Tuesday, January 21, 2014

HHHHHH: Android Cursor Control

I guess I should call this Happy Househusband's Helpful Handheld Hints, but I don't want to recreate that masthead graphic.

One thing I hate about a phone with no hard keyboard is getting into the middle of a word that I've typed.  Everybody finds that annoying and starts saying mean things about the coarse size of their own fingers when it happens.  I discovered while looking for something else that there's a setting buried deep in my Samsung Galaxy S 3 with the latest Android update (earlier in January 2014) that helps.

In Settings under Person in Language and Input behind the gears setting icon on Samsung keyboard under Keyboard swipe, there's a setting called Cursor control.  When activated, it essentially turns the keyboard into a trackpad that can be used to "arrow around" within typed text.  It takes some getting used to, but it's much better than the hover and jab technique I've used up to now.

You're welcome.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

Books of '13: recommendations

It's still January, so by law, I can still write a summary post about what I read in 2013.  Also, because I run this blog, I get to make up the categories.  It's pretty awesome when you think about it.  

It was a pretty good year for my reading taste, although I was pickier this year than in some prior years.  I would have said I'd really enjoyed what I read this year overall, but I actually rated the smallest percentage of books "Highly Recommended" (in my Access database of books I read, of course) since 2006.  I also rated the highest percentage of books "Not Recommended" since 2009.  Yawn.  Onto the good books.

Best New Novel

Where'd you Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple, 2012

My friend Catherine Christopher recommended this book on a visit back to Pittsburgh.  I
read it in essentially one sitting on our long return flights from Korea in the spring (what a marvelous way to read a novel!).  It's a unique and dark story, told through unique narrative devices like letters and emails.  The first part of the book especially feels like a clever copy of a Douglas Coupland novel because of those devices.  Not only is the book set in Seattle, but Seattle is essentially a character in the book; its natural environment and specific culture playing their own roles.  The Bernadette of the title is particularly well suited to talk about Seattle because she's an outsider.  It feels like anything I say about the plot would reveal too much, so I'll just call it a page turner of the first order and recommend that you read it.

Best Old Novel

So Big, Edna Ferber, 1924, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1925

So Big is a wonderful novel that transported me to Chicago and its hinterlands at the end of the 19th and dawn of the 20th centuries.  It was a good time to read a Chicago novel because we've visited there three times in the past year to see family and friends.  I feel like I "got Chicago" more from multiple exposures, and having read this novel, I feel like I "get Chicago" even more.  It's always hard as a reader to know how a book was received when it was first published, but it strikes me that this story would have felt very "of the moment" to those reading it in the '20s.  In a way, it's an interpretation of how people came to lead their lives then based on how much Chicago was changing in the previous 40 years.  New money transformed some people's lives and created vast gaps between the rich and the poor.  Cultures that had persisted through immigration because of geographic community boundaries in the new world were starting to morph and break down through new tools of transportation and connection.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  I fear that this review makes this novel sound like sociology, but it's really not.  It's just a good novel placed in its moment in history.

Best Non-Fiction

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain, 2012

This book got lots of press when it came out, and I finally managed to get to it on my reading list and pick up a copy from the library.  It's a very interesting read in the vain of good business bestsellers with a tinge of self help.  Starting with research about how introverts and extroverts differ (chief takeaway - introverts are more sensitive to stimuli), she eventually touches on what you should do as a manager, spouse or parent of an introvert if you're an extrovert.  She makes compelling arguments that the world is tilted in favor of extroverted traits and that "shy" is a bad word.  She argues for making space for individual processing of ideas.  Split the tables apart in classrooms.  Let people work alone to generate ideas and then submit them.  This form of crowdsourcing is kinder to the introvert's pace of processing, but more importantly, it empirically produces more good ideas than group brainstorming.

Best Memoir: Woman

Orange is the New Black; My Year in a Women's Prison, Piper Kerman, 2010

With the Netflix television show being discussed at every gathering of the late summer and NPR fawning over it, I heard that the book on which the show was based was really very good.  This memoir is flat out fantastic.  An unlikely prisoner, Kerman describes her experience over a year in primarily a minimum security prison with some additional time at different facilities.  She has no idea what to expect, living among women who are largely of a different class from her.  What she discovers horrifies and heartens her and her readers.  I don't want to give away too much more.  If I have a quibble, it's that she sometimes stops short of describing why certain aspects of prison life were terrible, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks.  A friend who has read the book said she turned off the TV show after five minutes because it's "too raw".   Perhaps Piper was saving her dear readers by being oblique.

Best Memoir: Man

Attempting Normal, Marc Maron, 2013

I enjoyed this memoir/collection of essays.  Having listened to virtually every episode of Maron's WTF podcast and having watched his special (Thinky Pain) while reading the book, I found that the material wasn't particularly new.  I enjoyed it anyway.  Maron has worked hard to overcome a lot of demons, and he's really honest about the ways that he still hasn't.  He's not for everyone, but I find myself at home in his audience.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Books of '13: anti-recommendations

As usual at this time of year, I like to tell the Internet the highlights of what I read in the prior year.  I lead by warding you away from books I disliked.  That's as much of a service as telling you what I liked.

Worst of the year: novel

Not technically the worst, because there is one book I'm ashamed to admit I read, and that's Calico Joe by John Grisham.  It's complicated.  Not the book.  Oh gosh, not the book.  My reasons for reading it.  That's the complicated part.  There's also a novel I quit in the middle, which my Competent Wife will tell you I almost never do.  That was The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig.  She's a Yalie, but her book dragged like an anchor, so I abandoned it.

The Privileges, Jonathan Dee, 2010

I got to this book through a review of Jonathan Dee's latest novel (A Thousand Pardons).  Given that this one had been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and that it would be easier to get at the library because it's a few years old, I decided to read this one first.  It's an engrossing novel whose narrative leaps forward in time from a couple's wedding to their small kids years to their teenager years to their grown children years.  As time goes on, the kids themselves get about as much focus as the parents.  In the end, it was rather unsatisfying for reasons of plot that I can barely describe without spoiling the novel.  So I won't.  It was a really ok beach read.  And you know what I mean by "really ok".

Worst of the year: non-fiction

Present Shock; When Everything Happens Now, Douglas Rushkof, 2013

I hate Douglas Rushkoff.  I'd never heard of him before hearing about this book on Marc Maron's podcast, but I hate him.  There was a sign outside my sister's high school that said "Much good work is lost for the lack of a little more."  Douglas Rushkof never saw that sign.  He is quite brilliant at cultural observation and synthesis.  He can name what's happening in a way that I have not seen other people do.  The problem is that in this book he just proceeds to name what's happening over and over again in multiple ways ad infinitum without ever getting to the "so what?" questions; without ever getting to what I as a person might do about the phenomenon he labels present shock.  It's relentless, this book, and then it pays off almost not at all.  He does coin the word "digiphrenia" to refer to when a person is physically in one place but mentally and emotionally is elsewhere thanks to a digital connection to that other place.  His example of a young woman at one party texting and facebooking the whole time to figure out what better party she should be at crystallizes the phenomenon beautifully.  Beyond that, he never gets to a worthwhile point despite all of his pointed observation and analysis.  Grrrrrr.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Conversation Observation

Although it's somewhat off-topic for this blog, I just wanted to publicly notice a certain kind of conversation that goes on these days.  Perhaps you had it with friends or family over the holidays.  The conversation is called Smart People Talking About Good Television.  David Broncoccio might amend that to be "About TV Worth Watching".  I may not be the first to have named this conversation, but if this is the first time you've encountered a name for it, you're probably saying "Oh yeah.  I've had that conversation."

A conversation like this doesn't lead a gathering.  In fact, the gathering has to be long enough to get past small talk, health updates, kid updates if you're that sort of person and impressive-sounding books and movies.  Then, based on something someone said, a participant in the conversation shyly asks if anyone has been watching Call the Midwife*.  And we're off.  Multiple things happen:
-People find those who have already watched what they've watched and - careful of spoilers - they revel in how much they like that show.  
-TV talkers avow plans to watch The Wire^ just after they finish the latest season of Mad Men*.  
-The persuasion also commences: Ohmygodyouhaven'tseenevenoneepisodeof New Girl^?!?
-A spouse bemoans her bad judgment in not starting Friday Night Lights^ with her husband.
-If anyone brings up the Big Bang Theory, people are talking about television, but Smart People are not Talking about Good Television.

It's fun, and it's OK.  The OK-ness of it feels new since about 2006.  Television started having these pockets of goodness that allowed smart people to come out of the woodwork about liking television.  Even as the medium (not Medium*) continued to be chock full of schlock, there were good stories with three-dimensional characters that people could discuss in polite company without feeling like idiots.  Since then, of course, the whole way we consume television has changed making it easy to catch up on shows that smart people tell you are good.

Here's my list, not in the least unique:
-Men of a Certain Age, discussed here before.  Two seasons on TNT now cancelled, available on DVD, but I don't think streaming anywhere.
-The Wire.  You know.
-Arrested Development.  But the new stuff on Netflix did not keep my interest.
-30 Rock.  May it rest in syndicated peace.
-Friday Night Lights.  Tim Riggins.  Tyra.  Crucifictorious.  Y'all.  My Competent Wife missed out on all of it.
-Modern Family.  Ty Burrell is the best physical comedian on TV.
-New Girl.  Adorbs.
-BBC Sherlock.  Has been on Netflix streaming, now on Hulu Plus.
-Downton Abbey.  I've heard some things that make me worried that I won't like it in season 4.  The plot has already shown some unsatisfying traits.
-Spy, a Hulu original, is cartoonish but pretty entertaining with a surprisingly deep cast.

*haven't watched it
^watched/watch it