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

Rewriting What’s New in Word

The latest version of Microsoft Word is displaying a shockingly poor “what’s new” message at first launch. I worked closely with the user documentation folks at Microsoft when they were first implementing Apple Help, and they were smart and careful folks, so I’m pretty confident this text was written by a junior engineer. But I have no idea how it made it past QA and product marketing.

MS Word screenshot of bad text

In the spirit of Usable Help, here’s a rewrite, which I’m sure could be further improved, but the first pass is free of charge.

View writing suggestions with a click

To see spelling, grammar, and other suggestions for improving your writing, Control-Click on a word. Other options available include Add to Dictionary, Smart Lookup, Synonyms, and more.

Note: I tried to figure out what “show context” meant in the original text, but couldn’t find it. Also, all the functions mentioned are available via the same pop-up menu so not only is their text hard to follow, I’m pretty sure it’s wrong. Personally, I’d drop the second sentence completely as it’s just a laundry list that muddies the water, but I kept it for contrast with the original.


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: Tono Monogatari

This is a very unusual book for me. It’s the re-telling of ancient Japanese folk tales using sequential art, and it’s published in the traditional Japanese manner so it’s read “back to front” and “right to left,” compared to other texts. (It took me about 25 pages to get used to this, by the way.)

The stories are illustrated by Shigeru Mizuki, who is apparently a Big F’in Deal in the world of Manga. (I don’t phrase it this way to dismiss him or the claim, but only to highlight the large gap in my knowledge.) The artwork is outstanding, and describing it as “stunning” seems like faint praise. Mizuki also helps bring extra life to the stories by including a few auto-biographical panels that are in reaction to the events being described, which is very charming.

gordon meyer with book

The stories of the Tono Monogatari are essentially the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, of Japan, and in fact, are similarly cataloged and varied. They were documented in 1853 by Kunio Yanagita, a cultural bureaucrat during the period when Japan was opening up to the rest of the world, and its rich and varied regional lore was being rapidly lost or willfully destroyed.

In reading these tales, I felt an immediate affinity for Yanagita, not just for the subject matter, but also for his sparse and first-person writing style. (Apparently known as bungo.)

Of the 119 tales in the book, the ones I enjoyed the most featured fairy-like beings, ghosts, shape-shifting foxes, tricksters, and giants. (The giants are described as humongous creatures who stand more than six feet tall. Who could imagine such a thing‽)

I learned a lot from this book and I greatly enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of lore, incredible ink art, and cultural surprises, I think you’ll like it too. I bought my copy at Quimby’s Books in Chicago, but of course, you can also find it in 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

Book Review: The Elements of Eloquence

It’s intimidating to write about this book for two reasons:

Firstly, after reading a book subtitled “Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase,” you might have a high expectation for my recap. If the book was so damned good, why isn’t Gordon’s writing any better?

Secondly, when I reached the end of this book, I was surprised at how many of my beloved Redi-Tags that I had used to mark passages that I want to revisit. As you can see in the photo, there was much about this book that intrigued me.

gordon meyer holding a copy of the book with page flags

So, what follows are just a few of the tidbits. But briefly, If you are a person who loves words, and you want to have a better understanding of how the English language can be honed, polished, and wielded, I think you’ll enjoy this book too.

  • The inescapable conclusion for me is that despite having spent much of my career was a writer, almost all the discussion about rhetoric, and some finer points about grammar, were new to me. Was this a part of my college English curriculum that I’ve forgotten, or is this nuts-and-bolts approach to language relegated to senior humanities courses?
  • Perhaps the answer to the above is found in this quote: “Stern people dislike rhetoric, and unfortunately, it’s usually stern people who are in charge: solemn fools who believe that truth is more important than beauty.” I was trained by stern sociologists, so I suppose that might explain the gaps in this part of my knowledge.
  • I’m an admirer of alliteration, but when it’s used too much it’s called paroemion. I wish I had known this word earlier so I could have used it in defending my work from some rather rhadamanthine reviewers.
  • Similarly, I could have also used Hyperbaton, which is the practice of putting words in an odd order. It would have helped to know then when I was trying to explain why a phrase just didn’t sing for me, particularly.
  • Am I making this book sound stuffy? The author, Mark Forsyth, uses humor and contemporary references to illustrate his points. I especially enjoyed his examples from songs by the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. (I also learned a lot about the works of Shakespeare, revealing another apparent gap in my education.)
  • Speaking of Shakespeare, for the first time in my life, I understand the mechanics of verse and pentameter. Suffice to say that chapter twenty-one was a delightful and useful surprise.
  • Not only did the Romans make willy-nilly changes to the Greek pantheon, they also freely renamed (and redefined) rhetoric, making it hard to study. The bastards!
  • I really appreciated how the author, Mark Forsyth, delightfully crafted each chapter to support the technique he’s discussing. This book would be great to read twice, so you could better appreciate its subtle and studied self-application. (However, I won’t read it again, the allure of unread books is too great to resist, and I’m running out of time to read everything I’d like to.)
  • Despite having grown up in Utah, I was unaware of the “Mormon Sex in Chains” case of 1977. (aka The Manacled Mormon) Also, thanks to trying to find info about this after a reference in the book, I discovered that Mormon p0rn is a thing.

I bought my copy of this book at the charming Unabridged Bookstore in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. But, of course, you can also find it in 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

Book Review: A Walking Tour of the Shambles

This slim, pocket-sized volume by Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe is sixteenth in the Little Walks for Sightseers series, published by American Fantasy Press of Woodstock, Illinois. I have the third printing, which features a cover by the legendary Gahan Wilson.

Gordon Meyer with book

I was drawn to this book because the title led me to ass/u/me it was about The Shambles in York, England. (A magical, haunted place that I hope to visit again someday.) Imagine my surprise, tho, to discover that this book is actually about a neighborhood here in Chicago — one that I’ve never heard of, despite it being just a stone’s throw away from my own walking tour. Amazing!

As I read, I learned that I had indeed visited Chicago’s Shambles many times. Decorum, and the Fifth Amendment, prevent me from saying too much, but I can confirm that this book is even more parafactual than my Bizarre Fact Files.

There’s a lot to admire about this book; the writing is clever, smart, punny, and in several ways it reminded me of the dearly departed Douglas Adams.

As noted in my last book review, we are born with the ability to enjoy and relish our imaginations. It’s time for you to recapture that ability as an adult, and this guidebook will certainly help. And, no, I won’t give you directions to Molly Graw’s restaurant, but the grapefruit with Ginger sounds lovely; provided Ginger is working that day. Get your copy of this book 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

Book Review: Hunter S. Thompson - The Last Interview

This book is part of “The Last Interview and Other Conversations.” The book series that collates interviews with iconic and influential public figures. (It’s worth checking out the impressive list of other titles.)

gordon meyer with hunter book

The interviews have a transcript-like feel to them (although they probably aren’t) which makes for a quick and interesting read. They’re arranged chronologically, which adds another layer of insight as H.S.T. grows in influence and psychosis. (I mean that respectfully, how could someone not be mentally affected by his lifestyle and rise to fame‽)

I should disclose that H.S.T. a favorite author, and I’ve read almost every book he’s published. (Two weeks ago I’d have said that I’ve read all of his books, but I learned in one of these interviews that I somehow missed Hey Rube.)

The interviewers range from editors and publishers of regard, to a student journalist who is clearly underprepared. (Sadly, it’s also the last interview before his death.) Also included are two wonderful interviews with the great Chicagoan Studs Terkel, both of which were lost to history until the Terkel Archive was restored. (A project I am now doubly happy to have contributed to.)

It’s impossible to read decades-old H.S.T. without the lens of the Trump klan disaster, and it makes me feel both happy (for him) and sad (for us) that he’s not around today. Undoubtedly, a 2021 perspective influenced some of the choices I made when highlighting passages, including:

  • “The people being left out and put behind won’t be obvious for years. And Christ only know what’ll happen when it’s 1985. There will be a million Hell’s Angels. They won’t be wearing colors, but they’ll be people who are looking for vengeance because they’ve been left behind.”
  • “I think having a favorite baseball team is like having a favorite oil company.”
  • “(The Hell’s Angels) came out of WWII, and not just the Angels themselves but this whole alienated and violent subculture of people wandering around looking for either an opportunity or, if not an opportunity, then vengeance for not getting an opportunity. Because they get to be thirty, and suddenly, they wake up one morning and they realize there are no more chances, it’s all gone.”
  • “By the time you get to be an expert you’re just an artifact.”
  • “I think the next big-time national politician who comes along and runs on a realistic platform to really shake the system will cause a lot of trouble. He might not win, but he will have a veto power over whoever does win.”

I bought my copy at Daunt Books on Fulham Road, which is sadly now closed, but you can also get it from the Amazon, of course. Thanks for one last ride, Hunter.


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

Announcing: Murderous Neighbors - Bizarre Fact File #5

My latest publication...

Murderous Neighbors collage

Ten shocking true stories of neighborhood murders in a compact, handmade booklet. Explore the dark side of Wicker Park and Bucktown (Chicago) history with this latest addition to the Bizarre Fact File series.

$2 postpaid. Order online at Bizarre Fact Files or from the amazing Quimby's Books in Chicago!

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