Books for the Beginning of 2010

OMG, look at this! I was going to write a book blog post and here I find this half-finished book blog post. So I'm just going to finish this up and post it, and then I will work on blogging the eighteen thousand books I've read since I wrote this.


Twelve Books That Changed the World by Melvyn Bragg is a book that doesn't need much introduction. I believe it's a tie-in book to a TV series, the kind of TV series that could only be produced in England. The books range from the St James Bible to Mary Woolstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and, curiously, Rules of Association Football. Each book is given its place in history, and as such this book is an excellent cheat sheet for someone whose education in history is lacking.

Further Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes was recommended to me by someone on Twitter (I think it was FlossieTeacake) after a discussion of villa-itis, or the fear that you are going to run out of bread while staying at a French villa. The book is a collection of essays and short stories. Keyes is an Irish writer with the most extraordinary Cinderalla story of going from abject alcoholism to fame and riches as a writer. The story is told in the book, along with essays on the joy of writing a makeup column (free samples!), air-guitar championships, shopping and plenty of chocolate. Funny and sweet.

Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen is yet another positive/democratic/whatever parenting book. I don't know why I keep reading them, since I more-or-less know what I'm doing by now, but it's good to be reminded, and I do pick up different ideas from the various books. This particular book reminded me of the importance of family meetings, and reassured me that some problems (namely chores) will have to be revisited at regular intervals but are still worth handling democratically. I wouldn't call this my favourite democratic parenting book—it's just not funny enough. But it's worth a look if you need a refresher (or an introduction to positive parenting) or if you want a new angle.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson is our first book club book of the year, and already this year's book club selection is looking better than last year's. The Gargoyle is about a man who gets terribly burned in a car crash, then meets a mysterious woman with a bizarre past while he's recovering. It's about love and redemption and all that good stuff, with a big dose of history. It's beautifully written and I didn't want it to end.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. I have long been a fan of the checklist. I like to-do lists to keep my days focused, I like lists of things to take places, I like to record our daily routines in list form so nothing is forgotten. This book is the validation for my checklist habit: Gawande writes about how checklists can improve the outcome of extremely complex projects, such as construction projects, and surgeries. Checklists are already in use in construction and aviation, and the book centres on Gawande and his team's attempt to create a checklist to reduce the number of fatalities as a result of surgeries. It's not a smooth path, but along the way we learn the kinds of checklists (DO-CONFIRM and READ-DO), what makes a good checklist (not too much information, easy to read), what makes a bad checklist (too long), and the mind-boggling difference that a checklist can make in a process that everyone involved feels is already going pretty well. (Gawande uses his own checklist, and at first he thought it wouldn't make much difference to his outcomes. As it turns out, not a week goes by that the checklist doesn't catch something he would have missed, and it has even saved at least one life on his watch).

As usual, Gawande is engaging and convincing. This was a great read as well as a confirmation (and refinement) of my love for checklists.

Cool stuff coming soon.

I’ve been reviewing a patch from Andreas and Standard8 which adds lightweight theme support (aka personas) to Thunderbird. It’s so cool that I couldn’t resist taking a screenshot, and posting it for you all to see!

Pretty new persona

It looks like there’s a good chance the code will make it in to Thunderbird 3.1 beta 2, so with any luck, soon your Thunderbird will be a pretty as mine.

Easter Sunday 2010

Blake and I went for a bike ride today while the girls were out swimming with Baba and Zaida. I didn't really want to go, but Blake does so love to ride his bike, and I don't mind biking. So off we went, and went up some steepish hills and down a slightly scary one, found some nice nature to bring Delphine to, and lost contact with my butt. And that was, as they say, all well and good, but the interesting thing happened later.

I felt great.

My back didn't hurt, my foot didn't hurt (I've had plantar fasciitis for, like, months), and I had enough energy to run up and down the sidewalk flying a kite with Cordelia. I didn't realize how bad I'd been feeling lately until I stopped feeling bad, and clearly part of the problem is the utter lack of aerobic exercise I've been doing lately. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do about that...


Cordelia and I fought today. Not the screamy angry kind of fighting, but silly punching kicking fighting. She was hitting me as hard as she could, and of course I was just play hitting. It's never come up before, so I have no idea of the etiquette of playfighting. I suppose it's not done to playfight at all any more, but she's just so cute when she snarls at me with her perfectly straight tiny teeth, and thumps me with her tiny ineffectual fists. It's like being menaced by a chinchilla.


We watched Prince of Egypt today, admittedly a week late for Passover. I had forgotten how great that movie is. We bought it, so we can watch it as often as we like. Every Passover! We don't do anything else for Passover, apart from eat a lot at Baba's house, so why not create our own traditions?

Your feedback is needed on our new Migration Assistant!

For the next version of Thunderbird, Bryan Clark, Andreas Nilsson, and I have done a lot of work to make it easier to upgrade your profile from Thunderbird 2, and we would like to hear what you think of it, and how we can make it even better.

There are some things we’re particularly interested in (mostly on the “Disk space” tab), such as:

  1. Are your existing settings preserved?
  2. If you have no previous settings do we choose “Do not Synchronize” by default?
  3. For those of you who choose not to synchronize your messages, does that appear to work correctly?

We also have some more general questions, like:

  1. Does it look okay? Do the sizes seem correct?
  2. Do the options make sense, and how can we make them clearer?
  3. Do the buttons work the way you think they should?

You can download the builds for various Operating Systems at the following links:

Windows

Mac OS X

Linux

And please leave your feedback on Mozilla Messaging’s GetSatsifaction Topic by the end of day on this coming Wednesday (April 7th), so that we have time to tweak the code and the design before the deadline.

Thanks!

What Up?

I used to have a blog here, but lately I've been busy with this paying job thing and haven't been blogging much. I have about eighteen million books to blog about, and everything else. This is going to be the everything else post.

Delphine

Delphine is nearly seven and she's become all happy and patient and agreeable. Well, not all, but more than before. She sometimes doesn't respond when Cordelia tries to fight with her; she sometimes goes along with me when I ask her to do stuff she doesn't want to; she is usually happy after school and she seldom complains about her day. She's no Pollyanna, but she's not quite as emo and gloomy as she has been through most of the last year.

Delphine had her first piano lesson last Saturday. Piano lessons now are so much cooler than when I started playing: instead of starting with "this is a staff and this is a quarter note" it starts with "these are your fingers and this is the keyboard" and you plunk away, and notation is introduced as needed and no sooner.

So Delphine loves piano. She couldn't wait to get home to practice, and she has practiced every day this week.

Cordelia

Cordelia is still happy, sweet Cordelia. She tells me she loves me eighteen million times a day and she does little dances. She loves her friends, too—she and Anna won't go into the kindergarten playground without the other.

I wonder, sometimes, if Cordelia's always going to be the sweet, frivolous contrast to Delphine's darker personality. No, that's not quite right. What I wonder is how Cordelia's bubbliness will make the transition to adulthood. Where is she going to get that gravity that surely adulthood demands?

For now it seems like along with gloominess, Delphine also has a lock on scepticism, bookishness, and intellectualism (inasmuch as a six-year-old can be intellectual). Cordelia's only "things" are that she runs really fast (and a lot) and sings well. I guess I worry that Delphine's going to be "the clever one", leaving some other identity for Cordelia. I suppose even if she isn't "the clever one" she'll still be clever and she can always leverage that in whatever she ends up doing with herself.

Anyway, there's nothing so sure as that they'll be what they'll be and I have much less control over what they'll be than I'd like to think.

Me

As for me, I have got myself a paying job. I'm copyediting and laying out a non-fiction book for self-publishing. A while ago I said that I didn't think copyediting would be a great job for me because it's so picky-picky; as it turns out it's a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I do love to proofread things, and even the totally anal stuff is kind of cool. I like knowing what kind of dash to use (even if I don't always bother to use the right one) and whether "BCE" has periods or not. And the meticulousness you need to employ to keep track of the style decisions you've made is right up my list-making alley.

I do need to reread Strunk and White, and some other writing books, just to clarify what makes good writing good, and I feel like I should put my hands on some style guides. (I wonder if people buy those on paper or just, I dunno, subscribe to them online or something.)

This working gig is going to have to get a lot more real in September. I signed Cordelia up for daycare when she was just over a year old, and as it turns out she got in. She starts in September at the daycare at the school. I won't have Delphine in daycare ("It's not FAIR!") but I will send her to school with a lunch, so my work day will be from 9:00 until 3:00. My plan, such that it is, is to work a twenty-hour week, leaving me ten hours a week for such frivolity as housework, exercise, reading and getting my nails done. Maybe I'll skip the nails and read more.

I'm reading a rather intense (but very useful) book about starting a home-based writing business. The author is quite intent on my making a business plan, planning further education, budgeting, marketing, and all that sensible, grown-up stuff. I almost feel like I can't waste my time doing that stuff when I could be doing billable work—kind of like the kid who runs his bike all the way to school because he doesn't have time to get on. I'm also resisting doing all that business stuff because somehow I can't take myself that seriously as a professional freelance writer and copyeditor. Clearly I'm going to have to get over that, but fortunately I have a few months to do it.

Letter from Driving School

I've been thinking I should really take some driving lessons to get over my fear of scary big city driving. Since I already have a driver's license, I don't need actual in-class lessons, I only need a few hours in one of those cars with the extra set of brakes, so I emailed a couple of driving schools to see if I could do that. Here is what I received in response from AllWheels Drivers:

were do you live and do you have ontario G1 licence.
IF YOU ONLY HAVE SASK. licence you will have to get your G1 licence inder take driviong lessons.

I shit you not, I didn't change a single letter of that email. If you're keeping track, that's three spelling errors, two missing capital letters, one missing question mark, a whole lot of pointless ALLCAPS, and one incomprehensible phrase ("inder take driviong lessons"?)

I was going to send a polite email explaining why this isn't a good way to handle customer response, but it seems I can't be bothered and would just rather blog about it here. I'm passive-aggressive like that.

Since then I've received a recommendation for another driving school from a friend. I won't be emailing them.

Programming Thunderbird in Visual Studio.

For your reading pleasure this week, we have a guest post from Wei Xian Woo. Wei is a student working on Thunderbird as part of UCOSP, and has just had his first bug marked as FIXED. Anyways, that’s enough out of me. Here’s Wei’s post:

Programming Thunderbird in Visual Studio.

During this term’s Undergraduate Capstone Open Source Projects (UCOSP) Code Sprint held at the University of Toronto in January, I wrote a simple Python script for the Thunderbird team to make setting up a Visual C++ project for Thunderbird slightly easier for those of us working on Windows. Blake suggested making this script public so others could benefit from it, so here it is! The script is generic enough to be used for any project, not just Thunderbird. Feel free to use it and make modifications as you see fit :)

Using the script to create a Visual C++ project for Thunderbird

Create an empty Visual C++ project in Visual Studio.

From the command prompt launched by mozilla-build\start-msvc9.bat, do:

python /path/to/refreshvcproj.py
--vcproj=/path/to/thunderbird.vcproj --dir=/path/to/gecko-sdk
--dir=/path/to/mozilla/comm-central/mozilla/xpcom
--dir=/path/to/mozilla/comm-central/mail

All files in the specified directories will be included in the project. I suggest including only the directories you will be working with.

Configuring the project for debugging:

Open the VC++ project file in Visual Studio, and then open the project's Properties.

Go to: Configuration Properties -> Debugging.

Set Command to \path\to\objdir\mozilla\dist\bin\thunderbird.exe

Set Environment to XPCOM_DEBUG_BREAK=warn

And… you’re done!

For better C++ IntelliSense, you might also want to consider getting Visual Assist X (an add-on for VS).

Happy coding!

And you can find the script over here.

Thanks, Wei!

Something's Gotta Go—For a While

I went to Starbucks this morning to treat myself to my usual decaf tall non-fat with-whip mocha (personal), and there was a lady behind me in line with a baby and a five-year-old boy. The boy was a handful—at one point he disappeared into the kitchen, and he didn't want to stand still and wait in line. The mom was obviously tired, anxious and overwhelmed. Meanwhile, baby in one hand, Blackberry in the other, she was calling friends cheerily asking what kind of coffee they took. You know when you watch someone make a phone call and their whole mood changes when they're on the call? It was like that: tired grumpy tired HAPPY BRIGHT HAPPY tired grumpy tired

First of all, why would you put on yourself the extra work of getting coffee for all your friends when you have your hands full with your kids? It's okay to drop a few things when you have little kids. Maybe not cleaning the toilet and showering, but bringing coffee is definitely expendable. And second, why be all happy and "Hey, I'm bringing you coffee!" to your friends while only the strangers in Starbucks get to see how anxious and overwhelmed you are. Your friends don't care about coffee, they care about you. (The strangers at Starbucks don't care about you, they care about coffee.) It's okay to tell your friends that you're overwhelmed and you're going to beg off bringing coffee for a while. You can be the coffee and treats bringer again when your little one is old enough to carry a bag of croissants.


I guess I have two points. First, if you're feeling overwhelmed, you're not doing anyone any favours pretending everything's fine. Mostly people will believe you, and you won't get the help you need, which sucks. But just as bad is the overly optimistic impression you're giving other parents of the level of busy-ness and achievement they should be able to manage.

And second, when you have little kids you have to set aside some of your old identity. (Unless your old identity included about ten hours a day of absolute sloth, in which case parenting will fit in just fine. Except you'll have to set aside the "I'm slothful" part of your old identity. No, I'm going to stick with my original claim—when you have kids you have to set something aside.) Maybe it's being a great housekeeper, maybe it's being an employed person, maybe it's being a gym rat, maybe it's being someone who sees all the latest movies, maybe it's being the one who brings the coffee. When you add a baby to your life something has to give.

But it doesn't have to give forever: when you're stuck at home with a four-month-old and you're staring down the abyss of babyhood and toddlerdom and preschoolerness it seems like everything you ever loved about your old life is gone for good, or at least unrecognizably mangled. But if you just wait, you'll get it back. Your kid will be able to walk so you can carry an extra coffee; your kid will go to preschool so you can go to the gym; your kid will start school or daycare so you can work.

When you have a baby it seems like you have to hang on to everything about yourself until your fingernails bleed, that if you don't you'll lose yourself completely in snot and diapers. But all that stuff that made you you is still in there. It will still be there for you in three or four or five years when your hands are free and you have a minute or two to yourself.


Wow, that turned way more profound than I meant it to.