Friday, December 31, 2010

Perfect Boiled Water

Everybody thinks they know how to boil water.  Many - if not most of them - are deluded.  Boiling water is not as easy as it appears to be.  However, by following a few simple guidelines, it is within anyone’s reach.

1. Use a metal pot.  Wooden and plastic pots will not work! 

2. Fill the metal pot with a quantity of water that is less than the total volume of the pan.

3. Use real water!  Gasoline, alcohol, and lacquer thinner will boil, but you will not get boiling water from them.

4. Put the pot on the stove.  This is important.  You must use a stove!  Refrigerators, dishwashers, and KitchenAid stand mixers will not boil water, no matter how long you leave it on.

5. Turn on the burner directly beneath the pot.  Turning on the wrong burner will not boil water!

6. Give the water time to come to a boil.  On most stoves, you can adjust the amount of time required by changing the burner setting (consult the manual that came with your stove).

7. Do not watch the pot!  Watching the pot of water will increase the time it takes to come to a boil!  Simply glance at the water from time to time until you observe large numbers of “bubbles” rising to the surface.

8. Once the water is boiling, you can let it boil for a while, or you can turn off the burner – it’s up to you!

Coming soon: How to Make Ice Cubes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Self-Indulgent Post About Book Shelves

There are many ways to arrange books.  If you are an interior designer, you might arrange them by color and size.  A history buff might order them according to period, or by publication date.  Someone with limited shelf space might stack them every which way, to take up as little room as possible.  You could arrange them by author, by page count, by publisher, or by frequency of use.   You could employ the liquor store technique, arranging them by quality, putting the best books on the top shelf.

Not long ago I was making a promotional video in my basement with Max and Nick, two men in their early twenties.  Max was directing, Nick was operating the camera.  (Click here to view Part One of the movie we were making)

Making a movie—even a very short video—involves a lot of sitting around and waiting.  During one of these periods (waiting for a battery to charge), Nick was looking over my bookshelves.  He became excited when he found my almost-complete collection of Philip K. Dick novels and story collections.  Max was interested in Dick’s writing, too. 

As was I, when I was their age.

My books are arranged, roughly, in alphabetical order by author and by genre—sci-fi against the east wall, crime fiction in the next bookcase, comic books to the west, and so forth. 

It occurred to me, watching Nick and Max flipping through the Phil Dick books, that it might be interesting to arrange my books according to the age at which I first read them.

First would be my tattered copy of Brave Cowboy Bill, a Little Golden Book from the 1950s.  Among the last, as of this writing, would be Explorers of the New Century, by Magnus Mills.

Here’s a list of books that made a big impression on me, roughly arranged by the age at which I read them. (OCD much?) I’ve tried to be honest here, even though a few of the titles make me squirm to think that I bought into them at any age.  I only allowed myself one book per author.  

Age 4-7
The Little Engine that Could —“Watty Piper” and others
Brave Cowboy Bill —Kathryn Jackson

Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint — R. Abrashkin and J. Williams
Charlotte’s Web —E.B. White
A Wrinkle in Time —Madeleine L'Engle
Tom Sawyer —Mark Twain
Lord of the Flies —William Golding
“The Hardy Boys” —“Franklin W. Dixon”
Wild Trek —Jim Kjelgaard
White Fang —Jack London

Strangest of All —Frank Edwards
The Source —James Michener
The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy) —J.R.R.Tolkien
Cat of Many Tails —Ellery Queen
From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
The Human Comedy —William Saroyan
Atlas Shrugged —Ayn Rand
The Pearl —John Steinbeck
Cat’s Cradle —Kurt Vonnegut
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold —John LeCarre
Tai Pan —James Clavell
Brave New World —Aldous Huxley

The Idiot —Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Teachings of Don Juan —Carlos Castenada
The Sun Also Rises —Ernest Hemingway
The Puppet Masters —Robert Heinlein
Triton —Samuel R. Delany
Nausea —Jean Paul Sartre
Martian Time-Slip —Philip K. Dick
The Immoralist —Andre Gide
Madame Bovary —Gustave Flaubert
The Savage Mind —Claude Levi-Strauss
The Structure of Art —Jack Burnham
Rogue Moon —Algis Budrys
Junky —William Burroughs
Mushrooms of North America —Orson K. Miller
Dune —Frank Herbert
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test —Tom Woolf
The Stranger —Albert Camus

Rebecca —Daphne du Maurier
In Cold Blood —Truman Capote
The Big Sleep —Raymond Chandler
“Solid Objects” —Virginia Woolf
The Elements of Style —William Strunk and E. B. White
Dubliners —James Joyce
The Left Hand of Darkness —Ursula LeGuin
The Adventures of Alyx —Joanna Russ
Baby is Three —Theodore Sturgeon
A Sweet, Sweet Summer —Jane Gaskell
The French Lieutenant’s Woman —John Fowles
The Great Gatsby —F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Stars My Destination —Alfred Bester
The Postman Always Rings Twice —James Cain

Deliverance —James Dickey
Dog Soldiers —Robert Stone
The Book of the New Sun (tetralogy) —Gene Wolfe
The Cream of the Jest —James Branch Cabell
Unknown Man No. 89 —Elmore Leonard
Leaving Cheyenne —Larry McMurtry
Wild Seed —Octavia Butler
Falconer —John Cheever
The Talented Mr. Ripley —Patricia Highsmith

40s and 50s
The Remains of the Day —Kazuo Ishiguro
Lyonesse (trilogy) —Jack Vance
The Silence of the Lambs —Thomas Harris
Expendable —James Alan Gardner
The Ice House —Minette Walters
Maus —Art Spiegleman
The Fourth Durango —Ross Thomas
Duchamp —Calvin Tomkins
Spin —Robert Charles Wilson
Explorers of the New Century —Magnus Mills

Total Books: 72
Books by men: 60
Books by women: 12
Books by Americans: 45+
Books by British and Irish authors: 10+
Books by authors of other nationalities: 10+
Books by African-Americans: 2+
Books written before I was born: 25
Books written by authors who are deceased: 40+
Books by gay authors: 10+
Sci-Fi/Fantasy books: 20+
Crime/Mystery books: 10+
Listed authors I’ve read more than one book by: 61
Listed books I’ve read more than once: 33

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

True Love

I just got my first look at the paperback edition of How to Steal a Car (available January 1), and I love love love the cover, oh yes I do. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our Christmas Card

This year, in honor of the beached economy, Mary and I ordered a very small quantity of holiday cards.  You probably didn't get one.  Don't feel bad.  Neither did my mom.  Anyway, here's the card.

The poem is by Mary Logue, of course.  Photo and design by me.  The Adelie penguin is by Rowbike inventor Scott Olson.  (You can buy your own penguin.)

I'll post a new picture of the penguin tomorrow - after we get the 18 inches of snow we've been promised.

Friday, December 10, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

Thirty years ago, as a Christmas gift for a friend, I wrote a novella based upon the characters and world created by Kenneth Grahame in his classic book The Wind in the Willows. I called it "Beneath the Wild Wood."

"Beneath the Wild Wood" is not an attempt to “channel” Grahame.  I took considerable liberties with character, setting, and language—though no more than did Grahame himself. It was never intended as a commercial venture, and has since been seen by only a handful of readers. I thought that some of you—after cursing me roundly for messing with a Sacred Classic—might enjoy reading a sample from this unpublished work.

You can find the first few (unedited) chapters posted here, on the NCTE's "National Gallery of Writing."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cognitive Dissonsance

Three of my brothers are wildlife artists.  Every now and then, one of them gets bored painting the usual idyllic wildlife scenes and starts messing around in Photoshop.  I just received this somewhat disturbing image in an email from Bob. It has a bit of that "a tarantula on an angel food cake" feel to it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Free, Full-Fat, No-Exercise Lady Gaga Diet

Sorry.  I put that headline up in a desperate attempt to lure more traffic to my blog.


In a wholly successful attempt to avoid writing this morning, I ran across this clever little graphic online.  

I smiled, even though it offends my sense of rightness.  It is not a "correct" Venn diagram - "music I used to like" is not a proper subset of "music I like." But never mind, it's still funny.
Naturally, I spent the next half hour looking at other Venn diagrams.  

And then another half hour making my own diagram.  (I tried to use some of the online Venn diagramming tools, but they were too confusing for five o'clock in the morning, so I just hacked this together with the crappy little drawing program that came with my scanner.)

I'll be reading selections from both books at the Second Story Reading Series this Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.  If you're in the Twin Cities, please stop by!