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INTERESTING STUFF – 4 April 2015


THE COMMA QUEEN OF THE NEW YORKER

There are a lot of language mavens at this blog so you deserve to be introduced to Mary Norris, a copy editor at The New Yorker magazine.

This video is the debut of a new online series from the magazine about language and as the headline says, this first one is about commas.


FAVORITE POLITICAL OBSERVATION OF THE WEEK

From Timothy Egan's column in The New York Times dated online 3 April 2015, regarding the Supreme Court Citizens United decision:

"...a corporation will never truly be a citizen until you can execute one in Texas."

KATIE COURIC PRANKS THE NEW GUY

Not quite two weeks ago, on 23 March, James Corden took over as host of The Late Late Show. Katie Couric was his star guest last Wednesday and you're going to love the shocking surprise she pulled off.


NANCY SNYDERMAN IS (FINALLY) OUT AT NBC

Remember last December when Dr. (as in medical professional) Nancy Snyderman, also a health reporter for NBC-TV, who might have been exposed to the Ebola virus, broke her quarantine to go out in public? As I wrote at the time:

”So let's see if I've got this right: A physician just returned from west Africa who should, far more than the rest of us, know the horror of Ebola and the reasons for quarantine, broke her quarantine possibly exposing others to infection and now I am supposed to trust her medical reports on television?”

It took long enough but at last she has departed her job at NBC. The official NBC response to her leaving was subdued, as it should be:

”Throughout her career with NBC News, Dr. Nancy Snyderman has provided her expertise on countless health and medical topics that are vitally important to our audience. She’s been a valuable voice both on air and in our newsroom, and we wish her all the best.”

More information here.


THE MOST ASTOUNDING FACT ABOUT THE UNIVERSE

Or, at least, what is the most astounding fact about it to astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson? His answer will inspire you.


HISTORIC GREENWICH VILLAGE PHARMACY CLOSES

It broke my heart last week to learn that “my” pharmacy in Greenwich Village where I shopped regularly from 1980 until I left in 2004 was closed in March because the rent was tripled by a new landlord from $20,000 to $60,000.

Avignone was founded in 1832 and had been at its current location since 1939. Here's a local report with the owner, Abe Lerner, a man I'd known for all those years I lived around the corner.

Undoubtedly, it will soon be a Starbucks or an upscale accessory story with $5,000 pocketbooks. You can read more here. (Hat tip to Esther Harriott)


SKETCHSHE – MIME THROUGH TIME

It's been all over the internet this week. Tens of millions of views – all deserved. A trio of Australian models from Sydney turned comedy team lipsyching a survey of the pop music of your and my entire lives. A bit raunchy and loads of fun.

You can read more about the group here.


BEST-SELLING USED BOOKS SINCE 2000

Okay, it's not a definitive list – only the 100 used books that sold the most at Abebooks. It's still interesting and I'm impressed with the number of classics. Here are the top ten in order:

  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  8. Night by Elie Wiesel
  9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

You can see the entire list at abebooks.com.


SQUIRREL VERSUS HAWK

This is a National Geographic video and I have no idea how they get these amazing shots. The music is a bit overwrought and I enjoyed the video more with audio turned off.


NEW BABY JAGUAR AT SAN DIEGO ZOO

After that squirrel/hawk chase, I think we need something more gentle to end the list and what better than a brand new baby jaguar and its mom.


Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog IF you include the name of the blog and its .


An Old Woman Plans, God Laughs

You may recall that I began this week telling you that “there are days in life that will become so troublesome there is no point in getting out of bed” but that yesterday I said my technology troubles are resolved.

And so they are – at least to the degree that havoc is no longer being played and I was eager to get back to the raison d'etre of this blog.

Sometimes, however, because digital difficulties can be so much more baffling and exasperating than other kinds, one forgets – well, this one forgets – that there are plenty of those other sorts of surprises that can appear from nowhere, whack you in the head and ruin the day.

Two nights ago, pleased with myself for having cleared up my tech tribulations, I was in bed around 9PM deeply involved in a good book when suddenly, from the front of the house, there was a gigantic boom.

Nothing seemed to have broken - no sounds of shattering glass or china. But the thud was loud enough that for half a moment I wondered if someone had kicked in the front door. (Obviously, I've watched too many cop shows.)

That wasn't the case so I looked around for other kinds of damage. Turning on all the lights, I checked the kitchen, dining room, living room, office. I knew from the direction of the sound that it was not a bathroom or the guest bedroom but I took a look at those anyway. Nothing untoward.

I wondered if I'd dreamed the sound. But I had been awake happily reading so I retraced my steps through the house. I even opened the front door. All was in order.

So, back to bed, some more reading and a good night's sleep.

In the morning, I had forgotten about the previous night's interruption and went about my usual routine for the first couple of hours before settling down at the computer to write the post I had intended for this space today.

But wait. I had also forgotten (you know how that goes at our ages) to check the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards for items that might need adding to the list for a mid-morning grocery run.

When I opened the pantry doors – wham, bang, boom! Pretty much all the contents of the top two shelves flew out, crashing onto the floor.

First, large containers of flour and sugar, cans of tuna, boxes of soup, bottles of wine. Jars of jam and jelly. Mustard. Hot sauce. A tin of sardines.

None of those broke but others did. The entire kitchen and I were splashed with contents of a large jar of Newman's Own Sockarooni pasta sauce mixed with one of sweet relish along with others of oyster sauce, rice vinegar, capers and more.

I've never been near a food mess of that magnitude and I'm sorry I neglected to take photos. It was impressive but maybe it was just too shocking, that yucky slurry of foods on just about every kitchen surface and even in the cat's food and water bowls, to remember I might write about it and would want a picture.

In addition, of course, the accident involved broken glass. This was not an easy cleanup. My clothes went directly into the washing machine and I got to work. It took more than an hour and I'm still finding spots of Newman's Own and relish here and there.

When I could finally assess the damage to the pantry, I saw that two shelves had collapsed – probably the first one causing the second to crash. Investigation showed that one or two of the pins on which the shelves rested – the plastic pins – had given way.

I've never before seen plastic pins holding up shelves and in the four-plus years I've lived here, had no reason to notice these until now.

It took two trips to the hardware store to buy two different sets of metal replacement pins – about $8 worth. Neither worked - they were too loose in the holes to be trusted, so I channeled my inner handyman.

I found eight screws (four for each shelf) that fit into the holes. I screwed them into the wood leaving enough of the heads sticking out for the shelves to rest on, resulting in - voila! Sturdy, solid shelves.

Truth be told, I'm quite pleased with my invention and only wish I'd thought of it before buying those useless sets of pins. Oh, well – chalk it up to the price of a good idea and cheap enough in this case.

However, by the time I finished grocery shopping (planned and unplanned) and restocked the shelves (the upside? they are so much tidier now), it was early afternoon and I was too tired to write the post I had planned.

It is an important one and I want it to be well-done so you will need to wait for next week. Besides, this week has been way too long, way too annoying and I'm so happy to leave it behind.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sherry Martina: A View From the Edge of Life


Technology Adventure with Barnes & Noble (Or, Technology Troubles – Final Day)

The internet has not been kind to bookstores especially the small independents that have played such an important part of communities for at least a couple of hundred of years and are such a pleasure to visit.

Two I know and love that are still around are Three Lives in Manhattan and Annie Bloom's in Portland, Oregon.

(There are also, respectively in those cities, the gigantic Strand and Powell's specializing in second-hand books but there probably should be a different category for stores as big as those.)

In addition, since the advent of the internet and especially Amazon, hundreds of chain bookstores in the U.S. have also closed their doors – among them, Borders, Crown, B.Dalton, Brentano's and more.

Much to my surprise, one that has survived is Barnes & Noble. There was a time, many years ago, when I thought it would be among the first to go. Let me tell you that story today and then we can put this technology-trouble interlude to bed and get back to the real TimeGoesBy.

The exact year is fuzzy but it was probably 2000. I had spent three years as managing editor at cbsnews.com and worked at a couple of other websites most recently, then, as vice president at an independent news startup that went bust after about a year.

The owner absconded owing me tens of thousands of dollars. I needed a job.

Barnes & Noble, headquartered in New York City where I lived, was looking for an editor to oversee all its web “content” - that awful internet label for words on a page tha humans write. Maybe that should have given me a clue.

However. I love books, I love the internet and as new as websites still were then, I had as much experience at building and running them as anyone else. Plus, the B&N offices were an easy mile's walk from my home.

Wow. Even with that word “content,” it felt like a perfect fit for me and my skills. Books, internet, close to home, a paycheck. What more could girl want in her internet career, especially when she was desperate for work.

A meeting was scheduled with the vice president of something and to help prepare myself, I visited one of the big B&N stores. I was already familiar with it but wanted to check it out from the perspective of working for the company.

At the counter, I asked about a book I couldn't find. It was not in the store right then, said the woman who then offered me a 10 or 15 percent discount coupon (I've forgotten which) for the book which she would order and I could pick up in a week.

When I asked if I could use the coupon instead at the B&N website and have the book mailed to me, she said that was not possible.

Oh, dear. Not a good sign for analog/digital integration nor for corporate growth in a new technology age but business was still finding its way on the internet and I would be working at the website, not the store. Things would soon be changing, I said to myself.

At home, I tried buying a book on the website. The design was difficult to follow and nothing was obvious. Links for moving through the site were hard to find and poorly labeled making it nearly impossible to get from the book page to the purchase page, but I persevered.

When, after 10 or 15 minutes of wrong pages, back-tracking and retrying, I finally had entered my personal and credit card information, the site refused to accept it, sending me back to the original search page.

Thinking this couldn't possibly be right and that I, not Barnes & Noble, had screwed up in some way, I did the whole thing again with the same result. And again the third time when I finally quit.

I had been stuck in a loop that made purchase impossible. Now, you'd think that would be an alert about the company but I so loved the thought of combining books and the internet in a job so close to home that I decided it was an opportunity to make a big difference by helping to correct a critical flaw.

At the interview, the vice president of something and I, having a fine old time, worked our way through all the usual subjects asking and answering one another's questions. Then I mentioned the website purchase glitch I had encountered.

The vice president's mood went from professionally cordial and interested to frigid. The web pages were written and designed, she said, by the developers, the techies.

At first I thought she was joking and almost laughed. But even though I caught myself in time I knew I wasn't hiding the shock I felt at what, without question, explained the online purchase problem.

After five or six years in the website business, I knew that it takes a team to build webpages and websites – the individual skills and talents of producers, writers, designers and developers combined. And you don't let the techies write the copy or decide layout and color palette any more than you ask me to write code.

The vice president of something made it clear that their organizational setup wasn't going to change and we both knew then that Barnes & Noble was not in my future.

My heart had been set on getting that job. I hadn't realized how much until I walked out onto the street that day and headed home, shocked at the unexpected outcome.

What I can see this week, all these years later, is that it was my first technology trouble. Not one of my own making as what happened this week, but trouble enough to lose out on what still sounds like a job made perfectly just for me.

Barnes & Noble long ago got its website fixed but its fate is far from secure as noted last week in New York magazine:

”The internet has not been kind to Barnes & Noble. Amazon manages to offer cheaper books and a more successful ereader. B&N was forced to close many of its locations in recent years as profits slowed.”

You would think, after my experience, I'd say good riddance but no. By the age of most people who read this blog, we all have our list of disappointments and I still wish I'd gotten that most perfect job.

Not to mention that B&N is the only large, real-world book store within reasonable distance from my home so I wish them well.


My current tech issues are as solved as they are going to be for now and almost everything is working well enough. Thank you for your patience through this week. I appreciate it and your humor.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: How to Tll Character by the Way He Butters Bread


John Oliver's April Fool's Day (Or, Technology Troubles – Day 3)

John Oliver and his Last Week Tonight crew took off last Sunday but they prepared this timely short video that well expresses my feeling about this so-called holiday.

Heh. He's such a teenage boy, sometimes. A brilliantly funny teenage boy.

I decided to work through these technology problems slowly and carefully. I don't know when I'll be back to our regularly-scheduled TGB blog but until then I will supply a variety of little interludes.

Saturday's Interesting Stuff and Sunday's Elder Music will appear as usual.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: My Skunk Skin