Saturday, February 19, 2005

Real Alternative

The only Real product I've voluntarily installed on my PC is the Rhapsody player. But when I want to listen to NPR stories or other feeds that use RealAudio, RealAlternative is my choice. Real Alternative lets you play RealMedia files without having to install RealPlayer/RealOne Player. (JetAudio is OK too.)

I tried UltraPlayer, but it doesn't handle the SMIL format used by NPR and, I dunno, was just too hip for my tired and cranky attitude.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

New Vocabulary

Some of the words Liz and I have invented because there was a need:
  • "flustrated" - of course, a portmanteau word combining flustered and frustrated. A needful word I use in the kitchen when nothing seems to be going right, pots are boiling over, the smoke alarm is going off, and I grow flustrated and babbling with every passing second.
  • "irrationale" - a perfectly reasonable explanation for doing something stupid. Example: "My irrationale for eating the cookies was that I was celebrating my weight loss goals."
  • "non sequiturd" - when I make a Zippy the Pinhead reply to something Liz says, but that is particularly stupid or sarcastic or obnoxious, to boot.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Virtual housekeeping and deck-clearing

Spent a reee-diculous amount of time recently cleaning up the hard drive and my Yahoo mail account.

I engaged in structured procrastination and did the kind of end-of-year cleanup I should have done in January.

  • I read on LangaList a comment that, if you had to reinstall Windows XP, then your My Documents folder would get overwritten by the new install and you'd lose all your stored documents. 'Nuff said. I created a folder (c:\!mydocs-2005 [1]) and put in my basic essential folders [2]. I backed up the old My Documents files and folders to zip files, burned them to a CD, and deleted the originals. So now, I'm basically starting fresh without carrying over any old files over that I'm not using.
  • In Yahoo Mail, I downloaded all pre-2005 emails, zipped them, and burned them to the CD also. I deleted all pre-2005 mails from my Yahoo mail folders. (Yes, I know Yahoo provides tons of mail storage, but I like having all those files more quickly searchable from my hard drive. In the past, when looking for a needed registration number or data nugget, I'd have to search both my PC and my Yahoo mails; cleaning out my Yahoo bins decreases the number of places I need to look.)

[1] I use the freeware Windows Places editor to put my new directory in the File Open and Save dialogs. Very handy. His Office Places editor does the same thing for Office apps.

[2] My essential organizing folders work on the principle of "fewer, but fatter, folders." I do this for hard copy as well, having as few folders as I can get away with. Again, this cuts down the number of places to look for something essential. I got the idea of the folders from Adam Boettiger's now-deceased (reborn as Digital Ocean). My essential folders are: !0123456789, !ABCDEF, !GHIJKL, !MNOPQR, !STUVWX, and !YZ. I then create subfolders under these as needed. I use the same folder names to organize my emails, downloads, etc. I find it quick and helpful not to have to create new folders for everything: just dump them in one place and search or scan. At the end of the year, archive everything and create a new set of essential folders. For me, handy and quick.

Friday, February 04, 2005

On Arnold Bennett

This blog's subtitle, "Oddments of High Unimportance," comes from Arnold Bennett's journal entry for 23-July-1907:

In the afternoon I seemed to do nothing but oddments of high unimportance.

I went on a Bennett binge last year. I suppose I first became aware of him through posts on Zhurnalwiki, the proprietor of which has several admiring pages devoted to Bennett's writings on stoicism and what Bennett called (in one of his essay collections) "Mental Efficiency." And in fact it's in his essays of self-help (which ran originally as a series of newspaper articles) that I first made my acquaintance with him.

You can find more on Bennett and his work with just a little research or reading some of his works online, but here's the potted history:

  • Born 1867 in the Potteries district of England; primarily industrial, working-class, a family of genteel poverty and not always pleasant relations with his immediate family.
  • Eventually becomes a journalist and through sheer hard work, remakes himself as a literary man who lived by his pen.
  • Writes novels, short stories, plays, book reviews, literary journalism, "self-help" articles, and even headed England's war propaganda dept in WWI, for a time.
  • His most famous novel, and the one that made his name, was The Old Wives Tale.
  • He wrote too much, really. The "peanut butter" school of energy management says that when you spread the peanut butter too thin, it loses its flavor. Likewise, the more he wrote, particularly fiction, the more thin and less interesting his material became. His style of novel-writing slowly antiqued under his fingers.
  • As he grew more successful and rich (and despised by the younger literary elite for his success, money, and "old-fashioned" writing style) he grew more distanced from the material that really fed his fiction. Still, late in his life, he wrote Riceyman Steps, a study of a miserly bookstore owner, which surprised the literary world and rejuvenated him for a bit. The old dog still had a few tricks left in him. (I read "Riceyman" last year; some quite unbelievable moments, but good details here and there and a few mind-popping scenes, as when the miser has to decide whether to give a charity a few dollars in his hand, and look beneficent in front of his new wife, or hold on to those few dollars for dear life.)
  • He was a director of the Savoy Hotel, whose chef named an omelette for him.
  • Along the way, Bennett republished as books collections of articles on what he called his "pocket philosophies": self-help, mainly, on staying calm in the storm, not working so hard against yourself, keeping an even keel, and so on. He was a Stoic and extolled Epictetus and Aurielius. These were mainly collections of articles he'd written and were read by many lower- and middle-class people who didn't read or know about his fiction. (These articles were published as series in newspapers but under anonymous byline, I think.) Selections include How to Live on 24 Hours a Day and The Human Machine.
  • If you riffle through Margaret Drabble's biography of AB, you'll soon see that his philosophies were harder to live by than to package and sell. He made a disastrous first marriage (she never granted him a divorce), and in his second relationship, left his companion and their daughter almost paupers.
  • He was of that generation which the new literary lions, i.e., The Bloomsbury Group, despised. He and Virginia Woolf crossed swords in a series of book reviews, and Woolf dealt AB's reputation a death blow in her essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown." Though they met later at parties and seemed to get on well (her epitaph of Bennett in her diary is touching), her essay lived on and stamped his literary reputation for decades.
  • When he was dying of typhoid in 1931, Scotland Yard put straw on the streets outside his residence to dampen the sound of carts and vehicles. He was the last "great man" for whom this was done.
  • Not long after his death, the Depression and changing literary fashion made AB forgotten within a matter of only a few years.
  • His books (the major ones anyway) were still read for decades after, but he's regarded nowadays as one of those bestselling authors of yesteryear whose books are unreadable today.
Some of his nonfiction essays on travel, theater, art, politics, etc., were collected in privately circulated books that he gave to friends at Christmas, and are by and large quite readable, I think. He tends to lead the reader by the hand quite a lot, but his prose is clear and he links his ideas so that anyone can understand them. This is probably why he sold so many of the pocket philosophies. I found his travel writings a little boring after a while and the essays on the current state of politics or theatrical management less than interesting. But when he got on to writing about literature or art, my interest revived and he was a most congenial companion.

In addition to all the other writing he did, he also kept a journal off and on (mostly on) from 1896 to his death. Local used bookshops in our area have several copies of this, and I've been dipping into it as my breakfast-table reading. I imagine it would make nice bedtime reading also, as it's eminently pick-uppable and put-downnable. He also seems, from the writing, a genuinely nice and sensible man, with a generous nature, a tart sense of humor, disdainful of stupid and unthinking behavior, solid opinions but with the ability to change his mind, and it's quite nice to spend a few minutes with him.

I'll post various quotes of his that I've copied from his essays or journal, from time to time.

Here's one to go out with:

In front, on a little hill in the vast valley, was spread out the Indian-red architecture of Bursley - tall chimneys and rounded ovens, schools, the new scarlet market, the high spire of the evangelical church……the crimson chapels, and rows of little red houses with amber chimney pots, and the gold angel of the Town Hall topping the whole. The sedate reddish browns and reds of the composition all netted in flowing scarves of smoke, harmonised exquisitely with the chill blues of the chequered sky. Beauty was achieved, and none saw it.
Clayhanger (1910)

Addendum: A shortish bio of Bennett by his friend Frank Swinnerton is here.


For no good reason, other than I'm just in a relaxed mood and Liz is out of the house, I've got the Dean Martin Playlist on Rhapsody turned up kind of loud. Like lounge music, it quiets that preoccupied layer of my overheated brain so I can relax and get on with things.

A monthly hit of friendly comics journalism

In my Yahoo Bookmarks, I have a subfolder called "Monthly," which stores about 5 or 6 places I like to visit whenever the monthly odometer turns back to 1. One of the sites I like spending time with is Sequential Tart, comics news and interviews from the distaff members of the happy tribe. The interviews, articles, and columns are right-sized, lightly spun, and just fun to read in a way the Comics Journal isn't. One of this month's sub-themes seems to be "fangirls, making of" and "comics pros, fangirls turning into".

The column I never miss is Pam Bliss' Hopelessly Lost but Making Good Time, which chronicles making minicomics from initial idea, to the tools to use, writing the script, making the breakdowns, creating the world (her latest series), all the way to getting it copied and stapling them one-by-one. She's up to Column #47 this month. And she adds her own dos centavos on the fangirl theme. Pam also has her own website where she sells her minicomics and also has a few printed and stapled collections of her "Hopelessly Lost" columns.