Book Review: The Lake Michigan Mothman

Having grown up in the land of the Bear Lake Monster, Skin Walkers, and Bigfoot, I simply can’t deny that, for me, there’s no lore like cryptid lore. So for that reason alone, this book by Tobias Wayland was a no-brainer addition to my library. When you add that it’s centered in my hometown — even in my neighborhood, — and that the legend is part of my annual “Dark Tales of Bucktown” tour, it’s surprising that I haven’t read it multiple times already.

Gordon Meyer with mothman book

Did I enjoy the book? Duh. Do I wish it were better organized and written? Yeah, I do. Don’t get me wrong; the book is unique and useful because it compiles so many creature sightings into one volume. And almost all of them are first-person accounts as written by the witnesses. Unfortunately, this is also where the books desperately needs an editor and unifying perspective. It’s great these witnesses came forth with what they saw, but most of them are not going to win any essay contests (or even get a passing grade in English 101.) It takes a more tolerant reader than I am to read more than a few pages of this book at one sitting.

The only other beef I have is the book’s title. It should be called “The Chicago Bat.” I understand that “Lake Michigan” is more inclusive, accurate, and commercial, so I’ll accept that. But “Mothman” is, in my opinion, just wrong. Let West Virginia keep the Mothman to themselves. (They have so little to boast about, after all.) And while I understand that referring to the creature in this way is easy shorthand, it’s also misleading. The only significant similarity between the Chicago creature and the West Virginia creature is that they are winged humanoids. (OK, I can hear some of my fundamentalist friends thinking — “Um, both are also imaginary.” But I’ve moved beyond that.) Furthermore, as it becomes clear from the reports in the book, almost every witness describes it as being similar to a bat. So for these reasons, and more, I will continue to use the name “Chicago Bat” instead. (But not, for certain, “Batman.”)

Now, I should acknowledge that if it weren’t for the Milwaukee-based Singular Fortean Society, much of this creature’s story would be lost. Through their website, and now this book, they are the leading source of timely and interesting reports of all kinds of unusual occurrences. Bravo, and gratitude, for their work.

Here are a handful of tidbits that stood out for me, but like all good stories, there are more if you dig in and follow the trails embedded within.

  • There have been more than a hundred sightings of the Chicago Bat since 2017, but Wayland’s research convincingly extends the timeline back to 1957. The latest sighting, as I write this, was less than a month ago, in the Loop.
  • The book’s subtitle is “High Strangeness in the Midwest.” I love this turn of phrase.
  • Regarding the controversial, if not downright wacky aspects of these types of stories, Wayland writes: “…(all this) is a hard pill to swallow for scientific materialists, but my job as an investigator isn’t to make mainstream scientist types feel better; my job is to follow the trail wherever leads, even if that’s right into the gaping maw of the impossible.”
  • One possible rational explanation for the sightings is that large migratory birds not normally seen in the midwest are being driven to the Lake Michigan area by climate changes. How’s that for an unforeseen consequence of global warming!

I bought my copy from Amazon, but you can also buy a signed copy directly from the publisher. Either way, you’ll enjoy the tales, and if you’re a local — keep your eyes peeled!

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: You Are Alice in Wonderland’s Mum!

I love non-linear fiction. If you’re not familiar with this genre, these are stories where the reader directs the narrative by making decisions about the order in which events happen, or even if they occur at all.

A mundane but illustrative example would be a story about a salesman where the reader decides which apartment doors are knocked up first: After describing the options, the reader is offered a choice: “To knock on the door for Apartment 2B, turn to page 42. For Apartment 3, turn to page 69.” (Note to self: good idea for a story!)

gordon meyer with book

You Are Alice in Wonderland’s Mum! is a such a story, and of the many I’ve read, it’s by far the most elegantly constructed. (The author, and illustrator, is Sherwin Tjia.) The plot is clever: the infamous Alice has disappeared into Wonderland, but her mother has no idea about that, and wanders around London looking for her. You make decisions about where and how she searches for young Alice. With thirteen different possible endings to the story, what you do has a definite impact on the resolution. I loved every minute of it, and found the first ending so satisfying I hesitated to give it another read-thru with different choices. (But doing so is rewarding as it reveals the artful interweaving of different scenarios.)

Tjia has written three other books in this genre, but sadly, they are all out of print. Shockingly, used copies seem to be going for $30-$140 dollars on the secondary market. If you come across one at a price you can afford, snatch it up.

And now, a decision for you to make. If you’d like to try a brief online non-linear story that I wrote, about a trip to Las Vegas, click this link: The Silver Ingot

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Bit Rot Chronicles

Some of my non-technical friends may not be familiar with “Bit Rot.” The term refers to how software tends to stop working as it gets older. This is often caused by changes in operating systems and other parts of the complicated infrastructure that supports an application. A second meaning of “Bit Rot” refers to how stored data eventually becomes unreadable. This might be because the media is no longer supported (refer to the first meaning), or because the media has degraded and there is a physical problem that prevents it from being read.

This is a tale of both meanings.

I recently discovered that my beloved collection of clip art is completely unreadable on modern Mac computers. I purchased “Art Explosion 525,000” at the 1998 San Francisco Mac World Expo. I think I paid about $75 for the CD-ROM set of clip art and other licensed resources. I have used it for countless projects since then, and in some ways it may be the best return I’ve ever gotten for an impulse purchase of software.

One reason I’ve kept returning to it is that the images on the discs are indexed in a massive (1400 page) book that makes it easy to find just the right asset.

open book held by gordon meyer

(Historical note: Yes, people actually used to buy clip art collections. This was at least three years before the introduction of Google Image searching, which of course, is where everyone steals artwork from today. I sleep well at night knowing my clip art is completely legit.)

Unfortunately, the thirty-seven CDs (this was also prior to computer having DVD drives) are in a format that Macs can no longer read. (Bit Rot in the first sense of the word.) When I discovered this, I immediately started the time-consuming task of copying the CDs to a hard disk. Fortunately, I still have an older Mac that can read the discs.

But, I couldn’t copy all of them. Bit Rot in the second sense of the word reared its ugly head as I discovered that some discs suffered from read errors. Optical media like CD-ROMs once promised to be “permanent” data stores. Alas, just as with Lasik surgery, time has revealed that nothing lasts forever.

But with persistence, and by using an even older Mac, and I could recover nearly all the files. (Let’s hope I never want to use the file “Coffee Cup 126” in a project.)

Some tips, in case you’re ever faced with a similar situation:

  • Patience is a virtue. As long as the disc is spinning, let it churn. One disc took over 3 hours to mount!
  • The external Apple SuperDrive does not have a manual eject, you simply have to wait for it to give up and eject the disc.
  • Don’t bother copying files in obscure formats that rely on old software. Each of these discs had an Extensis Portfolio image database, which is an app I didn’t even know was still around. (I wonder if it will read catalogs created 23 years ago. Given the first definition of Bit Rot, probably not.)
  • Here’s a measure of technological progress: The entire 37 disc set easily fits on one (32 GB) thumb drive, with room to spare.
  • I’m going to keep the printed directory of images, of course, so I may as well keep the discs too. It looks like there might even be a collector’s market for the set.

Have I made you nervous about the viability of your old family photos on CDs that you burned yourself? I hope so.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Using Apple TV mute function with a Sonos Playbase

If you have the latest Apple TV Siri Remote (the one with the Mute button) and a Sonos Playbase speaker, you may find that Mute doesn’t work. Briefly, the solution is to set the Apple TV to use the Playbase as an AirPlay speaker. If you use the Playbase as a wired speaker, depending on your TV, the Mute might not be a permitted action. (I have a Sony Bravia TV, which treats the Playbase as an external audio system with immutable volume settings.) Switch to AirPlay, though, and all is well.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Influencing Machine

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone

Realistically, what can I add about a NY Times Bestseller that’s written by a beloved NPR host? The book is critically acclaimed across the board, and it came out a few years ago, so there are plenty of reviews already published.

gordon meyer with book

Still with me? Thank you. Once up a time, I was studying broadcast communications, so I had a few media studies classes in college. And, as a sociologist, I was exposed to popular culture research, and I became very familiar with books like The Hidden Persuaders, and of course, the works of Marshall McLuhan. To my way of thinking, this book is in the same general orbit.

If you’re a fan of Scott McCloud, you’ll be tickled pink that this book is a triumph of non-fiction sequential art. I have deep admiration for what Gladstone and illustrator Josh Neufeld have accomplished in this regard. The writing, pacing, artwork and,—well, everything—is perfect. For that reason alone it should be required reading for technical writers and instructional designers in every field.

This is a revised edition of the book with an afterword for the Trumpian world in which we all now suffer. Some of what the book decries is now even worse than when it was originally published, and some of the hopefulness it expresses now seems naive. Adding the new material at the end was a smart move, as it’s impossible to read the book without feeling nostalgic for the pre-Trump and pre-FacebookNation era.

Some of the parts that stood out to me include:

  • Referring to the media as a societal mirror, Gladstone writes; “And who doesn’t take guilty pleasure in the refreshing salvia spray of a commentator spouting our views?”
  • For some reasons, 50,000 is commonly used in fearful journalism. Gladstone makes a compelling case for this odd coincidence, citing several headlines that all use the figure, such as “50,000 children die from hunger every year.” From now on, when I don’t know an actual value, I’ll just say 50K.
  • Mark Twain is credited with observing that little lies for money are nothing compared to the big lies upon which society is based. (Now, Twain is credited with many things he didn’t actually say, but Gladstone cites the source. (As she does for many other references, in one of the easiest to use presentation of End Notes that I’ve encountered.)
  • The true sense of the word propaganda is “propagation of faith.”
  • “Likes” and reactions on social media trigger a cocaine-like dopamine bump. And the bump is stronger when we’re talking about ourselves. In real life, we talk about ourselves 30-40 percent of the time. On social media, it’s 80 percent!
  • Harvard’s free online test for implicit bias is interesting and worth checking out.
  • Neuroscientists have detected people make decisions about seven seconds before they become consciously aware of making them. (Conjurors, take note!)

The one bad thing I do have to say about the book is that Gladstone lost me in the final chapter when the story line fractures into a mishmash of bon mots from “visionaries” such as Marshall McLuhan, Ray Kurzweil, and even Douglas Adams. It felt like an attempt to end the book on an optimistic note, but it comes off as Twitter-style exuberance.

I bought my copy at Quimby’s Books in Chicago, but of course, it’s also available at the Amazon.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer