The Museum of Ereaders


I went through the ebook box today. It made me realize

a) what a bookgeek I am,
b) how far reading devices have come in the last dozen years, and
c) what a strange cusp in time we are standing upon.

I’d wanted a rocketbook for a couple of years before I could buy one. They started out as a $500 device, and I was temping as a library tech in law offices at the time. By the time RebaCon, the first and only rocketbook convention, was held in San Francisco, I was a dot-commer. I’d just come back from my first sailing trip, and went on a whim. I was hooked from the moment I held one. Being a bit more flush of money at the time, and the price being a far more reasonable $199, I called all the Barnes and Nobles in the area till I found one that stocked them. I drove down and bought one that night.

I still have it. And it still works, as do the other two we own. Of course, it’s an antiquated device by now. I need a serial port to USB adapter to even plug one in. I need to maintain a windows partition on my mac to even use the software. I mainly do that out of sentiment, but it is still the best built and best thought out reading device in existence. It was built to do one thing, and one thing only: read text. It reads three formats; its own proprietary format, vanilla ASCII, and HTML. This makes it usable to this day. It came with the Rocket Librarian, a program that organizes its library of books and allows the user to convert anything in those two ubiquitous formats into rocketbook files.

I readily admit I used it mainly as a fanfic tablet. Not only could it convert files from sites that stored such things into ebooks, it would also follow the links, if so directed, and render chaptered fics into one easily readable file. I could also get long articles from sites such as the old and read them whenever I pleased. The Project Gutenberg library was mine for the reading, wherever and whenever I wanted. And then there was, a mere shadow of itself now that it is owned by Barnes and Noble, but back in the day it was the perfect partner for the Rocketbook.

The good people who ran Nuvomedia were in it for the love of ebooks and they understood the full potential of the device. They knew that being able to put one’s own content on the device was vital, and they not only made that easy, they went as far as possible to make it useful. It wasn’t possible to actually edit files, but the bookmarking and note-taking features are better than those found on the current generation of ereaders. In short, they came as close as they could to making the PADD, the Star Trek tablet computer, as was possible back in the 1990s.

Going through that box, I realized just how much we’ve given up with the latest generation of reading devices. The people making them now are only in it for the money, and to be fair, actually bringing the ebook into widespread use probably required that mindset. Nuvomedia had to sell their device to a larger company in the end, and no vestige of the original device remains today.

I do most of my ereading today on my iPod, or on a Nook Color. I don’t care for either, but they get the job done. The iPod is too small and the apps available, ever since ebook reader was hobbled by Apple and Barnes and Noble, don’t do the job nearly as well. The iPod, though, is always with me, and so I always have something to read. It also lets me check ebooks out from the public library, which I love and do often.

The Nook unfortunately, is not only bulky, it’s also a direct open window to Barnes and Noble. They are so thoughtful, they keep track of everything for me, including my place in every book on every device. They open a wireless connection whenever they can, unless I actively turn wireless off. And they datamine my reading history and library, both to try and sell me content, and for whatever other purposes they so desire. While I can fill a certain tiny portion of the cavernous memory on the device with my own content, the lion’s share is locked in to Barnes and Noble. I didn’t realize this when I bought the device, Now that I know I will never buy another. A Kindle? More of the same. I have never, and never will own one of those.

When I buy books today, I generally take the paper option if I intend to read the book more than once. The biggest problem with both Barnes and Noble and Amazon is that the user is effectively renting content. You can read whatever you bought on multiple devices, but you can’t close the pipeline. And you can’t take the content over to another app or program. Sooner or later, the content you paid full price for will be unreadable on any device available.

I’m sitting in a room full of books right now. Paper and ink, of different shapes and sizes, the products of many minds, many of the volumes far older than I am. I can lend them to whomever I please, sell them or give them away. In time, if time is kind, they will be enjoyed by other people whose names and faces I will never know. I have nothing against ebooks. I have always wanted access to the libraries of the world from wherever I happen to be. To me that was, and is, the promise of the future. But sitting here, with the weight of knowledge heavy on shelves all around me, I wonder whether I will see free and unfettered access to the wisdom of the ages in my lifetime. The Amazons and Barnes and Nobles of our time only see what will sell, and what is current. Project Gutenberg is a David to their Goliath and in any case, can only archive what is no longer under copyright. We all know that David won, but how long will it take? What will be lost if we don’t maintain paper books, and libraries, long enough to get there? The Library of Alexandria burned, after all, and we are all the poorer for it.

Growing myself into a better person. Growing the world into a better place.


Every month, Meditation For evolutionaries hosts an online meditation gathering. Synchronicity being what it is, this dovetails nicely with a post Sage and Starshine made recently, on meditation and druidry.

I’ve been doing my best to meditate daily for a while now. It’s hard to make time, but the more I manage to do so, the easier it gets. I guess that’s the meaning of practice ;). I find that it’s easy to skip, but harder to climb back on the horse, so to speak, so finding those points where I can go either way has become a practice in itself.

When I was a deckhand, I used to go into work early. Public transit being what it is, it was easier and more pleasant to take the early BART/bus and get there before it was light. I could see the stars, and the slight lightening of the sky to the east. I’d go aboard the loneliest boat in the fleet and do my morning yoga, and then sit on a stool, my back against a bulkhead. There by the waterline I could hear the waves slapping against the hull and the occasional shouts of swimmers in the lagoon. Already quiet from the stretching I’d done, I’d look at the time and set a timer on my iPod. Time depended on how much I had left before the morning muster, but it was usually a solid fifteen minutes at least. I’d drift into the coolness of the steel around me and out across the water, and be a part of everything.

When I got hurt and had to give up the deckhand job, I lost that. By the time I get to work now the Park is open, and the ships are largely closed to me now. I tried getting up early at home, but it just didn’t work. A cup of coffee in bed and the cats lying around me were just too seductive. For a long time I drifted. Even going back to the Nyingma Institute where I’d taken my first meditation course, and taking another, didn’t help.

I could keep up my yoga by switching it to the end of my day rather than the beginning, but yoga is an immediate necessity. If I don’t do it daily, my physical issues get worse and worse, and I will end up unable to work.

Meditation is just as necessary, but the problems caused by skipping it are more subtle and don’t affect my actual ability to work. They just make life grayer and more chaotic. It’s more like losing a subtle superpower than normal functioning. Though really, what is “normal?”

I finally got back on track by doing a meditation challenge given by Deepak Chopra, of all people. For 21 days, I had to meditate every day. Very good mind candy, the meditations were online, free, and had great leaders and beautiful music. Why did this work when nothing else did? Hell, I don’t know. In college, I finally stopped biting my nails by wearing black nail polish. But by the end of the challenge, meditation had indeed become a habit again. I went back to my old practice, and am in the process of working out some Druid twists to it. Kind of like improvising a harmony to the melody below. When I stumble, there’s always the solid Tibetan underpinning to fall back on.

This once a month meditation is a different animal, however. 50 minutes of meditation is a long time for me. But the questions asked benefit from a good long period of reflection. Thinking, for example, on why I am sitting here at all, is very basic. But it cuts to the heart of practice and presence. They ask it every month, and I get to a deeper refinement of my own answer each time. There are many reasons, after all. But underlying them all, for me, is something that ties them all together. If you meditate, what is it for you? Is it self-development, service, a bit of peace in a chaotic world? If you don’t, and want to, why do you want to? What do you hope to get out of it?

Video Doesn’t Lie

(edit) Busking total: $5.65 $4971.45 to go

My partner managed to capture my open mike performance off Concert Window last night, and she’ll be able to do so consistently. I’ll also have another view because one of the performers set up a good camera and was kind enough to turn it on for anyone who wanted it.

Have I said enough times how cool these folks are? This is a great venue to come down to and learn your craft. For less than $5 you get a chance to perform on a professional stage, with real sound equipment, and even be broadcast. You also get to hang out with musicians who are supportive, welcoming, and give honest feedback. And sometimes, like last night, you even get a chance to have a look at your own performance from the audience’s perspective.

Mine was a mix of beautiful and cringe-making. I expected no less. But I thought I had done a better job when I walked off the stage than the vid showed. This is a tool I didn’t expect to get, and am incredibly grateful to have. If I can’t see it, I can’t fix it.

The song I did last night was Todd Rundgren’s For Lack of Honest Work. Because it says some things that need to be heard right now. Too many people have played by the rules in a game that is heavily rigged. And a lot of people are screwed. Which leads me to the latest doings at Underwater Acres. I’m likely not going out today because we’re going to have a friend moving in for a couple of weeks, and setting up a workstation for the near future while she looks for a place to live. So I spent this morning covering over the floor heater, which we don’t use because it is ancient, expensive to run, and only heats one room. It was an empty corner anyway, it’ll do for now. A micro office in a micro homestead. In times like these we have to stick together. If I hadn’t managed to snag the job working with volunteers back in February, it could well have been us on the street.

Next I need to rearrange this front bedroom and free up a desk, then run an ethernet connection, play with furniture, etc. There is no space in this place, but you start playing tetris with what’s here and hey presto, the walls move out. Magic of the finest kind.  By making room and making connections, all our positions become more secure. We are our own social safety net, and so the web grows stronger.

Hitch Your Wagon to a Star

Part of my problem is image. I can catch people by the ear, but not the eye. Sound will slow many, stop a few, but I just look like any other busker. So I invested a little time in sprucing up my setup:


This is quick and dirty, just a stencil and some markers. More art can be added to it as time permits. I decided against the moose horn because it’s too unwieldy to carry on transit or on a bike. The pack and the drum are doable, if a bit of a pain. Having a deep basket to throw tips into should keep the occasional kid from trying for the money, as one did my first week out. Also, people have no idea what I’m about. How can they, if I don’t tell them, quickly and clearly? And what do you think? Does this work? If not, why not?

I’ll be at the Freight open mic tonight. For $3 you can see the whole show via Concert Window, and for $8.99 a month, you can see unlimited concerts at various folk venues. I watched De Temps Antan, also at the Freight and Salvage, this way last week, and the sound and image quality was pretty good. I’m planning on watching the Freight Roots Revue this way on the 30th, and they’re going to have Holdstock and Macleod, and Mary Black in the near future.

I’ve been thinking on the nature of dreams and what I’m tackling a lot over the past week. It has been as if there was a wall of impossibility holding me back. Standing out at the Swap, singing into a concrete wall, seemingly heard by no one, I wonder just what I think I’m playing at. But then the people I swap with thank me for the music, or someone sits down at the benches and listens for a while, or I just get the bounce of sound off that concrete wall during a lull in traffic and I know that very few things happen immediately. I need to do the work and the rest will come in its own time.

My mother put herself through college back in the fifties and I remember what she used to tell me. It was hard for her, much harder than it has been for me. She came out of German Village in Columbus, Ohio, and she was the first in her family to go to college. She worked and went to school, paying her student loans off as she went because in those days they weren’t deferred. She told me she used to fall asleep on the bus, after working all night and going to school all day, and then she laughed. She said she decided that she had a choice. She could work and go to school, or she could just work. If she can do it, so can I. Because I will be working anyway, and every time there’s a chunk of money I could spend on a plane ticket, it either has to go into the house, or to pay something off, or the savings account is so desperately low that I just can’t look myself in the mirror if I spend it on what is essentially a treat for myself.

But the money in the basket is mine. It will be spent for no other purpose. I will earn my way across the sea if it’s the last thing I do. I’ll do it five dollars at a time, and I know that if I just keep on going, keep on learning more songs and getting better at what I do, the way will open.

So what’s your dream? What would you do if you could do whatever you wanted? Are you on your way, or still dreaming? What would it take to make it happen for you?

As my grandmother told my mother, “Hitch your wagon to a star, little girl. If you fall you’ll still end up higher than you were when you started.”

Freight and Salvage Last Night

Busking total: $5.00  $4977.10 to go.

The freight is a very welcoming place. I met a bunch of the regulars last night. I am definitely coming back, for the companionship, and the music.  One set of them is doing a show there on August 30th. I heard two of them separately last night, and they are well worth seeing. Depending on when my seed group leaves for the Highland Games, I’ll be there myself.

The other serious standout was a little girl named Kaya Stuart who I hope has a long and wonderful career ahead of her. She did a song called “Friendship,” accompanying herself on the piano. She sounded a whole lot older than 7 years old. I felt like I was hearing someone who will soon be recorded, or should be.

I stayed till the end of the show, and had a nailbiting ride home when I realized I’d left my lights on the windowsill. Worth it in every way, at least the streets are quiet on a Tuesday night.

The Freight has a deal going with ConcertWindow where for $3 you can see the show via computer. Don’t know how exactly this works, since I’ve been at the show the last two weeks, but it looks like it’s worth checking out. De Temps Antan is playing tonight, and I bought a single pass to see how it is, as I love Quebecois music and can’t go on down there tonight. Have to work tomorrow, and it takes an hour to get home on transit/bike. This would be a great way to see shows at a bargain price.

Didn’t busk ye…

Didn’t busk yesterday. I had no clean clothes, and my arm was killing me. I have to build in some time for basic maintenance, and the Lorin Swap is not only unpaid, it takes up most of my Sunday.

So I took yesterday to have a long look around my life and figure out a few things. Last week was wonderful. I was on vacation and all I had to do was busk, blog and cook/do dishes. Adding my job back into the mix changed things. And I discovered a very hard fact. I am not healed. Playing the bodhran brings the injury right back. A week of daily playing, even with a daily yoga practice, combined with work, showed me a hard limit.

Will three days a week be possible? Don’t know. But I’m not giving up. Arnica is a marvelous thing, and I have a great acupuncturist. I can also learn more a capella stuff and take the bodhran out of a couple of songs that can go either way. I can also limit my computer time and cut the little devices out as much as possible. The iPod and the texting on the phone are killers. If I read paper books, the temptation to use those things will not be as great.

I did get a few gear things done over Friday and Monday. My sign is blocked out. I just have to trace and paint it now. My old busking setup looked like this:



In the BART station I was just setting my bodhran case out for people to put money in. It worked, but it lacked something. And last week a kid tried to grab the money and run. I stopped him before he got properly started, but BART is not Faire and I need a better setup. Bard in a Box doesn’t really work any more, as I’m not selling tapes–who even has a cassette player any more? I don’t want to paint out the old sign, though. So I began by covering it:




I’ll be painting Busking my way to Ireland on it, with the help of my wonderful and artistic partner, who painted the horn last time and is going to xerox the mockup I made tonight. A bit of time and some carbon paper and I’ll have something.

So off to catch the lunch crowd at Montgomery BART, and then to downtown Berkeley BART or wherever I can find a spot and the Open Mic at the Freight tonight.



Victory Trees


I bought a laurel tree on a whim last summer. I had a brain fart, standing there among the plants at the farmers market, and was sure the laurel was sacred to Athena and thus so appropriate for me to bring home–and we’d have European bay leaves as well as the bay laurel I get from the hills here!

S’okay, Apollo has his place as well. When he’s not mistreating dryads, that is… I repotted the laurel and it managed to survive many months of being on the front steps till the chickens moved to San Francisco. It gained maybe three or four inches in height stuck out there with nothing but a couple of hours of morning light. Since it moved to the back yard it has more than doubled in size. Having a partner who knows how to care for plants has certainly helped. She trimmed me a few leaves that she said were sapping its strength and now she says we have to repot it.

I looked at the little stake that says it can get up to forty feet high and decided against planting it in the yard, much as I would like to. What an addition to the urban forest, after all. But we have the tiniest yard on the block. Better to confine timbertoes a bit until our situation changes and I can give it a home suitable to its possible stature.

I wasn’t able to busk today. My arm and neck told me to knock it off and I have learned to listen to such things. I’m no longer in pain, and I managed to write the lyrics to the Lugh song I’ve been working on. I keep reminding myself that the worth of the journey is not solely measured in its speed. I have to work tomorrow, which means sewing canvas, teaching volunteers, and being fit to do so.

Luckily, a short session of pruning the oak tree didn’t mess with my arms. Different task and not really repetitive motion. More a matter of cut, assess carefully, cut a little more. In their infinite wisdom, the builders, or the early owners of this house decided to plant a scrub oak right next to the side of the house. We’re talking literally within six inches of the foundation. I love this tree and I know that the odds are good that it will have to be removed if and when we can afford to replace the foundation, which is brick and unlikely to make it through a major quake. Ah, we live on borrowed time, here in California… I’ve been trimming it away from the windows and generally trying to keep it healthy. It was covered with galls when we got here and squeeeeeked against the windows like a haunted thing when it got windy. I have a place hollowed out where a chair will fit now, and pretty much cleared out the leaves and spiderwebs. Best of all, as soon as I saw out the dead stick in the middle, I’ll be able to sit there without the people from the apartment building next door looking down on me. It will be a cozy place to do a little tree magic. There’s as thick a bed of oak leaves underneath as I can manage to leave down there, with plenty left over to put in the worm bin. With a bit of imagination, it makes a nice little speck of forest. Right in my own side “yard.”

On My Way

Best moment of the day: the Pagan woman who hung around all the way through me singing King Henry and then came up to me to flash her pentagram. And we had a great talk about mythology. That was the kind of thing that happened a lot at Faire, and I have really missed it.

It is actually possible for me to do this. The Universe will provide, provided I put in the time. I played for about an hour at Berkeley BART and I made $11.50. I figure to get to Ireland and back, stay in hostels or campgrounds, hitting the places I need to, take the sail/rail to England and back to Ireland, and maybe squeeze in a few extras, I’ll need about $5000. If I can consistently make $10/hour, that’s about 500 hours of singing.

I’m planning on Tuesdays for busking and open mike at this point, and I don’t plan on only doing an hour a day. Today I did stupid things because it’s been so long since I’ve been on the street. I know better than to try and sing above ambient noise–school groups and trains, in particular. I stopped when my throat started to warn me and my arm and neck started to flare up. Knowing when to stop is a big part of this. I’m fine today, and able to go out again. Ignoring those signals last summer cost me my job. I was able to compensate a bit yesterday by alternating straight a capella with drum and voice, and I was still getting tipped. When I got home, I lay down, put my busking playlist on iTunes and learned/remembered I knew new material.

Worst case, if I played only an hour a day on Mondays and Tuesdays, that would be 100 hours a year right there. That makes it doable in a little over two years. Other opportunities will also present themselves and probably cut that time. Adding a CD to the busking will certainly help, and I’ll do so as soon as I’ve gotten enough material together. Plus I have the internet, a resource that wasn’t available to me before. If you didn’t get a tape from me at a Faire, you never heard of me. I remember finding out that one of my fans had left a copy of my tape in Ireland. I was ecstastic to even think of my music having gotten that far!

So I’m $11.50 up, $4988.50 to go.

Working At Music


Before last night, I hadn’t been to the Freight and Salvage since they’d moved. The new space is inviting, comfortable, and the energy in there had me reaching for my notebook with the beginnings of my next song in it as I was waiting for the show to begin. It didn’t hurt that their coffee is great, either.

I went to check out the open mike that’s held there on Tuesdays. Since the only open mike I’ve ever been to was held at a bar in Mystic Seaport, and I was drunk when I performed, I decided to go about this one in more professional fashion.

Mystic was actually serendipitous. It was my first sailing trip, aboard the Brig Niagara and the last stop before I left the ship was the sea music festival at Mystic Seaport. It was a nice bonus, but I’d come to sail in square rig, I didn’t really care where we ended up. We all went down to the bar and one of my shipmates signed me up, unbeknownst to me, since I’d been singing the whole trip anyway. I ended up singing after Tom Lewis, a guy I had been watching on the stage all weekend. Total surprise on all counts, and though it turned out fine, it wasn’t exactly fun at the time, and it’s no way to make a living.

I needn’t have been so cautious last night. The Freight is a great place to sing, and there was a lot of great music to be heard. The night started out with a really kick-ass ukelele player, and there was also a duo doing original showtunes that really blew me away. They did one song called “Can’t say ‘I do'” that was just incredible. I’m in a same sex relationship, and while the lavender picket fence holds zero appeal for me, that song made me cry. Not bad for $6.50. I bought an advance ticket for next week before I left. Next time the drum goes with me.

Today I’m off to stand in the street. Or wherever looks good. I never get to go to the Wednesday Market at Civic Center in San Francisco but since I’m off this week it seems a good place to start.

Worlds Apart

That was just the recharge I needed. Well, maybe not the three nights of steady drinking, but nothing that morning coffee didn’t set right. Getting to spend the day barefoot, in my leine, listening to bands and hanging with my clan, now that was a taste of the world I want to live in.

The shape of this world, the feel of it, is more important than the details. It begins with a group I’m part of, that becomes more itself when I, or any other part of it arrives. A clan, a tribe, where hospitality is at the core and we all pitch in to do what is needful, getting it done and making it part of the fun. A group where we all are after giving and receiving our gifts, to each other, and to the world. The world is a better place for our being in it.

The Games run like that, as far as I can see. People pick up after themselves. The privies are cleaned regularly, and the campground is amazingly clean considering the fact that most of us are dependent on the facilities inside the Fairground for running water. People drink mightily, and pile their bottles by the trash cans, where they’re picked up at least once a day. People and groups are welcoming. Even if they’ve never seen you before, you’re treated as part of the clans. I always know more people when I leave than I did when I arrived. And no one cares a bit what I wear–something that rarely happens in the outside world.

The task now is to keep that energy and bring it back with me, in this neighborhood full of litter and tags, where people treat each other as strangers if they haven’t seen them before. We can do better, we will be forced to do so in the not too distant future if we don’t make the choice ourselves soon.

Yesterday was hard. I met with more indifference at Berkeley BART, which is generally my best station, than I ever have. The singing felt good, I was in better voice than I’ve been in a long time too. I can fill that space with voice and drum now, without blowing out my voice, and my repertoire has expanded back to the point where I can fill 45 minutes solid before I have to start throwing in repeats.

But there are people who smile, regardless, and people who hang around for whatever reason, and the green and growing earth is still to be seen everywhere if you look for it. I spent the weekend sleeping and walking on green grass, and there are trees to be seen from the BART train. There is grass growing through the pavement, and the UC Berkeley campus is half forest. The sunflowers have finally bloomed in my yard, and the tomatoes are ripening. The raspberry bush, all but dead two months ago, is actually going to put out flowers this year. Life, and hope, are everywhere.

What shape is your perfect world? Where do you see it peeking through in this one? Can you do anything to bring it into being?