Book Review: Chicago America’s Workshop

This 2021 book by Peter N. Pero provides a plethora of photos from Chicago’s industrial era. It’s divided into sections for Heavy Industry, Manufacturing, Food & Beverage, Printing & Publishing, Retailing, Music, and Candy. Each section opens with a brief discussion of the industries and their impact on the city and country.

gordon  meyer holding book

I particularly enjoyed how the book highlights the city’s dominance as the country’s crossroads. The breadth of influence is almost overwhelming, and will certainly give you a renewed appreciation of Chicago’s cultural and economic power.

There are numerous photos, many of which I hadn’t seen before. The captions are helpful, but unfortunately often fail to provide much information about where the company or factory was (or is) located. I would have appreciated more detail in this regard.

As a love letter to the city, and a chronicle of the past, this book is a worthy addition to any Chicagoan’s shelf. I got my copy at Quimby’s in Wicker Park, but of course, you can also find it 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

Firex double beep meaning and replacement

Recently, the Firex smoke and carbon dioxide alarm on the first floor of my home started beeping. It was an unusual double-beep, not the usual low battery sound I’ve heard it make before. (Also unusual is that the beeping started during the day, not in the wee hours of the morning, as is usually the case. Just happenstance, I’m confident, but a welcome change.)

After much searching and reading online, I learned that a Firex double-beep signals that the detector has stopped working and needs to be replaced.

Unfortunately, Firex was absorbed by Kidde a few years ago. (The date of manufacture on my detector was 2004, so it should have been replaced years ago, but seriously, who checks their smoke detectors for an expiration date?)

Thankfully, the Kidde i12010SCO is a replacement for the hard-wired Firex FADC that I had. It just needs a plug adapter to connect to the Firex wires. (The wires power the device, even though it has a battery, and they signal other detectors in the home to sound off when any of the detectors are triggered.)

I opted for this particular Kidde because it has a built-in 10-year Lithium battery, which by the time the battery dies, the detector will have reached its expiration date.

I should mention that even with the necessary wiring adapter, there’s a tiny bit of work involved. The mounting ring that held the Firex needs to be replaced with the one for the Kidde, but in my case, that was just a couple of screws.


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

Leaky Peet’s Nespresso capsules

Although they are common in Europe, non-Nespresso coffee capsules (“original size”) are just now starting to become widely available in my part of the U.S. This is good news, as variety and price pressure are so very American.

However, having tried the Peet’s Coffee capsules for several months, I don’t recommend them. While the coffee is as good as you’d expect, Peet’s has gotten something wrong about the manufacture of the capsules.

Normally, using other capsules, I can run thru an entire tank of water in my Kitchen Aid Nespresso and there will be just a tiny bit of coffee in the under-cup drip tray.

With Peet’s capsules, the tray is close to being filled! Every so often, it even overflows onto my counter after just four (Lungo) cups.

Clearly, the Peet’s capsules are loosely “Nespresso compatible,” at best. Whoever engineered these knock-off capsules should go back to the drawing board. Because of the mess, and the inconsistent amount of coffee in your cup, pass them up if you see them at your grocery store.

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 Old-Time Saloon

Originally published in 1931, this edition is a delightful facsimile reprint by the University of Chicago Press. Also included are an enlightening introduction and helpful end-notes by Bill Savage.

The author, George Ade, is an under-appreciated Chicago reporter, humorist, and playwright. He was especially known for his ability to reflect the vernacular of the commoners in his work, which is very much in evidence in this book. True to his journalistic background, the subtitle of this book is “Not Wet — Not Dry, Just History,” by which Ade means that it is neither pro-alcohol (“wet”) nor anti-alcohol (“dry”). And throughout the book, which focuses on the saloon culture that was lost due to Prohibition, he sticks to his promise. It’s descriptive, factual, and fascinating, but presented without judgement.

gordon meyer with book

Without judgement, but with full appreciation and a definite mourning for what was lost. Since this was written during Prohibition, with no foreknowledge of its eventual repeal, the book is an interesting snapshot in time. And even though the country eventually broke free of its delusion and corrected the mistake, the corner saloon never returned in the same way.

There’s much here to like, and most of it is best read or retold over a drink, but here are a couple of things that stood out to me:

  • Ade describes a culture of saloon singing, much of it fueled by the popular Delaney Song Books. Some of my best college memories involve the drinking songs of my fraternity (Ade was a Greek, too) so this really spoke to me. Alas, today, one can’t break into a rousing group sing-a-long, unless you’re in a karaoke bar, I suppose.
  • Regarding the proliferation of tied houses in Chicago, the breweries were not very selective with whom they partnered. Many of their conscripted proprietors had to resort to underage peddling and other nefarious activities to stay afloat, thus fueling the anti-saloon movement that doomed their existence.
  • Closing saloons led to more drinking at home, which primarily consisted of cocktails (hard liquor) and not beer. A textbook unintended consequence.
  • The separation of “wet” and “dry” proponents was largely an urban vs rural divide. Echoing the political problems we still suffer with today.
  • Although I had read about this before, Ade provides some new (to me) detail about Mickey Finn, the bartender on South State Street, who originated the knockout drops that allowed ladies to rob paramours while they were unconscious.
  • The term “scofflaw” is a Prohibition coinage, referring to people who drank despite the Volstead Act and its enforcers.

I bought my copy at Quimby’s, but you can, of course, find it at the Amazon too.


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: Grave Tidings

This book by Paul Berra is subtitled “An Anthology of Famous Last Words.” It’s a British book, so American readers might quibble with some definitions of “famous,” but I found all the quotes interesting, enlightening, or entertaining, even when I had no idea who the speaker was. (Fortunately, Berra includes a brief discussion of each person and their circumstances, so you won’t feel completely ignorant.)

gordon meyer with book

I loved Barra’s opening paragraph in the Introduction:

In the midst of life, we are in death. Or, to paraphrase Jesus on the poor, the dead are always with us. They people our thoughts and memorials; they accumulate like dust behind locked doors and perch soberly atop bookshelves and mantelpieces.

For the record, that Jesus guy he mentions isn’t one of the people I’d never heard of. Also, I love the use of “people our thoughts,” which reminds me of Neil Tobin’s analysis of an artifact at the Winchester Mystery House.

Also in the Introduction, Berra refers to Robert Shea, and a personal patron saint of mine, Robert Anton Wilson, as “beat generation” writers. I suppose that is chronologically true, but it’s not a description that I’ve encountered before. I will ponder it carefully.

The book has about 200 examples of last words, and as there were many that I enjoyed, these are but a few examples:

  • “That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted”, said by Lou Costello before dropping dead, and “I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili,” said by Kit Carson. Succumbing with food on the mind seems like something I’m likely to do, too.
  • “Why should I talk to you? I’ve just been talking to your boss,” said Wilson Mizner to the priest who visited his deathbed.
  • “Hurrah for Anarchy! This is the happiest moment of my life!” declared a neighbor of mine, George Engel, just before being unjustly hanged until dead. (Guests on my Bizarre Wicker Park tour learn all about this.)
  • “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded” were the last words of Terry Kath, a founding member of the band Chicago, which he uttered before shooting himself during a game of Russian Roulette.
  • Ambrose Bierce, author of The Devil’s Dictionary, said, “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination” before doing just that. His whereabouts were never discovered and his death presumed.
  • “Only one man ever understood me, and he didn’t understand me” is the perfect dialectical riddle, appropriately uttered by Georg Hegel.

I bought my copy of Grave Tidings at Quimby’s in Chicago, but you can also, of course, 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: Cows on Ice and Owls in the Bog

I love aphorisms and similes, so I was happy as a pig in shit to get this book. Subtitled “The Weird and Wonderful World of Scandinavian Sayings” it promised three of my favorite things under one cover. (For the record, those are: weird, Scandinavia, and sayings.)

The book is finely produced with the kind of subtle wit and attention to minimalist detail that you expect from two Scandinavians with names like Katarina Montnémery and Nastia Sleptsova. (Huh?)


gordon meyer holding the book

The sayings are fun, and the authors include a wonderful illustration and a paragraph or two of elucidation that eliminates any head-scratching moments. Most are not innately understood by American ears, so I probably won’t be slipping any into daily use. (You’re welcome.) But the cultural insights are fascinating, and at a higher level, demonstrate the universality of the human condition. A couple of examples:

  • Have a shit in the blue cupboard. Blue paint was expensive, so only the finest possessions were kept in cupboards painted blue. The saying refers to someone doing something foolish. (Swedish)
  • Even small pots have ears. This is how Swedish adults alert each other that children are within earshot, so discussions should be tempered accordingly. This reminds me of an expression from my upbringing: “Little pictures have big ears.”
  • Talk straight from the liver. A Norwegian expression meaning to speak frankly and freely, dating back to an age when the liver was thought to be the center of emotion and feeling.
  • With one’s mittens straight. A Finnish expression suggesting that one is not working hard, or contributing as much as they could, as their mittens are not showing any sign of wear.
  • Crossing the river to get water. In Norway, this means you are attempting to solve a problem in a convoluted way when there is a more obvious and easier solution.

I got my copy at the famous “goats on the roof” place in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. (Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik) But you’ll, of course, find it at the Amazon too.


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: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

I’ve been hearing about this book for decades. I think the first reference I came across was when I was reading the book club (remember those?) edition of Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. I’ve encountered other references to Shirley Jackson’s work, too — sometimes in discussions about The Twilight Zone — but I’ve never taken the time to seek her novels.

And I still haven’t. I only read this one because it was left at my feet. That is, last October, someone put it in our Little Free Library. It was adorned with an enticing Post-It Note:

jackson book cover

I took this as a sign from a god and added the donated book to the pile of unread books that threatens to overtake my office. A couple of weeks ago, I opened to the first page, and by the end of the second sentence I was hooked:

”My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both of my hands are about the same length, but I have to be content with what I had.”

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of the most eerie, compelling, and beautifully written stories I have read. I wish I had done so sooner. As soon as I finished it (no spoilers, but the ending is perfect) I immediately wanted to read it all over again so I could study and admire its construction.

If you read the more studious reviews of the book—of which there are many in the 59 years since its publication—you’ll find heaps of praise and appreciation, but generally very little detail about the story itself. (Still, don’t read them, spoilers suck.) The reason for all their editorial vagueness, including my own, is that trying to convey the atmosphere and feeling that Jackson has created is like describing smoke. You have to experience it for yourself.

Here are some excerpts that stood out for me:

  • “I decided that I would choose three powerful words, words of strong protection, and so long as these great words were never spoken aloud no change would come. I wrote the first word — melody — in the apricot jam on my toast with the handle of a spoon and then put the toast in my mouth and ate it very quickly. I was one-third safe.”
  • “I thought of using digitalis as my third magic word, but it was too easy for someone to say, and at last I decided on Pegasus. I took a glass from the cabinet, and said the word very distinctly into the glass, then filed it with water and drank.”
  • “Since Charles had my occupation for Tuesday morning I had nothing to do. I wondered about going down to the creek, but I had no reason to suppose that the creek would even be there, since I never visited it on Tuesday mornings; …”

If you’re not lucky enough to receive a copy by divine intervention, you can, of course, buy one at 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: 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