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Piers the handyman 2007
OctOgre 2012
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Our garbage garden bell pepper, reported on last column, grew to its full size, then gradually turned brown, then red. We figure that as the red coloring infused it, that mixed with the green to make brown, but more red finally did the job. I harvested it because I feared an animal would steal it otherwise. It weighed a generous two and a half ounces, and tastes like a green pepper, rather than sweet. Maybe it takes longer for the taste to change. We have a second one growing; maybe I'll leave that one on the plant longer. I remain pleased that we succeeded in giving the pepper another generation. I think the plants stem from a red pepper that started rotting in the package before we got to it, so I put it in the garbage whole; maybe that's what it takes to make the seeds viable.

 

My Public Radio interview—the one about the 15 year old reader who came to live with me—garnered about 50 letters, and the attention of FLORIDA TREND magazine, whose associate editor came to interview me. Naturally I talked too much and too emphatically — it's my nature — so I don't know what kind of an impression I made, and hope I am not chagrined when the interview is published. But this is not about that; it's a lead-in to a completely different subject. Their interviews come with pictures, and their photographer had a cold, so naturally three days later I felt it coming on. So I used Vitamin C to stifle it. This is something the medical profession, evidently influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, refuses to acknowledge: that Vitamin C will stop a cold. I'm not a doctor, I just know what works, from decades of experience. What it takes, for me, is one gram an hour while awake for three days, until the cold gives up. I never got a sore throat, runny nose, or cough; all I got was that faint grungy beginning in the throat that warns that a cold is starting. For others it's apt to work faster; my mother could abolish a cold in one day. So why haven't there been double blind studies to verify this marvelous treatment for this everyday plague? Well, they have been careful. They have limited it to something like four tenths of a gram per day, and report that this does shorten the duration and severity of a cold but is not a cure. Duh! So why don't they try the full dose? Well, there's a perhaps apocryphal story about that. They tried it, but immediately the subjects could tell who was getting the vitamin C and who wasn't, because of the pattern of developing colds. So they said the cover had been blown, and canceled the study, and still claim C doesn't work. Why such obvious cheating? Duh again: BECAUSE C WORKS. Think of the billions of dollars the pharmaceutical industry would lose if folk had a cheap easy way to stifle the common cold. Well, folk do have it, had they but the wit to use it; you can verify it for yourself by trying Vitamin C next time you feel a cold coming on. There are two classes of people in the world: those who knew C doesn't work, and those who have actually tried it. A doctor once said to me “If Vitamin C stopped your cold, you didn't have a cold.” Of course he's not my doctor. This is faith-based medicine, and it's enormously detrimental to the health of the world. I judge health newsletters on this issue; if they disparage C I drop them. The better ones do recognize C, and Vitamin D for prevention. But having said that, some cautions: not everything that starts out like a cold is a cold, and C won't help those others. It won't stop the flu, for example. And a gram an hour is a very high dose, that can disrupt your digestion and give you diarrhea. I take it in liquid form, and I rinse my mouth out with milk to neutralize the remaining acid so that it won't make my gums recede. The moment the cold is gone, ease up on the C; I normally take about a gram a day, between colds. So that's my diatribe about Vitamin C; don't get me started on fluoridation, which I oppose with similar reasoning and experience.

 

There is something even better than Vitamin C for general health, of course and its free: exercise. Article in NEW SCIENTIST by Andy Coghlan documents this, though I have known it all along. Low fitness is a far better indicator of death than obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Two and a half hours of moderate exercise a week can make an enormous difference. As I remarked last column, the average American man my age has been dead three years; what's my secret? Apart from genetics and diet, I take my exercise seriously, getting in four to five hours a week of running, cycling, scooting, or archery, all duffer level, noncompetitive. All good moderate exercise; you sure don't have to wipe yourself out to gain the benefits. All it takes is willpower to stay with it consistently, as I have for decades. Considering the alternative, it's worth it.

 

Newspaper item: maybe a third of online book reviews are bogus, because they are done by the authors of those same books, pseudonymously, or by paid promotional services. I hate that, but have no reason to question it. Even legitimate reviews can be problematical because of private agendas by the reviewers or publications, pro or con. I have felt from the outset that reviews are a good and necessary thing; I even once compiled a book-length index of SF genre book reviews, but after suffering agenda-driven unfair ones I have to wonder whether corruption has not severely reduced their value to the average reader. The reader's best bet is to sample a number of authors and orient on the preferred ones, ignoring reviews. I liken it to the rhetorical question would you drive a car whose brakes worked ninety percent of the time? Would you trust a review venue two thirds of whose reviews were legitimate?

 

I don't watch much TV; even when it's on in front of me I'm too busy catching up on science and news magazines. I am passionately interested in what's happening in the world. My wife is the one who watches, while reading a book. But I do get some peripheral glances. One is of the Regis and Kelly morning show. He was affable and fun, and she was pretty and showed nice thigh under a short skirt as she sat and crossed her legs. Oh, come on; you think that exposure is accidental? It's pitched directly to louts like me. Remember the adage: the average woman would rather look good than seem smart, because the average man can see better than he can think. Then Regis retired and they tried a number of other co-hosts, and finally settled on the best, Michael Strahan. I knew nothing about his football career, I simply saw that he was a fun person, with a nice verbal and physical presence. So I think they picked the best man, and I continue to like the fleeting seconds of the Kelly and Michael show I see on my way by. It's an interesting contrast, the huge man and the petite woman, sort of like an ogre and a nymph. I like both ogres and nymphs, of course.

 

Newspaper item by Harvard professor Howard Gardner titled “Why Kids Cheat at Harvard.” It seems the students admire good work and want to be good workers, but they also want to be successful. If they don't cheat, they will lose out to those who do. Sigh. I did not cheat in high school, and graduated in the third quarter of my class, then went on to become one of the most successful members of that class. Was I stupid, then became smarter in life? No, it was that I did not fit well in that restrictive environment. (My college had no grades: one huge reason I chose it.) Cheating was hardly the only issue and I think not the major one, but in my experience it is true that honest folk tend to lose out to dishonest folk. Children—and adults—tend to be results oriented; they do what works. You see this in a huge way in politics, where the honest candidate tends not to be elected. I think it is too bad, but I see no ready solution. One thing I like about free lance writing: it is difficult for a writer to fake talent. Oh, yes, marketing, sales, reviews, and awards are rife with elements other than writing merit, and that debases their coin; you can't trust a bestseller or an award winner to be readable. But when you read a book you truly enjoy, you know it's not because anyone has somehow bought your favor. That much honesty, at least, exists.

 

In the past two years we have seen some of our trees mysteriously die. Not our slash pines; they are our tree farm crop and are okay. For folk who ask how many trees an environmentalist writer destroys for his books, well, I hope I'm growing as many as I destroy. No, these are some of the incidental leafy trees around the edges. Weed trees, if you will, but they are living things too and I don't like to see them suffer. Their leaves wilted and died without dropping off. They would grow new stems, only to have those fade also. What was going on? Now at last I have the answer: a tiny bug, pinhead size, is going after three species: swamp bay, red bay laurel, and avocado. I think ours are swamp bays. The red ambrosia beetle hails from Asia, landed in Georgia, and spread to neighboring coastal states including Florida. The beetles carry a fungus that interferes with the trees' vascular system until they finally die. What the beetles do thereafter I don't know. We grow some avocados from fruits we eat, but they don't lost long, and this may be why. Damn.

 

Newspaper item: bumper sticker that reads “2012 Don't Re-Nig.” A Republican officeholder calls President Obama “uppity.” Well, I'm a registered independent and have been since I first registered to vote in 1959; I'll vote for the best candidates as I see them. But recently I have not seen much worth supporting among the Republicans, where racism is at times thinly veiled. I voted for Obama before and will again, not because he is black but because he is the best man among those currently offered. But there's a more personal aspect. At one point, talking with a literary agent interested in representing me, I used a feisty analogy to show my attitude toward publishers who cheat or otherwise show their contempt for authors. I said that there are white racists who don't like uppity niggers, and there are publishers who similarly don't like uppity writers. We'll, I'm an uppity writer. To a racist, an uppity nigger is a black person who thinks he/she deserves to be treated like a human being. I'm a writer who thinks he deserves to be treated fairly by his publishers. I'm politically liberal and fiercely protective of my rights, whatever the venue; my sympathy is for both oppressed black folk and mistreated writers. It may be an imperfect parallel, but I used it. I lost that agent. Now I see the same language being used more openly in the current political campaign. I understand it perfectly and I detest it. How can anyone not detest it? It seems that while Romney's ads are not racist, they appeal most strongly to racist viewers. That's interesting.

 

I have commented before on the Republican campaign to disenfranchise folk likely to vote Democratic. That campaign continues. Here's the hypocrisy of it: there is extremely little personal voter fraud. Ineligible people seldom walk into a polling place and vote. There is voting fraud, but it occurs mostly in absentee voting. Why doesn't that bother Republicans? Because those votes go mostly to Republicans. If they truly cared about voting fraud, they'd go after absentee voting. Don't hold your breath. Here in Florida they are doing their best to cover up those records. They stole Florida and the election in 2000, and evidently hope to do it again. Meanwhile having blocked Obama's 2011 job creation bill in Congress they are blaming him for not generating more jobs. Par for that course.

 

Fracking is in the news. That's hydraulic fracturing, cracking deep rock to release the natural gas in it. My feelings about it are mixed. It is seriously improving our fuel situation, cutting down what we have to buy from overseas, from countries that hate us, and that's good. But it can play hell with the local terrain, generating small earthquakes and fouling some aquifer. I think the best answer is to make damn sure they do it carefully. Sure they don't like being regulated, but public safety demands it.

 

Eye-popping incidental news note: In Russia in 2010 a member of the band Pussy Riot was filmed stuffing an entire frozen chicken into her vagina, in front of dozens of slack-jawed onlookers. I'd be slack-jawed too.

 

I read On the Edge of Twilight by Gregory Miller. This is the third collection of his eerie stories I have seen, and it continues the process. There are 22 short stories here, and weirdness and death are never far away. Some are not enjoyable, which is not to say they aren't effective. I can't claim to properly understand all of them, but they can be thoughtful. What is our place in life, or in the universe? In one case, “To Be,” a man lives forever as a ghost, until even the other ghosts are of alien creatures. Can't blame him for being frustrated. What use to endure forever if the world ends? I think my favorite is “Shells,” wherein a young shell-collecting girl encounters a boy collector. They get to know each other, sharing this interest. Then there is a storm, and they have to flee to her home, though she has misgivings. It turns out that her home is a cave where she and her parents were killed. She is a ghost, her body just as empty shell. Unfortunately the boy is spooked and runs away. All she wanted was some companionship. I think I would not have run away; ghosts have feelings too.

 

Meanwhile I'm a month into writing Xanth #38 Board Stiff, featuring a young woman who goes to a wishing well and wishes for adventure, excitement and romance—and gets changed into a stiff board. Actually she gets all three of her wishes, in that form. Exactly how that plays out takes a novel to explain. And you thought Xanth is all puns and rehash? Not exactly. I had to interrupt it to write another Tweet story, as the old one had run out. I'm doing tweets as chapters in the stories. If you're interested, visit my Twitter site. This one's about a curious incident on Dull Street, where nothing ever happens. So why won't anyone talk about it, or even admit that anything happened? Well, that's the story.

 

And on the last day of the month I got a new computer system. My geek Brian Smith brought up a new System 76—that's the brand name--and installed it and I started the head-banging-into-wall process of zeroing it in. Its default is Ubuntu, but that lacks the features I want, such as KDE, so I'm using Fedora on it, same as I have on my prior system. You'd think it would be easy. You'd be sadly mistaken. Brian set up my special keyboard and after hours of struggling got the system to go online via my modem, and to print, though I can't use my newer printer because it turns out that Hewlett-Packard software does not work with this HP printer. You'd think they'd have fixed that by now. You'd think. So I'm on the old printer, which is good enough but slower. Okay, I wanted to set up my working Directories — Folders, if you insist — but discovered they have deleted the directory creation option. I finally found one they had missed: in Save As there is a Create Folder option that works. I wanted ta make my macros, but they have deleted that option too. In the old Fedora I go to Tools, Macros, Record Macro, but that's gone, and I found no alternative way to do it. You can run a macro but you can't make one; isn't that a nasty tease! Macros are so useful that I can't think of any legitimate reason to ban them. This makes the new system significantly less useful that it should be. They do have nice new features, such as the way they present the file date and size information when you are backing up a file, instead of making you have to ask for it. And I love the ongoing file wordage information. Select a portion and it gives you the selected wordage, while still showing it for the full document. I am wordage obsessed, and this is perfect for me. One option it still lacks is the ability to turn off the Alt and Control keys. I make typos all the time, my fingers straying to the fringes, and I can discover myself amidst a screen-full of dialog boxes, then have to go back and retype. Worse is when I accidentally hit Control A which selects the whole file, and go on typing with my new material destroying my old material.  Yes, I can use Control Z repeatedly, but it doesn't always work, and wind up losing my text. I want an easy way to turn those keys off when I'm not using them, and on when I need them. Obviously that will require special geek programming, since the word processing outfits are oblivious. But overall this promises to be a good new system and I expect to be using it to complete my current novel. I did write this paragraph and edit this column on it. It says this Column is 3067 words.

PIERS
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