Monday, July 19, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #3 - Writing Annotations

 

Annotations creation

Job Description: Today I’m going to talk about writing annotations. You will have this job either as part of creating a dialogue list or spotting list, or as a member of a team in an English department. If you work in an English department, the work is often divided depending on the strengths of each person. So you might be asked to write annotations and not ever create a spotting list, just depending on deadlines and skills of the people in the department. When you freelance, you could be expected to provide annotations in addition to a DL or SL. But you are unlikely to be hired just to write annotations.

Some of the job titles which could include writing annotations are English Editor, Master English Transcriber, or just a member of the English department or international versioning department.

 

What are annotations?

Annotations are notes for translators which accompany the document they are going to be translating.

If you’ve ever gone to a country where a different language is spoken, you might have had the experience of opening a translation dictionary and seeing three or four different words to choose from. How do you know which one has the same meaning you want to use? Like if you are in a hotel looking for your booking, how can you be sure you aren’t telling the concierge that you are looking for some reading material? This is where annotations come into play.

After a dialogue list is completed, you’ll go through it looking for any words or phrases which could be mistranslated or which might not appear in a dictionary, like slang or informal words. You will provide context or suggestions on what the words mean.

You’ll explain what idioms mean. Like “it’s raining cats and dogs.” Other countries might not use that expression, so a literal translation of it could seem nonsensical. An annotation would need to be added to explain that it is an idiom, meaning it is raining a lot, and that if there is a similar idiom in whatever language being translated into it should be used here instead of using a literal translation to keep the flavor of the character and dialogue in tact.

Other things like humor, double entendres, words with one or more possible meaning in a dictionary or even things which are just said to be silly should be annotated to help ensure that the correct context remains in the translation.

You also might be asked to include relationships between people - like if someone is an older or younger brother or sister to another character, and you always need to include measurement conversions - like from Fahrenheit to Celsius or Miles to Kilometers.

We even once had to add an annotation to explain that when a character said “good night,” it was ok even though it was still light outside because it was late enough in the day and the character was going home from work for the night, to say “night” instead of “day.” So, there are some cultural things which might not even occur to you, but when those questions come back, you just add another annotation to make sure everything is clear.

Humor is an especially important thing to annotate because it can be so different from country to country.

Some companies will also require that you include an internal note of where you sourced your research. Did the spelling of an actor’s name come from an article in Variety or the actor’s IMDb page? Did you just look at Wikipedia and think that was good enough?

Ok, another story. When we were working on MI3, there is a scene where Tom Cruise’s character is climbing the Vatican wall. We couldn’t find anything on-line (again, years ago) about how tall the Vatican wall was, and we were specifically asked to include that information in a revision of the DL. So we had to call the Vatican to ask them about the wall, although I was find measuring how many Tom Cruise’s tall it was, the client wanted something more precise.

I also got really mad when we were working on Nanny McPhee and were asked to include an annotation for the word “stock pot.” There is only one definition for stock pot and it really bothered me to have to include a definition of it in the dialogue list. But, the client is always right. You add what they want and then you hold a grudge about it for 16 years.

Example: Here’s a transcription of part of the video I did on dialogue list creation. I’ve added some annotations to it, including one where I correct the spelling in a title I put up on the screen. Oops!

You can see that the annotations are included with each entry of transcription or spotting. This is a good reason to keep dialogue entries short, so that if a lot of annotations are required the translator doesn’t have to look too far to find them.

Qualifications: English proficiency. A lot of writers and English majors go into jobs in the English department. Although most jobs in an English department can be done by someone without a bachelor’s degree, getting past the HR gatekeepers without one can be hard.

Tests: As with all of the jobs in an English department, you will have to take a basic test which will include some proofreading skills and will probably have some of those annoying errors which are so common in English, like it’s and its or two, to and too. You might also be asked to write an annotation or two, just to prove you understand what they are.

Training: But as with most things, you are unlikely to get a lot of training. You’ll will be given an example document, mostly for formatting, and probably there will be some kind of guidelines document with lots of examples of what kinds of things to annotate in it. However, it is pretty common when you first start doing this that someone with more experience will review your work and provide you with notes. So you’ll benefit from being fast at picking up what the notes are correcting in your work, and not taking the criticism too personally.

What kind of person is this good for: I really think it is helpful for someone interested in writing annotations to have studied a foreign language at some point. I’m terrible at French, but it was my minor in college and I love it. Having studied a foreign language helps you realize just how easy it is to pull the wrong word out of a dictionary, so you better understand why annotations are helpful.

Peu coûteux.

You also have to be interested in researching things and then able to distill that research into a short, easy to understand summary. Being clear when explaining things is vitally important. If you are the kind of person who often gets asked what your social media posts mean, or just get comments with question marks in them, this is probably not something you would excel at.

The downsides: You can’t really start annotations until the dialogue list is completed. You’ll need to be careful when scheduling that you keep in mind just because a project comes in on Friday and is due Monday that doesn’t mean you can start on the annotations on Friday. You’ll probably start on Saturday. Tight deadlines can be a drag when you need to do a lot of research for a specific project, so being a fast reader and fast typist are helpful skills to have.

Like everything in the English department, working nights, weekends and holidays is more the rule than the exception.

Also because of global production, having a deadline of 9 pm on a Sunday night isn’t unusual so that files are ready for someone in India as soon as they get to work Monday morning, or to be trying to finish something in London’s overnight so they have something ready in the morning.

The pay: If you can get a job at a company that does this for big studios, you can make enough to survive, but you won’t be getting rich. It will be rolled into a job in the English department, so it is also unlikely that you will just have a job of writing annotations. But with work distributed within the department based on the strengths of the employees, you might be able to only do a little bit of transcription and spend most of your time writing annotations.

As far as freelancing, this is unlikely to be a specific standalone job. If you take work either creating dialogue lists or spotting lists, you might be expected to include annotations with your files. The amount of detail in the annotations varies, usually depending on the kind of project you are working on. TV shows can get by with fewer annotations because the same people work on them week after week and have probably already created their own personal translation dictionaries for things which reoccur week after week. Independent films which are just getting the DL or SL as part of a delivery requirement won’t require as many annotations as a studio film, like for Disney or Marvel or something. Don’t be surprised if a big studio comes back and says there aren’t enough annotations in a file or that a translator has requested more explanation of something.

Wrap Up:

I really enjoy writing annotations, provided there is enough time in the schedule to do the research. I hate when they are rushed, but it can be really interesting and a way to learn about all sorts of different topics and engage different though processes about what words mean and how they are used.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

July Book Report - Susan Calman “Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate”

 If you don’t know who Susan Calman is, then you must not watch a lot of British panel shows. She’s the very short Scottish comedian who started out as a lawyer. She can stand up inside of a red post box with no problem. She loves Doctor Who and names her cats after strong fictional female characters. And she seems like a happy person.

But looks can be deceiving. Cheer Up Love is a memoir which follows Susan’s (I feel like I can call her Susan since I know her so well from seeing her on tv) life story framed around her depression. It is a book about how she deals with depression and what she wishes people without depression understood about people with depression and how to interact with them. Hint: It doesn’t involve telling people with depression to “cheer up, love.”

As a person who has struggled with depression for as long as I could remember, there was a lot in Susan’s story I could relate to. For Susan, and for me, depression has been a lifelong companion. Susan has personified her depression into something she calls the crab of hate. The crab of hate visits Susan, but also goes away sometimes. And it isn’t something she can control. It is external to her. External to logic.

I listened to this as an audiobook, read by the author. It took me several chapters to get used to the way Susan reads. She doesn’t have the natural “acting” quality to her voice. You can definitely hear that she’s reading. But I don’t think the book could have been read or performed by anyone else.

I highly recommend Cheer Up Love to people who are depressed, looking for commiseration and maybe some tips on how to cope, and I recommend it to people aren’t depressed. Her portrayal of what it is like to actually be depressed can maybe help the non-depressed people of the world understand depression a little better. Or, if nothing else, provide them with a list of things which they should never say to a depressed person.



Monday, July 12, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode 2 - Spotting List Creation

 As always (or soon to be always), here's the video followed by the original script I wrote for myself which may or may not be what I actually ended up saying.



Spotting list creation

Job Description:

Today I’m going to talk about the job of Spotting List creation. The job title for this could be “English Editor,” “Spotting Editor,” “Spotter,” or more generically part of the “English department” or “International Versioning” department.

When I worked in an English department, I didn’t have to really do much spotting, but I am aware of the basics of it. This is mostly a job for the theatrical team and not the TV team. You can start with the dialogue list as a template, but the spotting list doesn’t include every little thing that the dialogue list does.

You will mark an in-time and an out-time for each entry, hopefully the software you are using will calculate the duration and you write down not only who is speaking, but who they are speaking to.

The spotting entries are ultimately used as a template for subtitles. If you have seen a movie that has been subtitled, you have seen some of the constraints of a spotting list.

The spotting entries are restricted by how many characters they can have which will fit on a screen in the average font size, and the duration of an entry is restricted by good old-fashioned film. If I recall correctly, a spotting entry can only be eight seconds long and should always be at least one second long. Different companies will probably have their own rules about subtitle duration. As for characters, I think a subtitle can have 80 characters (smaller than a tweet) on two lines.

The spotting editor has to make a lot of decisions about what should be included in the subtitles and what shouldn’t be included. If someone coughs, that isn’t included. Think of it this way: for a dialogue list/dubbing, the entire English part of the soundtrack is removed and replaced. For spotting, the soundtrack is left in the original version and subtitles are added to enhance the experience for someone who doesn’t speak the original language. The film still has the coughs, the burps, the heavy breathing, so none of that needs to be included in the subtitles.

The spotting editor also needs to decide if a line of dialogue should be re-worded to either make it shorter to fit in the subtitle or to get the point across a lot faster. If someone says “no-no-no-no-no-no!” the subtitle file might just say “no-no!” Keep it simple and enhance what is already happening.

Likewise, the walla isn’t generally included in the subtitles, but call out lines will be.

You’ll also have to watch the subtitles back and make any adjustments to their placement on screen. The subtitle file needs to include notes about when a standard subtitle might fall right over a sign on the screen, which the viewer should be reading. And most of the time, the subtitle file will also include these text items which are important to the story so that they are included in the translated subtitle file.

Because subtitles are meant to be read, the reading speed also needs to be considered while writing them. You don’t want people to panic because the subtitles are too short, or spending too much time staring at them when important things are happening in the action.

NDA

What is the reason this job exists: This list, called a spotting list, gets sent to a translator for subtitling. That way every translator is given the same record of the spotting, including timings, and it isn’t up to them to try and figure out the English version before translating it into whatever language they specialize in.

It also gets included in something called a combined continuity and spotting list, or CCSL, which I’ll talk about more in a different video, when I talk about what continuity is. But the biggie, is that it gets sent to a translator.

Many spotting lists also have to have something called annotations included, but I’ll talk more in depth about annotations in another video.

Example: Here’s a little example of what a spotting list looks like. This is just from my video, to give you a basic idea of format.



Qualifications: English fluency, fast typing. More so than on a dialogue list, you will probably have to use software supplied by the client, which will have the ability to calculate the durations of the subtitles, saving you a lot of awkward math. Their software should also superimpose the text on the movie as you write it, so you can sit back and watch it, checking for errors in placement or speed.

Tests: You will, most likely, have to take an English test to get this job. The tests are almost always “open book,” meaning you can look up things on-line or in the style guide the company you are testing for uses (Chicago/AP). And a house dictionary.

The test will probably also include some proofreading items - finding spelling errors or when the wrong character is identified as the speaker of a line.

Training: This job isn’t given a lot of training, unfortunately. If you freelance, you are kind of on your own and expected to already know the basics of how to find the in-time for an entry and how to match the format in a sample they will supply. If you work at a company, they usually say they will train you, but everyone is too busy to really do it, so again, you’re on your own. The faster you are at figuring things out and self-directing, they better off you’ll be.

What kind of person is this good for:

People who are a little bit more freewheeling than the dialogue list people. You need to be confident to make changes to the text as needed to enhance the experience, without changing the meaning. That’s a confidence I don’t have. I have no trouble writing down exactly what I hear, but second guess myself too much even just changing a word from “gonna” to “going to.”

You also need to not get too offended if changes are made to your files.

The downsides: A lot of projects have tight deadlines.

In an English department workflow, the dialogue list usually happens first and then the spotting list happens. This is true on the first pass of a project and on the revisions. So while a dialogue list editor might have to go into the office on Thanksgiving, the spotter can usually wait until the day after. And the spotting list is usually given a little bit more time to complete than the dialogue list is.

Also because of global production, having a deadline of 9 pm on a Sunday night isn’t unusual so that files are ready for someone in India as soon as they get to work Monday morning, or to be trying to finish something in London’s overnight so they have something ready in the morning.

The pay:

If you are part of an English department, your job will not only be creating spotting lists. You will need to be able to do some of the other jobs within the department, like dialogue list creation, annotating and proofreading.

If you can get a job at a company that does this for big studios, you can make enough to survive, but you won’t be getting rich. I was salaried when I did this for a company, and that is a bad deal. If you have a choice, stay hourly. My mistake was accepting a promotion to supervisor, which they would not pay hourly.

Like with so many things, it comes down to who you work for. I don’t accept freelance work of this kind because it isn’t financially viable for me. Even though I type very quickly, my level of attention to detail kills me in the number of hours/pay ratio department. Most freelance work will either pay you a flat fee for a reel or TV show, or give you a price per run-time minute. So a 22 minute reel could pay anything! But you should be told the rate of pay in advance and then can decide if you can fit it in to your schedule, if it is worth it to try or not.

($5x21min=$105)

 

Wrap up:

I hope I’ve helped you figure out if Spotting Editor is something you would be interested in pursuing. Or that at least it helps you get a little bit better understanding of this job. Things people do from nine-to-five in Hollywood.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.

 


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - my new YouTube series Episode 1 - Dialogue List Creation

 I know. It's hard to keep track of all the different things I do on YouTube. The newest one is all about day jobs in Hollywood, in the entertainment industry, which don't involve becoming rich and famous. Here's the video:



And I mentioned in the description of the video that I'd upload my original script for it here, so here it is:

Dialogue list creation

Hello. Today I’m launching a new series of videos where I’m going to talk about some of the non-glamourous, nine-to-five kind of jobs available to people who want to work in the entertainment industry. Maybe you want to be an actor or a writer, but you need income until it happens (used to be health insurance), or you just love TV and movies and will do anything to work on them.

I’m going to start the series with jobs I’ve actually had.

Job Description:

Today I’m going to talk about the job of Dialogue List Transcriptionist, which is often called an “English Editor,” “Script Editor,” “Master English Transcriber,” or part of the “English department” or “International Versioning” department. Lots of companies like to have a slightly different name for the department.

 I did this as part of my job for about 8 years. Basically, you watch a tv show or movie and you write down exactly what each character says. You put a starting time (sometimes an ending time - if you are handing your work over to someone who does audio description) to when they speak, put their name, and then write what they say. For a dialogue list, this is very thorough. You’ll include filler words like “um,” or you might write “grunts.” You’ll include if they clear their throat or cough or giggle. Basically, if you hear the character make a noise with their mouth/throat/voice, you write it down. And you need to be as precise as possible. So, like, if a character goes “no-no-no-no-no!” part of your job is to actually count how may times they said “no” and write it down.

You’ll also need to break up long sections of dialogue into smaller groups. So if someone has a long speech that lasts for several minutes, you’ll make a few entries at naturally breath points to help the page not look overwhelming.

If a character speaks in a foreign language, you usually have to include that also, but in most instances you report back to whoever you are working for, alert them to the foreign language area, and they’ll provide you with a transcription of the dialogue in that section. You aren’t required to also know every foreign language which might pop up.

Although, I have worked on two different movies where the foreign language was Martian. In one, the Martian was provided to us by the client and we just had to make sure we were putting it in the right place. In the other, we were asked to do our best to phonetically transcribe the Martian.

If a character mouths something, you need to include that. And, although it isn’t actually dialogue, you include anything on screen that the viewer will be expected to read. Signs, letters, subtitles.

You also need to include all the background dialogue. So if a scene is set in a bar, you’ll add an entry for the walla. I’ve worked on at least one project where the editing room supplied a track of just the walla to help pick it out and transcribe it. Sometimes you can say “overlapping chatter,” other times you’ll created a new character and write down their shoutout line, which is distinct from the crowd.

You’ll also frequently encounter dialogue which is difficult to understand. You’ll need to be able to admit you don’t understand something and let other people know. Sometimes, a shooting script (the version of the script the actors used when they learned their lines) will be provided. It can often help solve mysteries of garbled words.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Jack Sparrow gives a speech about cuttlefish which included the word “flippercanoriuos.” Well, we had no idea what he was saying. We asked our contact at Disney. He asked the sound editors and… no one knew what the word was. We unfortunately had to deliver our DL with that word as “indistinct.” Years later, the internet helped us figure it out, but it was too late. I have no idea what the dubbed versions of the movie went with.

You will often have to include if a character is off camera or on camera when they are speaking. The translator uses this as a way to know how much they might have to match lip flap when they do their translation.

Turnaround times and Number of versions - TV maybe 2. A movie, maybe 10. (Mary Alice Young on Desperate Housewives)

NDA

What is the reason this job exists: This list, called a dialogue list, gets sent to a translator for dubbing. That way every translator is given the same record of the dialogue in a movie and it isn’t up to them to try and figure out the English version before translating it into whatever language they specialize in.

It also gets included in something called a combined continuity and spotting list, or CCSL, which I’ll talk about more in a different video, when I talk about what continuity is. But the biggie, is that it gets sent to a translator.

Most dialogue lists also have to have something called annotations included, but I’ll talk more in depth about annotations in another video.

If you work at a company that has a large English department, this list might also get sent around to people who do closed captions and spotting lists, so they don’t have to always also start from scratch.

Example: Here’s a little example of what a dialogue list looks like. This is just from my video, to give you a basic idea of format.

Qualifications: English fluency, fast typing. If you are working from home, you’ll need a computer with a fast video processor and probably some basic software like Word and Excel. Many companies have their own software they want you to use, often web based, so you need to be good at learning new programs. Oh, the space bar makes the video play in this player, but the 5 on the number pad does it in this software. Be flexible. You won’t get paid for not understanding how to use the programs.

Tests: You will, most likely, have to take an English test to get this job. The tests are almost always “open book,” meaning you can look up things on-line or in the style guide the company you are testing for uses (Chicago/AP). And a house dictionary.

The test will probably also include some proofreading items - finding spelling errors or when the wrong character is identified as the speaker of a line.

Training: This job isn’t given a lot of training, unfortunately. If you freelance, you are kind of on your own and expected to already know the basics of how to find the in-time for an entry and how to match the format in a sample they will supply. If you work at a company, they usually say they will train you, but everyone is too busy to really do it, so again, you’re on your own. The faster you are at figuring things out and self-directing, they better off you’ll be.

What kind of person is this good for:

People who have a good attention to detail and can get obsessive about things can do well in this job.  A lot of writers get into it, or people who majored in English in college. A degree is often required, but the testing is the most important determining factor on hiring someone.

If you are the kind of person who knows that when you say “the back yard of my house,” back yard is two words, but when you say “I’m having a backyard barbeque,” that backyard is one work, this might be a good job for you. And if you are the kind of person who can be told “this is how we spell ok in these parts” and you’ll remember it and stick with it, you should do fine.

The downsides: A lot of projects have tight deadlines.

Starting on the dialogue list is dependent on the editing room getting copies of the latest version out, it is not at all uncommon for a dialogue editor to receive files the afternoon before a three-day weekend and then to be expected to work over that three-day weekend. During the eight years or so when I worked in this field, I think I had to work most Thanksgivings, and if not the actual day then the Friday and weekend after.

Also because of global production, having a deadline of 9 pm on a Sunday night isn’t unusual so that files are ready for someone in India as soon as they get to work Monday morning, or to be trying to finish something in London’s overnight so they have something ready in the morning.

The pay:

If you are part of an English department, your job will not only be creating spotting lists. You will need to be able to do some of the other jobs within the department, like spotting list creation, annotating and proofreading.

If you can get a job at a company that does this for big studios, you can make enough to survive, but you won’t be getting rich. I was salaried when I did this for a company, and that is a bad deal. If you have a choice, stay hourly. My mistake was accepting a promotion to supervisor, which they would not pay hourly.

Like with so many things, it comes down to who you work for. I don’t accept freelance work of this kind because it isn’t financially viable for me. Even though I type very quickly, my level of attention to detail kills me in the number of hours/pay ratio department. Most freelance work will either pay you a flat fee for a reel or TV show, or give you an price per run-time minute. So a 22 minute reel could pay anything! But you should be told the rate of pay in advance and then can decide if you can fit it in to your schedule, if it is worth it to try or not.

($5x21min=$105)

 

Wrap up:

I hope I’ve helped you figure out if Dialogue Transcriptionist is something you would be interested in pursuing. Or that at least it helps you get a little bit better understanding of this job. Things people do from nine-to-five in Hollywood.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Sparks Brothers Documentary

 Or is it just an excuse to share the latest song I've posted on YouTube?

Johnny Delusional Cover


I basically had no idea who Sparks were until I got to work way down the post-production stream on The Sparks Brothers documentary. It is really good. It is a love letter to the Mael brothers and you'd have to be pretty stubborn to not come away with Sparks as your "new" favorite band, at least for a little bit.

I have been a fan of Franz Ferdinand for a long time, but for some reason I decided to not buy the Sparks collaboration album, F.F.S. But I've bought it now and I love the song Johnny Delusional in particular. So much, that I decided to do a cover version. I've also been doing tap lessons on YouTube, so I did a tap to accompany myself on the song with., 

Anyway, go see The Sparks Brothers, which comes out in theaters on June 18, 2021. In the future from when I'm writing this you will probably be able to find it streaming somewhere. Then buy some of their music to support them. Don't just watch their videos on YouTube, but put some actual money into their pockets.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Back Story by David Mitchell (not that one) - June Book Report

 

I say “not that one” because most of the time when I would tell people what my June book was, they would say something like, “Oh, he’s a great writer.” Or “Cloud Atlas is great.” Or “That’s some pretty heavy reading for you, Camille.” No. Not that David Mitchell. The other one. The one who you might know from YouTube “David Mitchell Rants” compilation videos. Or, if you are like me, you’ll know from Peep Show, Would I Lie to You? and Upstart Crow. That David Mitchell. The funny one.

Once again, I did not read my June book. I listened to it. Read by David Mitchell himself.

I am a big fan of David Mitchell Rants videos. And of David Mitchell’s Soapbox. And of Would I Lie to You? I’ve seen all of Peep Show and Upstart Crow, but I’d hesitate to call myself a fan of those. I’ve seen the shows once, and that might keep me for the rest of my life. Not that I’d intentionally avoid seeing them again, I just don’t feel the need. But if new episodes do appear, I’ll watch them. How’s that? I can listen to David Mitchell ranting for hours, over and over again.

I bought Back Story (audiobook) several years ago when Audible convinced me that my life would be better with a subscription. One book credit a month for a low-low price of maybe $7.99 at the time? Fine. I have been known to spend over $4 on one glass of tea and to lose considerably more money on one impulsive trip to a casino. Potentially supporting some authors for such a low price seemed like a good idea. And then I never listened to any of the books. I found myself after several months with credits I hadn’t used. Audio files unpurchased. Those I had purchased were never started or even downloaded. I had listened to half of Colin Mochrie’s Not Quite the Classics (ready by the author) and got annoyed that my Amazon Dot thingy had such poor sound quality. I couldn’t hear the book and say, walk on the treadmill, or clean, or do dishes, or any of the other active things I wanted to do while listening to a book. That was why I was listening and not reading, so I could multitask. And Alexa just wasn’t doing her part.

Last month, Audible convinced me that even though the price they were now offering of $14.99/month wasn’t great, the two credits on offer for giving it some good considerations were. I downloaded Sabriel, for my May book which I hadn’t been able to bring myself to start actually reading, and then downloaded a copy of a friend’s book (The Resurrectionist by A.R. Meyering). I was reminded that I had a hidden little library of things just waiting for me. The technology for playing the audiobook was a little bit better suited to my lifestyle now. I could listen through my phone, which also meant I could listen in the car. I don’t drive a lot, but at least once a week I go on a 60-mile roundtrip and it was nice to have something beside the radio to listen to.

Back Story is sort of a mid-life autobiography. Usually, when I think of an autobiography, it is something that someone writes when they are nearing the end of things, looking back on a full life. Well, David Mitchell is perfectly happy to give you an update on how his life was by the year 2012, when he was just turning 38. FYI, we were born in the same year, but it is still a little frustrating to hear how far he had gotten by the time he was 38, now that I’m listening to the story from the ripe old age of 47.

The story of David’s life is hung on a framework of going for a daily walk through London. He talks about where he is now on the walk and then goes off on stories inspired by the things he sees and passes. “Oh, this pub reminds me of the time I got drunk in a pub at Cambridge,” etc. He manages to make a one hour walk around London into nearly 9.5 hours of reminiscing. This is not a complaint. The stories were interesting and there is no better way to hear them that having David Mitchell tell you himself. His writing is conversational, like he’s really there telling you these things. Although I fully know that the words were written and edited and critiqued before getting to me, they seem so natural that the experience of listening to the book feels almost like listening to a podcast or watching a series of extemporaneous rants on YouTube. In other words, a delight.

There are some people who are just naturally gifted at ranting, and David Mitchell is one of them. I’d like to throw a shoutout to a friend and former co-worker Shannon for also having this skill. Not that the book is all ranting. It’s stories. It’s life. It’s how success happens to one man who knew from a very young age what he wanted to do and to be.

If you are a fan of Olivia Coleman, keep an ear open for the time David Mitchell made her pee herself on stage. If you are a romantic, prepare to be swept away with David’s retelling of falling in love with his wife, Victoria (who is also well known in the UK and appears on many panel shows). If you want to know why David Mitchell doesn’t ever read anything by David Mitchell, the answers are provided.

I’m not familiar enough with London to fully visualized David’s walk, but I know a little bit. I feel like I’ve gotten to know David Mitchell a little bit after this book. And I think we would get along pretty well. He’s not as much of an upper-class snob as his TV personal plays up.

I enjoyed the experience of having this particular author read his own book to me and I’m considering downloading more of his books. Maybe I’ll download books by some other writer/comedians who I enjoy, like Richard Ayoade, so they can read to me, too. Just considering at this point, but who knows what tomorrow holds.



Saturday, June 5, 2021

Lost Cherry Luxuries

 According to Google, when converting milliliters to ounces, 1 US fluid ounce is the same as 29.5735 milliliters. For practical reasons, many converters equate 30 milliliters to one ounce. This, of course, is for liquids. When converting solids, measured in grams, to ounces, one ounce is 28.35 grams. More precisely, Google tells me that one ounce is 28.3495 grams, but I don’t want to quibble.

Many of the things I enjoy in life require that I learn these conversions, although I haven’t. Instead, I look them up whenever I need to figure out if something is a good deal or a bad deal. In solids, I use ounces and grams when buying my jewelry supplies. Silver is measured this way when bought wholesale. It would be unusual for, say, Tiffany’s to list the price of a bracelet per gram. They price things as things, including not only the cost of supplies but also labor, design, research and development, advertising, office overhead and CEO bonuses, amongst other things. But if you take that same item to a pawn shop, you might be surprised when they pull out a scale and base the price on the weight of the metal. Although if you took in Tiffany jewelry, you would be surprised because they wouldn’t do this. JTV jewelry would probably be priced based on the scale. I think we all know that the cachet of something being from Tiffany’s means it will cost more than the sum of its parts.

My pandemic hobby of perfumery is also measured this way. Although, confusingly, some companies will tell you the amount of liquid you are buying in ounces while some with stick to milliliters. A small, purse size of perfume will often be either 9 or 10 milliliters, or .3 ounce. While larger bottles, although often really measured in milliliters, will be described in ounces. Common sizes are 100 milliliters (3.4 ounces) and 50 milliliters (1.7 ounces), which is why the ounce numbers are unusual. Many cosmetics are measured this way.

More expensive perfumes aren’t necessarily seeing the cost translated entirely in the juice (the perfume oils in the alcohol liquid). The higher-end fragrances I have tried also spend a fair amount of money on the packaging. An expensive purse/travel spray ($60-$100) will be in a nice, sturdy case. A less expensive one ($30) will just be in a glass vial.

I took my most recent perfume acquisition, a 10 mil bottle of Tom Ford’s Lost Cherry, over to a friend to get her opinion of it today. At $75, that little bottle of perfume is priced at $225/ounce. Compare that to silver, at around $28/ounce as of writing, and gold, at just under $1900/ounce today. That bottle of perfume is on the high end of the cost of printer ink, but not outside the realm of possibility.


Although I’d like to pretend I’m find with spending $225/ounce for perfume, that is high for me. I might be able to justify buying something extravagant like that occasionally, but I have trouble getting past “what would my dad think” to really enjoy the expensive thing, whatever the expensive thing might be. Which is why I got on the waitlist for the $75 version. But that is still expensive enough that when the perfume arrived, on a Thursday afternoon, I debated if I should spray any on my arm or not. There was no one around to smell me. I was just a couple of hours away from my nightly shower. My cats probably wouldn’t care how good I smelled. But I sprayed it. Just one spray.

To me, the scent opens with cherry liquor, which quickly dries down to a blend of brimstone and cherries. You might be thinking that brimstone isn’t a great thing for a perfume to smell like, but when I say brimstone I mean the Sulphur/fire/wood combination which fills the air after a match is struck. A fire in the fireplace or on the beach, both of which tease the idea that roasted marshmallows are in the not-to-distant future. For me there is a specific memory of when my mom taught CCD and we needed to prepare for a craft where we were going to make crosses from wooden matchsticks. My mom didn’t want to light and douse hundreds of matches, so I got the job. She sat me down in the back yard with some safety supplies (probably an ashtray and some sand) and boxes of matches. Strick each one, blow it out and knock off any of the remaining bulb of Sulphur so the matchstick was smooth. Repeat.

From the few sprays I’ve allowed myself of Lost Cherry, this is the scent that lingers for me… Brimstone and cherries.

My friend, before I told her the name of the perfume, said “powdery.” After I said cherries, she could smell them. She liked it, but I don’t think she was as enamored with it as I am.

I will complain, though, that the atomizer unscrews on this spray. This might seem like a good thing, especially for people who want to make small samples of the scent to sell on eBay, but for me, this is a disaster waiting to happen. My life is the convergence of cats, clutter and occasional clumsiness, so an expensive perfume which could open and spill onto the floor is anxiety-inducing.

I have made this perfume purchase in June, but I think the perfume is better suited for autumn or winter. I’m not sure I’ll wait, though.  

Monday, May 31, 2021

May Book Report - Sabriel by Garth Nix (with spoilers)

 

Lots of non-book-report stuff first:

 My birthday was in April and I was gifted some credit on Amazon. I didn’t have any idea what book to read in May. The only thing that I knew was, that despite reading a relatively short book in April, this has been a slog for me. I am not enjoying reading at all. One friend thought it had to do with book choice and tried to make suggestions of books I might like. She was annoyed by my request that the books all be under 300 pages or so, just so they weren’t daunting. The copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress that I read was only 288 pages, but that was a trick. The current reprint edition is 398 pages long, and that 288 sure felt much longer. Tiny type will do that. I was miserable reading it. For many reasons.

 The friend who gave me the credits suggested Sabriel, based on what movies and stories he knows I enjoy. It was over my page limit, by a lot, at 491 pages, but he was basically giving it to me for my birthday because of the credit, and he thought I’d like it, so I gave it a try.

 I purchased the book very early in the month. It arrived much faster than the books I’ve been buying from independent sellers (and England) so far, so I had it available for almost the entire month. And there it sat.

 I’d like to say that I was too busy with work to get to reading, but I went almost three weeks without work in May. I freelance, so I never know how things will be with work. For June, I’m booked and will probably also be working weekends to get everything done on time and with enough attention devoted to it. But May was wide open. Day after day, I’d look at the book, see how thick it was, and put on YouTube, listen to a podcast or go for a walk in the garden.

 One night, I searched for Sabriel on YouTube and found a man who was doing his own audiobook reading of it. I listened to chapter one. It wasn’t that bad (the story or the reading of it), but I still didn’t want to crack open the book. So I listened to chapter two. He has recorded the first nine chapters, and I listened to them. Then I learned there was a prologue in the book, so I listened to that after chapter nine.

 But there were only nine chapters available this way. I got out the book, flipped to the start chapter ten and put in the bookmark…

 Then I got an email from Audible that they wanted to give me two free audiobooks. Ding! Winner! And so I listened to Sabriel, starting at chapter ten, read by Tim Curry.

 Now some book report stuff:

 Sabriel is a young woman, 16 or 17, who grew up in a very earth-like place called Ancelstierre which is separated by a wall from the Old Kingdom, where magic exists. Her father remained in the Old Kingdom because his bloodline as something called an Abhorsen meant he was needed to stop, or help stop, the constant stream of dead people and things which would claw their way back to life. He was a necromancer and was able to send the dead things back into death, by traveling there himself and taking them. He could also travel into death and bring back the spirits of things which were newly dead and make them not dead if their bodies were in good condition.

 Death in the Old Kingdom is a place with a series of areas with water connecting them. They are divided by gates and it is only when a dead thing passes the ninth and final gate that it can’t come back to life. An ancient evil being, Kerrigor, is trying to amass an army of dead things to destroy the controlled magic in the Old Kingdom, called Charter magic, and replace it with free magic. I guess because the free magic is more powerful? I missed some of that.

 Anyway, Abhorsen goes missing, not making one of his regularly scheduled meetings with Sabriel and instead sending a dead messenger to her with the tools of the necromancer - a sword and a set of magical bells. Sabriel decides to journey to the Old Kingdom to find him. It becomes her job to fight Kerrigor and restore order to the Old Kingdom, becoming the new Abhorsen.

 The story was enjoyable enough. There is a cat, called Mogget, who isn’t all he appears. He works as a servant to the Abhorson and joins Sabriel on the quest to find her father and destroy Kerrigor. She also rescues the future king, who has been turned to wood for 200, and he joins her on the quest.

 Things which really stuck out to me from the listening were that the words “Charter magic” and “Charter stones” are said a lot.  A lot-a lot. I also didn’t love the way Tim Curry did the character voices. Mogget was smarmy and everyone else sounded annoyed and snitty most of the time. But I enjoyed his reading of the bulk of the book, and that he read it so I didn’t have to.

 My main complaint at the end when (SPOILER!!!) Kerrigor is turned into a cat like Mogget is that the reader doesn’t find out what happens to cat Kerrigor. I read a little bit about the next books in the series and it seems like Kerrigor is not mentioned again. Oh, well. The thing which really got me through the story was Mogget being a cat. There were some nice visual elements in the story, like the Paperwing, a paper plane which kind of magically becomes life-like and bird-like when a mage whistles and controls it. The moments of peril didn’t last very long, which I also like because I don’t want to have to stress about what fictional characters are doing.

 By listening to the story instead of reading it, there were things which I felt were glossed over a little quickly - like what exactly Mogget is. If I had read it, I probably would have reread the few sentences where he is explained so that I was sure I understood it. I didn’t bother to go relisten to anything, aside from one time when I was getting a lot of text messages which were really disruptive to my concentration. When I read something, I’ll often reread passages just to make sure I’ve really understood everything.

 Sabriel would make a good movie, probably animated, or mini-series. I’d be curious to see and hear the bells. I enjoyed it, but not enough to continue with the series.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

April Book Report, Jews Don't Count by David Baddiel

 

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. In case you don’t know, that’s just on the edge of the Bible Belt. I’d guess that Southern Baptist was the dominant religion at the time of my youth in San Antonio. My parents were from St. Louis and had lived in New York before moving to Texas. My mom was a practicing Catholic. My dad… There’s this thing in Texas where if you go to a new church (not Catholic) and sign their guest book, they show up at your house with a pie. At least that was a thing in Texas. For a while, my dad shopped churches. For the pies. He would go with my mom to church as long as it wasn’t the “jingle bell choir” - guitars. Otherwise he’d often try a new one when he was in the mood for a pie.

Being raised Catholic is something which creates a lasting impression even if you don’t stick with it. Lots of guilt. Lots of believing without believing that there is a hell and you are probably going there. Lots of feeling watched and judged all the time, even at home alone.

Beside the lifetime of repressed Catholic thoughts, being a Catholic in Texas means you aren’t a Christian. You are something else. Not quite as bad as being a heathen, but to some people maybe you are?

I’m not sure that this applies just in Texas, either. Story time.

I make jewelry and my most popular YouTube jewelry tutorial is the tree-of-life pendant. I like to make them (tree-of-life pendants) and it sort of became my signature piece. I will make them out of copper wire and do what I can to keep the cost to me down under $5/ tree - excluding labor time. If I’m out in the world (in the before times) and someone compliments the tree-of-life pendant I’m wearing I’ve been known to pull one out of my purse and give it as a gift. When I went to Europe in 2014 I carried several extra to give to people who were kind to me, not knowing if I’d need them. I did, but you can read about that on my other posts about my trip to Europe.

I was in Ross one day and a woman complimented my tree-of-life pendant. I pulled one out of my purse and gave it to her. It was a copper tree with black beads. “Don’t you have another color?” Um, that doesn’t seem like an appropriate question when you’ve been given a spontaneous gift, but regardless of what I might have in my purse, the answer is no. “No.” “Oh, it’s just black… It’s the devil’s color.” I didn’t know that. I like black. I thought God made all the colors, including black. “Are you a Christian?” she asked me. “Well, I’m Catholic.” “Oh, so you’re not a Christian. Do you have some time for me to tell you the good news?” “No.”

Anyway, even in a Ross Dress-for-Less in Los Angeles, being Catholic does not make you a Christian. End of that story.

I knew a handful of Jews growing up. And by handful, I can distinctly remember two of them right now. Colin and Benji. One of my mom’s good friends from New York, Shelley, was Jewish. I think I just assumed it was a different religion and that even more than I didn’t get counted as a Christian in Texas, they didn’t get counted as Christians. At least for them it was because they weren’t.

Let me tell you another story. My next-door neighbors, until I was about 11, were Southern Baptist. During the summer, instead of going to summer camp (I’ve never been), I know at least one summer I went to vacation Bible school with the neighbors. It was a lot of fun. We sang a lot. We colored a lot. It was SO much better than CCD. I understood why, if there was a choice, you would choose Southern Baptist over Catholic.

I went to church with them one Sunday and I was presented with a huge Bible to take home. I was under 11 and given this super-fancy, expensive Bible. My parents weren’t convinced they had just given it to me, but I went with the neighbors and they brought me home with it. I could hardly hide the thing. They accepted that’s what happened. End of that story.

I moved to California in 1997, when I was 23. I got here in September, I think, and by December I was working at a small post production company in Hollywood. My boss ran the company with his wife. They were Jewish. I met an editor there named Gene. He was Jewish. Another employee at a company we did a ton of work with, Karl, was Jewish.

I had a huge crush on Karl, and probably still would if I saw him again. My boss knew this and said, “But he’s Jewish.” My boss thought I was very Catholic (I wasn’t). I thought my boss was telling me that because Karl was Jewish, he only dated Jewish women. I bought a book called What Does Being Jewish Mean and read it. It was for kids, but I think that’s also a good start for a Texan young woman. (I looked for it to take a picture of, but I don’t think I still have it. I’d read it and I’ve moved a few times since then. And my cat pees on lots of things and I have to throw them away.)

I remember part of a conversation I had not long after with Gene where I insisted that Judaism, being Jewish, was just another religion. “Like I’m Catholic, you’re Jewish.” That wasn’t how Gene saw it. He was an immigrant from Russia (at a young enough age you would never know). To him, being Jewish was his race.

For my April book report, I read Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel. I’m a little bit of an Anglophile, when it comes to things like entertainment and architecture (I think the monarchy is stupid), so I follow David Baddiel on Twitter and read a lot of reviews and comments about this book.  Although there are a lot of incidences talked about in the book which have not made the news here in the States, there is a lot which is universal in it. The part I struggle with, that being Jewish is not just a religion, but a race, is part of what the book confronts. I haven’t solved it within myself, but I’m doing what I can to understand.

There’s no way to say the next thing without sounding incredibly patronizing, but some of my best friends are Jewish. But they really are! My dearest friends, who I would do anything for and who I would rely on if I was in a jam, are Jewish. The friend who would took me to the hospital for surgery at 4 am. The friend who flew with me to Texas on 2-day notice to help me clean out some things from my mom’s house. (Katherine and Arrika, if you are wondering since I’ve provided other names.)

I don’t feel like I can write a standard book report for this book. It’s isn’t a story. It is a very long essay which asks the reader to be contemplative. I’ve been doing that. Part of what I contemplated was if I should even write that I read the book.

Why? Because I know that anti-Semitism is so prolific on the internet, that even just to write about this book I’m opening up the possibility I’ll be attacked. I have a choice to talk about it or not, so I should. The people who regularly get attacked, online and in the real world, don’t have a choice.

But that might be the extent to which I talk about it. You should read it. You should think about it. You should sit with it and consider if there are times in your life when you’ve been dismissive about anti-Semitism as not being as serious an offence as other forms of racism. I hope I haven’t, and I hope that if I do, my friends will feel comfortable enough to let me know.




Thursday, April 15, 2021

Quest for the Perfect Honeysuckle Perfume

 Not that long ago, I bought some honeysuckle perfume on a whim. And I was a little disappointed by it. I didn’t dislike it as a perfume, but it was called Aerin Mediterranean Honeysuckle and it didn’t smell like honeysuckle. It is a light citrus floral perfume, but the floral does not evoke honeysuckle.

My general disappointment with that perfume started me on a quest. Is there actually a perfume that captures the smell of honeysuckle?

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and we always had a honeysuckle bush in the yard. I remember going outside when the flowers were blooming and picking them to get the one little drop of nectar each flower yielded. You pick the flower and pull the style through the bottom. The stigma gets one little drop of liquid attached to it from the pull and you lick that. It tastes the way the flower smells, but in a sweet, sugary way.

You know how sometimes you spray perfume or air freshener and you get it in your mouth? That isn’t what this is like. To really capture the honeysuckle scent, the perfume needs to smell like it would taste good, overcoming the natural instinct we have that tells us a perfume will taste terrible. Yes, it will taste terrible, but it should entice you to maybe try it, just to double check.

To my mind, there are three different notes that the honeysuckle fragrance needs to cover. First, it needs to have a white floral scent, because it is, after all, a flower. Second, it needs to have that sweetness to it that makes you want to taste it. And third, it should have a slightly herbal note to remind you of picking the flower right off of the stem.

I bought every perfume with honeysuckle in the name I could find with relative ease. I skipped the bottle of perfume that Anthropologie discontinued carrying because the price on eBay was triple the original price. And I didn’t buy anything where honeysuckle was just included as a note in the ingredients. Some of these are no longer being made, but I found them for decent prices on eBay. So, from worst to best, here are the honeysuckle perfumes I have tried and ranked.

11. Lollia Dream (White Tea and Honeysuckle) from Margot Elena. This was very powdery and reminded me of something my grandmother would have worn. I don’t know if she ever wore anything that wasn’t from the dime store. She used cornsilk powder and smelled like cornsilk powder. The teeny-tiny bottle I bought was $10, and did not include shipping. It smelled really cheap and I will never wear this. The honeysuckle fragrance does not come through.


10. Sparkling Honeysuckle from Mary Kay. It lists the scents as pear, mandarin, honeysuckle, freesia and iris. All of those things added together added up to gardenia to me. That’s all I could smell. The sprayer was good, though.


9. Sweet Honeysuckle by Perlier. This smelled very soapy and powdery to me. It had a bitter tinge, too. I didn’t get honeysuckle at all with this one.


8. Wild Honeysuckle by Bath & Body Works. The notes on this are jasmine, violet, honeydew and cassis. This had a very generic “perfume” smell to me. Not sure how better to describe it. None of the individual notes stand out. The overall effect is a sweet floral, without the sweetness of wanting to taste it.


7. Mediterranean Honeysuckle in Bloom by Aerin. The notes are honeysuckle, tuberose, honey and citrus. This smells pretty good when sprayed on a card, but when sprayed on myself, it didn’t smell good at all. It is the second perfume with tuberose in it that I’ve tried recently and I’m going to say that tuberose doesn’t work with my body chemistry. It smells sweet on the verge of rotten. Really unpleasant, and it also gives me a headache. Why did I rank it so high then? Because it smells good on paper and someone else might have better luck with it on their skin.




6. Green Tea & Honeysuckle by Elizabeth Arden. This is a very inexpensive perfume. The green tea is very strong and the honeysuckle not so much. But because it is cheap, it requires a big spray and it wears off very quickly. After like 30 minutes, I couldn’t smell it at all.

5. Honeysuckle by Caswell-Massey. This is from the New York Botanical Garden line. It smells very close to honeysuckle, but it is missing the note of nectar. It smells pretty, but you know it would taste terrible.


4. Fresh Honeysuckle by Fresh. The top note on this one is very fruity. Peach and black current. The fruitiness is juicy and delicious. That gives way to a honeysuckle and jasmine blend. The jasmine pushes it a little too far into the white floral category, but the top note is so delightful, I’ll put this on just for that.


3. Mediterranean Honeysuckle by Aerin. This is the perfume that started it all. It is a light citrus and I like it. But I do have to spray on a lot of it. And it makes me sneeze. I don’t know what in it makes me sneeze, but after ten minutes or so the sneezing stops. The honeysuckle is there, but very subtle.

2. Honeysuckle and Davana by Jo Malone of London. I don’t know what davana is, but here it gives the perfume an herbal quality. The davana helps provide the idea that the flowers grow on a green plant. The honeysuckle is subtle again. But I really like this perfume. It is not only a good daytime perfume, but something I like to put on at bedtime.


1. Honeysuckle by Demeter. This is amazing. It smells just like honeysuckle. No other way to say it. It delivers.

 


What I’m doing is wearing either my 2 or 3 pick perfume and adding the Demeter Honeysuckle to it. This pushes the honeysuckle to the front so I can really smell it, but adds dimension with the other notes from the perfumes. The blast of fresh honeysuckle makes me smile. It takes me back to my childhood, and I’m so glad I found the perfect scent to recreate the feeling.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book Report - Foundation by Isaac Asimov

It is the future. People have spread out all across the universe and the Galactic Empire rules. No, this is not Star Wars. That’s set in the past.

 In the future, a science has developed which is akin to fortune telling. One man, Hari Seldon, is an expert in this science and he has seen the end of the Empire. He sets in motion an elaborate, century-spanning plan to build a better ruling outcome for the universe, hopefully sparing centuries of war and unrest in the process. The start of his plan it to be exiled to the farthest end of the universe with a group of intellectuals, under the pretense of writing the perfect, all-encompassing encyclopedia of everything ever. And to not tell them the rest of the plan. Hari Seldon has recorded holograms of himself which play at pre-determined times, when he has predicted a great conflict or crisis will have just been overcome. They provide the only clue if his vision of the future is happening as he predicted or not. (It is.)

 The whole book is like a game a chess. You know how in chess, before you make your move, you try to calculate all the other moves your opponent could make as a result? Yes. Boring and time consuming. And when done properly, not very surprising. (I’m not very good and chess and never really understood why it was fun. I have not watched the Queen’s Gambit yet.)

 Let me get this out of they way. I counted two female characters in the whole book. A secretary who got one or two lines of mention, and a Commdora. The Commdora got two whole scenes, maybe totaling four pages, but she was just there to be snippy. The rest of the time, any new character who gets introduced - no matter how unfamiliar their name - don’t worry! It’s a man.

 The story is told primarily through dialogue, which makes it not very interesting and difficult to follow at times. At the start of each chapter, a paragraph or two of set-up is presented and then the characters chat. And at the start of each section of the book (there are four), just go ahead and forget all the characters you were just getting to know. They are long dead and it is now dozens of years later. But don’t forget them completely. Their names might come up. But while you try to remember the names of characters who have disappeared and died, also learn the names of all the new characters in the new section of the novel. Names, names, names.

 None of the characters are fully developed. The action, predicted, but kept secret, by Hari Seldon, is not exciting. Things just work out. Wars don’t happen. And if it looks like a war is about to happen, turn the page and it is fifty years later and the first sentence makes it clear the war was, in fact, avoided. The story is all lining up dominoes, but the reader never gets the satisfaction of seeing them knocked down.

 It does have some interesting parallels to modern-day politics. Part of one successful war-avoiding tactic is to build a religion. They use missionaries to infiltrate surrounding worlds, or train priests on those worlds, and ultimately disable power supplies. It is hard to read how the religion is weaponized in Foundation and not see similarities to how Evangelical Christians and Republicans currently work together to push an agenda. It works until the missionaries and priests are no longer welcome on nearby worlds, because they have been revealed to be more loyal to their religion than anything else.

 If putting plans in motion, politics, discussions and a universe where women are virtually nonexistent sounds good to you, then you might like Foundation. It didn’t work for me.




Thursday, March 18, 2021

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick - Book Report

 In the near future, which ironically already happened, January 3, 2021, the world is a different place thanks to World War Terminus. Not a lot of details are given about the war, but it becomes clear that most life, not just human life, has been wiped out on Earth. Most people have left Earth and live on one of the colony planets, where androids (which are nearly indistinguishable from people) are used as slaves.

If you remained on Earth, you would be lucky if you aren’t affected by the radiation which has poisoned everything. Most people start to deteriorate mentally after too much exposure, and then become ineligible to travel to a colony. But some people just don’t want to go. Like the hero of the story, Rick Deckard.

The androids from the colonies are sentient enough to realize they are slaves, and to want better lives. Because of this, many of them travel to Earth illegally and attempt to blend in with the people. Rick’s job is to hunt these androids and kill them.

When he gets an assignment to hunt down the most advanced version of androids yet, he jumps at the opportunity. An opportunity he only gets because the original (better) bounty hunter has been hospitalized from his encounter with one of these androids. Rick desperately wants the extra money because owning a pet on Earth is now a status symbol, since most animals are dead. And Rick and his wife, Iran, didn’t manage to keep their pet sheep alive and have replaced it with an electric one. If the neighbors found out they were keeping an electric sheep, they would be humiliated. With the extra income from these bounties, Rick hopes to buy an ostrich, despite the exorbitant cost of $30,000.00.

Meanwhile, a man named J. R. Isidore lives outside of the city in the wastelands. The suburbs of the city are filled with abandoned buildings from the mass exodus of people from Earth. Isidore’s brain has started to decay. He lives alone in a high-rise apartment building and doesn’t have a pet. He works undercover for an electronic pet repair shop which is disguised as veterinary services, picking up malfunctioning animals. Unfortunately, he does pick up a real cat and mistakes it for a fake one, hastening its death. He becomes a refuge for one of the escaped androids, Pris, who moves into his building and eventually brings two other androids along.

Rick’s hunt brings him out into the country, crossing paths with Isidore. They each also have weird religious experiences with the Christ-like figure Mercer. Mercer seems to have been created to provide humans with one of the things the androids are incapable of - empathy. But it isn’t entirely clear if Rick’s and Isadore’s experiences with Mercer are real or imagined. Is Mercer real? Is he an actor? Is he an android?

The writing is brisk to the point of feeling like details are missing. I’m so used to fight scenes (in movies) being drawn out, lasting far too long for the people fighting to still be standing, that it was jarring to read a fight scene which started and concluded in just a couple of sentences. I had to go back and read a few paragraphs a second time to make sure I wasn’t missing something. I wasn’t. There wasn’t more. Like if someone was shot in the head, they were shot in the head and dead and the story moved on to the next thing immediately.

For serious animal lovers, you might want to stay away from this one. There aren’t many animals in it, and yet most of them do not have pleasant ends. The androids embody all of humanity’s negative aspects (greed, jealousy, anger and hostility) but they don’t have any of humanity’s positive emotions (empathy, love), so they don’t value life, human or animal, the same way as the humans remaining on Earth do.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a short, easy read. If you are looking for Blade Runner, you don’t get much of it here. Although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Blade Runner, I don’t remember many of the main elements of the novel in the film. Was Rick married? Did he have an electronic pet sheep? Did he want to buy an ostrich and eventually buy a goat? Did Pris look identical to the other android Rachael because they were the same model? Did Rachael fully know she was an android? I don’t think any of these things were included in the movie. And I don’t think the whole religious, Sisyphus and Christ-like Mercer was in the movie at all.

I wasn’t reading it expecting it to be Blade Runner. I was reading it to read it. But it is impossible to read it and not compare it to the movie as you go along. If you are looking for Blade Runner, or if you love lush prose, then you should skip this one. But if you are curious, then I would recommend reading it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts! Song

 Finally got around to recording another song.  Not my finest piano play, but a silly song I thoroughly enjoy! Thanks to Katherine for indulging me.




Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Spirograph-Inspired Bead Pendant

I made a new crafting video!

If you have things you want me to make tutorials for, let me know. I'm pretty good and figuring out how to make things.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Taking My Perfume Obsession to the Next Level

 I broke down and bought one of the special edition House of Sillage fragrances. Not the limited edition like Mickey Mouse. No. The uber special edition ones. I got Passion de L'Amour because Cherry Garden, the bottle I liked the best, was sold out. I had to go with not my first choice (Emerald Reign) or second choice (Cherry Garden), but my third choice. It is beautiful. In the video I call it a chameleon, but looking at it again, it might be a gecko. 




Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Kathleen Thien - Eulogy

Here's the eulogy I gave at my mom's funeral (my sister helped me with the talking to get through it). She died on December 25, 2018. Yes, Christmas Day. Today, March 9, is her birthday.

Mom grew up on Minnesota Ave. in St. Louis, Missouri in the house her grandparents moved to after immigrating to the US. It was where her mother and aunts and uncles grew up, a five-room flat on the second story of a rickety old building, up the most dangerous staircases anyone would ever encounter. Five rooms, not five bedrooms. A kitchen, bathroom, living room- where Uncle Richard slept- a master bedroom and Mom’s bedroom.


As a child in St. Louis, Mom met Judy Hutchinson, beginning a friendship which spanned seventy years. It is a common theme in Mom’s life that once you became her close friend, you were her friend for life. It was a priority to her to keep in contact with the people who were important to her.

Mom graduated high school at 16 and her father, Grandpa Rome, gave her a choice - she could either move out or start paying rent. Mom decided to pay rent and she got a job at the Federal Reserve. There, she met Rosemary Pechan, who would also become a lifelong friend to not only her, but also to her husband and children once we came into the picture.

After the Federal Reserve, Mom got a job working for a psychiatrist, Dr. Fink. When Dr. Fink moved his practice to New York City, Mom went with him. While living in New York, Mom came back to St. Louis to attend her cousin’s wedding where she met her cousin’s future bride’s brother, George. George was in the military and stationed near Washington, D.C., so they began a not-too-long-distance relationship which eventually led to their marriage.


Dad moved to New York after he was discharged, where he taught school. But a job offer in San Antonio led them here. They moved to Esplanade where Mom met more friends she would have for the rest of her life -- Juanita Mena and the Bushnell family.

Mom was able to be a stay-at-home mom for the first thirteen years or so of my life. I remember her spending time in the kitchen on her arts and crafts. She went through a ceramics phase, getting a kiln in the garage. She also did tole painting, macramé, wreath-making and other crafts. She enrolled us in dance and music lessons starting at the age of four.


I remember hating ballet lessons so much, primarily because I had to wear tights. I would run and hide and Mom would have to chase me, holding me down and forcing the tights only my legs. I don’t think I ever managed to make us late for the classes, though, despite my best efforts.

Because of her own limited options growing up, she made it a priority that her daughters would not have the same limitations. College was mandatory, but she left it up to us what we wanted to study.


At the age of eight, after I saw the Muppet Movie, I told Mom I was moving to California to work in the movie industry. She never questioned that that was my future. It was up to me what I wanted to do with my life, and whatever support I needed, she would provide.

I think it was while I was in middle school that Mom had to go back to work to help prepare for the upcoming college tuitions. She started working at Frost Bank, downtown. She loved the job and made more lifelong friends there, like Cynthia Zunker. She also would eventually reach out to a mother of one of my friends, Mrs. Limaye, and build a friendship which proved invaluable.

She continued to work until she was eligible for retirement, but at several different banks, continuing the career path started at the Federal Reserve in St. Louis. Once her girls were out of college and established in their new, adopted cities, Mom and Dad started cruising regularly.

They have taken a few memorable cruises, including a trip to Egypt where the ship nearly capsized and a trip to the Caribbean where two people fell overboard and were successfully rescued. Despite these upsetting events, she wouldn’t dream of not traveling and cruising. She even took the same Egypt cruise a second time because the events of the first trip prevented making it all the way to Egypt.


On one of the Egypt cruises, Mom met Vicki Tempongko who she would add to her arsenal of friends, visiting her each time she came to California.

After Dad died, Mom slowed down her traveling. She took up quilting and filled her days at the kitchen table, cutting up fabric and stitching it back together.

No matter how many people get up to share their stories here today, or who share their stories more intimately at the reception afterward, we know there will be a common thread. Mom was loving, kind and generous. She took on the role of mother for many of our friends and everyone in this room has had their lives improved for knowing her.