A Matter of Image

Mag 131

The Big Room, by Andrew Wyeth, 1948

Neveon stood back and looked at the graphic wall, tweaked it until the image covered the entire wall, floor to ceiling, corner to corner, making it essentially life-size.  He’d found the image by accident, looking for something else, and it fascinated him.  He’d wikied the name of its creator, ‘Andrew Wyeth,’ found some bio info on him, and had discovered in the process that this particular image, captioned “The Big Room,” was a graphic representation of one of the rooms in the house that Wyeth had grown up in.  It was such a totally different living space from what Neveon was used to and he struggled to understand it and the objects it contained.  A great deal had changed in the 170-odd years since the image had been created.

It had taken him a while to figure out that the dark rectangular thing in the center was a “fireplace,” a purpose-built area where wood was burned.  If he understood the article correctly, trees were killed, chopped up into pieces, and the wood burnt to heat the interior of the house.  Amazingly, this seemed to have been a routine practice even as recently as two centuries ago.  He found the idea of killing trees just to burn them ghastly.  Trees were living things.  There were over two dozen trees of several different kinds that grew in the central garden of Neveon’s housing complex and hundreds more growing in the parklands surrounding it.  Sometimes, if the weather was nice, Neveon went outside and walked along the paths to look at them and the plants around them.  Occasionally, in the early morning hours, he would sit for a time on the benches that had been placed where a path went underneath a tree’s branches.  Trees were protected and carefully nurtured, even more so than the other plants, because they grew so slowly. The only way anybody could obtain wood now was from trees that had died of natural causes, and even then, there were all kinds of special permissions you had to get.  Wood was a rare and beautiful thing.  He couldn’t imagine destroying it on purpose.

His research into”fireplace” had led to “bricks and “brick making,” as well as “andiron,” “chimney,” “flue” and the science of combustion.   He still hadn’t figured out what the floor was made of, or the walls, or what was going on with the ceiling, but he’d learned that the windows were made of thin sections of vitrified sodium silicates, called “window glass,” that had been inset into wooden frames.  Judging from what could be seen out the window, it was wintertime and there was snow on the ground.  (Neveon was surprised at how far south the house had been located, but he reminded himself that the sea levels, climate and weather patterns had been different then.)  Wyeth had imaged the interiors of several other houses beside that one; there was an image that showed a freestanding bed on a frame made of some dark-colored material with a tall post coming up out of each corner of the frame. (Neveon hadn’t a clue what purpose the tall posts served, perhaps only a decorative one.)  Neveon wondered what living in that kind of housing would be like, with windows made of brittle glass and doors that opened straight to the outside without any kind of airlock to protect the building’s interior climate.

Further research revealed that these were not original images, but image reproductions of something called a “painting” — an actual physical object. Unfortunately, almost all of them had been lost to the elements during the Fragmented Time that had followed the hantavirus pandemic and a series of massive volcanic eruptions, that had occurred during the four years that followed it.  All that remained of them now were these images.   In the course of finding out how paintings were made he learned about “watercolor” — powdered pigments suspended in water which were applied to what was called paper (plant fibers pressed into thin flat flexible sheets).  That’s how some of Wyeth’s paintings had been made.  However, the paint used in this particular painting was something called “egg tempera” which was made with powdered pigments suspended in a mixture of water and the yolks of birds’ eggs (Neveon found the idea rather nauseating).  The paint had been applied to a kind of flat stiff board called ‘Masonite.’  In both cases, the paint was applied using wooden sticks with a tuft of some kind of animal hair attached to one end.  The tuft of hair was dipped into the paint and the paint was transferred to the flat surface by either dabbing or stroking the paint-loaded tuft of hair against it.

In the millennia prior to the invention of photography, paintings had been the only way to capture a visual image.  Image quality was entirely determined by the natural ability and training of the painter, the quality of the materials involved, and the age of the work (the materials tended to deteriorate over time).  Wyeth had made his paintings during the period of time between the invention of chemical photography and the advent of digital technology. Even though chemical photographic equipment was inexpensive and readily available at the time, and the images produced were duplicatible and of a fairly high quality, it seemed strange to Neveon that someone would choose to take the time and trouble to painstakingly reproduce an image using paints, when it took far less time and a lot less trouble to obtain a photographic image of it.   Then he thought it might be because Wyeth had wanted to edit or manipulate the painted image in some way, but as primitive a technology as chemical photography was, one could still manipulate the photographic image in quite a number of ways, a process that would still be a lot less messy and time-consuming than this painting process seemed, what with the wet paints and having to reproduce by eye the different colors and shades by mixing different pigments together, and applying the paint with the brushes and, one would assume, having to clean up the brushes and all the containers and implements involved afterwards. Then there was that business with the egg yolk. . . ugh!!

Wyeth must have had some sort of artistic reason for choosing the more difficult and complicated process of painting.  Neveon did not follow any artists who used applied color in constructing art objects, but he did subscribed to the feeds of several graphic artists.  There was one in particular whose work he really liked.  Her user name was Keramia.  Sometimes, she would stream live video of her screen content as she created a graphic image so that you could see how she went about it.  He enjoyed putting on some relaxing music, throwing the feed up on the data wall, and watching the image evolve.  She frequently combined photographic images with drawings done on her tablet and digitally manipulated them in various ways.  He had downloaded a number of her graphics files to his image library so he could slide-show them on his graphic wall from time to time, or 0ccasionally he would  choose just one and look more closely at the details, sometimes for hours at a time. He checked the data wall to see if Karemia might be streaming tonight.  She wasn’t, as it happened, but her user name was highlighted and a chat icon was displayed beside it.

Abruptly, he shucked his clothes off and dumped them into the laundry unit and went to his clothes storage area.  He got out his newest pair of black leggings, and a deep blue, long-sleeved  tunic he had bought last week but hadn’t worn yet.  He slipped his feet into a pair of black footies, and chose a metallic silver pendant and the cuff bracelet that matched it.  He told the door to the hygiene module to mirror him, checked his appearance, and decided he passed muster.  (The image consultant had told him that this particular shade of dark blue was one of his best colors and that it brought out the blue in his eyes, which were supposedly his best feature. Luckily, it was also one of his favorite colors.)

He knew that some people would think it was silly to get dressed up just to chat, when you could just disable the video feed or use an avatar.  You could pay to have an avatar custom-made for you (or else buy the software and make your own). Neveon had nothing against avatars.  He had about a dozen of them himself.  But they were strictly for the virtual world of RP and gaming.  Chat was supposed to be real-time, real world. The way Neveon saw it, replacing your own image with an avatar on a chat video feed was like lying to people about yourself.  What if you got to know someone and you really liked each other, and decided you wanted to meet in person?  You’d have to go through that whole “Sorry, I don’t really look like what you thought I did.  That was just an avatar.  This is the real me,” thing.   You could never be sure they wouldn’t decide they liked the avatar better than the real you, unfriend you on the spot and block you.  Neveon had been in that very situation more than once and each time it had been awkward, uncomfortable and had left him feeling like he had been cheated.  Invariably, he found himself thinking, if they have lied to me about what they really look like, what else might they be lying about?  No.  He remained resolute about never using any kind of data manipulation when he was chatting, and he always used the two-way voice/video on request settings.  That way, if they wanted to see what he looked like, they could request his video feed.  Since he had never chatted with Keramia before, he’d wanted to look nice just in case.

He put Keramia’s latest graphic up on the data wall and sat down on the couch.  He noticed with relief she was still signed on and there was still a chat icon beside her name.  He ignored the butterflies in his stomach and pinged her.  Even though he’d bought a subscription to her stream, he thought it was unlikely she would recognize his user name. She probably had so many followers she didn’t bother to keep up with them — not that it mattered.  He subscribed to the feeds he followed because he thought they were interesting, not because they were popular.   After what seemed like an uncomfortably long wait, she pinged back.

“Hi, Neve618. ”  She sounded younger than he’d thought she’d be.   Still her voice had a nice sound to it — assuming she wasn’t audio-filtering it.  (That was something else people did that really bothered him — audio-filtering their voice to make it sound different.)

“Hi, Keramia.  I’m one of your subscribers.”

“Yeah, I recognized your user name.”  That was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one.

“I’ve downloaded gigs of your images for my data wall.  I really like them, especially that new one you just put up, ‘East Boston Reef.'”  Jeez, he hoped he didn’t sound as lame to her as he sounded to himself.

“Thanks.  I had a lot of fun with that one.” She had a nice laugh, or it sounded nice, anyway.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything. ”

“Oh, no, not at all.”

“Oh, good.  I just wanted to ask you about some artist stuff, if you’ve got time.”

“Sure.  Ask away.”

He took a deep breath, swallowed and took the plunge.  “See, I found a bunch of these graphic images and the data base I found them in said they were images of paintings done by a guy named Andrew Wyeth, but that the actual paintings were lost in the Frag — I had to wiki ‘painting’ to find out what it was.”  A status change on the data wall caught his attention.  She’d requested his video feed.  His mouth  went dry as he enabled it.  He tried to seem casual as he got up and took a tea out of the fridge.

“I’ve seen some stuff about painting, but I only work in digital, so I can’t help you much there. I have heard about some people who are into doing it, though.  I can ask around and see if anybody knows how to get in touch with them, if that’s what you’re interested in.”

He popped open the top on the tea and took a swallow.  “Well, it’s not really the actual painting bit I’m interested in, just why somebody would want to go to all the trouble to do it.  It sounds really messy and complicated.  Seems like it would be so much easier just to do it digitally, like you do.”

“Well, there’s the challenge of trying to figuring out how the preFrag people did something and then seeing if you could learn to do it the same way.”

“OK.  Like those historical reenactor people. I hadn’t thought about it like that. ”

“Sure, the living history thing could be part of it.  Preserving the ways of the past and all.  But then, doing graphics with real paint and all the other stuff you need to do it with is pretty complicated. Some people just get off on figuring out how to do something complicated, learning to do it themselves, and then seeing what they can do with it.”

“OK, yeah.  I get it.  Like learning how to juggle, or how to play a flute. ”

“Yeah.  And then there’re people who just like to make things using their hands.  They like the process of creating and designing something, then constructing it.”

“OK. Like making jewelry, or decorative objects.”

“Yeah.  And, you know, it’s kind of a rush to look at something and think ‘I made that.'”

“Yeah, there is that,” Neveon laughed, and then they were laughing together.

“You said this guy’s name is Wyeth?”

“Yeah.  Andrew Wyeth.  1917 to 2009.  He only missed getting caught in the Frag by, like, ten years or so. I’d be glad to shoot you a copy of the files if you like.”

“Thanks.  I was just going to ask you if you would.  I’d like to see them.  I really don’t know all that much about preFrag graphic art.” The IP address of her data dump appeared beside the chat icon next to her user name.

“Apparently, Wyeth liked to make paintings of the landscape and the buildings around where he lived, and  the people he knew. The images are pretty true to life — .”  As he spoke, he got up, went over to the data wall and transferred the files with a jab and a wave of his index finger. “Here you go.”

“Ah.  Got them.  Thanks.”   A short pause.  “I saw on your profile that you subscribe to Dancing Dynamo.”

“Yeah. I do it at least every day, sometimes twice.”  Dancing Dynamo was an electricity provider.  Like most EP’s, they allowed those subscribers who had a generator alcove in their housing unit the option to link it into the Dynamo’s grid and generate as well as consume.  All you had to do was put the magnet cuffs around your wrists and ankles, go inside the alcove and move your body around, and you generated electricity by induction.  As a part of its service, the Dancing Dynamo offered its subscribers unique content in the form of a variety of virtual dance clubs as well as access to free music content and user-generated playlists to dance to. (The key thing about the generator alcoves was that the more vigorously you moved, the more electricity you generated.  The more electricity you generated, the less you had to buy off the grid.  If you were conscientious about doing it on a daily basis, you could generate more electricity than you used, in which case, the Dynamo would buy your surplus to sell to other subscribers.)

“What clubs do you go to?  Maybe I’ve seen your avatar.”

“I don’t go to the clubs. . .I just use the music feed and jack in my own video ‘cos I’m, like, this really klutzy dancer. . .”  He could feel that he was blushing furiously; he fought the urge to hold out the neck of his tunic and duck his face down inside it.

“I don’t know why you don’t.  I go interactive all the time, and you couldn’t possibly be any klutzier than I am. ”  She laughed again.  She really did have a nice laugh — it was almost musical.  He really hoped she wasn’t filtering her audio.  But then she said, “The Dynamo does offer private alcoves, you know.  We could maybe arrange to meet up some time and get one, share some playlists and, you know — generate some juice. . .”

“You’d have to swear you won’t laugh at my dancing. . . “‘

“Only if you swear not to laugh at mine. I kinda get carried away on the good songs sometimes. At least in a virtual club, I can’t go all spazbo and accidentally clobber you.”  He had his mouth open to reply when he heard a reminder chime go off in her background.  “Oh, nuts.  That’s me.  I’m going to have to sign out now so I can rack out.”  Was he imagining that he heard regret in her voice?   “I’ve got to get up at outrageous o’clock tomorrow morning to do this teleconference for work.  There’s a 5-hour time difference involved and what’s midmorning for the boss is too damn early for the rest of us.”

He said, “Bummer.”   But he thought, great.  You had to be at least 16 before you could get part-time work, and at least 18 to get a full-time job.

“Hey.  I’m glad you pinged me.  I want to talk some more about this Wyeth guy after I’ve had a chance to look at the images.”

“Sure.  I’d like that. ”

“G’Night.”  Her chat icon disappeared and seconds later, her user name greyed out.

He logged out as well, but continued to sit on the couch for over an hour just looking at “East Boston Reef,” taking in the intricate detailing of the corals growing on the partially demolished buildings, the little glimpses of signage here and there,  the shading of the blues tones from light to darker to indicate the deeper water, the graceful curving body of the mermaid with her pale, large-eyed face, short golden poof of hair, iridescent scales, and opalescent tail fins.  He wondered if the girl part of the mermaid looked anything like the artist. . . . .

Sunday Funnies

I have a weather widget on my Google homepage that allows you to follow the weather stats in multiple locations.  I have it set for my hometown (which is at the same latitude as Casablanca, Morocco) and for Biggar, a town in Lanarkshire, Scotland, because I like Scotland, and it helps put things in perspective.  When I booted up the ‘puter at 9 o’clock this morning and my Google home page came up, I noted with some interest that it was 62 F/17.5C with 63% humidity, and wind at 12 mph/19.3 kph here, and in Biggar, it was 63F/17C with 64% humidity, and wind at 13 mph/20.9 kph.  Now, at just 5 pm, it’s 91F/31C with 40% humidity here and no wind at all, and in Biggar, it’s 50F/10C with 90% humidity, and wind at 6 mph.  I feel constrained to point out also that there’s a 6-hour time difference between here and Biggar, making it 3 pm their time in the first instance and 11 o’clock at night in the second.

An update on the SanDisk Sansa Fuse+ MP3 player that I just got:  It also has an FM radio with tunable presets, it allows you to load and play Rhapsody playlists, as well as allowing playback by song, album or artist, and the sound quality is excellent.  After that clunking big, heavy Creative Zen I had, this thing seems tiny, is very lightweight and has an excellent bang for the bucks.  I’m quite delighted at how much I got for my money, even taking into account the extra $20 to buy a 32 GB memory card (which would increase its 8 GB memory capacity x5 to a whopping 40 GB!) —  which the SanDisk techistani I talked to assured me will work with the 8 GB player. (We’ll see when it arrives next week.)  I also sprang for a wall plug charger and a car charger dohickey for an additional $7. I was having some trouble with interfacing with Rhapsody, but after I did a clean reinstall of Rhapsody, that problem was solved.

And, cats will be cats. . .  This was too funny not to share.

I’ve got one of those doorstop thingies on the wall by the back door which, so  far, remains undiscovered (touch wood!).

And now for some comic strip chuckles from Non Sequitur.  That second one cracked me up so much.  All strips © 2012 Wiley Miller

Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012)

At 2:56 UTC on July 21, 1969*, he was in the right place at the right time with the right stuff, and the whole world watched, including a girl in Texas.


Photo taken by Buzz Aldrin after they returned to the Lunar Excursion Module “Eagle” after having walked on the moon.

The Jethro Tull song, yeah.  This, too.  Thanks, Bear, for the reminder.

That was then, this is now.

Forty-three years later, at 05:14:39 UTC10:23 on August 6, 2012, (missing Neil’s 82nd birthday by 14 minutes**), the Curiosity rover touched down on the surface of Mars.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

*UTC time is -4 EST.  In America, it was still July 20, 1969.
**Ohio is UTC – 5

A New Toy and Tweets From Mars

Read today where the Mars rover Curiosity tweeted a happy birthday to Ray Bradbury, who would have been 92 on August 22nd (he died June 5th at the age of 91), and then named it’s landing spot “Bradbury Landing.”   Bradbury wrote, among many other wonderful things, The Martian Chronicles.  So apt that Curiosity’s landing site was named for Bradbury because it was his lifelong curiosity about any and everything that drove his wonderful writing.  He is one of my most favorite authors. Too cool. (Yeah, I know Curiosity is being put up to doing all this tweeting stuff by its “handlers,” but its still cool.) (P.S., getting tweets from Curiosity might almost make it worth joining Twitter (AKA “Fritter”) which otherwise is such a vacuous, time wasting bunch of narcissistic nonsense. Every time I hear about tweeting, I think of the birds in the comic strip Peanuts whose dialog consisted of nothing but exclamation points, or of the incessant chipping of sparrows.)

Got a new toy today.  My Creative Zen MP3 player is going on 6 years old.  On the plus side, it does have a 20 GB hard drive. On the other hand, it was designed to run with Windows XP.  Needless to say, it does not get along at all well with Windows 7.  I was having increasing difficulty with Rhapsody locking up, and problems with downloading music to it.    However, it’s gotten to the point where Rhapsody went off and left it, upgrade wise.   Finally, I bit the bullet and got a SanDisk Sansa Fuse+ 8GB little MP3 player doodad, which has a card slot that they tell me will take a 32 GB memory expansion card.   I’ll find out when the card gets here next week — They were out of stock when I bought the card, but I just got an email saying they’d gotten more, and mine is due to arrive the 28th.  If it will take the 32 GB card, that’ll give it 40 GB of memory, twice what the Zen had.  We’ll see.

The Sansa Fuse cost about 1/6th what the Zen cost, even including the cost of the extra memory card, and is about 1/3 the size of it.  I’m in the process of downloading things to it now.  Haven’t listened to anything on it yet.

On the kitty front, two photos to share.  The grey one found a napping target of opportunity in the two hoses/hosepipes I’ve bought to replace the two in the back.  (I’ve still got to put up the hose racks — two in the back and one in the front, but I need to pick up some silicon gel to go around the screws as they’ll be screwing into brick.) There’s a heavy paper label that occupies the “hole” in the hose, which is what she’s lying on.  Some time after these pictures were taken, the holes in the paper where the ties go through pulled out and dumped her rather unceremoniously deeper into the coil of hose than she cared to go.  Still, it seems to have been good while it lasted.

What I’ve Been Reading

I found out yesterday morning that the latest Liaden Universe book, Dragon Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller was released by Baen as an ebook yesterday, several days in advance of its release in hardback, and I followed the link and snapped it up.  It is the latest installment in the “Theo Waitley” story arc.  Snarfed it down in one sitting (Yeah, it’s that good).  Lee and Miller write in a genre that is referred to as “space opera” (a blend of adventure, romance and humor)which is technically SciFi– but don’t let that put you off.  What Lee and Miller write are character driven stories that happen to be set in the Liaden Universe, where three cultures are competing for space — The Liaden, the Terrans, and the Yxstrang. The SciFi bit is pretty much just part of the scenery.  Each book in the collection is a stand alone novel, and you don’t have to read them in order, but there is a chronology involved, and reading the books in order, I think, gives a richer, deeper experience.  The first Liaden book was published in 1988 and the first couple of them were out of print,  but Baen has been reissuing them.  I just discovered them not long ago, tried one, liked it, and I’ve been playing catch-up over the summer.

If you want to get in on the ground floor of the Liaden Universe, then start with Crystal Variation, which is an omnibus edition of Crystal Soldier, Crystal Dragon, and Balance of Trade.  Crystal Soldier introduces the soldier M. Jela, the pilot Cantra yos’Phelium and fills you in on why the Universe is coming apart at the seams and what the deal is with the tree.  In Crystal Dragon, we add wizards, mathematicians, Tor An yos’Galan, and Mr. dea’Gauss to the mix, and a sleeper ship full of folks all frantically trying to escape as the universe literally falls apart around them.  Cantra yos’Phelium makes a contract with the Clans to pilot them to safety and to their new home, the planet Liad.   It is Cantra yos’Phelium, her child by M. Jela, and Tor An yos’Galan who become the founders of Clan Korval, and the dea’Gauss family become their allies.  The third book in the omnibus is Balance of Trade.  It takes place some centuries after the first two books. While it does not involve Clan Korval, it is a great story, and provides an interesting juxtaposition between Terran and Liaden cultures.

Skip ahead several more centuries to the “Agent of Change” story arc which begins with Local Custom (which was actually the first of the Liaden Universe books to be published and was out of print for a while).  It concerns Clan Korval scion Er Thom yos’Galan and a Terran scholar named Anne Davis, some very controversial ideas about language and genetics, and a love affair that had an unexpected consequence.  Scout’s Progress is the second book of this arc, which concern’s Er Thom’s foster brother Daav yos’Philium, the leader of Clan Korval,  a brilliant mathematician named Aelliana Caylon, and Aelliana’s desperate bid to escape a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her brother and her former husband.  Chronologically, the third book in the series is Mouse and Dragon, which is the rest of Daav and Aelliana’s story. (This is the book that actually sets up the Theo Waitley arc.)  Conflict of Honors is the story of Priscilla Delacroix, an outcast on the run, and Shan yos’Galan, starship captain, Korval’s master trader, and Er Thom and Anne’s son.  The three novels, Local Custom, Scouts Progress and Conflict of Honors are available in the omnibus edition:  The Dragon Variation  The next four books deal with Daav and Aelliana’s son Val Con yos’ Phelium, agent of change, and Miri Robertson, mercenary, and the mysterious and deadly “Department of the Interior’s” plan to exterminate Clan Korval, and take control of Liad.

Here are the Liaden books in chronological order:

Crystal Soldier + ———+in the (3 books) omnibus Crystal Variation
Crystal Dragon +
Balance of Trade +

The books in the “Agent of Change” story arc are:

Local Custom* ————* in the (3 books) Omnibus edition, Dragon Variation
Scouts Progress*
Mouse and Dragon (single volume)
Conflict of Honors*
Agent of Change**——**in the (2 books) Omnibus edition, The Agent’s Gambit
Carpe Diem**
Plan B***——————***In the (2 books) Omnibus edition, Korval’s Game
I Dare***

The books in the “Theo Waitley” arc (a character introduced at the end of I Dare) are:

Ghost Ship
Dragon Ship (out now in ebook, not out in hardback until Sept 4, 2012)

There are a slew of Lee’s and Miller’s “chapbooks” available here, not all of which are about Clan Korval, or are set in the Liaden Universe.

Also in the queue are:

The first of Patricia Brigg’s Sianim books, Where Demons Walk, plus the sequel to her book Masques, which is Wolfsbane, whichinvolves magic and werewolves.

Enemy of the Fey, the third book in India Drummond’s Caledonia Fey series (Blood Fey, and Azuri FeyAn entertainingand fast paced urban fantasy series about a young Fey named Eilidh and a Scottish cop named Quinton Munro.  She’s under a death sentence, and he has no idea he’s a for-real druid.

The Stainless Steel Rat by the late (August 15, 2012) Harry Harrison — somehow I’ve missed reading any of his books — I’m starting with this one.

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is Jane Austen crossed with magic. Every girl of marriageable age should be proficient in the womanly arts of music, drawing, and casting glamour spells.  Proving to be an interesting combination.

The Complete Compleate Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp, which I am assured is a rolicking good read.

Now if you’re like me and are an avid reader, and the above is not enough to keep you busy, I heartily recommend the Foreigner books by C. J. Cherryh.  There will eventually be 15 of them.  The first 13 are in print, the 14th is being written now, and the 15th is on the drawing board.  You’ve got plenty of time to get up to speed before Peacemaker comes out.

At The Moment

My dad had his 90th birthday (and party) Tuesday (August 21, 2012).  My mom remarked that when they married in 1946, she never thought either of them would live as long as they have.   My dad is very frail, can barely get around, is nearly blind and almost deaf, but he blew out all 9 candles on his cake and can still eat cake and ice cream with the best of us.   He had a swallowing study done today because he keeps choking when he eats or drinks.  The unofficial verdict is that he tends to aspirate when he drinks liquids (we’re awaiting the written report), and is now to drink only “thickened” liquids.  Whether we can get him to drink thickened liquids is another story.   At least he can still handle solids.

I sandboxed and submitted my Wikipedia article on Moda “Misty” Fincher today.  I know next to nothing about HTML programming, but Wikipedia has templates.  Hopefully I did it right, and hopefully they’ll accept it.  I’ll keep you posted.

The reasons I didn’t get around to submitting the Wikipedia article yesterday as planned is that I found out yesterday morning that the latest Liaden Universe book, Dragon Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller was released by Baen as an ebook yesterday, several days in advance of its release in hardback, and I followed the link and snapped it up.  It is the latest installment in the “Theo Waitley” story arc.  Snarfed it down in one sitting (Yeah, it’s that good).


Photo courtesy of Janice Hughes Talley, 1/06/2007

Yea, there’s the song, but that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.  I’m thinking about a person, a former local FM radio deejay, in fact.  I was thinking about her because I dreamed about her last night. (If you wonder what the numbers in brackets are all about, Misty did not have a Wikipedia article — until now*.)

She was born Moda Fincher, in Bronte, Texas to William Allen and Moda (Miller) Fincher on Oct. 12, 1924, but she was known on the air simply as “Misty.” She graduated from Lubbock High School in Lubbock, Tx., in 1941 and moved to Fort Worth, Tx.  She started her career as a vocalist and self-taught drummer for an all-girl band – “Billye Gale Band” – and was with them for 5-1/2 years. [1]

But, Misty always wanted to be a radio deejay and recalled that, as a youth, she would fashion imaginary microphones with a tomato soup can and a sawed-off broom pole. [2]   She went to work at KXOL-AM in Fort Worth, where she filed albums and pulled wire reports for sports broadcasts.  She let it be known that she’d like to be a deejay, which, she recalled, “was a real thigh-slapper to management.”  Then on March 5, 1955, she was abruptly handed the midnight-to-6 a.m. shift – seven nights a week, no days off, for $40 a week – she could not even use her name.  Instead, she was known as “The Frontier Gal” and had to agree to wear a Lone Ranger-like mask when out in public. [4]  She was 29 years old.  Few expected her to succeed in what was then a male-dominated field. [2]

She found more support and better pay in Lubbock in 1956, when the general manager of KDUB-AM, an AM radio station, offered her the same shift, midnight to 6 a.m. – but with two days off each week and a raise to $75 per week. [4] She later worked for the first Lubbock FM radio station, KBFM, which is where I used to listen to her “Music with Misty” program. She specialized in instrumental, easy-listening music.   She worked on the MDA Telethon with Jerry Lewis for nineteen years. [1]

In 1970, she went to work for KLBK-FM, [7]where she premiered “Music with Misty.” When a tornado struck Lubbock on May 11, 1970, Misty refused to give up her post. She chose to broadcast continually for 26 hours so listeners could be reassured by her calmly delivered news reports. [2]

After KLBK-FM changed formats in 1980, “Misty” worked in Midland for about 5 years at KNFM before returning to Lubbock where she also worked for KSEL-FM.

Photo courtesy of Janice HughesTalley, 1/06/2007

In 1998, Misty came out of retirement and, at age 75, went to work as a deejay on radio station KDAV-AM, which is located in Lubbock’s Depot District.  KDAV installed an old analog studio just for her — turntables, tape deck, big chrome microphone on a stand, etc. [3]  “This little old lady. . .” (still wearing her trademark dark glasses) “. . . would shuffle in before 9pm, a tight double armed grasp on her albums held against her breast” [3] and make the magic happen.

Misty had what might be the largest collection of vinyl and shellac records in the world, totaling over 15,000 albums. [3]  “Someone to Watch Over Me” was her favorite song.

She received honors from the American Women’s Association and  the Women in Communications’ Margaret Casky Award. [1, 2]  In 1981, Lubbock’s then mayor Bill McAlister proclaimed Oct. 10, as “Misty Day” in Lubbock.

Photo courtesy of Janice HughesTalley, 1/06/2007

On Oct. 28, 2006, Misty was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, placing her alongside radio personalities such as George Carlin (a fellow alumnus of KXOL), Sam Donaldson and Clint Formby. [6]  Ira McComic said, “There are so many things I admire about this lovely lady and so many reasons why I am proud to be the one who nominated her. But I’ll limit myself to just three of Misty’s qualifications: pioneer, professionalism and passion. … As a role model for professionalism, nobody topped Misty, who arrived at the station every evening, always on time and always prepared for her show. … Misty loves radio, she loves the music she shares with listeners, and she loves those listeners.” [4]

She was regarded as American radio’s (and certainly Texas radio’s) first full-time female staff announcer. [4, 6] Her radio career spanned 51 years. [4]  Misty passed away on December 27, 2006 at the age of 82.  [1, 2]  She is buried in Rosehill Cemetery, Fort Worth. [5]

(As a side note,KDAV-AM (The official Buddy Holly radio station) streams live over the internet from here.  There is a video of Misty here.  And you can download MP3 files of some of her KDAV programs from herePlease download them first, then listen, rather than playing them on the webpage; John’s bandwidth is very limited!)

[1]“Misty Fincher,” http://lubbockonline.com/stories/122906/obi_122906089.shtml
[2] “Hall of Fame radio pioneer ‘Misty’ dies at 82,” http://lubbockonline.com/stories/122806/ent_122806020.shtml
[3] “Misty,” http://www.neon-john.com/Misc/Misty/Misty_Index.htm
[4] “For The Record:  Loyal Fans keep praise pouring in for new Radio Hall of Fame inductee Misty Fincher, whose love for the vinyl LP of old still burns strong.” http://lubbockonline.com/stories/081606/ent_081606014.shtml
[5] “Moda ‘Misty’ Fincher” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=17205327
[6] “Memorial service pays tribute to legendary voice of radio,” http://lubbockonline.com/stories/011807/ent_011807019.shtml
[7] Wikipedia article “KFMX-FM,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KFMX-FM
[8] “Storytellers and Music Makers:  Misty”

*Thursday, actually.  Today is my dad’s 90th birthday, and I’ve got to stop now and get ready for the party.

Vivaldi and Memories

Here’s the picture for The Mag‘s writing exercise #126, for July 15, 2012.  It’s over a month late, but there it is.  When I do these exercises, I like to see if I can’ take the pictorial elements and combine them in unexpected ways, and take the image of the picture in an unexpected direction.

“Yesterday’s Dreams” by Jack Vettriano

Catha smiles at her reflection in the mirror.  Today she is in her late 20’s, although tomorrow and for the rest of the week, she’ll be a woman in her 50’s, old-money-dowdy in tweeds and sensible shoes.  But tonight, the Coutts people are having a chamber music concert with drinks and hors d’oeuvres for the survivors, and she’s wearing a sleeveless black sheath dress with ruffled straps and bodice.  In a moment, she’ll throw a storm cloud grey ruanna over it, a gift from her sister Cliodna.  It’s a favorite conceit of hers to wear grey over black. She’s let a long curling strand from her up-do dangle coyly down the side of her face, and there are several strands trying to escape from the back.  She’s already swept them back up once and they’re coming loose again.  Her hair always goes all Houdini on her when it is clean, especially when she’s altered the color.  Just for tonight she has changed it from its usual glossy black to a dark and rather nondescript chestnut.

Her only jewelry is a pair of earrings in her pierced ears, slender loops of silver wire barely large enough to clear the lobe.  She has some lovely jewelry — a nice collection of brooches with stones that, although genuine, are large enough that people dismiss them as costume jewelry, and several earring and necklace sets, all of grey diamonds set in platinum that were a good deal more fashionable in the 19th century than they are now — but tonight, her neck, wrists and fingers are bare, the easier to blend into the crowd.

She glances out the window to see if the car has come yet (hired for the occasion). This house is in the old town, between the Castle and Arthur’s Seat, firmly athwart the ley, and where they’re going is too far to walk. The motion of her head is enough to provoke the loose strands at the back to fall onto her neck.  At the touch of a thought, they corkscrew into dangling curls, seemingly of their own accord.  With one red taloned hand, she lifts her purse from the top of the bureau.  She motions to the ruanna, which rises and settles around her shoulders.

Downstairs, Mr. Black, is waiting for her.  They are a pair, he somber as an undertaker in his sleek black tie attire, she in her black cocktail dress with sheer black hose and heels, channeling Holly Golightly.  He and Veles have been discussing something in soft whispers, but as she descends the stairs to the foyer,  Veles moves away and keeps his eyes lowered to the floor.

Although he tries to hide it, Veles is upset because they are going to the concert without him.  It’s not that he doesn’t clean up nice.  He is quite an attractive young man, and his fiery ginger hair does not detract from his good looks.  His manners are certainly acceptable and his English is improving steadily,  but she is not in the habit of leaving the house empty, especially with the American boy and his parents due in tomorrow.  She takes Veles by the chin and smiles up into his face. “Another time, sweet hound,” she murmurs.  With a sad sigh, he changes quietly into his Vizsla self and becomes a large red hound that lies down at the foot of the stairs, muzzle resting on paws, where he has the front door in view.

‘Was I ever that young?’ Catha thinks.  It was so long ago, long before Aoife was born. She was carrying Aoife when the other kind were busily dragging boulders about and piling them up at Newgrange.   A ragged old hag she’d been then, her pregnant belly easily mistaken for the globose belly of the ancient, watching, guiding subtly, as always, from the shadows.  A snatch of song winds through her mind followed by the memory of the winding torchlit procession that sang it.  Aoife had been born during a Long Night and the other kind had gathered to sing back the light.  She had heard them singing in the distance as she squatted on the bedrock floor of what had become their house near the Boyne, straining to birth her daughter.  Then, it had been no more than a little hut of stone and turf hidden deep in a copse of trees where the three leys crossed and that song had been as different from Vivaldi as that little hut was different from the two story stone house that stood there now with its stone barn and outbuildings huddled like grey chicks in its lea.

“The car is here, léadig,” Mr. Black says softly.  Still, he calls her “léadig” as he had when he’d first come to her, a raven of a man, deferent, respectful, and solemn even then. Smiling, she steps outside and locks the door while he stands with his back to her, alert and watchful.  (Old habits die hard, and so had he, though not in several centuries.)   The city is in the depths of summer and, although it’s going on 8 o’clock, it is still broad daylight.  Mr. Black opens the car door for her to be seated, before circling round to the other side and sliding in beside her.

Later, at the Corn Exchange, Mr. Black presents their invitation. They pass inside and take their seats.  As she listens to the quartet herd Vivaldi through each of the Four Seasons, she remembers other concerts;  her nephew Diarmuid singing Italian songs to the virginal at Holyrood House for the White Queen and that drunken lout she was married to (and was well rid of for all the scandal it caused), that 8-year-old Austrian boy performing on the the harpsichord at the Rotunda in Ranelagh Gardens,  a wan consumptive Pole playing his piano compositions at the Hopetown Rooms.

Eventually, Winter is over, the applause ends, and the audience leaves their seats for the refreshment tables.  Now they must get down to business.  She scans the faces of the other guests looking for one face in particular.  There, the mousy girl in the white silk blouse and that unfortunate skirt of mulberry colored wool.  She moves in to accidentally bump against her, apologize, engage her in conversation, keep her in that exact spot so that the approaching man in deep conversation with his friend makes a wide gesture that causes his arm to hit the girl’s other arm, the one that holds her glass of wine, and a splash of wine sloshes onto the front of her white silk blouse.  Mr. Black moves smoothly to keep tabs on the profusely apologizing man while she whisks the girl off to the ladie’s loo for a quick rinse out of the blouse in the sink, and a careful drying beneath the hot air hand dryers.  She deftly keeps the silk from water spotting, though it’s not a method anyone can use.  There, all better now.  The blouse is saved, the girl is restored to her new acquaintance.  They stay just long enough for Catha to see that look in the man’s eye that says he’s seen past the mousy to the girl beneath and finds her unexpectedly attractive.

Catha will double check the situation later, of course, to make sure the butterfly has flapped its wings hard enough and in the right direction.  But that’s all there is to it, really.  What’s difficult is finding the places where a nudge here and a tap there will keep things on an even keel and heading in the optimum direction.  Because this girl has met this man here and now and under these circumstances, she will not be in another place at another time to meet another man who would use her, abuse her, and leave her with a child who would grow up to kill little boys for fun, including one who will now grow up to be a teacher.  It’s the child she’ll have with this man she’s just met, a perfectly ordinary and unremarkable child,  that another man will see on the street one afternoon and the merry laughter of that child will tip the balance, and the man will choose differently than he’d planned to, and the choice he makes will start a chain of circumstance that stops a war before it starts.

Catha makes their excuses and they thread their way through the crowd, make their way out of the ballroom and step out into the night.  “I think tonight I’ll scry with red wine instead of water.” A thoughtful remark, apropos of later.

“Forgive me, léadig, but I feel constrained to mention that the bronze and iron in the bowl react adversely with the tannins in the wine and give it a rather odd aftertaste, ” Mr. Black allows in his quiet, deferential way.

“Which you can undo in the blink of an eye.”  Then, with a mischievous half smile, Catha adds, “And, once you’ve sorted out the wine, we’ll have Veles upstairs to help us drink it.”

Mr. Black bows his head, smiling quietly. “That would certainly be agreeable.”

 She laughs at his careful choice of words.  By now, they have reached the end of the block.  As they round the corner,  Mr. Black murmurs, “Shall I call for the car, or had you planned to walk home?”

“No, actually, I thought neither,” she replies, laughing softly.  “It’s such a lovely night, and it’s really not that far as the crow flies.”  At the sound of her soft laughter, the air blurs around them,  rippling like a heat mirage, and seconds later, a raven and a hooded crow are standing side by side on the pavement.  With a rustle of wings, they are airborne, and seconds later, they are lost in the darkness.

Wrestling the Angel

Mag Challenge 131

Under Windsor Bridge – Adolph Valette, 1912

The top edge of the sun would just be visible above the horizon, but the fog is too close in and thick to see it, even more impenetrable now that daylight is diffusing through it.  The barge comes belching out of the fog, a heavy breathing behemoth, chuffing steam.  Its lantern eyes are beady and baleful athwart its stubby prow, glimmering across the leaden water.  The underside of the bridge ricochets the noise back down onto the water and the waves of its passage shlap against the stone pilings.  It will growl off downriver soon enough, and quiet will descend again, but the spell of the fog has already been broken.

The world is waking up.  There are things that need doing and another day to be gotten through, and standing here with his hands in his pockets staring at the river isn’t getting them done.  He’d left the house at ridiculous o’clock in the morning when he should have been sleeping but couldn’t, with the idea that a walk would settle his mind and help him think things through.  He’d stepped out the front door into a darkness fur-lined with fog that snuffed out the sound of his footsteps on the stone walkway.  He’d felt furtive and secluded, like he was walking through some cool, damp cave.  He hadn’t meant to walk as far as the bridge, but he’d only been able to see six or seven feet ahead of him, and he hadn’t thought he’d been walking all that long when the bridge’s huge irrefutable reality had suddenly materialized in front of him. Wasn’t that a perfect metaphor for life, he thinks, hmphing at the irony of it.  You can’t ever see all that far ahead, can you?  But you keep on going, until suddenly, there’s this big hulking something lying in your path and you’ve got to figure out how to get past it.  Abruptly, he realizes that he’s been standing here for hours and that he is chilled to the bone. The morning breath of the river is fetid with the smell of machine oil and rotted vegetation.

Elizabeth will likely have woken up by now and discovered she is alone in bed.  She would have searched for him and determined he is not elsewhere in the house.  Had he known he would be gone so long, he would have left a note.  He didn’t like to give her cause for concern.   How like the fog she is, he thinks, muted and quiet. He’d gone out with other women, glittering, beautiful, all of them appropriate choices, but he found them too disruptive.  They sought to preempt his life, and their presence quickly began to chaff and irritate, like sand in one’s shoe.  When had he met Elizabeth?  He couldn’t quite recall the actual circumstances.  She had just been there one day, dark haired, quiet, with a cat-like self-possession.  She was three years his elder.  Her people were not well off but they, like she, lived wisely and with an elegant simplicity.  He hadn’t been in love with her nor, he though, she with him when they’d married quietly at a registry office.   His mother had been quite put out with him about it.

He wouldn’t accept St. John’s offer.  No doubt people would think him a fool to turn down a junior partnership in such a prestigious firm, to forgo such an opportunity to advance his career.  The money would have been nice, but the rest of it wouldn’t have suited.  He would have had to shift the focus of his practice. He’d have been expected to move to a more fashionable neighborhood, buy a bigger house, run with a more fashionable set.  They’d have had to entertain.  And not to put too fine a point on it, he didn’t really like any of them.  The garden gate recalls him to the here and now.  He notices the fog is beginning to thin.  The metal doorknob is cold and damp with condensation.  He has to wipe his hand dry on his coat to get enough of a grip to turn it.  He hangs up his coat and hat and makes his way back to the kitchen.

Elizabeth is sitting at the kitchen table.  She is wearing her navy robe, her long dark hair twisted up and secured with a hair pick.  The cozied teapot is on the table in front of her.   “Cup of tea?”  she asks.

“God, yes.” The mug she pours for him is warm between his clammy hands.  “It’s quite foggy out and cold.  I think we’re in for a drippy, dreary day.”  He sips his tea in silence for a while. “I’ve been mulling over St. John’s offer.  I’ve decided not to take it.”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t.  Scramble you some eggs?”

“Please.”  He watches her move about the kitchen gathering what she needs.
“You think I’m right to turn down such a sterling opportunity?”

“It’s only an opportunity if it helps you get to where you want to be,” She says in that quiet, pragmatic way she has.


“And if you had taken it, I would have lived in fear that we’d be at a party somewhere, St. John’s wife would laugh one time too many and one or the other of us would suddenly snap and throttle her.”

That makes him laugh.  It was true.  St. John’s wife had one of those high, shrill laughs that sounded like nothing so much as a horse’s whinny.  It grated on the nerves like fingernails on a blackboard.

She has made enough for two, and toast besides.  Neither of them speaks until they’ve nearly finished eating.  She is comfortable with silence.  That may have been what had first attracted him to her.  She sips her tea.  “Shall you be working in your study this morning?”

“Yes, I think so.”  He runs his fingers across his chin thoughtfully.  “I’ve just got some odds and ends to finish up.  But I think I’ll go upstairs and get cleaned up first.”

“Would you like the fire lit in the study?”

“Yes, that would be lovely.”  He pauses in the doorway. ” Your father’s not getting any younger, you know.”

“Nor is mother, come to that,”  She replies, looking up at him speculatively.  “He asked me last Christmas if you had your heart set on a practice in the city.  I said I wasn’t the one to to ask.”

“Williams offered to buy me out if I took St. John’s offer.”  He cocks an eyebrow at her.

“What about the house?  You’ve put so much work into it.”

“Only because I liked doing it.”  A thoughtful pause.  “Would you miss the city?”

“I could force myself to make do with the odd weekend.” The corners of her mouth quirk and in the night dark of her eyes, a single star twinkles.  Her expression sobers.  “He put their house in my name the week we were married.  Said it was a wedding present.”

“Oh?” He frowns.  “That was forward thinking of him.”

“As things stood, it was of no relevance unless something happened to one of them.”  She begins to stack the breakfast dishes and gather up the silverware.

He pauses in the doorway, leaning up against the door jam.  “It has lovely bones, your parents’ house.  It just wants a touch here and there.  It could do with a second bathroom for starters.”

“It wants the plumbing sorted out.” She frowns, piling dishes in the sink. ” And the wiring.”

He smiles remembering how peaceful and quiet it was at her parents’ house, and how lovely it had been the two of them sitting on that little stone bench in her mother’s cutting garden in the evening.  “Why don’t you call your mother later, see if it would be all right if we came up for the weekend.  We might launch a trial balloon or two.”

“I shall.”

There’s Cosplay and Then There’s . . .


For those who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon of cosplay,  it’s the same difference as the Society for Creative Anacronism, except with fewer ties to reality — cosplay characters are drawn from characters in film, TV, comic books, manga, anime, etc.  In short, it’s another excuse for grownups to dress up in costumes and role play. Cosplay is big at conventions –Star Trek conventions, SciFi conventions, Anime conventions, comic conventions.  Although they don’t have the quasi-justification of historical reenactment, the cosplayers take their costumes and personas every bit as seriously as the SCA folks.  See above.  Somebody put a lot of creativity, thought and hard work into this “raptor”  costume — not to mention some serious bucks. . . .