License To Wed

Of course at this stage, the most salient thing happening in my life is my continued preparation for marriage and living in a new area. One thing I keep discovering along the way is how complex the process of creating this union is, at least in the eyes of our state and federal government (the latter barely functioning these days which may cause problems for many later, but that’s beside the point).

Anyhow, the next stage of preparation for us was to acquire a marriage license which will be completed after the ceremony, then filed to make us all legal. This process is a little more complicated for us, because the wedding will be held in Fayetteville and we are located in Cary, meaning constant back and forth driving.

So, she took off early yesterday and we headed down to the Cumberland County Courthouse, located of course in Fayetteville. First, we had to step through the metal detectors. Initially, she was uncertain whether to help me walk through, but the guy watching us told her to go ahead so I reattached and entered with no issues. I did wonder if they jammed all cell communications, because my phone began vibrating as soon as we exited the building.

Next, we located the correct room, housing the Register of Deeds. People milled about, and we stood in line for only a few minutes before presenting our ID’s to the woman behind the counter. My partner said she had been able to update her drivers license online, so the photo presented there had been taken about fifteen years earlier. This led to extended scrutiny, with the woman’s eye jumping back and forth between her and the picture on the card. Eventually though, she decided it was legitimate.

Next, we had to confirm that we were entering into the marriage willingly on both sides, which caused an issue with me because of my hearing. Once the lady was aware that I might not always pick everything up though, it seemed to get easier to do so. I found her to be quite friendly, actually.

Then came the hardest part. We had to go into another room to enter all of our personal and parental information onto a computer, including their addresses. This is a challenge, as it is not something about which one usually thinks from day to day. You have to remember to list your mother’s maiden name as well. We also had some issues spelling Mecklenburg County, as well as the street on which my father currently resides (I hope I got that right in the end).

Then it was back out to present to our friendly counter lady for verification and signature. Once we got everything spelled correctly, I then had difficulty signing. They didn’t mind me making a mark, as long as it was reproducible . Where the problem really arose was in my inability to remain in the correct line, as I slid down into the area that says “do not sign here”. She finally worked out that I should just sign against a ruler, which would keep me mostly straight. I keep saying I will get another signature stamp, as it would make this process a lot more painless, but I also blame said stamps for the loss of my ability to make a good signature. I had learned it once long ago, and most times at least I could keep it within the line without any sort of guide. But then I had a stamp for four years. Signatures are definitely a “use it or lose it” thing for me, but perhaps I can re-learn it.

After a final verification, we were done! She then explained how we need to wrap everything up post-wedding, which is going to involve at least one more trip down there. Just another piece in the endless and slightly unnerving paperwork with which I must contend in order to get this thing started.

Apart from the actual marriage, other things are going well also. I have accepted the offer to return to my old job at LC Industries pending a drug testt, which I already knew would happen. No worries there, of course. I hope I can get the same position I had before, but well we shall see. And, I am ever-so-slowly adapting to Cary. I wish they could expand bus service to this town, as after 10 AM it is difficult to get into Durham, but I have already sort of covered that ground. I know I will be able to at least get to work somehow until I get all of the paratransit stuff sorted out, which will also be fun as they have residency requirements, and are not answering their phone. All will be well though.

I hope you are finding this part of my story interesting. We are looking forward to applying a big seal this coming Saturday and celebrating along with family and friends. I will probably document the big moments therein on next Monday.

Let It Snow… Or Maybe Not

So, my time as a Charlotte resident, middle transition as I’ve called it, will come to an unexpected end. This is because we have recently been pounded by a fierce (yes, for us Southerners) snow storm that has ground everything to a halt. I was only able to work this past Tuesday, and even though they had opened the place on Wednesday I could see via the forecast that going in would only make for a circus return home around 10 AM. They also called off today and tomorrow already, due to excess ice at the location.

I stepped out front here though, and there is surprisingly little ice and strong sunshine. This is welcome news, as cabin fever is taking over. Pondering if I can get out of here and go somewhere? We shall see.

Oh, how this Winter is different from the last. I remember spending most of the previous January basking outside on the strip of restaurants near my Durham apartment, as temps were usually in the upper 60’s to low 70’s. While that of course is unusual, this year has also been unusual for the opposite reason. Last night, we dropped into the teens yet again. It would not surprise me if this month has had more days with teen or single-digit temperature readings than any other. We’ve spent a lot of it at least as cold as, or in some cases warmer than, some parts of Alaska. BRRR!

So I am kind of bummed about missing those last three days of work, as it puts me in a tighter monetary situation than I had anticipated. But isn’t that the way life works most of the time? We make plans, and God laughs? I am at least seeking to make productive use of this time, as I have re-applied to LC Industries in Durham and am waiting to hear back. Next, I have to try and sort out transportation in Cary, hopefully utilizing a paratransit service local to that area. It says they will take me into Durham or Chapel Hill if I need work or medical appointments, so there.

I am also thinking more broadly, and trying to figure out how or if I’ll get to use this Master’s Degree I spent a couple of years obtaining. I do now have the document certifying its completion, and it is still thrilling to put my hands on it.

And not much else. Of course I’m already reading strong out of the gate, what else is there to do when one is basically marooned for three days. Already completing books 3 and 4, the latter being Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. She also wrote Salvage The Bones, and both of these titles are set in a fictional Mississippi town where we see people living in hard-to-imagine poverty up to and after Hurricane Katrina. She is a really talented writer, having received multiple awards for each of these books. So I will go ahead and dive back in, after perhaps finding something to eat.

If you too were blanketed by snow, I hope that your power is on and warmth persists. I know I am fortunate to at least be in a place where I am not freezing, as some are. Amazingly, I have just over a week till marriage, so my next post will likely be from the other side. Wish us well.

#FridayReads: A 27 Year-End Book Post

And, hello from a thus far sickly 2018 for so many of us. This is, in fact, the first day since January 3rd that I’ve felt even remotely up to writing. (The first was a travel day, and the second a readjusting to work day). Ah who am I kidding, I’m still readjusting to work.

Anyhow, I thought I would give a summation of the kinds of books I’ve read in the previous year. I think Stefanie Michaels (AKA AdventureGirl) will post my entire list of books with a little about my chosen reads soon in a guest post. Exciting, as she has a huge following! So, I’ll just hit the highlights.

I concluded the year having consumed 52 titles, the most ever for a single year. I think, amazingly, that I only read more than one piece by the same author (two by Clive Cussler, because he makes good fluff reading and has a lot of travel involved.)

In yet another sign that grad school has permanently infected my brain, I did something akin to Grounded Theory and lumped my books into different categories until saturation occurred, or in lay terms, I could think of no more new categories. Am I gonna be like this forever? Probably. The groupings are, of course completely subjective, and books c an fit into multiple categories but I chose what I thought was the primary one.

Heck, even the category of an author’s gender is to some degree arbitrary, as I do not always know if a title was written by a man or woman, but that doesn’t matter a whole lot overall. I’m mostly just curious to see if I am diversifying my exposure. According to my count, I read 24 books written by men, and 28 by women. I think I usually achieve about that balance in most years. I also read 40 fiction books to 12 nonfiction ones. That number surprises me, actually. I’m definitely reading more nonfiction than I once had. This can be attributed to the proliferation of “most popular” lists, and to sites like Twitter.

As for the more granular breakdown, I will list each of the other categories and one of my favorites therein.

Dystopian: 2. Well, I always enjoy titles from this grouping, as they help imagine the world if things went, well wrong. Not that we will have to “imagine” much longer, but that’s beside the point. The one that stands out most is The Last Tribe, by Brad Manuel. In this book, the planet is struck by a random plague that wipes out all but a sliver of the population. A family has to bond together, collecting other “survivors” along the way, and make their way to an area where they can continue to live and thrive, rebuilding society. It’s a fascinating story, but not that well edited. Looks like it may have started life as a NaNoWriMo novel, but I like it because it gives me hope that I may one day be able to produce such a thing.

Family, 6. Ok, I’ll admit this is a sort of catch-all category for ones I could not as easily categorize. Probably my favorite though is The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. I’d bet most of you have read this already, but it’s about a young black man who is gunned down buy cops while his female friend watches, and the complex reactions and interactions set into motion for her and her family as a result of this killing. It was especially topical against the spate of shootings that occurred throughout the U.S., and can help explore how these encounters can eventually cause major issues in whole communities. An honorable mention is The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson. It looks at race in the American south in a more unusual way, through older and younger family members who discover complications through a family secret, and end up with a mixed child, respectively. One you should get in audio, because that woman, the author, is just a great reader of her own work.

History, 10. This includes historical fiction and nonfiction, and probably my favorite was Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill. I think I reviewed this title earlier, but it is about a slave who makes the hard journey from the African interior to the U.S. mainland, and becomes famous over time, even venturing to England to meet Queen Charlotte. I didn’t realize that this story was fiction until I concluded it, but I think it is still based on a collection of people’s stories. Great stuff.

Memoirs, 4. I’m really starting to enjoy this category, as many are choosing to read in their own voice. My favorites were A Carlin Home Companion, by Kelly Carlin, and Endurance: A Year In Space, A Life Time of Discovery, by Scott Kelly. In the former, the daughter of famous comedian George Carlin tells what it was like to grow up in his household, and the many challenges she did and still does face. She is fun to follow on Twitter as well. Scott Kelly is also a good social media presence, and his story talks about that as well as life aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and all the work and improbable ads he had to overcome to get there. The bio and space residency are interwoven to make for a rich experience.

Mystery, 5. In this grouping, I mostly placed books that centered around who committed a crime of some sort. Two of these, Passenger 23 by Sebastian Fitzek, and All By Myself Alone, by Mary Higgins Clark, took place aboard cruise ships. I had actually read four titles that were set amid this floating venue, since the plan had been for me to experience that with the coming marriage as I already detailed in the previous post. They were all still good, and I think paint cruising in an interesting, hopefully overly dangerous, light. I more like the whole social, connectivity aspect.

Psychological, 2. These are typically the more disturbing books. The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica, was such a story. I probably also talked about this one, but it has a before and after where a woman was, I think abducted, and her life changed as. result. We see all of the therapy invested in getting her back on the right track.

Romantic Suspense, 2. I confess I don’t entirely remember which two I listed here, but I’d guess Seeing Red by Sandra Brown was one of them. After having listened to her in our local bookshop, I had to check this title out. I think it was my favorite by her thumb far, because the characters were more nuanced than usual. Kera the news reporter is following up on a terrorist attack she was part of as a child, and in so doing, she unlocks secrets someone wants hidden. There is a lot of travel involved, and of course the requisite sex scenes. But this book really gets at the idea of media frenzy following these kinds of events, and how hero worship can cause unintended consequences.

Sci-fi/Fantasy, 10. Also one of my most read collections year in and year out, I would most recommend Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel. I don’t know if this author intended, but his titles work best in audio as they have amazing characters. You’ll want to read the first in this series, called Sleeping Giants, before proceeding. They follow files including letters, interviews, and other such entries that note the arrival and actions, many of which are devastating, by an alien race. You… just have to read it.

Self Help, 1. Well one could argue that I’m supposed to be reading another called Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, but I’ve not quite gotten around to that one. I and my partner did complete one called The Five Love Languages, by Garry Chapman . I guess it does provide some insight into how you like to be “loved” which can be helpful to you, your partner, and the relationship as a whole.

Social, 2. This group consisted of the two texts I read during my school studies in their entirety, Alone Together by Sherry Tyrkle, and New Tech New Ties, by Richard Ling. They both tend to paint relatively dim pictures of what all this “smart” stuff is ultimately doing to us and our social relationships.

Travel and Adventure, 8. Probably my favorite of these books was The Winter Over, by Matthew Iden. In this, which I got via the Amazon First Reads listings, a group of people are residing in Antarctica where they work to complete experience and fieldwork during the long, dark months known as the Winter Over. It explores psychological issues that can plague a crew so isolated from the sun and most of the rest of humanity. A rather interesting, though the author concedes definitely fictional, look into life down there.

And that is barely scratching the surface of my massive book pile. But this post is already pushing 1,500 words. I hope you find something there in that interests you. Let me know if you want more details on any mentioned and not. More soon.

Finale

The last time I selected this subject line was roughly six years ago, as I met an unceremonious end to my time in the (then labeled) Rehabilitation Counseling and Psychology program at the University of North Carolina. A crushing blow, and one from which I was not sure I would recover. But it pleases me now to use that same subject line to announce completion of my Master’s program at the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte! Well ok technically speaking, I have a presentation in which I must participate tomorrow, but it is largely informal. The real hard stuff, (i.e. that all-consuming Capstone project) is officially behind me though.

If you would like to get a sense of some of the coursework and such I completed along the way, view my Digital Portfolio, wherein I even included a fun video of me taken on campus by a kind student. (It was fun working out how to get that from her phone to mine, but I did). Getting it done showed me how resourceful and good at networking I have now become, though.

What is next? Well, I’m not entirely sure, other than what I posted in the previous entry. On relocating to the Triangle, I want to find a job perhaps on a college campus or with a nonprofit of some sort. I’m betting though that I will first have to return to the sheltered workshop there, as I am currently working at its sister location in Charlotte just to keep the account balance above 0.

RELATED: Job Days No. 5

With this dough, I must fund at least some of the remaining wedding expenses, as well as a hopefully relaxing short trip to somewhere like the Wrightsville Beach resort we visited a couple years ago. We’re thinking the longer more spectacular trip will take place later, but a couple days away still sounds grand. After all, she is celebrating completion of a dissertation, which I know is something I will probably not even attempt.

And what will I do with my time now? Well probably more of the same thing I’ve already been doing with it, lots of reading. I’ve already surpassed 50 books this year, I think because strangely the more stressed I become and crazier my life gets the more I wish to slide into the pages. I haven’t really analyzed which types of books I’ve most read this year, as that part will come at the end. But I bet I can get in four more titles before this month, with all of its holiday parties, draws to a close.

Finally, how do I feel about this achievement? Well, it’s oddly sort of anticlimactic, but I’ll likely get the full hit once I receive my diploma, which the school is supposed to mail out over the holiday break. It definitely removed a big ol’ ugly monkey from my back, as ever since I spent time as a Ronald E. McNair Summer Research Intern, I have desired to do what that program most aimed to help us complete and receive a post-Bachelor’s degree. So I am confident now that this has been done. Now to make it, and the not-insignificant student loan debt incurred along the way, worthwhile. But it’s a gamble one takes if one wishes to advance not only his life, but as I’ve always said, the lives of many others. We shall see how everything plays out.

And I FINALLY RETURN!

”Report, report, I think I have a blind traveler sighting! I repeat, I think I have a blind traveler sighting!”

I’m reading you Bob, loud and clear. But what’s that animal that’s got a hold of him?”

”I don’t know, but it’s making some kind of strange sound…”

It’s hissing, it’s… it’s… spitting ink and paper and, oh no what’s that? Grey matter! Get away from the academic stuff!”

Yup, that’s right folks. I am finally resurfacing to darken your virtual pages again. I have indeed been attacked by the vicious CAAAAPPPPS, otherwise known as the Capstone project required to wind down my Master’s program. I’m kind of amazed I might Be emerging mostly in tact at the end, as we have entered that glorious stage where the professor and I go back and forth until we agree on something that is good enough. Whacking out a comprehensive Strategic Communications Plan for the Norrie Disease Association that I hope to, I don’t know, use? Once I again have time to do so.

And speaking of time and its crazy antics, I now stand at the precipice of one of the greatest transitions I will ever know, that of tying the proverbial knot. But what about the Floating Chapel idea? Well, that ship has sailed. Literally, without us on board. When I made that initial post, we had planned to have our wedding ceremony on September 9th. It did not take long to determine that would probably not work, both because it was pretty quick to get things done, and because we realized that a hurricane would likely hit at that time. And what do ya know, one did? (I think Irma, but there were so many Cat4 storms this year that it’s hard to keep them all straight.

Due to those disasters, and the grudging realization that such a unique arrangement would probably not work for our families, and after scheduling the cruise for January at first, we have decided instead on a landlocked ceremony in Fayetteville. This location is fairly accessible to all of the folks we are hoping will attend, as well as allowing for a larger group of congregants. It will still happen on January 27th, winter storm or no, though cross fingers that one does not happen. We’re looking forward to it of course, as just bringing our lives together is the primary goal. And of course, we will do our own traveling someday.

Along with marriage and completion of grad school, I am beginning to prepare for the third stage of our existence; making a home. We are now renting a nice town home in Cary, a fair-sized town in the heart of the North Carolina Triangle. The good of this place is that it is equidistant to Raleigh or Durham, meaning that if I find work in either of these locales I would have a fairly easy time getting there. The only possible issue is that transit here is built pretty much on the idea of getting people to and from work, and so there are few linkages to other towns during actual working hours. This is not a deal breaker in the era of Uber and Lyft, and with the ability to even use the six Amtrak trains that traverse the cities during the day if necessary, but it does point to fun challenges that continue to exist in public transit. I also know that the Triangle continues to grow, and perhaps some time soon demand will be such that they can maintain more frequent routes.

So those are some of the things over which I am mulling these days, some of the most exciting and busy days I have ever experienced. I’m looking forward to continued change, and wondering what indeed is around that bend. You’ll know when I do.

On Messaging and Connection

I heard just yesterday that Aol Instant Messenger is shutting its proverbial doors on December 15 of this year for the last time. I remember that sound actually, the door shutting and opening as people signed off and online. The latter always excited me, leaving me to wonder who and in what far-flung part of the world the most recent addition was. I used to want to have so many contacts on my buddy list (buddy list? Yup, that’s what it was called) that those sounds would almost never stop. Weird desire, huh?

AIM was one of the first things I did with my personal Internet actually. On a computer with next-to-no memory by today’s standards at about this time in 2001, I logged on with username Johnmill79 and had a lengthy conversation with one of my friends only a few miles away, but to whom I would have had to talk via long distance prior to that. He kept saying “lol” and because I wasn’t looking at the spelling as my screen-reading software enunciated the syllables, I wondered “why does he keep saying whoa!” It was my introduction to NetSpeak, a concept that has now become so much a part of the language that it is even spoken. OMG, really?

That poor computer could only hold up for a couple of hours though, and after frantic conversation the synthetic voice was reduced to a stutter so bad I gave up and pressed restart. That’s the thing though, because that technology was sort of slow and less portable, we were not as able to be so, some would argue unhealthily, immersed in it as we are nowadays. You had to leave your desktop in the dorm room and go out onto the yard to actually talk to people.

That may be so, but even still it had an impact. Shy guys like me could in fact meet people, and by “people” I of course primarily mean women, in a forum that catered to my preferred method of interaction: writing. I “connected” with folks as far afield as Sydney Australia, Tokyo Japan, and the University of Iowa. A couple of them, one from small town Alabama and another from Greensboro North Carolina I thought I might get to meet in person, but for various reasons that never quite happened. (Read: broke undergraduate).

I was also introduced to the strange concept of starting a conversation with someone local, a woman I’d met in my residence hall, and talking to her without a clear notion of where she was. This is of course commonplace now with cell phones, but before that usually if someone was talking to you telephonically, they were also tied to a particular location.

Time marched on, and MSN Messenger soon became supreme, only to be pushed aside by Skype and voice capability, which Microsoft of course then bought. Then they all got slapped around by Facebook, which will I suppose someday be subsumed by someone else. I think though that the random openness of those early days has long gone away. Most of us, smartly I suppose, only really talk to people in our own circles. But it was kind of fun trying to teach a French or Chinese person a little English, until the conversation inevitably got weird. And that, of course, is the problem: just dealing with the qualms of human nature. And Spam, etc.

I think AIM had tried to compete in this new Mobile world, but they simply didn’t have the infrastructure to do so. I now do most of my connecting via Twitter, and the issue with this is indeed its portability. My iPhone, which I have now possessed in varying versions for just over 5 years as of September 21, has opened my world in ways I once could hardly imagine. It enhances my Twitter influence, especially in the area of book recommendations that I post in the form of #FridayReads mini-reviews each Friday, tagging the author if possible.

I think this is one of many examples of how social media can be a source of good and add to one’s life, but I very readily acknowledge the need to control it so it doesn’t control you. To that end, I set my phone’s timer for 20 minutes three times a day, and shut everything down until it rings. This allows my brain to work through itself without distractions and occasionally come up with solutions to my vexing issues. I also just leave it on my desk in most cases when heading to meal time, so that I remember to talk to people without being bombarded with incoming notifications. And even if it is on me, I can just ignore those vibrations for a bit. I am not a mouse, after all.

I know that some of our youngest readers grew up as AIM was coming online, and others know almost nothing before social media and texting really took over. As many have said, this may not be as bad as some of us old fogey fear, as the research is only beginning on the full effects. But well who knows.

What do you remember a bout your first time logging onto Aim? Did you ever meet someone in person whom you had first encountered in that virtual space? How creative was your username.

Completing Personal 38th Solar Revolution: Or, Happy Birthday To Me

It has already been so long since I last posted on this thing that I barely remembered how to log in. But that should surprise no one, as grad school has finally reached fever pitch and my research project, such as it is, has commenced. That’s right, I have approximately 13 weeks to complete a presentable Capstone in order to finish my Master of Arts degree at Queens, and at this point I only have a vague idea of what I’m even doing. My main objective, as it has been throughout my time in this program, is to continue learning more effective ways of leadership for nonprofits such as the Norrie Disease Association. But before we dive all the way into that, I must do and pass a comprehensive exam this week wherein at least one communications theory will be applied to a random article. Sounds like fun times, right?

And as this new year of my existence begins, I find myself confronting a number of other shifts in the sand that will be discussed later. Needless to say, the transitions I have undergone as the previous year closed and this one opens have been and will be unlike anything I’ve ever known. I’m excited yet nervous, knowing that these will require me to live up to a standard I have never yet achieved. But as I often tell myself, one should always be striving to grow and improve anyway. That’s what the “and one to grow on” pinch meant as a kid.

There are many things I miss about being a kid, but perhaps those “birthday licks” are not necessarily among them? Haha, but they were usually all in fun anyway. I find myself, as always at this time of year, reflecting on past birthdays, those remembered and relayed in stories.

I guess turning 1 wasn’t really a big deal to me. My mom said they threw me a big party, but I…went to sleep in the cake! I hope that was just my slice of cake, and not the whole thing. MMM.

Most of the rest of my birthdays as a kid were shared with my next oldest sister, as we, the oldest twins, and my two youngest sisters each share a month. Whether this pairing was done on purpose or not I can’t say, but it made for convenient party-throwing for the adults I assume. I never minded much, as long as I got plenty of food and cake.

I was trying to remember what my 18th day was like, the first spent away from home at UNC Charlotte, but given that I am older than dirt even that time has now grown distant. I would bet that since I was usually afraid to venture far beyond my dorm in that turbulent freshman year, that it was spent alone in my room with the portable TV and some chocolate chip cookies taken from the residence Dining Hall, (RDH) to chow on later. I kind of hope not though.

Over the next three years of those fun college times, I often had sorority girls take me to restaurants, and especially of course when I turned 21 and downed that first alcoholic beverage. We had a fairly limited selection in those days though, so mostly I chose Outback Steakhouse where I ate their Alice Springs Chicken. That place is kind of pricey for what you get, but it does bring back memories.

In more recent years I’ve just taken the day off work and celebrated it with co-workers, as I did in 2013, or heading over to an expensive restaurant in Durham as a loner, which I’d done in 2014. And of course the last two years were great trips with my now fiancee to Wrightsville Beach and Myrtle Beach respectively.

So what does one do for a 38th birthday? One not imbued with much significance, along with being stuck in the middle of the workweek. Probably not a whole lot, other than prepping for said exam and looking at critiques provided by the prof on my project rationale. I did have a nice weekend with the woman, which included my first ever Greek fest that I intended to write about before being laid out by a cold from which I’m still recovering. It was interesting, in a giant building on the N.C. State Fair Grounds. We weren’t all that hungry so didn’t partake of much of the food there, other than some Greek donuts. We were interested in why many of these festivals take place at the same time, deducing that there is some kind of religious significance given its ties to the Orthodox Church. Is it to do with harvest? I did a search, and could find very little information on that.

In any event, we shall see what this next trip around the sun will hold for me. One thing I’m sure will be present in greater quantities once I emerge from this academic mountain will be blog posts, so stay tuned.

#Eclipse2017 : A Blind Man’s Perspective

People often ask me “do you ever wish you could see?” Mostly my response to that question is “nope, I don’t really care for it.” about the only exception to that is wishing I had some firm way to grasp astronomical phenomena, such as your every day sunrise/sunset, and the rarest of rare, total solar eclipses.

Given that everyone called this thing the “Great American Eclipse,” I wonder if it was only viewable in the US. I guess I’ve heard that people throughout North America could also see it, but I don’t know this for sure.

Technology, or more accurately the people who create this technology, continues to try and make a dent in what we as blind individuals, not to mention other disabilities of course, are able to access. To that end, a group of scientists from the Harvard Smithsonian Museum created Eclipse Soundscapes, an iOS and Android app that would allow us to “feel” and “hear” the eclipse. This is done by moving one’s finger around on the screen in what is called a Rumble Map, and noticing the change in tone and vibration that indicate features viewable in the image. These features are accompanied by text-based and verbal descriptions that help the blind “viewer” conceptualize what he or she is experiencing.

The app aims to make it possible for us to participate in all of the hype that has surrounded this day. To aid in this participation, it notifies us of beginning, peak, and end times of the eclipse in our exact location, as well as percentage. I knew, for example, that in my part of Charlotte it started at 1:12 PM and 20-someodd seconds, peaked at 97% of the total at 2:41, and was completed by 4:04 (not found). Get it? I know, I’m weird.

I decided it would be more fun to partake of this event while surrounded by people. I had heard, for instance, that people might act a little more strangely as the sun disappeared behind? under? (see, I still don’t entirely understand it) the moon. So I ventured to an area Starbucks located at a nice shopping center, and initially went inside for coffee, while attempting to complete some classwork. Only “BLEEP, BLEEP, BLEEP!, the fire alarm immediately went off! The barista dragged me out of the building, newly purchased coffee still clenched in my hand (because nobody’s taking that away apparently), and I sat at the outdoor table from 1:15 till 1:30. The truck rolled up, and they shut it down in quick order. I doubt anything serious had actually occurred, as I smelled nothing upon re-entering. That annoyance out of the way, I scampered inside and quickly did what I needed to using the WiFi so that I could head back out around 2:30.

And well, I sure hope what I then heard was just people getting “weird”. This woman started cursing someone out, the other voice I was unable to hear, saying “You acting like you wanna fight, like you all bad, then you wanna call the police? Gone head! How big and bad are you. You ain’t *beep* nothin’. Just spittin’ noise.” I subtly seized my backpack and was ready to run, if anything further popped off. I was mostly just wishing they (she) would calm down.

After that fun, Mother Nature finally decided it was time for a little fun of her own. As the event happened, I could indeed feel it cool off so substantially that what had been a sweaty stickiness quickly turned comfortable. I was not in a sunny area, but even if I had been I believe some clouds had passed through at the highest level of impact we experienced.

As far as the Soundscapes app? Well, I found the descriptions to be of help at least. I learned that there are four primary types of events during an eclipse: Baily’s Beads, which are the initial bursts of light as the Moon begins to obscure the sun, Helmet Streamers, or projections of light from the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, or part of the sun viewable during totality, and diamond rings, seen as the sun begins to re-emerge. To me, these felt pretty much the same when attempting to use the Rumble Map, mainly because it was difficult to work out exactly where the variations were. If I were to make a recommendation for future projects, it would be that, rather than having the tonal level simply change, it might point things out more clearly to have different tones that represent different things. Then add some kind of key, so that we would know what these sounds mean. I understand of course that this sort of thing would require more effort, but it is a thought.

In any event, I appreciate the folks who worked hard to bring us that kind of feature, and make it more possible for us to enjoy something that was all over our news, on everyone’s minds, and as someone else said, a positive experience that we could all share in contrast to so much of what happens lately. They state that this project will continue and take on new forms, and I for one am excited to see where it goes. This kind of stuff has always interested me. I guess this is the only total solar eclipse we have had since 1979 (hey that’s the year I was born!) but I seem to remember other partial eclipses when younger. My sisters wishing to get a look, and having to protect their eyes first. And speaking of that, I hope you all were able to successfully protect yours, and that enjoyment does not result in issues later. Till next time, don’t let the sun go down on me.

Meeting Sandra Brown

Again I had the opportunity to meet a well-known author, as discovered by Twitter. On what I think was her third tour stop, New York Times bestselling writer Sandra Brown came to Charlotte’s Park Road books to promote her recently released title “Seeing Red”. As it had just dropped on Tuesday, none of those in the appreciably-sized audience had yet completed it. I am not sure when I will get around to it, as my booklist is already large and growing more quickly than I can maintain it, but I have enjoyed the four other titles by her that I’ve read. These are: Envy, Mean Streak, Ricochet, and The Crush. As she is Southern, (which one can clearly hear in her accent), many of her titles take place in this storied part of the United States that I call home.

But before I attempt to recall what the meeting was like (and we all know my reliability on that score is questionable at best so I hope I am not eviscerated if slightly inaccurate) let’s look at how I got there. I am nothing if not a good planner. Not in the sense that I plan my life and know what on earth I’m doing, hey I’m working on that part but well..,. Anyway, more along the lines of figuring out how I will travel to a destination and what I will find there. Because I had errands to run at Queens University anyway, I decided I would head to that side of town and just stay over there until the time came for Brown’s presentation, which was at 7 PM.

Of course this meant I needed to find somewhere to eat. So I launched the GPS app BlindSquare to do a search for restaurants near Park Road Books and found one called the Park Road Soda Shop, only a couple doors down. I confirmed its existence with Google Maps, since sometimes BlindSquare has given me erroneous entries. The ambience and food very much reminded me of a spot I often frequented while residing in the Triangle, Suttons Drugstore on Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street. This is on purpose, as the Charlotte restaurant also bills itself as a throwback diner in the 50’s style, serving burgers, dogs, and shakes. I ordered two hot dogs all the way, fries, orangeade, and a lemon pound cake to go. All were delicious.

Upon exiting, I found a table and chairs immediately outside of the door. Probably questioning my sanity for parking there in the intense heat (but I love it hot!), a passerby woman carrying a child offered to assist me down to Park Road Books. At that time it was only 5:30 or so, but as the crowd size began to swell around 6 I was glad to have secured seating. Given my hearing issues, I should probably have sat closer to the front. It was all good though, and everyone around me was nice. One of the workers piled my plate with refreshments: cubes of cheddar cheese, crackers, and two deep sugar cookies. That actually filled me up even more.

A bit harried from a crazy day that had involved airport delays, a driver taking her to the wrong place, and a morning interview, Ms. Brown arrived pretty much on time and began to regale us. The room roared with laughter for most of it, which meant that I didn’t exactly pick up on all of the jokes. But she told us about the inspiration behind “Seeing Red” which was that her daughter was in the area where the Oklahoma City terror attack occurred in 1995, and Brown worried about her safety. She was fine, thankfully, but the city was shaken up obviously. From this arose a book in which a female journalist attempts to interview a survivor of a similar attack who had become a photographic icon, but for reasons unknown decided to disappear from the media’s eye. As with much of Brown’s work, there is suspense and sexuality, and as she told us, a deliberate conflict between the male hero and female heroine. This is what moves the story forward.

After her amusing presentation, she took a series of questions. What is her writing routine like? She rarely if ever writes at home, having established an office with a couple of employees into which she can retreat to do her work. She says this helps her separate the spheres more effectively, as people would sometimes not take her writing time seriously, and she too would allow herself to be distracted.

Does she ever write multiple books at once? Again, no, because she enjoys having a life.

“I wish I had the energy of my colleagues,” she quips, “but I don’t know how they do it. … Putting out a book a year is enough for me.”

The final question came from an individual whom I think has written her own book and is trying to decide how next to proceed with regards to publishing. Brown says she thinks the editorial filter is still needed, as it can help “protect consumers” from shaky writing. She compares it to other purchases, such as cars and appliances, which must receive inspections before being distributed to the public. While she does note this, she also states that self-publishing just wasn’t her path but if one really wants to go that route then give it a roll.

“I just feel that if it has my name on it, I want it to be as good as it can be,” she says in closing. “If an editor is asking a question, then the reader will probably ask it as well” a good reason to listen carefully to what they have to say and make revisions where necessary.

At the talk’s conclusion, we were invited to meet and shake hands with Ms. Brown. I did this quickly, welcoming her to our city (I should have said the Queen City), and thanking her for coming. I was then whisked outside, where I sat on a cushioned chair and listened to the town go by until my ride arrived.

So all in all, it was a fun night out in Charlotte. I continue to get my feet all the way under me as time goes by, and certainly being able to plan and successfully execute an evening like this is a confidence boost. Hopefully I will have some major other types of confidence boosters to report on shortly, but those will come when finalized. Till then, I’ll keep on reading.

RELATED: Meeting Carla Buckley

#FridayReads The Untold Story of the Talking Book

Whenever I type that title, I keep wanting to put “audiobook” instead. This is because I find the term “Talking book” strange. Makes it sound as if the printed pages are actually speaking, which ok I guess in a way they are.

I am reading a nonfiction piece, a result of Matthew Rubery’s research project called The Untold Story of the Talking Book. And as one who has grown up immersed in this media, I love learning about the ins and outs of how it truly came to be.

RELATED: Listen to an interview with the author couched in that Blind Bargains Podcast episode.

I have only just begun reading, but I already know it’s course. He notes Edison’s invention of the phonograph and the savvy advertising that slowly convinced people of its utility, how audiobooks really came to life as a way to service newly blinded soldiers after World War I?, their slow but continuous growth with all of its attendant controversies, and concerns over Audible, the granddaddy of audiobook companies, taking everything over. In between, there lies the content of what could be a college-level course. I am intrigued to continue grasping the main way that reading, especially initially and even counting into the smartphone era, has become accessible to me.

The funny thing I suppose is the way I am in fact consuming this book. I read the introduction via a digital audio file downloaded from BARD, the Braille and Audio Reading Download service provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. I eventually decided though that I was gaining nothing from having it narrated, and switched to a Braille copy obtained through Bookshare and consumed on the phone with my refreshable 40-cell display. (As an aside, I have noticed a spiking interest in my silly Braille post made in late 2015, so I hope you all are having fun with that!)

I have for a long time now enjoyed taking in books through multiple modalities. Each suits me at its time. Audio is great for winding down at bedtime, and when I was at the workshop, snatching a few minutes of a thriller or great memoir to fortify me during the breaks as I prepared to enter another segment of the day. Braille works best when I’m outside and wish to listen to and absorb my environment as I read, or if on a long road trip as it can make time speed by. I know too that they stimulate the brain in slightly different, but equally interesting, ways. So I would definitely say that each has its place.

Given Rubery’s primary focus on audio and the resultant transformations it has wrought though, I want to mostly stick with that vein. Let’s talk about narrators. (Readers? Voice actors? There is even disagreement about what to call them). First, I am in agreement that one who does not do this well can detract from the story. But then “doing it well” is probably subjective. As Rubery states, I have some favorites who will cause me to grab a book even if I have no idea what it is about. And there are others whom I will avoid at all costs, either finding it in Braille or locating another audio version. One of the major areas that is changing as audiobooks gain in popularity is how they are read. They are becoming a little less truer to the printed page, which coincidentally I noticed was even the case with this title as it has been rendered for BARD audiences.

The main way this plays out is in dramatic, or multicast, narration. I actually thoroughly enjoy this kind of performance for what it is, whether one can call it “real reading” or not. I will often take in these books from Audible or its competitor if it looks like something I can get into.

So as you can see with this title, there is more to an audiobook than meets the eye. (Ear? Ah, that’s too easy.) It is a fascinating topic, and one that has been addressed to a surprisingly small degree. I would recommend it to all of the audiophiles out there who, like me, look forward to putting head on pillow, setting the sleep timer, and being whisked off to a new world. After all, this thing we love started somewhere.