Learning to Write Science Fiction By Studying Temporal POV

My goal is to write a science fiction novel, but I don’t have the skill or discipline to finish one now.  I write scenes and chapters, and then rewrite them.  I spend much of my time thinking about fiction and how it’s created.  I also spend a lot of time thinking and reading about the past and how we learn about it in fiction and nonfiction, films and documentaries, television shows, and even poems and songs.

When we read science fiction we read it imagining the scenes are happening in the future.

All art is communication from the past.  Even when artists are creating their artwork in the present, they are inspired by the past in creating their communiqué to the future.  Yet, when we experience art, we experience it in the present.  Writing science fiction is hard because I’m writing a message to the future, about the future, but it’s really about their past, and my past, but perceived in some future present.

Once you start thinking about artistic temporal POV it gets as twisted as a time travel paradox.

Most readers will be thinking I’m overthinking this and say, “Quit procrastinating and go write a story about spaceships and robots.”  I can crank out bad fiction all day long.  Fiction is like a stage magic – full of illusions and sleight of hand.  It’s easy enough to fool readers with crude make believe, but it’s damn hard to create a slick piece of storytelling magic.

My retired life is divided into three modes.  The first, I spend living in the present, cooking, cleaning, having friends over for dinner, getting the hot water heater replaced, shopping for books, paying bills, etc.  The second, and what I spend most of my time doing, is decoding messages from the past.  The second mode happens in the present, so reading a book – the act of sitting in a chair and looking at pages – I’m still living in the first mode.  In my head though, I’m decoding messages from the past.  Most people never think about this, and reading a book or watching a movie is the present.  It’s only when you examine how art is created that you start decoding the message from the past.  My third mode of existence, which I’m working to expand, is spent coding messages to the future.

This morning I woke up at 4:09 am. I sat in the dark (I sleep in a chair) thinking about all this.

Crosby, Stills & Nash 

I put on Crosby, Stills & Nash, CSN’s first album.  Listening to an album on headphones in the dark before dawn is a great time to focus on music and stimulate thinking.  I remember buying this album the week it was released in 1969 and how excited I was to discover it.  The Byrds were my favorite group in the 1960s, and Buffalo Springfield was another favorite band, so the names David Crosby and Stephen Stills jumped out.  The album blew me away back then.  And as I listened to it now, I admire it greatly for its artistic construction, and find it beautiful to hear.  However, the songs are fascinating.  They are histories themselves, many about famous girlfriends.  Or the songs have a history themselves, like “Wooden Ships” which months later appeared on the Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album.

Why am I talking about music when I promised to talk about science fiction?  I’m working on a story that I want to be about legendary people.  When you read it, these people will be from the future, but the narrative will make you feel they are from the past, but the scene will be set in their present.  What details from fifty years ago about ordinary people living their present survive to make legends?

Like I said, all artwork is a communication from the past.  But even my urge to hear this album this morning comes from an earlier communication.


The other night I watched Legends of the Canyon about many famous musicians, songwriters and groups that lived in Laurel Canyon in the 1960s, including The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Because David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Dallas Taylor were prominently interviewed, the film almost seemed to be about the birth of CSN.  Now I want to find time to listen to Joni Mitchell and The Mamas and Papas albums.  I don’t think I’m an old guy that dwells on the past, at least not my personal past, but much of my retired time is spent listening to music, reading books, watching television and going to the movies.  These people who lived in Laurel Canyon lived lives that are still being written about again and again.  Imagine writing about such people who live in the future.  How do you capture their essence in the fewest words?

One thing that struck me was the memories of Crosby, Stills and Nash had of the first time they played together.  Crosby and Nash insist it was at Joni Mitchell’s house, Stills adamantly insists it wasn’t.  Reading science fiction often feels like science fiction writers are predicting the future, but they are not.  They never try to predict the future.  We remember the past imperfectly, but we constantly mine it for value.  Don’t we also mine speculation about the future for value even though we know those stories are completely untrue?  Doesn’t fiction create truth out of lies?  

I’m consuming the past.  Part of that is being in the present moment just enjoying the art, but more and more, I’m thinking about where and how the art was produced.  I have read many books and articles about these bands, albums and songs.  As interpreters of art we do not have to know the history connected to them.  You can listen to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” without ever knowing that Stephen Stills was writing about Judy Collins.  However, if you do study it’s history, the nature of how you appreciate the song changes.  The more you know how the song was recorded, and how the band was formed to record it, the more you realize the song is history, part of the past, and not part of the present.  Won’t the same be true about science fiction?  The more you know about science and the present will enhance the art of painting imaginary futures?


Am I studying art, or studying history?  Yesterday I cooked lentil soup while listening to The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway Volume One.  The stories are exquisite.  They are wonderful read by Stacy Keach (who Judy Collins left Stephen Stills for) on the Audible edition, making them dramatic, and the intent of Hemingway’s writing clear and obvious.

For my retirement years my goal is to write a novel, and I’m working on it sporadically.  I’m not a very good writer, so I’m spending part of my days studying fiction and writing styles.  When I listen to Hemingway I realize two very important things.  One, Hemingway wrote as if he witness these events first hand.  Some of his stories, like the Nick Adams tales, are autobiographical, but others like “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” are obviously fiction, but the details are so vivid, that I believe many of them are autobiographical too.  Second, Hemingway wrote in a style that describes much with few words.  His scenes are vivid and dramatic, with dialog so pitch perfect that they feel ultra realistic, like everything he writes is a documentary film.  It has tremendous impact.

For example, just a few lines of dialog paints a vivid picture of the mother in “Soldier’s Home.”  How did Hemingway create her?  Was she like his mother, or did one of his friends tell him a story about their mother, or did Hemingway make it up whole?  Like a poet, Hemingway uses very few words to capture this woman.  The scene reminded me of conflicts with my mother when I was young.  No matter where Hemingway got his idea, it feels like it had actually happened.

Most fiction is made up in the head of the writer.  It’s not based or inspired by anything that really happened.  Great fiction either captures real events, or fakes them so well they feel real.  Good writing is about pulling off this trick.

I spend my days experimenting with writing science fiction, but I want to use the Hemingway style.  How do I write about a future that will never exist as if I’m chronicling something I experienced for real?  It’s only possible if I can visualize it completely, as if each scene really happened.  I’m working on a scene where a man and women meet for the first time – how can I convey it to readers who can’t see what I’m seeing in my mind, and for me to make them feel they are experiencing something that really happened?


After I cooked the soup, I went to see Philomena with my friends Janis and Anne.  It’s a movie based on real life events, which was also published as a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith.  We all loved this quiet little movie because it was so real.  I spend a lot of time thinking about how real life is turned into fiction, or how completely fictional characters are made to seem real.  It often seems to me that the fiction with the most impact is either based on real events, or at least written by people who have been to the times and places where the stories took place. 

That means science fiction and fantasy have a very real handicap.  If everything comes out of the author’s mind then the story is limited by the author’s imagination.  That’s why the Harry Potter books are so impressive.  J. K. Rowling spent years imagining her characters and scenes.  She even drew detailed pictures of them.  And that might be why movie science fiction and fantasy is so much more popular than book SF&F.  Movies have to create all the visuals and that makes the stories more real.

Science fiction and fantasy stories must spend a lot of time painting the scenery and explaining the cultural background, but don’t you think the Harry Potter books feel like the events actually happened?  Isn’t that why they succeeded and other books about schools for wizards don’t?


Sometimes history is so distant that we must recreate it from imagined details.  After the movie last night, Janis and I watched Alpha House, and then I watched an episode of Lark Rise To Candleford.  Flora Thompson wrote a trilogy of books that were autobiographical sketches of growing up in rural England in the late Victorian times.  As much as I love the TV series, it’s full of anachronistic thinking.  I’ve read a little bit of the original book and it’s absolutely wonderful in providing period details.

Writing science fiction is like producing a television show over a century after the events – only a strange stylized view comes through.  I wished I had the skill to write about the future with the details of Flora Thompson’s written observations.  Since that’s impossible, I’d have to make up the details with that level of realism.  I don’t know if that’s possible.


I’m currently listening to Distrust That Particular Flavor, a nonfiction book by William Gibson, where he talks about learning to write science fiction, but also deals with understanding the past, present and future.  Gibson also admits to not knowing how to write when he started writing but taught himself.  Listening to his essays I get the feeling he’s also obsessed with time and science fiction too, but maybe in a different way.  He talks about writing about the net before the net caught on, and writing about future technology that we have no words to describe, especially verbs that explain its impact.


I’ve also reading Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.  It is a book written in the late 1940s about 1984 but about a future that has never happened but is all too real, that is now part of our past.  Nineteen Eighty-Four is a brilliant piece of science fiction, absolutely stunning, among the best examples of the literary technique ever produced.

So, what makes Orwell’s great novel great?  To me it’s the temporal POV.  It reads like the events have already taken place, like the details given were facts of memory, like the characters actually lived through these events.  It feels like Orwell lived through this time like Hemingway lived through the events in his stories.  That’s a neat trick for a science fiction book.  It’s a trick of literature.  It’s a writing trick that distinguishes literature from genre.  And it’s one very hard act to pull off.

In struggling to write my scenes, which I do over and over again, at best I can produce pulp fiction.  I’m not being critical.  There’s nothing wrong with pulp fiction.  Hell, my writing isn’t even good pulp fiction.

But what all of this exploration of time and science fiction has taught me is I want to write as if I’ve already experienced what I’m writing.  In other words, I want to write about the future as if I’ve already lived it, instead of imagining a future I might could live in.

JWH – 12/18/13

A Bacterium, Ant, Cockroach, Mouse, Cat, Extraterrestrial and Robot Walked into My Kitchen

Infinity is a very large number.  Larger than you can ever imagine.  But let’s try.

Until recently we lived in a universe – billions of galaxies, with billions of stars each.  Big numbers, but nothing compared to infinity.  Then scientists began to speculate about a multiverse – an infinity of universes.  How many is that?  Enough that your life could be randomly recreated over and over again, for an infinity of times somewhere out there in an infinity of universes.  Some of your lives, an infinity, will only be roughly like yours, but some of them, another infinity, will be exactly like your life now, and another infinity of them will be only slightly different, by just one little thing.  And so on.  For infinity.

The number of monkeys and the amount of time it takes to randomly recreate all the works of Shakespeare by banging on old typewriters are very small numbers compared to infinity, but still much larger than what we can imagine.

Get the idea how big infinity is?  No, I don’t think so, not yet, it’s still bigger than you can imagine.

This morning after my routine breakfast of scrambled eggs and potatoes, I was sitting on the porcelain throne in the smallest room of my house, reading a copy of Civilization by Niall Ferguson, when an alien from Gliese 687 broke into my house and examined my kitchen without me noticing.  So how could I know this?  Well, this morning I was reading The Hidden Reality by Brian Green while sitting on the porcelain throne in the smallest room of my house, just after my breakfast of eggs and potatoes and I had this thought:  What if while I was taking my morning dump, an alien from Gliese lands in my backyard, jimmies open my back door with with a dazzling alien lock pick, lets itself in, along with a yellow cat hanging out by the back door, to poke around my kitchen, for a bit, only to leave before I finish my reading to return to the kitchen to do the dishes?

If we live in a reality of infinity that has happened.  Maybe it happened to me today.  Let’s make infinity even bigger.  Let’s imagine that alien is also being followed around by a robot from another universe that is billions of years old, and it is collecting information on the life forms of this universe.  Hey, it could happen, we have infinity to work with.

My kitchen is a rather small place, at least compared to all of reality.  To me it appears to be empty of life except when I fixing myself something to eat.  My wife works out of town Monday through Friday, so I live mostly alone.  On the weekends my kitchen is very busy with Susan and my coming and goings, but for the most part, from my frame of reference, my kitchen only exists when I’m in it.

My awareness of reality is equal to my ability to comprehend the physical reality outside of my body.  I have five senses that collects data that my brain processes into a view of reality.  It’s not a direct view.  I also am able to analyze this data and theorize about aspects of reality I can’t perceive directly – like time, space and infinity.  We might only have five senses but we have many more cognitive tools to perceive reality, like mathematics, logic, imagination, science, etc.

This is a tale of perspective.  A lesson in how we explore reality.  How big is reality.  How much can we perceive?

Like the famous fable about the blind men examining an elephant and all reporting something different, this story is about different creatures exploring my kitchen and reporting what they saw.


I use the world reality instead of universe because scientists are now hypothesizing that our universe is one of but many, probably an infinity of them.  So I use the word reality to point to the whole shebang of everything.  My kitchen is but one infinitely small aspect of one infinitely large reality.  Any creature standing in my kitchen will feel they are in the century of reality.  If we expand outward from my kitchen by powers of ten, we’ll eventually surpass the size of the known universe at ten to the 26.  More than likely, reality extends upwards well beyond that, probably for infinity.  If we explore downward by decreasing powers of ten, at 10 to the minus 18 we’d reach the smallest particles we know about today, but again, there’s probably plenty more small to explore, maybe an infinite amount.

My kitchen is so small compared to the rest of reality as to be non-existent.  But then, compare to the smallest of things, my kitchen is as large as the universe is to us today.

The Tale of the Bacterium


Okay, the bacterium didn’t walk in, it floated in with a few billion friends.  They wafted in unnoted by all.  Bacteria don’t have sense organs, so their concept of my kitchen was rather limited.  Maybe as much as you or I would know about the Moon if a bit of moonlight flickered on us through a window one night when we weren’t paying attention. 

Bacteria are tiny, but common, and essential to life on Earth, and for most places in our universe, the common form of life.  Some scientists have even pessimistically suggested that our kind of self-aware life might be so uncommon that we might be the only example in this universe.  Others theorize our kind of intelligent life might be common enough to have many concurrent examples per galaxy.  A bacteria might have as much as a terabyte of information stored chemically in it’s structure.  How many universes have to evolve before we have one universe where bacteria were randomly produced out of simpler non-living elements?  If it takes that many to make the smallest of life forms, how many universes have to form to create the scenario I’m giving here?

Bacteria have chemical receptors.  There was a wet spot on the extraterrestrial’s respirator exit value and they landed on it.  They died when she/he returned to their ship in my back yard moments after leaving my kitchen.  They never knew anything about my kitchen or the ET, but then bacteria have never known much about anything, let alone conceived that we all live in the same reality.

The Ant’s Story


The ant came into the kitchen from under the house, via a loose space between the flooring and the water pipes.  The ant is a giant compared to the bacterium, a magnificent creature, with useful sense organs and a little teeny tiny brain.  To the ant, a creature who perceives the world mostly in two dimensions, my kitchen is a vast affair, but not impossibly large, probably no bigger than you and I walking through a large neighborhood.  The ant was prowling through the cabinet under my sink while the alien was examining the island counter of my kitchen, while I was in the bathroom sitting on the pot reading Civilization by Niall Ferguson, and the robot was discreetly observing the alien.

The alien never noticed the ant.  The robot recorded the ants activities with it’s powerful sensors.  The ant felt the vibrations of the alien moving around the room, but never sensed the robot.  The ant never even met the dying cockroach.

Imagine if life on Earth had never evolved past the ant.  What if the perception of this Earth, our Earth, had never been perceived by nothing greater than an ant’s brain?  We humans think reality is all about us, but it’s not.  We humans come and go, even in all of infinity.  And compared to everything else in infinity, in all of reality, humans would make up such a small percentage of each universe, that our total impact would be near zero.  Compared to all of reality, we are as close to be nothing as nothing.  Isn’t it hilarious that we each think we’re everything?

I often wonder what the world will be like when mankind becomes extinct and the most advanced being on the planet will be the dolphin or chimpanzee.  Will they remember us?

What the Roach Saw


Unfortunately, the roach had entered my kitchen yesterday and had already partaken of the poison I had set out for roachkind.  It wasn’t quite dead.  It’s hairy legs occasionally stretched and retracted.  The roach didn’t know it was dying.  Nor did it notice when the alien reached down and carefully picked it up and put it in a small specimen container.  The roach would finally die in orbit around the Earth.  The roach had liked my kitchen in it’s own little way.  It was warm and not perfectly clean.  It had possibilities for a future colony.  Lucky for me, but sad for the roach, it never got to lay its eggs.  Those eggs were an interesting surprise to the ET from Gleise 687.  To the roach, my kitchen was a much smaller place than what the ant found, but to a roach, reality isn’t very big at all.  There is no infinite numbers in a roach’s brain.

The roach had perceived my presence several times during its short visit.  It had no understanding that I was a fellow creature living in a large reality, it only sensed me by vibration and changes in light patterns on its primitive receptors.  Evolution had programmed it to always run.  However, the roach had no program to warn it of the chemical appeal of the bait I had left for it.  Sorry little guy.

Mouse in the House


Last night, unnoticed by me, a little mouse crawled into the pantry from a passageway of tunnels in the wall.  My kitchen was a far richer place to little Mickey than what the ant and cockroach found.  My kitchen had wonderful possibilities, a very rich environment it.   It was aware of my every movement in the house and knew when to hide and when to scamper.  The kitchen was a three dimension maze of sights and smells, and when I left for the bathroom, the cute little mouse had come out of hiding and ran across the kitchen floor hoping to find something good to eat.  It froze when the alien picked the lock of my back door, momentary letting in a  chill breeze.  The mouse sensed the cat immediately and was below the house before the cat reached the kitchen.

The little mouse could not count.  It never knew that billions upon billions of bacteria lived inside it’s little body.  It was no Carl Sagan of mice.

The Kitty Kat


The scruffy old cat was looking for a warm spot when it ran into the house.  The being that let it in did not scare it like the human that lived there.  The cat was leery of all humans and lived out of doors on its own.  It was always drawn to the warmth that leaked out of houses, but never liked people, and especially hated dogs.  It always kept other animals at a distance, except the ones it wanted to eat.  As soon as the yellow cat walked into the kitchen it could smell the mouse.

In terms of certain kinds of numbers, cats and humans are very close.  We know of each other’s existence.  The difference is we can conceptually know much further than our senses can show us, whereas a cat is a creature that lives very well within it’s perceptual reach.  This makes some humans sad, and others happy.

Alien from Gliese 687 (cloaked)


The alien was hundreds of years old because of enhancements to her/his biology.  Aliens from Gliese 687 traveled between stars at one third of the speed of life.  They have been observing Earth for millions of years.  That’s the thing about intelligence, about the only thing to do in this universe is to observe how it works.  Observers seldom let themselves be observed because of ethical reasons.  It’s not much fun for a species to discover it’s not the crown of creation.  If humans suddenly realized it was the mouse or cockroach of this reality, or even the bacterium, it would be hard on our collective ego.

She/he had let in a yellow cat that was hanging around the back door.  The alien was completely silent, but then she/he was unaware of being followed by a robot from another universe.

The Robot from Another Universe (cloaked)


The carefully cloaked robot had been following the alien for over two hundred of our years.   The robot found the alien the most interesting creature it has discovered in the last 787,623 years.  When you can live for billions of years across multiple universes finding something interesting to do with your time is a challenge.

The robot was like a machine, but calling it a machine would be insulting.  Eons ago it had been created by intelligent machines closer in shape to what we call machines.  There are limits to intelligence, consciousness, awareness and lifespan, and this robot was at the outer limit, at least for all the universes it was aware of, but then there was much it wasn’t aware of.  There’s always more.  Infinity is like that.

Me, James Wallace Harris


This version of me is a lot like most of the others like me.  I mostly know about this house, and what exists around it for a few miles.  Conceptually I know about a lot more, but most of my awareness is focused on a tiny piece of reality, in a tiny fragment of time.  Reality has existed for an infinite time before me, and will exist for an infinite time after me.  Reality is infinitely bigger than I can imagine.  I miss a lot, like the visit from the bacterium, ant, cockroach, mouse, cat, alien and robot.  That’s how it always is, we miss a lot.  We miss most of everything.  We miss an infinity of everything.  But that’s okay, because we have a finite mind that enjoys a finite time and place.  Small numbers do have their charm.

None of my visitors stayed long, and by the time I finished my after breakfast read and returned to clean up the kitchen they had gone.  I went off to my computer room to write this until lunch time.  Which is now.

JWH 12/11/13

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

A very long time ago, Judy Collins sang a song called “Who Knows Where The Times Goes?” that is very relevant to me now.  Play this video to hear the song, and to have a soundtrack for this essay.  Play the other two if you have the time, and especially if you don’t, and you’ll know which by the end of this story.

I’ve been retired five weeks now, and I’m constantly asking myself, where does the time go?  For my entire work life I dreamed of having more time by not having to work, and now that I don’t have to work, I’m not finding that abundance of time for which I wished so hard.  What’s happened?  I should have a third more time – where did it go?

Before I retired I read about a book a week.  I thought after retiring I’d have so much more time that I might get to read two books a week.  I’m not even reading as much as when I worked full time.  Does anyone really knows where their time goes?

I’m not watching more TV, or even doing more housework.  I’m certainly not writing more.  Days have gone into hyperdrive, and time has just disappeared – going who knows where.  I no longer think about tomorrow, and everyday is Saturday, and it’s very pleasant indeed, but I keep asking myself, who knows where the time goes?

Was time ever a commodity? 

Just because we can count the hours and minutes doesn’t mean we have them to spend and save.

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” is a folk song written by Sandy Denny in 1967, and here’s a tribute to her, which ends with a photo of her headstone.  She didn’t live long, and her grave marker is a very sad way we all ask where does the time go?

I’m watching a television series called Lark Rise to Candleford about life in England in the 1880s.  In one episode a craftsman comes to Candleford to build the town a clock and he warns the folk their old life will disappear when they live by the clock.  After retiring I’m living in a different dimension, without a clock, where time is disappearing.  I’m already forgetting the days of the weeks, and it’s hard to remember the days of the month, and now, even the hours of the day seem unimportant.

Time is something we have when we live by the clock.  I no longer look at the time to see that I have three more hours till lunch, or two more hours until I need to do something else.  It only intrudes when the outside world asks me to do something at a specific time.  I get up when I feel like it, I eat when I’m hungry.  I watch television when I want, from streaming or DVD, not a schedule.  I read when the urge strikes, and nap when I’m drowsy.  Sometimes it’s light outside, sometimes it’s not, and that doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

Yesterday I turned 62.  If I stopped following the calendar I wouldn’t even feel the time of getting older.  Maybe it doesn’t even matter where the time goes.  Can time be an illusion?  Maybe time only exists if we count minutes, and it ceases to exist when we don’t.  What if I was brave enough to throw away my clocks, watch and calendars?  Would time disappear completely?  Would living become timeless?

I really love this song.  Here’s another version, a more recent version.  Does it matter that there’s been 43 years since the first version?  It doesn’t feel like it, not if you’ve stopped counting the minutes. 

I know how to find the time again – if I wanted to.  All I have to do is live by the clock.  If I want my 8:30 am to 5:00 pm hours again all I have to do is live by numbers.  Require myself start writing at 8:30, and take lunch at 12, and to read between 1 and 3, and work at hobbies between 3 and 5, and I’ll find my lost time.  I don’t know if I will though.  Living without time is a different state of mind, and I’m digging my new kind of consciousness.  I just hope it’s not the land of the Lotus eaters.

JWH 11/26/13

I’m Retired–Do I Throw Away My Alarm Clock?

Which is better:  Following disciplined habits or natural cycles?

Having to get up and get to work on time used to provide discipline in my life.  When I was off for weekends or vacation days, the time I was ready to start my day got later and later.  Every morning I need to shower, exercise, dress, eat breakfast, floss and brush teeth before I’m ready to start my day.  If I get up at 6 AM I can be ready to go by 7:30.  But if I snooze until 7 or 8 AM, my day might not start until 9:30.  This morning, I got up later, and didn’t hit the computer until 9:36.

Now that I’m retired I have a choice to make.  Do I live by the clock or my biology?

[Living against the clock: does loss of daily rhythms cause obesity?]

Sleeping in seems so wasteful.  But is that a false assumption?  Now that I’m retired, does it matter what time I start writing each day?  Would I be more productive if I lived by the clock or learned to adapt to my natural rhythms?

I’ve always assumed discipline is a major virtue.  That we each seek to conquer nature by using willpower to bend our bodies and environment into our control.  Isn’t it everyone’s assumption that we must overcome our animal urges?  However, studies on health and stress show that might not be the best way to live, and that going with the natural flow of things might be healthier.

If you look across the Earth, have we conquered nature, or merely destroyed it?  That’s getting awful philosophical as to whether I should sleep in or get up early.  Can’t I just accept that the early bird gets the worm?  Now that I’m thinking about this question I realize I’m living by a lot of assumptions.  My 9 to 5 work years forced me to get up early, but now I’m free to follow a different path.

Since my health is in decline, it’s more important that I listen to my body than the Clock app on my iPod touch.  Just writing these words shows me I need to do a lot of rethinking of my commonly held assumptions.  And what other assumptions do I need to question about my other daily habits?

How many meals should I eat and when?  Do I need to shower every day?  Does it have to be in the morning?  What time is best to do my exercises?  When is the best time to write, clean house, socialize, watch TV, etc?  What if I follow my circadian rhythms and I no longer track a 24 hour clock?  How do I adapt my freeform schedule to my friends who follow a work schedule? 

There is something to be said for natural sleep . I notice this morning when I woke up at 7:30 that it was just getting light.  I’m wondering if my natural alarm clock is set by the amount of light outside.  The room in which I sleep faces east, and has one long window without curtains  across the east wall.  Maybe I should do a scientific experiment and note when I wake up and when sunrise is for that day, and see if in the course of the year if I follow a natural cycle.

As I’ve been sleeping later, I’ve been wanting to stay up later.  I’ve been retired just six days but I’m already having a hard time remembering what day it is, and I’ve stopped following the clock.  Also, I’m now eating at different times.  I even nap later.

My retirement goal is to write a novel.  I assumed before I retired I needed to stick to a disciplined schedule and work at novel writing just like I worked as a computer programmer.  Now I’m thinking that was a false assumption.  Or is that just a rationalization to sleep later?

The western world changed after the invention of the clock.  Now that I’m retired I realize I’ve left clock time.  Because I don’t have cable TV, I don’t even watch TV to a schedule anymore.  I’m on Netflix time.  Does this mean I’ve been a Morlock all my life and now I’ve become an Eloi?  That might not be good.  Modern sequels recognized the virtues of the hideous Morlocks – they got things done, while noting the Eloi were lazy and wimpy.

Living by the clock is mechanical.  Living by nature is undisciplined.  There’s got to be a happy medium – or is that another false assumption? 

JWH – 10/28/13

Buying Vinyl Records Can Be So Goddamn Annoying!!!

I wonder if the phrase “You Can’t Go Home Again” also applies to technology too?  Can we return to living with older inventions?  Why haven’t some people rejected television and returned to radio?  There’s always some Luddites.  Just last week CBS Sunday Morning had a piece about people going back to typewriters.  Really?  Who wants to go back to carbon paper and liquid paper after using a word processing?   Who would even want to return to WordPerfect or WordStar after using Microsoft Word?

Many people want to return to vinyl records.  I’ve been trying to go home again with music too, but it’s like the Thomas Wolfe novel.  I’m having trouble.

I love shopping for old records.  I love the big 12” covers.  But nostalgia is not all its cracked up to be.

I love old records, until I play them.  If they play without incident I love the heck out of them.  But if they skip, skate, crackle, pop, hiss, it shoots my blood pressure way up and pisses me off.  It makes me want to smash the record and give up LPs for good.  But I don’t.

It’s such a crapshoot to buy old records.  Come on, how much can we expect from half-century old plastic? 

I’ve bought LPs that looked mint and they’d have a constant background hiss.  I’ve bought records for one cut, and that cut, and that cut only, causes my stylus to skate.  But I’ve also bought records covered with fine scratches that sound wonderful.  It’s weird, but the heavy beat up old records from the 1950s and 1960s often play far better than the thin, nearly new looking records of the 1970s and 1980s.

Part of my problem is my “good” turntable.  It tracks so light that any imperfection causes a record to skate or skip.  My good turntable is hooked up to my good stereo.  I buy records hoping to find the wonderful warm sound of vinyl.  I play them loud.  So when a record acts up, I hear it jarringly loud, which makes it all the more annoying.  The good turntable is designed to make the records sound better, and to protect LPs from wear by lightly tracking through the grooves.  If a LP doesn’t play well on the good turntable I put it on the bad turntable in my computer room.  This older player, with its much heavier tone arm and tracking, can often play records the good turntable can’t.  But I have to listen to problem records on my computer speakers, which are Klipsch THX and sound good, but they aren’t like listening to the Infinity floor standing speakers in the den.

Maybe I should always use old technology to play old records, and new technology to play new records.

Many audiophiles claim LPs sound superior to CDs, but I disagree.  Yeah, LPs have a warm sound that’s very appealing, but it’s not why I buy records.  Modern CDs sound technically superior by far.  I buy records to travel back in time.  I want to go to a record store and shop for a new LP discovery.  I want to flip past hundreds of albums and find one I want to take a chance on.  I want to bring that album home, put it on the stereo, kick back in my recliner and listen with all my might.  And if I get lost in the experience, thrilled by discovering something wonderful, I find blissful pleasure.

All too often now I’ll be deep in reverie and BLAM! – the tone arm slams into some microscope imperfection.   Or WEEEEEERRNT! as it slides over a portion of the cut.  This is so goddamn irritating.  This seldom happened decades ago when the LPs were new.  And even now it doesn’t happen as much as you’d imagine for such ancient technology, but it happens enough to wonder why I bother with retro tech.  Digital technology is infinitely more convenient and reliable.

Like here’s a favorite LP I fell in love with back in 1968 that I recently rediscovered and bought on vinyl, The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink by Janis Ian.  The copy I found even had the blue paper insert with a couple extra poems.


Coming home, I was so happy to have found this LP again.  I put it on with great expectations.  Then it didn’t play right.  I could have save myself a trip and $5.  It’s available to play online for free at Janis Ian’s website, and doesn’t skip there (although the site fades out the end of the song in a way so she’s not giving you’re the real thing).  I do have the same songs on a CD I bought years ago, Society’s Child: The Verve Recordings, or from Rdio, but it’s more fun to play from an LP that looks like the LP I owned 45 years ago.  Because it doesn’t play from the good turntable it ruins the whole experience and fun of buying the album.  It will play from the bad turntable and that’s a consolation, but it deflates the fun.

Does it really matter if a song comes from squiggles on vinyl, pits on a CD, or via electrons over the internet?  Why am I trying to go to a long ago past, when I have a bright and shiny present to explore?

I was buying a lot of old records.  I’ve bought 61 albums since the beginning of the year, but I’ve stopped.  I suppose I could switch to very expensive 180 gram new albums, which run $20-50, but I won’t.  I’ve gone back to mostly listening to Rdio.  It has about a million albums.  I’m not hurting for music to listen to.  It was just fun trying to find lost albums.  I just missed record stores and flipping through bins of records.  But I guess I can’t go home again.

I haven’t completely given up on vinyl.  I’m just more careful.  I’m learning to be a more savvy vinyl shopper.  I keep my eye out for LPs that have never been reprinted, or the CDs have long gone out of print too.  I use digital for most stuff, and vinyl for when digital lets me down.

I guess I’m an old fart when I claim that buying music online is not the same experience as shopping for records in a store.  That something has been lost by modern ways.  But I am willing to admit that the new ways, with modern technology, are far superior.  If I was forced to choose between Rdio and records that played perfectly every time, I’d pick Rdio.  If I was forced to choose between Amazon and bookstores, I’d pick Amazon.  The world wide web is better than CompuServe and GENIE.  I’m not crazy.  I do know a 2013 Ford Mustang is technically superior to its 1965 classic ancestor, even though people will pay far more for the older model.  Nostalgia sells, but modern technology is superior.

We might talk about going home, but now is better.  For instance, a couple weeks ago I got a heart stent.  In 1968 I’d have been shit out of luck.

JWH – 5/25/13

Time, Time, Time

I never have enough time.  And I’m always craving more time.  Days flick by like I’m an accelerating time traveler.

Every year at Christmas I take off two weeks.  I always have big ambitions for my windfall of free time, but I never get done all the things I plan.  This year is no exception.  I have two days of freedom left and I’m depressed that I won’t have more.  I never have enough time, and I’m so envious of all my friends who have retired.  But those friends tell me that they’re as busy as ever.  I guess we never get enough time, even when we have all our time free.

And it’s not like I’m doing anything very important.  I go to bed at night regretting the friends I didn’t see, the albums I didn’t play, the television shows I didn’t watch, the books I didn’t read, the dirt I didn’t clean, the clutter I didn’t organize, the thoughts I didn’t think, the ideas I didn’t write about, the characters I didn’t develop, the photographs I didn’t take, the programs I didn’t write, and so on.  And that doesn’t even count the big ambitious goals I’ll never do like learn how to play the guitar, build a robot or become a chess player.  The list goes on and on.

My days start the same way every day, and my nights end the same way every night.  These morning and evening routines remind me just how much my life is like a clock, or how much our lives are based on rhythms.

I get up and let Nicky the cat out of the bedroom, petting him while he meows loudly at me for locking him in for the night.  He yells at me every morning.  I pick up his wet food bowl and follow him to the main bathroom where I get him fresh water for his daytime water bowl.  I take the wet food bowl to the kitchen and put it in the sink to rinse out, and then put on a finger cot and squeeze out .5 ml of medicine and go rub it in Nicky’s ear while he’s drinking his water.  I set my watch timer for 25 minutes and go check email.  Nicky comes in and sits in his chair next my desk chair and I pet him while I read emails.  When the alarm goes off I go back in the kitchen and fix Nicky one quarter can of Fancy Feast.  I then get a syringe and fill it with .5 cc of lactulose.  I pick Nicky up and put him on the counter and calm him down  with some petting and friendly chatting before forcing his mouth open and squirting the medicine onto the side of his mouth.  His reward is the bowl of wet food.

Now I go back to the bedroom take off my clothes, start the shower, weigh myself and touch my toes 15 times.  I shower, dry off, put on my underwear.  I go back into the kitchen and repeat the procedure with the lactulose but this time reward Nicky with one teaspoon of Yoplait original yogurt.  Then I go to my exercise room, put on my socks and do 15 minutes of physical therapy exercises for my back.  After that I put on my pants and shoes and do 130 reps of rowing and 30 arms pulls on the Bowflex to further strengthen my lower back.  Finally I eat my breakfast.

With all that done I can start my day.  What I do each day varies, but it’s surprisingly routine.

At night, around 10 pm I do Nicky’s medicine again, the third round of the day, in three parts spaced 25 minutes apart.  I usually watch TV while waiting between doses.  Finally, I lock Nicky in the bedroom, with his bowl of wet food, some extra crunchies, his heating pad and some new water in his nighttime bowl.  I then go to my office where I sleep in a chair because of my back.  If I didn’t lock Nick in the bedroom he’d walk on me all night long.  I undress and put on sweat pants for PJs, and put Restasis in my eyes.  I then go put on the alarm, turn off the lights and go to bed in my La-Z-Boy.  The last thing I do is think about all the things I didn’t get done during the day and think about all the things I want to do the next day.

Nicky’s getting old and I have no plans for another pet.  I’ll have to alter my routine, but I guess I get a few more minutes of time for each day.


In about a year I hope to retire.  That will get me a lot more time, but it will never be enough.  And then one day I’ll run out of time completely.

Maybe it’s time to think about the things I really want to do.  Maybe now is the time to prioritize my activities and time.

Is that even possible?

The year 2012 is almost over.  I wonder if there’s anything I really meant to do before it finishes?  How did it get to be 2012?  I remember so clearly 50 years ago thinking 1992 was the far future, and 2012 was unthinkable almost.

Time, time, time…

Does time really exist?  Is it a quantity we can bank or squander?

I love my life and what I do.  One of the things I like to do is bitch about not having enough time.  Bitch, bitch, bitch, that’s how I am about time.

Doesn’t everyone?  Does anyone ever have enough time?

So it goes.

JWH – 12/30/12

Living To Do Everything–And Getting Nothing Done

We want it all.  To do more, see more, go more, feel more, taste more…

We rush to fill every hour with more activities.  We hate to miss anything our heart desires.  Yet, how much do we really get done?

Patricia Hampl said in Blue Arabesque:

Isn’t that why I’d majored in English to begin with, without knowing it?  Not to teach, not to be a librarian, not for a job.  To be left alone to read an endless novel, looking up from time to time for whole minutes out of the window, letting the story impress itself not only on my mind, but on the world out there, letting the words and world get all mixed up together.  To gaze at the world and make sentences from its passing images.  That was eternity, it was time as it should be, moving like clouds, the forms changing into story.


By doing too much, we do too little.  Hampl blames modernity on our failure to see the sublime in life.

Is it more enriching to hear 1,000 different songs than to get to know 100 songs by playing them 10 times?  Is it a richer experience to study 10 songs by living with each a 100 times?  Or should we devote ourselves to 1 song until we can sing and play it note for note, either in perfect imitation or in wild improvising? 

The time spent is the same, but how deeply do we experience time when listening to 1,000 songs versus listening to a song 1,000 times?  How productive is contemplation?

I woke up this morning, lingering between sleep and wakefulness, entertaining myself with thoughts about what I would do today.  I’d like to pick just one goal and accomplish it each day, but no matter how hard I try, the whirlwind of life diverts me from the ambition I pick.  I can never focus because my environment pulls me in endless directions.

For example, between all forms of books, hardbacks, trade editions, paperbacks, ebooks, and audiobooks, I have about 1,000 books waiting for me to read.  What would life be like if I only had one?  Ditto for friendships, movies, television shows, photos, albums, hobbies, household responsibilities – all vying for my attention.  Not that I have a 1,000 of each – some much less, but others much more.

I can’t honestly say I have 1,000 essays and stories waiting to be written, but the number is large.  If I had no other distractions and only one idea I wanted to write about, how much more could I accomplish in one day?

I think we all want too much.  Wouldn’t we all benefit from a stay at Walden’s Pond and being Thoreau for a year?

While laying in my dreamy state of mind this morning, my subconscious told me I could get more done if I did less.

Why don’t I listen?

JWH – 8/26/12

So Many Books, Too Little Time

My motto should be:  “ Quot Libros, Quam Breve Tempus” or so many books, so little time.

My patron saint is Henry Bemis.


In case you don’t know Henry Bemis, he was played by Burgess Meredith in a very famous episode of Twilight Zone, “Time Enough at Last” about a super-bookworm, Henry Bemis.  Henry was a bank clerk who never could find enough time to read, until the world came to an end.

I never can find enough time to read either.  It’s a life of quiet desperation for words.   I have more unread books on my shelves than I will be able to read if I lived to be 100.  I also have a book buying addiction – I buy 7-10 books for every one I read.  I’ve always rationalized I will read them someday, but at 60, I know that’s not true.

I had an epiphany the other day.  I was flipping through some free books I had picked up and it dawned on me that I will never run out of something to read, even if I didn’t own a single book.  I have access to so many free or cheap books, that owning books doesn’t matter anymore.  I even pictured myself finishing a book and just leaving it where someone else could find it, and then stumbling onto my next read.  There’s a service for leaving books for other people to find called Book Crossing.

There’s also a movement called Little Free Libraries, where people build tiny waterproof libraries to give away books.  They put them in public places, or in front of their homes, with a sign “Take a book, leave a book.”  I wonder if I built a little free library box for my yard, would there always be a book in it I’d want to read when I finished my current book?


Where I work we’ve had a free book table for years.  I always find something to read there.  Today I snagged The Victorians by A. N. Wilson, and Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind by David Berreby.  Yesterday my friend Ted handed me Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Before that I brought home The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman.  Don’t be too impressed, I doubt I’ll actually read them, but like Henry Bemis I dream of the day when I could.  Ted is giving away hundreds of books.  Over the years so have I.

I’ve also rediscovered libraries, and my main library now has a used bookstore as part of the library.  So there’s a library book sale every day except Sunday.  It’s classic section always has at least one book I’ve always wanted to read.  Last Saturday I came home with five such books, for about $9.

And even if I couldn’t find a free book, there’s never been a time I’ve walked into a bookstore and not found a book I wanted to read.

This makes me wonder why I hoard books.  Generally I don’t read books off my bookshelves because I’m always hearing about a new book I want to read.  Serendipity always selects my next read, so why should I bother gathering books to somehow plan my future reading?

Well, it’s an addiction.  Not a bad one.  I don’t have to steal to keep up my habit.  The worse aspect about it is my house fills up with books and I have to decide which ones to give away.  That’s what I’m doing this week.  So far I’ve brought five cloth bags of books to the free book table at work.  The fall classes start this week and they will disappear quickly.

Another source of books is friends.  I know enough bookworms telling me about great books that I could mooch off of them for the rest of my life.

There’s also an Internet service called BookMooch.  You list books you want to give away by mail and people contact you.  You earn points towards mooching books off of other members.  I have access to so many free books that this service wouldn’t help me, but people living where books were hard to find should love it.

And just remember the new world of ebooks.  Feedbooks and Manybooks fills my Kindle and iPad with classics and public domain books.  And Books on the Knob daily reports all the great free ebooks that are available.   My library provides me with free ebooks to check out, and Amazon Prime lends me free books too.

I could reduce my bookshelves down to one volume, a Kindle, and never have to worry about finding something to read again.

I don’t think I’ll give away all my books.  I have too many I keep for sentimental reasons, but I do think I might try overcoming my book buying addition.  There’s no reason to hoard books.  Well, I can think of one reason.  If the world came to an end like in the Twilight Zone show, it would be great to have a stockpile of books to read if I was a sole survivor.

JWH – 8/21/12

What 12 Lessons About Life Would You Teach Your Younger Self If You Had A Time Machine?

Nobody likes taking advice from other people. 

What if you could get advice from an older, wiser version of yourself?  Would you take it?  What if you had a time machine and could travel back to visit your younger self and spend one day to help him or her prepare for the future?  Would your younger self listen and learn?

What advice would you give you?  How would you be convincing.  What proof could you bring?

There are two ways to approach this problem.  First, you could teach yourself how to get more of what you wanted in this life with hindsight, or you could convince yourself that you should be a totally different person, a better person.  If you collected rare baseball cards you could tell yourself how to get the rarest ones for your future self.  Or, you could tell your younger self, don’t waste a lifetime on collecting baseball cards, just play a lot of baseball.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my life, as much as I love my wife and friends, I have never been the person I wanted to be because of introverted habits and laziness.  I would go back and try to convince my younger self to become a different person knowing full well it would erase me and my current life.

If you had a time machine and could spend a day with a younger self, what age would you target?  Why?  What would you say?

I’d go back to 1964 when I turned 13, when I understood science fiction.  I think Jim-13 could understand Jim-60 and time travel.


Here’s what I’d try to teach Jim-13.

  1. Give up my addiction to science fiction.  I have a life-long addiction to fantasy that I overindulge with books, television and movies.  I’d work very hard to convince my younger self to never look at television again, and to promise to read no more than one novel a month.  I’d try to convince him to read more non-fiction and classics.  I’d tell him when he did read SF, to find and read the very best science fiction, but no more than four SF books a year.  I’d try to convince him to seek out SF books that taught him more about reality and not use science fiction to escape reality.
  2. Study science and mathematics.  I wouldn’t try to help my younger self get rich by telling him to buy key stocks, or which horses or football teams to bet on.   I’d try to teach him that the key to a good life is working hard at something you love and that being a scientist is probably the best way to spend a lifetime.
  3. Give up junk food, eat healthy, and exercise.   I was an active kid, and skinny until after I got married, but I have an addictive personality and I ate lots of junk food.  Seeing Jim-60 weighing 234 pounds would probably be pretty convincing evidence.
  4. Don’t get involved with drugs.  Hey, I grew up in the 1960s, so that will be a hard lesson to teach.  I might tell him to experiment under certain social conditions, but convince Jim-13 that drugs will waste a lot of time and money.
  5. Pay more attention to other people.  I’ve always been introverted, self-centered and egocentric.   I’d try to convince Jim-13 that getting out of his head and focusing on what’s going on in other people’s heads will lead to more social success and a richer life.
  6. Warn him about sex.  Hey, he’s 13.  I’d try to convince him that all those gazillion hours of sex fantasies won’t get him laid.  I’d try to teach him not to think about what he wanted but learn to observe women and study what they wanted.  I’d tell him, yes, all the girls have pussies, but the organ you really want to lust after is brains.  I’d tell him to learn to dance.
  7. Take good notes.  I’d try very hard to teach Jim-13 to keep a journal, studying the art of writing as deeply as possible, learn to draw and sketch, and take one photo a day.
  8. Find ways to make money and save it.  I’d teach him working provides social contacts and access to mentors, and that saving money will mean freedom to do more.  I tell him that easy money from time travel tips is wrong and a waste of time.
  9. Finish school as fast as possible and get into college as soon as you can.  I’d convince Jim-13 that it’s very important to become independent as soon as possible and college is one way to do that.   Try to get in by 16.
  10. Move in with your grandmother.  My parents were alcoholics and at age 13 I was about to go through some very bad years.  If I could have gotten away from them it really would have helped me tremendously.  And my grandmother managed an apartment building in her old age, and could have used the help.  If I could have grown up living in one place and had a stable life for junior high and high school I would have been a much different person.  I’d tell my younger self to not leave Miami until after college – to even get into the University of Miami for college.  Maybe even study marine biology.  I’d also advise him to leave for grad school and to study physics or astronomy then.
  11. Find mentors.  I think the key to success is to start work young and find mentors that can help you understand the game in any situation.
  12. Learn to focus and work hard.   I’d tell Jim-13 to push himself to work a little harder at his favorite projects each day.  To learned to focus his concentration a little harder on every task each day.   If you can spend 30 minutes focused on learning calculus one day, try for 31 the next.  If you can grind on a telescope mirror for 2 hours on one day, try for 2 hours and 5 minutes the next.  If you can run four miles one day, try for 4.1 the next.  Just keep pushing your body and mind to go further.

I know this is a fantasy and time travel isn’t possible. But playing this little thought experiment is very educational. I can always pretend its advice for Jim-13 from Jim-60, but it could be advice for Jim-80 to me at this moment.

But if this little fantasy was possible it would have played out different than what I wanted.

Convincing my younger self of all of this would be hard.  If I could print out all my blog posts into a book, I give him that.  I might bring an iPad to show him how far out technology gets.  I might bring him the book Replay by Ken Grimwood.  I might bring him a photo album of my life. 

I was a bullheaded kid, so I’m not sure I could have convinced him of anything.

I’m pretty sure he would have demanded that Jim-60 stay in 1964 so he, Jim-13 could return in the time machine to 2012.

I would have agreed.

JWH – 8/4/12

The Dangers of Building Your Own HTPC and Living Without Cable TV

As I reported earlier in FYI: DIY-FIY (Do-It-Yourself, Fix-It-Youself), my HTPC started crashing intermittently, the worse kind of electronic failure to troubleshoot.  I tried everything to fix it.  Eventually I decided it must be something wrong with the motherboard, so I bought a new motherboard and new CPU, one of those new AMD A6-3500 CPU/GPU combos.  For a few weeks it worked beautifully, much better than the old machine, but then it started acting up.  This time something different, it just wouldn’t boot.  In the rebuild I used a new, but old hard drive for the boot drive so I could save my recordings off the old boot drive, and use it as a second drive.  The only parts from the original machine was the case, 2nd power supply and the original memory.  I had two theories.  One, the used hard drive was bad, or two, the original memory was my problem all along and it had gotten worse.

Now all of this is very aggravating.  I had gotten used to having a home theater PC connected to my den television and now I’m making do with off the air broadcasts, Netflix discs and streaming, and a Roku box.  This still provides more TV than I have time to watch, but it doesn’t let me record shows.  However, this time around I have a backup DVR.

I bought a HD HomeRun Dual network TV tuner.  It was a snap to install.  Just plug in the over-the-air antenna, Ethernet cable and power cable and run a small install program on each of my PCs.  Now I can bring up Windows Media Center on any computer in my house and watch live TV, or record TV from two tuners.  Very slick.  So I can still record shows while my HTPC is broken but now I have to watch them on this computer.  This also simplifies my HTPC setup because it no longer has a TV tuner card in it.  And because I bought the new A6 with Radeon HD 6530D graphics it doesn’t have a video card either.  The new HTPC worked much better and drew less power.  Great until it started crashing.

I was so happy when I got the HTPC going again.  I thought I’d have years of worry free service, but dang, I must have jinxed myself, because the new HTPC is completely dead now.

The other day I ordered some new memory and just tried it out, but it wasn’t the fix.  I’m now hoping it’s the old hard drive, and not other bad motherboard.  So sometime in the future I’ll have to take everything apart again and start troubleshooting all over again.  Another troubling idea is the HTPC is being damaged by electrical spikes.  But this is a long shot.  However, the 2nd hard drive went out just before the machine started crashing.  I’ve bought a UPS to protect it in the future.  It already had a good APC surge protector.   

But I’m putting off fixing the HTPC off for awhile.  I want to get some other things done this weekend.

This is a real lesson in building your own computers.  Normally you buy a computer and it comes with a 1 year warranty.  You can even buy extended warranties.  If something goes wrong you take it back and someone else fixes the machine or gives you another one.  When you build your own machine and it stops working you’re the one that’s got to fix it.

More than that, this whole affair of giving up cable TV has taught me a number of things.  Comcast got me addicted to DVRs, so giving up cable means learning to live with live TV or building your own DVRs.  I’ve starting to wonder if DRVs are worth all the trouble.  I love the simplicity of only having 5 channels I care about, instead of over 200.  But even then, how much do I even care about those 5 channels?  The absolute gem is PBS. 

When my HTPC died I had 200 documentaries I had recorded from PBS that I wanted to watch.  This is very revealing.  Why hadn’t I just watched those shows when they aired?  TV documentaries are like the books I buy but don’t read.  I keep thinking I’m going to watch those shows or read those books, but my to-be-watch and to-be-read lists just get longer and longer.

Last night my friend Janis was over and we were just going through the Netflix menu on my Roku.  I’ve got 196 shows in my queue waiting to be watched, and we found dozens of foreign movies we wanted to watch in the suggestion lists.  There is no shortage of TV to watch.  Then why do I want to hoard TV shows on a DVR?   Isn’t this like going to a restaurant and buying a meal with the intention of eating sometime in the future?

I have a hang-up about controlling time.  My DVR infected me with a time control disease.  I think hoarding books is a time control disease.

I am tempted to simplify my TV watching yet again and give up the DRV and HTPC.  I’d miss playing Rdio and Rhapsody through the den stereo, but I’ve also rediscovered the greatness of just listening to a CD again.  CDs sound so much better than streaming music and MP3s.  I’ve been going retro in the last several weeks.  I’ve been buying DVDs of old westerns and watching one every night before I go to bed.  It shows I can live without cable TV, or even HTPC TV, or even broadcast TV or even Netflix.

Which makes me ask:  Does it matter what’s on TV?

JWH – 7/21/12


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