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The Witching Hour

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The Witching Hour

I’ve left this far too late once again, and the witching hour has arrived. Enjoy the jack-o-lantern!

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An Autumnal Weekend

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This weekend I felt very much in the spirit of the autumnal season. As fall progresses, it’s getting darker and colder here, and so I decided I would make some stew.  There I was, passing some time in the evening on Saturday, chopping onions for my stew, with the pot bubbling and A Prairie Home Companion on the radio. As I was discussing with a family member, the only things missing were a roaring fire in a fireplace, warm sweaters, and mulled cider for after dinner.

Of all the NPR programming, A Prairie Home Companion seems the most appropriate for an autumn or winter evening. It has that slow, dreamy quality that gives one the impression of being nestled in an odd but strangely soothing story.

My evening was quiet, and cozy, and very nice. I curled up with a book later in the evening, which was the perfect ending to the day. The next day, I made scones and we had them with piping hot tea. On the whole it felt like just the sort of thing you’d like a weekend in autumn to be.

~Agatha Viola

Savoring the month of October

Let’s Talk About “Millennials” (and “Millennium”, while we’re at it)

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I do not like the term “Millennial”.  This is, in part, because I don’t like how “Millennial” sounds, as a word. It’s not just “Millennial” either. I’m never been very fond of “millennium.” Too many “l”s and “m”s, but mostly too many “l”s. “Millennial” is even worse, because it has even more “l”s. The word is nearly swallowed by all the “l”s.  At the turn of the most recent century (it still seems weird that there has been a more recent turn of the century than 1900), I was disappointed that we didn’t have a better word for a thousand-year period than “millennium”. It was such a momentous occasion, this passage into another thousand years, and yet we were stuck with using a word that was so unsatisfying.

As a term describing a generation, “Millennial” is also deeply unsatisfying. I’m not sure that “Gen Y” is much better, but at least it doesn’t have an excessive quantity of “l”s. “Millennial” is frustrating to me, because it seems like every time the generational group is talked about, it’s in a negative way. Even when people talk about Millennials as being particularly savvy, that is often accompanied by a remark about how they are lacking in some other way. Quite frequently, these negative traits of Millennials are linked in some way to the perceived ease with technology or preference for technology above all else.

This assumption that Millennials are all about new technology, and social networking and whatnot bothers me a lot, because it is not true. There are plenty of people who fall into the Millennial category who aren’t plugged into every form of web-based communication known to man. Just because someone is under the age of 30 does not mean that he or she is an expert with computers, or the internet, or social media. It does not mean that he or she has some innate knowledge that other people don’t have, solely because of his or her age.

I don’t see “Millennial” as a neutral term. For me, it always carries a negative connotation that has nothing to do with my dislike of having so many “l”s in one word.  It’s frustrating and upsetting to feel that the word that is used to describe one’s generation is negative one. I’m sure that not everyone who falls under the “Millennial” generation feels this way. We’re a diverse bunch, after all. But I also know I’m not the only one.

~Agatha Viola

My Grandmother’s Attic

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My grandmother’s attic was always cold and crisp, and smelled like cookie dough. We always visited her in fall or winter, which probably explained the chill, but the air also felt clear, in a way that I have rarely felt elsewhere.

It was a magnificent attic. The entrance to the attic was hidden in a small closet in my grandmother’s bedroom. It always seemed liked a marvelous secret entrance to me. You had to open two doors – the closet door, and then the door inside of the closet, to get to the attic. If you filled the little room there with coats or boxes you might never know there was a door to the attic there.

The cookie dough smell of the attic was primarily confined to the stairway that you climbed after you opened the second door. You could feel the temperature dropping as you ascended the stairs. The attic was quite large, and fairly well lit with natural light. There was an enormous fan in the wall at the opposite end of attic. There were all sorts of things up there, covered with cloth and blankets to keep the dust off them. The ceiling was quite high, it reminded me a bit of being in a small barn. Mostly we just went up there near Christmas to locate the lights and ornaments.

I loved going up there. I always had to go up the stairs so carefully, especially when I was small and the railing was practically taller than I was. There were many things about my grandmother’s house that I loved – it was so different from our apartment, – but the attic was one of the things that seemed the most magical.

Old Books and Disappearing Systems

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One of the activities I like to do for fun is wander around the library shelves and stacks. It is a relaxing and entertaining way to spend forty-five minutes or an hour, and it is new and different every time.

One of the floors of the library at the college I attended had older books from the collection that were still organized using the Dewey Decimal System. I particularly enjoyed roaming around there—books from the early 1900s were written in a very different style from today’s tomes. I also enjoyed seeing how they were designed and printed, and what the illustrations (if any) were like. I’ve always found interesting how you can see the indentations that typewriters or printing presses made on the page. Some presses dug deep into the paper, others less so.  It adds another dimension to the physical differences amongst the books.

Sometimes these books still have the old library cards in the back, with names recorded in elegant script, from back when people wrote their names on the card when they checked out a book, rather than just having the date stamped. Some people wrote their names with less care than others (times haven’t changed that much) but the names were still almost always legible. I am glad that academic libraries still stamp books with the return date. It’s fun to see when the book has been used, and how long it’s been since someone last was due to return it. I am sorry that the public library no longer does this, although it does speed up the check-out process to simply print a receipt.

I miss card catalogs as well. I’m not so young that I’ve never used one—my elementary school had a small card catalog for its library, and I found many an interesting book browsing through the cards. Now my browsing is mostly confined to wandering the shelves. Aimlessly navigating through the online card catalog is not quite the same experience. I did use an online catalog within in the past few years which linked to scans of the card catalog cards for the search results. That was a creative combination of technologies, to be sure.

~Agatha Viola

Enjoyer of old and dusty books

An Observation about Mobile Devices

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I’m still surprised by how many mobile devices I see in the course of daily life. (I say this as a person who almost always carries a flip phone, and often carries an e-reader). It’s not just people talking on cell phones anymore. I ride the bus frequently, and I almost always see a large number of smart phones being used for various purposes. Most of the time, the smart phones are being used for something other than placing a call. I see some e-readers, though not as many as the smart phones.

On the metro, I am with increasing frequency, seeing two or three people in a car using laptops or tablet computers. I generally don’t see this being done on the bus, though I did see a guy get off the bus one day holding his still-open laptop, which I thought was rather bold of him. It wasn’t the greatest part of town either – not the worst, by far, but still it was not a place I’d flash electronics around. I can somewhat understand the temptation to use a laptop or tablet on the metro. People are often commuting a fair distance, and the metro is generally pretty safe. It’s a much better set up for trying to do work than the bus is – it’s a smoother ride, no abrupt unexpected stops, it’s more comfortable, and there is more room. Still, it’s easy to forget just how many devices are out there, if you’re not really paying attention. When I stop and take an informal look over the bus, or the metro, and see how many people have some kind of mobile electronic device out, it’s always more than I would have guessed.

The times are changing quickly.

~Agatha Viola

Constantly surprised by the 21st century

These Newfangled Ebooks and Ebook Readers

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In this modern day and age, there are a great variety of formats in which a person may read a book. To cover all of them is a task too broad for a single post, so I will stick today to ebooks/ebook readers.

While physical books will always be first in my heart, I’m not completely opposed to ebook readers. I own one, as a matter of fact. I would never want an ebook reader to be my only option for reading books, but it is great for traveling. As someone who perpetually tries to overstuff my luggage with books, my ereader is great for reducing that problem. I still can’t stop myself from bringing one or two books, but having the ereader lets me bring as many ebooks as I want, without taking up more space or adding more weight. (There is a limit to the number of books I can have on my ereader, but the limit is somewhere in the thousands. Even I can’t fill up an ereader that quickly.) I mostly use my Kindle to download books that have passed out of copyright, and are, therefore, free. On a recent trip though, I took some ebooks from the library, and that was a lot of fun. With the wonders of the internet and a computer, I even had the option to check out more ebooks from my local library while thousands of miles away. I wouldn’t bring a physical library book on a long trip – I wouldn’t want to risk losing it, but an ebook can be returned from anywhere, so long as you have access to internet. It was an intriguing and exciting idea – checking out a library book so far removed from the library itself.

I’ve been reading a lot of 19th century literature lately, and the Kindle is good for that. With books that are in the public domain, I can download some number of books from the Kindle store, try them out, and delete from my device ones I am not interested. Since the books are free, the only major thing at stake is my time.

I haven’t quite figured out how long of a book I’m willing to read for the first time on my Kindle. For example, I tried reading Middlemarch, by George Elliot on my device but just wasn’t making progress. I checked out a physical copy from the library instead, and made considerably more progress. I haven’t finished it as of yet, but I found it much easier to read in paper form than in electronic form. On the other hand, I read three of Edith Wharton’s rather long novels on my Kindle, and got along just fine that way.

I can’t read textbooks on my Kindle. I really need to have textbooks in front of me, with actual pages that I can turn, and if possible have my own copy of the text so that I can scribble in it. I once or twice put a class reading in pdf format on my Kindle, but while you can read a pdf on it, you don’t really want to try to do that, at least not with the version of the Kindle that I have. It is possible, but you have to zoom in and scroll around on the text in ways that make it frustrating to read.

My Kindle isn’t going to replace my physical book collection, but I do enjoy having an ereader.

~Agatha Viola

Somewhat reluctant about technology but not a technophobe

 

Small Annoyances

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In my experience, drugstores are the worst offenders when it comes to giving a person a ridiculously long receipt when one has purchased only one or two items.  Just the other day, at a drugstore that shall remain nameless, I received the longest receipt I’ve ever received from any store. It was at least three feet long, and I had only purchased three items. The receipt had seven coupons on it, which is more than twice the number of items I purchased. Two of the coupons were of the more general variety, and which I might actually use, if I make it back to the store before they expire. The other five I doubt very much that I will have a use for, and they’re not even for products much related to those items that I bought. Their primary relation to the items I acquired is that they are coupons for items that fall in the same general area of the store.

A receipt that is several feet long is also highly impractical from a check-out point of view. It was a good thing I had a bag that I could put the receipt in, because it would have taken a measurable about of time for me to fold the receipt enough times for it to fit into my wallet. A receipt is, first and foremost, a record of what you bought and how much you paid for it.  Having one that has several feet of coupons attached rather distracts from that purpose, and indeed, impedes the usefulness of the object. Also, just think how much longer a roll of receipt paper would last if you were given a receipt sans coupons, or even one with just a couple of coupons! Surely it would be more economical for the store?

In conclusion, don’t waste paper, clean your plate, and why, when I was your age I had to walk three miles up hill both ways in the snow, even in June.

~Agatha Viola

Champion complainer of trivial things