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Robert’s Roundup #22 (Aug 2021)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

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Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint. NYP means “Name Your Price” (that’s an option on Smashwords and other booksellers).

Last month’s column was very long because of the Smashwords sale. August will be much lighter. Actually that may give me extra time to actually read the books I blog about 🙂

Indie Author Spotlight


Under the Radar


Blink and it’s Gone Sale


Creative Commons/Academic/Public Domain


Library Books/Printed Books


Literary Articles and Essays




Capsule Book Review


Multimedia, Podcasts, etc.


Personville Press Ebook Deals

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. Check them out! Starting at the end of August I’ll be starting a mailing list for people to stay informed about upcoming sales and promotions.


RJ’s Geek Notes — 2021 August

See also: July 2021 and Sept 2021


Social Media Dump Aug 1-15 (2021)

See    July 16-31 and August 16-31  (View All)


Music Discoveries August 2021 #8

See also:  July 2021 and September 2021 (View all)

Articles and Interviews


Emusic Purchases

  1. First

Bandcamp Purchases


Youtubey Things


Freegal & Library CDs

  1. first

Social Media Dump July 16-31 (2021)

See   July 1-15 and August 1-15  (View All)

Miami Herald reporter Julie K Brown described how Kenneth Starr used his political connections to get the Trump DOJ to review Epstein’s case. Related: In 2018 David Brock (ex-conservative who runs Media Matters) talks about how Kavanaugh and others really hated Bill Clinton. The gang who was behind the Paula Jones lawsuit are the who’s who of Trump’s extremism.

Wow, I just checked my spam filter for something and noticed that in the last 2 weeks I have been pelted with junk email asking me to buy toenail clippers. What’s the deal? Maybe I buy some clippers once a decade (or two?). I can’t even remember the last time I used them. To the spammers who are are trying to lure me with the prospect of low-cost toenail clippers, maybe you should try a different product?

Related: Aaron Osborne defends single payer with lots of recent research. Here’s more research. Osborne has written some mythbusting articles: defending anti-poverty programs and understanding the effects of increasing the minimum wage

With regard to minimum wage, I use the livable wage calculator to figure out what income you need to meet the level needed to afford basic experiences. The biggest problem behind raising minimum wage is the propagation of the idea that there is a labor shortage and that companies have no choice but to raise wages. These stories arise because major companies are shooting off press releases about wage increases, but somehow these wage increases only seem to occur to a segment of the company’s workforce (and not everybody), plus this may apply to one national region but not the rest. It can be hard to figure out how low-paying retail jobs are, but in my experience, starting pay at these jobs tend to be lower than what these business articles are reporting. I live in a part of the country where wages are low to begin with, so that complicates things as well.

Related: low wages and the tip-based economy (2019).

One author points out why the opponents of raising minimum wage tend to win the argument at the end:

The claim that if wages go up, jobs go down isn’t a description of reality at all. Nor, in my opinion, does it reflect legitimate economics. It is a negotiating strategy. It is a scam, a con job, a threat—more precisely, it is an intimidation tactic masquerading as a legitimate economic theory. I believe this is where being a businessperson and not an economist leads to greater clarity. Very few economists have ever run a business or negotiated wages. But the first rule in the businessman’s handbook on wage negotiation and suppression is always, always, when they ask for a raise, threaten their jobs. It works like a charm, and has since the invention of capitalism. You see, the claim if wages go up, employment goes down isn’t made because it is true. It’s made because if people like me can get people like you to believe it is true, I’m going to get richer, and you are going to get poorer. The lower your wages are the higher my profits will be. It’s that simple.

I realize this is harsh, but I believe this claim is best understood as a way of subtly and legally threatening the economic, and hence, physical security of the most vulnerable people in our society. If you haven’t already lived through it yourself, imagine what life must be like for a typical minimum wage worker, barely hanging on, always a paycheck away from financial ruin and the economic abyss. And by abyss, think homelessness—think real hunger: not the hunger that comes from working through lunch or from starting a new diet, but from not having enough money in your pocket at the end of the week to buy food. Imagine seeing your own children go without the basics that all children need to succeed and to thrive. Imagine not having enough savings or credit to smooth over the rough patches; imagine not having a safety net, because your friends and family are as desperately poor as you. It must be terrifying, particularly if you have children, to be constantly threatened in this way.

Nick Hanauer, Democracy, (reprinted on PBS Newshour)

A recent roundup of reactions from climate science about all the weather events:

“The scientific community has done a really good job, projecting when we would get to like 1.2 degrees Celsius, which is about where we are now,” Kalmus said. “The community hasn’t done as good of a job projecting how bad climate impacts would be 1.2 degrees Celsius.”.. It’s already worse than what I imagined. I feel like the heat dome event in the Pacific Northwest moved up my sense of where we are at by about a decade, or even more,” said Kalmus. “I think a lot of my colleagues probably feel the same.

How to escape quicksand. (Starts at 1:10). TL;DR version is to put your hands on one side and twist the opposite leg to the side of you to gain enough momentum to get it above ground. That will make it easier when you do it with the second leg (although you may have to alternate a few times).

Larry David does a twisted tribute to Steve Martin at the Mark Twain awards.

Here’s a profile of Dr Mercola, a leading “COVID disinformer” according to the Biden Administration.

I am a giant fan of Eurovision — embarrassingly so, and I am delighted to see that Eurovision — which blocks a lot of stuff to US viewers is making available full shows of earlier years. It looks like these shows stay up only for a short time though. Currently the 1980 show is available to US viewers on Youtube. It is a lot less flashy, with more original language songs; I even heard Arabic from the Morocco performer (their first year).

I’ve started wearing a mask again — shazbut, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Probably the most shocking thing was ready the comment section in a NYT article about breakthrough infections and reading that a number of vaccinated people are reporting being infected and getting sick anyway. None of them are getting hospitalized or anything like that, but these people report being out of sorts for a week or more. The thing I really want to know is whether breakthrough infections are causing problems related to long COVID. That’s what keeps me up at night.

“An analysis by Media Matters found that the NBC, ABC, and CBS morning shows devoted 212 minutes to Bezos’ little jaunt. In comparison, those same shows spent 267 minutes covering climate all of last year.” (Source).

Nice interview with Mel Blanc — the “man with a 1000 voices.” This was on public access TV in 1979, but Dennis Tarden is a well-respected interviewer (who hails from Austin, no less).

It’s strange. I’m a heavy consumer of news, and yet these posts contains a small fraction of newsworthy stuff. Maybe it’s because I assume that certain news stories get ample attention. I’m just mentioning the things that don’t get mentioned elsewhere.

Here’s a report on Chinese censorship and Hollywood. Little by little the Chinese government has been taming Hollywood (and the videogame industry) to remove any speech which might offend the authoritarian Chinese government.

Biden must persuade Germany and Austria to stop the “Schroederization” of Europe by Anders Åslund and Benjamin L. Schmitt. Apparently, further German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been paid by Putin/Gazprom to lobby Western Europe to have a massive gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe. Germany has been trying to influence Russia through expanded trade, but the reverse has happened (also, it is contributing to climate change).

I’ve been shocked and horrified by the downfall of the Texas unemployment insurance system. I mentioned in a previous column that my unemployment was canceled inexplicably after the deep freeze in February, and the appeal process has just not taken place (noting that historically Texas has been very slow in handling appeals). Now it appears that the State of Texas claims that massive fraud is siphoning off unemployment funds from Texas. In a May 2021 piece by Jody Barr on KXAN, there are reports of many people’s benefits getting stalled because Texas Workforce claims that cybercriminals have been stealing 1 billion dollars from the agency. I am skeptical. All the accusations seem to come from Texas Workforce, very few arrests have been made, and the so-called evidence is the observable increase in unemployment claims. Perhaps fraud has increased; I don’t know. I have been waiting 5 months for the Texas Workforce to acknowledge that they seriously erred on my case. My case has nothing to do with identity theft or fraud, but I fear that it has been a victim of the agency’s obsession with rooting out fraud. Update: Wow, just realized that the agency also messed up on the accounting as well…par for the course..

Annie Lowrey has written the definitive piece on this phenomenon: The Time Tax. She documents in excruciating detail how state governments set up meaningless rules and means tests to complicate aid programs. The aim and the result — is to discourage people from using the system in the way that was intended:

This is not easy to do, by design. The United States has no unified social security agency. Instead, federal, state, and local offices administer dozens of different programs with different rules and application processes. Some are direct-benefit programs; others are complicated tax expenditures. Some are entitlements, where everyone gets the benefit if they qualify; others are rationed benefits, where submitting an application means spinning a wheel and hoping for the best. Some benefits have easy online applications; others are old-fashioned paper nightmares. (And many digital systems are just as bad as the analog ones.) The Johns Hopkins political scientist Steven Teles has memorably described this system as a “kludgeocracy.”

Let’s take a tour d’horizon. The unemployment-insurance system was the primary bulwark against the economic ravages of the coronavirus recession, keeping the country’s finances afloat. It is, in fact, not a bulwark, but a patchwork of 53 unemployment-insurance systems, many of which are meant to frustrate users. Its designers’ goal was to “put as many kind-of pointless roadblocks along the way, so people just say, ‘Oh, the hell with it; I’m not going to do that,’” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis admitted during the pandemic. “It was definitely done in a way to lead to the least number of claims being paid out.” An estimated 9 million Americans left jobless by the pandemic never got a single unemployment payment.

Or consider the tentpoles of American assistance for working families: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps; the earned-income tax credit; and the child tax credit. Food stamps reach some 40 million Americans in 21 million households. In many states, applying for them involves a quick online request, a quick approval, and a quick turnaround to start getting benefits. But not always. SNAP is workfare, meaning that adult participants judged to be “able-bodied” need to log their work hours or demonstrate that they are looking for a job. Folks get thrown off the rolls constantly for, say, not having a functioning computer. (These work requirements do not boost employment, by the way.)

TEXAS 10,000+ COVID CASES TODAY: Shockingly, today’s numbers are approaching peak levels. It appears that Governor Abbott’s executive order prohibiting schools from requiring masks now appears short-sighted and even dangerous.

Paste magazines has some great pieces about sitcoms with some analysis. Here’s Greg Garcia (creator of My Name Is Earl) talks about how he wanted to end the series:

I had always had an ending to Earl and I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to see it happen. You’ve got a show about a guy with a list so not seeing him finish it is a bummer. But the truth is, he wasn’t ever going to finish the list. The basic idea of the ending was that while he was stuck on a really hard list item, he was going to start to get frustrated that he was never going to finish it. Then he runs into someone who had a list of their own and Earl was on it. They needed to make up for something bad they had done to Earl. He asks them where they got the idea of making a list and they tell him that someone came to them with a list and that person got the idea from someone else. Earl eventually realizes that his idea started a chain reaction of people with lists and that he’s finally put more good into the world than bad.

See also: a defense of Peggy Hill (on King of the Hill), an encomium to Columbo, and Third Rock from the Sun. FYI, I wrote a post about how to write a sitcom (still holds true today). In my alternate timeline I would have been a full time sitcom writer).

BRITISH COMEDY. The funny takes of British comic actress Flora Anderson (Twitter). What great calling cards! Below is Flora being a horse. Also, see Flora being the generic wife of movie hero and a sexy talking phone.

Finally, I just realized that I have never mentioned having a Twitter account. Here’s my current twitter account @nagletx and in fact I abandoned my original twitter account @idiotprogrammer because it had too many letters. Fun Fact: I had actually run into the Twitter guy Evan Williams back before he had even started twitter (but was doing blogger). I exchanged a few casual words with him — he was the wunderkind at SXSW and he could care less who I was. I had sat next to him at one or two events. Then Twitter made its big premiere in March 2007 at South by Southwest. I got what it was about, but I could care less. (I did find it moderately useful at a local geek event where people were having a chat commentary about my talk via twitter. I really don’t engage on twitter at the moment — although I follow it more closely for lists which I use for special topics. Also I use a private list of 16 people which I check most. These are people on twitter who post interesting/heady stuff, rarely retweet and don’t post a lot of garbage. I guess you can what I’m reading/enjoying by looking at my LIKE tab (I mainly like things as a form of bookmarking).

Speaking of social media, although I’m no fan of Facebook, I’m happy with how I use it… I mix politics with personal stuff and pop culture stuff and self-promotion (a teensy bit). I grasped what FB was from the outset — its benefits and dangers. I also saw the privacy challenges it posed. I simplified things by just making all my posts public — the default setting is for only your friends (or friends of friends) to see something. FB, like Snapchat, is all about the ephemeral; it’s not really interested in helping you to create an archive of your thoughts or interactions. Indeed, search on Facebook is so incredibly clumsy that I download an offline copy of my posts for reference and of course sticks things onto this blog.


Music Discoveries July 2021 #7

See also: June 2021 and August 2021 (View all)

First, I want to mention two podcast episodes from Out of Obscurity: a discussion of Austin group Many Birthdays and 13 Year Cicada (I was the guest for that one). Also, a discussion of the Faint and Nurses.


Here’s a profile of Jade Bird, the British folk rock singer living now in Austin. I missed her Houston concert. I would love to see her live.

Here’s NPR’s best albums of the year (so far).

I didn’t love Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s In the Heights, but some of the songs were catchy as well. Pretty amazed to learn he wrote the play in college.

Emusic Purchases

  1. La Plaga by Mireia Vilar, 10 tracks, 35 minutes, 4.49
  2. s/t by Matazar (bandcamp page). Matazar is a bluesy rock band from Ecuador
  3. Elements by Nicholas Guerrero. Lovely understated mood music reminiscent of Glass (Drop, Sparks) or Debussy. There’s a sort of minimalist vibe here — like the way Glass used lots of repetitions set against melodies. Everything starts with a piano, then other symphonic elements are introduced (in Breeze, with ethereal strums of a harp). The last piece, Seeds, has the most dramatic progressions, with indistinct voices dipping it at key moments. Sparks starts with jerky piano moments and then progresses into settles into a nice symphonic where everything seems to jump and dissipate.
  4. The Lighthouse/everything’s Calm by Yann Tiersen. (musician web site). 24 tracks, 70 minutes. Nice instrumentals with a French flavor. His music is found on soundtracks for some well-known movies (Amelie, Good Bye Lenin!, etc)
  5. s/t by Staran — 9 tracks, 39 minutes, 3.99. recent Scottish folk music. Lovely.
  6. Moult by Clara Lannotta. 4 tracks, 58 minutes, 3.49. Classical music
  7. Tenquén by Monstruos del Mañana /
  8. Hell Yeah Recordings – Selfie 1 (Summer 2018) – Various. 6.99, 187 minutes, 27 tracks. This very nice sampler of Hell Yeah artists from Italy mixes New Age with laid back jazz and occasional Eurodisco. In other words, a little something for everybody! Although primarily instrumental, there are a few vocal tracks as well. Not always excellent, but always interesting.
  9. Abandoned Garden by Yujun Wang & Timer. 4.99, 107 minutes, 19 tracks. Taiwanese jazz pop band with a quiet and almost intimate sound. Some of their concerts are on Youtube. Instruments backing the vocalist are cello, oboe, violin and drum. From what I’ve heard they’re not taking a lot of chances, but it’s still pleasant listening.
  10. Floreal by Sontag Shogun, 99 cents, 25 minutes, 4 tracks.
  11. Two EDM albums by Porter: Prometheus and Belle. Both 99 cents, 5 tracks, 25-30 minutes.
  12. Äska stuka rubank och dyvla dääng by Zoon. 99 cents, 48 minutes, 6 tracks.
  13. Slash/Primitiu by Vanessa Worm and Sau Poler. 99 cents, 4 tracks, 22 minutes.
  14. s/t by Los Dias Silvestres. 99 cents, 18 minutes, 5 tracks.
  15. Sweet Mortality by Annie Taylor. 42 minutes, 4.99, 12 tracks.
  16. Wismut by Sascha Funke & Niklas Wandt. 4 tracks, 34 minutes.
  17. Embeleso by Nikola. 99 cents, 5 tracks. Very slow dreampop with almost dissonant arrangements from Dominican Republic. Nikola has a lovely voice , very easy to listen to. Like a very mellow Nelly Furtado on downers. The songs are not very melodic, and her voice just warbles all over the place. Recommended!
  18. Patio 29 by Slowkiss. 3.99, 10 tracks, 27 minutes. Alternative rock from Chile. Song titles are in English. and some of the guitar blasts are gratuitous and grungey, but still fun and energetic.
  19. Soloman by Cigarbox Man
  20. Seterra by Smicker. 2.49, 6 tracks, 22 minutes
  21. Matrioshka by Club de Carta Inglesa. 99 cents, 22 minutes, 5 tracks.
  22. Homework by Coals. 1.49 for 15 minutes, 4 tracks.
  23. And Still Winter paints white by Arash Akbari. 1.99, 29 minutes, 5 tracks.
  24. Epistolas by Pedro Mo. 99 cents, 19 tracks, 75 minutes. Also Urka Runa by the same artist. 99 cents, 7 tracks, 26 minutes.
  25. Various pieces by Hello Seahorse!. Bestia 99 cents, 36 minutes, 10 tracks. Lejos, No Tan Lejos,, 3.99 for 12 tracks, 53 minutes. Actually, I bought Arunima for 4.99 as well, 12 songs, 57 minutes. Cool group from Mexico City with an Art Rock sound. Love that lead singer — who is like the Mexican version of Blondie, only cooler (see this music vid)
  26. unojoalfuturo by Somontano. 99 cents, 13 minutes, 4 tracks.
  27. Albatros by Mundaka (bandcamp). 4.99, 40 minutes, 13 tracks. Cool Peruvian pop.
  28. Vanduo by Paulius Kilbauskas. 3.99, 60 minutes, 4 tracks. Lithuanian ambient composer who has done a few film scores. This piece is serene and beautiful, but the whole album has a lot of crackling or rainfall noises, which I find distracting.

Bandcamp Purchases

Youtubey Things

A nice live 2017 concert by a favorite family-friendly Ukrainian pop/rap band, Potap i Nastiya. Here’s a dance song they do with a kid’s chorus. God, Potip i Nastiya certainly are fun and charismatic.

I’ve been flipping over Hello Seahorse!, a art-rock band from Mexico City. (sea above) Here’s a live show they did for KEXP.

God, this Little Big song SEX MACHINE is a earwig comparable to the Sacred Cows :

I’ve really admired the satirical videos accompanying each song. They are the work of Alina Pasok and Ilia Prusikin who are also in the band. Just amazing stuff!

A musical analysis linking Britney Spears’ song Toxic with Bollywood and James Bond surf music. Here’s the sexy music vid which looks clever, unbelievably busy and too much like a videogame/superhero movie. The charm of Spears’ videos is the kineticism of the bodies, Some of Spear’s elaborate dance numbers just seem so kinetic. Apparently some of her Las Vegas show numbers are on Youtube; check out Work Bitch (which is a pretty amazing piece of choreography).

Here’s an early performance of the cute and upbeat Greek Cyprus singer Anna Vissi (22 years old) at Eurovision. (This is her first of 3 appearances throughout the years — Vissi later had a promising singing career lasting a few decades). I noticed that Eurovision is putting full shows on YouTube for a limited amount of time (1 month). Here’s the latest link for the 1980 Eurovision show, but I expect it to expire fairly soon.

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Mercedes Sosa, especially Le Voz de La Zafra
  2. More KPM Albums (can’t get enough!): Look on the Bright Side, Counterpoint in Rhythm, Impressions
  3. Anna Vissi — Greek Cypriot singer.

Social Media Dump July 1-15 (2021)

See   June 16-30 and July 16-30 (View All)

I’ve always been a fan of Robert Cialdini — a marketing professor whose book, Influence changed my life. I read it in Albania when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. In 2016 he did a sequel called Pre-Suasion — which was more academic. I’ve heard some of his talks which are on Youtube. Here’s a dynamite talk he gave about these ideas . Later, In 2015 he and linguist Steve Pinker gave a 2 part talk which is great and fun. Steve Pinker talks mainly about writing style (familiar stuff, but entertainingly told) and Robert Cialdini talks about how to use reciprocity in business situations. Cialdini actually is off his game for the first 10-15 minutes of the talk (he was not expressing himself well, but eventually he hit his stride — especially during the Q&A.

Here are the 2021 SXSW keynotes.

This tweet/thread from a veteran NYT financial reporter explains the significance of the charge that Trump.org “falsified business records.” EICHENWALD CONCLUDES: “given that those of us who covered his business for decades – back when he (Trump) was a democrat/reform party/whoever would have him – and always knew he was a crook, all I can say is, what the hell took so long? “

Beloved Houston comic store Third Planet sues neighboring hotel Crowne Plaza for allowing its guests to throw debris and yes — fire extinguishers off its balconies. The amazing part is that the lawsuit includes a comic book retelling of events. You can view/download the entire comic book here.

CARDIO EXERCISE TREAT: For about 5 years I would do various exercise DVD in my apartment. This vid by Denise Austin was always favorite. The cardio kickboxing and integrated strength training is pretty amazing between minutes 15-30. enjoy. This exercise uses an exercise stepper, which I used to use regularly. It’s a good tool, allowing you a greater variety of exercises. By the way, I really need to lose those Covid pounds, so I’m developing a new exercise routine. In 2006 I wrote a review page of exercise DVD’s — it still is relevant — indeed, many of the DVD’s can be bought for next-to-nothing or are on Youtube. I’ll mention my favorites (written 10 years ago!)

  • Billy Blank’s Tae Bo Cardio Circuit 1 Tae Bo is boxing/kickboxing with an emphasis on cardio. It was started by Billy Blanks. This workout is really fast, not too complex and only 36 minutes. Highly Recommended
  • Crunch Boot Camp Training with Sue Hitzman. Rigorous fast-paced workout with lots of weird moves. Some emphasis on upper body strength. I didn’t like the camerawork; spare me the quick cuts, I just want to follow the moves! Personality-wise, Hitzman is a little too tough for me, but she’s an effective trainer. I don’t love this workout (too many pushups!) but I used my entire body for this one. 
  • Ultimate Fat Burner (Denise Austin). Austin is bubbly and chipper and always talking (“You can do it!”) The exercises aren’t that much fun, but they are well-organized and make for a great workout. Highly recommended, especially the circuit training. Also, is by far the best produced. I get exhausted very quickly from this, and my only complaint is that there is a bit too much emphasis on upper body stretch (biceps, etc). The exercise using the step bench is among my alltime favorites! Finally, the camera prominently show you the foot movements. Note: you need free weights and a step bench. Highly Recommended. (I own). Update (one year later). This still is my favorite video, but if you want to get a lot of mileage out of it, I would buy a sturdy step bench.

Here’s a random Youtube playlist from these exercise DVDs.

As someone trying to improve his exercise regimen while overweight and 55, I see several challenges: 1)boredom. Some of these routines are very monotonous. 2)limited floor space. At the moment I have very little floor space. I am essentially exercising in place and 3)I am more interested in cardio health rather than strength, though Denise Austin’s video does manage to do most.

HILARIOUS COURT ARGUMENTS. In December 2016 Supreme Court Justices (current and future) debate the wrongful death of Romeo & Juliet. Starts at 5:43. Elizabeth Prelogar (the primary advocate) is currently Biden’s acting solicitor general (whose primary duty is arguing before the Supreme Court). Also, sitting among the panel of judges is Kavanaugh (before he was nominated for the Supreme Court) and Ketanji Brown Jackson (a heavy favorite to be Biden’s pick for the next Supreme Court opening). Also present are Samuel Alito and other federal judges. Prelogar is very clever and witty and likeable — a really important quality for Solicitor General. If that gig doesn’t work out, she should try standup comedy.


RJ’s Geek Notes – 2021 July

When I started this blog in 2001 (over 20 years ago!), I used to link to a lot of geek articles — about 50% of my postings. Then I wandered into artsy fartsy stuff — although I still am learning about technology every day. At the moment, I’m immersed (embroiled?) in a lot of geeky things, so I guess I should do a monthly linkdump for that as well. Eventually I’ll stop doing that when I stop finding cool things.

As an aside, even though I’m committed to more blogging than previously, it is psychologically comforting to create these monthly “baskets of links” which I can dump stuff into. No more pressure to publish often; I just throw stuff into baskets (and occasionally comment on them).

10 modern 1 line layouts by Google Developer Una Kravets. (website, twitter). I watched this instructional video last year — and it utterly blew my mind! I always knew I was falling behind on web design — a fact made clear to me a few years ago when I tried to view this blog on a mobile device. I just didn’t realize how much and how much more efficient CSS has become.

Una Kravets has a blogpost showing the new way of thinking about web design and a YouTube series on Designing in the Browser. Way above my pay grade except for my special projects, and I certainly want to try a few things out in modern browsers. Just being able to test better or have a better understanding of how to evaluate themes or skins would be a win for me.

One frustrating thing about ebooks is how behind reading systems are when compared to browser CSS. There is a bad guy here -definitely Amazon, which never has felt the need to improve CSS support for epub3. This is actually 2 separate problems: the fact that epub3 hasn’t been updated and that Amazon’s support of epub3 is so shitty. Offtopic, but it really is mind-blowing at how much Amazon dominates the ebook space (Like about 98% of my ebook sales are on Amazon — even though I promote the other distributors).

I’m revamping my publishing website — trying to decide between a wordpress install vs. a drupal install. My default choice has been wordpress, but wordpress has grown a lot more fractured and proprietary, plus it doesn’t really do what I need without plugins. Drupal can do that out of the box, but it requires more maintenance and more complexity.

While researching FSF’s push for a free ebook reader, I see a web-based ebook reader as a javascript epub.js . This script has been around for more than 5 years and minimal documentation, but several implementation questions on StackOverflow

How to avoid ransomware. Here’s a general background of ransomware.


Robert’s Roundup #21 (July 2021)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint. NYP means “Name Your Price” (that’s an option on Smashwords and other booksellers).

Smashwords is doing another sitewide promotion. That’s first on my list to check out, but to be honest, last sitewide sale wasn’t that interesting (and besides I’d already bought some incredible deals in previous years).

Indie Author Spotlight

Sorry for not choosing an author for this month or last month. Next month will certainly name an indie author, I promise! (This month’s column was a lot longer than usual!).

Smashwords July Sale

As I mentioned above, I have been somewhat disappointed by how few quality titles have been discounted in their seasonal sales. In my March 2021 column I linked to my favorite publishers on Smashwords (and don’t forget that Personville titles on Smashwords are discounted for this month).

I notice that titles by Paco Jones (home page) are being discounted. If I were to oversimplify, I’d say that he’s an aging California hippie with a Phd in religion who has written some conventional suspense novels with some sexy elements thrown in. Actually he’s written several series — with 2-6 in each series. These Girls Can Play is about the trials and tribulations of a girl garage band. Castaway Island (6 parts) is a sci fi series about aliens helping humans to leave earth, Deanna, a coming of age story and Craft Faire Love (spies in love), Vietnam: A distant memory (based on the author’s own life) and Things to Come, about a Vietnam soldier’s love affair with one or more girls before going to Vietnam (not based on the author’s own life, he says upfront). Jones’ fiction hasn’t received much attention, and I’d been meaning to delve into his fiction — and given the substantial discounts, there is no better time than now.

Accursed Women by Lucianna Cavallaro. 0.99 (Author Website). Australian-Italian historic novelist retells some Greek legends. She has published two volumes in in the Servant of the Gods series which involve Greek gods contacting contemporary humans. Aha, volume 2 Labyrinthine Journey involves some time-traveling elements (surprise, surprise). The later works is about 30% cheaper on Smashwords than it is on Amazon. Here’s Cavallaro’s piece about what the ancient Phoenicians ate. (Reposted from last month’s column).

Jane Seaford (website) is a New Zealand-based author with 2 discounted titles: Dead is Dead and Other Stories and Insides of Banana Skins (1.99 each). The story collection is about “intimate stories that hold a spotlight on relationships. The stories delve into the complicated, challenging and diverse incidents that make up everyday life. They are disturbing and unforgettable, and will leave the reader gasping and wanting more;” The second book (the novel) relates the story of a 17 year old Sukey living on the edge in 1960s London. (“a time for experimenting, pushing boundaries, being outrageous.”) I read the first chapter of that one; it tugs at your heart while being frank about everything (she loses her virginity on page 2!)

Sex: Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth by Michael Adrian. (NYP!). Adrian is an “evolutionary advice columnist” who discusses dating and courtship — presumably from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Adrian is a Canadian psychologist and academic who hosted a radio show and might have interesting insights.

Lit Gloss: A rose by any Other Name by Crystal Carroll. According to a long interview, Carroll writes a lot of fairy tales and children’s stories. Most of her titles are free this month, and some are always free. Lit Gloss explores various what ifs in Shakespeare. What if Ophelia became pregnant, or Juliet has second thoughts about faking her own death? Corner of First and Myth puts Greek mythological characters in modern cities.

Chad Taylor is a well-known New Zealand author (author’s website) who has won several awards. Many of his ebooks are heavily discounted to a dollar or two this month. To generalize, many of his novels are noir mysteries with a dash of the bizarre. His books have been reviewed in several leading US publications. One review described him as a “stylish writer of noir novels who has been compared to Ross Macdonald. But his seductive command of the language and his elegiac tone more closely recall Thomas McGuane.” One book Heaven was made into a movie starring one of my favorite actors Martin Donovan. It’s about a man who meets a transexual streetwalker who sees the future in her dreams. Church of John Coltrane is a sequel to Heaven, (written a decade later) about how the character loses himself in the jazz collection of his dead father (!?). Man who wasn’t feeling himself is a collection of sci fi stories with some erotic elements. If you’re into that kind of thing, you can check out Aurelie and Aurelie 2 (which is an art heist thriller). Also, see the Marginalia blog which as best as I can tell, is a potpouri of observations about pop culture and movie.

C.Y. Croc (author website) has written a lot of sci fi /fantasy/romance novels that involve male aliens abducting human females. Her boxset for Perinqual Galaxy Aliens contains the first 3 volumes in the series and is discounted to 1.49, which sounds like a pretty good deal. (Here’s the 6 volume series on Amazon; apparently, they have received a lot of favorable reviews from readers). It sounds like sexy escapism and world building in a space opera, which sounds fun, I’ll admit.

I want to mention two other great authors whose titles are either discounted or free on Smashwords. Paul Hina, Harvey Havel and others. These were all my picks for indie authors of the month.

Mobi D’Ark (author website) is a retired Englishman who lived in Thailand for 14 years and after returning to England with his family, decided to write several novels about Thailand, full of intrigue, crime and passion. They are all free! (for July anyway). He varies the themes somewhat with one novel set in Nigeria. Most of these books have good reviews on Amazon btw.

Nonentity by Kirk Alex (1.49). Alex is a verbose author rough around the edges who wrotes mainly horror and other transgressive things. This novel is much tamer than his other stuff but hits close to home. It’s about a reclusive and unemployed author looking for work. Hey, we’ve been there, that’s as much as a horror story as a blood-slasher. Here’s an interview.

J. G. Frazer and the Platonic Theory of Being by Thomas Yaeger. Another volume by a London-based philosopher and scholar of ancient history. I’d blogged about his other books.

Idaho-based Brian Kindall (author website) has written several books about Didier Rain, a scalawag, poet and entrepreneur in the 1950s. He has two volumes with this character: Delivering Virtue Book 1 and Fortuna and the Scapegrace both on sale for $1.24 each. Scott Semegran writes, “This novel has several plot twists, almost too many to count, while the magical realism and pitch-perfect language of the period elevates this story above similar rote adventures from classic texts. I found myself laughing out loud to the predicaments Didier Rain found himself in.” Generally both books have been well-received on Amazon. Aha, I see from Kindall’s blog that he appeared on the Austin Liti Limits podcast. That should be fun.

William X. Adams (author website) is a cognitive psychologist who writes psychological science fiction. Scientific Introspection: Tools to Reveal the Mind. Among his novels is Alien Talk, Alien Body: First in the Phane Series and Intelligent Things. Reluctant Android is a NYP novel which is first in a series. In his interview, Adams explains that although he enjoys “hard” sci-fi stories but calls his works my work psi-fi, rather than sci-fi, because it’s about psychology, artificial and human, in a storytelling context. When I have androids or aliens in my stories, it’s to explore psychology. I have little patience with space ships and ray guns, alien empires and talking squid. Well, maybe I care about the squid, because that involves language, which is central to consciousness. I liked the movie, Arrival, for that reason.

2 Name your price ebooks by Ian Gabriel Mitchell (author website): Mr Schlepper and Alternate University.

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints

In previous columns I used to link to amazing books from Amazon imprints which were selling at 2 dollars or less. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t seem to be publishing many new titles and their older titles are at more expensive but still reasonable prices (usually 1.99 to 4.99). So I may have to discontinue this section for future columns.

Under the Radar

Open Me (LE, 2.99) by Lisa Locascio (Website) Here’s an interview with Aimee Binder and a listicle about the best literary sex scenes and the best books about domestic labor (fictional and nonfictional). Fun description, Locascio has an MFA and Phd and writes a lot of book reviews and essays.

Razorback by Carter Ettore. (KU, LE) (author website). Book description: “Hilarious, absurd, and surreal, Razorback is an outrageous modern take on the “superfluous man”. An epic disintegration of consciousness and composure that questions the true nature of who we think we know, who we may very well be, and the limits of redemption.”

No Taller than my Gun by David Rothman (LE, 2.99). (Author website here and more book info). See my capsule review below. (PS, Rothman is a friend who ran Teleread.org). Here’s a little profile Rothman wrote about the ebook cover designer.

Collected Poems by Michael Vaughn. (Author Website). Vaughn is a prolific fiction writer and poet. I’ve captured some of other Kindle ebooks before.

Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner. (1.99) Orner (author website) and writes a lot of fiction and has received several awards, but this is an essay collection. This was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Update: Orner apparently was a frequent guest on the Book Public podcast — today while exercising, I was listening to Orner and podcast host Yvette Benavides dissect a lovely story by author Gina Berriault.

Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. (Only 99 cents!) Here’s a Zoom reading/interview for this book with Kevin Barry (who is also a novelist himself). Both are Irish authors, and this interview is fun and talks about Irish writery stuff. Here’s the book page and a review. Apparently one of her stories, Psychobabble won 1st prize from Moth Magazine. Fun fact: As a dual Irish/American citizen, my grandfather hails from Roscommon county in Ireland — where the novel takes place.

Men who lost America: British Leadership, American Revolution and Fate of the Empire by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy. (1.99, LE). This intriguing subject is part of the Lewis Walpole Series in 18th Century Culture and History – run by Yale University Press. I was telling someone the other day how fun it can be to read some history books: some of my favorite reads in the history genre have been Roll, Jordon, Roll by Eugene D. Genovese and the Great Cat Massacre by Roger Darnton. Recently I’ve been reading Paris, 1919 by Margaret MacMillan and I keep wondering, why don’t I read more history?! As good as it can be to read primary resources, a good historian or biographer can put things together in a highly readable narrative.

Blink and it’s gone sales

Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. 1.99

Essential Ginsberg 1.99. A nice anthology of Allen Ginsberg poems, plus essays, letters, commentary.

Poetry of Pablo Neruda (bilingual edition). 2.99. Over 1000+ pages.

Successful Aging: Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives. by Daniel Levitin. 1.99 (author page). I’ve read his earlier book This is Your Brain on Music.

Creative Commons/Academic/Public Domain

Downloaded several books by Thomas Wolfe from fadedpage.com (Haven’t read any Wolfe before although I distinctly remember a high school classmate doing so).

Library books/printed books

Purchased several books at my now open library:

Thurber Carnival by James Thurber. Compilation. Found replacement copy at library.

Best Novels of the Nineties: A Reader’s Guide by Linda Parent Lesher . You can view the full version online on archive.org (for an hour at least). The book was written in 2000, so it’s hard to think it can capture everything, but it gives rundowns of 700+ novelists. In a future post I will make a list of my favorite “book reference guides and book recommendation books”). For now you can browse the Lists of Neglected Books found on the right sidebar for the Neglected Books blog. I ended up buying a hard copy.

Presidential Anecdotes by Paul Boller. A political website recommends these light-reading books by Paul Boller on various presidential topics.

Eight White Nights: A Novel by Andre Aciman. I’m pretty much going to buy anything by Aciman I can afford (I blogged about him in last month’s column). His ebooks are not cheap though.

Coming Soon!!! by John Barth. Also Tidewater Tales. Two giant self-indulgent novels written in the 1990s when Barth was basically saying “fuck off” to readers, but I really want to read them now (PS, Barth was a former professor of mine at JHU).

Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum. (Author’s Twitter). Essbaum is a poet based in Austin

The Trace by Forrest Gander. (Author Website).

Literary Articles and Essays

“We are like books. Most people only see our cover, the minority read only the introduction, many people believe the critics. Few will know our content”. Emile Zola.

Michael Barrett summarizes the literary career of Margery Latimer (who died at an early age). By coincidence, a college friend of mine and author Joy Castro wrote a nice biographical essay about her fiction. Here’s the wikipedia page for those keeping score.

Wickedly good book review by Ted Goia: You want predictions about the future? Well, Bradbury’s most accurate forecast in The Illustrated Man may have simply been the title character’s full array of tattoos. Who would have guessed, back in the 1940s, that radical top-to-toe body art would be so popular in the new millennium? A few piercings, and the Illustrated Man would be at home in your trendiest modern-day nightclub, and ready for his own reality show on MTV. We may have made few steps toward colonizing Mars, but we are tattooing like there is no tomorrow.


When you are a full time writer and publisher, you do very little pleasure reading. I browse through a ton of books and literature (mainly to write this column), but it’s rare that I read novels from start to finish that are unrelated to my publishing projects. Partly it’s due to professional exigencies or the lack of a good chair to read from. Ultimately I am spending a lot of time before the computer writing or researching; when the day is over, I end up either watching one or two episodes of a sitcom or reading a chapter of a book. Last week I was working very hard on editing and formatting, but I was too exhausted to take a reading break; does that sound strange? Every day I see the books on my shelf and my ebook reader — so much fun stuff to read. Perhaps I am not as fast a reader as I used to be, but I read a lot of online periodicals (mostly about current events) and listen to podcasts. I am still as intellectually engaged as ever. I am just not reading as much fine literature as I should be.

Authors are pulled in different directions: to write stories, to research, to discover new authors, to explore the classics, to write book reviews and criticism, to blog about one’s life, to play around with new ideas, to investigate other genres. Finally for me as an indie publisher, I have to be a publicity machine, a tech genius and a savvy business man. It’s hard to figure out how many balls to juggle at once or whether I should be in the juggling game at all. Maybe I should volunteer at a homeless shelter or try politics? Go on more dates? Blog more? Life was so much simpler when I only had to write the occasional story.

Rant #2

Another rarity: I shall rant twice in one column. It’s about ebook covers. As much as I appreciate a good cover, I don’t really need one to get interested in a book. Everyone knows it’s all part of the Great Global Conspiracy to Impoverish Indie Authors by making them think that book covers impress people more than the book contents do.

That’s fine. One thing that bothers me is lack of a decent book description. Sometimes I can’t make head or tail out of these things. I have no idea what I am about to read. That’s especially true in the more artistic genres like poetry and short stories. The potential reader/buyer needs ideas about moods or themes of these pieces. I have a hard time figuring out what’s in store for readers. This is partially offset by the ability to read previews on Amazon. But not always.

Sometimes obvious details are not apparent. Like, when was the book first published? What country or region is the author from?

Capsule Book Review

No Taller than My Gun (2.99, LE) by David Rothman. No Taller than My Gun (Book website and author website). This novel is a fast-paced Oliver Twistian rags-to-riches story located in the African Congo. Unlike Western depictions of the young computer genius who triumphs with venture capital and fame, this one has a twist; Congo’s next teenage supergeek runs away to a big city (Kinshasi) to strike it rich and instead ends up working under duress for a criminal racket. Lemba’s story about how technology can be both liberating and oppressive in corrupt societies offers a sober counterweight to Western techno-utopianism.

Multimedia, Podcasts, Etc

Wow, I’ve pleasantly surprised to learn about a new Texas book podcast (or two).

First, I was already aware of the excellent Austin Liti Limits podcast (which is run by Larry Brill and Scott Semegran). I haven’t listened to many of the episodes, but I’m sure they are excellent.

Just an hour ago I discovered Book Public, a podcast hosted by San Antonio creative writer Yvette Benavides. Apparently she is interviewing lots of authors on a weekly basis. Interestingly, about 1/4 of the episodes are discussions of stories by famous authors, which is always a delight. I just finished an episode with Andre Aciman about the paradoxes of time.

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. During July 2021 almost all these titles will be discounted on Smashwords. Check them out! In August you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump June 16-30 (2021)

See  June 1-15 and July 1-16  (View All)

Governor Abbott has mostly been driven by ideology and he’s overreached several times over the past year — even for a conservative-leaning state. I’m expecting at least a mild Democratic bounceback in 2022 and 2024. In contrast to 2018 (where TX Dems made significant inroads and Beto increased enthusiasm) , in 2020 Republicans kept their majority in the Texas legislature, and even made gains in congressional races. During COVID and the February blackouts, the governor basically was the problem, while county and local officials were earning respect from everybody. The part time TX legislature has been consumed with ideological bills — they are out of sync with what Texas has been going through.

When the subfreezing power outages occurred in February, Abbott immediately blamed the renewable energy industry. He has overruled cities and counties on practical issues related to COVID. He and Attorney General Paxton have joined several lawsuits against the federal government and Democrats, most of which he has lost. Abbott has passed laws restricting abortion, complicating voter rights and making it easy to carry guns, made countless executive orders and sided with right-wing crazies way too many times. Frankly, I lose track of all the awful things Abbott and his group have done. Now it appears that Abbott wants to spend $250 million on a Texas border wall. (Or maybe we don’t have the budget for that?)

Jon Schwarz: The GOP is the party of ideas, with two strong intellectual currents. The first is that Social Security and Medicare will inevitably lead to Stalinism, and the second is that Social Security and Medicare are Stalinism. (A later tweet says This tweet is actually out of date, the strongest intellectual current in the GOP today is that Social Security and Medicare are space lizard plots to steal your children and harvest their adrenochrome. (Googling, I see that adrenochrome is one of the Qanon talking points).

JOYCE CAROL OATES: that heart-sinking sensation when you type in your old faithful password & are told: “invalid.” worse yet, the stunning message: “you are locked out.” — poor Kafka, in all his paranoia, had not a clue what awaited in 2021.(Tweet)

For the record, I don’t like to embed tweets or even link to them.

RIP Ned Beatty. This American actor starred in the fantastic & hilarious Irish comic-biopic HEAR MY SONG about the long-missing Irish singer Josef Locke. You can rent it for $4 on Amazon. Amazingly, Beatty sang all the Locke songs in the movie -one of my alltime favorite movies! (I cued it to one of his songs). Here’s a clip of Beatty singing a Locke song. Favorite throwaway line: I’d rather be in jail than in love again…

John Oliver does a lowdown about summer heat in prisons. Apparently 70% of Texas prisons do not have AC — and Texas has already spent millions defending lawsuits. This is a scandal I’ve known about for a while. I have a family member in prison and he tells horror stories. Apparently even if the state spends money on fans on alternate ways to cool — these alternate methods don’t actually reduce temperature but merely reduce the perception of heat. For aging populations sustained period of raised temperature can aggravate chronic conditions.

Aside, I’m currently working on a new website for my publishing venture Personville Press. I’ve learned that WordPress has grown into a big monster. I’m actually changing my mind about whether to do WordPress and go back to installing Drupal (which has always been a big monster).

Study: The February power outages in Texas were primarily caused by failures in the fossil fuel infrastructure and specifically in one coal/natural gas plant within 20 miles of where I live. The study reports:

.. all major fuel sources except solar failed to meet ERCOT’s expectations during the February freeze, but natural gas was “responsible for nearly two-thirds of the total (electricity) deficit.”

“Cascading risks: Understanding the 2021 winter blackout in Texas,” 

In a 2020 piece by the environmental advocacy group Public Citizen, the WA Parish plant — the one which went completely offline in February is owned by NRG and is considered one of the largest polluters in Texas among stationary sources. This pollution is calculated to cost 178 deaths per year — making it among the deadliest industrial facilities in the US.

Brian Strasert, Su Chen Teh & Daniel S. Cohan (2018): “Air quality and health
benefits from potential coal power plant closures in Texas,” Journal of the Air & Waste Management (Link)

As it happens, another Fort Bend project, ACCIONA will provide 750 MW of renewable capacity in Texas. This is compared to 2700 MW total capacity of all the Parish power plants (Further proof that the primary problem isn’t fossil fuels that we aren’t building renewable energy plants fast enough!)

Here’s a different study analyzing the February outages with a summary table below:

Comments about this table:

  1. It really is striking how little renewable energy was being generated at that time — compared to Gas and Coal.
  2. Solar production more than doubled — although that may statistical noise.
  3. In terms of actual generation, it’s clear that gas and coal underperformed, although that may simply be plant-dependent.
  4. Coal and gas is said to be more reliable, but in fact, coal plants are frequently offline for maintenance during winter months. Natural gas is more likely to be on, but bad planning and weatherization probably was the major culprit.

Texans have already read that the entire Texas power grid was minutes away from a complete shutdown.

Katharine Hayhoe on how individuals avoid thinking about climate change.

We humans are really good at psychologically distancing ourselves from things that we think will matter in the future, but not now, from how much money we save for retirement, or how much we exercise, or don’t, or what we eat and what we shouldn’t.

And it’s same with climate change. It turns out, in the U.S., almost three-quarters of the people would say, oh, yes, climate change is real, it will affect future generations, it will affect plants and animals, it will affect people who live in countries far away.

But when you say, do you think it will affect you, the number drops precipitously to just over 40 percent. That gap is our biggest problem, not the gap of people who say it isn’t real, the gap of those of us who say is real, but we don’t think it matters.

PBS Newshour

Austin vs. Houston revisited in 2021 (by Evan Mitz). I enjoy these kinds of articles (and I wrote an Austin sucks piece a long ago). I know a lot about this subject. Here are my 2021 takes:

  1. Houston restaurants are 10x better than Austin’s. No comparison. Austin’s are overpriced, limited and too crowded.
  2. Houston’s traffic is just abominable. At least with Austin, there’s a decent chance you’re not going to be stuck in traffic on a particular day.
  3. Houston still is run and supported by the fossil fuel industry. Sure, there’s the medical field, but mostly there are dying dinosaur industries which inhabit the skyscrapers.
  4. Houston’s downtown culture is lively, but it takes forever to reach it.
  5. Finding a job in Houston is way easier than finding one in Austin — just be prepared to drive 45-60 minutes to get to it.
  6. Houston has a much better music scene, mainly because of its population. Anyone at SXSW or Austin City Limits eventually hits Houston. Miller Theatre has a lot of free outdoor shows, and you can catch some amazing things.
  7. Houston is a lot more vulnerable to hurricanes and heat waves (and power outages). On the other hand, our water supply is in much better shape than Central Texas.
  8. It is theoretically possible to rely mainly on public transit in Houston (though not easy). The new trains inside the loop have really revolutionized things. By contrast, Austin has bus coverage in several areas, but nothing like the extensive park and rides of Houston.
  9. In terms of education and universities, University of Houston has been growing in overall reputation, and there are still distinguished graduate and professional programs (at Rice, UH, UT Health Science, Baylor, South Texas College of Law). UT-Austin might rank better nationally, but Rice has a better music school, UH has a better creative writing program.
  10. Houston museums are fantastic and world-class.
  11. Unlike Austin, Houston is still a place where you can make a decent living (and the work force is much more varied). The main challenge is that job sites are all over the map, and you’re constantly tempted by jobs which are 60 minutes away by car and 2 hours by bus. Houston has 669 square miles, while Austin is 271.


Social Media Dump June 1-15 (2021)

See  May 17-31 and June 16-30  (View All)

Egad, it is so annoying only having one monitor! (I’m transitioning computers and am using one for my old computer).

This tongue-in-cheek look at gas stoves reveals some unsettling truths. “Gas stoves emit a lot of the same pollutants that come from our car tailpipes in our home… Burning gas from our stoves is actually contributing 10% to our carbon emissions.” (says Brady Seals from Rocky Mountain Institute). Here’s the PDF of the report. Rocky Mountain Institute may not be a household name, but it was founded by Amory Lovins, who is a leading researcher into renewable energies.

I found some remarkable TV shows on the various streaming services: Undone, Kim’s Convenience (last season). Also watched earlier seasons for ground-breaking NBC series, Superstore.

SEX ROBOTS & COMEDY: Netflix’s Whitney Cummings does a 30 minute comedy routine about why having a sex robot wouldn’t be so bad — then she appears onstage with a sex robot of herself which she paid for. Hilarity ensues…

Last week CBS 60 minutes had a great segment about the health of the 90+ population and a medical study trying to learn from them. Among the insights: “Half of all children born today in the United States and Europe is going to reach their 103rd or 104th birthday.” according to neurologist Claudia Kawas. Another key insight: It’s hard to diagnose Alzheimer’s or dementia on the basis of brain scans. Some brain scans show lots of  beta amyloid (the alleged cause of Alzheimers) but no memory loss — and vice versa.


Musical Discoveries June 2021 #6

See also: May 2021 and July 2021 (View all)

This is my first month with a new computer, so I’m transitioning my files and equipment. This is the first PC I bought without a CD/DVD drive, so that makes me somewhat nervous in the CD media department. (I’m going to keep my previous computer for a few months in case that becomes an issue). I’m going to play around more with ibroadcast which lets you upload and stream your music collection for free. Also, as luck would have it, I’m on a 3 month trial premium membership for Spotify. Mainly I’m using it to listen to albums I’m thinking of purchasing on emusic with emusic credits.

Capsule Reviews from my Collection


Books/Articles about Music

Here’s a music journalism book by Suzanne Rothberg (sister of 90s rockstar Patti Rothberg). Just For The Record: Featuring candid interviews with famous rock legends.

Speaking of Rothberg, I’ve been listening to Patti Rothberg’s Pizza Box album (reviewed here). So far I’m really loving what I hear. Rothberg put out an amazing album, Between the 1 and 9 in the nineties, and every few years she puts out a new one. I’m pleasantly surprised at how contemporary her later albums seemed. Occasionally her sister videotapes her performing at a local club or bookstore (like this one or this one). These videos are kind of sad — the gigs are 2nd gig and kind of throwaway, and yet Rothberg is such a wonderful performer and has a lovely positive attitude all the time.


Ако си дал (Ako si dal) Emil Dimitrov

Emusic Purchases

  1. Still life on Fire by Mises es Scene. Canadian girl’s country rock. A lot of fun.
  2. Confessions by Sarah Jane Scouton
  3. Legends Live in Concert Vol. 23 by Ozark Mountain Daredevils. 70s Country concert which was dynamite.
  4. Loveless Unbeliever by The School (Elefant Records).
  5. Totem Tongue by 13 Year Cicada.
  6. Doomin’ Sun by Bachelor, Jay Som & Palehound. Smart album with a dumb name.
  7. If you’re dreaming by Anna Burch
  8. Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music on the Mason-Dixon Line by Ola Bella Reed. 7.49, 147 minutes, 58 tracks.

Bandcamp Purchases

  1. Albums by Tanya Donnelly (free). Donelly is the half-sister of Kristin Hersh and they both sang wild stuff in the band Throwing Muses, then Donelly moved onto other bands and projects (Breeders and Belly). I’m happy to see a good number of freebies here. Hey that merits a photo, doesn’t it?
  2. s/t by the Clears
  3. Black Mountain Blue Sea by Many Birthdays.

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Heart. Songs.
  2. Deep Purple
  3. Between Waves by Album Leaf
  4. Songs of Joan Baez.

Robert’s Roundup #20 (June 2021)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.

Just wanted to mention a remarkable deal I found: New York Review of Books subscription to 10 issues (6 months) for $10. That includes print + digital + access to the archives.

Indie Author Spotlight


Smashword Sales

There’s a sitewide sale coming in July (and some of the Personville titles will be discounted there). The July column should have some interesting finds. In the meantime, I found some freebies:

As a Firefly in the Night: Collection of 20 Stories by Rosko Tzolov. (Free!) Bulgarian immigrant living in New York. “I enjoy writing about “ordinary” people who find themselves in unusual situations. In such a way, they discover something new and surprising about themselves or their experience.” Currently he is working on an autobiographical novel, Robert Ratman is Sound, Sane and Optimistic.

No Gun’s in Little Cavern by Craig Sholl (Free!) . I see that there is another semi-memoir on Amazon: Truth in This by the same author (for 99 cents – KU, LE).

Accursed Women by Lucianna Cavallaro. 0.99 (Author Website). Australian-Italian historic novelist retells some Greek legends. She has published two volumes in in the Servant of the Gods series which involve Greek gods contacting contemporary humans. Aha, volume 2 Labyrinthine Journey involves some time-traveling elements (surprise, surprise). The later works is about 30% cheaper on Smashwords than it is on Amazon. Here’s Cavallaro’s piece about what the ancient Phoenicians ate.

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints


Under the Radar

Loitering: New and Collected Essays by Charles D’Ambrosio. (Here’s wiki page, and a long interview).

Other Hamlet Brother by Luke Swanson (author website). 0.99 Swanson is an Oklahoma writer, and this novel (which I snagged for free) is about Hamlet’s identical twin brother who has abandoned royal life and traveled around Europe, running into Romeo Montague, Prospero, etc. Here’s a great blurb by Dusty Crabtree: Hamlet meets A Knight’s Tale meets Gulliver’s Travels in this serious—but not too serious—nod to Shakespeare. Swanson wrangles words into unique turns of phrase that give you the perfect imagery, make you contemplate life, or leave you laughing hysterically. It’s several classic stories stuffed into one big Shakespeare sandwich…extra Hamlet.”

Just for the Record: Featuring candid interviews with famous rock legends by Suzanne Rothberg. (author website) 3.99 Rothberg is the sister of alt-singing legend Patti Rothberg who writes music articles on the side. She has also worked to publicize her sister’s music. Most of these pieces are repurposed features and interviews about musicians of yesteryear, plus a few autographical interludes. Wow, no review on Amazon, I guess, I need to post a review there eventually! (For the record I am a total fanboy of Patti Rothberg’s music and love reading these kinds of random music books.

To the Stars by Shannon Bradley-Colleary (which was made into a movie. From Bradley-Colleary’s Storytelling blog, I can see that she writes a lot of journalistic pieces on woman’s issues and

Lazy Creativity: Art of Owning Your Creativity by Kyle Bernier. (KU, LE). A series of short reflections about the artistic process by a visual artist/art therapist.. (Personal website).

Fractured Globe by Angela Fish. (KU-LE)

Storms of Malhado by Maria Elena Sandovici. (Author book page ) $0.99 MAGICAL REALISM IN GALVESTON: This Houston-based author writes a magical realism story about hurricanes past and present. “Through three different timelines, this paranormal historical novel weaves a story of Galveston’s past, underscoring its danger and isolation, as well as its remarkable resilience, its capacity for both nostalgia and reinvention. Full of contradictions, at once insular and open to the world, magical but stifling, stuck in the past yet determined to overcome, Galveston Island is as much a character of the novel as Suzanne, Betty, Katie, their lovers, and their confidantes.” The author also teaches political science in the Houston area and paints watercolors. Here’s a nice interview she did with olmistudio about her painting background, where she said, “I started writing more than ten years ago, mostly because I was bored, but also because novels with a certain kind of character – a young woman who feels inadequate and lost in the world – appealed to me, and there were simply not enough out there. “ I actually snagged her Dogs with Bagels novel she wrote a few years with the determination to read it.

I’m on the fence about paying the discounted price of 5.99 on VersoBooks, but I’m certainly interested in the subject matter of Katherine Angel‘s Tomorrow Sex will be good again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent. Angel has done a lot of zoom interviews, including one with Olivia Laing See angel Angel’s twitter feed and

Blink and it’s gone sales

Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing By Roy Peter Clark, 1.99. I have raved about all of Clark’s other works. He’s by far the best craftsman of writing I’ve seen.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby 1.99. (Twitter). Recently a friend made a reference not to the movie (which I had seen) but the book (which I had certainly not read). I realized then that I had not gotten around to reading any of his books. Let this be the first!

Best American Essays 2020 edited by Andre Aciman. 2.99. I usually skip these series, but this collection had a lot of contributions from indie mags. Editor Andre Aciman is an Egyptian-American with a CompLit Phd who wrote Call Me by my Name (which became the inspiration for the Oscar-winning movie of the same name). Strongly, no website, but Aciman has a lot of Youtube channels on various subjects: On Proust, and Call Me by your Name. Update: I really recommend the Proust lecture! Wonderful, deep stuff.

Speaking of Proust, I’ve read 3 volumes in my twenties. I would love to return to volume 4 and finish everything off. Proust has a timeless quality;

Inventology by Pagan Kennedy (1.99) accounts of how inventors got started, a nice exploration of science and entrepreneurship. (Author website)

Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy. 1.99 Humor book about history which was published posthumously after the author died. I’ve always been a fan.

Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. (personal website) In addition to writing for videogames and Dr. Who radio dramas. Writes Savannah Schroll Guz (who is also a writer, mixed media artist & cultural critic)

While locating the specific textual emergence of Hall’s influence is certainly a worthwhile pursuit, it is an academic mission best saved for someone’s undergraduate thesis. After all in the literary world, what is more immediate than an interpretation of the new? And in the case of Hall’s debut novel, the weaving together of influential threads has produced something that, once unfurled from the literary canon, also has extension beyond it.

It is Hall’s exploration of intersticed possibilities that are the most captivating part of the book. The main character, Eric Sanderson, in seeking out the mysteries of his identity, in fleeing a conceptual predator, in looking for the sensuous physical and emotional experiences once offered by his deceased girlfriend Clio, plunges into worlds between the actual and the recognizable. And he subsequently achieves an existence that operates sometimes in tandem with, but usually beneath and between, aspects of active reality.


Review Copies Received




Library books/printed books

Here are several books I bought at library book sales — all for a dollar or less.

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson. This is about the Galveston hurricane. Also, be sure to check Maria Elena Sandovici‘s book about the Galveston hurricane above.

What the Dog Saw: And other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell.

Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. This nonfiction tale about explorers who get lost in the Brazilian Amazon sounds intriguing.

Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry.

Pumpkin Rollers by Elmer Kelton (Texas/Western author). I still have not read Time It Never Rained (his most famous work).

Flashman and the Angel of the Lord by George MacDonald Fraser. From a series of 19th century historical adventures involving someone named Flashman.

A World of Ideas : Conversations With Thoughtful Men and Women About American Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future by Bill Moyers. Moyers taught the master class about interviewing. This book came out several decades ago, but should still be readable. The oversized printed book is nice and inviting.

Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman. Another anthology involving short mostly nonscientific pieces.

Reconstructionist by Josephine Hart. Author of Damage. (Wiki page) Aha, she’s an Irish author who died in 2011.

Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman — source book for Roman Polanski’s film, Piano, about how a musician survives the Warsaw ghetto under the Nazis. (Wiki page).

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I typically avoid historic novels, but Mantel’s novels are supposed to be the best (and this one won borh Man Booker and National Book Critics Circle award). Aha, I see that Mantel has published a lot of essays in NYROB (lucky for me I started a 6 month subscription!) Here’s a Paris Review interview:

Literary Articles and Essays

Rats, after I learned that master reporter and essayist Janet Malcolm, I realize that I don’t actually own a copy of any of her books. (I have checked out several of her books and read occasional New Yorker articles she wrote. Here is a Paris Review interview she did .

I’ve been writing about an incredible novel by the Pulitzer-winning poet Robert Hillyer, and I searched for a list of other fiction works written by poets. Naja Marie Aidt wrote a nice listicle of best novels by poets, At about the same time Forrest Gander came out with another more adventurous list. See also Jeremy Noel-Tod‘s list at fivebooks about the best prose poetry. Speaking of which, Gertrude Stein‘s Tender Buttons is the subject of Andre Aciman‘s essay in Best American Essays 2020. Finally Jeff Sommers has written a 5-sicle of novels written by poets with no obvious picks.

Multimedia, Podcasts, etc

Happy to come across the YouTube channel for London Review Bookshop. One nice effect of the Covid year is that bookstores are beginning to do Author Zoom interviews — although I can’t quite understand how bookstores can benefit from them. Maybe bookstores should just stop selling physical books and publish their own ebooks or run book review services or ebook deal newsletters.

Clay Reynolds talks about his books, Westerns and Texas culture in a 80 minute Youtube video. I am in the process of interviewing him about his books as well and will be writing several reviews of his books. A fascinating author.

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. During June 2021 A Workers Writebook will be regularly discounted to 99 cents. Check them out! In July you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump May 17-31 (2021)

See May 1-16, June 1-15,  (View All)

Houston’s own Dwight Silverman does a rundown of adblockers. Ironically it appears on forbes.com, which has a shitload of

Here’s a fascinating comment to another article about adblockers:

I agree. What good is an ad blocker that only gets you locked out of perhaps 70% of all Internet sites you want to visit? I believe HTML5 is directly responsible. Only after it came into general use were sites magically able to detect you are using an ad blocker. Web pages used to be simpler. I remember loading them on 56kbps modem in the 1990s. Now, to read a 2 kilobytes of TEXT, I have to load 5 megabytes or more of cumbersome web pages graphics and ads when all I care about is the 2 kilobytes of text that actually compromises a typical news article, for example. THAT is progress?

Meanwhile, I’ve found “Techblocker” to be better than any of the above ad blockers as it actually bypasses the ad blocker detecters on over a dozen major sites (including Yahoo Mail), but I think it’s only available for Chrome at the present time (itself an inside source of info for Google itself). Ironically, it still didn’t block the detection on Tom’s Guide here, but then I find it ironic this site has an article on the best ad blockers while using an ad blocker detecter itself.

The truth is if web sites loaded static photo ads (like quaint newspaper ads) in pre-loaded image sized forms (that didn’t cause web pages to “jump” like crazy as it loads yet MORE ads for the same 2K of news text), most people wouldn’t even feel the need to “block” ads. But greed is an infinite black hole that can never be filled and so it’s abused to the point where we need an ad blocker just to keep our 2-year old phones from crashing from running out of memory when we only want to read that 2k of text! It’s miserable. But when one of the world’s greatest web browser creating companies is also the world’s greatest seller of ads (Google Chrome and Google/Alphabet), some might say there’s a conflict of interests happening at the very least. What else can the average person do but find a way around the roadblocks? They want to guilt us for using ad blockers, but they don’t care if they send us 5000x the actual information content in the form of ads and make us pay to receive it as well (bandwidth).

In my last dump, I mentioned the long time of waiting for Texas Workforce to consider appeals. I’m still waiting on that appeal (it’s been 14 weeks of waiting for me). In the meantime, Gov. Abbott has helpfully refused the federal extension of unemployment benefits and Texas Workforce Commission is sending out weekly announcements about how they can clawback overpayments. I’ve tried to avoid complaining about personal things on my blog, It’s never been clearer to me how much unemployment benefits and federal extensions of it provide a boost to the economy — irrespective of whether it provides a disincentive or not. Money is money. The same holds true for the refusal of states like Texas to expand Medicaid. The net effect is less spending overall on health care in Texas — that affects jobs and salaries, to say nothing of medical outcomes.

The underlying problem seems to be that Texas fails to set minimum standards about employment and welfare. Texas still has the minimum wage of 7.25, and while the argument commonly is that nobody pays the minimum wage anymore, it means that in a place like Katy — where a living wage for a single person without kids is 14.25, a lot of wages were in the 8-12$ range 5 years ago– and post-COVID, it’s only slightly better (probably 11-15 per hour). At the same time, a lot of jobs are part time (without benefits). People basically end up having to do the 60-90 commute to Houston. Driving time and transportation is a huge factor for me in working unfortunately. On the other hand, I can work from home very efficiently and cheaply for IT/freelance writing job — if only there was enough of those things.

On why we should be putting more insect repellent around our feet and less around our face:

Riehle noted that most mosquitoes are not attracted to our heads. Rather, these bloodsuckers may be more inclined to seek out our feet, which sport bacteria that give off mosquito-enticing aromas. However, most people probably don’t notice a mosquito buzzing around their ankles, he said. 

Yesterday while cooking dinner, I watched several comedy specials with middle aged women: Whitney Cummings and a sex robot (truly ground-breaking) and Jen Kirkman. Both have Sarah Silverman vibes. The funny thing about both of them is that both are charismatic — sexy and fun, yet middle aged or approaching middle age. A lot of female comics do sexy humor — in their 20s a female comedienne often tells much dirtier jokes than men because she can get away with it. Nikki Glaser is much dirtier than most stand up comics. Truthfully, I get bored of comedians who go dirty. Actually, that’s not so much an issue than comedians who tell jokes in the exact same format


Musical Discoveries May 2021 #5

See also: April 2021 and June 2021 (View all)

Oops. I forgot to start my May musical discoveries blogpost until May 13th!. Luckily though I have been listening to a lot of great music on YouTube and emusic and bandcamp. Eventually I get caught up though. I’m totally looking forward to Eurovision next week though apparently I will have to go through the usual ruses to view it.

Capsule Reviews from my Collection

Harmonium by Soundcarrier. Psychedelic rock, full of sunniness a la Stereolab, except there is less playfulness, more energy and lots of exciting drum-crashing crescendos (like the Doors minus Jim Morrison). On the one hand, this album is traveling in well-trodden territory of Stereolab, Ladytron, Komeda, The Clean — and doesn’t seem to try anything outrageous or radical. But really I like how fierce and funky the guitar can become, how many odd sounds creep in and how the vocal male-female duet usually enter mid-song and blend in with the rock sound without overshadowing it (Let It Ride).

Books & Articles about Music

none here yet


While listening to a British electric pop group named Soundcarrier, I was feeling nostalgic about Stereolab — and remembered that although I possessed a few Stereolab, I was missing a few others. Then I stumbled upon this live appearance.

Awesome early track by Stereolab

Youtube has several awesome live appearances including — amazingly, a 1996 concert at Fitzgeralds in Houston.

Emusic Purchases

Finally I’ve gotten around to spending all my credits due to expire on May 14; indeed, I found so much great stuff (with the help of omnifoo I have no shortage of bands I want to explore. To be honest, even though I generally enjoy most of omnifoo’s recs, when I go on my listening sprees, I find so many interesting things on labels not on omnifool’s radar — which is saying a lot; he knows a lot.

  1. Harmonium by Soundcarriers. (BC) (See Above)
  2. Entropicalia by Soundcarriers. 48 minutes, later album
  3. In Search of Sunrise 16. Various. 4.49. Basically 3.5 hours of music — not including the full mixes. The trance music series goes on even after DJ Tiesto does it no more. In this case Markus Schulz, Giuseppe Ottaviani and Sunlounger divide the duties to great effect.
  4. Smoke From A Future Fire by The Howard Hughes Suite
  5. Odd Songs by Marc Cunningham.
  6. OOYes by 13 year Cicada.

Bandcamp Purchases

I’ll probably be talking in a podcast about the amazing Austin band, Many Birthdays. I’ve been following this band for more than 15 years, and only recently learned that John Dixon has been doing a sidegig as an experimental art rock musicmaker. His new group Bass Earth Sun focuses on making experimental instrumental pieces. I’ve only started to listen.

Jon Dixon of the band Many Birthdays

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Deerhunter
  2. Olga Guillot
  3. Teena Marie
  4. Mercedes Sosa

Less than Perfection

It never fails. I always have multiple IT problems affecting me simultaneously. Now here’s what I’m dealing with:

  • buying a new computer and monitor.
  • Dealing with a PHP incompatibility problem on my web host.
  • Trying a new database backup system. (Apparently the first time I tried, it was misconfigured, so it dragged all my sites down for almost an hour!
  • Doing research for a new wordpress site I’m about to build. Building this site — and getting it right will literally save me hours or weeks of time — and I have still not gotten around to starting.
  • Troubleshooting a user interface problem on my blog editor. (It’s kind of fixed). I need to upgrade this current blog as well.
  • dealing with the usual CSS and testing BS for ebooks.
  • Also on ebooks: Troubleshooting and reducing encoding errors, consistency of m dashes and n dashes and Microsoft’s smart quotes.
  • Figuring out why some multimedia projects are not working (this will have to wait until I buy the next computer).
  • Being called in by family members to solve their own technical problems (most of which involve iPhones, which I have never owned).

I’m a creative person. I’d prefer to be writing stories and working on new blogposts and essay topics. Instead I’m living in a state where things are always underperforming, messing up or being vulnerable to hackers. Every day I have to reassess my priorities: job search or fix the blog? Write this old client or do online research? Research new business opportunities or contact potential employers to pay bills in the meantime?

My current life problem is that I keep putting off creative projects in order to master the business of publishing and catch up on job search (and lose weight and start an exercise program, etc). During several periods of my life, I suffered through being unable to do any writing. While working abroad with Peace Corps, my word processor broke in the first month or two, and so I literally wrote nothing for 2 years. Between 1999-2003 I was caught up in trying to upgrade my technical skills (and going to grad school and trying to maintain an ill-fated long-distance relationship). Then between 2009-11 unemployment made it hard to concentrate on writing at all. Then in 2014-Spring 2016, I spent every waking moment preparing for my teacher’s certification, trying to prepare for class, trying to teach myself how to teach better– and then ultimately giving up when I couldn’t find a job. During 2017-2019, my writing productivity improved, but 2020-now I’ve done very little writing to speak of (though I have been very busy with publishing business stuff).

This is hard enough. When you throw technical problems on top of the heap and a little poverty, suddenly you feel perpetually stuck. Objectively, I know it shouldn’t paralyze me. You should slowly patiently prioritize and try to eliminate one obstacle at a time. On the other hand, it’s important to recognize sometimes that a problem won’t go away easily — that sometimes it is better to leave it alone or work around it or pay someone to handle it for you.

In the technical world it can be easy to get sidetracked by the tantalizing nature of a problem. A good example is with Windows issues. Sometimes the time it takes to figure out a Windows issue is greater than the time of wiping everything clean and starting over. I often solve many of the same problems over and over, but I do it so rarely that I often forgot how I did it last time. Better documentation might help, but not always. It still takes a lot of time to reacquaint yourself with old problems.

As I come closer to being an ancient geek, I see the value in just paying somebody to do it or just figuring out that I don’t need to do X after all. Sure, if you can fix your own computer, you save a little bit of money. On the other hand a competent amateur can miss out on many new opportunities when most of their time is consumed by learning how to do a repair on their car and trying to devise a Visual Basic solution to your Windows problem.

After a while, the average geek like me develops a tolerance for (and even a blindness to) being perpetually behind, putting things off as much as possible and learning to live with less than perfection.