Friday, October 30, 2009

Last-minute Halloween suggestions

I don't usually read horror, but I try to find something suitable every Halloween. In past years, I've read the Library of America collection of H.P. Lovecraft's short stories (good), Stephen King's vampire tale "Salem's Lot" (good) and Arthur Machen's "The Hill of Dreams" (a little disappointing.)

This year I am reading classic ghost stories by M.R. James. He's brilliant. I'm reading "Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories," an Oxford University Press book, but you can also simply download his stories from Project Gutenberg. (They are available as an audiobook as well as text.) Gutenberg also has oldies-but-goodies such as Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (also available as audio and text) and stories by Edgar Allen Poe.

For more suggestions on free Halloween content, go here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hey, sheriff, where do you want me to put this bomb?

My favorite news story today is from my own newspaper, the Sandusky Register, and it's about a guy who found a pipe bomb out in the woods in a wildlife area. Naturally, the only thing he could think to do about it was to tote it somewhere where it could hurt somebody if it went off. Apparently he was under a time crunch and couldn't find a nursery filled with babies, or a kindergarden class, or a dormitory full of nuns, so he had to settle for taking it to the local sheriff's office. The lobby was immediately evacuated, and a brave official then carried it outside. It was a live bomb, too. It was detonated by a bomb squad.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Internet column (Cooking By Numbers)

You probably have all kinds of food sitting in your cupboard and refrigerator. Ever wonder what you can cook with what you have on hand?
Cooking By Numbers ( has a simple menu that lets visitors check off which common ingredients they happen to have in stock. Click "search," and the site then provides a list of recipes for dishes you can make.
You may have noticed that Allrecipes ( has a similar service. You can enter four ingredients you happen to have on hand (and optionally, four ingredients you don't want to include), run a search, and get a list of recipes. I entered lentils, onions, rice and tomatoes, and 10 recipes popped up. When I omitted the tomatoes and included the other three ingredients, I got 25 recipes. I was really just testing the feature for this column, but I found a recipe I wanted to keep and e-mailed a copy to myself, using the site's handy e-mailing tool.
Tipnut has put together a list of "25 Vintage Food Prep Tips" at that are drawn from old cookbooks. (Sample tip: "Fried potatoes will be deliciously golden brown if sprinkled lightly with flour before frying.") TipNut has various household tips and is available at
Thought4Food ( tries to collect the "best cooking and food posts from around the Web." The site includes a large collection of links to food and cooking Web sites and blogs.
If you are interested in cooking, or just looking for a site that fits your particular needs, here are a couple of places to check. is just what it sounds like -- a straightforward list of 100 recipe sites. seems more comprehensive, covering kitchenware, baking and many other topics.
A fast browser. I've never been particularly interested in Apple's Safari Web browser. (A Web browser is the program you use to look at Web sites, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.)
The Macintosh computer I used at work came with Safari, but I noticed that not all Web sites worked well with it. And I can't afford to run out and buy an iPhone.
I was startled, however, when the Wall Street Journal's ace technology columnist, Walt Mossberg, reviewed the new Safari and reported that it is much faster in loading Web sites than any other browser he had tested. Mossberg also pointed out that Safari is available for Windows as well as Macintosh computers, which I hadn't realized. He also allowed he didn't like some of Safari's features. (You can read the review at his Web site,
I decided to try the browser, so I downloaded it to my Macintosh work computer. I discovered that my computer's operating system isn't up to date enough to use it. Windows users, though, can try it if they have Windows Vista or Windows XP with Service Page 2.
If you want to give the browser a try, you can find it at
Baggage fees. Planning a trip soon? One of the most unpleasant recent developments for air travel is that the airlines have been tacking on hidden fees. tracks baggage and other fees for the various airlines. I looked at it last week and saw that my wife and I would have to pay $30 for two checked bags if we each checked one each for a spring trip.
(Tom Jackson wants to hear about interesting Southwest Oklahoma Web sites and blogs. Write to him at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where good environmental practices and frugality meet

Connie Schultz has a nice column in Sunday's Plain Dealer about what she calls the "eco-friendly" practice of hanging clothes out to dry instead of using an electrical dryer. I thought I was being cheap when I did this in Lawton, Oklahoma, years ago, but apparently I was part of the pro-environment avant-garde.

If she writes about such topics again, I hope she'll mention that her readers can also save energy (and money) if they simply turn off their desktop computers when they aren't using them. This is a good idea for other reasons, too. My computer runs better when it hasn't been on for hours and hours, and computer security expert Bruce Schneier points out that a computer can't be a target for hackers when it's turned off. He writes, "Turn off the computer when you're not using it, especially if you have an "always on" Internet connection."

CNN has just posted an article on "Six Simple Ways to Save Energy at Home." Some of these were new to me.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jack Vance: A couple of miracles

Science fiction writer Jack Vance has been one of my favorite writers ever since I was a teenager. I've never wavered in my opinion that he's wonderful.

When his 2004 novel, Lurulu, came out I thought that was the last we had heard of him. But it turns out there was more.

The New York Times magazine ran a wonderful article about Vance in July.

And now there's even a new book, a memoir, "This Is Me, Jack Vance!" published by Subterranean Press. I've just finished it, and I'm hoping to get somebody to accept my review of it.