Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Technology Wednesday--Technology that Consistently Works Well

We haven't had a Technology Wednesday for a while, and I just checked and technology is still with us, so why not?

I think I thought of writing about technology since I've been, uh, engaged in trying to get my scanner to work this week.

I have one of those all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax machines, and to this point, it has worked well. I especially like the scanner function because I can scan funny cat pictures and send them to people I know. Yes, I know there are other ways to do that. I just like using the scanner.

But then I "upgraded" to Windows 8 a few weeks ago. Dear Microsoft: Windows 8 is pretty to look at, but where is everything? Where's my Start button? I can't find programs! I can't find files! I promise I won't even make fun of your putting the "Stop" function on the "Start" icon. Just put it back, please!

I feel better now. Anyhow, my all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax machine wouldn't work all of sudden, and I surmised its printer driver needed an upgrade. I hied myself off to the Brother support site to see what I could find there and after an exhaustive search among posts and replies on the help pages, found that the LAN connection I was using with the printer didn't support scanning. I would have to switch the machine over to a USB connection. Once I found a twelve foot USB cable. Which I did after a few days, hooked it up and scanned away. Except the automatic data feeder (ADF) didn't work with the scanner. I suppose I should be happy it works at all.

Clearly printers and even computers are not high on the list of consistently reliable technology. I became so frustrated with one printer (long since sent to the electronic recycling bin) that I literally wanted to throw it through a closed window into the yard two stories below. I didn't, but the impulse was there.

I got to wondering, what is a consistently reliable technology? I've written enough for this time, so I'll save that topic for another time. In the meanwhile, what are your nominees for most consistently reliable technology? (I know, it depends on the meaning of "technology." Yup, it does.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Familiar--and Familial--Phrases

Careful. These animals might have the epizootic.
I'm not sure that our family is unusual in that we have certain code phrases from our shared experience that we make use of in certain situations. That's as clear as the tax code, so I'll try to explain. Here are some examples (the ones I can make public, anyhow):

The term epizootic for a human illness. Becky's mother used this before we were married. She wasn't feeling well, and when Becky asked her what she had she replied, "I guess I got the epizootic." I thought initially she had made the term up or that it was a bit of local dialect. I looked it up, and it's a word, meaning "disease of animals." This use of the word struck me as incredibly clever and extremely funny, so much so that the mere mention of the term sent me into gales of laughter for months afterward. So watch out for the epizootic: you don't want to get it!

Another code phrase came from Becky's grandmother long before I met Becky. The family was watching television and Kate Smith was singing. Becky's grandmother came in, quickly looked at the set and exclaimed, "That woman's big enough to be Kate Smith." She was because it was Kate Smith (just wanted to point that out). This phrase is used when something is self-evidently evident. One of us might say, seeing someone across a parking lot unexpectedly, "That looks like Tom Wilson." If it is Tom Wilson, the other will reply, "And that woman's big enough to be Kate Smith." (Trust me, this makes sense in context.)

The last phrase I wanted to mention (there are many, but they're too embarrassing to put here) has to do with a lady at the church (who has since passed on) who fixed meals for functions at the church. She had a heavy hand with the sugar scoop, so her sweet iced tea came out sweet. I'll call her Grace Jenkins, which was not her real name, but it will help to make the point. Any overly sweet tea we call "Grace Jenkins tea." And we know what we mean.

Maybe you have some sayings or words in your family. If you do, send them along in a comment. I'd love to publish some of them in a future post.

Bonus terms: Becky is an excellent cook, and has only had a couple of disasters in the 39 years we've been married. One time, the oven stuck and the meatloaf came out looking like a big charcoal briquette. Becky called it "forest fire meatloaf," and the term has stuck to any overdone item. There were also microwave pork chops, a code term for any underdone food, from our attempt to fix pork chops in the microwave. They came up so underdone I thought I could hear them squealing. We would have been better off baking them in the Easy Bake Oven with its light bulb heat source. (See last week's blog about this sterling toy.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cat Fishing

Bob and Dick were excited about the big catfish their friend Steve caught using only his hands, but sorry that it  swallowed him in the process.

Now, to a boy from Georgia, cat fishing used to mean going out to the river where the big ones lie in wait with your pole and can of worms and trying to catch one of those big whiskered fish to take home to fry up and eat. Not that I actually ever did this. My fishing expeditions were few and far between, and when I did manage to catch something, it was usually a perch or bluegill. There was more to eat off a jumbo shrimp.

I've also seen shows about guys with some skill and less sense who catch catfish by hand. This process is called noodling, and it involves sticking one's arm and hand into an underwater hole where the catfish hangs out. When the fist tried to escape, it usually clamps onto the noodler's hand, who quickly grabs the cat by a gill and hauls it out of the water. That is, if a snapping turtle or poisonous snake is not living in the hole formerly occupied by the catfish. Other outcomes follow from this scenario, including but not limited to the loss of fingers and death. I think I had an uncle who noodled for catfish, though I'm not sure. We called him "Seven-Finger Bob" after he disturbed a snapping turtle. (I made that up because deception is related to the theme of this post. Trust me.)

But I'm not here to talk about that kind of cat fishing. I found out just the other day about another kind which involves the mighty river of the internet. And deception. Lots of deception. According to the online Urban Dictionary (, a "catfish" is "someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances." "To catfish" is to fool someone using the internet by creating a false identity.

All this came up after the revelation that Notre Dame football player Manti T'eo was hoodwinked into thinking that a non-existent young woman was his girlfriend. It's more complicated than it sounds (for more of the story, go to ), so it's about more than a delusional young man creating an ideal relationship. Officials at Notre Dame believe he was the victim of a cruel hoax, and I suppose there are some things to be learned from this.

One is that online relationships are not real relationships. I've had the experience of "getting to know" people in our local writers' group on Facebook, but I've always wanted to meet them in person, although months might elapse before we do so. A second learning is, not everything on the internet is true. (Notice the number of times I steered readers to the web in this post. Uh, yeah, I did.) We still have to check out what appears to be true. When I was teaching, we told students to not believe everything they read. That advice still holds true, perhaps even more today. And, third, the human heart, while capable of much that is good--love, respect, caring, sacrifice--also may be a place of darkness.

Be careful out there. Every fish swimming in the sea ain't necessarily a cat fish.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Day of Service

Last Saturday was the National Day of Service (more information at I know Biscuit City readers are involved in all kinds of service year 'round, and I salute you for that. I'd like to suggest one way local folks in the Manassas/Prince William area can be of service to some of our older residents. These people by and large don't "do computers," and with the recent loss of the News and Messenger print edition, I've heard a number of them say they have no way of keeping up with recent news, including deaths and obituaries. (Prince William Today comes out once a week)

So, my suggestion for service is this: if you know someone who can't or doesn't go online for news, give them a call or, even better, a visit, and take a few minutes to catch them up on the local news, not just the recent deaths. I know they will appreciate it and I believe you will enjoy making a difference in their day.

Here's the website for local news coverage:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Poem of the Week-- Correspondence with My Brother

Correspondence with My Brother

Amy is in the dining room
Writing a letter to a friend
Dark hair falling around the paper.
She does not move
Except for her hand
While I range between
Refrigerator and stove and table
In the kitchen
Preparing dinner.

She is composing her life.

I am glad, Ron, that I have you to write to
Since we don't see each other enough
And don't have much of a chance to talk.
Our lives are so busy and
Without someone to write to
I am not myself.
To be myself
I thought I needed to read
But this summer I read nothing
And it made no difference
But I do need to write
And I need to write to you.

Amy is in the dining room
Writing to her friend.

I am in the kitchen
Washing potatoes and
Writing this in my head
To you.

We are composing our lives.

--Dan Verner

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Story of the Easy Bake Oven (A Cake Tale)

"Light bulb not included." Should have been a clue.
Cindy Brookshire, Write by the Rails guru and a wonderful writer who works in all sorts of genres  wrote this recently: We all have a cake story. Lianne Best wrote about her chocolate pound cake gone lopsided in a “Mom on the Run” column.  Now there’s a “Bake Off” challenge on the Write by the Rails website to see how many cake stories we can raise.

As I thought about this passage, I realized that even I have a cake story. And I don't bake cakes. Well, once. So here's the story. I call it “The Great Easy Bake Oven Cake Fiasco.” 

Let me preface this tale by saying that women seem to do most of the cake baking in this world, although many bakers are men. Alyssa's betrothed (she hates the word "fiancé) Chris B. (to distinguish him from Amy's bf, Chris M.), is a wonderful baker. He made little covered wagon cupcakes complete with little animal cracker oxen pulling them for Alyssa's Oregon Trail-themed birthday party last year. Believe me, Chris B. can bake a cake for me any time.

Which is not to say that I am completely lost in a kitchen. I am a fair-to-middling cook and would likely not sicken most of the people I feed. I cook for ordinary situations. When it comes to the big celebrations though--Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs--and there is a family meal where everyone brings a dish, I make the iced tea (if it's chez nous--it's easier that way). The real cooks in the family handle the main and side dishes. I know my place in the food chain. (Pun intended.)

But baking, as I have said, not so much. My ineptitude was confirmed when one of the girls received an Easy Bake Oven for a present. The commercials make it look easy to produce delicious, actual edible cakes and cupcakes in the Oven. Here's a commercial from that era. It speaks with forked tongue. (Note that the name of the product was actually the Tasty Bake Oven. I think I have suppressed that bit of information.)

So, we were set to have some father-daughter baking fun with the new oven. The cake mix came in cute little boxes, like the real cake mixes, only smaller. We mixed it up and put it in the cute little cake pans and put the cute little cake pan in the cute little oven and plugged it in and waiting to taste the results of our labors. And waited. And waited.

"Baking time" was supposed to be two minutes. After two minutes, the alleged cake was still a glutinous mass. And after five minutes. And ten minutes. It simply wouldn't turn into a cake.

The girls were disappointed. So was I. And after some thought, I ascertained the problem: the source of heat for the oven was a 60-watt light bulb. No wonder it wouldn't bake. It was about like holding the cake pan over a living room lamp and expecting it to bake.

Together, we worked out that we could use full size cake mix boxes and the oven in the kitchen to bake cakes. That worked well, but I think the emotional trauma of the Easy Bake experience put me off baking cakes forever. No doubt with proper treatment I could turn into a Cake Boss. But it's too late for me now.

I know that other people have had spectacular success baking over a light bulb. I've even seen accounts of people fixing full Thanksgiving meals with an Easy Bake. (Didn't say how long it took--days, probably.) But in our family, sadly, Easy Bake has become a code term for Never Baked or Half Baked or Misrepresentation in Advertising. I should have taken the thing back. Maybe it was defective. In truth, I think I was too embarrassed to admit that I actually thought you could cook a cake, even a small one, over an incandescent bulb. Maybe our magic was not strong enough. Either that or we needed 75 watts of blazing oven power. Yeah...that's it. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Well Vetted

We have always had at least one cat in the house since we set up housekeeping nearly 40 years ago, and most of the time, two felines. Yep, we're cat people, and most of that time we have taken our critters to Prince William Animal Hospital on Nokesville Road south of Manassas. The care for our pets has been outstanding. The love of the whole staff for animals is evident, and they have gotten us through injuries, infections, diabetes, and the death of at least a couple of our charges.

So, here's to you, Drs. Brown, Verloop, Nostrand, and Scher (and Medici, who is no longer with the practice), vet techs Xander, Philip, and others whose names I don't know; receptionists Carleigh, Rachel and  Tonya (and others again whose names I don't know). All of you are top notch in our book!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Poem of the Week--Gliding


Looking for a new Christmas tree
After Christmas
I saw a plumber at Home Depot
Returning a shopping cart from his truck
In an easy fluid motion
Across the parking lot
As he returned the cart.

And I thought, how very like

A Shakespearean actor "taking the stage"
A ballerina moving into place under the lights
A NFL wide receiver gliding into the end zone

And I thought,

They were all


And, my heart lightened
By an unexpected moment of grace,
As I walked to my car,
I felt as if I too were


--Dan Verner

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Technology Wednesday--The Paper Chase

Our recycling bin looks like this except for the aqua top. Many of the bins I found pictures of were blue. What's with that? I've never seen a blue recycling bin. And it wouldn't go with our house, which is sort of cream-colored.
For just a couple of people, Becky and I generate a lot of paper at home. I suppose that's to be somewhat expected since I do a lot of writing and she is involved with a lot of music. Both of these in some guise require paper. (Or at least they do now.)  I do write on a word processor, and Biscuit City is produced online (news flash), but I print out drafts for revision. I can see errors and problems on a hard copy more readily than on a screen. It's a holdover from the days when I hand wrote everything, or typed it.  As for music, we have the music for the Manassas Chorale (which Becky directs) shipped to our house, so we have a lot of boxes. We also order a fair amount online, which means more boxes. Then there's the regular mail, fully half of which is, uh, direct marketing.

We have a recycling bin, which holds about two bushels of stuff. It used to live in the kitchen, but has gotten torn up thorough heavy use. It now lives on the porch and we have a nice recycling bag. I empty both bin and bag into the 55-gallon wheeled recycling bin that the City of Manassas provides, and we more than fill it up each week before it's picked up with the trash on Thursdays. And this is from two people.

A "paperless office" was predicted as early as 1975. Instead of paper output lessening, it has increased siunce then because of the ease of producing documents. Today, the average office worker produces two pounds of paper a day. I think we're right up there with them on that.

Of course we use computers. I first used them at school in 1985, but I still use a lot of paper. Part of it is that I realize that digital entities have a way of disappearing, so I don't trust them entirely. I keep a calendar on my i-Phone, but back it up with a paper copy. My novel is saved on a hard drive, a thumb drive and also on a cloud (or my castle on a cloud, I'm not sure which), but I still run a hard copy every once in a while. I hope it wouldn't come to typing it all over again, although that might improve the manuscript.

What's your experience with paper? Are you using more or less? Are you overwhelmed by great piles of it as we are? Any ideas on how to control it are welcome--I'll be glad to take a page out of your long as I don't have to recycle it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We’re Baaack…with Some Changes

Well, all right, the staff of Biscuit City has returned to work more or less intact from their two weeks off. We hope everyone had a nice break, a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year’s celebration (within bounds—Molly Bolt is not pleased she had to dip into petty cash to wire to spring Nancy and Harrison out of the New Orleans jail, nor was she impressed at being called at 4 AM New Year’s Day to be asked to do so. But all’s well that ended well).

So, about the changes (other than to the personnel handbook): loyal readers and followers of Biscuit City should know that we’ll be changing from a weekdaily publishing schedule to a thrice weekly publication. The staff has some other irons in the fire and also writing projects, including a novel in revision, an online column, and later on in the year (perhaps), a second edition of Write by the Rails’ anthology, New Departures (available from WBTR members and also on The first magazine sold over 300 copies, so we’ll see if we want to go for a second one.

Look for BC on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And to all of you, the happiest and most prosperous of New Years!