Saturday, December 01, 2012

Writing For Free, and TripAdvisor

This is from an interview in September, posted on the AdviceToWriters website:
What’s your advice to new writers?Don't write for free. Why should any of these websites pay anybody if everybody's willing to write for free? And they should pay you. Huffington Post paid squat and then sold for $315 million. Associated Content paid bupkus and then sold for $100 million. You have a proven marketable skill. All these sites are starved for content and you know how to provide it. Get paid for it. Even if it's $25. They'll respect you more in the morning.
Rick Reilly, the writer being interviewed, is saying "Don't write for free", but when you read how he got started, he spent years doing just that. So the question is "When and why should we write for free?"

I write this blog to unjam my thoughts. I tweet on Twitter because it's fun. What about writing for websites that make money from my writing without giving me a cut?

Last summer I got an email from "Jane Dwellable" of the website. She was suggesting that I link blogs I had already written about places on Cape Cod to their listings of links to reviews on their website. It sounded kind of strange at first, but then it's nice for my ego to think that maybe one or two more people might go to my blog and read something I wrote, so I went along with it. When I looked for blog entries that I thought I had written about other places we'd stayed on Cape Cod but couldn't find them, I made up for it by writing them a year or two late, and added the links to dwellable. When I tried to add a second link about Truro and could not, I got a polite personal and apologetic email from Ms Dwellable explaining the rules. It was a friendly and positive experience, even though a tad confusing.

OK, compare that to TripAdvisor.

This summer, while searching for a hotel room between D.C. and my cousin's house, I relied on TripAdvisor and other sites to screen out possibly awful places to stay. After staying at the hotel, I wanted to reciprocate for the help, so wrote my own review of the place. I said I mostly liked it, and that the worst thing about it was the annoying noise the elevator made to announce its arrival at each floor. The hotel manager posted a reply apologizing for the creakiness of old elevators. He misunderstood. The issue was an electronic tone. The elevator itself seemed to be function OK.

After I posted that one review, TripAdvisor sent me email encouraging me to write more. They also sent me a free suitcase name tag, which was pretty nice. So it was writing for a bit of swag, not just for free.

In September, I was on a business trip in Pittsburgh, teaching a class for a few days. On the way back to my hotel one afternoon, I passed a Greek restaurant and paused to read the posted menu. I'd been pausing to read a lot of menus, since I had to figure out where to get supper. A man who seemed to be the owner of the restaurant came out and tried to convince me to eat there. I said I needed to drop my stuff off, but would likely be back. Before returning to the place, I thought to check its on-line reviews.

There were several on various sites, including TripAdvisor. Some of them were very positive. Some were very negative. Most of them mentioned the Greek owner of the place, and had much to say about his character. Obviously, the place would not be the same without him. I was intrigued, and resolved to go to the restaurant and add my review to the controversy so others could benefit from my data points. When I arrived at the restaurant, I did my best to take a quick photo of the manager, even though it was awkward and I couldn't get a great shot of him. I thought it would be really important for a photo of the heart of the restaurant to be included with the review.
Christo's Mediterranean Grill owner displaying his "Best Of" award
After posting the review and attaching the photo, I got a form email from TripAdvisor saying that the photo had been kept out of the posting because it had broken their rules. The rule was something about the photo not being of general interest to those who wanted to know about the restaurant. The nearest I can tell is that there's some robot that is rejecting photos that have faces in them. The email was one without a reply address. I tried entering a justification about the photo from TripAdvisor's contact-us web page, but there was never any human reply.

I was getting emails telling me I'd get a Trip Reviewer's badge if I wrote three reviews. I didn't know what that meant, so wrote a third one, curious what that would be. It turned out to be an email, telling me I had my "first badge". It means I have a star next to my name on the review site.

The TripAdvisor robot periodically emails to tell me that I'm "just three reviews away" from getting my second badge. I don't know if I'm maybe too old to be motivated by stickers. I guess I'm too old to be motivated just by stickers. I would like some human response. It really doesn't take much, honestly.

Back on MySpace

I logged into my neglected account on MySpace today, and it seems to have become a reasonably private place to stream music. The people are gone, but the bands have found a home there.

If I keep the account not-connected to any of my other social network accounts, then I think I'll be able to listen to music without the annoying updates to my Facebook timeline, as occurred after one drive home from work trying to use Spotify to replace the silence of a broken radio.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

to use up three egg yolks

[Jump to recipe]

After baking later than I should have, trying not to disappoint the birthday girl, I found myself looking at three leftover egg yolks and remembering the birthday girl had asked for egg nog earlier in the grocery store. She'd been asking for lots of stuff at the grocery store. I think she was hungry.

I drew the line (or one of the lines) at egg nog. "One year Breyers made egg-nog ice cream and it was delicious. I wish they'd do it again. But this stuff, no. At the very least it's too early. Wait until it's closer to Thanksgiving."

But egg nog was on the brain, and I remembered making it for a holiday party long ago.

I checked Joy of Cooking. There was a recipe that involved heating, in the hopes of killing the bad raw egg stuff.  Hmm, beat up egg yolks, with sugar, add nutmeg and milk and cream. Well, there's no cream, just skim milk, but with egg yolks we probably have enough fat.

The book said to use a double boiler, as if I had one, or was willing to bother with one pot inside another. Instead I used this new saucepan I'd found at Marshalls, with a blue coating that was supposed to be healthier than old-fashioned teflon. I whipped the egg yolks with an equal amount of sugar, using the covered teflon-safe whisk. I turned on the heat and poured in the skim milk. Dropped in a bit of cloves and a lot of nutmeg. The mixture turned foamy.

The recipe said to cool and strain it, but I thought, why? It would be like cocoa, nice and warm. As for straining, I don't want to get the strainer all gooky. What a pain to wash.

I poured it into a glass mug, added a generous amount of Screech rum, and, wow. It was way better than I deserved it to be. Worth repeating. Worth blogging about, in case anyone else wants to try.

Warm eggnog.

I offered the birthday girl a taste without the rum and she thought it rather nasty. I wasn't surprised. I suspected that it definitely needed the rum. The surprise was that the mixture wasn't horrible, even with rum. It was quite good. The husband agreed.

Not very good for my cholesterol count, alas.

Here's my guess at the amounts:
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar (based on the size of the ramekin that held the egg yolks)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (guessing)
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg (guessing)
  • 1-2/3 cups milk (since it made enough to fill two 1-cup mugs)
  • a dollop of good quality dark rum for each mug. (3 tablespoons each?)
Whip egg yolks with sugar, pour into saucepan, add cloves.
Turn heat on low.
Stir in about a third of the milk. Add nutmeg. Stir in the rest of the milk. Increase heat to medium, but keep stirring. When it's nice and frothy and warm, and you think you've killed the bad egg germs, turn off heat and pour into two mugs. Add a dollop of rum to each.

Bonne nuit.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Andy Warhol Museum, in Pittsburgh

Here's what I'm entering as my third review for Trip Advisor. They say I'll get a Reviewer Badge when I complete my third review. I don't know what that means. My guess is that they'll email me an image of a badge with the word "Reviewer" on it.

I'll click "Submit" on the review, and then find out!

Learn About Warhol

I squeezed in a lunchtime visit to the museum during a business trip since I didn't know when I'd be back in PIttsburgh. I didn't resent the $20 admission, for I could see it as a charity--that place must have rather high electric bills. If I'd had to pay admission for my spouse and kids too, we might have decided to go elsewhere.

After I read that his estate was worth $222 million when he died (I think that's what the sign said, it was on the first floor), and in seeing recent legal trouble over a banana graphic, I thought that perhaps there should be more money out there to fund this place than for one devoted to a less successful artist, but anyway...

I left with a greater respect and understanding of Warhol as an artist, which means the museum served its purpose.

I didn't know about the last supper reproductions, or the annunciations, or remember his connection to Interview magazine. I'd never seen his fanciful graphics from the 1950's. I hadn't been aware of his serious work in video. There was an impressive black canvas with white egg shapes cut out that I would have guessed was by another artist. It was great to be able to see the wide range of Warhol's work. So it was very educational. I also left with that odd pleasant feeling of looking at everything differently, which lasted for the walk back to work.

There were warnings in front of the galleries that wouldn't be appropriate for children, but most of the galleries would have been fine for kids, at least for my kids.

One art installation - Silver Clouds - made me wish my kids were with me. I imagined it would be difficult to pull them away. It was silver mylar balloons the size and shape of bed pillows. I guess they had been filled with just enough helium to make them sort of float. They were being blown around with a fan. Visitors were invited to play (gently) with the balloons. Kids would love that.

There were other interactive installations, such as one on learning about Warhol's coloring technique, that I would have liked to have tried out, but I didn't have time. One advantage to visiting in the middle of the weekday would have been that there weren't any lines in front of these activities.

I thought doing detailed blow ups of Renaissance paintings using Warhol's as an example would be a good project for an art teacher to assign--then someone told me that they had done that in art class, which I suppose validates it. There were other ideas that would be fun for art teachers to copy.

There was a really cool white elephant sculpture with black graphic designs on it that had a signature that wasn't Warhol at the base. I looked around for a plaque that would explain who had made it, when, etc, but couldn't find one.

You can look through the museum quickly, as I did, and feel like the time was well spent. I would have liked to have looked over all the videos playing on the hundreds of screens, and tried out the interactive exhibits, so you should certainly block out several hours if you are planning a visit.

I bought a sandwich/wrap at the cafeteria and they offered fresh fruit as an alternative to a bag of chips. That was a good policy, and the sandwich was good.

I was tempted by the Warhol-graphic skate boards in the gift shop, but didn't think I could get them into my carry-on. So I bought my daughters stationery decorated with Warhol graphics from the 1950's. Maybe they'll want to write a letter to someone some day.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Bloody Frog: I'm not dead yet!

There was a frog in the middle of the path near our driveway. One of its eyes looked sliced off, the other was milky. It didn't move at all, even when I got very close to take its photo.

I walked inside and asked, "Does anyone want to see a dead frog?"
Both girls and Rodrigo said, "No!"
I said I wasn't sure it was dead, but if it stayed in the path, someone would step on it.

I went back out. The frog was still unmoving, but it had moved by about a half-foot.
I got very close to take another photo. It spun around, startling me, then froze.

I went inside to tell Rodrigo the frog wasn't dead, but he had already gone out through the basement to collect the shovel. By the time I got out again, the frog was gone.

Rodrigo said when he came out to bury the frog, it jumped onto his shovel. So he carried it carefully to a safer spot.

Friday, August 31, 2012

my child's future lost to a cell phone on buzz

A Montessori charter school for grades K-3 is opening up in Manchester this fall. Last spring, we entered our daughter in the lottery for a spot. She didn't get in. We didn't get a post card or any notification that she was on the waiting list. Months went by. We got over it.

Last Tuesday we went on vacation, a long car trip to New York, then D.C., then back to New York, then back home. In D.C. I had tried calling my husband's cell phone and he didn't answer it. I thought it was just museum noise.

He was driving us from D.C. to N.Y. around 9:30 at night when I noticed the cell phone in his pocket. "That can't be comfortable," I said, so I helpfully pulled it out. Then I noticed, "There are messages."

"Probably just you calling me yesterday," said Ro.

"I didn't leave a message."

I called and got one message from his mother, plus another from someone at the Montessori Charter school: "We need to hear from you by 5pm today if you want Rafaela enrolled."

"Oh my gosh!"

My family all worried that someone had died, I sounded so excited.

I emailed from New York, around midnight, and called them the next morning, around 8:30 am.  It was too late. They had given away her slot.

Now, I had been checking my email accounts daily. We did find the cell phone message within the same day that it was left. We just have never gotten around to figuring out how to retrieve messages from our home answering machine. We have never received any messages before that couldn't wait for us to return from vacation. Apparently, the school left us one message on Thursday, another one earlier in the week, and then thought to try the cell phone number on the day of our last chance. Had Ro's cell phone been set to ring instead of buzz, there's a good chance he'd have answered it.

Ro tells me he had explained that the cell phone, which was my cell phone before I got a new one for work, was stuck on buzz and he didn't know how to change it to ring. I don't remember him telling me that. It was one of those couple miscommunications--was he talking while I was looking like I was paying attention? or while I didn't look like I was paying attention? I could have fixed it when he said he told me, and then we'd have a daughter in Montessori school.

Today's Google Doodle celebrates the 142nd birthday of Maria Montessori. Yeah, rub it in, Google.

The important part of Clint Eastwood's RNC speech

I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen. Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we — we own this country.

We — we own it. It is not you owning it, and not politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours.

And — so — they are just going to come around and beg for votes every few years. It is the same old deal. But I just think it is important that you realize, that you’re the best in the world. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether you’re libertarian or whatever, you are the best. And we should not ever forget that. And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Today's Split Pea Soup

  • 1 package green split peas
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • carrots - peeled and sliced into disks
  • potable water
  • thyme
  • small amount of dill
  • small amount of tamari 
  • salt
  • hungarian paprika or cayenne (be careful)
Rinse split peas in the bottom quarter of a largish pot, then add more water to at least 3/4 full. Cook on high. Add a teaspoon or so of salt. When the water boils, turn off the heat and let the peas soak while you cut up the onions and peel and slice the carrots. Skim the foam off the top of the water. Add the onions and turn on the heat again to medium-low. After it has cooked for a while, add the carrots. Once the peas have started to soften, stir in the spices, cook on low for a bit, then let soup stand and cook on residual heat.

Tonight's Cream of Mushroom Soup

  • 2 TB olive oil 
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 diced onion (I used red tonight)
  • 2/3 package mushrooms, thinly sliced & chopped (baby bella)
  • 3 TB flour (1 www, 2 a-p)
  • 3 cups milk (I'm really just guessing at quantities)
  • shake in some worcestershire sauce
  • shake in some tamari soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup potato flakes
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese (e.g. parmesan-gouda)
  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • thyme
  • dill
  • sage
  • oregano
Melt butter in olive oil (or use all butter or all olive oil). 
Add the diced onions & sauté.
Add 3 tablespoons flour, stir, let brown for a minute or less.
Add chopped mushrooms. Stir.
Add 1 cup of the milk and stir. Then gradually add the rest.
Cook for a few minutes.
Shake in the worcestershire and tamari.
Thicken with the grated cheese, then the potato flakes.
Cook long enough to melt the potato flakes.
Season to taste.

Mushroom Paté:

If you use less milk, slightly more cheese, and grind it up, it probably makes a good paté.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

DC: Smithsonian U.S. History Museum - Lots of Stuff

Sunday morning we found a parking spot that turned legal at 10 am, just a few minutes before we arrived. There was only one or two cars when we decided that it was probably OK to park, but we'd get out and check the sign again. By the time we got out, there were five or six cars there. The spot was conveniently located on the same block as the Smithsonian U.S. history museum.

In the entry hall, exhibition cases contained interesting tidbits. My favorite was Jack Warner's address book open to the D's: Drugstore, Irene Dunne, Walt Disney, Salvador Dali. There was also Harry Potter's Robe with Griffendor insignia.

There was a child-friendly transportation display with Trains and Boats and Cars. We looked at boats first. A docent provided a helpful in-depth explanation of privateers in response to our questions. There were lots of cool ship models.

Then there were big trains, and re-creations of trains stations, lunch counters, 1950's car-salesmen. There was a circa 1960 Chicago subway car that you could sit in. And an Indian and Harley motorcycle.

Rafi and I loved the first lady costumes, that is, gowns. At the Presidential exhibit. I took a closeup of Warren Harding's pajama pocket.

When Rafi got tired, there was a play area under the heading "Hall of Invention". There was a sign up saying the area was only open until Labor day, so parents of children tired of walking around will have to think of something else. In this play area were displays of the original muppets - Sam and Friends. There was also the TV Superman costume.

A later, but still early (1971) Kermit was upstairs, close to Adlai Stevenson's briefcase, in the section of the museum that had the ruby slippers at the entryway.

The basement, a.k.a. "LL" or "Lower Level" contains simulator rides, which cost $7 for 5 minutes. Of course I was too cheap to let Rafi go.

DC: Archives and Nat'l Gallery

We'd been thinking of taking our annual camping trip in Maine or NH this year, instead of Cape Cod. We love the Cape, but we live in NH, and I was wondering if my fixation on Cape Cod had to do with growing up near Boston. Why not save the two days being stuck in traffic (to & from), and try someplace closer?

Then a cousin of mine who lives near D.C. and whom I haven't seen in several years invited us all to a party she was throwing to celebrate a happy event. It was a chance to see some nice and interesting relatives I don't see too often, so we altered vacation plans to do some touring in Washington D.C.

The main problem with this plan was that I wasn't looking forward to waiting in lines and walking in the hot D.C. summer sun, but we actually lucked out with the weather. It was warm enough for us to enjoy a swim at the hotel in the late afternoon when we arrived, and then it was kind of cloudy and rainy for the next two days. There were some downpours, but we didn't happen to get caught in them. They just kept the air relatively cool. Decent museum weather.

The Spy Museum was top on my list, and the kids also thought it would be fun. We checked the website the night we arrived at the hotel and saw that it would cost our family of four $70 to visit. I had thought all the museums in D.C. were free, so balked at that price, particularly since I had never yet seen the National Archives or the U.S. History part of the Smithsonian, both of which are still free.

Saturday morning we found a parking spot across the street from the National Gallery. We walked to the archives. There was a bit of a line at the door, then a bit of a line to enter the Main Attraction--that is, the Rotunda containing the Declaration of Independence, drafts of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, two murals, and a funny letter complaining about the murals, and other stuff too. One of those awe-inspiring places to which Americans likely want to make pilgrimage to at least once. I was glad my children were able to appreciate it.

We ate lunch in the Archives cafeteria. The cans of soda were $1 each, which was refreshing. The street vendors and the roadside rest areas charge much more for drinks. My husband and I shared a cranberry-tuna sandwich. Cranberry turned out to be a good addition to tuna salad, so we learned something even in the cafeteria. All the sandwiches were $5.75 each. The kids didn't want tuna, so ate ice cream sandwiches, which were $2 each.

I dragged the kids into the National Gallery to see one of my favorite paintings, which looks like a science fiction landscape but is actually from the early Renaissance. St John in the Desert, by Domenico Veneziano.

We wandered around to see whatever we could in the time before we had to return to the hotel to get ready for the party. There was a really huge Rubens depicting Daniel in the Lions Den. Rafi and I sat on a bench to look at it and rest our legs. The lions had great fur and were very lion-y, but we started to notice that, as desperate as Daniel looked to be in his predicament, the lions had not yet noticed he was among them. The weren't looking at him. One was even asleep. There was a human skull at the bottom of the painting, so maybe they were still full from the last prisoner.

I tried to get the kids or even my husband to pose against Andrea del Castagno's portrait of David on a shield with their hand spread out like David's, but they all refused. One thing interesting about seeing it in real life is that you can see the bolts of the shield that are painted over. The surface is not entirely flat.

I wasn't aware that Leonardo's portrait of Ginevra de Benci was the only portrait by Leonardo in the U.S., but according to what I remember the placard about it said, it is. The girls did pose in front of that painting, perhaps because I didn't ask them to look silly while doing it. Rafi has a round face that more closely resembles Ginevra's, but I couldn't get a good juxtaposition of the two.

When I was in college, a lot of people had a poster of this girl in a garden by Renoir. Something about it always bugged me--something about the white face and blonde hair, the way it spreads out. I don't know what it is, because I like pretty much every other Renoir painting I've seen, but there's something wrong with this one. I looked at it in the National Gallery to see if perhaps it just wasn't translating well in reproduction, but no, I didn't like it in real life either. And, yes, all the other Renoirs in the gallery were beautiful.

I took lots of photos. If I post them somewhere, I'll link to them.

Fairfield Inn, Laurel MD

The most annoying feature of this hotel was the squeaky buzz that the elevator made to announce each floor. It was nasty and grating. Otherwise, the hotel was a clean and comfortable place to stay--quite mid-range, with a few amenities.
Our room had two queen-sized beds, one narrow window, a nicely functioning air-conditioner with controls that allowed us to change it to our preference. You could also open the window, if you wanted to attempt fresh air from the parking lot.
I had checked off "rollaway bed" when making the reservations, and it was dutifully standing against the wall, but I don't think there was enough floor space to open it. We told the desk people to take it away and they did. The kids shared the other queen bed.
I don't know why I've begun to assume that hotel rooms always have a mini-fridge. This one did not. There was a small coffee maker on the bathroom sink-counter, with one packet to brew decaf and another to brew regular coffee. I made a pot of the decaf when we arrived. It didn't taste very good, but I am kind of fussy about coffee.
The next morning, at the included-with-room-price breakfast, I poured some of the non-decaf to try it. It didn't smell very good. Alas, the hotel does not Proudly Brew Starbucks. Then I noticed that they had a hot-water spigot and tea bags, including Earl Grey and Constant Comment, so was happy to drink tea after that. The coffee and tea is available 24-hours, so I didn't attempt to brew the other packet of coffee after that.
I know I'll sound like those ladies at that Catskills resort who complained that:
This food--it's inedible! 
Yes! And such small portions!
when I say that I thought they should have replaced the vile packet of decaf the next day, but they did not. I mean, housekeeping couldn't have known that I didn't drink it and didn't want more. No, really, we didn't pay enough for mind-readers on the staff.
Sweeteners, lemon packets, and some weird creamer stuff was out 24-hours, but I was glad I nabbed a packet of honey at breakfast when I made myself some herb tea late at night. The honey was only available at breakfast, and honey is best with herbal tea late at night.
OK, for breakfast, the fun thing was the make-your-own waffle, which really worked out better if you took the time to read the short instructions as to how you were supposed to do it. I stayed at a Marriott in Pittsburgh earlier this year that had the same waffle-makers and two kinds of batter. The second batter was "blueberry", which was a ground-up purply gloop that I somehow couldn't resist trying, but it was pretty awful. I was glad that the Fairfield only had the plain batter. There was no real maple syrup. The syrup provided was not a good imitation, but my kids were happy with it. I was happy to find packages of real butter under all the margarine packets, but didn't find those until the third and last morning of our stay.
There was oatmeal, which suffered from the usual problem of institutional oatmeal in not tasting good after sitting out a few hours. Why don't they learn to change it hourly, like coffee? So one day it was okay, and the next day too glutinous.
There were hard-boiled eggs, too-sweet muffins, bread and English Muffins to toast, some sort of bacon-egg-cheese sandwich to microwave, and little cereal boxes. My kids were happy to grab Fruit Loops, which they've never seen at home. The first ingredient listed in Fruit Loops is sugar, not even wheat.
There were two brands of yogurt. One brand of strawberry yogurt was colored with carmine, which is made from beetles and therefore all-natural. The other brand had artificial sweetener and red dye. There was also apricot yogurt and fruit cups. The "super-fruit" fruit cups of pear in blue-juice was bad. The grapefruit sections were great.
There were also soft cookies in the lobby in the afternoon. That put smiles on the kids after a long traffic-delayed drive from New York when we first checked in. The staff was friendly, though we did not have to deal with them much.
My main complaint with the room was that the bathroom vent was too small and there was no fan. Taking a shower really steamed it up in there. I did like that the shower nozzle was good for showering, though lacked one of those quick switches at the top to temporarily shut off and save water while you're putting conditioner in your hair. I liked the clean smooth tub, and that the tub-plug worked for when I wanted to take a bath. Showering-only has become so prevalent that some hotels forget to make sure their tubs work. After walking around in museums two days straight, it was nice to soak aching muscles in a tub.
When we arrived, there were only three bath towels in the bathroom and not enough shampoo, even though the reservation said four people. After we mentioned this, more towels and shampoo appeared in our room when the rollaway bed was taken away.
We all enjoyed cooling off in the outdoor swimming pool in the evening. The pool opened at 10 am on weekends, but not until 3pm on week days. After Labor Day, it was either going to close or have shorter hours. The pool was not large, but not as small as the indoor pool in the Pittsburgh Marriott. The kids could have fun racing across and back, though they are not strong swimmers.
There is a fried chicken and fish restaurant next-door to the hotel. It might have been good, but it kind of smelled off. On the other side of the hotel is a large shopping plaza with a grocery store and lots of chain restaurants. Free and ample parking. Less than a half-hour's drive to D.C., depending on traffic.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

North Truro 2010 - North of Highland Campground

This was our second year camping on the cape. We were not so fortunate with the weather as we'd been the previous year. It rained for the first three days. Soaking. Solid.

But we'd managed to reserve a campsite that was on higher ground, so we weren't entirely miserable.  The campground had a large blazing fire in its main lodge. We sat in front of it, dried our socks and raincoats, and ate toasted marshmallows.

You can walk to the beach from the campground, even with small children. It is not a short walk. You do have to cross two streets, but otherwise the trail is mostly through pretty woods. It is a very nice beach. Not too bad in the rain, depending on your stamina.

The people at the front desk were friendly, though strict about the rules. After you check out, they won't let you leave your car in the parking lot while you go to the beach one last time.

There was a playground, which the kids loved, and a store, which the kids loved, and there were ping-pong tables in the lodge. You could borrow ping-pong racquets from the store.

The campground was not far from a Stop & Shop, for restocking groceries.

The bike path was very close to the campground as well. With teenagers, you could probably bike to Provincetown. But that was beyond the range of my children's capabilities.

You definitely want to take your bike to the Cape.  The bike trail was beautiful, and relatively flat.

My husband thinks that walk-to-the-beach is a trap because, unlike the previous year, we didn't often drive to the other wonderful beaches in the area. I would rather not climb into a car if I don't have to.

I could see going back there to spend a relaxing week riding the bike trail, walking to the beach, playing ping-pong, and sitting in the lodge catching up on writing and reading. There was even a small adults-only lounge. (Not in the X-rated sense, but in the sit-and-read-in-peace-and-quiet sense.)

On the way home, stop by the Truro Vineyards and pick up a few bottles of the local grape for the folks you left to take care of your pets while you were away, and as a little bit of vacation to drink once you've been back in the real world for too long.

That was our plan, but unfortunately, we left on Sunday, and they close early on Sunday. We didn't get there in time.

If you're looking for a semi-rainy day activity, the winery also gives a free tour, which my husband and I found fascinating, while our children were bored out of their skulls.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nickerson 2011

Kettle Ponds

The best part of Nickerson could be the Kettle Ponds, with their sandy beaches and beautiful water for swimming or boating.
Duck in Kettle Pond

Ranger Programs

When you arrive at the park, pick up a copy of the events schedule. There are guided hikes, such as the orienteering workshop that I found somewhat helpful in combating my 180 degree sense of direction. If you'd rather just sit, there are also campfire programs with folk tales and star gazing.

Both my daughters liked filling out their Junior Ranger books. The elder daughter completed her Junior Ranger requirements during the week of our stay, and was awarded a Junior Ranger patch. This is a great program that the State Parks, as well as the National parks, run for kids.

Ranger Todd collecting fewmets
Ranger Todd grew up in Cape Cod, and he seemed to know every single plant and animal around. He was really interesting to listen to and unfailingly polite. All the rangers were friendly and helpful.
Ranger Todd explaining animal bone

The Campground

There were actually campsites still available in August, if you didn't mind moving around every few days.  The rangers at the main station did not handle reservations at all. You had to connect to the Internet or call ReserveAmerica to reserve a spot, even if you were at the campground already.

It would pay to bike or drive around with the campground map to scope out where you'd like to stay the next year. There was a lot of variety.  The campsite that we thought would be walk-to-the-shore from the website map wasn't, since the map didn't show the steep dropoff between the campsite and the kettle pond.

The sites are somewhat close together, but not unusual compared to commercial sites. There were often empty sites, probably from people who reserved but couldn't make it.  The bathrooms were OK. Some were more modern than others. We brought quarters but didn't need them. The showers were free, when they weren't being cleaned.

There was a "pavilion" that would have been improved were there something to sit on within it.

There are folks who stay in the campground for the season and help out. They were good at their job and helpful if you need any sort of information about the park or surrounding area. One lady would put bouquets of wildflowers on the bathroom sink to brighten up the place. That was a nice touch.

The camp store sells firewood, which is the only firewood you're allowed to have in the park.
The canonical camping hot-dog supper
(Two years earlier, Nickerson was booked solid, so we stayed at Sweetwater Forest Campground, also in Brewster.)

Just outside the Park

There is a calm ocean beach, and grocery stores, and pizza places, and other restaurants.  You don't really need to bring a large cooler or worry about packing food.
Finding shells and hermit crabs in the ocean

Waiting for fish & chips at the Breakwater

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Until we have an intelligent or touch-sensitive windshield

Often the sun is too low for sun-flaps and too bright for sunglasses.  It gets particularly difficult when it is shining right behind a suspended street-light.

I've been in this situation several times, at a particular traffic light, about 7:30 in the morning.  I can't block the sun with the sun-flaps and still see when the traffic light turns green.  I end up sticking my fist out to block the sun.

An easy solution would be to have a disk of thin tinted plastic, about fist-sized--10 cm diameter--that can attach electrostatically to the windshield, with a small handle to pull it off and place it where it needs to go or store in a dashboard rack.

The ideal size and shape of the plastic could be worked out with user studies.  It would make sense to have the tinting stronger at the center, and fade out towards the edges.  It would also make sense to have an alternate shape that had a flat edge cut from the circle, not a half-circle, but cut it from a point about halfway from the center--this would be to line it up with a traffic light edge.

A more symmetric shape would work when the problem is just that the sun is very low and bright while you're driving.  It could get dangerous trying to drive with your fist stuck out, as I sometimes try to do, driving home around sunset.

Often the traffic report sites "solar" trouble as the cause of massive backups in the morning.  If everyone had these disks, we might get to work a little sooner.

A better and much more expensive solution would be to have the tinting built into the windshield.  You could touch the spot you wanted to darken.  You could touch it again to clear, or have a "clear-all" button on the dash.

A more advanced solution would be for the windshield to track the sun and the location of the driver's eyes, and adjust its tinting accordingly.

We need a half-sized rapid dishwasher

The current model of domestic dishwasher doesn't work for my family.

It sits, partly-filled, with rinsed and dirty dishes, while we wait for there to be enough to fill it and justify a full cycle.  We run out of spoons, or glasses.  Sometimes bowls.  We wash all the current dishes by hand, so the dishwasher never fills up.  We run the rinse cycle when there aren't enough dishes to justify that full cycle, then pull out the dishes and finish them by hand.  Or we get busy with other tasks by the time the rinse cycle is over, and the rinsed dishes sit in the dishwasher.  If we don't remember to open the dishwasher door, the rinsed dishes go through a warming phase that hardens leftover dirt.  The next day, the spouse who didn't run the rinse cycle thinks that the dishes are clean, and starts using the glasses from the top rack, which look clean from their rinsing, until one doesn't.

To avoid the half-filled problem, we wash a lot of dishes by hand.  Sometimes the best use of the automated dishwasher is that it gives us more rack space to dry the hand-washed dishes.

We don't need a "dry" cycle in a dishwasher.  Has anyone ever used the "plate warming" feature?

What we need is the restaurant-model dishwasher, a small version, to handle the plates from two or three people.  We should be able to place the unrinsed dishes in a simple rack, run a strong hot rinse cycle of less than a minute, a slightly soapy cycle, followed by another rinse.  Also have the option for just the quick, less than a minute, rinse.  We can finish what this doesn't clean by hand.

The cycle must be fast, so that we don't walk away and forget, and so that it is as convenient as washing the dishes by hand.

This would remove the problem of architecting placement of bowls, plates, pots etc to make most efficient use of the dishwasher and electricity.  It would prevent the fighting that goes on because of it.  Did you know that one-third of all divorces in this country stem from a disagreement as to how to load the dishwasher? (And thirty-seven percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.)

The goal of running as much as possible in one cycle would be relaxed.  We would relax.  And have clean dishes.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

I know this invention isn't needed any more

but I would like it if my car stereo would let me play the radio while I'm waiting for it to re-wind the tape cassette.

Even when a car has a CD player, it would be nice to be able to play music on the CD and a news station on the radio simultaneously.

I suppose people listen to music or news on their radios and then play news from podcasts or music from their cell-phones nowadays.  I tried listening to my Galaxy Nexus Android but there was too much road noise.

That Galaxy Nexus is a great toy but a lousy phone.  It's hard to hear.  It's hard for people to hear me.  But that's another topic.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Aibo + Scooba = Yes!

We could never rationalize the cost of a robotic pet.  We could never rationalize the cost of a floor-scrubbing robot vs a mop and scrub brush, but,
Dear iRobot:
Could you please build us a cute robot with an intelligent personality that also scrubs the floors? 
It doesn't have to be a dog or a cat.  Sammy the Squid or whatever's appropriate would be fine.  It could be a science fiction animal, or just robotic.  But we want the feel of a pet again.  Without vet bills, or wondering who to leave it with when we plan a vacation.  But make it useful.  If an intelligent Roomba is easier, that's OK too. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

two years, one rabbit

Goodbye, Chestnut.  You were my favorite mistake.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Tweets fall into three broad categories that can be sorted according to whether they link elsewhere.  The true and perfect tweets are self-contained units of information, a pithy saying or joke, some with the beauty of a haiku.  At the other extreme are pointers to get you to read elsewhere.  In between is a matter of degree.  Thus:

  1. self-contained
  2. useful by itself, with link to explain more
  3. useless without expanding link.

When I don't have a WiFi connection, or am just looking for a quick diversion, I wish my tweet-stream could be filtered to allow only type 1). It shouldn't be hard to filter out all tweets containing links.
It would be nice to have the option to filter the type 2) tweets in and out, but that would be harder.

Another way to break tweets into three categories is

  1. general interest
  2. personal message
  3. advertisement.

There are authors and others whose tweets I follow, but I would rather filter out what they had for lunch or some reply to a message I didn't get from a friend of theirs.  For now, when there is too little useful information in the mix, I just un-follow.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

laptop logos should rotate

Because when the computer is closed, I naturally position it with the logo right side up.  But then I can't open it. I have to turn it around.  The PC makers want everyone else to see the logo right side up when the computer is open.  I understand that.  But a clever PC maker, who cared about usability, would have the logo right side up when closed, then rotate once opened.  A little gravity detector.  Like the way a phone screen rotates.  Yeah, sure, it could add to the cost.  But a really clever manufacturer would come up with a very cheap way to do this.

Of course, an entire generation of people have probably gotten used to making sure the logo is upside down. They might be confused by this.

A really clever NEW computer company would design a logo that had vertical symmetry.  Just for this reason.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

please follow my blog, please?

At tonight's inaugural meeting of W.orD. (Write or Die, Jim Isaac's name for us), Susan explained that it was useful to have a blog that people follow, and that to maintain followers, we would have to update it at least every other day.  The blog could be on anything and still help us sell fiction.

This blog isn't about anything because it is about anything.  To un-jam my thoughts.  It's mine.

Would you follow it?  Who are you, anyway?  Does anyone see this?

Should I share it on Google+?

No, I've resisted that before, because I like it being "pull" not "push".  Once you cross-post to Facebook/Twitter/Google+, then it's push.  The link to this blog is on my Facebook page and Twitter profile.  If anyone's interested, they've been notified where to look.

Do people still use the terms pull/push to describe methods of accessing content?

We are so primitive now, passing out advice on current wisdom on navigating our presence in the Web.  We don't understand it yet.  We're getting vague ideas that are rightly scaring us.

I read once that people in the future will regard as quaint our belief in the separation between "real" and "virtual".

We are starting to teach our kids how to take care in creating their Web presence, how it will stay with them always.  The World Wide Small Town, with no anonymous Big City to escape to.

Meandering topic of a blog post.  If I post more often, I'd meander way more.  And stay up too late.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Very Slow on the Uptake

When I was a college freshman, my roommate told me that her father always paid cash when he bought a car. She looked very proud of this statement. It was pronounced in a similar way to other teachings of financial advice from her dad, like when she told me that he always knew to a penny what was in his checking account. I had a hard time puzzling out why it would be better to walk into a car dealership with that much cash in his pocket, instead of writing a check. I suppose I never forgot that statement because I couldn't figure it out. I was many years out of college when I remembered the statement again and realized that what she probably meant was he never took out a loan to buy a car, but purchased it with money he had in savings. That is good advice.

Tuesday 2 a.m.: Kill king, implicate princes

On the counter at the drugstore were some pocket-sized planning calendars--plastic coated, with kind of ugly designs. I noticed their labels said, "The Macbeth Collection". In small letters they said:
Plan Ahead.  A little planning goes a long way.
So what do you write in your Macbeth planner?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Boskone 2012 notes

Just the raw notes, now shared on Google Docs.

I was typing notes at some of the panels.  I kept thinking I'd edit them and post them here, but there's always something better to do.  In the meantime, I've uploaded them to Google Docs, and selected share with public. Maybe with them in Google Docs, I'll be more likely to edit them.  I deleted what I wrote during Elaine Isaak's writing exercise and just left the prompts (except the visual prompt that was on a card dealt from a stack.)

Working on my bio for zoetrope

I learned how to read so I could read the Oz books.  I grew up discussing science fiction dreams with my father.  I escaped Jr High and bouts of flu by reading Heinlein, Azimov, and back issues of Analog.  When I was fifteen, I met a disciple of Gerard K O'Neil, who convinced me that people don't need to live on planets: our future is in free-floating space colonies and hollowed-out asteroids  I've been writing about Mark Hankin, his family, and their friends since I was seventeen.