Notes on the ’86 Finals

Best Bird Celtics Team

We bought a treadmill earlier this year. Treadmills were one of the only reasons we paid for a gym membership. With the snow and general drudgery, it’s nearly impossible to run year round in New Englad. When the (admittedly) low rent gym we belonged to continued to let equipment wear out or remain broken, there seemed little incentive to renew. So we just bought our own. A pretty low rent, budget model itself, but we only plan to use it for these extreme winter months (which seem never ending this year). And we would actually fix it if it broke.

After the first session of jogging and staring at the side of our old yellow refrigerator, it became clear a better distraction was necessary to get through the hamster sessions. There was no cable in the basement, but we did have a DVD player and an old dorm television.

The rather stunning selection of sports DVDs at the library provided ample distraction and the whole point of this post (two long paragraphs later). Here are some random notes after watching a number of 1986 NBA Finals games.

Tommy Heinsohn
This one might not make sense to non-Celtics fans, but holy crap. Actual analysis. Balanced analysis. Intelligent and articulate comments. I can actually see how Tommy was a coach now. I much prefer this Tommy to the homer-ism and caricature he’s become now as the part time C’s color man.

Less graphics on screen at once for better or worse
Some clues in the broadcast lead me to believe that this one was more due to the feed they used for the DVDs than the actual production of the telecast. Still, at first, I found the clutter free screen refreshing, but I soon started to miss some of the information 21st century viewers are accustomed to seeing. Not the constant ticker across the bottom or big ESPN logo, but at the very least having the score visible along with the game and shot clocks.

Less time just dribbling
Not that the shot clock was all the necessary. There were only a handful of occasions were the shot clock ran down to single digits, never mind hit zero. While each team worked to get their players the ball in plum post spots, there seemed to be a lot less clear outs and dribble isolation. At times it felt like a college game with each point guard actually calling out plays each time up the floor.

Less threes
A lot, lot, lot less three pointers taken. Dick Stockton almost sounded shocked when someone had the audacity (usually Bird) to actually shoot one. I’m not sure the Rockets even took one. The rule was six seasons old by this point. I was surprised at the lack of outside shooting.

It's Fantastic

Less talking to the refs
This likely had to do with the number of available cameras because I’m sure there was woofing going on. DJ gets annoyed or frustrated a few times on camera, but it seemed more the exception than the rule today where every drive results in hand gestures and incredulous facial expressions if a whistle blows (or doesn’t blow).

More coordinated fast breaks
Again, this felt more like a college mentality with each guy filling a lane and a concentrated effort to push the ball off crisp outlet passes (this becomes more evident watching the Celtic/Lakers DVDs). Much more evident with the Rockets. The Celtics had little interest in fast breaking.

Less athletic
The game always look slower on television, but I’m pretty sure I’m not imagining this one. The hyper-tuned athlete we know today was a definite exception in the league in the mid-eighties. With Jordan’s emergence (this was the year he went for 63 against the Celts in the first round) this was probably the start of a transition period, but the game seemed more sedate and played much more below the rim. Maybe it was just the constricting shorts.

Can Your Reformat and Revise at the Same Time?

I am about a third of the way through the next set of revisions for Bottom of the World. I started this process right after finishing the Kindle formatting process for Shaking the Tree and I wondered if I couldn’t combine the two so that I was revising and reformatting the manuscript in the same pass. Was it possible? Would it save time? Check out my six lessons learned.

The short answer is no. I gave up after the first chapter. Revising and rewriting, at least the way I do it, need a flow. I like to read each scene out loud, then rewrite or revise, read again, hunt down typos and then make any necessary notes or continuity checks. Lather, rinse, repeat with the next chapter. Reformatting and layout threw a wrench in there. The whole process engages the old systems analyst side of my brain and just clogs up the creative narrative engine. So I chucked the idea. Mostly. Given the Kindle requirements I learned and the tips laid out in the Smashwords style guide, there are a number of things you can do while you’re in the manuscript to streamline the epub process later.

  1. Use Microsoft Word – While it does not throw out great HTML code for the Kindle, the .doc extension does play best with the Smashwords engine. With a few simple tweaks and a little arm twisting you can get Word to heel and behave.
  2. Use a clean template – It’s hard to get Word to stop sticking its nose into your document. Most of the time you won’t notice what it’s doing till you try to output it and you find Word has been messing with things under the hood. The best thing you can do is try to manage these tendencies.  Use a blank, fresh document. Use one font (see #3). Use two styles: normal for all text and heading 1 for chapter titles. Use only bold and italics. That’s it. Don’t touch anything else. Don’t insert header or footers. Don’t use drop caps. Just keep it simple.
  3. Stick with one simple font – The truth is you have little control over how the text will be displayed in any given e-reader. Why worry about it. Stick with one of the tried and trued fonts (Times, Courier, serif, etc). It may not look pretty. It may be boring. But it won’t cause you headaches later.
  4. Forget pages – This one was surprisingly hard for me. I liked to write in page preview mode. Watching the pages pile up in my rearview gave me some sense of accomplishment and kept the writing momentum going. Switching to Web Layout felt awkward, but if you’re joining the brave world of self-epub, then it’s best to get completely out of legacy page mode.
  5. Pull the tab key off your keyboard – Tabs are like termites, they worm their way into the wood of your manuscript and are a royal pain to get rid of later. When you set up your Normal style (see #2), set the left line indent to .5″ and let the style handle it. Resist the urge to hit the tab key for indents. This is actually the part you can do while you are revising/rewriting. Once you’ve completed a scene, before you move on, turn on Word’s Show/Hide function (CTRL + *) and look for any stray tabs.
  6. Be wary of carriage returns – While you are looking for stray tabs, cull any extra carriage returns you may have thrown into your manuscript to try to fudge spacing. Remember in this brave new world, layout is less a priority. Smashwords recommends not more than four consecutive carriage returns to be on the same side. Otherwise you may find certain e-readers throwing in blank pages. I insert a page break where necessary (personal preference), then 4 returns, then the next chapter (styled with headline 1).

Following those steps during the revision process will help any e-format conversion you undertake to go a lot smoother. It’s rarely seamless and each format carries some additional specific headaches (I’m looking at your NCX file) but these simple switches can cut down your turnaround time.

Blatant self-promotion: Don’t want to try formatting it yourself? I offer affordable conversion services at


Flickr CC attribution for photos used in this post: John Blyberg & Corsairstw

11 Popcorn Variations

I blame the microwave for our breakup. Before she waltzed into our kitchen and flaunted her buttons and quick reheat capabilities, popcorn and I were fine. More than fine. We had a little thing. A hot, crispy salty snack affair. She was the perfect accompaniment to a rainy Saturday afternoon with the Goonies or the Journey of Natty Gann on the VCR. When the microwave appeared, she changed. Started showing up in bags covered in chemical sliminess and tasting like packaging filler. We had a falling out and she soon faded from memory. As with bread baking, I can point Bittman for rekindling my love of popcorn. Real popcorn. No tri fold bags in sight. It’s good to have popcorn back in my life. Continue Reading

5 Tips for a Meat Free Month

We’ve been back on our regular diet for a month now, so it seems like a good time to look back on our little January family experiment of going meat and alcohol free for the first month of the new year.

To start, it wasn’t all that hard. After the excess of the holidays, a couple weeks of cleansing almost felt necessary. I wonder if it would be more difficult in July? The second half the month we had to fight some cravings and some meal ruts, but overall, it was success and brought some lasting changes to our diet. Continue Reading

7 Garden Goals for 2011

The frozen garden gate

I’m sitting in the office writing this while the snow outside still sits just inches below the nearby window sill and my poor garden beds are shivering under at least three feet of snow and ice. Last year I planted the first peas the weekend after St. Patrick’s Day on March 20/21st. It seems hard to believe that I’ll be able to see bare ground let alone get a spade blade into the earth in less than a month. Still, the garden catalogs are pouring into the mailbox, so it’s probably time to take stock and plan out what I want to accomplish (or at least attempt) this year.

This will be year four of, while maybe not serious, a bit more intense than a few patio pots, gardening. A quick recap of the lessons learned from the past three years.

Year 1: Built the semi-raised beds and filled them with gloriously organic, virgin soil. Plants and yields were great.

Year 2: Turns out in addition to the great soil, I think we had great weather for the most part as well. Year 2 was marked with a very cool, rainy start that knocked down a vast majority of the tomato plants with blight. I took solace in the fact that most other gardeners were suffering along with me and it wasn’t something I did.

Year 3: If year 2 was the year of wet and blight, year 3 was depleted soil and bugs. I had added some additional compost and soil goodies, but it must not have been enough. The yields were generally meager at best. After three years, beetles, horn worms and other pests have discovered my plots in earnest.

With those things in mind, here are my goals for year 4:

Last year's peas

1. Pump up the soil
It all starts with the dirt. I’m going to re-dig the beds with a lot more compost and manure than I have in the past two years. If that doesn’t work this year, I’ll send samples off to UMass again to analyze to see if it’s a specific deficiency. Along those lines, we’ve been home composting in a bin for the last three years. I think it’s time to see if we have anything usable in there to add to the beds. I’ll build a simple screen and see if the compost effort is paying off at all.

2. Add more upside down hangers
While the upside down experiment didn’t work out too well on the larger varieties last year, they did work gang busters on the sweet 100’s and the other cherry varieties. I’d like to add three more hangers along the garage eaves. Two for additional cherries (Cece’s favorite) and one for pickling cukes.

Looked ok, didn't taste ok

3. Try pickling cukes again
The problem hasn’t really been growing them, it’s been using them. Along with everything else, we had bumper crops in year one and decent yields in two, but each year was an unmitigated disaster in the actually pickling process. I think I’ve found a good, fool proof method this year, so despite Chelle’s reservations, I’m trying again!

4. Harvest winter garlic
One of last year’s goals was trying to overwinter some crops. I chose garlic mainly on co-worker recommendations and its general infallibility. This spring it’s time to put that to the test and see if we can harvest, dry and use the two different varieties we planted last November. Trying to stay positive, but that garlic has to be chilly, despite the blanket of salt hay, under all that snow. Fingers crossed.

5. Better Pea and zucchini yields
I’m hoping this is largely related to the soil issues (see #1 above) but last year was crushingly disappointing in terms of good peas and zucchini, two of our top 3 favorite veggies to grow.

6. Plant (at least) one fruit bush
We inherited a blueberry bush with the house and have kept an ever bearing strawberry plant going, but we’d like to clear out space near the garage, a nice warm sunny protected spot to plant some raspberry bushes.

7. Healthier Pumpkins
Finally, I’d like to focus on pumpkins more this year. We’ve grown them in the neighbor’s larger plot the last two years and both times eked out at least one decent gourd, but they have mainly been an afterthought. It seems the long growing time and the ambling nature of the plant leave vulnerable to all sorts of fungi and pests. This year I’ll try to see if I can’t even the odds a bit and give the pumpkin patch a little more TLC.

Seven seems like a good lucky number and more than enough to keep me busy.


Deferred till next year (and beyond):

  • Better watermelons – while we got a number of sugar melons last year, on the whole the entire patch was an abject failure. I’ll take a year off and try again next year
  • Potatoes- I think Cecilia would like digging around to harvest the potatoes. I’ll try this next year when she’s a little older and can do more from start to finish.
  • Creating a new raised bed for a dedicated kitchen herb garden
  • Starting tomatoes from seedlings
  • A more concerted canning/preservers effort
  • Add a (dwarf) apple tree
Almost tropical lushness with the first year's soil


Recommended Reading

Is it a crime if a boy doesn’t read the Hardy Boys?

Running a book club, always carrying a book, generally being known as a book nerd that can quote the dewey decimal system, I get asked what I’m reading and if I could recommend a book for so and so, or I just finished Book A, could you recommend something. It happens at least a couple times a month. And a lot around the holidays. Figured maybe it was time to write something up so I, while I still love talking books, I could point folks here for later reference. I’ll update, add, re-arrange frequently, so check back once in awhile. Continue Reading

Kindle Publishing: Links, Lies and XML

Shaking the Tree - Kindle Cover

So I finally took the plunge and released the Shaking the Tree into the wild. Spurred on by JA Konrath klaxon call to self-pub and the always welcome sensation of learning something new, I tackled converting my Word manuscript to the Kindle format. Sounds quite simple right? I mean everyone and everybody uses Word, right? Mac or PC. Creative or corporate. Male or female. Facebook or MySpace. Right? Sort of.

While it’s not as easy as they (the ubiquitous they) make it sound, it’s not terribly difficult either. It does not require a ton of coding skills, though being comfortable with HTML syntax is a plus. It does require a big dollop of patience. Sure, you can hack something together that will be semi-readable with little effort, but if you want something with a little polish and panache (in other words something you won’t blush at charging 99 cents for – you can’t give it away anymore on Amazon) it’s going to take a little time and effort. Then a little more. Then some debugging. Then it should work.

Like always, the Internet is a bounty of useful information. To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, here are the tips, tricks, links, sources, documents and programs that helped me the most. Your mileage may vary. Note, this is only for the Kindle. And really only for fiction or manuscripts without a lot of imagery or internal tables etc. Haven’t tackled Smashwords or other e-book formatting issues yet.

Things you will need:

  • A manuscript, or a bunch of words, something to publish, otherwise what’s the point
  • A computer (with internet connection)
  • Mobipocket Creator
  • Kindle Previewer
  • Kindle Reading App (optional, but I noticed some quirks between the previewer and the apps)
  • Kindle itself (optional)
  • A text editor (like notepad or something a bit fancier like Dreamweaver – either one will get the job done. I like the free Notepad++ myself)
  • A KPD account

Ok, the best place to start is at Amazon’s DTP (hmm, seems like they renamed it to KDP recently) KDP Community page. While a bit light on in-depth how-to’s unless you search the forums, the Getting Started Guide is a worthwhile read for the overview and background on the process. A nice way to get your feet wet and ease into the terminology.

Once I ran through the KDP guides, I moved on to April Hamilton’s How to Use Amazon’s DTP guide (a big PDF, be patient). Her PDF (and her excellent indie author site in general) was by far the most in-depth and hands on training guide that I could find (for free at least). It’s chock full of pictures and step by step instructions written very simply and clearly (not easy to do in technical writing). I thought I had found nirvana. A road map to lead me to the Kindle promise land. I mentioned the patience part above, right?

Now, a little background. Over time, my manuscript had mutated into a Createspace template (long story, but I got a free proof copy so the effort was worth it – remember I like learning new things) with a lot of heavy Word formatting. After a lot of experimenting, I blame this more than anything for taking my off the rails that April had so carefully drawn up. Lesson learned, if at all possible turn off the vast majority of Word formatting and use only the most vanilla template.

The dreaded NCX

April’s guide filled in a lot of holes and taught me a lot about what I was up against, but I just could not get the Word generated table of contents and NCX file to play nice. I went looking for more sources. I found romance writer Nadia Lee’s page on kindle formatting. It takes a much more short hand approach, but after reading April’s guide, the learning curve wasn’t steep and best of all, she sidesteps Word’s table of contents and uses HTML formatting and Mobipocket to create one. Using Nadia’s style sheet template and a lot of hands on cleaning up of Word generated HTML (patience, remember), I was able to get a simple HTML version with working table of contents.

So I was 90% of the way there, but of course marathons don’t really start till the last 10 percent. I still had the NCX file to create. Oh, if you dive into Kindle publishing, you will come to dread those three letters. At least I did until I found CJ’s Easy as Pie Kindle tutorials. The NCX file (Navigation control file for XML) is (sort-of) required by KDP. It tells you it’s required, but if you peek in the forums, you don’t need to create one. But I’m a stickler and if I’m charging folks, I might as well do the most I can, right? By the way, the NCX controls the tick marks (and a few other navigation controls) along the bottom of the Kindle. Not strictly necessary, but it’s all about professionalism. With CJ’s tutorial as a guide I was able to hack my way through a working NCX.

The kindle formatting site was also helpful in a glossary sort of way, going back and checking different things. Or seeing the same instructions written a different way. Or just plain debugging and looking for answers. I started here more than anywhere else when I was stuck.

Using Mobipocket to bind it all together and I was done. Maybe this will help any other indie author struggling flailing away with Kindle issues. If so, it was worth the time to write it up. Besides, I’ll probably need it myself when I finish the next one.

You can check out my author site or better yet, buy a copy of Shaking the Tree Kindle edition at Amazon. It’s only 99 cents! Not many things left you can buy for under a buck.