Odds and Ends Toward the End of a Year

The Road to Harvard Square


Cory Doctorow and Stephen King have hijacked my Kindle with great fiction reads.

My pre-ordered copy of King’s Under the Dome arrived, as promised, on Christmas Eve. It’s scary how well he tells a story.  I suspect that I will soon be drawn into a dead run toward the end of the story, even as the initial beckonings are small and odd.  A dome gets dropped over the sock-shaped Maine town of Chester Mills.  This ridiculous premise already seems plausible, because of gruesome bits like an unlucky woodchuck chopped in half on Dome Day.  Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to know how the story ends, don’t click on this Wikipedia item.

Doctorow’s Makers, downloaded for free from his site in .mobi edition, has taken longer to draw me into the story, even though story itself is a central artifice of the novel. It’s set in a troubling future, and you’ll never think of Disneyworld the same again.


I like Chrome, the new browser from Google now available for Macintosh.  It’s slightly different from Firefox and Safari, but I can’t tell you how or testify to any of its advantages, except that you type search terms or URL addresses in the same place, called the “Omnibox.”  I like the pretty icon, which looks like a camera lens.  It’s peeking at me from the dock on my MacBook Air, saying, “click on me.”


I’ve had it with the nook. The gee-whiz phase lasted about two weeks, peaking one night at the Barnes & Noble store in Chestnut Hill when I got a free oatmeal cookie by showing the puzzled barrista a coupon that had appeared on my nook once it found the B&N store network.  The same coupon appeared when I entered the palatial B&N store across from the Burlington Mall, so I got another cookie.  You could make your way across the country with your nook, apparently, grazing on free cookies at every store.  Except that the Burlington barrista did not check the coupon number, which was the same at each store.  If she had entered it in the cash register, perhaps there would have been a message: “Seize this impostor! He has already obtained his free cookie at the Chestnut Hill store.  He is a suspected Kindle provocateur.”

It was also cool to download two library books to the nook from the Denver Public Library, but there’s no way I’m going to finish them before they expire, and I doubt I’ll be able to renew them.

So after straying from my Kindle, I’m back home with fuller appreciation of its amazing tool set for reading.  For example, there is no way on the nook to search for a character’s name and see all the references to it, including the first, when the character enters the story.  With the Kindle, I can do this with ease, and then use the magic “Back” button to jump back into the story, with a clear sense of who this person is.  The nook’s dictionary is a joke. It’s painfully slow and awkward to maneuver the cursor to a word, and the definitions are truncated and lame.

I still don’t hope the nook fails.  Driving up to the Burlington B&N book palace, I had a strong sense of how many people work there, and how sad it will be if places like that cease to exist, never mind classy independent bookstores like the Tattered Cover in Denver and the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge. They guy at the nook kiosk in Burlington really knew his stuff.  How odd, though, to have an eBook sales desk in the midst of all those paper volumes.  Do the other sales people hate the nook guy? Do they look on him as their only hope to survive the coming revolution?  It’s a great story unfolding, and I’m glad I invested in a nook so I can follow it firsthand.  But for the pure joy of reading, I’m back to dancing with the eBook that brought me.


I realized the other day that I am in my sixties.  I’ve been 59 years old since August, and that comforting “fifty” in my age had disguised the fact that I am well into my 60th year, the first year of a new decade.   The realization hit me not with sadness and dread, but with the hope of impending wisdom, if I play my cards right.


Ross Douthat in a recent New York Times op-ed piece has totally nailed what makes Obama tick, in my humble opinion.  As a hard-core moderate, I am thrilled to read an insight like this:

“Both right and left have had trouble processing Obama’s institutionalism. Conservatives have exaggerated his liberal instincts into radicalism, ignoring the fact that a president who takes advice from Lawrence Summers and Robert Gates probably isn’t a closet Marxist-Leninist. The left has been frustrated, again and again, by the gulf between Obama’s professed principles and the compromises that he’s willing to accept, and some liberals have become convinced that he isn’t one of them at all.”

I have to say that this is the Obama I thought I was working for since early in the primaries. At this point in his presidency, it takes a lot of hope and faith to expect him to leave a legacy of peace and prosperity in these impossible times.  But when it comes to Barack Obama, I have become used to long odds paying off handsomely.  My wife and I first saw him in person during the 2004 election campaign, shortly after his keynote speech to the Democratic Convention on July 27, 2004.   With a huge lead in his own Illinois U.S. Senate race, Obama had come to Denver to support Ken Salazar’s much tougher Senate bid.  He looked tall, thin and slight as he entered the small gymnasium.  But as soon as he began to speak, I could imagine him as president.  It’s with a similar awareness of long odds that I now can imagine him as a truly successful president.  Time will tell.


It’s not always easy to find a fact on the Internet.  I spent two hours trying to learn the date of Obama’s 2004 appearance in Denver.  The only trace I found was a blog entry stating that Colorado State Treasurer Cary Kennedy has a photo on her wall of Obama at a 2004 rally with Salazar and some congressional candidates.”  I’ve emailed her in hopes there is a date on the back of the photo.


“It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Alec Baldwin was much more satisfying a movie than I had expected.  My wife and her sister and I saw it last night in Harvard Square.  We also enjoyed a very different movie, “The Young Victoria” the night before at the Kendall Square Theatre.  On the way out, I rang Cha Cha up on my iPhone to ask what relation the current queen is to Victoria, and by the time we’d reached the car I had a text message informing me that Queen Victoria was Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother.


My sister totally surprised me with a Christmas gadget gift that I had not even known enough to lust for.  It’s a tiny Veho Micro DV camcorder that I strapped to my head for some of the big family dinner here on Christmas day.  I can’t wait to try it while rowing on the Charles next spring.  You can also clip it to a shirt pocket.  The resulting videos are headache-inducing because the view jumps around so much.  But it’s definitely a cool addition to my tech arsenal.


It’s been fantastic to spend most of the past six months here in Cambridge.  Next week we return to Denver till the spring.  No matter where the suitcase lands, it’s nice to hang out “here.”

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One Response to Odds and Ends Toward the End of a Year

  1. Randy Cope says:

    Len, it sounds as if you have truly had a wonderful time this past six months and learned a lot about yourself and what makes you tick. See you back in Denver.


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