Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From ADAM to AirBook

My wife, who is deep into a profound reworking of one of her latest projects (turning a prose novel into verse -- definitely NOT a simple task, nor one to be undertaken by the faint-hearted), has written some recent posts on her blog in which she speaks compellingly of the vicissitudes of revisions. In the comments section of one of these posts, she wrote "I love computers so much."

Now, Jeannine is far from being a technophile, so without the concept of revision -- and its attendant difficulties -- informing that comment, these words might sound a little odd coming from her. But having watched her process for a long time, I think I know exactly what she is saying.

When we first got together, back in 1982, Jeannine was doing much of her writing in longhand (writing on paper) and then, via her electric typewriter, transforming that into a manuscript suitable for submission. Much of her revision process happened before the typing began -- I would often see her at the table surrounded by many bits and pieces of paper, small (but carefully torn) shreds of what she had written down in longhand, paper-clipped together and arranged somewhat differently than they had been when on the full sheets of paper.

Then she would turn these into a typed manuscript, and as even the best typists know, occasionally, mistakes happen. Back in those pre-computer days, if you were trying to produce a clean-looking page, making a typographical or spelling error meant breaking out the correction tape or the white-out fluid. The correction tape, being dry, was somewhat faster than the white-out, which was literally painted over the error.

But the biggest problem was that once you had finished carefully typing your manuscript, you were faced with a daunting task if -- as is very often the way with writers -- you looked at it and saw the need for further revisions. In that case, you basically started all over again, with clean paper, from the very first word. It was virtually impossible to change a few paragraphs, even a few lines, in the middle of a manuscript without re-typing the whole thing.

That's why, when we lived in Dover in those early days, it was such a revelation to use a computer -- in this case, a somewhat primitive by today's standards (but very high-tech then) computer called a Northstar, if memory serves. I'd been going to the local Dover public library and discovered that they had installed one of these gizmos for use by anyone who was interested. Their setup included a printer, one of those dot matrix things which were fast and efficient but produced printouts of dubious quality -- certainly not the kind of quality required for the submission of a manuscript for possible publication.

But I saw right away that this piece of technology held great promise for the future of Jeannine's revising process. "Cut and paste", a feature of pretty much every program these days, was then something that seemed kind of magical -- the ability to select a section of what you had typed, and with a couple of commands (keyboard commands in those days -- the whole mouse and "graphic user interface" thing later popularized by Apple and others had not yet emerged) you could delete or move that block of text into any other location in your document, and it would be a seamless whole when read on the screen or printed. To me, who had seen Jeannine grinding her teeth in frustration when dealing with the wearying grunt work of retyping a manuscript (all the while having to keep a watchful eye and hand to prevent mistakes), this was simply amazing. (And it was clear that the way this thing worked, the tyranny of white-out fluid and correction tape would very likely soon come to an end… which it did.)

I did a bunch of my own stuff on that computer, typing letters to family and friends (and finding great use for that cut and paste function -- I could write a basic letter and then customize it with small additions and/or subtractions to make it appropriate to the person to whom it was to be sent), and when I felt comfortable enough with how that computer worked, I showed it to Jeannine. And though she hated the dull, slightly smudgy look of the dot matrix printouts, she immediately saw what I had seen vis a vis the potential for completely altering the oft-times onerous process of revision and preparation of manuscripts.

But the dot matrix thing was a problem. At that time, letter-quality printers were thin on the ground and cost an arm and a leg to boot, and we had very little money.

And then, a now-defunct video game company came to the rescue.

I am sure many (or at least some) of you remember the ColecoVision video game system. This was one of the earliest home video game consoles, and it was quite successful. Someone at the Coleco company saw the potential for this game system as the basis for an actual home computer (at that time a rarity), and Coleco produced something they called the "ADAM" computer. It was basically the ColecoVision system with a few more bells and whistles, including a built-in word processor and BASIC programming software, and a cassette tape drive for storing and retrieving files. Like the ColecoVision it was based on, the system had no dedicated monitor -- you had to have a television to connect it to, preferably a color set.

But one of the best things -- in fact, the thing that finally got us to plunk down about $400 of our (mostly Jeannine's) meager savings at the time -- was the fact that this system included a letter-quality daisy wheel printer. This was an absolute necessity for Jeannine if she wanted to use the printed documents prepared on this computer to send out for consideration for publication. And for the money, it seemed to be an incredible deal.

So off we went to the local mall -- I'm pretty sure it was the Newington Mall near Portsmouth, NH -- and the Mongomery Wards store (which I am pretty sure was in the space now occupied by a Barnes and Noble). We'd seen in a circular in the local paper, "Foster's Daily Democrat", that Wards was selling this new computer system, and as I recall it didn't take us too long to come to the conclusion that although this was a lot of money for us to be spending on this hunk of (at that point) unproven technology, there was enough promise in it that it seemed irresistible.

And it proved to be pretty much everything we'd hoped. It was an easy system to use, and the word processor, while basic, did everything we needed. I did play the included games a few times, and while we lived in Connecticut and Jeannine was teaching high school English, I used the BASIC programming functions to write a little program for her which calculated her students' grades (my only worthwhile programming effort ever, I think), but it was definitely the word processor that got the most use.

When it came time to render the stories Jeannine wrote on the ADAM into printed form, the ADAM's daisy wheel printer did the job, and did it with great quality and pretty decent speed…

… and a HECK of a lot of noise! That thing was SO noisy -- it sounded like a machine gun. I built an enclosure for it out of foam core board, and that helped some, but I can guarantee you couldn't sleep if this thing was printing in the next room. (Well, I know that we couldn't, anyway.)

As the years went by, other computers came into our lives -- first the Atari ST line, and then an even longer line of Apple products, starting with some of their beige desktop Macintoshes and culminating in what we use now -- in my case, the MacBook Pro on which I am typing this, and across the table from me, the sleek MacBook Air that Jeannine uses. These two machines are computers that are FAR beyond the capabilities and form factor of that original ADAM… but that machine served its purpose, and served it well. Jeannine got comfortable pretty quickly with the way computers do things, and has never looked back. I think she still has an old electric typewriter in her writing room, but I don't think it has been used in years.

And now she does almost all of her writing, composing and revising, directly on the MacBook Air. Yes, she occasionally will write something down on paper -- an idea, a line or two -- but for the most part, her creative thoughts are going directly into (well, through her fingertips) the computer. I can't remember when the last time was that I saw her at the kitchen table surround by torn scraps of paper. I kind of miss seeing that.

But I don't think she does. -- PL

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I suspect that from time immemorial, human beings have been stacking rocks one atop the other, particularly when they are near the seashore and find an abundance of convenient stones to stack. I did this pile during the second week of our two weeks in Maine…

… and it actually stayed up for about a day until a big storm blew through and knocked half of it down.

The following day, Jeannine and I walked the Marginal Way in Ogunquit prior to having a wonderful dinner at a place called "Five-O" in that little coastal town with Emily and her friends Jenelle and Lindsay. The Marginal Way is a very cool 1.5 mile paved path which follows the coastal rocks between Perkins Cove and Ogunquit Beach. It's quite a beautiful walk, with some great vistas of the ocean and the shore rock formations. The day we did the walk, the winds were blowing quite hard and the waves were quite spectacular. Here's a shot I took of Jeannine and me along the way…

Further on down the path, we were startled and amused to find more evidence of what I postulated in the first line of this blog entry -- dozens and dozens of small piles of beach rocks stacked on some of the larger rock formations near the path. Someone (or a group of someones) had been quite busy doing a lot of balancing of stones. This photo represents about a tenth of the total number of these things that we saw that day in this area.

And balance is one theme with which I come away from this two-week vacation. It's the first time I can remember that I have really fully enjoyed a vacation, and the first time I can remember that I was sad to leave and come home. I feel as though I have made significant strides towards moving to a more balanced, healthy life, one in which worries and concerns take their true proportionate place alongside the joys and pleasures of life. I'm not completely there yet -- that's going to take a while still -- but this was a big step. -- PL

Friday, August 27, 2010

Clouds and waves

Steve Lavigne and his wife Denise, who live not very far from where we are staying for our Maine vacation, invited us out to dinner last night in York. They treated us to a very nice meal at a restaurant where, as Jeannine remembers it (I only have a very vague memory of this) she and I were turned away years ago (because we did not meet their dress code), probably on one of our return trips to the area after moving away from Dover, NH to Sharon, CT. This time, it was not a problem -- either because we were less scruffy than we were back then, or the new owners are less insistent upon such protocols. I'm not sure, but it was great to see Steve and Denise. Thanks again for the meal!

After this delightful get-together, Jeannine and I headed back to our rental home, but we decided to take the shore road, thinking it might be nice to do that beach walk we'd been talking about for roughly a week and a half. We'd had the idea that we wanted to take a walk on a long beach, preferably without too many people around, and maybe near sunset so the sun was not blazing down on us. And at low tide, too, so there would be more of a beach to wander upon.

I can't believe I had forgotten that this beach existed, because just a couple of years ago, Steve Lavigne and I had ridden our bicycles to it from another vacation rental home (not more than half a mile away from the one we are currently enjoying). It's called "Long Sands", it's in York, ME, and it turned out to be perfect. As it was about 6:30PM, there were lots of parking spaces available along the sea wall, and very few people there, and the tide was pretty far out.

Jeannine and I took off our shoes (she first, me following a minute or so later when I realized what a dopey thing it was to be walking in my shoes on this beautiful, soft sand beach) and walked down pretty much the length of the beach, enjoying an occasional wave across our bare feet and the feel of the sand beneath, watching a few hardy surfers catch some late waves, several dogs enjoying a romp through the waves, and some parents chasing little kids across the sand.

And a big plus was the fact that as the sun was setting, it was turning the clouds various shades of purple and gold, colors which in places (if you looked westward, toward the sunset) were beautifully reflected off ripples of water on the beach.

Looking east, out toward the ocean, I found myself compelled to take some photos I could later stitch together into a cloud panorama. I knew the waves would very likely not stitch together correctly (and I was right), but the clouds did, as you can see here.

That figure walking toward the ocean just to the right of the center of the image is Jeannine, who enjoyed the small waves cresting over her feet. She thought the water was even warmer there than it had been earlier in the day, when we'd taken a couple of "boogie boards" and romped around in the surf at York Harbor beach. I think she was right, and we may go back to Long Sands today to swim, if it warms up. It's our last full day here in Maine on this vacation trip, and it would be nice to get in the ocean one more time before we have to leave. -- PL

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


It's a bad weather day here in Maine, good for the trees and grass and ponds but bad for vacationers. I shouldn't complain too much -- we've had more than a week of great weather -- but I am kind of down because the heavy rain and winds are keeping me from heading down to the pebble beach below our rental house, where I have been going pretty much every day since we got here to sketch rocks.

As anyone who has visited the Maine coast can attest, one thing it is not short on by any means is rocks -- rocks of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Beautiful rocks, rocks in fantastic profusion and variety. Harshly-angled, jagged rocks next to sensually rounded rocks, shaped and smoothed by the endless tides.

And I have been having a good time drawing them. My wife has asked "Are you planning on drawing anything other than rocks?" And I do… in fact, I drew a gnarled piece of driftwood a few days ago. But right now, I like drawing these rocks. I enjoy watching an image emerge on the page of white paper as I scratch and scribble, hatch and cross-hatch away with one of the several markers I carry in my shirt pocket.

And the simple fact that I LIKE drawing these rocks is what has given me a new glimmer of hope that the joy I used to feel in drawing anything is slowly beginning to return. It's been a long while since I have spent much time drawing from life, but I am starting to remember how much fun it can be. It can also be incredibly frustrating in equal measure, of course, when you are trying to capture the essence of something real on paper and it just isn't working.

But one of the things I realized, and it came out last week during a conversation with Jeannine after we'd taken a break from eating fried clams, swimming, and gazing at the ocean from the back deck of the house we're renting to travel up to Portland, ME and see the Winslow Homer exhibit, is that I don't need to be so picky about getting everything, all the shapes and textures and other pertinent details, JUST SO. It's something I'd learned a long time ago when I started drawing from life in college, and had kind of forgotten. But as Jeannine in her quiet wisdom so cogently put it, "The world is inspiration, and art is not a mirror."

I'm thinking I will continue this when I get home. There are lots of things to draw in the world, and I am going to try my hand at putting some of them in my sketchbook. -- PL

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Although I don't read as many magazines as I used to these days, one of the ones I still get fairly regularly is Fortean Times. In it, there are often photographs of things in nature which sort of look like other things -- usually a face in some natural feature like a tree trunk or boulder. They call these things "simulacrum", defined on dictionary.com as "a slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance".

On this somewhat unseasonably cold and wet Maine day, I walked down to the pebble beach below the house we're renting and spent some time walking on and looking at rocks. As I was pondering some rocks in the tidal zone, I noticed this:

See the face peering back? It almost looks like someone trapped among the rocks. At least, it does to me. -- PL

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dover dream

Jeannine and I have just started our two-week vacation in Maine, and yesterday, to avoid a ridiculous traffic jam on southbound Route 1 and Route 95 on the way to one of our favorite New Hampshire swimming spots, I took us on a slightly circuitous route through South Berwick, ME and then into neighboring Dover, NH. At Jeannine's suggestion, I swung by the house we once rented there, just to see what it looked like these days.

It appeared about the same as it always had, though the paint on the wood trim seemed a little brighter, but what was most interesting was the "For Sale" sign in front of the house.

For many years I have nursed a small fantasy of someday buying that house, and doing something with it. What, you might ask? Well, aside from just being a convenient place to use as a base station for our yearly vacation jaunts into New Hampshire and Maine, my daughter has suggested it could make a nifty TMNT museum, and I had thought about that, but it is pretty small and there is not a lot of parking around it. (Not that a museum of this type would draw a lot of visitors… which is another reason, among many, to NOT do something like that. More to the point, would I even WANT to get involved with a project like that at this point in my life? No, thank you very much.)

The real impetus to buy the place is simple -- nostalgia. It is, after all, the place where Kevin Eastman and I created the Turtles in November of 1983, but much more important, at least to me, it's where Jeannine and I really started our lives together, and where we got married in the house's small back yard. (And it IS small… much smaller than I remembered!)

However, as we discussed it later, that kind of nostalgic fantasy is fun to indulge in up to a point, but it quickly gets bogged down in practicalities. The house would need to be taken care of, and we would be absentee landlords. We would very likely not stay in it often (it was a lovely place to live in some twenty-seven years ago, and closer to the ocean -- about ten miles as opposed to about a hundred and twenty -- than where we live now, but if we were to buy a place closer to the ocean -- something we've talked about, and continue to consider -- it would have to be a LOT closer to the ocean -- like, within sight of it). This house in Dover is on a small side street, surrounded fairly closely by densely-packed houses and apartment buildings… not really our dream location.

So, as much as it appeals to the nostalgic fantasy part of me, I think it's probably wisest to just hold on to the good memories of the place. -- PL

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sometimes, less is more

Last night, I thought I was going crazy… or, at the very least, that my memory had really degraded beyond an acceptable measure. Let me explain…

A few months ago, I had enthusiastically recommended to my wife "Heavenly Creatures", an early Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson movie which also marked Kate Winslet's film debut. I'd bought the DVD some years ago and watched it a couple of times, and thought it was a really interesting, well-crafted character study of two teenage girls who murder one of their mothers. It's based on a real event that happened in New Zealand. And there are some very nifty special effects in it which are used to illustrate the elaborate fantasy story the girls create.

So several weeks ago, Jeannine expressed interest in watching it, and I went to my drawers of DVD's to pull it out. Not there. I thought it might be in one of the several piles Emily had made in the living room. Not there, either. I scoured all the places where I might have set it down, and even queried some friends to whom I may have lent it. It was nowhere to be found.

So I ordered another copy through amazon.com, and two nights ago, we started watching it. I immediately thought I noticed something odd -- there was stuff in the movie I didn't remember. And… it wasn't quite as good as I remembered, either.

We left off watching it at about the halfway point, and then last night picked it up again and watched the rest of it. And that odd feeling continued to grow. The movie seemed too long, scenes went on and on, and there was more stuff I didn't remember. I was starting to get embarrassed that I had highly recommended this film to my wife, who was clearly not too impressed.

Then, for some reason I can't remember, I picked up the DVD case and saw two words which explained everything:

"Uncut Version"

So that was the reason I was seeing things in this movie I had absolutely no memory of seeing on previous viewings! I breathed a big sigh of relief…. and disappointment, because as far as I was concerned, none of the material which had been restored to this "uncut" version had made it any better. In fact, it had made it worse -- it dragged, it went over and over the same points, it felt too long.

As the old saying goes, "Sometimes less is more." It certainly was in this case. -- PL

Friday, August 6, 2010

Magma Rose

Today I was looking through the photos I took on my recent trip to California, and found this one which I took in the gardens at the Huntington Library in Pasadena.

I love the name and the lava-like colors of this rose. -- PL

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Triceratops no more!!!

Well, no... not really. But I thought I would employ the same type of sensationalist headline which caught my eye about this recent paleontological discovery. Here's the story from the online new source nationalpost.com:

"Triceratops never actually existed, scientists say

Brace yourselves. The famous triceratops dinosaur never actually existed as a separate dinosaur species, paleontologists say.

Known for its three horns and the bony, frilled ridge around its head, the triceratops was most likely just a younger version of the rarer torosaurus, say researchers John Scannella and Jack Horner at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana.

The species were very similar. Both had three horns and each had the distinctive head frill that makes the triceratops famous. But in the torosaurus the horns and ridge were shaped differently, with the ridge appearing smoother and thinner. It also had two holes.

After studying 29 triceratops skulls, the scientists discovered the bone was thinning in the same area where the torosaurus’s holes were. Evidence began mounting as they counted the growth rings in the bones and discovered all the triceratops skulls were from young dinosaurs. What’s more, juvenile specimens of the torosaurus have never been found. They concluded the dinosaurs were actually the same, with the horns and ridge changing shape as the lizard matured.

Triceratops fans shouldn’t despair at the finding, though. Scientists will now reclassify all torosaurus as triceratops."

So if you read down to the last line, you see that it is Torosaurus fans who should be bummed out.

Whew. -- PL

P.S. The artwork here is something I did many years ago for Hampshire Life, and as you probably guessed it was drawn on coquille board.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I've started drawing again, a little bit... I took one of the many empty sketchbooks I have accumulated over the years and have been carrying it around with me, even taking it to California on my recent trip there with Jeannine. I decided that I really needed to take her advice and just start doing something in it every day, even if it wasn't much good.

Most of it hasn't been, so far. And I don't know if I have really met the mark of drawing something every day. But it does feel good to see some stuff emerging from the void onto the page, which -- truth be told -- was always one of the best parts of drawing for me.

I kind of like this one -- I drew it the day after Jeannine and I watched "Robin and Marian", the "old Robin Hood" movie starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. It's one of my favorite movies, and I'll admit it -- I always get teary at the ending. I've always had a love for the Robin Hood stories, especially the setting -- the mighty greenwood of Sherwood Forest. It's such a romantic notion -- living free in the deep, lush forest.

Of course, as I remember from the dim days of youth helping my brothers build little "camps" in the woods near our house, there was probably a lot of crude reality to intrude on the romance -- dirt, bugs and other vermin... and what did they do when it rained? And what about, you know, sanitary issues? Best not to think too hard on such things. -- PL