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shameless pleading





January 2011 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Twenty-eleven, eh? Unpossible. Uncromulent. I’d prefer not to. And, judging by how January has gone, we might as well fast-forward to 2012 and go right to the rain of burning frogs.

What an an attractive possum might look like.

What an attractive possum might look like.

There’s a sad-looking cat out in the orchard. Do NOT bring it inside.

So naturally I put on my coat and wobble outside, peering in the direction of the apple trees. Even with my lousy eyes, I can see that it’s a very sad-looking cat. Probably because it was born a possum. Is there such a thing as a good-looking possum?

While we’re on the subject of cats and the bringing thereof into said house, I must mention that we are in dire need of subscribers in order to continue to feed the little dears (and ourselves), as well as to pay for this website. The “recession” (call it what you will) has been hard on many people, present company definitely included, and, apart from reducing our already meager income, has apparently made many folks understandably reluctant to spend even the pittance ($15) we ask for the yearly subscription the little kitties depend on for their chow. (Aren’t you glad you don’t have to diagram that sentence?) All of which is but a prelude to asking you to subscribe. For the kitties.

gus and phoebe pitch

We can has sponsors?

But wait, I hear you say, that’s only $15 a year, not enough to feed a single tiny kitten! Isn’t there something more I can do?

Why yes, now there is. Simply click the PayPal button below after choosing the number of kitties you would like to feed, and you’ll be signed up for the Word Detective Cute Kitty Cat Food Fund, which will deduct that amount directly from your PayPal account every month. No stamps to lick, no renewals to remember, and you’ll sleep like a top every night knowing that somewhere an unbearably cute cat is sleeping on a full tummy.

Cute Kitty Cat Food Fund

What else. Speaking of eyesight, I woke up early the other morning and discovered, on my way to the bathroom, that I had apparently gone blind in my left eye. Totally black. Bummer. This was especially distressing because that’s my good eye. The right one has been screwed up to the point of near blindness since birth by severe amblyopia, so I’ve actually never seen the world in three dimensions. (So I watched the 2D version of Avatar last year. I heartily recommend the 0D version.) Anyway, I resolved to worry about it later (which is easy when I’m still basically asleep; it takes me a good hour to become functional in the morning) and went back to bed. When I got up later it was working somewhat but hurt quite a bit, so I guess it’s my optic nerve acting up, as happens every so often in my right eye. I had noticed the night before that I suddenly couldn’t read anything at all with my left eye, which tends to support that theory. As of this writing it is still difficult to read printed matter, not a walk in the park on my best days.

All of which brings me to a couple of suggestions for anyone with less than stellar vision who spends a lot of time trying to read things on a computer. I’ve mentioned both of these things before, but they’re so cool I think it’s worth a rerun. One is an add-on for Firefox called No Squint, which allows you to increase the size of a web page and/or just increase the size of the fonts on a page (my preference). You can even set a default magnification for all pages and per-site settings so that every time you go back to Slashdot, for example, the page will be easily readable.

For reading long articles, however, Readability is, hands down, the most radical improvement to the web I’ve ever seen. Faced with a page of tiny type strewn with ads and “most emailed” boxes, you just click a button on your browser toolbar and the page is transformed into a single column of readable text (you can set the size and style) on a perfectly blank page, just as if you’d typed it yourself.


They make great pets!

Elsewhere in the news, we run a fairly tidy ship here at Word Detective World Headquarters, probably because we both grew up in pretty orderly households. My parents really didn’t accumulate anything except books and the piles of New Yorker magazines that seemed to spring up in nearly every room. Time and Newsweek went in the trash after a week, but nobody threw out the New Yorker. As for the books, they were almost all freebies that had arrived in the mail. At some point, for instance, my parents landed on the “free” list at Bantam Books, so every month a large box would arrive packed with mass-market paperbacks representing everything Bantam had issued that month. I loved those boxes. They almost always contained some science fiction, and frequently cool books about science and history. Other books arrived alone or in small bunches from other publishers, and, by the time I left home, the house was literally full of books.

Given my book-lined upbringing, it’s not surprising that it took me until a year or so ago to realize that my office contained way too many books. I had managed to fill five seven-foot bookcases plus one smaller one, and there was a growing mountain of books stacked in front of the bookcases in the corner of the room. It wasn’t really my fault; I had actually purchased only about one out of every twenty books in the room. Some were reference books from my parents’ library, some had been gifts, but the vast majority of them were review copies that had arrived, unbidden, at my P.O. box. Many of these were sent because of this website, but my having reviewed books for three major newspapers at various times probably didn’t help.

I mention all this because I recently bit the bullet and culled the booky herd in my office, boxing up about ten cartons of things to save (now stowed neatly on a pallet in the garage) and setting aside several dozen lesser efforts to donate or sell. This was not easily done, since the ms has made my left hand pretty useless. But the room is now much neater. I’m hoping it stays that way.

I must admit that I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to organize my office, and if any of you folks are looking for a shot of inspiration to tackle a similar stable-cleaning, I’d suggest you watch a few episodes of the apparently wildly popular A&E reality show Hoarders. Each episode deals with two cases of folks who have, at some point and for some reason, lost the thread of good housekeeping and filled their humble abodes (most are lower-income, some truly poor) with the most appalling mountains of crap imaginable. It turns out that there are a lot of ways to hoard. There are those folks whose homes are basically sound and have simply become filled, inexplicably, with $200,000 worth of counterfeit designer purses or thousands of gift-shop tchotchkes meticulously arranged in display cases. Then there are those more creative types who manage to accumulate (and are eventually driven from their homes by) 5,000 “pet” rats or decide that developing a three-foot-deep layer of food garbage and animal feces throughout their house somehow qualifies as “recycling.”

Usually tipped off by a child or relative, into each house troops the Hoarders team of a “professional organizer,” cleanup specialists (with a fleet of dumpster trucks in tow) and a psychologist of some flavor apparently designated to dispense instant psychoanalysis while the rest of the team attempts to get the hoarder to part with several trunks full of moldy headless dolls. Results vary. The rat guy was actually more or less fine with the rats leaving once he knew they were going to good homes. Seriously. No, really, they were. The show people said so. I can’t hear you nanananana.

Some of these folks are pretty clearly mentally ill, and the show provides funds for “aftercare” counseling as part of the deal. Many have family problems that turn out to dwarf their hoarding problem. And a few are not, to put it mildly, what they appear. An episode early in season two featured a guy who went by the name “Patrick Donovan Flanagan O’Shannahan,” or “Sir Patrick” to his friends, apparently an endearing crank with a house full of “collectibles” he thought were worth big bucks. They weren’t, and Sir Patrick wasn’t the real thing either, as revealed a bit later by The Smoking Gun. I’m guessing the show will be running more exhaustive background checks on prospective participants from now on.

The Paxinator

Matt Paxton, aka The Paxtinator

Given the rich potential for exploitation in the premise of the show, the crew from Hoarders comes across as remarkably compassionate and understanding of these folks (up to a point, anyway). The breakout fan favorite and de facto star of the show is a guy named Matt Paxton, an “extreme cleaning” specialist and the local incarnation of the voice of reason. Although Matt can be firm (“You can’t ‘donate’ that. It’s covered with black mold.”), his musings, often delivered while knee-deep in toxic “treasures” (“We’re all just four or five bad decisions away from pooping in a bucket”), provide a humane “there but for fortune” tone as well as the show’s best lines.

Apart from Matt, the show’s great discovery has been a certain marsupial known as The Possum from Hoarders, who made his/her debut in an early episode in the second season. Brief footage (literally a split second) of the critter leaping from the kitchen sink of a “hoarded” house into a mountain of garbage became so popular among show fans that A&E used it in promos and the possum soon had his/her own fan page on Facebook, where his followers live-blog each episode.

One might think that Hoarders would only motivate people with severe clutter problems to break out the Hefty bags, but, judging from the reactions of fans, the show spurs nearly everyone who sees it into cleaning up something. Of course, given the state of the economy, people who might otherwise be happily spending their evenings (and disposable income) trolling eBay for bargains will have to find another, cheaper outlet. Incidentally, one of the things you notice about 99% of the people profiled on this show is rarely mentioned on the show itself. In even the most severely “hoarded” houses, full of teetering piles of crap that would give the Collyer brothers the wim-wams, the resident always has a little spot cleared (often just one chair) where he or she eats, sleeps, and spends all day on the computer. As Matt would say, I’m just sayin’.

And now, on with the show….

5 comments to January 2011 Issue

  • TC Brown

    Well, thanks for the push. Had gone to bed last night with a self-promise to get up early and start digging out from under the piles of papers accumulated in my front room. Had found my free chair and was reading your January edition, only to feel rebuked from not having lived up to my self-promise.

    Enjoy The Word Detective immensely.


  • Charlie Nunzio

    Success is not measured by the position you’re in but by the obstacles you have overcome. Please know your TWD fans respect and admire you.

  • mariposaman

    You can make text larger or smaller by using Control key and your scroll wheel on your mouse. If you do not have a scroll mouse you can use Control key and the + and – keys.

    The Readability app looks interesting.

    You can also use text to speech programs. Highlight the text you wish to “read” and it will speak it aloud to you. Invaluable for long winded (and I mean that in a nice way, maybe I should say weighty) tomes your are wont to pen. It allows one to do the dishes or trim one’s toenails while enjoying your words. The free versions usually come with a robotic sounding voice that sounds like Stephen Hawking, but you can buy upgraded voices that sound surprisingly human, complete with sexy accents of your choice. You would think Hawking with his money could afford an upgrade instead of using the free Microsoft Sam voice to communicate.

    I do watch Hoarders, and I have become convinced I am one myself. I think everyone likes hoarding, it is just these people are out of control. Museums and collectors of all kinds are refined hoarding in that they hoard stuff of perceived value and display it in nice surroundings, instead of accumulating garbage in a house too small to hold it all. Museums have dried dead bodies and preserved dead animals on display, while the hoarders discover their mummified kitty that disappeared years ago under a pile of garbage and we recoil in disgust.

  • steverino

    I use Opera, which among other nice features allows you to zoom pages with the + or – key, and reset to 100% with the asterisk (very easy on the numeric keypad). The best part of this is that is also has a feature developed for its mobile browser that will wrap the text to fill the screen. Otherwise, when you zoom, you will have to scroll side-to-side to read the page; the “Fit To Width” feature will eliminate that problem. Great for blog-reading, or newspaper etc. reading: at 100% find your articles, click on it, zoom to read, then back to the main site and asterisk to see the whole page again.

  • Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I found
    a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!
    LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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