Kitties in the Window

A friend of mine tells me from time to time that my journal is seriously deficient in cat pictures. To help fix that problem (for the time being), here’s a shot of three of the cats from yesterday:

Kitties_in_the_Window.jpg

(L-R): Blackjack, Jefferson, and Roulette

Jefferson and Blackjack both like to lie in the same places – the basket, the papasan, under the dining table, at our feet in bed, etc. Although Roulette was the one with a big crush on Jeff when they were kittens, I think Blackjack is the one who ended up adopting many of Jefferson’s mannerisms.

Baseball Playoffs: Division Series

It’s been a good couple of days of playoff baseball: Yesterday the A’s broke with 6 years of frustration to advance to the American League Championship Series by sweeping the Twins. It was a convincing series, although as Laurel said, the Twins virtually handed the series to the A’s. The two teams were nearly identical in the regular season, being adjact to each other in the AL standings in runs scored, runs allowed, and defensive efficiency, and their raw stats in the three games were not far apart. But the A’s capitalized and the Twins didn’t, so the A’s are going to the ALCS.

Even better, today the Tigers knocked off the Hated Yankees to advance to the ALCS themselves. This was a rather different series, featuring the two best defenses in the AL, and the best offense (the Yankees) and perhaps the best pitching (the Tigers). The Yankees won the first one, narrowly lost the second one, and then got completely crush in the last two. Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman pitched outstanding games and the Yankees just folded.

Any season in which the Yankees lose – especially in humiliating fashion – is a good season for this Red Sox fan.

In the National League, the Mets finished a sweep of the Dodgers today, which should surprise no one, since the Mets were clearly the class of the NL. The Cardinals-Padres series is a little more interesting, though the Cards have the edge at this point. A Mets-Cards NLCS might be pretty exciting, since both teams are based more on hitting than pitching, but with the Cards featuring Chris Carpenter and the Mets missing Pedro Martinez, the Cards might actually have an edge there.

Looking at the numbers, my bet is that we’ll see a Tigers-Mets World Series, and possibly a Tigers championship. Although honestly I think the A’s are almost as likely to win as those other two teams. Right now, the Playoff Odds Report given the Mets a 31% chance of winning it all, Oakland a 28% chance, Detroit a 27% chance, and the other 14% divided between the Cards and Padres.

But with the Yankees out of it, it oughta be fun whichever way it goes.

Bad Company

A rant:

Some years ago I read the first three books in Kage Baker‘s “Company” series. I enjoyed them well enough, and was interested in continuing. But after the fourth book, The Graveyard Game had been published in hardcover, the publisher, Avon, stopped publishing the series.

Eventually the series was picked up by Tor Books, which published new novels in the series, and brought out the first four novels in trade paperback.

Only one problem: I had been reading the series in mass market (or “pocket”) paperback, and The Graveyard Game is the only volume in the series that neither publisher has brought out in mass market. So, I’m stalled on the series until Tor publishes it in mass market, because, y’see, I already own the first three volumes in mass market, and I just basically dislike the trade paperback format, which are take more space on my shelves than pocket books (and more expensive, of course), but are far less durable than hardcovers. Once upon a time I felt differently, but now I see that trades are the worst of both worlds.

I like Tor Books overall, but it frustrates me that they do many of their reissues in trade rather than mass market. I would probably buy a spiffy new copy of Vernor Vinge‘s Tatja Grimm’s World in mass market, but since the reissue is only in trade I’ll just keep hunting around until I find a nice-condition used copy of the old pocket edition.

I realize I’m just being a crusty old collector, but being a collector I’m picky about the versions I buy. So I wait. Eventually I figure someone will publish the edition I want, and then I’ll keep reading the Company series. No rush. I figure I’ll be around for another 50 years or so. In the meantime, I have plenty to read. Like those six months of SF magazines piled up under the end table…

Neil Gaiman at Kepler’s

Tonight Neil Gaiman came to Kepler’s. The moderator emeritus of our speculative fiction book group was able to score members of the group some great seats at the front of the room – a really nice gesture, as Gaiman is one of the bigger draws among touring authors, I think.

I’ve seen Gaiman twice before, once in 1998 at a small convention in Madison, and once in 2004 at Worldcon in Boston. He’s a terrific speaker, intelligent, funny and charming, and I certainly urge you to go see him if you have a chance.

Gaiman was up late last night at Cody’s Books in San Francisco, and he said tonight it’s because he read an astoundingly long story, and consequently he was apparently pretty worn down. He’s certainly a gamer, though, as you could hardly tell. He read a short story and a poem from his new collection, Fragile Things, took questions, and then (as he accidentally said) “hand[ed] until his sign [fell] off”.

I got him to sign my new copy of Fragile Things and my hardcover copy of the Sandman volume Dream Country. I now have four volumes of the series signed, so at this rate I should be done by about 2020!

A good time was had by all, including the various friends I saw there, not all of them from the book discussion group. I told you Gaiman was a big draw…

Internet Explorer Vexes Me

So yesterday Debbi brought home her Windows laptop from work to show me what Fascination Place looks like in Internet Explorer.

And, uh, it’s not exactly what I’d intended.

The core problem is with the three-column layout: It’s supposed to have three neat columns below the header and above the footer with a fixed-width sidebar running down each side, and a fluid-width column (i.e., column that grows if you make the window wider) in the middle. What appears in IE is that once the central column’s content is long enough to run below a sidebar, it flows around the bottom of the sidebar to take up (nearly) the entire width of the window.

For those familiar with CSS, each column is its own div element. The left and right sidebars are set with float: left or right (respectively) and with fixed pixel widths, and the middle column does not float but is set with width: auto. I’ve tested this with several browsers on Mac OS X, and it works fine in all of them. But it looks poor on IE on Windows, and unspeakably awful in the ancient IE 5.2 which was (I think) the last version available for Mac OS X (and which has many known bugs).

There are a few lesser issues, such as the words “Fascination Place” in the banner not appearing in the large characters I intend, and the text scrolling off the right side of the page. Those aren’t as annoying as the essential column problem, though.

I’ve been doing a little research, and it appears that IE has a number of bugs and quirks in it where CSS is concerned, for instance these bugs, and these bugs, and this box model problem. Debbi’s machine is running IE 6 on Windows 2000 v5.0, and apparently many of these issues have been fixed in IE 7. (Whether it fixes my problems, I don’t know.)

Fascination Place is my first foray into using relatively modern (i.e., this millennium) Web technologies. I’m well aware that the nature of the Web is that not everything works well for all people, and that there are people out there still using Mac OS 9 and Windows 98 (some people can’t upgrade), so not everything will render well for those people. But I’m not sure how much effort I want to put into making FP look good for people using old technology, not because I don’t want them to read my site but because I have finite time, and I don’t have access to most non-Mac or older browsers.

(For the record, I’ve tested with Safari, FireFox, and Camino. I should probably also try Opera and OmniWeb.)

I’d appreciate some input from my readers, especially ones living in a Windows world or on older software:

  • Does FP look like what you expect it to look like, based on what I described above?
  • If it doesn’t, is it at least readable and usable?
  • If you’re familiar with CSS (and/or willing to look at my stylesheet), do you have any tips for improving the experience for other readers?
  • Do I suck at writing CSS, or what? 🙂

I would like to make (as they say) a good-faith effort to whip things into shape. And of course improve my understanding and use of CSS generally. But those of you for whom the page looks really whacked may need to bear with me for a bit.

Sorry about that.

Alas, Poor Tree

One of the things that I really liked about my house when I moved in was the trio of trees out front which flowered every January. These trees are ubiquitous in Silicon Valley (there are a whole bunch of them at work), and their flowers are very fragrant. Sometimes I’d read the paper in my front room with the windows open – even though it was 50 degrees out – to get a whiff of the tree in the morning. (Most of these trees in the area flower in March, ours always flowered early for some reason.) And at Christmas time Debbi and I would decorate the tree, wrapping cords of lights around the leafless branches, and attracting many kind comments from the neighbors.

The trees were put in when the complex was built, in the late 70s, and I guess they have a well-known lifespan. The tree in front of our house died last winter, and one of its two companions probably has only one more season left. (The third tree, which is much smaller, living as it does in the shadow of a large pine tree, seems to be in better shape.)

This morning the tree trimmers came and cut down the tree in front, pulling out the large ball of the root, and they started trimming the dead branches off the second tree.

So, I’m sad. I really liked that tree. We’re going to try to put in a new tree of the same type, but it will probably be years before it grows to full size.

To Be a Better Reviewer

One thing I hope to do in this new journal is to become a better reviewer.

I’ve been writing reviews for some years now, and lately have felt like I’m stuck in a rut. My review format is pretty standard:

  1. One or two sentence introduction.
  2. One-to-three paragraph plot summary.
  3. A few paragraphs of what I thought about the book.

After a while this format has made me start feeling as if I were Harriet Klausner, only slightly more insightful and a lot more cynical. (For those who don’t know, Klausner is the #1 reviewer at Amazon.com. It’s been conjectured that she’s actually a pen-name, perhaps for multiple reviewers. I don’t know that there’s any evidence for this, and there’s some evidence against it. In any event, her reviews are invariably positive – 4 or 5 stars – and have the consistent format of 2 paragraphs of plot summary and one paragraph of opinion. In other words, I find them bland.)

For me, the challenge in reviewing is that I both want to urge people to read books I enjoy, and discuss books I think are interesting. The former suggests that I keep my reviews spoiler-free, while the latter often requires that I include spoilers. (And both suggest maybe I shouldn’t review books I don’t like and don’t find interesting.) The solution to this, I think, is to write a review using the former approach, and then put any comments in the latter vein behind a Read More tag. (For the most part I hate it when people use things like lj-cut tags, but I think spoiler info is one of the very few legitimate uses of such things.)

And I’d like to break out of a standard reviewing format and get a little more creative.

Anyway, that’s the goal. I think it will take some thought and practice before I can properly execute it.

Welcome!

Hi there! I’m Michael Rawdon. Welcome to my new journal, Fascination Place.

I imagine that most of you reading this have come over from my old journal, Gazing Into The Abyss, at least at first. Fun as that journal was, I was getting tired of living on my little home-brew software which powered it. I wanted categories, and comments, and a domain name, and a format in which it would feel more comfortable to write small posts, and more often. And I wanted to stop feeling like my journal was living in 2001.

Over the summer I started casting around for what to use instead, and to my surprise it was just about unanimous that WordPress was the state-of-the-art blogging software out there. So that’s what I’m using, having spent most of September learning the languages that drive WordPress and customizing my set-up to get it the way I want.

Is it worth it? Time will tell. I’m pretty happy with the result, but no doubt there are some kinks to work out. You can comment or e-mail me if you see anything serious that needs attention.

I’m a little self-conscious about the title, “Fascination Place” (with no “The” – it’s like a street name), as I’ve always thought that I’m terrible at coming up with titles for things. Someone once pointed out to me that “Gazing Into The Abyss” seemed like a poor title for my journal, probably because my “abyss” is about two feet deep. So I wanted a title which was descriptive but not cynical, and that’s what I came up with. (It was hard. I told you I was terrible at coming up with titles…)

That aside, I’ve been chomping at the bit to start writing content for Fascination Place, and I set a deadline to launch this thing by this weekend, because spending any more time preparing it was just spinning my wheels. Like any new commitment, it’s a little scary (even if it’s replacing an old one which was just about the same), but it’s also kind of a relief to get started.

I hope you enjoy it.  Welcome!