Look at you, Pikachu!

Meet Pikachu – the newest member of our menagerie.  Also called ‘bug’.

After our last 3-cat stint with Wasabi, we swore there was NO WAY we’d ever be a three-cat household again.  NO WAY.  Uh-uh.

My consolation is that MT caved first.  The pet supply we shop at has been working in partnership with a cat rescue for the last few years – the start of which is when I stopped going into the pet supply store, because I want to save All. the. Kitties.  MT has held strong the last 3 years but recently, he just couldn’t take it any more, and after going through the long application process, we found bug.

Easter and Carlito are plotting their revenge.  I can tell it’s going to be a protracted revenge that will include much hissing, spitting and screaming on Easter’s part and long diatribes on Carlito’s.  But I’m hoping Pikachu will win them over; she’s achingly sweet, and is 100% human oriented, which means she has no interest in playing or cuddling with our two curmudgeons.  Hopefully when they start to understand that, peace will return to our land.

In the meantime:

So I fell down this rabbit hole…

I wouldn’t normally call myself an obsessive personality, but I do occasionally get a little hyper-focused on something that appeals to me for whatever reason.  A TV show that resonates, a foodstuff that meets some mysterious physiological need (apples and peanut better are a cyclical favorite), a genre of fiction that I suddenly need to devour.

But generally, I’d call myself a curious plodder, or maybe a dabbler.  Open minded to a degree, but mostly even-keeled.  Which is why the last couple of months have taken me by surprise, because I have become obsessed with a board game.

In my last random, non-book post, I mentioned Wingspan.  It’s an engine building game with an ornithological theme.  It’s all about building out bird habitats, which sounds so boring I’m impressed you made it to the end of this sentence.  But oddly, it’s not.  It’s a compulsively playable, gorgeous, game – so much so that I’ve bought both available expansion card sets (they plan on one for each continent) and upgraded to a wooden dice roller and storage set.  I have been thoroughly sucked in.  And not just me; MT has, to my astonishment, been just as thoroughly sucked in.  So much so that he’s starting to recognise and identify birds we see out on our weekly hikes.  We play at least once a day, and often twice (games last about 45 minutes); it’s turned out to be a great way to relax and de-stress, which has become more important than ever in these crazy days.  I’m still a little confounded by its ability to captivate me, since the last game I bought and played with enthusiasm is Scrabble, but it’s been a lifesaver, so I’m embracing it.

I’ve still been reading and up until last week, still thoroughly on my non-fiction streak.  Lately, I’ve been weaving in fiction re-reads from my adolescent years, and just yesterday, picked up a Seanan McGuire for a re-read.  For the first time all year, I’m thinking about buying books again, curious about new titles for the first time in recent memory.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that I needed to unplug and remove myself as much as possible from humanity.  People were – are – stressing me out in a myriad number of ways and, as I was getting dangerously close to taking a flamethrower to most of my interpersonal relationships, both online* and in real-life, unplugging and distancing myself was probably a wiser move.  I’m still not sure I’m ready to mix and mingle, but I was delighted when I woke up this morning and felt like sitting down to enter my read books and writing up a post or two.  That hasn’t happened in a long time.  So, Yay!

  • Nobody specific, just an accumulation of frustration and fed-upped-ness with the general stupidity of online discourse in light of recent (read: the past several years) events.

Hopefully everyone has been doing well and enjoyed their holidays.

Random update about my 2021 reading so far

As I write this during a new, snap 5 day level 4 lockdown in Melbourne, looking at events of the last 6 weeks, it certainly appears as though 2021 doesn’t have much more to recommend it than 2020 had.  It’s early days yet, and at least 2021 has offered hints for optimism here and there.  It’s not much, but in the absence of water, people will drink the sand, to quote Aaron Sorkin.

Still, I’ve tried not to let it all bog me down too much – or at least any more than it already has.  I’ve been reading consistently, though not as frequently as I usually do.  This has more to do with a birthday gift than it does current events though.  Anybody heard of the board game called Wingspan?  I hadn’t until I received it; it calls itself an engine building game – your goal, using cards, food tokens, and eggs, is to build out a bird habitat.  It’s a beautiful game, but we were dubious – the instructions cover 3 different booklets!  Still, we gave it a go and after a few awkward games, started to get the hang of it and now we’re hooked.  We play pretty much every night, at least one game, sometimes 2.  It’s not a high-intensity, action packed sort of game, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable.  I’ve already bought the European expansion pack and have put my name down for the back-ordered Oceania expansion.

In other bird related news, the beginning of our snap, 5 day lockdown coincided with the Great Backyard Bird Count, which I’d planned to hit big with several national park excursions.  That was obviously nixed, but we did hit a couple of local parks within our 5km limit.  No new and exciting birds, but one or two less common ones were spotted.  And of course, I’ve actually counted the birds in my own backyard.

A Long-billed corella, dismantling pine cones from the top down.

I’ve been on a non-fiction reading streak; 2021 has not seen a single fiction title read so far.  Which is good, since I have an alarming number of non-fiction titles on my TBR, so I may be reading slower, but I am accomplishing a more significant TBR reduction.

Also unusual this year is that to date, every title has been written by a man.  I don’t make any effort to read more of one gender than another; my natural reading taste for mysteries makes my shelves female heavy without any effort, and even a large percentage of my non-fiction, popular science books are written by women, so the string of all male authors felt unusual.

The biggest accomplishment amongst these reads it my completion of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, which has been on the TBR some years now.  I’ve also completed a long-in-process book about feeding wild birds.  Both reviews will be forthcoming.  Just the other night I grabbed another book – non-fiction, travel, but the first by a woman for me this year – called The Stone Boudoir about small villages in Sicily.  Yes, please.

Birdland

BirdlandBirdland
by Leila Jeffreys
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780733631061
Publication Date: November 5, 2015
Pages: 188
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Hachette Books

Fine art photographer Leila Jeffreys captures the beauty and diversity of some of our most colourful and elegant feathered friends.

In BIRDLAND, Australian fine-art photographer Leila Jeffreys presents us with a bird-watching experience like no other, drawing birds out from their leafy shadows and airy territories and presenting them to us with the skill and intricate detail of a portrait painter. The result is a stunning encounter with some of the world's most beautiful birds.

On display are fine feathers of all types-eagles in burnished battle armor, fairy floss pink cockatoos, owls in spangled evening wear, and the finches and parrots who couldn't settle for just one or two colours, so chose the whole palette instead.

Captured in a moment of stillness, Jeffreys's feathered sitters reveal qualities and features that invite human projection. Meet the sociable gang-gang cockatoos Commander and Mrs. Skyring, always up for a soiree; the dignified and kingly black kite Fenrick; and the adorably gamine Pepper, a southern boobook owl with impossibly huge eyes and irresistibly cute skinny legs.

Sydney-based Jeffreys works with animal rescue and conservation groups to create her portraits. Her love and compassion for her subjects is evident throughout, and every bird has a story, which Jeffreys shares in a profile of nearly every species in the back of the book.

There are working birds, like Soren, the wedge-tailed eagle, who patrols areas to prevent cockatoos from damaging buildings and lorikeets from overindulging on sugar on hotel balconies; Blue, the orange-bellied parrot who is part of a breeding program to increase the population of this critically endangered species; and Sirocco, New Zealand's kakapo conversation superstar.

BIRDLAND invites us to rediscover birds, to gaze unhindered, and to marvel at their many-splendored glory.


A gorgeous book that I’d eyed about a year ago and dismissed as too decadent; coffee-table art books generally don’t make it into my book budget.  Luckily, I received it as a birthday gift last week, so I could wallow in the beautiful bird portraits guilt-free.

Then, at the end, I saw the List of Works, in which Jeffreys included general information about the species, and almost always, a small anecdote about her experience photographing the individual bird.  They were, apologies to Jeffreys and her obvious talent, the best part of the book, because while her photos are stunning, those little anecdotes brought them, and the bird, to life.  So much so that at some points, I found myself a little misty-eyed and a lot jealous.

A beautiful book for those that enjoy birds and photography.

A-Z, my likes and dislikes: letter “D”

Themis-Athena has started this project, and I’m joining her – an alphabetical list of what I like and don’t like.  Some fun, some not.

Like:  Democracy

I was struggling with a “D” like, until events of last week.  I’m not going to use this post – or any other – to advocate political agendas.  My politics are my business.  But last week was appalling; seditious acts and an insurrection in the nation’s Capital building.  Nobody’s grievances are so just that they justify the actions of last week.

But one truly wonderful thing did happen in the midst of that lowest point in US history:  Congress stood up and got on with the business of putting the nation first and upheld the constitution.  And not just the Democrats who will be dining out on this for ages, but the die-hard Republicans too.  Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence, both of whom I often find problematic, made me proud last week.  They had nothing to gain and a lot to lose, and still they did their job with dignity; they upheld the Constitution.

 

Dislike: Disco.

As a child of the 70’s I should look back with nostalgia on those halcyon days when disco was king, right?  Er, no.

The thing is, I have never liked disco.  All the lights swimming around, and too many men singing in falsetto registers, about absolutely nothing to music that me feel like a needle was skipping inside my brain.  The women musicians that fall into the disco category at least had song lyrics I could get behind, but again, the music grated on my young brain.   I have no memory of ever wanting to see Saturday Night Fever as a kid, cementing my belief that disco was never meant to be for me.

 

A-Z, my likes and dislikes: letter “C”

Themis-Athena has started this project, and I’m joining her – an alphabetical list of what I like and don’t like.  Some fun, some not.

Like:  Cascades

Waterfalls are a definite ‘like’ too, but for my money, cascades are a lot more fun.  Their rambling style lends itself to a multitude of picturesque nooks and crannies, pools, and small spots of white water.  Best of all, as far as I’m concerned, you can clamber about on them, letting the inner-kid out to roam and climb, discovering all those nooks and crannies close up.

Australia’s terrain lends itself to cascades, and MT and I have let the inner-kids out on a few of them over the years:

We’ve discovered all sorts of interesting bits at each of the cascades we’ve been to so far, from weird crayfish and dragonflies and tadpoles to wallabies, water dragons and whirligig beetles.

 

Dislike: Cockroaches.

Some people have a real, pathological problem with spiders, or snakes or rats.  Me, it’s cockroaches, to the extent that I struggle to even type the word.

In Florida, they’re called Palmetto Bugs.  They’re large, growing to just over 1.5 inches or 40mm, they have wings and they know how to use them.  I can’t prove it, but I’m certain they chase you.  When I was a kid, I had a particularly large specimen fly across the room to land on my face.  A katsaridaphobic was born in that moment.  Even here in southern AU where the specimens are a great deal smaller and wingless, I can’t handle them.  MT says he always knows when I’ve stumbled across one by the sound I make, a sort of inhaled scream; the sound of my psyche imploding.

I’d post a picture but you can believe if I can’t type the word there’s no way in hell I can deal with posting a picture.  Google “Palmetto Bug” if you’ve never run across these minions of satan and you’re curious.  Given the choice, I’ll take spiders any day.

 

A-Z, my likes and dislikes: letter “B”

Themis-Athena has started this project, and I’m joining her – an alphabetical list of what I like and don’t like.  Some fun, some not.

Like:  Bloom County Comic Strips

There were some contenders for B; boating was almost a shoe-in, until I looked up and saw my favorite Bloom County strip hanging on the wall.

Bloom County is an American comic strip that started in 1980 and featured a cast of characters with Opus the penguin the star (though I’d argue secondary characters Hodge-Podge and Portney got some of the best lines).  The author, Berkeley Breathed, burned out on deadlines and censors in 1989 and quit, but not before winning a Pulitzer for his work.  In the one good thing Facebook was ever good for, Breathed brought back Bloom County on the site in 2015, bringing much joy to unsuspecting fans.

Bloom County is one of the few – the rare few, unfortunately – forms of entertainment that make me laugh until tears fall.   Here’s a random sample of one of his strips; I tried to choose one that might resonate with any international readers (Breathed is known for his political strips, which can sometimes rely on cultural ‘in-jokes’).

 

Dislike: Bitter … anything.

There are five universally accepted basic tastes perceived by our taste buds: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.  I can’t tolerate bitter.

Coffee, really dark chocolate, beer, marmalade, many of the leafy greens (ie chicory/witlof).  None of these are anything but the equivalent of chewing aspirin for me.  With the exception of cocoa, I can’t even tolerate them as flavourings – coffee flavoured anything is just … aspirin.  (I know how awful aspirin are because as a kid I thought they all tasted like Bayer’s children’s aspirin, only to eat one and find out differently.) Whether this can be attributed to lack of exposure, or training, or special snowflake taste buds, I don’t know but the result is the same.  I avoid bitter foods the way I avoid bitter people.

 

A-Z, my likes and dislikes: letter “A”

Themis-Athena has started this project, and I’m joining her – an alphabetical list of what I like and don’t like.  Some fun, some not.

Like:  Aquamarine

The color, that is.  Based on my skin/hair/eyes, most people assume my favorite color is red, because it compliments me.  But while I do own a lot of red, it’s not my favorite color.  My favorite color has always been aquamarine. That impossible to describe color of some oceans, at just the right depth, in just the right light.  Not always exactly the same, but yet always aquamarine.

A couple of examples:

Dislike: Atheists; sub-type: anti-religion, vocal

Well, I changed gears in a hurry.  Now, notice I didn’t say Atheism.  I strive to avoid being judgemental in my life and in today’s age of information, I believe anyone who chooses to believe in the absence of God has made their choice of their own free will.  I don’t have to agree with that choice (and I don’t), but I should (and do) respect it.

The sticking point is that last sentence works both ways: They don’t have to agree with my choice, but they should respect it.  For those that don’t, I’m free not to put up with their need to tell me I’m crazy, or that “God-lovers” like me are to blame for everything in the world today.  Organised religion certainly has a lot to answer for, and quite a few of those organisations have strayed, or chosen a path that relies on a more esoteric interpretation of their religious texts.  But if this type of atheist is as “smart” as they think they are, they’d recognise the difference between faith and religion.  And either way, they’d be respectful of individuals with beliefs different from their own.

I’ve sat to dinner with people nominally my family (by marriage) and been the only person at the table who believed in God, and the only person at the table not throwing judgements around like they were party favours.  How these people cannot see they are acting out in the exact same manner that they purport to hate in the religious confounds me.

Believe, or not, in what you will, but be a good person, and if you can’t say something nice to someone who has done you no wrong, then just shut up.

Bookhype.com: It’s no BookLikes, but it’s better than GoodReads even in beta.

UPDATE: The developer has just added a search function for your personal library!  Yay!

While stalking the developer of my WP plug-ins, I discovered she was getting ready to launch a new book tracking website.  So by sheer luck I was one of the first people to join Bookhype.com.  It was basic, but it had potential right out of the gate for some interesting features, so I uploaded my data and started playing.

That was back in the beginning of September, and the site’s feature set has grown enough that it seemed now was as good a time as any to update friends who have not yet joined, about the site’s progress.

The most important thing to remember is that the site is still in beta.  So while a lot of features are missing, I don’t know if they’re missing because they haven’t been added yet, or because they’re never going to be added.  If I do know, I’ll mention that below.

What the site has that’s working for me:

A pretty easy to use interface; the UI is easy on the eyes and for the most part extremely easy to use.  You can log multiple reads and multiple editions (including purchasing information), but your shelves only display one edition, which can get confusing until you get the hang of it.

Some pretty good reading stats – with charts! – that include things like genres and page counts, as well as books acquired over time.

Series tracking:  It’s pretty slick.  You can follow series, and if you opt in, new titles added to those series will be automatically added to your shelves, and also as an opt in, you can get an email notification.  The back end of the site has some nice logic built in, so series that have changed names mid-way through can alias the old/new name, and the librarian functions allow merging/deleting series, avoiding potential bloating.  What could be better:  it would be nice to be able to nominate how new titles are added to your shelves.

Librarian functions:  One of the first “big” features that were added after launch, and of course, I applied.  Because I guess I need more databases in my life.  The features are pretty well thought out and robust, though I’d still love to see the ability to bulk combine titles and bulk merge authors, something I hate to admit GoodReads got right.  What could be better:  while the site handles pseudonyms pretty well, there’s no cross-referencing of pseudonyms on the author pages themselves.  Also, there seems to be no plans for handling multiple covers other than adding more additions.  This is going to cause wicked edition bloat, and at the moment, there seems to be no way to merge duplicate listings, though that may change.

What I think really needs addressing:

Personal library:  this is the part where I’m most critical.  At the moment there’s only one way to view it and that’s cover mode.  Which looks nice, but doesn’t make my heart sing because I want to see the data, preferably in list view with the ability to sort by ALL the columns.  At this time you also can’t search your books, which is HUGELY problematic. (Update:  now you can search!)  You can filter by Read, Reviewed, Currently Reading, Wishlist but you can’t just search out a specific title, and you can’t see all the books on your shelves by author.  I’ve emailed the developer about this and I know she’s thinking about it, but I don’t know what her plans are, if any, for improving the ability to manipulate your own shelves.  I’ve also asked about creating personal shelves, which she’s nixed, as she’s going the tag route.  When I mentioned they weren’t that easy to use, she immediately went about making them MUCH easier.  Now I’m hoping she’ll move their location on the page to make them easier to access on the fly.

Social aspects – there aren’t any.  You can follow people, but the lack of notification when someone likes or comments makes the following a moot point.  I’m guessing this is still something that’s in development and as such I’m REALLY hoping she’ll make the activity page one that’s interactive, with the ability to comment on posts, and respond to other comments, directly from the activity page.

Generally the site has a lot of potential and seems to have a very dedicated developer intent on creating a book site that is completely independent of Amazon.  It’s got a lot of nice touches, and with a few more could be a much better alternative to GoodReads.  Fingers crossed.