Dreaming You Missed Your Final Exam

Not long ago, I had one of those dreams where I was back in college, and, having enrolled in a class, suddenly realized that the final exam day had arrived, and I’d failed to attend any of the lecture, or do any of the homework. You know the dream. It is, it seems, a very common one. I used to have this dream much more often in the years immediately after graduating from college. I never had the dream before, or during college.

It seems amazing to me that the brain has evolved in such a way that lots and lots of people have very similar versions of this dream, and it got me thinking: what did people dream about a few generations back when going to college wasn’t as common as it is today? Then, too, not everyone goes to college today, either by choice or circumstance. Do these people have similar dreams? Did Abraham Lincoln have these types of dreams? Did Da Vinci?

Along the same lines, I occasionally have a dream where I find myself at the airport, taking a plane up for some reason or another. It has been a long time since I have flown, but I manage to get the plane up in the air and safely on its way, before realizing with sudden horror, that I neglected to contact air traffic control.

I sometimes dream of getting into an elevator, which then gets stuck, either very high up in a building, or somewhere deep in the basement.

Much more rare, is the dream I have where I’ve somehow managed to lose a tooth or two. Has this dream always plagued people? I’ll bet George Washington had this dream quite often.

Before airplanes and elevators existed, how did these dreams manifest themselves?

On the whole, I don’t recall my dreams as much as I used to. It seems to me that when I turned 40, my recall of dreams plummeted. There were long periods of time—months at a stretch—when I couldn’t recall a single dream. Recently, I’ve been going through a patch of very vivid dreams.

If I had the choice, I’d choose to sleep without remembering any of my dreams at all. Sleep, for me, is a time to recuperate from the day. I generally fall asleep quickly, and I’d prefer my sleep to be sound, and interrupted by movies playing in my head, especially ones that raise my anxiety level. I have enough anxiety during my waking hours. I don’t need it when I sleep.

Dreams may serve some biological purpose, like aiding in the transfer of short-term memory to long-term storage, but I think they cause more trouble than they are worse. My kids occasionally worry at bedtime that they will have a bad dream. “No you won’t,” I tell them, but I really don’t know that for sure, and I have no way of controlling their dreams, and assuring they won’t have bad ones.

Philip K. Dick asked if androids dreamed of electric sheep. Even that would be preferable to dreaming that you were complete unprepared for your final exam.

Things I Start But Never Finish

I attribute half of the stress I carry on my shoulders to things that I start but never finish. Knowing that I have lots of unfinished things weighs heavily on me. Being unable to finish something bothers me more than being unable to start something.

I thought I’d list some of the things I can never seem to finish here so that you know what I am talking about.

1. Growing a beard. A couple of time a years I get the idea to start growing a beard, only to give up around the two-week mark. Once, I made it three weeks. At three weeks, I stepped into the shower certain I had finally made it over the hump. When I stepped out of the shower, I was clean-shaven. Go figure.

2. Cleaning my desk. I start to clean my desk at least once a week. By “clean” I mean moving something from this side of the desk to that side. Or perhaps, getting rid of a few of the drink containers that have accumulated.  It seems like each time I come back to my desk, it is still cluttered. What’s that old saw: “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what’s the sign of an empty desk?”

3. Clever comments on Facebook and Twitter. I am the wittiest person on social media, and no one knows it. That’s because I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve started typing in a clever reply to something I saw on Facebook or Twitter, only to stop before clicking the “Post” button. Usually, whatever I’ve decided to write is extraordinarily clever, but I hear myself saying, “You don’t need to prove how clever you are,” and I delete it before posting it. You’re welcome.

4. Cujo by Stephen King. I am a Stephen King fan, as anyone who reads this blog regularly almost certainly knows. But the one book I’ve started, and never been able to finish is Cujo. I just can’t get into it. Once a year, I give it a try, and once a year, I give up after 80 pages or so.

5. Angry email messages. A few times a year I will write a scathing email message, and then not send it. It is supposed to make me feel better, but it rarely works. What was far more effective for me, back in the days before everyone had email, was to write an angry letter, fold the letter into an envelope, and stick a stamp on it. Then I’d shred the letter, envelope, stamp and all. Back then a stamp cost 34 cents. Best money I’ve ever spent on therapy.

6. Mid-season baseball games. When April rolls around, I get so excited about the upcoming baseball season I can barely contain myself. I squeeze in as many baseball games on television as time will permit. But then, there is a lull that lasts for about 100 games. Mid-season, I’ll put on a game that seems like it will be interesting, but I rarely make it past the 4th inning.

7. My Vacation in the Golden Age. I started writing my Vacation in the Golden Age posts in 2011, I think. I completed 40 issues, and then paused for more than four years. I couldn’t finish the 41st issue. I finally finished it, not to long ago, and tried to resume my Vacation. I started reading the 42nd issue—and I haven’t been able to finish that one either.

8. My to-do list. More often than not, I don’t get through everything that’s on my to-do list on a given day. This has become striking more apparent since I started using Todoist. I start each day with the intention of completing everything on the list, and end it with items staring back at me, unfinished. They get moved to the next day, and the cycle repeats itself.

9. Revisions to old stories. I’ve got half a dozen old stories for which I wrote a first draft, but never finished a second draft. I started the second draft, but I lost enthusiasm and set the story aside. I assume this means that the story is no-good, or that I am not yet skilled enough as a writer to handle it properly. Still, it irks me to have those unfinished drafts hanging around, reminding me that even with something I enjoy, I can’t always finish what I start.

I have a 10th example, but I don’t have time to finish this post right now. Kelly and the kids have just returned home, and it’s already past the Little Miss’s normal bath time. Lunches have to be made, and the evening chores need to be done. And there are still 3 items on my to-do list that I probably won’t have time to finish either. So example number ten will have to wait. I’ll finish this later.

The Ghosts of “White Christmas” Past

One of the things I most look forward to about Christmas is sitting down with Kelly in my in-laws large family room on Christmas Eve and watching White Christmas. If I had to pick a favorite movie, that would be it. I never tire of the movie, though I watch it sparingly, and usually only around Christmastime.

As much as I love watching the movie, I am struck by the knowledge that the people who seem so alive and vibrant on the screen are almost all dead today. The movie was released in 1954, making it 62 years old. Watching the movie, I can’t help but think of the passage of time. Last night, I decided to look up the 8 actors who had what I consider to be significant roles in the picture. Here is what I learned.

1. Bing Crosby, b. 1903, d. 1977. Bing is one of my favorite entertainers. I know more Bing Crosby songs by heart than I do from any other performer. I’ve sung those songs to all three of my kids in place of lullabies when they were babies. Bing lived another 23 years after White Christmas appeared. He died from a heart attack in Spain, after finishing a round of golf with friends.

2. Danny Kaye, b. 1911, d. 1987. Kaye’s comic gag (holding his injured arm when he wants Crosby to do something for him) has become a long-standing joke between me and one of my friends at work. In meetings, inevitably, one of us will hold our arms in pain when we are trying to convince the other to do something our way. Kaye lived another 33 years after White Christmas.

3. Rosemary Clooney, b. 1928, d. 2002. In the DVD version of White Christmas, Rosemary Clooney provides the commentary track. She had a long career after White Christmas, including a memorable guest appearance on E. R.. She lived another 48 years after the movie was released.

4. Vera-Ellen Westmeier Rohe, b. 1921, d.1981. Vera-Ellen, who played Clooney’s sister in White Christmas withdrew from public life in the early 1960s after losing a daughter to SIDS. She was 60-year-old when she died in 1981, 27 years after White Christmas was released.

5. Dean Jagger, b. 1903, d. 1991. I always found it amusing that, although Jagger played the old, retired General Waverly, he was actually a few months younger than Bing Crosby. His film career stretched from 1929 to 1987. He was well into his 80s when he died in 1991, 37 years after White Christmas was released.

6. Mary Wickes, b. 1910, d. 1995. Mary Wickes, the gossipy innkeeper, was another actress with a long career after White Christmas, including films like Postcards from the Edge, and Sister Act. She died in 1995, 41 years after White Christmas was released.

7. Johnny Grant, b. 1923, d. 2008. Grant, who played Ed Harrison in White Christmas seemed familiar to me. When I looked him up, I realized why. He was the honorary mayor of Hollywood. He was 84-year-old when he died, some 54 years after the release of White Christmas.

8. Anne Whitfield, b. 1938. Last, but not least, is Anne Whitfield, who played General Waverly’s granddaughter, Susan, in White Christmas. When I watch an old movie, I am particularly curious what the life of the children in the movie was like. How did they grow up? What happened to them? Well, I’m pleased to end this macabre parade on a happy note. Anne Whitfield is still alive as of this writing. Young Susan Waverly, who wasn’t more than 16 when the movie was released, is now 78 years old. She has the dubious honor of winning this little contest.

Maybe, by writing this piece, I’ve gotten it out of my system. I’m hopeful that when I sit down to watch the movie on Christmas Eve, I will no longer wonder if everyone I am seeing is still with us today. Instead, I’ll try to enjoy the picture. Bing Crosby would be 113 years old this year. Like they sing in the movie, “We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go…” I’d follow him back to Pine Tree, Vermont anytime.

How Many Posts Are Too Many?

Yesterday, I published three blog posts in the space of a few hours. It got me thinking about what the optimal number of posts are on a given day. I go through phases of writing and right now, I am on one of my manic phases, writing a lot of posts. There is nothing wrong with that, except that I feel compelled to publish the post right away. I should probably hold some of these back for days when I am not so prolific, but the posts burn a hole in my drafts folder, and I relent.

On days when I publish multiple posts, no one post performs as well as on days when I have just a single post. I haven’t explored the data for this in any detail it is just intuitive. In November, I published 41 posts. I published a post on every day of the month, and that means that I averaged 1-1/3rd posts per day. On average my posts were just shy of 500 words each.

Blog word count
A look a the monthly word counts of posts on my blog over the last 11+ years.

Since November 2005, I’ve published 6,105 posts. That’s a time span over just over 4,000 days, and it means that on average, I published 1.5 posts per day. I wonder how this corresponds to the traffic I see on the blog? Would I see more traffic if I published just 1 post per day on average? It seems counterintuitive. Popular blogs seem to be publishing frantically. You’d think all of those posts would compete with one another.

Feedly tells me that Lifehacker publishes 177 stories per week. That’s more than one story per hour, for every hour of the week. The Verge publishes 279 stories per week. The Mary Sue publishes 98 stories per week. Feedly tells me that my blog posts, on average, 10 stories per week. Book authors are often warned not to saturate the market with more than one book per year, lest the books compete with one another. That doesn’t seem to be the case with blogging.

I’ve been blogging for a long time now. I think its fair to say that with more than 10 years, 6,000 posts, and 2.2 million words of copy, that I’m something of an expert. But I still feel like I don’t know what I am doing sometimes. And so sometimes I publish three posts in a single day, even when it is not necessarily the best thing to do.

I think of the blog the way I imagine a syndicated columnist thinks about their column: if you have a weekly column, you publish one column per week. For me, it’s a daily column, and I aim for one column per day.

I need to remind myself that I can write as many posts as I want in a day. I just need to have a little self-control when it comes to hitting the Publish button.

A Solution to the Timezone Conversion Problem in Software Development

Anyone who has ever had to write code dealing with timezones and the conversations thereof knows what an impossible mess things become. I am writing some Python code in which I am taking dates/times in UTC and converting them to local time. This sounds like a simple matter of adding or subtracting a certain number of hours from the UTC time. A line of code should take care of it. I have yet to see a single line of code that can perform this operation. StackOverflow has hundreds of posts on this issue, each one more complicated than the last. But after lots and lots of thought, I have come up with a solution that makes the whole problem obsolete.

My solution is simple. Do away with timezones entirely. Make Greenwich Mean Time the standard across the globe. When it is noon in London, it is noon everywhere. That might sound silly, but the fact that I got to bed at 9 pm and wake up at 5 am are completely arbitrary. I got to bed when I feel tired. Often that is when it is dark out. I tend to wake up before the sun rises. So what if that time happens to be called 2 am – 10 am. I am an early lunch-eater. I generally eat around 11 am. In GMT, where I live, that’s 4 pm. So what if I call that time 4 pm when the sun hasn’t even reached its zenith yet?

It makes scheduling meetings easier, too. I do a lot of meeting scheduling because many of the people I work with are in California, which is 3 time zones behind Virginia. I am constantly doing math in my head: “Let’s see, if the meeting is 3 pm here that’s 6 pm in Santa Monica, right? No! Other way around. It’s noon in Santa Monica. Darn it! Everyone will be at lunch!”

It wold be much easier just to say that meeting will be at 3 pm. The sun will be a further west in the sky here at 3 pm than it will be at 3 pm in Santa Monica. But so what? The sun is higher in the sky in Bogotá, Colombia than it is in Arlington, Virginia at noon today, and both cities are in the same timezone.

And while we are at it, let’s just get rid of Daylight Saving Time. It adds a nasty wrinkle to the time conversions that make things more complicated than irregular verbs in an English grammar. Besides, Daylight Saving Time no longer matters when everyone is in the same timezone. There will be people heading to work at 11:30 pm just as the sun is starting to rise. Will altering that time to 12:30 am make a difference under those circumstances?

Sure, it will require some amount of adjustment. A lot of computer programs will have to be rewritten, and I can only imagine the havoc such a change would create for things like airline schedules. But certainly it is worth it for the entire world to change just so that we programmers no longer have to deal with the complicated mess that is timezone conversations.

Don’t you agree?

Writing on Paper

There is something satisfying about writing on paper. It is pleasant to see the pile of double-spaced pages accumulate to one side the desk. I am old enough to remember when typewriters were more common than computers, and I had the opportunity to use a few for practical purposes like writing stories or typing letters. One of my favorite things was pulling a completed page off the roller and setting it onto the stack of accumulating pages. The feeling was as satisfying as crossing an item off a to-do list, and there was something tangible to show for it.

In all the years that I’ve been writing on computer—and I’ve been writing on computer for far longer than I ever wrote on a typewriter—I have never found the experience to be quite as satisfying. It is physically easier for me to write on computer than it was on a typewriter. But it just isn’t as satisfying. I miss the accumulation of pages.

Word processors try to make up for this by providing various indications of progress. As I write this post (in Scrivener) there are numbers at the bottom of my window that tell me how many words I’ve written, and how many characters I’ve typed. When I wrote on a typewriter, I never cared about how many words I wrote. Today, word counts are like calorie counts. They are everywhere. But they are not as satisfying as seeing the pages stack up on the desk.

I’ve tried various gimmicks. I can make it look like I am typing on a printed page by changing the layout of my screen, but the pages still don’t accumulate on my desk they did with a typewriter. And besides, you can take WYSIWYG too far. Formatting distracts me from what I am trying to write. I am not trying to layout a newspaper or magazine. I’m writing a story, or a post.

A "page" in my word processor
A “page” in Scrivener. Nice, but it still doesn’t stack up in a neat pile on my desk.

I use the backspace key more on a computer than I did on a typewriter. I was more careful with my typing on the typewriter. After all, I had to pay for the typing paper I used. Too many mistakes, too many do-overs, cost money. Retyping entire pages took time. In some respects, word processors are an improvement over this. But typing forced me to think carefully about what I was writing before I touched the keys. When I typed on a typewriter, I felt more like a craftsman. I was more careful, and tried not to make as many mistakes.

Typewriters keys made a satisfying clicking sound that just can’t be reproduced by computer keyboards. I switched to a mechanical keyboard on my desktop computer at home, but it still doesn’t compare to the click made by the type bars striking paper. You can buy software that emulates the sound on a computer, but to my ears, it sounds about as natural as the lens clicking sound an iPhone camera makes when you snap a photo.

Sometimes, I would write letters on the typewriter. Composing a letter on a typewriter was more satisfying than composing an email on a computer. But then again, that may have nothing to do with the tool being used. Writing a letter is always more satisfying to me than writing an email, even if I typed both on a typewriter. I do far too little of the former, and far too much of the latter.

Still, typing on computer has its advantages. I sometimes wonder that if this was a newspaper column instead of a blog, would I have had the fortitude to bang out more than 6,100 columns on a typewriter? How many stacks of paper would that have added up to? Assuming that the average post here is about 500 words, that comes to something like 25 reams of paper. There are 10 reams in a standard sized paper box. That means this blog would have filled more than 2 boxes full of paper, something over 12,500 double-spaced pages. It is impossible to scroll through this blog and get the same sense of satisfaction that it would be to behold 25 reams of paper stacked up in a corner of the office.

I enjoy writing, and I derive a great deal of pleasure by something as simple as finishing a post. But I still wish I could see those pages accumulating beside me.

No Glasses Today

I left home without my glasses this morning. These days, I need a fairly weak prescription  (Kelly calls it weak) for when I am looking at the computer screen. I have a somewhat stronger prescription for when I am reading. I thought I left my glasses in the car, and duly told Todoist to remind me to check in the morning. When I checked before leaving for the office, the glasses were not in the car. I don’t know where they are.

I had perfect vision until I turned 40. When I went for my eye appointment back then, I bragged about this to my eye doctor. He just shrugged, and said, “Once you hit forty, it will start to get worse quickly. Watch and see.” I think the “watch and see” was his attempt at a pun, but he didn’t laugh, so who knows. And now, he’s retiring so perhaps I’ll never know. But he was right. It’s time for another eye appointment, and I think the doctor is going to tell me that my old “weak” prescription is no longer work for me.

I mention this because it is not as easy to read what’s on the screen without my glasses than it is with my glasses. If there are more typos than usual today, you’ll know that it is not because I am lazy in my proofreading (I am!) but because I can’t actually see the errors clearly.

Come to think of it, I wonder if that excuse would have worked back when I was writing papers in college?

Truncated RSS Feeds: The Syndicated Web’s Click-Bait

When reading articles, nothing annoys me more than truncated RSS feeds. I still use RSS, despite repeated claims over the years that RSS is dead. When I find an interesting blog or site, I add its RSS feed to Feedly. Now that Feedly has notes and article highlighting, along with their Knowledge Boards, I’ve come to use it more and more as a digital commonplace book. And I depend on RSS for making it easy.

It irks me to find an interesting article in Feedly, and start reading, only to discover that I have to jump back to the source site to read the full text. It is the blogging equivalent of a newspaper telling you the story is continued on Page 17, Col. 2. Newspaper editors know that writers lose many readers once they have to fiddle with the paper to get to Page 17, Col. 2. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve stopped reading where an RSS abstract ends, rather than jump back to the original site.

An RSS feed can be deployed in one of two ways: a feed which contains the entire text of each article in the feed; or a truncated feed, which contains a brief extract, usually the first few lines of the article in question. Truncated RSS feeds are useless to me. But I know why they exist. They are the syndicated web’s version of click-bait. A truncated RSS feed requires a reader to click back to the originating site in order to read the rest of the article. This helps ensure that the site itself gets those visits and ratchets up the traffic to the site.

The RSS feed for this blog contains the full text, not a truncated feed. It is more important to me that readers can read this blog in whatever form they feel most comfortable, than it is to boost the visits directly to the blog.

I used to have some articles set up with “Read More…” options so that the full post wasn’t displayed on the main page, but you had to click-through to read it. Even that was too much for me. I removed that years ago from posts, and now, the full post is dumped onto the main page of the blog, as well as in the RSS feed. I see it as removing roadblocks so that readers can focus on reading not clicking.

When a truncated RSS feed is used in place of a full text version, it seems to me that the blogger (or editor, or social media manager) is thinking less about their readers and more about themselves. I’m sure that helps with the site stats, but it is not very reader-friendly, and ultimately, it is the readers that matter. I wish that more sites would flip that around, and trade some clicks for some good will on the part of their readers.

We get enough click-bait as it is.

A Controversial Opinion on Task Priorities in To-Do Lists

It’s is useful to express a controversial opinion now and then, and today, I have an opinion about task prioritization methods. I find most of them utterly useless.

Every to-do system, it seems, has a method for prioritizing tasks. Typically, priority is expression in one of three—sometimes four—values: Low, Medium, High—and occasionally, Urgent. Sometimes, a variant of this scoring is used (1, 2, or 3, !, !!, !!!, etc.).

I have never found this method of priority in the slightest bit useful, and I am surprised that others find it so useful. And people must find it useful, if software-makers continue to include this odd system of priority in their products.

I have two main objections to the way priority is handled in to-do systems.

  1. It is a subjective measure, and at best, a relative measure.
  2. It is redundant.

Due dates are useful because they provide a specific measurement for a given to-do item. If I create a task and give it a due date of Saturday, I can, at any point in time, measure how much time is left before it is due. There is nothing subjective about it.

Priority, on the other hand, is a subjective “measurement” that is relative to the other tasks on my list. What’s more, the priority of one task is affected by the priority and completion status of all other tasks. If I complete all of the top priority tasks on my list, does that mean that the next highest priority item on the list becomes top priority? What it comes down to for me is that it is often faster to do a task than to assign a priority.

Then, too, priority is redundant. To-do lists are just that: lists. A list can be sorted. Certainly in Todoist, I can easily change the order to tasks by dragging them around in my list. The things at the top of the list are, presumably, the highest priority thing. The things at the bottom, less so. Why do I need two measurements of priority when, visually, the order of the list itself gives me more information than a priority rating does?

There are other problems with priority. What should the distribution of priority levels looks like over time? Is it a bell curve, where most tasks fall in the middle (2s and 3s) with a handful of 1s and 4s as outliers? Am I forcing things into a particular priority bucket for reasons that have nothing to do with priority, but because I want to feel more important about the things I am doing?

I prefer to sort my list based on urgency: how soon does it need to be done versus how long does it take to do it. I might have something due this evening that must be done. But there might be three or four things that take only 2 minutes that I can get out-of-the-way before that “urgent” thing is done.

My list tends to be dynamic in this respect. I like having things sorted in my list in the rough order that I plan on doing them. Often, when someone who is waiting on me asks for an update, I’ll jump to the list and give them the place of their request in the queue: “When can you get me that spreadsheet?” Pause, while I check my list. “You are currently number 7 (or 12, or 19) in my list.” At that point, a person might express urgency, and I can shake things up with that piece of information, if need be. But for me, the priority of tasks is embedded in the order that the list takes at any moment in time.

Giving a task a low, medium, or high priority just seems redundant and unnecessary to me.

An End to Parking

There are few things I like less than driving around looking for a parking spot. I am a first-come, first-parker. When I see an empty spot, even when it is half a mile from the place we’re going, I’ll take it. This is one of the few areas where Kelly and I have a difference of opinion. She is willing to drive around looking for a better spot, and often urges me (strongly urges me) to do better. But parking is one of those things that raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels. Given the choice between searching for a better parking spot, or having a cavity filled, I’d have to think about it seriously before making the decision to have the cavity filled.

“Parking” is an annoyingly misleading word. It gives the impression of parks, and yet leaves you on a sprawling landscape of cracked pavement that looks nothing like a park. Probably, the place was once a “park” and the act of “parking” was to convert the trees and beauty into a bleak cement geometry.

It occurred to me, however, that there is hope on the horizon, in the form of self-driving cars. The current logical progression of such cars is that the will eliminate the need for people to own their own cars, at least, any car that isn’t collectible. When you need a car, you request one, much like you do through über today, the car picks you up, drops you off at your destination, and drives away seeing other passengers.

This means, of course, never having to parking again. If I need to go to the store, I request a car, it drops me off in front of the store, and I go in and do my shopping, requesting another car when I am finished. Probably, this will be an additional question on the self-checkout screen: “Do you need a car?”

Going one step further, however, I realized it might mean an end to most parking lots as well. I could imagine that some car services would give a person the option to have the car wait for them for a short period of time, for which there would need to be space for the car to wait. But in the vast majority of cases, waiting wouldn’t be necessary, and parking lots could be unpaved and replaced with parks. That would also make “Big Yellow Taxi” as obsolete as the rotogravure.

There may be some down sides to self-driving cars. But to never have to park a car again is a huge upside for me. And for now, at least, I am not going to worry about where all of those self-driving cars will be stored when they are not skittering about the roads driving people places.

My Amazon Echo Dot “Alexa” Obsession

My apologies for the lack of a decent post today. The Amazon Echo Dot we ordered arrived a little while ago, and I’ve grown obsessed with figuring out all of the things Alexa can do. I’ve also quickly discovered we need a nickname for Alexa in order to refer to it without triggering it.

So far, Alexa is integrated with our Nest, our Automatic Links, my FitBit, and, most recently, with Todoist, via IFTTT. I’ll be spending far too much time today figuring out what else Alexa can do. I’ll try to be back tomorrow with a proper post. Although, it’s possible that by tomorrow, Alexa will be writing these blog posts for me.

Isaac Asimov and Andy Rooney

In his aptly named memoir, I. Asimov, Isaac Asimov mentions his friendship with Andy Rooney. Asimov writes:

At Rensselaerville I was lucky enough to become acquainted with the inimitable Andy Rooney, who has a summer house there.

In the photos for that section of the book, there is a photo of Isaac Asimov and Andy Rooney together, two peas in a pod.

Isaac Asimov was a big influence on my writing, as anyone who reads this blog knows well. He taught me how to write colloquially, and the style I have cultivated here first began with my reading of hundreds of Isaac Asimov’s essays.

Andy Rooney has also influenced my blogging, although in a different way. Rooney’s humorous style impressed me more than Asimov’s humor, but what Rooney taught me is that it is possible to write about anything and make it interesting1. Whenever I am looking for inspiration for something to write about here, I pick up an Andy Rooney book and begin skimming it. Usually, I am laughing for much of the time thereafter, but I also come away reassured that it really is okay to write about anything, even seemingly small and inconsequential things.

Last night, I was skimming through Sincerely, Andy Rooney, which I first read when it came out in 1999. There was a lot I didn’t remember about the letters in the book—in particular how funny they are. But I was surprised to discover Andy Rooney mentioning the Asimov’s in one of the letter in the book. Rooney writes:

We had dinner with Isaac and Janet Asimov at our home in Rensselaerville a few weeks ago. His brain hasn’t deteriorated but his body isn’t what it was—and it was never very much. Janet is a charming hypochondriac with a medical education which is the worst kind.

The coincidence of discovering that Andy Rooney had mentioned Isaac Asimov, while reading Rooney to get some inspiration, inspired me to write this post about two writers that have inspired me.


  1. At least, interesting to the author, if not the readers.