Book Review: Who in Hell

Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers are the authors of “A Guide to the Whole Damned Bunch,” which is probably the most unique book on my reference shelf. (Where it stands between the Oxford dictionaries of Superstitions and Euphemisms.)

gordon meyer holding book

The best way to describe this book is that it’s a “Who’s Who in Hell,” but I’m guessing the publishers couldn’t use that analogy for trademark reasons. Not only does the book list countless known and identified demons, but it also lists people infamous for their mortal sins, all of whom surely now reside in the fiery pits. Politicians, popes, actors, murderers, and all walks of life are represented. Each with a discussion of the actions that damned their souls.

Interspersed throughout are pithy and memorable quotes, such as “Hell is a pocket edition of Chicago” — a quip from antisemite, prohibitionist, and Englishman, John Burns.

Like all good reference books, every time I look up something, I experience serendipitous delight. For example:

  • As of 1996, 85% of Americans believe Hell exists
  • According to Papal decree, unbaptized babies and Protestants go to Limbo, not Hell. This implies that hell is populated with Catholics.
  • Iya is a Sioux malevolent spirit whose foul breath spreads illness
  • Divel was the common spelling of devil in the 1600s.
  • Adrian IV, the first and only English-born Pope, ceded Ireland to the English, causing no end of trouble.
  • While looking up John Dee (whose mortal sin was sorcery) I noticed the listing for Pierre David. David was a mid-1600s priest who committed blasphemy by issuing dildos to the nuns of his parish and insisting that they attend mass in the nude, à la the Garden of Eden.
  • The demon Hael causes gossip, and is known for teaching the art of writing letters.

Another interesting discovery was Belphagor. He’s an Old Testament devil, known for sloth and carnality, who was worshiped by the Moabites. This entry caught my eye because, while I knew the name of the imp guarding my book cabinet, I knew nothing of his story.

statue in gordon meyer book shelf

I bought my copy of “Who in Hell…” second-hand at a local Half Price Books (a great place to find reference books), but if you would rather not depend on happenstance, you can find it via the Amazon too.


Book Review: The Library of the Dead

This is one of the most fun and entertaining novels that I’ve ever read! (Well, technically, I listened to the unabridged Audible audiobook.) The setting is one of my favorite places in the world — Edinburgh — and the many geographical references stirred warm memories and a true sense of place. Never mind that the setting for the story is after some unspecified future worldwide turmoil, and that Scotland is seemingly once again independent and ruled by a King. (That’s all gleamed from the by-and-by, the story is not at all about politics.)

The author, TL Huchu, is a male Zimbabwean, but he has convincingly written the narrator as a teenage girl. She’s smart, funny, and due to the excellent voice acting, sometimes as much of a puzzle as listening to an actual Scot. This definitely increases the fun and intrigue of the story, at least for Americans. (Who knew that a “float” is a small truck, for example?)

In very brief terms, the protagonist can see and speak with the dead, and she hustles a meager income by conveying messages between the departed and the living. There are some other supernatural elements at play too, but the story remains grounded in gritty, familiar realism in nearly every other way. There’s a definite cyberpunk feel to it, too, which I really enjoyed.

This is the first volume in the “Edinburgh Nights” series, and I’ll certainly be continuing with the second. Check them out at Amazon.


The Case of the Counterfeit Nivea

Don’t be confused by the title of this piece, it is not another review of a teenage mystery novel. It’s a cautionary tale of the cesspool that Amazon has become.

A couple of years ago, in Europe, I tried a men’s deodorant made by Nivea. I liked it, but it’s not widely distributed (if at all) in the USA, so I have ordered it several times since, always in bulk, from Amazon.

When the last set that I ordered arrived, I quickly noticed that something was wrong. One of the bottles was broken open. Then, I noticed that the bottles were made from plastic, not their usual heavy glass. ‘OK, an unfortunate change in packaging,’ I thought to myself.

Next, I found that the bottles had a label that was haphazardly stuck over another label. Under the first one, the labeling was entirely in Spanish and declared that the contents were made in Mexico. The glass bottles from my previous order were labeled differently, and the country of origin was Germany. ‘OK, an unfortunate consequence of globalization,’ I thought to myself.

But things were starting to stink. Literally. The gooey liquid leaking from the “unscented” deodorant had an overpowering scent. ‘OK, something is not right,’ I thought to myself.

Either Nivea has lost their mind and made some radical changes to an established product, or Amazon just sold me a box of counterfeits. The latter seems most likely. I’ve heard that Amazon has a huge problem on their hands with regard to fakes, but fake deodorant? I suppose it’s possible.

I’m returning the broken, leaky, fake bottles to Amazon for a refund. Also enclosed in the package will be the last vestige of trust in the retailer.

Why do I blame Amazon for an insidious and difficult to police issue? I used their “Buy It Again” button to order these, an expedited checkout process that, I have since deduced, took me to an Amazon-approved vendor that was different from whom I had placed my previous orders.

Additionally, Amazon has no process for reporting a vendor who is supplying questionable merchandise. The only option is to return the order and select the reason for doing so as “merchandise not as described” — which is technically true for a counterfeit, but doesn’t help the company identify the actual problem.

Finally, I attempted to post a review of the product to alert other buyers. Amazon rejected my review saying their “community standards” don’t allow reviews that mention the vendor. This prevents me from alerting others that Kyli Commerce sold my poorly packaged and possibly fake products. My previous orders were sold by Wiki Deals and those were genuine. However, having been burned, I’ll just go back to buying lesser American deodorant from the corner pharmacy conglomerate and not risk more Amazon nonsense and hassles.


Book Review: Horrorstor

I haven’t read a horror novel in decades, but the design and premise of this one was irresistible, so I dove right in. The book, written by Grady Hendrix and properly punctuated “Horrorstör,” is about the haunting of a low-rent IKEA knockoff store called “Orsk.” The book’s design resembles an IKEA catalog and even features (increasingly creepy) products with appropriately Swedish-y names. It’s a perfect execution of the concept.

gordon meyer holding book

Here is a spoiler-safe example of how nicely the story and setting are interwoven:

(REDACTED) was completely immobilized in a wooden box roughly six feet long, twenty inches wide, so shallow that (PRONOUN) face touched the lid. It had the dimensions of a coffin, but (PRONOUN) knew right away that it was a Liripip, one of the most popular sellers in Wardrobes.

Up to about half-way through the book, the story is a fun, clever, satiric take on what it’s like working in a store like IKEA. There are ghostly vibes present very early, but for me, it was akin to an episode of Scooby-Doo.

After the halfway point, the book takes a dramatic turn towards the dark (literally) and disturbed (also literally). No spoilers, but I ended up regretting my decision to make this my “just before bedtime” nightly read. The book never loses its sense of humor or thematic cleverness, but holy hell, there are some frightening things happening in Orsk after closing!

Several years ago, I spent a summer as the sole occupant of a residence hall at Northern Illinois University. Being the only living person in a large building designed to house hundreds was sometimes quite unsettling. This description from the story really hit home for me:

Orsk was so big it needed a certain number of people on the premises to keep it under control. (NUMBER) of them weren't enough. The store was stirring, restless, growing slowly. Emptied of people, Orsk felt dangerous.

I also enjoyed this perspective about ghosts:

I believe a ghost is a subjective experience. It doesn't have an objective reality. It exists solely in the perceptions of the people who see it.

And finally, I’ve read accounts of 18th century séances and wondered how ectoplasm was perceived, this made me view the phenomenon in a new way:

(REDACTED) throat gave a final heave and what (REDACTED) saw next was impossible: it looked like she was vomiting underwater. A thick, milky liquid hung in front of (REDACTED) face, an impossible cloud suspended in midair, soft white tendrils unfurling in slow motion.

The book’s back-flap author bio indicates that Hendrix is a screenwriter, and even though I’m not a movie kinda guy, it’s easy to imagine this as a film. I hope he’s optioned it for a big pile of cash — it’s a remarkable and memorable work. (Although, I’m hoping to shake some of those memories myself.)

I found my copy on the Fiction table in a suburban Barnes & Noble, but you can get one at the Amazon, of course.


The secret to manually updating Volvo XC-60 nav maps

If the Sensus in your Volvo displays a message about updates being available, but then refuses to list any app updates, it’s probably referring to a map update. Don’t bother contacting Volvo OnCall about not seeing any updates, they will just refer you to your dealer. Then, as happened to me, your dealer will tell you that you need a map update. You can have your dealer install it (for a fee), or you can do it yourself. Kudos to Howard Orloff Volvo for pointing this out to me.

Having previously owned a Nissan Murano, I was pleased to learn that Volvo provides free map updates via their website, but not pleased to discover that Volvo’s instructions for installing the updates are poor and incomplete. After several false starts, here’s the information necessary for success, which I discovered by trial and error:

  • The flash drive must be exFAT formatted, or it won’t be recognized by the Sensus nav system. Some Volvo documentation incorrectly states that FAT32 is supported.
  • The Volvo downloader verifies the data on your flash drive, but does not verify that Sensus will recognize the drive. It could easily do so, but it doesn’t.
  • Volvo implies that you might need to buy their flash drive. I used one that I had in a junk drawer.
  • Don’t be confused that the XC-60 owners manual links to a page describing how to update the XC-90. This is just sloppy work by Volvo’s technical writers.
  • The manual says you can only update a map that you’ve previously downloaded over-the-air. This wasn’t true for me, I installed all of North America but had only regional maps already installed.
  • Final tip: Installing took about 40 minutes, followed by a long “Loading…” pause on the Sensus screen. Have patience.

Good luck!


How to Lose a Customer the FedEx Way

I’ve had a FedEx account for at least 20 years. Earlier this week, I logged into the account to ship a package. The first time I noticed that something wasn’t right was when the website wouldn’t display an estimated cost/timetable for my shipment. Instead, it displayed an ugly red error message stating that the service I had chosen was not available at the destination address. (Which made no sense at all, given my choices.)

But, I needed to send the package more than I needed a cost estimate, so I ignored the message and continued. Now another ugly red error message appeared, this one even more cryptic. It generically told me that an error occurred and displayed a link to click for more information. That link, however, led to a missing (404) page.

Ugh! I picked up the phone and called FedEx customer service. After the voice robot gave up on helping me, I was transferred to an agent. That agent gave up too, and transferred me again.

The new agent confirmed that the credit card they have on file is correct and unexpired. Also, that I could log in to the account (obviously), and then finally discovered that my account was suspended due to inactivity.

In other words, FedEx decided to put a hold on my twenty-year-old account because I haven’t shipped a package in the last couple of months. (Hello, business-stopping pandemic? You might have heard about it.)

Somewhere in FedEx HQ, a programmer created an algorithm that decided “Hey, we haven’t seen this customer for a few months, so fuck him.”

The new agent was able to clear the problem, and then I was able to generate the label for my package (after having to start all over, of course).


Livboj is IKEA’s excellent Qi charger

Qi inductive charging of devices is a convenient pain in the ass. Convenient because you don’t need to plug in; a pain in the ass because it’s slow and finicky. It requires too much attention to precisely align your device with the hidden charging coils — and if you’re a fraction of an inch off, no charging occurs.

The IKEA Livboj Wireless Charger e2010 significantly helps with the alignment problem. It’s very rare that my iPhone doesn’t immediately begin charging when I place it in almost any orientation onto the Livboj. I also have a Belkin charging pad, which cost 7x more than the IKEA model, but is very particular about how the device must be positioned.

The only downside to the Livboj is that the bottom has rubber bumpers, which may cause damage to finished wood furniture. I avoid any issues by placing the Livboj on a drink coaster.

To be fair, IKEA keeps the price low by not including a cable or power supply. All you get is the charging pad, but you almost certainly have the necessary pieces sitting in a drawer anyway. Well, except the pad uses a USB-C cable, so maybe you don’t have one of those lying around (yet). In that case, add a Lillhut braided cable for $5, and you’re still far below the price of the Belkin.


Book Review: Make Paper Inventions

This book, written by Kathy Ceceri, gives detailed instructions on making “machines that move, drawings that light up, wearables, and structures you can cut, fold, and roll.” It’s a MAKE and O’Reilly publication, so you know the instructions are top-notch.

photo of book on gordon meyer table

Additionally, the book has just the appropriate amount of educational content about the history and science behind the projects. The book is also chock-full of references to websites and retailers. (It was published in 2015, and there’s a poignant note that references to Radio Shack might soon be obsolete.)

I found the information on building electronic circuits from paper to be the most intriguing, but there is such a wide variety of things to try that I imagine almost anyone will likely find a project that appeals to them. The chapter on making paper was also of interest — somehow Ceceri’s instructions were more encouraging than others that I have read. Also included is a very intriguing machine that generates power using friction and mylar — I can’t wait to try that for myself.

I knew this book was meant for me when it began referencing familiar names and ideas, such as Martin Gardner and Buckminster Fuller. There are instructions for building paper models of their ideas, including a geodesic dome. I also found some new Möbius Strip information that would have been useful back when I used to perform Rick Johnsson’s Moby-Zip routine.

You can get your copy of this fun, easy book, along with many of the specialized materials, at Maker Shed. Or, via the Amazon, of course.


Book Review: Dr. Broth and Ollie’s Brain-Boggling Search for the Lost Luggage

What a charming and amusing book that Michael Abrams and Jeffrey Winters have created! (Granted, I’m about 22 years late to the party on discovering it.) From the charming retro-comics art (with perfect color palette), to the story, to the clever and often tough puzzles, this book is a winner. (Provided you’re into this sort of thing.)

gordon meyer holding book

The story revolves around finding a piece of luggage (lost at O’Hare, of course) accompanied by a time-traveling Alpaca named McGuffin. This simple, fanciful theme opens all the doors to a considerable variety of themes for the puzzles. The puzzles themselves are quite diverse, too, I encountered several that I’ve never seen before.

If you’re looking for a challenging, well-designed book that will take you hours and hours to finish (there are 80 puzzles), this is perfect for you. I stumbled across my copy at the delightful Bay Books in Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, but you can get it from the Amazon too, if you must.