentally added it to her reference shelf, or if a student smuggled it out so that later generations might be spared the pain of looking up words in a heavy book.

I suppose link-hopping or WikiWandering are how the curious spend time, instead of reading what is around the desired dictionary word, or encyclopedia article. Both waste time, sort of, although learning isn’t always time-wasting. I suspect most of my readers grew up occasionally browsing dictionaries and encyclopedias and wandering through card catalogues out of curiosity. How much did we absorb as we drifted from the officially-sought topic to other intriguing (or useful “ooh, I can call someone this and he won’t have a clue that it’s an insult”) information. Grab a random volume off the shelf, or open the tome to a random page, and start browsing away. Yes, the information might be out-of-date. In a few cases, that’s the strength of older reference books. If you can get your hands on a pre-1920 set of the Encyclopedia of Islam, you have a goldmine of accurate information. After that? Well, there’s been some selective alteration and gilding, let us say. Likewise certain other encyclopedias and reference works. And people seem to retain what they read on page far more than what they read on screen.

I’ve written before about the advantages – for some things – of card catalogues. Those who had to maintain and update the files would disagree, as would most modern librarians. Especially in the early days of electronic library catalogues, the old system was far more forgiving of error and uncertainty than the hyper-precise systems. A keyword might not be enough – you had to know Boolean systems and terminology in order to enter what you hoped might lead to the book or journal that you sought. Some of us were not taught that, making finding things an exercise in unproductive frustration. Most modern library catalogues are better, or at least easier to start using, but it depends on how things are searched for and logged. One example: I was looking for books on Gypsies, or Roma. Using Roma led to romance novels, not the Library of Congress Subject. Romania? Also romance novels, or Roman history (and historical novels about Rome). I told the reference librarian, who sighed and added it to the list of complaints.

I don’t want to go back to the world of “we have to go to the library to find that,” not really, no matter how much I enthuse about things. And the electronic search systems are faster, and can lead to things not usually found in the older versions (like magazine and journal articles). There needs to be a balance, one I’m not sure we can easily find. The genii is out of the bottle, and making younger people go back to the paper versions of Dictionary DOT com could lead to rebellions. But I think some kids are missing a true pleasure, the thrill of discovery and exploration some of us get thumbing through reference books, never knowing what gems we might find.


Stages of Schedule Disruption

  1. Denial – No, you can’t do this to me, I just got everything set up!
  2. Anger – How dare you mess up my carefully planned [whatever]. Who do you think you are?!?
  3. Depression – The day is a loss. The week is ruined. We’re doooooooomed.
  4. Resignation – Oh well. It’s out of my control. I can’t change it.
  5. Acceptance – It is what it is, so I’ll just rework everything else and go from there.

I am a creature of habit. I have my way of doing things, and once I get a pattern established, I like to stick with the pattern unless I choose to change. I do not respond well to being acted upon by an outside force/administrator/dispatcher/scheduler. Especially multiple redirections or deflections of schedule in a short period, all of which are caused by human action, not Forces of Nature. (Snowvid 21 was outside anyone’s control. “We’re moving the track meet to during the school day because parents want better light for photos,” is the sort of thing that harshes my mellow. [I exaggerate the reason, but I was still irked.])

“Remember to Replace the Onion”

In most other households, that would be a rather odd note. Which onion? A decorative item that got broken? An edible onion?

At RedQuarters, where most non-bread recipes seem to begin with “First sauté an onion,” it means that someone sauteed the onion and more need to be purchased. Somehow, we always end up with one onion that lingers down in the corner of the “mixed containers mostly Tupperware but not entirely” drawer. Which is where everyone stores onions, right?

I once asked DadRed why everything started with olive oil, a pan, and an onion. “Because that buys time to decide on the meat and what else goes with it.”

Not entirely true, but valid for about 60% of the time. Unless I’m cooking. I prefer dried, minced onion because I react strongly to strong onions, which are about the only kind available around here. There are sweet onions, strong white onions, weaponized yellow onions, and red onions that come in protective shielding and probably ought to have a hazmat label on them.

(If I’m every dining with you, and something comes with red onions despite my begging to have them omitted, you can have mine. Please. Pretty please.)

Thus the note. And you know what will happen. Three or more onions appear in the drawer, because each member of the family gets one onion (or perhaps two) on the way home from work or errands. Usually white onions. The yellow onions have been of such variable quality that RedQuarters tends to stick with the known evil.

It’s a good thing that “first, sauté an onion” happens so often. Occasionally I will caramelize an onion. I’m the only one who cooks fancy stuff most of the time, so caramelizing is my job. That and I’m patient enough to stand there watching, watching, watching, stirring, stirring, stirring . . . for a while. It’s a bit like making a real risotto, except you can’t read while you do onions. Yes, while in grad school I read while making risotto. I never read while browning butter or making a roux. Those change too quickly from raw to “dang it. A charcoal suspension.”

So, I need to replace an onion. Perhaps two. But certainly one.

Plot Bunnies! Arrrrrgh!

So there I was, minding my own business, when a gang of plot bunnies showed up and chased me into an alley.

OK, maybe it just feels that way.

For non-writers, the term “plot bunny” refers to ideas that show up and won’t leave you alone, demanding to be written, or added into as story they have no, zilch, zero place in. Some people say “plot kittens,” with the mental image of the (in)famous video of “popcorn kittens.” I think of plot bunnies the same way as I do dust bunnies – I wish they’d go pester someone else.

I’m trying to get the draft of the next Familiar Generations stories done. I know where one is going, I’ve got chunks of the second one done, and the third and fourth (both shorter) are sketched out. Except . . .

That story I began that’s based on Dark Ages Scotland is pestering me, and I’m finishing the last research reading on it so I can really dig into the tale proper. No, I don’t know what role Myrdden-the-Wild is going to play, but I’m starting to get an idea as I read this book, as well as locking in geography. I’d thought the story would be set in the Pictish lands, but it wants to happen mostly in Dal Riata. OK, fine. Be that way. Dun Add here we come.

And then, as I was driving back from the Metroplex, listening to Avantasia (the next album releases in late October), plot stuff attacked. It started riffing off of a scene in Preternaturally Familiar, then spun into a completely different direction that only fits the “Blue Roses” short story. Short story? Novella? Not novel, I know that much. And it is the end of the story, not what I need. And it sort of wants to have a moody Gothic atmosphere, which completely breaks what I thought it would be. Maybe. Or maybe the main character is playing Byronic Hero just to jerk my chain. Twit.

Oh, yeah, and Paulus and Attila from the Elect are poking me to get that book done, too. Because it is dark, and spooky, and it’s a dark and spooky time of year, yes?

So, at the moment, I am going to finish the main story of Familiar Generations, get “Blue Roses” out of the way, do the Elect thing, go back to Familiar Generations, and then the Indus Valley fantasy book.

Unless more plot bunnies mug me.

The End User Should Have the Final Say

It is my opinion, and an increasingly vehement opinion it is indeed, that certain products should not be designed by males without final say by females, and vice versa. This vehemence is inspired by a product that I use on a regular basis. It was “improved and redesigned!”

As with most things, this phrase served as a warning. The warning was well merited.

Said “improvements” reduced the comfort and usefulness of said product, moving it from “useful and about as comfortable as possible given the usage” to “uncomfortable, borderline impossible to use, and prone to self-destruction during removal from wrapper.” Happily, I was able to find a supply of the old version, and used up the last of “new and improved” with a feeling of delight at having rid myself of the odious item.

I have a strong suspicion that it was designed by an anatomical male, perhaps with the assistance of a female who did not think that other women might, perchance, wear underpinnings of a design that varied from her own. Delicacy and a certain respect for the feelings of my male readers forbids me to go into further detail. Suffice it to say that “one design works for all” failed in this case, as in so many.

Likewise, women should not design certain products used only by anatomically male individuals without having said item tested by a variety of men.

In fact, there are a number of things that obviously never, ever passed into the hands of an end user on the path between design and sale. Overly gee-whiz cars with computer displays that reduce safety by having more warnings and alerts than does an airliner, with less logic in the presentation. Certain types of packaging that require a dedicated tool to open, or the strength of Superman, or a very sharp knife that tends to slide on the plastic. Sofas and easy chairs that swallow anyone shorter than 5’8″ tall. Which also applies to movie theater seats. Overly-sensitive side airbags on pickups designed to be used in places where brush might brush against the door while the truck is in motion. Foomp! That led to the addition of a deactivation switch in the next year model and subsequent.

The statistically perfect person does not exist. Would that designers of all types remembered this.

And leave my preferred product alone unless you ask women of all sorts, who wear all different types of clothing, to test it and provide feed-back!

Made on Friday at 4:55?

There was one too many spent casings on the shelf at the range. I knew how many rounds I had shot, and here was an empty casing. I picked it up. It had never been crimped. I didn’t find a spare bullet in the bulk box, nor did I find powder.

People used to joke that “lemons” among cars had been assembled on the Friday before a three day weekend, just before quitting time. I think I found the .22LR version.

That, or someone in the quality control department originally worked for Lesters.

The sign/design has been around for at least 40 years. You can buy them in lots of places. The above is the most common version in the US.
I really like this one. Subtle . . .

[Full disclosure – one bad round out of over three hundred is not a surprise. This makes two duds in three boxes I’ve gone through thus far.]

” . . . You can’t miss it.”

As I was leaving the church where I currently sing, I overheard the tail end of a rancher giving “how to get to my house” directions to the new minister. I bit the tip of my tongue to keep from chuckling aloud, because I’ve been to that ranch, and yes, you can miss it. Among other things, it should be on County Road C, except there is no County Road C, just B and E, because C and D are ranch driveways on opposite sides of the blacktop. And that’s the easy part!

Country directions, even in the era of GPS, are a challenge. Ranch access roads don’t make the map, or are washed out and a new route created, or are not where G-maps claims. Road and crossroads names change. The GPS doesn’t realize that the road doesn’t go straight there, even though it should, because of a large, deep canyon in the way. Instead, you take a county road (known locally by number, not the new-ish official name) east to a shallower part of the canyon, switch to a dirt road for a bit, cross the stream, then double back once south of the canyon and pick up the dirt-becomes-pave road, and so on.

One of my favorite sets of instructions, back in Georgia, included, ” once you’re over the bridge, come on a little ways, then turn when you get to the little church with the big cemetery. If you get to the big church with the little cemetery, you’ve gone too far.” First, you had to recognize that the bridge was, indeed, a bridge, or you went three miles past the turn you wanted. Then you had to spot the little white church, and recognize the cemetery, which was very large but not all that full yet. (I suspect someone was planning far ahead when he or she donated the land to the church.)

Then there’s “it’s the house on the acre on the acreage, off the blacktop road.” Which describes, oh, half or more of the houses in the rural parts of the Midwest. Sort of like “He’s driving a white pickup. You’ll have no trouble spotting him.”

Nonsense Poems

One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other,

One was blind and the other couldn’t, see
So they chose a dummy for a referee.
A blind man went to see fair play,
A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”

A paralysed donkey passing by,
Kicked the blind man in the eye,
Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,

A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came to arrest the two dead boys,
If you don’t believe this story’s true,
Ask the blind man he saw it too!

The above is one of the nonsense poems I learned as a child and still enjoy as an adult. They are silly, illogical, full of contradictions, and leave little kids and some adults scratching their heads and frowning because the poem breaks all the rules of logic.

Here’s another one I remember, but in a slightly different variation:

Ladies & Jellyspoons…
: : I stand before you to go behind you
: : To tell you something I know nothing about.
: : This Thursday, which is Good Friday,
: : There will be a mothers’ meeting to which only fathers are invited.
: : Wear your best clothes if you haven’t any,
: : And if you can come, please stay at home.
: : Admission is free, pay at the door.
: : Grab a chair and sit on the floor.
: : It doesn’t matter where you sit,
: : The man in the gallery is sure to spit.
: : Our next meeting is about the four corners of the round table.
: : Thank me!

The version I learned was from a folklore book, and goes:

Ladies and jellybeans
Reptiles and crocodiles
I stand before you to sit behind you
To tell you something I know nothing about
There will be a meeting tomorrow evening
Right after breakfast
To decide which color to whitewash the church
There is no admission
So pay at the door
There are plenty of seats
To sit on the floor.

A discussion on StackExchange points back to manuscripts dated from the 1400s and 1305 with examples of nonsense-type sayings. It also ties into ballads where impossible tasks are assigned to a hero, or would-be (or former lover), as in “Scarborough Fair:”

“Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Without any seam nor needlework*
Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Which never sprung water nor rain ever fell

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn**
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born.

Ask him to find me an acre of land
Between the salt water and the sea-sand

Oh, will he plough it with a lamb’s horn,
and sow it all over with one peppercorn,

And when he has done and finished his work,
then come to me for your cambric shirt,
and he shall be a true love of mine

Both are common folklore tropes, and appear in a lot of places.

*The Virgin Mary was said to have made a seamless robe for Jesus, although whether this was Jesus as a child, or later in his career, depends on which source you look at. It is based on John 19: 23-24, with some medieval updates and theological embroidery.

**The opposite of this appears in “The Corpus Christi Carol,” which describes a thorn tree that has bloomed ever since Jesus birth (also the German carol “Maria Durch ein Dornwald Ging.”