Archive for March, 2005

Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Book Review.

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

I first read Tolkien in the Summer of 1965. The ace paperbacks came out around that time, and this was before the authorized Ballentine edition appeared. I was amazed, as I was expecting something like a long Jack Vance novel. Instead, I entered Middle Earth, and I have been going back over and over again. There was a time, when I kept count, that I figured that I had read the books 75 times. I have read them many more times since. In the late 1980s I bought the BBC Audio version of the Hobbit and LOTR and when the unabridged cassettes appeared, I found The Fellowship at a flea market and eventually obtained the other books. I have been listening to the Audio books two or three times a year ever since. I have The Simarillion and The Hobbit on tape now, and I listen to them once or twice a year.

Tolkien wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Roverandom and several other books. I have read most of them, including the letters and Christopher Tolkien’s extensive analysis books. I particularly like The Treason of Isengard.

I loaned out my copy of Farmer Giles of Ham and Other Stories around 1970 and I have not seen it since. I found an unabridged audio version of these stories at and I got the last one. (Check the fantasy and SF sections at bookcloseouts frequently; they get in onesies and twosies that sell out quickly.)

The first story, Farmer Giles of Ham, takes up all of the first tape, and is very similar in tone to the beginnings of both The Hobbit and LOTR. It continually reminded me of the language that Tolkien used to describe the Hobbits and their relations, especially Bilbo’s birthday party. The story is fun to read for the characters, and would be a wonderful story for children. Tolkien proves that he is a good story teller, even on a simple children’s tale.

Smith of Wootton Major is very similar in setting,tone, plot, and theme to Lord Dusany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter, although much better written. The dream-like quality of the land of Faerie is beautifully captured. The plot drags on through too many characters, but Tolkien wraps it up well, ending with the beginning as he always does.

Leaf by Niggle is a beautiful little tale, not so suitable for very small children, but will make adults smile.

The Tolkien tradition of writing stories to read to his children is nowhere better represented than here. These stories were meant to be read aloud, and Derek Jacobi does a wonderful job. He captures the inner voice of Tolkien and provides nice voice characterizations with a variety of English brogues, accents and styles of speech.

These are not stories in the grand scale of LOTR. They are fun tales that I don’t think Tolkien took seriously. He worked hard on them, though, and they are well polished and worth reading and re-reading. You can pick this audio book up at Amazon for about $10, and I would recommend them for anyone who has 6 hours to kill in the car. Since I spend almost two hours a day on my commute, I will listen to them over and over again. Houghton Mifflin did a nice job on the production (except for the obligatory cheap synthesized music). It is in a flimsy cardboard box, so I will transfer it to a library cassette box.

My Mother is now into Audio Books. Since Dad died, she is alone all day and lonely. She likes listening to the tapes, and I think that she will like these stories. She told me that she doesn’t want any more Speculative Fiction, but these stories hardly count. I’ll drop them off tonight after my walk around Rockland Lake with Erica.

A Near disaster.

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

When we moved into the house in West Nyack back in 1979, it was the cheapest house on the most expensive block in Rockland County, NY. We bought it for $40,000. It was a tiny bungalow with only a single gas fired “Gravity Heater” in the living room. The grill in the middle of the floor would fire up on cold winter nights and send hot air through the house. It was nice to stand on and feel the hot air, after being out in the cold.

Around 1985, I paid Sears to come in and install a baseboard hot water heating system. I had them include three zones with the third zone not hooked up.

In 1994, after paying off the 15 year mortgage, I refinanced and hired an architect. We put a second story on the bungalow and a side extension. We nearly tripled the square footage of the house. I hired a construction crew to build the shell and I did all the plumbing, electrical, and interior work as well as siding the house. I hired contractors to put on the roof. I used the existing heating zones to provide hot water baseboard heat to the second floor.

Last year the heat circulation pump died. Then I had problems with the water supply control valve. Sunday night the new pump died. The water started to boil away. The pressure valve did not refill the system.

The furnace started to glow cherry red. I woke up to the smell of smoke. I turned off the power to the boiler and it slowly cooled off, but it was ruined. Flames did not flare up, but the electrical is all melted. The solder was melted out of all the piping near the furnace and the boiler is a mess.

We have been heating the house with the wood stove, but I have to order some wood. I wake up and it is 50 degrees in the bedroom. The house warms up quickly when I start a fire. Erica puts some pots on the stove to boil and the sunlight helps warm the house. Luckily, it is not going below freezing at night so it is not an emergency.

I am going tonight to price a new furnace, but we have had some cash flow problems due to sick cats, a dead car, and other small items. The taxes on our house, now assessed at $700,000, are about $15,000 a year. Outsourcing has decreased the pay of a journeyman contract programmer to about $80,000 a year. I used to make $150,000, and in 2001, I made over $200,000. Now I have to sell off my stuff to make monthly payments.

I really miss the old gravity heater. I wish that I had not thrown it out. I am sure it would heat the whole house, even now. I remember cats lying in the middle of it with their fur all puffed in the hot air currents. You could almost hear the cat-fat sizzling.

Happy Birthday Erica!

Sunday, March 27th, 2005

Now everyone knows!


Spring is on its way

Friday, March 25th, 2005

It snowed three inches here and then rained. The snow is going away. It always snows one last time early in April, but I think we are almost there.

Some flowers are starting to push up in the yard.

A crocus appears through the snow.

Some brave tulips peeking up next to the walk.

Little Charlie and Birthday Blues

Friday, March 25th, 2005

Some of my best friends showed up at the Little Charlie gig last Wednesday.

Usual Gang of idiots

Rick and Charlie – too cool for words.

Rick Estrin

I had a great time.

Cat lovers entry

Friday, March 25th, 2005

Erica took some pictures of cats a while back. I cleaned up the compact flash card in her camera and I didn’t want to erase them just yet.

Ollie and Gracie chasing snow mice.

Fafhrd – indignant about spring being so late. and new software

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

I have been running FireFox. instead of Internet Explorer for a few months now and I would suggest that you go out and get yourself a copy now. I use IE only for websites that need specialized ActiveX components and there are only a few of these.

I installed the AdBlock extension and I have been able to get rid of all the ads on Yahoo and a few other places cluttered with ads. While browsing, I noticed that it was executing a script called MyBlogLog. I checked it out and if you go to, you can sign up for free to put a code snippet on your Blog page that lets you know how many people are viewing your site and what outbound links they are clicking.

OUTBOUND LINKS! I think this a great tool. I already have logs that show where my readers are coming from, but now there is way to see where they are going when they leave your page.

I reverse engineered the code today and now I have a little app that records all click actions to see where my users are going. I am testing it on I want to see the patterns of where people go on my websites. If it works, I will put it on every page. I will be collecting huge amounts of data, so I will have to have a cleanup and summarization process.

Once it is stable and I have some good reports written, I will add a user table and allow other people to use the site. I may have to move the URL to another host that can handle the database action.

Little Charlie & the Nigtcats last night

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

I went with friends to see Little Charlie and the Night Cats at the Turning Point Last night. It was better than ever before. Rick Estrin has written many new songs for their 13th album which will be out in a month.

They were great. I enjoyed a song about growing old called “Circling the Drain”. It was particularly appropriate since the reason for the night out, is that the poker guys have birthday nights for each of us. Last night was Poker Blues Birthday Night for me.

Jim and Bob were amazed that they had never heard of Little Charlie other then my mention of them. As Jim said: They are the greatest unknown blues band he’s never heard of.

I’ll post the pictures here as soon as get them out of the camera.

A Foggy Cold Wet First Day of Spring

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

I lost two pounds the last time I walked around Rockland Lake. I went over to Rockland Lake and did it again this morning. This time I took a camera. It was the first day of spring and Erica and I were practically alone. The path around the lake is three miles, and even though it is a well manicured park for much of it, it is strikingly beautiful. On a nice day, there are runners, roller skaters, senior citizens, and families with babies in strollers. On the first day of spring, we met only four people.

It rained lightly and the fog hung in the hills.

We met this fellow on the way to the path.

Here is a look at the northeast corner of the lake.

Here are a couple of shots of an odd tree.

The lake is mostly covered with snow and ice.

The lake has hundreds of Canada Geese, Mallards, and a few dozen Swans.

My legs ached when we reached the three mile marker.

But there was hope. Things did not look so cold. I saw the first Robin of the year.

(It’s hard to see, but there is red-breasted bird there.)

Little brother circa 1970

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

This is Larry playing an old Fender telecaster around 1970. (That guitar is probably worth $10,000 on eBay. I wonder who has it now.)

That’s our backyard in Nyack, NY. The apple tree is gone and the 1958 VW bug died and went to bug heaven a few years later. Larry didn’t cut his hair until well into the 1980s. Larry is such a little kid here. Compare to a picture of him on the ladder a few posts ago. That’s probably Kenny Deloach playing the Strat.

Andre Norton Passed Away Yesterday

Friday, March 18th, 2005

Science Fiction writer Andre Norton died in her Tennessee home, early Thursday morning, March 17th.

Andre Norton was my main inspiration for writing Science Fiction when I was a boy. At age 12 when I was stuck in the San Francisco airport during a strike, I bought four Andre Norton Books from a blind shop keeper for 35 cents each. I still have them. When I finally caught a plane back to New York, by a stroke of luck, I sat next to John W. Cambell, Jr. in first class. He wanted to know what I was reading and I showed him. He smiled.

Along with Heinlein, Bradbury and Asimov, she was my favorite author. I tried to collect all of of her books, but she was always ahead of me. I regret that I never got to meet her.

Andre Norton was 93. She kept many cats and I hope that someone takes care of them.

Another Year

Monday, March 14th, 2005

I am 54 years old today. Another year. I am surprised to see an old man in the mirror, when I expect to see a 12 year old boy. I am not fond of this growing old crap, you would think that the creator could have come up with some alternatives.

Sale: The Hand of Zorgo

Friday, March 11th, 2005

About ten years ago, Larry, my brother, and I found a mechanical hand in a dumpster. We hid it so we could get it when we got back. We never did find it again and Larry told me the story of the alien hand that we found.

I wrote this up and sent it to Tyree at and the sucker bought it for Aoife’s Kiss. I would never have believed that anyone would find this (true) story interesting.

92 days is way too long to wait, though. Tyree has to get his response time down.

I am going to finish up the Privy Diggers Tale and see if he’ll buy that. It is the strangest of all the stories that I’ve written. So far it is about 8,000 words and will go to about 15,000 words so it will a tough sell anywhere and it relies heavily on the weird personalities of my friends as composite characters.

Over at Aji’s House

Tuesday, March 8th, 2005

My friend, Aji Palappillil, took some pictures outside of his house the last time he was home. I am struck by the beauty of the idyllic Indian countryside. It is a strange coincidence that I am also listening to the audio book Queen of the Elephants by Mark Shand.