iPod Update

Thanks to my friend Nancy’s suggestion in the comments, I have a new iPod. I went to see the fine people at the Providence Place Apple store, and they set things right. The physically tiny 30-gig hard disk had failed.

Here’s the thing, though. The guy who helped me out told me I could buy an AppleCare plan that would extend the warranty coverage on the replacement iPod from 90 days to a year. It costs $59.95. I guess my frustration is that the thing shouldn’t have failed in the first place, not in the first year. If the new one fails in such a short time, as well, let’s just say I’ll be a little put off of the hard disk-based iPods.

The iPod Touch, on the other hand, is awfully sexy, and solid state flash memory is oh so reliable…. I played with one while I waited, and the first thing I wondered was, ‘Can you read e-books on this thing?’ Cause it would be perfect for that. The answer is yes, if you’re online, and soon if you’re not.

(Thanks, Nan!)


Mmmm, peas.

Sean and Danielle and I have entered a new phase of our relationship. About a week ago we started feeding him a little rice cereal in the afternoon. It was going well. It took a few days, but eventually he figured out that he was supposed to swallow the stuff we were spooning into his mouth. It was going so well that Danielle decided to cook up some peas and give them a spin in Mean Red, our KitchenAid food processor.

Ewww, peas.

They didn’t go over too well. Either he didn’t like the taste or they weren’t sufficiently pureed. Either way, today she switched him over to sweet potatoes, to rave reviews.

Mmmm, sweet potatoes.

I don’t know if he’s having as much fun as we are, but I hope so because the farmers’ market is about to open, and he’s going to have all kinds of new things to try out!

Lost in Technologyland

My iPod has turned into nothing more than a very expensive paperweight that displays

My multiple attempts to restore it using iTunes failed yesterday, and windows will just barely admit that the iPod even exists. It only shows up as being connected about 25% of the time, and when it does, Windows won’t format it. If it’s connected, Windows won’t shutdown or boot.

I’ve tried connecting it to both computers, and I’ve reinstalled iTunes. Nothing works. It is bricked.

Wine Country

No, I’m not talking about California or France or even Long Island. I’m talking about Rhode Island.

Yesterday I decided I needed to go on a research trip to Newport Vineyards. So Danielle and Sean and I all hopped into the Raptor and headed up island.

Did you know it takes anywhere from 2 to 10 years from the planting of a vineyard to the first vintage? Great reds can take even longer.

Also, French oak barrels can cost over $600 (but a single barrel holds the equivalent of about 300 bottles of wine).

After the tour we tasted their wines. We’ve done this probably six times over the years we’ve lived here, and every time I’m struck by how tasty their white wines are and how blah most of their red wines are. They have one or two blends that are pretty good, but red wine is not where their strengths lie. I mean, they bottle cabernet franc by itself. Cabernet franc is typically a blending grape, but it grows well in this climate, so why not make it the star of its own show?

Anyway, we came home with a bottle of a red table wine called Gemini that’s very easy to drink and a bottle of sauvignon blanc, which is very refreshing and crisp and good.

Last Night

I woke up at 2:34 AM (yes, I looked at the clock). Someone was shouting. What was it? A party? I couldn’t tell at first. I gradually recognized the cadence of some kind of cheer, a la ‘Hip hip hooray,’ or some other inane B.S. Then I heard British accents. (Maybe their football team had won, or something.)

I got up and turned on the deck light, which is like 200 watts and can just about be seen from space. I was hoping they’d get the message that someone was irritated next door. They didn’t.

So I put on my jeans and a tee shirt and walked outside. I could hardly believe it, but now they were singing. What were they singing? ‘So I never fell for Vietnam’ the lyric went, ‘Cause you can’t trust freedom / when it’s not in your hands.’ The song was ‘Civil War’ by Guns N’ Roses. From 1991.

I knocked on the door, but no one answered, so I went back inside and called Newport’s Finest.

‘Gooood mawning, Newpaut Puhlice,’ said a woman’s voice. She was awfully chipper for quarter to three in the morning. I explained the situation and she said they’d check it out. They probably just got a warning because they weren’t playing music, but at least they shut up so those of us not on vacation could get some sleep.

I feel like a total a-hole every time I have to call the police, but only for a brief moment before I drift off again into sweet, sweet Sleepland. I’ve made the call about once a year since we’ve lived here, always because of the same house. The rest of the street is quiet, but somehow this one place attracts the Andrew WK crowd.

The reason these late night shenanigans are so annoying is that our comfy bed is our Tibet. That’s what we’ve always called it.

Our Sanctuary

This is where we go to be at peace in our world. Tibet is where only good things happen, like sex and sleep. When some d-bag wakes us up in the middle of the night, it’s like we’ve been invaded by China.

A Poo Story

My newest Military Spouse blog post is up:

Warning: This Post Contains Baby Poop

I try to keep my baby poop stories to a minimum. Even though I, being the father of a 5-month-old son, find the subject continuously hilarious, I realize other people may actually find it disgusting. That said, I can’t resist telling this one:

So if you think poo is as funny as I do, click through to read the rest. It’s a good story.

Writers’ Rooms

I found this collection about writers’ rooms a while back and for some reason didn’t post it. It’s a great collection of photos and descriptions of the places where writers write. Most are UK authors, but there are a few Americans present. My favorites are JG Ballard’s and Martin Amis’s. I also liked Geoff Dyer’s.

In the spirit of this great collection (thank you to The Guardian), here is where I write:

Thomas' Office

My office is on the second floor of our house across the hall from the baby’s room. This makes writing anything during the day problematic, but that’s okay because Sean goes to bed around six PM, which allows Danielle and me to work.

The office is not just my writing room; it is also where we store various things, like my old comic book collection, seminary books, and miscellaneous papers. You can see some of them on the book case to the left. Funny story about that bookcase: Like the desk and chair, it came from Ikea and, thus, had to be assembled. Unfortunately, I had mismeasured the room, so that when I started assembling it, I realized it wouldn’t fit flush with the wall. Since going to Ikea is pretty much a full day’s effort, we decided just to angle it into the room and be done with it.

The desk is just right for me. Being under thirty, I’m part of the generation that grew up with personal computers, so I do almost all my work on the machine. I type my first drafts and usually edit right on screen. Sometimes I print my work and edit by hand. I can’t decide which works better. In any case, that’s why I like this small simple desk.

To the right of the computer monitor are the few books I need for the current writing project. They are bookended by two clay sculptures of obese nude women that I bought in Ocracoke, North Carolina. The Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Garner’s Modern American Usage, Stephen Glazier’s Word Menu, and other general reference books are on the shelf to the left.

The white boxes on the floor beside my computer tower are five manuscript boxes. They represent a goal, of sorts. One is full. Next to that is an antique wooden publisher’s crate once used by the MacMillan Company. It was a gift from my wife’s mother.

The print on the wall to the right of the window is one I bought on a whim at the Borders bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s a print of a painting by Quint Buchholz, a German artist and illustrator of children’s books. A bicycle stands next to a giant book beside a river that looks, at first glance, like a sidewalk. Telephone poles march off into the distance. It’s a great metaphor for what a book is capable of doing.

Hanging above the window is an ebony cross from Tanzania. A friend gave it to me when I moved away from Virginia in 2006. Overlapping hands are carved into the cross, four of them reaching up toward the crossbar, one reaching down from the top, and two more stretched out on the crossbar. At the center of the cross is the dove, flying down toward earth.

Finally, the items hanging in the window are gifts from Danielle. There is a cardinal, a mallard, and an angel. She painted the angel for me for our first Christmas together.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

My new post, Being Neighborly, is up at Military Spouse.

Our years in the Navy have exposed us to our fair share of interesting neighbors. There was the guy in Navy housing who would haul our trash from our backyard to the curb every trash day and occasionally bring us a fish he’d speared from his kayak. Then there was the woman who lived with so many animals that the city of Norfolk mandated that she declare her household to be a farm and buy the requisite licenses. When she moved out, the ’snake charmers’ moved in; they bred snakes to sell on eBay.

Follow the link to read the whole thing. Good times.


This morning, I bounced over to Metacritic — an aggregator of film, music, game, TV, and book reviews — to take a look at their composite review of James Frey’s new book Bright Shiny Morning. Except what I found was this message:

*Note: Metacritic’s regular coverage of Books has concluded with the final Harry Potter installment. We may highlight individual books in the future, but for consistent quality meta-review coverage of books, please consult our friends at The Complete Review. Thank you! Marc Doyle, co-founder, Metacritic.com

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. I mean I know the book business is struggling, that sales are down, etc., but it’s somehow even more striking that book reviews are also struggling. When no one wants to talk about your product, you could be in real trouble.

And is it meaningful that so much of the pessimism regarding books corresponded to the publication of the final Harry Potter novel? What are kids going to read now? How are bookstores going to make any money? Who will ever care about books ever again ever?

This all got me thinking about book reviews, and I found a long essay by Steve Wasserman, former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review : Goodbye to All That. If you’re interested in books and book culture, you should read it. Read the whole thing.

His basic point is that it is essential for a good society to publish good books and for those books to be discussed in newspapers (whether in print or online is irrelevant; what matters is that newspapers are still the predominant source of news in America).

Yes, books are news, and many newspapers around the country seem to have forgotten that. The problem is that books are only news to a small number of people. Newspapers who still maintain book sections use them as ‘loss leaders.’ That is, for many of a given newspaper’s most affluent and well-educated readers, the book review is one of the most important sections of the paper. If you want these people to read the rest of your paper, you’d better have a decent book section, is the idea.

But so what does it mean that many book sections have been getting the ax, lately? What does it mean that a tiny percentage of Americans read books and that a tinier percentage yet read book reviews?

Does it mean that forces of anti-intellectualism are winning?

More importantly, does it mean we are doomed to a future in which our entertainments consist only of endless Grand Theft Auto sequels?

I’m exaggerating to make a point. I don’t think books or the discussion of books will ever go away. Books will exist, whether on paper or on the Kindle, for as long as human civilization endures. What’s disheartening is that for so many people, they may as well not exist. And that number seems to be growing larger. Even as our population grows, the number of readers shrinks.

What does this mean?

Military Spouse Blog

I’ve published two new posts at the Military Spouse blog.

Whether they were wise to have done so or not, they’ve upgraded my status from ‘contributor’ to ‘author,’ so now I can publish direct to the blog without having to wait for approval.

[Cue evil laughter]