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November 14, 2006

74. Send 5 letters of appreciation for excellent customer service.

November 14, 2006, with extra editorial comments:

To the manager of the Village Hotel Walsall:

I just wanted to drop you a quick line to thank you for making our stay in Walsall this past weekend so enjoyable. All the staff we spoke to were lovely, and made us feel very welcome, even when (as at breakfast) they were clearly quite busy. Nothing was too much trouble. Our room was nice, and had been properly made up for the children as well as for us when we arrived. They particularly appreciated that you’d left them their own chocolate biscuits! [This is cos typically, when we book a family room in advance, the sofabed is made up in less than half the hotels we stay in, and I think this is the first time *ever* that a hotel has actually made sure that we are furnished with sufficient consumable items for the kids as well as us]

I think your pool needs a special mention; I could only think of two hotels I’d visited with pools of a similar standard – and one was another Village and one was a De Vere. So you are clearly doing something right. It’s very nice to be able to swim in a full-size pool; and the changing rooms were clean and well-equipped. [It was really lovely in fact]

Finally, I should mention the price; for the room for four of us, with the full-scale buffet breakfast and two lovely trips to the pool, we paid no more than we might expect to pay for a ‘budget’ hotel at a service station with an indifferent breakfast. We really felt it was outstandingly good value. [£60 all in]

Many thanks.

November 10, 2006

80. Read 50 non-fiction books that aren't trivial.

2. A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Ralph Koster. I've been intending to get this since it came out, and eventually got it shipped from the US through Amazon Marketplace. Since I (mostly) stopped playing games, I've been noticing how many of the other activities I enjoy mimic the way that fun is delivered in video games. I wonder if this is true for everyone, or whether I've corrupted my brain through 30 years of gaming. Or perhaps it was always that way.

1. How to Write a Dirty Story, by Susie Bright. I think there's something odd about my psyche that causes me to be more excited by books about writing dirty stories than about books of dirty stories. This turned out to be a bit of a dirty book, though, because I bought it as an eBook and it's trapped, DRM-wise, on my PowerBook. I had sort of gambled that stripping the text would be fairly trivial, but I haven't actually got around to trying. Anyway, Susie Bright could be entertaining on the subject of stripping DRM; and this examination of erotica is jolly entertaining.

51. Read 50 fiction books

8. November 10, 2006. Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith. Steven suggested I read this, and to be fair, it was a bit of an omission in my reading history. I rather wish now that I'd read this years ago when I read many of the short stories. I enjoyed it hugely but I would have enjoyed it more without the baggage that accrues from reading many of the modern SF writers who have been influenced by Smith. It is wildly inventive and full of incident, and has worn far better than most SF of its time. Like other modern readers, I was startled by the use of computer-driven futures trading and instant messaging in the first part of the book. I think, on balance, that I prefer the short stories; it's odd to think of a novel as short as this one as 'sprawling', but sprawl it does. But there isn't enough Cordwainer Smith that we can afford to be choosy.

6. A Painted House, by John Grisham. I admit I'm slightly embarrassed about this one, and also about no. 7, The Last Juror, by John Grisham. In my defence, I was staying at my Mum's. On the other hand, I did have lots of much more worthy stuff to read which I ignored in favour of these. A Painted House is Grisham's attempt to break away from his gentle rut of courtroom dramas. This story of an Arkansas harvest told, rather unbelievably, from the point of view of a seven-year-old boy, is a clear homage to The Grapes of Wrath, which Grisham has described as the book he was most influenced by. The Last Juror, a tale of murder, juries, and a smalltown newspaper, is much more ordinary Grisham fare. These are both well worth picking up if you're stuck at a rural station with no decent books available.

5. Until I Find You by John Irving. I used to buy all his books in hardback. I particularly loved the way he made every aspect of the plot work together to deliver a highly improbable ending. But gradually I grew more tired of them, and now pick them up in paperback as and when. Having said that, I think it's only fair to say that I started reading this one, and didn't stop until it was done. But I did think about stopping several times; I am old now, and tired of Irving's obsessions. Too much of this novel is a tour through the bizarre; in some ways it reminds me of those fantasy novels with an overelaborate map, with tattoo shops, cathedrals and cheap movie sets forming the improbable locations where plot tokens are found and redeemed.

4. Temeraire: Throne of Jade, by Naomi Novik. When I first heard of these I was in awe. Intelligent dragons, complete with McCaffrey-style impressing, in the time of the Napoleonic wars. Sea battles with dragons! I assumed that Novik had struck a massive seam of cash, even before reading them. But then I read the first chapter of the first book online and very much enjoyed it, so I 've bought both the first two in hardback. Plus the dragon is called Temeraire. These aren't wildly overblown fantasies that drift on for 600 pages without plot development. They rattle on, and are the perfect reading for summer holidays. And of course, Temeraire is a great name for a naval dragon.

3. I, Coriander, by Sally Gardner. A first novel, and you will know the basic model for the plot as soon as you discover that the protagonist's parents are called Thomas and Eleanor. Gardner deftly moves from historical fiction to faerie; obviously this invites comparison with Susanna Clarke (it's very different). As teen novels go, it rather demands clever readers. There's a historical note at the end for those not familiar with the Commonwealth, but none for those not familiar with faerie. Marianne took this into school, where her teacher fell on it with glee and is reading it out loud to the class.

2. Siberia, Ann Halam. Challenging and ambitious sf. I don't know if it's a failing in me that I prefer Ann Halam to Gwyneth Jones. I bought it for Marianne but read it myself.

1. The Sisters of the Quantock Hills, by Ruth Elwin Harris. This is actually four books, but I don't think it would be right to count them as 4, because I've read 3 of them before, and because they're children's books.

November 09, 2006

9. Make my teeth as healthy as I can.

8 November 2006: Well, this is a good news story, on the whole . I had my wisdom tooth out. I asked my dentist for advice on toothbrushes, and he said 'get the dual handle set of the Oral-B 5000; it's a great toothbrush at a great price'. I got mine from Boots, but Amazon do it as cheap as two battery operated toothbrushes, and it really is much better.

I also discovered TePe interdental brushes. These are both easier to use and more effective than flossers. Anyway, the conclusion is that my dentist was impressed by how well I was doing at keeping plaque off my teeth, and doesn't need to see me again until my regular checkup. So all is well and I am counting this as completed.

16 September 2006: It gets worse. Now that the gum inflammation is lessening, it's easier for my dentist to tell what is wrong with my teeth. So, I need a wisdom tooth out. But several of my other teeth feel loose, which is all rather depressing. Hmm.

3 August: I've now had half the treatment, so my mouth looks lopsided, and been given lots of instructions about implementing an oral hygiene regimen that would take about 30 minutes a day. "As healthy as I can" doesn't, I think, include actual obsession.

My children blindsided me. I took them to the dentist for a checkup, and they asked the dentist if he'd give me a checkup too. So he did! And of course, I need several painful and expensive visits, the first of which is booked for Thursday 3 August. So this is now started.

November 08, 2006

32. Get a digital stereo camera that will take action shots.

November 8, 2006: My twin Sony Cybershot DSC-P200 arrived today, from Co van Ekeren in the Netherlands. I'm very excited by this, and my initial test shots are just fine. Truly this camera isn't really well optimised for flash though, so I need to find some daylight to take some pics in.

Why did it take so long? The P200 is no longer made, and its successor cameras are not as well suited to twinning. Unusually, this camera has the lens on one side of the body, and both the memory card slot and the power at the other side, nice and accessible even when twinned. So Co asked me to procure two cameras on eBay and then send them to him; he twinned them and returned the dual camera. This got me the twin at a super bargain basement price. I mean, still pretty scary, but probably not much more than a commercial stereo digital camera would cost. It's coming, mark my words.

The killer app for consumer stereo digital: this little twin makes movies. I can make 3d movies by, essentially, hitting record and pointing the camera at things. Stereo Movie Maker, the movie partner of Stereo Photo Maker, makes turning the two clips into a single stereo movie very easy. Windows only, and you'd better believe that if I didn't have a PC in the house I'd be emulating on an Intel Mac for this one thing.

Of course a single stereo camera would do all of this as in-camera post-processing. But until we get that, this is pretty much the next best thing. It's small too; large for a pocket camera, but smaller than an SLR.

Anyhow; this is finished; I just have to take some photos now.

August 1, 2006: Mmm. Very expensive, this. There are two approaches at the moment. One is a phenomenally clever beamsplitter and viewer that fits onto an existing camera but without the faults of the 3D Lens-in-a-Cap, which I already have. The second is lovingly hand-soldered pairs of digital cameras, with full power, shutter and zoom sync. I have emailed the man who makes the second sort to find out how much they would cost. So this is started, but I do feel rather guilty.