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Archive for February, 2015

Insomnia

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 22, 2015

I’ve been up since 12:15 AM and I want to write something about my severe insomnia, but I don’t know what to write. Yesterday, I had the luxury of sleeping in until 4:15, but that’s very rare. Normally, I’m up by 2:15. I typically go to bed around 10 or 10:30, so I average maybe three or perhaps four hours of sleep a night. I try to take a one hour nap after lunch every day, which helps to a certain degree, but I’m always exhausted. It’s very wearing. I take two sleeping pills and many other pills with sedative side effects, but while they put me to sleep, they don’t keep me asleep. It’s very frustrating. It’s been this way for at least 12+ years. For as long as I can remember. I can’t remember when it wasn’t this way. I don’t know what caused it or what causes it. I’ve tried every prescription and non-prescription sleep aid known and nothing helps. Right now, I’m taking Estazolam and Sonota, neither of which help that much, as I mentioned. I’m writing this at 4:25 AM and I feel like I’ve been up all morning. By the time my wife gets up, I’ll be ready to go back to bed. But I almost can never do that. I just can’t go back to sleep again. It’s very frustrating. Insomnia blows.

Posted in Health | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

A Review of What The Dormouse Said

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 21, 2015

What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer IndustryWhat the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a fascinating history of personal computing in America, most specifically in Northern California, most especially in the Stanford region. I swear, I had no idea that Stanford played such a strategic role in the development of the personal computer.

The book attempts to tie together nerdie engineers with counterculture LSD druggies with free love types with antiwar activists with students with hackers and the mix is considerably hard to pull off, even for a writer as accomplished as Markoff. In fact, I would say that he fails at it. Still, he tries, yes, he does. He tries a chronological approach to things and soon we have computer science engineers dropping acid in what will become Silicon Valley, leading to who knows what kinds of creativity. But Markoff really concentrates this book on two or three people: Doug Engelbart and his Augmented Human Intelligence Research Center at SRI (Stanford Research Institute) and John McCarthy’s SAIL (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory). Another important figure is Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog. Finally, there was programmer extraordinaire, Alan Kay.

Engelbart had a vision and he pulled in people to create his vision. He envisioned a computer — this was the 1960s — that would augment how people thought and what they did. McCarthy also envisioned a computerized world, albeit a slightly different one. Brand envisioned a computer for every person, while Kay envisioned small computers — laptops of today — that were so easy to use, that small children could be taught to use them. And these men all pulled it off!

Engelbart plays such a large role in the book, that it’s nearly all about him, and I think that does the book a bit of a disservice. Nonetheless, it’s he who creates the mouse to use with a display and keyboard in the late ’60s. He was funded largely by ARPA and was critical in the development of the ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet.

At some point, the book shifts to Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Reserch Center), the infamous Xerox research facility that had the most brilliant geniuses of the twentieth century under one roof and who literally did invent the personal computer as we know it to be. This was before Steve Wozniak and his famous claim that he invented the personal computer. Under Bob Taylor At PARC, Kay and the others who had shifted over there invented a graphical user interface, an operating system, a text editor (word processor), programming language, software, Ethernet for networking, a mouse, display, keyboard, audio, and a laser printer, which would be the only thing Xerox would go on to make money with. Xerox was so stupid, they never realized what they had in hand and they could have owned the world, but they didn’t. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Markoff weaves various stories of people like Fred Moore throughout the book, attempting to capture the counterculture spirit, but it seemed a little lost on me. Most of the techies weren’t overly political. Most avoided Vietnam by working in a research facility that did weapons research (SRI). Most dropped acid at some point, but very few seemed to make that a lifestyle choice. I thought it was an interesting book, as the topic is personally interesting to me, but it wasn’t the most cohesively written book and I would have expected a little more from a writer of Markoff’s stature. Still, four solid stars and recommended.

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Toby

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 18, 2015

Before I launch into today’s post, I want to acknowledge my last post and what happened with that. In my last post, I whined pretty pathetically about not getting comments or likes from my 406 followers. So I was stunned to get tons of comments AND likes on this post, most all of them from people who didn’t follow me! Including my own responses to various comments, there were 73 comments and dozens of likes on this post. And not too many took me to task. Most made the point that I needed to be more interactive in order to gain comments, as in I needed to make the rounds of other blogs and make more comments myself in order to get people to my site. And that’s probably true. So point taken. I shall try to do that. It was also nice to hear from some other ex-Xangans. And instead of offending followers and losing bunches of them, I actually gained some new ones. Bizarre! I wondered how people found my post. Apparently several people found it, somehow, and re-blogged it and people found it that way. I’m not sure why they felt compelled to re-blog it, but there you have it. So that’s the story. Thanks.

OK, so today is our beloved late cat Toby’s one year anniversary of his death. We still sometimes can’t believe he’s gone. We still miss him so much. We still feel like he was cheated out of a good life. You may remember that he was only six. That he died of kidney failure. That we had to have him “put to sleep,” which is a nice way of saying we had him killed. He had been getting sick and we were getting concerned. We took him to the vet as early as the preceding October. She put him on a special diet, but it was too little, too late. He really went downhill his last two weeks. It was really sad to see. During his last 24 hours, I thought he could be saved, as he had perked up a bit, so I took him home from the animal hospital and he seemed better, but that didn’t last long and he was obviously ill again within hours. So the next morning, I took him to the vet and my wife later told me she thought that would be the last time she’d ever see him. I can still remember him looking at me as they took him in his kennel into the back room. When they called me later to recommend euthanasia, I was devastated, but not horribly surprised. We had him cremated. We keep his jar of ashes next to my old cat, Rocky’s, ashes.

Toby used to like water. A lot. He liked to take showers with us. He’d drink out of the bath water with my wife every night. He’d get in the sink and drink out of the faucet every morning. He also used to like to get us up in the morning. It didn’t seem to matter that I have insomnia. He’d hang out with me in the office from 1 or 2 til 4 or 5 and then start wailing at the bedroom door, trying to get my wife up. I’d have to chase him up the hallway to try and quiet him down. He could also sleep with the best of them. Never met a cat that could relax so much. He really loved Gretchen’s Ravens blankie. He made it his own. He also loved shoes and loved sleeping with his face in them. I know — gross. Still, it was cute. He was a big cat — 22 pounds. He was tubby. He loved to eat. We’d put him on diets, but they never worked. Our other cat, Henry, is 15 pounds. Henry always let Toby eat first. Heh.

Toby died the week we were supposed to move. It was very stressful. We were moving from a crime-ridden neighborhood, to a nice peaceful neighborhood where we’d all be happier. We felt cheated that Toby never got to see the new house, never got to run around it, see the new neighborhood. Time went on. Meanwhile, Gretchen wanted a new pet, one to call her own since Henry is sort of my cat. He’s been with me since he was a tiny little kitten and often seems to favor me over others. It’s always been that way. Gretchen wavered between a dog and a cat and we went to adopt a dog one day, only to find it had already been adopted. We took that as a sign, so the day after Thanksgiving, we went to the local shelter and adopted a four month old tabby Gretchen named “Ace,” who’s a real cutie, albeit a crazed little monster who beats up on poor Henry constantly. Gretchen really seems to love him and I’ve even grown somewhat attached to him, although he’ll never take Toby’s place in my heart.

So I guess I’ve said enough. I just wanted to commemorate Toby today. It’s been a year since he died. That was an awful day. A lot has happened since then. We’re in a new house now, Toby. You would like it here. You’re sorely missed. RIP.

Toby and me

Toby and me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toby on a scale

Toby on a scale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toby in a scarf

Toby in a scarf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Why Bother?

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 15, 2015

You know, I’m becoming pretty discouraged blogging here on WordPress. I used to blog on Xanga all the time for years. In fact, it is where I met my wife many years ago. And there was a real sense of community there. You looked forward to getting on Xanga to see what everyone was up to that day, what had been going on. That doesn’t happen on WordPress. At all. It’s a totally different format. And so I’ve adapted my blogging practices in an effort to change. But I’m afraid it’s been for no good cause.

As of right now, I have 406 followers here on WordPress. Not the most, by far, but still, a decent number. And you know how many hits my posts get? 20 or 30. How many likes? Three or four. My excellent blog post I wrote on our new floors complete with pictures got one the other day. WTF??? What the fuck is wrong with you people??? Two years ago, when I had half the followers, I was getting 10 or 11 likes, so what am I doing differently now to get no likes? And comments? My wife has commented on about a quarter of my 472 posts. Another blogger has commented on 50 posts. The next highest is 13. In four years. In four years of writing blogs, the third best I can do is 13 comments? WTF? I happen upon all of these blogs by all of these teeny bopper girlies who are self published and self important “authors” dispensing writing advice with hundreds of comments and I just shake my head in amazement. Now I’ll admit, I’m not a very good commenter on other people’s blogs, so I’m willing to cut some people some slack, but I almost never get comments.

So my question is, what the hell are you people doing? Why are you even following me if you’re not remotely interested in reading my posts, or liking them, or commenting about them? Why not do me a big favor and stop following me? In fact, after reading this post, I expect to see about half of you flee and I expect to lose followers in droves, or then again, maybe not. Since most of you don’t even see what I write, perhaps you won’t even see this post. I don’t know. And I’m not sure I care. However, just because I’m somewhat curious, I’m going to post a little poll and I challenge you to answer it just to give me some feedback so I know what’s going on. If you do, a big thanks to you.

  1. I read your posts somewhat regularly, but never feel inspired to like or comment on them.
  2. I read your posts somewhat irregularly, but never feel inspired to like or comment on them.
  3. I like your book reviews, but don’t feel compelled to comment on them.
  4. I don’t like your attitude.
  5. I don’t like or comment on anyone’s posts. Don’t feel so special.
  6. You don’t write enough non-book review posts.
  7. Other.

I don’t know what else to include. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to realize that I write about a lot of things. It seems to me that something would appeal to most everyone. Among the topics I’ve written about include book reviews, Christianity, creative writing, depression, family, health, hockey, life, music, NHL, Philip K. Dick, Pittsburgh Penguins, poetry, politics, publishing, religion, reviews, science fiction, sports, and writing. Surely there’s something there to interest most people, right? I guess not. Not if you go by my stats. Well, here’s to no one reading this post.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 74 Comments »

A Review of A Spy at Twilight

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 15, 2015

A Spy at TwilightA Spy at Twilight by Bryan Forbes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is little doubt that with the thriller, A Spy at Twilight, Bryan Forbes is trying to become a contemporary of Forsyth. Sadly, he fails. See, the secret to Forsyth’s success is his enormous dedication to research, details, and planning, as well as intricate story telling. Forbes shares none of these traits. He spins a decent yarn, yes, but not nearly as well as Forsyth.

In this book, a booby trapped corpse explodes when investigated by a couple of British cops, killing both, and setting off a massive investigation. England is “ruled” by a socialist prime minister who it’s hard to pin down and I attribute that to the author — the prime minister is clearly influenced by the head of the secret service — MI6 — who in this novel is called “Control,” which just seems so wrong. What seems even more wrong is the hero of all of the James Bond novels and countless Forsyth novels, “Control” is a Russian plant working to overthrow Britain for Russian rule. That’s literally unthinkable to me. And he seems, at times, to have the prime minister working alongside him, and at other times, the prime minister doesn’t seem to have a clue about what’s going on. It’s very confusing.

Another part of the plot involves a former British spy, Hillsden, who has defected to the Russians, who was forced to by the prime minister and Control and who now, just to survive, works for the GRU. And he’s bitter. He writes his memoirs and attempts to get them back to a colleague in Britain, but it only leads to various deaths.

Meanwhile, the protagonist, Waddington, is a former MI6 spy, now working for a security company who has been seduced by a mysterious rich hottie who is working for Control, although he of course doesn’t know it. And to my total shock, the author kills him off about 80% of the way through the book. So now what? Well, there are secondary characters who now take over, but it’s very confusing. You expect to make it through the whole book with the protagonist, don’t you? Generally? Perhaps it’s post-modern…. I didn’t like it though.

Another thing I didn’t like was small details like the following: the author several times referred to revolver “magazines.” Um, revolvers don’t have magazines. I know. I have one. I also have semiautomatic handguns. Those do have magazines. Get it right. The author is also extremely obsessed with AIDS. Now I know this book was published in the middle of the AIDS epidemic in 1989, so I can empathize, but come on. We get it. We are So.Very.Happy.You.Did.Not.Get.AIDS. God, go on and on about it, dude! Additionally, the terrorist known as “The Fat Boy” is not fat. He forces some type of cyanide pill down the throat of the woman who has seduced Waddington by kissing her, which seems a little unlikely. And Keating seems to good to be true, as spy turned movie producer turned good guy.

This isn’t really a bad book. It’s just not really a good one either. It could have done with some polishing, a little rewriting, some editing, some adjustments. That would have upped my rating to four stars. As it is, it’s three stars and uneasily recommended if you can’t find any other thrillers to read.

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Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

New Floors!

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 13, 2015

So after much aggravation, we finally have some new floors!

In early January, we started researching this and settled on a place that seemed fairly reliable and had a good selection. We wanted a new kitchen floor for the first thing (well, my wife did) and we (I) wanted hardwood floors to replace our carpet throughout much of the rest of the house. The question was just how much. That question was answered two ways. One, we found out we would be put out for several days — we and our cats — with the contractors having to move all of the furniture, including the beds, etc., and that didn’t jibe with us. So we eliminated the three upstairs bedrooms. That left the dining room, living room, foyer, and hallway. So the question remained, what about the downstairs? We have a smallish den, a laundry room, which we didn’t want touched, and our office, as well as the stairs. Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a massive hassle it would be to pack up the permanently messy office. It would even be a minor hassle to pack up the den. But we were still open. Until we got the prices. We decided on a pretty LVT kitchen floor that was pretty reasonable. They said they could get it done in one day. And we took some wood samples home to look at, including cherry, but they were too dark for me, so I begged Gretchen to consider something lighter. We had really light wood in our old house and I thought that might be too light for this house, but our living room is pretty dark here and I thought the cherry might make for a pretty depressing room, so I asked for something in between. And we found a nice one, oak I think, with a nice texture at a somewhat reasonable cost. We asked for estimates on the upstairs and the downstairs too, including the stairs. Well, we found out we could afford the upstairs, but the downstairs was a little too rich for our blood and they wanted to charge $2,000 to do the stairs alone!!! That’s crazy! So we decided on the upstairs. They said we’d have to paint our own trim, but I said no way, they’d have to do it or no deal, so they agreed. And they were supposed to start on that this past Tuesday. It was supposed to take two days. The project manager had recommended a floating wood solution, as opposed to a glued down wood, for various reasons, so that’s what we went with. And things went downhill from there.

On the day the contractors were to show up to do the kitchen, they didn’t show up. At all. After awhile, I called the folksy saleswoman who had pre-charged us thousands of dollars and told us we had paid for “everything” then and she looked into it and said there had been a misunderstanding and they wouldn’t be coming that day, they’d be coming the next. I wasn’t happy. I told her. The next day they showed up and after several hours of work, it became apparent that they didn’t have enough materials with them to finish the job. And the warehouse they came from didn’t have more. They’d have to order more from the actual plant. I called the saleswoman and let her have it. She said she’d call the plant and would have the materials overnighted to her and they’d be there mid-morning the next day. So these guys showed up the next day and finished up and even though we were ticked, we were pleased with the finished product and thought the floor looked good. Still, we were apprehensive about the hardwood floor installation.

That was last month. On Tuesday, these same contractors showed up to install the hardwood. It was really difficult for me because that meant I’d be trapped downstairs with two ticked off cats for a couple of days with a lot of noise overhead. I have severe insomnia and depend on naps to survive and I wouldn’t be getting any, so that was frustrating too. Well, they moved furniture around and took up carpet and started laying wood in the living room and then called the project manager in to talk to me. Turns out they said the floor had dips in it. Major dips. They said many houses had dips, but they were usually a quarter inch — ours were an inch. They said they often put a cardboard box in the dip and that works. They said they’d tried three with ours and that didn’t work, so they didn’t feel comfortable laying our floor and said we’d have to do something different. We’d have to get a leveler and get it laid overnight. Then the contractors would have to glue the wood to the floor. This, of course, would cost a whole lot more. I wasn’t happy and when I contacted my wife, she was livid. She felt like it was a bait and switch and I felt similarly. So we had to wait until the saleswoman called me with the figures and I laid into her and she said we didn’t have to do this at all, but it was obvious we did, so I ok’d it at an additional cost, part of which I had to prepay. Then the contractors went to get the leveler, came back, started spreading it around the floor, and left it to dry overnight, which meant we had to leave the cats downstairs all night and which also meant this two day operation was now going to be a three day operation.

On Wednesday, they returned anxious to lay wood. And boy, they did. The cats and I were downstairs and could hear them going to town. At the end of the day, they had done the living room and dining room. We still couldn’t let the cats up though, because all of the furniture was scattered everywhere and we knew we’d never be able to catch them to put them downstairs the next day when the contractors returned. So they stayed downstairs another night.

Remember when I said the saleswoman said we had paid for everything? Not true. When I was talking with her on the phone, she said I’d have to pay the project manager for installation. I asked her what she was talking about. She asked if I’d gotten his quote. I said I thought I had, yes. But I reminded her I had paid for everything up front and she had told us so. “Oh no sir, you did not,” she told me. She said I’d just paid for materials and I still owed many thousands of dollars in installation charges. This was devastating news. Devastating. We have a limited budget. Damn, I mean come on! When you told us we paid for everything, we thought you meant everything, not just part of everything. My wife was livid and I wasn’t far behind her. I said so this is going to be a “X” amount deal, is that right? She added things up and said, no, it’d be less than that, but it’d still be thousands more than I’d allocated for it. Shit!

Well, the contractors showed up yesterday to finish up. They had the painting to do, the foyer and hallway, the quarter rounds (whatever those are), and then cleaning up and moving the furniture back. They finished up late in the afternoon and the project manager came back to give me his bill. He was nice enough, I guess, not to charge me for the painting, which was a decent savings. I still had to pay thousands though. Still, after they left, I just walked around and admired. It looked like they did a really good job. It looked really nice. The living room actually looked bigger. I took my shoes off and wandered around barefoot. I opened up the door to the downstairs and let the cats up. They were elated to be upstairs again, but tread cautiously. They weren’t sure what to think, especially Ace, who’d never seen a wood floor before. When Gretchen got home, she seemed to like it too. So we’re done with that chapter. Now we’re thinking of getting a large carpet for the living room. Why? I’m not sure. It just seems to be the thing to do. Anyway, I’m going to post some pictures for you to see. Cheers!

Kitchen floor

Kitchen floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hallway floor

Hallway floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foyer

Foyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Room

Living Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dining room floor

Dining room floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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