Author Archives: charlesprogers
Post by Mark T. Locker
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.
First of all, I know what you are thinking. No, it’s not THAT book. Shades of Grey predates that OTHER book by a full two years and, from what I know of 50 Shades, is utterly unlike it in any way.
Jasper Fforde is a British mystery novelist who has written a number of clever and entertaining series of novels. This unusual dystopian novel revolves around a young man named Eddie Russett. In this far-off future, people are broken into classes determined by what color they perceive. Eddie is a Red, which is the lowest end of the spectrum. Violets are the top dogs. Greys are nearly worthless. It is a strange and highly regimented world, all built on the rather odd laws of a man named Munsell. One of the most intrusive laws is the outlawing of spoon production, which makes spoons highly sought-after. Also, one must never, EVER marry a complimentary color. Imagine the scandal!
Eddie and his father are sent from their urban home to the far-off town of East Carmine, where Eddie is to perform a chair senseless as a punishment for “lack of humility”. When he meets a fiery Grey named Jane, his life slowly is turned upside-down as he begins to look at society in a new way.
What’s most interesting is that the first thing we learn is that Jane has pushed Eddie into a giant man-eating Yataveo tree, which will slowly digest him. He is narrating from inside the tree. I enjoyed this book quite a bit; I like Jasper Fforde and his tongue-in-cheek style, the classic understated British humorist.
Post by Kyle St. Romain.
Have you ever been faced with a difficult decision and responded with, “Let me sleep on it”? While that response certainly a great way to delay an important decision, it also turns out that there is some science behind it too.
In a study conducted at the University of California, San Diego a few years back, researchers found that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — the dream stage of sleep — helps foster the formation of associative networks in the brain more than any other wake or sleep state. According to the lead researcher, Dr. Mednick, “For creative problems that you’ve already been working on — the passage of time is enough to find solutions. However, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity.” Note the difference between new and existing problems.
To put this into numbers, REM sleep was found to boost creative problem solving by almost 40 percent as compared to the participants who only had either quiet rest or non-REM sleep. This boost in creative problem solving is associated with the brain’s ability to create new nerve connections, uninterrupted by outside influences that we are subject to during non-REM sleep or while we’re awake. If you let it, your brain will wire itself to solve problems for you — the human equivalent of autopilot.
You can read the full text of the study here.
In past articles I’ve introduced you to the idea of taking an afternoon siesta, or power nap, to boost performance and energy levels throughout the day. However, the study cited above is the first to look specifically at how the stages of sleep impact your performance. While resting can boost your energy levels, you really need to hit a deep sleep to gain the most benefit. On average, it takes about 90 minutes after falling asleep to hit the REM stage (stage 5). Plan accordingly.
So next time you have a difficult and new decision to make or problem to solve, try sleeping on it. You may be surprised with what you come up with in the morning.
Post by Alison Hein.
Merriam-Webster describes the act of mulling to mean “to heat, sweeten, and flavor (as wine or cider) with spices.” The origin is stated as “unknown” (although speculation abounds out there on the web), and the first known use supposedly occurred in 1618 (if anyone can identify this, please let me know!).
Despite the confusing and sometimes misleading archaeology of food history, one thing is certain. It’s autumn, and apples are in peak season. Sweet, rounded juicy red- and green-skinned fruit, rendering tree branches low, beckoning to be plucked and devoured. So of course I dragged my husband out to do just that, returning home with several sweetly scented baskets of apple varieties – ranging from baking tart to noshing sweet. A couple of gallons of fresh-pressed cider made my purchases complete.
Now back to the mulling. Apparently, we’ve known for quite some time (at least since 1618) that adding a little spice, and a little heat, can ratchet up that glorious sweet-tart apple flavor. Some fresh cider, a little cinnamon, a handful of whole cloves, and perhaps a splash or two of brandy, and you’ve got a soothing drink that will delight both young and old.
If you’re out and about, be sure to stop by your local apple orchard. Then, if you’ve got 15 minutes or so, whip up a pot of steaming mulled cider. It makes a sweet after school welcome for kids (without the brandy, of course), a surprisingly satisfying after dinner treat, and a sweetly scented, late harvest breakfast in bed.
2 cups fresh apple cider
3 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 small apple
A splash or two of brandy (optional)
Pour fresh apple cider into a small, heavy pot. Add one cinnamon stick and cloves. Slice the apple into a few slim rounds, and add apple slices to cider mixture, retaining two rounds for garnish. Bring cider to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain cider and pour half into each of two mugs. Make a cut halfway across the retained apple slices, and slice onto the rim of each mug for garnish. Add a cinnamon stick to each mug. Serve hot and add a splash or two of brandy to the cider, if you like.
Makes two servings.
Variations: add fruit such as orange or lemon peel, try sweeteners from honey to maple syrup, experiment with alcoholic additives like flavored brandy, port or whiskey.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Pssst! by Adam Rex.
You have no idea how happy I was to discover I had somehow missed writing a review of this story. I am a huge fan of Adam Rex. I love his illustrations, his novels, his picture books. I even love his tweets. We would be great friends, I am sure. We found a copy of this at my favorite used book store the other day and since then has become a staple of the bedtime reading ritual.
A girl is walking through the zoo when suddenly she hears, “PSSST!” To her surprise, the one hailing her is a gorilla. “Hey,” he says. “Hey,” she replies. Turns out, he wants her to get him a new tire for his busted tire swing. As she walks through the zoo, the javelinas, bats, sloths, all manner of animals call her over and her list of supplies grows. The animals are hilarious. My son’s favorite is definitely the turkeys. “We want corn,” one of them says. The other adds, “Corn corn corn corn corn corn!” He insists on reading that part. “Corn corn corn corn corn corn!”
So what is the greater story here? We soon discover these animals are in cahoots. What could the garbage cans, tires, flashlights, helmets and all the other pieces add up to?? The answer may surprise you.
As with all of Adam Rex’s books, this is a must-read.
Post by Kyle St. Romain.
I’m always on the look out for new products that make your house cooler, smarter, and safer. In the past, I’ve discussed products like the Philips Hue smart LED lights and SONTE’s digital window shades. This week, I’ve got a new one for you: Nest Protect.
Nest Labs, the same company that makes the smart thermostat “Nest”, recently announced a new product that is sure to help you sleep better at night: a smart smoke detector called Nest Protect. Nest Protect takes what is usually thought of as a boring ad mundane device, the smoke detector, and adds additional functionality that makes it a “stylish must-have” for many homeowners. Let’s talk about what exactly Nest Protect does, and what makes it so revolutionary.
Nest Protect is a connected smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector, heat detector, light sensor, ultrasonic sensor, motion detector, and nightlight. With Nest Protect’s motion sensor, you no longer have to scramble up on a chair to disconnect an errant alarm (like when you burn something in the Kitchen). Instead, you can simply wave your hand at the device to temporarily disable it. That feature alone has me sold, as I often forget to take the bread out of the toaster. Oops.
In addition to replacing a single purpose device with a feature rich hub, Nest Protect is also connected meaning it works in tandem with other Nest Lab products. One benefit of having a connected smoke detector is that it can alert you of problems in your house even when you’re away from home via it’s smartphone app.
Last, but not least, Nest Protect also acts as a nightlight. Using its light and motion detectors, Nest Protect lights your way at night to prevent those uncomfortable toe stubs when you get out of bed for a glass of water.
If you want to learn more about how Nest Protect works, be sure to check out the demo video.