31 December 2007

Survey Says....

The results from the Favorites of 2007 Survey have been compiled. As I did last year, I found the results surprising and interesting. A total of 12 different people replied, although not all completed every question.

1. Favorite Fiction Read in 2007 (12 responses)

- Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince & The A-List series.

- Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I loved Ishiguro's take on a science-fiction topic -- who would have thought a book about clones would be so beautiful?

- Is it too trite to say Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND? I was so, so surprised by it, not expecting to like it anywhere near as much as I did.

- Of Human Bondage, Somerset Maugham

- The Oasis

- A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

- Goldberg: Variations by Gabriel Josipovici - A favourite because it expanded my ideas of what fiction could be.

- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

- Spook Country, William Gibson

- The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy

2. Favorite Non-Fiction Book Read in 2007 (11 responses)

- James Boswell's Life of Johnson. This biography captured not only Johnson, but the 18C wonderfully well.

- That's a really, really tough one, but I think Rose Macaulay's PLEASURE OF RUINS just squeaks by (by a hair) Vicki Constantine Croke's THE LADY AND THE PANDA.

- The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins

- Light on the Hill, by William D Snider

- Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian

- Demons and the Making of the Monk by David Brakke - A well-written, excellently researched, entertaining book about spiritual warfare -- often literally. Who could not love a book that combined philosophy with monks and demons duking it on a monastery terrace or at the bottom of a well in the desert?

- Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

- The Wild White Swan by Jiyu-Kennett

- Fathers and Sons, Alexander Waugh

3. Favorite Author Read for the first time in 2007 (11 responses)

- Stephenie Meyer & Zoey Dean

- Gabriel Josipovici. Goldberg: Variations was an amazing novel.

- Armistead Maupin, no question or tough choices there.

- Richard Dawkins

- Wilson Crawford

- Khaled Hosseini

- David Treuer - His book enthralled me from start to finish. Outstanding. It was hard not to give his book to the top spot in "favourite fiction".

- Neil Gaiman

- Richard Morgan

- John Galsworthy

4. How many books did you read this year? (11 responses)

<10 0% (0)

<25 9.1% (1)

<50 27.3% (3)

<100 54.5% (6)

I was suppose
to be counting? 9.1% (1)

Books? 0% (0)

5. Favorite Daily Read (11 responses)

- Time & Nylon magazines, Stephanie Meyer, &

- Tales from the Reading Room. The blog is always smart and the blogger always gracious.

- Ian's Blog. I'm biased. He's my brother, and it's a great way to keep up with each other, as we each lead such busy lives. But I know I'd read him everyday, even if he weren't my brother, because he's just so damn funny and such a talented writer.

- A Fraternity Of Dreamers Kookiejar discusses books and pop culture...what's not to love?


- That's a hard choice, but probably Dovegrey Reader Scribbles.

- The Sharp Side I am guaranteed to learn something new, whether it's an "outmoded" author or a political issue overlooked by the media, and it's always told in the most spirited, engaging manner. Excellent stuff.

- Fraternity of Dreamers It's a favorite because I can count on her to post every day, because she post a lot of interesting tidbits besides just her book reviews, and because she's funny and smart.

- Very unfair to pick one but I've learned more from Achelois than almost any other blog - always funny and often challenging.

- Telecommuter Talk - with QC Report a close second, this post in particular. Both make me laugh and brighten my day.

6. I like to read blogs about.... (10 responses)

- The book industry 20% (2)

- Soon to be published books 40% (4)

- Literary Criticism 50% (5)

- Reviews of Books read 70% (7)

- Blogs that summarize and
link to other posts 20% (2)

- Reviews printed in newspapers first 0% (0)

- Some book news and reviews, but
other topics too 80% (8)

- Other (specific answers below) 30% (3)
**Cooking and recipes
**life, parenting, music, politics
**Whatever my favourite bloggers write about

7. Favorite Commenter (9 responses)

- Danielle, A Work in Progress. She asks great questions and makes great observations.

- Mandarine

- Jenclair, from A Garden Carried in the Pocket

- Stefanie at So Many Books

- Sylvia, from A Classical Bookworm - she's never afraid of challenging my views.

- Litlove, at Tales from the Reading Room. Her comments are insightful on other people's blogs, but I especially love the comment conversations on her blog.

- God! That one's too difficult.

- Emily, who lured me into this whole blogging thing in the first place.

8. How often do you post to your blog? (9 responses)
- Every Day 11.1% (1)

- 1-2 Times/Week 22.2% (2)

- 3-5 Times/Week 33.3% (3)

- A few times a month 0.0% (0)

- Infrequently 0.0% (0)

- Whenever I have something to say 33.3% (3)

9.Favorite Reading Meme or Challenge (7 responses)

- The Outmoded Authors challenge received 3 votes. Comments included:

I've really enjoyed which is getting me to read authors that are new to me

So far I have loved everything I picked up; and the posts by other bloggers completing the challenge are inspiring me to so many other authors too.

- TBR Challenge

- Russian Reading Challenge (but I guess that one doesn't count for 2007 yet. ;-) ) In 2007 I didn't participate in any challenges.

- The Great Imperative Meme

- The songs we sing meme

10. How has blogging changed the way you read this year? (# of books, type, etc.) (7 responses)

- I have read more books than ever before because blogs keep me focused a bit more on reading than I was before.

- I read more carefully, always mindful that I might want to post about the books I'm reading, which I didn't used to do, paying attention to quotable material. Blogging hasn't changed the number of books I actually read, but it's certainly changed the number of books I add to my TBR list.

- I'm reading more authors from other countries.

- I guess for me it's the other way around: reading changed the way I blog! I started a separate litblog this year besides my already existing blog. I wanted to blog about books and reading, my one lifelong passion.

- I've begun to search for and read Jamaican novelists for the first time! I'm very pleased about that.

- I've gone out and bought at least one book I wouldn't otherwise have.

- It has broadened my reading, and encouraged me to read more critically.

Thanks to all --whether identified or not -- who completed the survey.

The Participants (who identified themselves in blog comments):

Dorothy W., Of Books and Bicycles
Emily, Telecommuter Talk
Myrthe, The Armenian Odar Reads
Dewey, The Hidden Side of the Leaf
Imani, The Book of My Numberless Dreams

25 December 2007

Happy Holidays!

Psst! I'm away reading.

23 December 2007

Mysteries: Help

Phone conversation today went like this:

Me: What can I get D for Christmas?
L: He's been reading a lot recently.
Me: READING?! Something other than the sports page?
L: Mysteries. Murder Mysteries. Thrillers. Political intrigue.
Me: You mean I should buy him books???
L: Or a gift card to the bookstore. He said recently I didn't have anything interesting to read. I told him it might be a novel idea if he bought some books for himself.

Thus started a holiday shopping trip in which I went searching in the last place I expected for a gift for my older brother.

I don't read murder mysteries. I haven't a clue what to buy. He's read everything by John Grisham and David Baldacci. Recently enjoyed Acts of Treason by Vince Flynn. I was totally perplexed at the store. This isn't my category.

Mystery and thriller fans: Any suggestions?

Maybe it was easier when I could pick him up anything at the Golf Superstore

19 December 2007

Favorites Survey 2007 Still Open

Too many things happening last week and business trip this week have meant that I haven't had any time to post here or read any of my favorite blogs this week. Skipped work today so that I could walk around the city and enjoy New York at Christmas time before flying out tomorrow. Hope to be back posting frequently soon, though it might not be too frequent until after the holidays.

In the meantime, just wanted to remind those of you who haven't completed the Favorites of 2007 survey that it isn't too late to do so. You can complete the survey here. 10 brief questions about your favorite books and blogs of this year. If you want to be included in a list of respondents, leave a comment on my blog. The survey will remain open until 12:01 am on 12/31. Results of the survey will be posted 12/31.

11 December 2007

Tools of the Trade for a Project Manager

Alice came to the fork in the road.
"Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The lovely Lily tagged me and many others for input on how they plan things in their lives in general, and how, like BlogLily, we might be planning things -- do we dare say it: a survival plan -- for the holiday season.

I've pondered for a few days how I might approach this post. I was stumped. What could I say about my personal plans? I deal with professional plans daily, but cannot share them. Nor would I want to even if I were not so constrained by all sorts of legalese from doing so.

So I thought I could share with you a few valuable tips for planning in general, and the holidays -- or any stressful period -- in particular. Like a good project planner, I must tell you up front: Communication is key. In this particular instance, communication is in written format and it is imperative that you read to the very end of this post. If you cannot do that, then skip to the bottom and read the last paragraph. If you cannot even do that much, well if I haven't lost you yet, feel free to leave.

1. How do I plan? I am a great sequencer. I loved to alphabetize in first grade. I used to write step-by-step manuals for exciting manufacturing processes like operating plastic extrusion machines or welding evaporator fins on refrigerators. I love it when system analysts and software engineers draw flow charts and UML diagrams. (Psst: trade secret. Many don't, unless management makes them!). I love to make lists of things to do in order. And I like marking those items completed.

2. But, before one can made a sequenced plan, one has to gather your information. Brainstorm. Research. Take notes. I spoil myself -- even for work -- by using paper & pens that I like. At work, that means indulging in buying Moleskin Notebooks, the larger 5" x 8.25" size. Squared, not ruled. I sometimes think that I like the squares because it will be easier to draw flowcharts. See # 1 above if you wonder how often I do that. More than the remote possibility that I might need to freehand a flowchart, I like these because I've never been able to write within the lines. Those nuns in grade schools were unable to correct that. Tsk. Tsk.

3. Sometimes at work I use a neat software tool for brainstorming and organizing my thoughts. I have only used it twice for non-work projects -- last year when I traced the spread of the poetry meme (see here), and this week, for this post. (Note: I'm not selling anything.) MindManager lets you record your ideas and then organize them. Different people do mindmaps in various ways. I've seen this used in writing classes. I like it because I can easily rearrange and categorize items. Since I started using this, I've taken fewer pictures of my white board with my phone. I think it mimics the non-linear way that I think and helps get all the pieces on paper so that later I can put them in order -- like a puzzle. I did a map to show you as an example. This is the beginning of my task list for what I need to do to have new carpet installed in my house: 6 rooms, 8 closets, too many heavy items to be moved.

4. Once I have my ideas on paper, I can group them together. I have numbered the different clusters in my map, but I don't care if they are in numerical order. By looking at this drawing, I can see where I have the most tasks. That might be the most time-consuming, but that isn't always the case. The map gives me a pictorial representation of where much of my energy will need to be directed. I can take a step back from this and make a decision that the carpet won't be installed this month. My 'resources', aka husband and college-student child, have too many other activities this month. I can't get the job done by myself. It doesn't need to be here before January. I can breathe a sigh of relief.

5. From here, I can put this into a a sequential project plan. If it were a work project, I would assign resources, schedule the amount of time, specify deadlines, indicate milestones. A project plan is not only a good tool for those doing the work, but it can be used to communicate to others what needs to be done and where you are towards meeting your goals. There would also be lots of other documentation -- communication plans, risk plans, training plans, resource plans.

At home, I don't schedule things. But, I do make lists. I might place a list on the fridge. I might think of this poem when I see the list:

This is Just to Say
--William Carlos Williams
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I would be reminded that my fridge notes are never as poetic as William Carlos Williams' notes must have been.

I might ask my family to assist with some tasks and we'll discuss when we'll do them. I can hear my son objecting as he reads this: "We'll decide?" he'll lament. I will move on, thinking briefly about how at work I'm much better at finding compromise. But, at home, things are different. I find it difficult to formalize a plan at home. I want to relax at home. Don't bother me with methodology once I walk in the door and put down my briefcase. I want to forget about goals, tasks, and timelines.

Still, I think these are good exercises to do -- regardless of your plans or what tools you use. By planning you force yourself to think of specific goals, identify tasks, and think realistically about how long it will take you to accomplish something. A plan should help you see too where you might need to ask for assistance or guidance. I encourage you to try it.

After you have completed all of your plans, take a look at them. Aren't they pretty? Won't you feel like you have accomplished much? Aren't you tired? If this is your home life and your schedule is overbooked, go back to your first list. What are you trying to accomplish? Look closely at my list:

Throw away your plan. Make a list like this. Hug your babies. Kiss your spouse. Forget about your electronic gadgetry for awhile. Breath deeply -- it will all get done that needs to be done.

Philosopher Henri Frederick Amiel said: Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.

Find beauty in your world. Recite a poem. Make haste to gladden a heart. Have a cup of tea.

09 December 2007

Second Chance for Great Blog Posts

Recently, I announced a new feature here -- a regular post highlighting other bloggers' posts that were either overlooked (didn't get the hits the blogger expected) or a piece of writing that one wanted to bring to the attention of new readers. To do this, I asked readers to recommend posts from their blogs. The only rule is that it be submitted by the blogger, and that it have been posted previously on his or her own blog. There are no restrictions regarding content, subject matter, length, or when first posted. I will do this monthly, with deadline for submission by Saturday night of the first weekend of the month. That is, the first Saturday of the month that isn't the 1st day of the month. Trivia fact of the day: This is called Lasagna Weekend in my household. Sit down with the comfort food of your choice, a cup of tea, or some warm cocoa and enjoy reading the following links: three excellent and very different posts from three interesting bloggers. Not only should you read each of these posts, but you also should consider making each of these blogs frequent stops on your travels around the blogosphere.

Charlotte of Charlotte's Web submitted her post from February, 2007, titled In Which I Gate-Crash History. Charlotte writes movingly of the first day of Parliament of the new South African government. In submitting this post, Charlotte commented: The reason I like it is the comparison between the formal, disinterested prince and the warm, informal South African style. Also, the vision of me in purple suit and gold brogues running around Cape Town like some sweaty underperforming superhero. How can you pass up clicking on a link like that?

Smithereens writes about how some books, while difficult to read, are well worth the trouble, in the post Jaan Kross, Treading Air. Smithereens commented: I feel kind of sorry for the Estonian book I reviewed this week. I know Estonia is a small country most people can't locate on a map, and Estonian books are not the thing you're most likely to find at your local mega-bookstore, but I thought the book was well worth reading...

Dorothy of the blog Of Books and Bicycles write about her first experiences reading the novel Don Quixote and how books that may have been written after Cervantes wrote his masterpiece have influenced her reading of the work. Dorothy writes: I'm fond of this post because it expresses my love of books that talk about books, something that Don Quixote does so very well. Reading and Writing in Don Quixote can be found here.

Submissions for next month's featured posts should be sent to the email address on the sidebar no later than January 5th.

07 December 2007

What's your best blog post?

Do you have a favorite blog post you'd like highlighted, maybe one that you'd like others to read or re-read? Just a quick reminder that I'll be posting links to some great blog posts this weekend (see details here). If you'd like to be included, please send me an email by Saturday. I've extended my deadline by a day. I'll post on Sunday evening.

Your post can be funny or serious, long or short, a review of a book or movie, or just a slice of life story. I don't have a timeframe requirement for when you published the post, just that it be something posted on your blog in the past, recent or otherwise.

Please send to an cam jong AT yahoo DOT com.

I already have a couple great posts to feature. Can't wait to read what else you send me!

05 December 2007

Wednesday: Words and Winter

I read recently that the collective noun for Ravens was an unkindness of ravens. "Before or after Hitchcock made that movie?", I thought.

This led me to a search engine to confirm. While I can't find a definitive origin (I'm sure it's out there, but I didn't look extensively), I did find that there are numerous collective nouns for birds.

How about a murder of crows? Or a siege of bitterns? Others include:

-a wake of buzzards
-a cast of falcons
-a confusion of guinea fowl
-a kettle of hawks (Dinner, anyone?)
-a parliament of owls
-a congress of eagles
-an exultation of skylarks

I thought a A Unkindness of Ravens, A Murder of Crows might make a good title for a mystery. I don't read mysteries, but I wasn't surprised when I queried Amazon that I found results. Ruth Rendell wrote a book called An Unkindness of Ravens; Cuba Gooding starred in a movie in 2000 called A Murder of Crows. More on collective nouns for birds can be found here.


Winter is still a few weeks away, but we had our first snowfall overnight. I love the first snow of the year: new, fresh, bright, the whiteness of it all. I like celebrating the cycles of the seasons and snow, rather than ice or cold, is the sign of winter to me. I like to be reminded of it, but I would be happy if winter only lasted a few days and then we could get on with it. Snow that melts after a few hours is the best kind. Today's was like that, at least on the roadways. I had to grab my camera to capture the snow before it melted away:

The thick wet snow coating the limbs of the trees:

The last few green leaves on the undergrowth, struggling against the elements:

Chimneys seem purposeful. I like the monochromaticism of this picture, all whites and grey. A plume of smoke would have been perfect!

The abandoned, seasonal bench on the front porch, where it isn't too welcoming at this time of year:

The beauty of a single leaf upon the new snow:

03 December 2007

Early Reviews

LibraryThing (What? You don't know about LT? Go here!) has an Early Reviewer program where LT members can opt into a lottery for ARC's. I just received an email indicating that I snagged another one: The Story of Forgetting, by Stefan Merrill Block. It's a debut novel and it sounds interesting from the description of it on the LT web page:

..."[t]hree narratives intertwine to create a story that is by turns funny, smart, introspective, and revelatory....Through the fusion of myth, science, and storytelling, this novel offers a dazzling illumination of the hard-learned truth that only through the loss of what we consider precious can we understand the value of what remains.

I'm looking forward to this and hope I get my copy before my next business trip. An interesting novel is always good to take on a long plane ride, especially in winter when delays are possible.

I'm struck by this in the author's bio on the publisher's (Random House) web page: ...was born in 1982. I expect that he is an awesome writer if he has a first novel published at age 25. I won't hold it against him that I have shoes older than that. A bit humbling, actually, considering that it sometimes takes me an hour or more to write a simple blog post, and the various short stories & other writing ideas I have seem to develop at a glacial speed. To be clear: that's the speed glaciers have moved over the past centuries, not the speed that global climate change is causing them to melt.

02 December 2007

Fractal Patterns

A few days ago I posted about patterns and mentioned the designs at Alhambra among others. The next day my spouse told me about a video he watched at the TED site. This is cool. Video is about 15 minutes. Professor Ron Eglash, discussing fractals in African village design:

I am fascinated by this idea of mathematical patterns having a spiritual aspect. Wish I understood more about it.

From the Amazon web site:
Drawing on interviews with African designers, artists, and scientists, Ron Eglash investigates fractals in African architecture, traditional hairstyling, textiles, sculpture, painting, carving, metalwork, religion, games, practical craft, quantitative technologies, and symbolic systems. He also examines the political and social implications of the existence of African fractal geometry. His book makes a unique contribution to the study of mathematics, African culture, anthropology, and computer simulations.

African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Designs
, Ron Eglash, Rutgers Univ Press, 1999.

This book is now on my wishlist.

If you aren't familiar with TED, go here. Pretty amazing stuff! This is one of those sites I can't click to at work. Not that it isn't safe; it isn't conducive to getting the stuff done I need to do. I could spend hours listening to these lectures. And they add more all the time. I'll never catch up!

My 3 beautiful things today:
  • Mathematics

  • Finding my forgotten Wine Notebook which reminded me I've bought some pretty great vino in the past. Fermented grapes are a wonderful thing.

  • Spending the afternoon "watching" football with husband. Translation: he watched; I napped. A wonderful lazy afternoon.
  • 01 December 2007

    2 New Things and 3 Beautiful Things (or maybe that's 3 new things....)

    Thing One:

    One of the things I noticed about NaBloPoMo (yes, I'm still dissecting the experience, but stick with me here for a moment...) is that, while my overall blog traffic was increased for the month, on a daily basis, the number of repeat visitors was down. One reason for this may be that those who were doing NaBloPoMo (or the truly dedicated & hardy writers doing NaNoWriMo) were busy posting, and may not have been reading as many blogs as normal. I had less time to read since I was trying to post everyday. Was that your experience too?

    During this time, I did the Blogging Roundtable (which was a great experience for me because 4 interesting bloggers participated). One of the items mentioned was a schedule for reading blogs some days and writing on others. Another point discussed was how one's best writing sometimes doesn't get the number of hits one would expect. Sometimes you can't predict when readers will land on your site; sometimes it isn't because of the writing. So, here is a new thing I would like to do on this blog:

    I want to periodically feature posts that the blogger considers a great post. This isn't my evaluation that a post is great -- it is your evaluation that a particular post is great. I'll post a brief descriptive summary of the post & a link to your blog. This is like a blogging carnival, except there is not a common subject to the posts. The only qualification is that it be a post that you'd like to be highlighted for others to read, something that you consider worthy of a wee bit more attention than it may have received already.

    Here is what you need to do to be included: Send an email to the address on the sidebar (Please don't leave a link in the comments to this post). Any emails sent before midnight (EST) 12/7 will be included in my post on 12/10. If you want to include a brief sentence or two about why you think this is a great piece, please include that in your email. There are no other rules -- your post can be funny or serious, long or short, a review of a book or movie, or just a slice of life story. I don't have a timeframe requirement for when you published the post, just that it be something posted on your blog in the past, recent or otherwise. If there is enough interest, I will do this on a periodic basis (maybe monthly).

    Item the next:

    I had a lot of fun with the Blogging Round Table Discussion that I did with Imani, Litlove, Smithereens, and Emily. When I came up with the idea, I hadn't thought through how it might work, how long it should be (I asked too many questions!), the logistics of sending comments amongst the participants. Overall, it was a great experience, and I would like to do it again (sometime after the first of the year). But, before I move forward with another one, I'd like feedback from you about what you'd like to see -- should the format be different? was it too long? did posting it over 3 days make it easier to read? Any topics you'd like to recommend for another one?

    Third Item:

    I love blog serendipity -- that experience of clicking on a link, which leads to clicking through to another site, which leads to an oh my gosh! this is awesome find. New to me -- but obviously not new as I found many sites doing this -- is this site I found yesterday: Three Beautiful Things. I find this fascinating, and so simple -- list three things that you consider beautiful, things that, as the site explains, "...amaze and delight".

    Looking for things of beauty isn't always easy, especially when you have experienced a rotten day. But, recognizing the small things that we take for granted is surely an exercise that overtime could change your perspective on things. Isn't it better than bitching all the time about what is wrong? I know I do that far too often. So, here are 3 beautiful things I noticed today:

  • Removing the leaves from my koi pond was actually relaxing, despite the cold and blowing winds. The leaves drift slowly through the water as I move the net to capture them. The fish, at first startled by the disturbance of the leaf-blanket covering the pond, are curious for a few minutes, then continue on their graceful laps around the pond, swimming down towards the bottom, weaving in and out between the plants. I think I have a glimmer of understanding of zen gardens.

  • Occasionally long rambling phone calls with relatives who live across the country can be fun, even if you have to discuss unpleasant family things. Being able to chat, understanding each other enough to know when to make a wry joke, share a bit of black humor, is comforting and eases the distress of the things that aren't so much fun.

  • Apples on the verge of becoming mushy make great applesauce. I discovered today how easy it is to make: cut up some apples, add a little sugar, juice a lemon, sprinkle in ground cloves, and heat over medium flame for about 20 minutes until they liquefy. Stir about every 5 minutes so that you don't have a mess to scrap off the bottom of the pan. Hot applesauce = great comfort food on a blustery winter afternoon.