Thursday, November 13, 2014

Built-In Distraction: 'Hang Up and Drive' Gets More Difficult

It's easy to "hang up and drive" when you don't have the tools to tempt you — but when you do, it's easy to justify using them.

Let's take a look at how ubiquitous phones have become to driving. You may no longer use them to talk, but they still tells you where to go, and how. Pandora, iTunes, Amazon Music? Check. GPS and maps? Check.

Not only are phones tempting to use when we're on the road, but the technology and convenience they provide drivers as technology creeps further into vehicles makes putting them away that much harder.

When my husband purchased a new car this year, the first amenity the salesperson showed us was how to pair the smartphone with the car. It it was the cornerstone of the interactive stereo technology, and even the phone's GPS program was available via Bluetooth. Guess where that put my smartphone? Not in my purse.

When I drove the new car, I paired the phone before putting the car into traffic. Inevitably, however, I heard a song I wanted to skip. Back when changing the radio station or skipping a CD track was a single button on the dashboard, I could keep my eyes on the road and still filter my music easily and relatively safely. Now, however, that same act may involve multiple touches of the smartphone, which itself can be anywhere: on your lap, in the cup-holder, accidentally on the floor...

Auto makers may try to improve safety by installing phone and stereo function buttons on steering wheels, but drivers must have newer cars with that technology — and many of my family members, myself included, do not have new-enough cars for that.

In my 10-year-old car, I have an after-market device: an arm that holds the phone in place below the dashboard. It has no interface, no convenient buttons. If I want to listen to music, or change the music playing, I have to access the program on the phone. That requires me to take my eyes off the road.

I can rationalize that it's a quick fix, or it won't be dangerous to accomplish. Maybe I don't see other vehicles on the road so I think no one else will be affected. Perhaps I'm stopped at a red light, so that means I'm not moving so that makes it safe. Juicy justifications, all: multiple taps and swipes of the phone are anything but quick, I'm never completely alone on the road, and I must remain alert for drivers at stoplights.

Smartphones may offer hands-free GPS service, but that may not even be a reasonable option, considering that multi-tasking while operating a multi-ton vehicle is ill-advised under the best of circumstances, even with a skilled driver.

More importantly, when a text or call comes in and the phone is perched next to my hand, it's difficult to resist the impulse to read the screen or answer the phone (which, again, involves multiple keystrokes or swipes).

I am not alone. When I'm behind the wheel, I see many drivers, including professionals, operating their smartphones. If I see a car swerve into another lane, inexplicably slow down or stay stopped at a light after it turns green, I see the driver's head jerk up from her or his hand or lap in surprise.

How do we make our roads as safe as possible while using modern technology — or is that even possible?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Summer Reading: It May Last into Winter!

So, did you read a lot this summer? I know of a few readers who did, and it will earn them a book of their own!

One of the most enjoyable parts of the summer reading club is coming up with new books to read. I invited my buds to join the club for summer reading, and two readers took me up on it.

Both Karen and Stacy  tantalized me with their amazing reading lists. I think I found a few more tomes to add to my (growing) "to be read" list and was pleased to see an unexpected name among the authors. (Oh, there were more than a few favorites in there, too. I know how to pick them — friends and books.)

Karen read the following, for a total of 20 tomes:
  1. The Bone Chamber, Robin Burcell
  2. Misery, Stephen King
  3. Coming Home, Mariah Stewart
  4. Desperation, Stephen King
  5. Feels Like Family, Sherryl Woods
  6. The Sign of the Beaver, Elizabeth George Spear
  7. Escape from Andersonville, Gene Hackman and Daniel Lenihan
  8. The MacGregors-Alan Grant, Nora Roberts
  9. The Walking Dead:Rise of the Governor, Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
  10. The Hazards of Hunting a Duke, Julia London
  11. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  12. The Help, Kathryn Stockett 
  13. Stoker's Manuscript, Royce Prouty
  14. Sixth Sense, Ramona Stewart
  15. The Eye of the Tiger, Wilbur Smith
  16. True Believer, Nicholas Sparks
  17. The Trap, Tabitha King
  18. Soldier Dogs, Maria Goodavage
  19. Global Warning: Are we on the Brink of World War III? Tim Lahay and Ed Hindson
  20. Supervolcano:Eruption, Harry Turtledove

Stacy is "claiming a total of 40," which include:
  • Frozen, The Kraken King part 1, novellas by Meljean Brook
  • Magic Breaks by Illona Andrews
  • Warlord, Warprize, Warcry by Elizabeth Vaughan
  • From the Dark Hunter series by Sherrlyn Kenyon: Fantasy Lover, Night Pleasures, Night Embrace, Dance with the Devil, Kiss of the Night, Night Play, Seize the Night, Sins of the Night, Unleash the Night, Devil May Cry, Upon the Midnight Clear, Acheron, One Silent Night, Bad Moon Rising, Time Untime and Styxx.
  • Once Burned by Jeanine Frost
  • Demon Bound by Meljean Brook
  • The King, Lover at Last, Lover Avhenged and Lover Reborn by JR Ward
  • The Winter King by CL Wilson
  • Body Guard by Jenifer Ashley
  • Archangel's Legion by Nalini Singh
  • Bound by the Vampire Queen by Joey W Hill
  • The Little Prince
  • Le Petit Prince
  • A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
  • Macrieve by Kresley Cole
  • Thankful in Death, Concealed in Death and Festive in Death by JD Robb
  • Hiawatha by Longfellow 
Stacy also donated 40 used books to the public library in honor of her summer read.

Both readers will receive a copy of the book of their choice.

Speaking of books, who's in for a winter reading club? Let's choose a book to read it during the chilly winter months. (Just one because I know you're busy, and you'll have a few months to fit it in!)

Do you have any particular titles in mind? Do tell!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: November



November

This is the treacherous month when autumn days
With summer’s voice come bearing summer’s gifts.
Beguiled, the pale down-trodden aster lifts
Her head and blooms again. The soft, warm haze
Makes moist once more the sere and dusty ways,
And, creeping through where dead leaves lie in drifts,
The violet returns. Snow noiseless sifts
Ere night, an icy shroud, which morning’s rays
Will idly shine upon and slowly melt,
Too late to bid the violet live again.
The treachery, at last, too late, is plain;
Bare are the places where the sweet flowers dwelt.
What joy sufficient hath November felt?
What profit from the violet’s day of pain?

- Helen Hunt Jackson
courtesy poets.org

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Hallow's Poem: Requiescat

On All Hallow's Read, I gave this poem to every trick-or-treater who came to my door, as well as every one who walked within bounding distance of me.







Requiescat




        Tread lightly, she is near
        Under the snow,
        Speak gently, she can hear
        The daisies grow.
        
        All her bright golden hair
        Tarnished with rust,
        She that was young and fair
        Fallen to dust.
        
        Lily-like, white as snow,
        She hardly knew
        She was a woman, so
        Sweetly she grew.
        
        Coffin-board, heavy stone,
        Lie on her breast,
        I vex my heart alone,
        She is at rest.
        
        Peace, peace, she cannot hear
        Lyre or sonnet,
        All my life’s buried here,
        Heap earth upon it.

        — Oscar Wilde      

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: Autumn Returns



Autumn Returns
A day in mourning falls from the bells
like a trembling cloth of vague life,
it's a color, a dream
of cherries sunk into the earth,
it's a tail of smoke that arrives without rest
to change the color of the water and the kisses.

I don't know if you understand me: When night
        approaches
from the heights, when the solitary poet
at the window hears the steed of autumn running
and the leaves of trampled fear rustling in his arteries,
there is something over the sky, like the tongue
of thick oxen, something in the doubt of the sky and
        the atmosphere.

Things return to their place:
the indispensable lawyer, hands, oil,
the bottles,
all the signs of life: beds, above all,
are full of bloody liquid,
people deposit their confidences in sordid ears,
assassins descend stairs,
but it's not that, it's the old gallop,
the horse of old autumn who trembles and endures.

The horse of old autumn has a red beard
and the foam of fear covers his cheeks
and the air that follows him has the form of an ocean
and the smell of vague buried rot.
Everyday and ashen color descends from the sky
which the doves must spread over the earth:
the rope woven by oblivion and tears,
time, which has slept long years inside the bells,
everything,
the old suits all bitten, the women who see the snow
coming,
the black poppies that no one can contemplate without
        dying,
everything falls to these hands I raise up
in the midst of rain.



by Pablo Neruda
courtesy A Poem A Day

Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer Reading: Happened So Fast!

It's official: the days are growing shorter, the air is crisp and the equinox set our eggs on end. Summer is over and autumn has begun.

For those of us who enjoy summer reading, the turn of the season is bittersweet, but not unwelcome: sometimes it's hard to stay indoors and curl up with a book while the sun shines!

This summer was not too hot (which limited my reading) and was filled with a few adventures, including the very special wedding of a very special couple and a new feline addition to the family (different events, of course — my new son-in-law Kenny is charming, but not in the least bit feline) (I think). However, there always is time to read, even if it's into the middle of the night. (Daylight is not a welcome force the following morning, I tell you what.)

As part of the 2014 Summer Reading Club, I read 33 books:
  1. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  2. Second Glance
  3. Centuries of June
  4. A Room With A Zoo
  5. The Interestings
  6. Bats at the Ballgame
  7. Ouroboros Ouzo
  8. Extent Demon King
  9. Johannesburg Cabal and the Blustery Day
  10. Bats at the Library
  11. I Lost My Bear
  12. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  13. Bats at the Beach
  14. Bandit’s Surprise
  15. What Successful People Do Before Breakfast
  16. Tobacco Road
  17. Bandit
  18. The Book of Life
  19. Shadow of Night
  20. The Fault in Our Stars
  21. A Discovery of Witches
  22. The True Story of Stellina
  23. Top Secret Twenty-One
  24. Toots the Cat
  25. Millions of Cats
  26. The Beauty of the Beast : poems from the animal kingdom
  27. Takedown Twenty: a Stephanie Plum novel
  28. The Eye of Zoltar
  29. The Eyre Affair
  30. The Goldfinch
  31. American Decameron
  32. The Decameron
  33. Year of No Sugar
At least, that's the best list I could compile following a disasterous August List Loss. (Try to say that three times fast while panicking as the year's reading list disappears before your eyes.) (And no, "undo" didn't undo.)

A couple on the list are rather short, but the thicker tomes fill out the stack. Plus, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not completely finished with Mustard, but I am more than halfway through it, so I will count it on behalf of Main Street.

The "Main Street" of which I write is Main Street Child Development Center, a fabulous non-profit organization that will receive $5 per book, for a total of $165, from this Hedgehog Lover.

I also donated three books to the Fairfax County Public Library:
  • Natchez Burning
  • Boy, Snow, Bird
  • The Lorax
As promised, my fellow clubber who read the most this summer will earn a new book of her/his choosing.  

Please send your reading list by October 4 so we can compare lists and you can get your new book all that much sooner. (Of course you will win. You read a lot, didn't you?)  Remember, the time frame is May 23 (the Friday before Memorial Day) through September 28 (the Sunday following the autumnal equinox).

By the way, Reader Karen suggested something I've been pondering for a while: a winter reading club. Are you in? Let me know!

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Tobacco Road Effect — Or, Can You Read Classics With Fresh Eyes?

As noted previously in this blog, my friend Carole and I have decided to read Weighty Books. After eight months of such reading, I have to wonder if I can read them with as fresh an eye as I would have in my undergraduate days.

I ask this question after finishing Tobacco Road, a relentless story of loss and more loss. Jeeter is beaten down by life and The Man. The last time he tried to farm his land, the rich folk of Augusta stole from him more than his entire profit: it took his desire for success. He would never win, no matter how hard he worked, so it made entire sense that he did not get up off the porch for much.

However, the characters of Tobacco Road were relentless sinners. Holy cow, by God and by Jesus, they were a wicked lot. I don't use those words lightly, but they fit in this case. Even characters who were supposed to be the most spiritually uplifted were fantastically immoral, even by Tobacco Road standards. The ending was as relentless and beaten-down as the rest of the story, and I felt dejected and depressed myself.

However, the more I read, the more it seemed I had read that story before. I had: in many other stories since. However, Tobacco Road was where it all started.

One of the decisions Carole and I made was to read related stories during the six months we focused on a book. For six months we read The Decameron, American Decameron and as much of The Heptameron as we could. (I took a break from the "-Ron Books" and will go back to The Heptameron soon enough.) I am glad, but I also may have to back off on that decision a little: I don't want to lose the magic of the seminal work because it's been hammered to death by other related books.

Along with Tobacco Road, Carole and I will read How Green is Our Valley and The Grapes of Wrath. Will stories be revealed with interesting perspective by three different authors, or will "The Man Gets You Down" theme be driven home with a level of relentlessness only Jeeter could appreciate? I'll keep you apprised.