Linda's blog

What I'm reading now: 13 July 11

So, my current kick comes by way of the far side of the world...

I've talked about gutenberg.org, the website that provides the text of books in the public domain. I should perhaps be more clear about that, though: gutenberg.org has content that's in the public domain in the United States. There are two related but different sites that I know of : gutenberg.ca and gutenberg.net.au.  The .ca is the Canadian site, and folllows Canadian rules for public domain. I don't like it much, although Canadian laws are (at least for the moment) somewhat less stringent than those of the US. The problem I have is with the website itself - it's not very easy to browse, the content is limited, and there's a huge foreword about pending changes in Canadian copyright law that is so lengthy that I have lost sympathy with the cause before I make it to the end of their argument. (For the record, I agree with them, but I think they could state their case more succinctly.)

Then, there is gutenberg.net.au. It calls Australia home, and there, too, the laws of public domain embrace more material. There are (or have been) a lot of content contributors, and the website designers have made it easy to navigate. So when I began searching out more classic detective writers, I searched Gutenberg Australia as well.

I found a treasure trove of SS Van Dine there. SS Van Dine writes the Philo Vance mysteries. Van Dine is both the author and a character - a Watson to Vance's Sherlock, who follows along and records everything, occasionally asking the questions the reader is dying to ask. Vance is one of the New York elite - an intelligent snob, but with ample excuse for snobbishness, it appears. He solves crimes by looking at the psychology of the crime and the criminal, and is known to bemoan the fact that people consider material evidence and motive to be indicators of guilt or innocence. The three full-length novels I've read so far are all slightly dated (especially by some aspects of the psychology Vance espouses), but still fun. I'm reading them in publication order: The Benson Murder Case, The "Canary" Murder Case, The Greene Murder Case, and (my current read) The Bishop Murder Case.  Definitely fun, and it's hard to argue with free.

I've also been reading some of Edgar Wallace's J.G. Reeder short stories. I know I read one of them years ago in some mystery anthology for teens ("The Treasure Hunt" was the title, and in it, Mr. Reeder uses the criminals intent on robbing him to unwittingly uncover what really happened to Sir James Tithermite's wife, supposedly lost at sea.) I wish I could remember the title of the anthology, as there were a few other authors who might bear looking up. I recall another story in the anthology about a woman who was poisoned, almost fatally, because she was the caretaker of a dog who had inherited millions. Other than that, the only thing I recall are the illustrations, one per story - line drawings on a single-color background (green or something like that) which mostly hinted at the contents of the story while hiding anything unsavory. The illustration for the woman with the dog story was the unfortunate exception to that rule.

Back to the topic at hand- the J.G. Reeder stories. They're enjoyable in their quiet way, although I find the use of slang a bit disconcerting. I prefer Wallace's short stories and novellas to the full-length work I read, though.

 

Akron: 13 July 11: Busier'n A Bee In A Bucket of Tar

I've been a bit busy at work, lately.

A few months back, this was not the case, and I made a few incautious comments about "not having enough to do." I may even have used the word "bored" once or twice. So my lovely and thoughtful supervisor found a few extra things for me to do, and it was good.

Then, about a month ago, things got busy. I no longer had time to knit at the desk, or even take a few minutes here or there to browse the internet as a mental break. (I'm not saying that these are inalienable rights - just that it was a rather stark contrast to what went before.) I felt like I was running as fast as I could to keep from moving backwards, and a few things fell by the wayside. At the peak of it (probably Tuesday), I discovered I had missed a few small but crucial tasks, and as a result, a few people had to scramble last-minute to make sure all our passengers got picked up at the airport.

However, somehow I managed to get caught up yesterday. I organized a day of airport pickups for fifty-one people, and I checked the room assignments that somehow managed to fit 99 people into a facility with only 88 real beds. I caught a few errors before they turned nasty, and went home feeling like life was almost under control.

Today I had time to do a couple of tasks that have been on the back burner since they popped up on my to-do list on the third Thursday in June, and I also had the time to double-check that I had reserved the right vehicles at the right times for all those airport trips. I even spent a pleasant half-hour or more doing some cleanup and prep work against the day when I start training my replacement.

I chatted for a few minutes with one of our volunteer drivers, and he was kind enough to say "You know, it's like you walked in, sat down in that chair, and never missed a beat. You must have done this before." I suppose I have, in various small ways, but never on this scale, and it's good to know that for the most part, I'm getting it right.

Of course, an hour before closing, I checked my email, and there were two housing crises that had to be dealt with before I left. Ah, well, I'm sure all this last-minute scrambling is good exercise...

What I'm reading now: 13 June 21

So... more classic detective fiction. Specifically, Jacques Futrelle and R. Austin Freeman.

I finally read the last few Thinking Machine stories by Jacques Futrelle. I enjoyed them, although none are quite as good as "The Problem of Cell 13" - the first Thinking Machine story I read, and still my favourite. However, there is one lovely story (I don't remember the title, sorry), which I shall now spoil for you by telling you that, after The Thinking Machine has deduced the existence of a specific couple from the barest of clues, drawn them to his chambers, and demonstrated that all his deductions are completely accurate as well as brilliant, and dismissed them to sin no more, so to speak... his Watson (intrepid reporter Hutchinson Hatch) asks who the couple is - and the Thinking Machine has no idea of their identity.

I have been reading more Dr. Thorndyke mysteries. Having read all the short stories I can find, I'm now delving into Dr. Thorndyke novellas. Dr. Thorndyke is the forerunner of the forensic scientist. He doesn't detect, as such. What he does is a proto- scene-of-the-crime analysis, and it's quite fascinating. He (and his brilliant but self-effacing assistant, Polton) has developed a small vaccuum device to collect dust for microscopic analysis. Fiber comparisons, fingerprints, decomposition rates, insect traces - it sounds familiar to the forensic-science aficionados, although some of the things that happen to a crime scene before he gets there would make those same aficionados cringe. Thorndyke even looks states that he expects that one day science will be able to positively identify a man by a single drop of his blood - which is almost routinely done today.

As to the novellas: the stories ("The Eye of Osiris" and "The Mystery of Angelina Frood", from Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File) are told from the point of view of a third party, different in each story, who is the agent of bringing the mystery to Thorndyke, his companion Jervis, and assistant Polton. Because there's a little more length to expand the stories in a novella, as opposed to a short story, a side plot (a romance, of course) is slid into the mix, along with a little extra ornate prose. I could do without both, but they're only a mild annoyance, and I will admit that, in "Angelina Frood," I had suspicions of the right character, but for all the wrong reasons. Cleverly done, Mr. Freeman; I will continue hunting up more of your work.

Akron: 13 June 21: In Praise of Skirts, or What Happens When the A/C Dies

Having grown up in a family of tomboys, I am not overfond of skirts. Dresses or separates, a skirt has often seemed to me to be somewhat limiting of what one can do and how one can move. Four years of wearing a uniform in high school (a jumper and blouse, not a kilt) furthered my disdain, and years of cold winters and walking to work confirmed me in my ideas that skirts have their place, but it is a small place, and rarely intersects with my milieu.

I have, of course, worn skirts and dresses at various times in my adult life, for the ultra-dressy occasions (weddings, especially my own), and a few of the dressy ones as well (funerals, church, parties). Work? not unless I was going to a funeral immediately after.

Then, there was this week. It was hot and humid, unusually so for this time of year. And this was also the week that we had no air conditioning at work.

It has been a long-drawn-out process leading to this week. The old system was failing and due for replacement, and a case was made for setting up a geothermal system instead of simply replacing the old cooling tower. Money was found in the budget, contractors were hired... We've temporarily lost part of the parking lot as asphalt was stripped away and a dozen and a half wells were dug. There were holdups and setbacks, but on Monday morning, the old cooling tower was shut down for good.

It couldn't be a simple switchover, though - that would be too easy. There must be a difference in pipe levels that must be bridged, old fittings to cut away and new ones to be supplied. The system must be drained, flushed, refilled, tweaked, drained again, topped up with glycol, and then calibrated once more. But as of this morning, the geothermal air conditioning was at work for us.

What has this to do with skirts? Well... I aim for a professional appearance, so shorts are out. If I had worn any of my dress pants, I would have melted. So this week I wore skirts: a chocolate-brown tiered knit that came to just below the knee, a rayon summer dress in cool blues and greens, a creamy long skirt with embroidery and hankerchief insets in the hem... and I have to say I enjoyed it thoroughly. I see more skirt-wearing in my future - at least until the weather gets cold.

I have also just recently purchased a Little Black Dress for myself, as well as a Little Green Dress I came across in my search for the LBD. While dresses and skirts won't ever replace my reliable dress pants and jeans, but I suspect they'll be taking more space in my closet, and showing up at work more often.