Friday, February 26, 2021

Weekend Links 2-26-21

Welcome to the last Friday of February. Spring is right around the corner. Spring training baseball games start next week which means it's only a matter of time before teams will be playing games that count. I'm ready for baseball season to start. In the meantime here are a few articles of interest for you to enjoy.

How Star Trek helped NASA dream big. NASA also helped Star Trek stick around. 

Victory over Nazi Germany would not have been possible during World War II if it hadn't been for a group of artists. 

This week one of my favorite shows All Creatures Great and Small finished its first season on PBS. The ending of the season was absolutely pitch perfect. Caution: spoilers abound in this article. 

Mystery solved? Uncovering who was responsible for the hidden message inscribed in Edvard Munch's "The Scream". 

In an upcoming Netflix series, Holmes and Watson are the villains and the Baker Street Irregulars solve all the mysteries. 

If I ever get to Kansas City I am going to be sure to pay a visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. 

This is a fascinating story about Willie Mays' days in the Army and a personal connection for the author of the article. 

Though they were briefly teammates, Satchel Paige once pitched to Henry Aaron in a game. You have to read the whole story to believe who won the battle. 

Clearing up some misconceptions about Colonial America. 

She might not be a household name but she did help avert a nuclear war

Podcast of the week: I am a huge fan of Golden Age detective fiction. I was especially thrilled to listen to this interview with Martin Edwards who is the author of The Golden Age of Murder and The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books along with two dozen other books. If you are like me and a fan of Agatha Christie and other Golden Age authors you won't want to miss this. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Weekend Links 2-18-21

Winter has been asserting itself with a vengeance here in the United States this week. Hopefully you are safe and warm wherever you are. For your enjoyment are a plethora of interesting reads this week. 

Why Hercule Poirot is the sleuth of the century. Warning: this article contains spoilers. 

Tips on reading more when you're really busy. Lots of good advice in this article. I try to take advantage of opportunities to read as they come and always have at least one book I am reading.

Willie Nelson has a new tribute album to Frank Sinatra coming out later this month. The first single is a  duet with Diana Krall of "I Won't Dance" that is accompanied by a terrific animated video (embedded in the linked article). At first this seemed like a somewhat odd pairing (the two couldn't be more different vocally speaking) but it really works. 

Truth be told it was his physicality that made Cary Grant a great actor. 

Speaking of actors, Nicholas Ralph may not be a household name yet but he has made a tremendous impression in his acting debut as James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small. 

My youngest daughter has another terrific review up at Cine-Pop. This week she takes you into the world of Korean Drama with a review of Crash Landing on You. If you haven't discovered the world of K-drama yet this series is a great place to start. 

Fifty years ago, Satchel Paige, arguably one of the greatest pitchers of all time, brought the Negro Leagues to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

This is fascinating: how the Boeing 747 changed the way airplanes are designed. 

Ask Jeeves: six reasons why P. G. Wodehouse is Stephen Fry's hero. 

"You never know, you might meet her." A sweet love story that is well worth your time. 

Now I should go read Pride and Prejudice again: what Jane Austen teaches us about resilience

Lego announces a new set based on Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night". If Legos aren't your thing you can always have the painting recreated in your swimming pool. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Weekend Links 2-12-21

What a week it has been. If you've been watching the news (and I don't recommend doing that) you know that there have been lots of disturbing images this week. Maybe it's just me but this week has felt like one where some distractions are especially needed. As difficult as this week has been the good news is Spring Training starts next week. In just a couple of weeks there will be baseball games. Winter is almost over. Spring will be here soon. Here are a few links that hopefully will serve as a welcome distraction from a difficult week. 

When it comes to '80s songs and music videos few are as iconic as A-ha's "Take on Me". Here is the story behind the song and the animated video. 

The origins of the term bookworm. 

Ranking the best prison escape movies. I haven't seen all of these but I can definitely agree with the top choice. It's one of my favorites.

This article and the accompanying photographs are guaranteed to make you hungry: ranking the best doughnuts in every state. Anyone up for a road trip?

Speaking of sweet stuff, a tasty history of Boston Cream Pie.

Longread of the week: an incredible case of identity theft that started with a simple help wanted ad. 

Meetings these days are taking place over Zoom instead of in person. Unfortunately things don't always go as planned. 

Someday I would love to visit the Yorkshire Dales. In the meantime I will just have to enjoy looking at these locations that are featured in the new adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small. 

Invariably when researching articles for these posts I run across a story I had never heard before. That's certainly true of this story which also happens to be my personal favorite of the week: Audrey Hepburn's Favorite Song.

Shameless plug alert: my youngest daughter reviews the newest version of Carmen Sandiego. By the way, the site is a new one that was created by a couple of friends of mine. It's worth a regular check. 

Finally, a theme park is developing a new attraction featuring a replica of Howl's Moving Castle. 

Friday, February 05, 2021

Weekend Links 2-5-21

It's been cold and snowy this week in my corner of Virginia. Makes me long for spring to arrive soon. We're only a couple of weeks away from Spring Training which means baseball will be back before you know it. There's quite a bit of baseball related content this week which I have put at the end of the post.

Here are some things of interest that I discovered this week. Hopefully these will come as a welcome distraction from the events of the past few days.

Meet the man who has made it his mission to take high resolution photos of snowflakes. The photos in this post are stunning. 

If you are being bombarded with unsolicited spam emails or texts there is one thing you should not do: unsubscribe. I honestly hadn't thought about this but it makes a lot of sense. 

I don't know what it is about the Brits and their metal detectors but every few weeks some new amazing discovery gets made. The latest is the detectorist that found part of Henry VIII's crown. Not to be outdone, a four year-old girl in Wales discovered a dinosaur footprint. 

Longread of the week: the audacious CIA plot to steal a Russian satellite. It's fascinating stuff. 

Maybe he was guilty after all. A new study suggests Richard III did kill the princes in the tower

What could have been: Orson Welles, Lucille Ball, and the thriller that was never made.

Remembering the most famous golf shot ever made: Alan Shepherd hits a golf ball on the moon. 

A look at the hobby boom of the 1950s. My dad used to build Revell model airplanes. Brings back a lot of great memories. 

And now, the baseball stuff:

New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra becomes the latest baseball great to get his own stamp. 

The man who photographed the home run kings

I've been a baseball fan for years and have never thought about this: why aren't there any left-handed catchers in the majors? 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Weekend Links 1-29-21

Hard to believe that we are already a month into 2021. Where has this year gone? Brew up a good strong cup of coffee (or tea or whatever other beverage you prefer) and dive into this week's diversionary reading for the weekend.

Last December Major League Baseball announced they would recognize the seven leagues known as the Negro Leagues that played between 1920 and 1948 as "major" leagues. Now comes the hard part: verifying the player statistics from that era. 

A few not-so-serious suggestions how to read more books. 

Poirot at 100: the refugee detective who stole Britain's heart. 

No one has ever demonstrated a mastery of the English language as P. G. Wodehouse. Here are 9 words we have thanks to him. 

Need a reason to celebrate? Here are 18 unusual holidays from around the world. 

All Creatures Great and Small (currently airing on PBS) has become the perfect antidote for our pandemic plagued world. Here's a fascinating look at the folks that design this wonderful world. Also, is the village of Darrowby a real place? 

A brief history of the spelling bee. 

Finally, times are tough for everyone. But these letters highlight that some folks have figured out ways to use humor to deal with creditors. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Weekend Links 1-22-21

The fun thing about assembling these posts is discovering so many things that I did not know before. This week is no exception. Here's to a collection of very interesting and informative posts to take your mind off other things. 

Before becoming a politician Abraham Lincoln tried his hand at true crime writing.

A brief history of peanut butter. 

Did you know that native Alaskans are called sourdoughs?

Answering the important questions: why doesn't cereal come in resealable bags? Actually makes sense if you think about it. 

Edgar Allan Poe didn't just invent the detective story. He changed the literary world forever. 

Answering the important questions, part 2: why Cubs fans sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch. 

The true story of a 1970 exhibition baseball game that honored Martin Luther King, Jr. At least 23 Hall of Famers played in the game. That's quite a collection of talent in one ballgame. 

If we ever get to travel again I would love to visit these places 

In praise of locked room mysteries. 

Was Walt Whitman a plagiarist? 

How a 1960s band helped promote Zip Codes. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Weekend Links 1-15-21

 Here is your weekly roundup of interesting stuff to take your mind off the craziness that exists in our world these days. Here are a few interesting things I found:

A deep dive on what fonts are our favorites and why. 

History revealed: the story of how the Pentagon Papers came to be published. Really interesting to see the lengths reporters went to in order to bring the story to light. 

A League of Their Own told the story of the all to brief history of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Now one of the league's former players is spearheading an effort to build a museum to celebrate the women of baseball. 

Did you know there is an empty crypt underneath the U. S. Capitol? 

Picture this: the Mona Lisa didn't become famous until it was stolen in 1911. 

This is what I call commitment to one's craft: visit one of the last studios in the world that makes globes by hand. 

This week marked the premiere of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS. If the first episode is any indication this is exactly the sort of television viewing we need in lockdown. A review of the program here and here

Binge watching recommendation: Churchill's Secret Agents: The New Recruits on Netflix. In this series which is part reality competition and part history, 14 recruits are subjected to the same training that members of Britan's Special Operations Executive would have been subjected to during World War II. It is an excellent series and well worth your time. 

Finally, in case you had thoughts about how to leave the planet in the midst of all the chaos, we have some helpful advice:

Friday, January 08, 2021

Weekend Links 1-8-21

 Welcome to the first Weekend Links of 2021. I had high hopes that 2021 was going to be a better year than 2020 but already we are a week into the year and it has developed into something far stranger than 2020. The word unprecedented comes to mind when reflecting on the events of this week in our nation's capitol. Even that seems to be a severe understatement. We are in for some rough times ahead. Here's to hoping things getting better very soon. In the meantime, here are a few links of interest that I discovered during the last couple of weeks. 

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave a stirring speech announcing the United States' intention to go to the moon. Here is the story behind that historic address.

Try wrapping your brain around this: Swedish television is developing a series based on the fictional detective Sven Hjerson which was a creation of fictional detective writer Ariadne Oliver which was a character in several Agatha Christie novels. 

Speaking of Agatha Christie, a new novel speculates what happened to Ms. Christie when she disappeared in 1926. 

Meet the archaeologist who has assembled a collection of over 4500 beer cans.

When my girls were young they loved Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. We read it aloud so many times they memorized the text. However, not everyone was a fan when the book was published including a very influential New York librarian. 

An interview with Alex Rider star Otto Farrant on making season 2 of the series and his favorite James Bond. 

Vince Guaraldi is best known as the man who scored the Peanuts specials. Here's the story of how one of his most famous compositions, Linus and Lucy, became a jazz standard

A tribute to the man who wrote the most perfect sentences in the English language: P. G. Wodehouse.

Strange history: how homing pigeons helped the Allies win World War II. 

In addition to writing numerous Perry Mason novels, Erle Stanley Gardner was also involved in several cases getting wrongly accused criminals exonerated. This is one of those cases

It's been 25 years since Calvin and Hobbes left the comics pages. Here's why the strip still enchants us. 

The long, strange history of baseball's most curious rule: the dropped third strike

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Take Five: My Favorite Books of 2020

2020 has been a weird year in many ways. One of the most obvious ways for me is how the whole year has hampered my reading. According to my Goodreads profile I will have only read 24 books this year which is less than half of what I normally put away. In spite of the lower numbers there were still a few that stood out for me. Here are my five favorite books that I read during 2020. Note that not all of these books were necessarily published this year.

The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe

In the introduction to the book, Mike Rowe relates a story about nearly missing a flight because he was sitting in his car waiting for Paul Harvey to finish telling the latest tale in his The Rest of the Story. It's a feeling I can certainly relate to as there were many times I would either keep driving around the block or sitting in the driveway or a parking lot waiting for the end of the tale. For those not familiar with The Rest of the Story check out the unofficial audio archive.  

It's no secret that his podcast was inspired by Paul Harvey. I have to say that Rowe is every bit a great storyteller as Paul Harvey was in his day. The book is a combination of some of his best stories from the podcast along with biographical snippets that are extremely interesting. This is a book that can easily be read in small doses and is sure to give the reader many hours of pleasure. 

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Folks that know me well know of my love for detective fiction. My bookshelves are full of books by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, and others .But this year I had started the year trying to branch out to other authors I had not read. This was the first Josephine Tey novel I had tackled and it won't be the last. In the book, Inspector Alan Grant is confined to a hospital bed with a leg fracture. A friend suggests he pass the time by looking into a historical mystery: Was King Richard III guilty of murder? I love the premise of having to work through the crime from the hospital bed. Plus it is a dive into a period of England's history with which I was not familiar. 

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz


Following the success of Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz returns with another installment in the adventures of literary agent Susan Ryland as she must once again solve a murder by relying on a murder mystery by Alan Conway. Horowitz has said in interviews he hadn't planned on writing a sequel to Magpie Murders until development started on a television series based on the novel and he realized it would be beneficial to have more material to draw from for the series. Once again he constructs a novel within a novel and manages to weave two distinctive cases together into one cohesive story. It's a thoroughly modern take on the Golden Age mystery novel. 

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Erik Larson is one of my favorite authors. He has an ability to transport the reader to a particular place and time like no other I have ever read. The Splendid and The Vile is probably his best book to date and one of my personal favorites. 

Winston Churchil's first months as Britain's Prime Minister would be marked both by Dunkirk and the Blitz. Through 1940 Britain would be driven to the brink by the Nazis. If it wasn't for the leadership of Churchill it is doubtful that Britaim would have been able to survive the war. Larson gives the readers a clear idea of what it was like to live through the early days of the war. Well researched and written this reads like a thriller. 

Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that the perfect literary antidote to the troubles of this world is P. G. Wodehouse. His novels feature a variety of unforgettable comic characters and Right Ho, Jeeves is no exception. Gussie Fink-Nottle presenting the prizes at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School is one of the funniest sequences in all of literature. There are plenty of moments in this novel that make it a joy to read again and aagin. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Take Five: Christmas Movies and TV Shows

 Previously I shared my favorite Christmas songs. This time I am going to do the same for Christmas movies and TV shows. Just like Christmas songs there is no shortage of candidates for favorite movies or Christmas specials. All you have to do is turn to the Hallmark channels right after Halloween and you will begin to see an abundance of holiday themed movies. Hallmark alone produces several dozen new movies every Christmas. There are plenty of others made too. But the fact remains that few stand the test of time and become perennial favorites. Here are my five favorite Christmas movies and TV shows. 

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Ask just about anyone and they are likely to list A Charlie Brown Christmas as one of their favorite shows at Christmas. It is today regarded as a holiday classic. It's hard to believe that as it was about to air in 1965 network executives were afraid it was going to be a flop. Much of their fears revolved around different elements of the show: no laugh track, only child actors doing the voices, a jazz soundtrack, and a Bible reading. These were not considered to be the elements of a hit show. However, audiences apparently couldn't get enough of it. Approximately half of American households tuned into the premiere which was at the time an unheard of audience response. It has remained a favorite largely due to those very elements that were thought to be weaknesses. The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas would lead to numerous Peanuts animated specials in the future as well as other classic Christmas specials. 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Following the immense success of A Charlie Brown Christmas, CBS hired Dr. Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) and Chuck Jones (famed director of Looney Tunes)  to create a new animated special based on Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Seuss, like Charles Schulz before him, was hesitant about getting into the animation business. It no doubt helped that Seuss and Jones had collaborated previously. During World War II the two men were part of an Army production team that produced animated training films. 

The special contains the entire text of the book. In order to lengthen the special to fit the thirty minute time slot, Jones extended some of the sequences with his visual gags that had become his hallmark. The Grinch was met with a warm reception upon its premiere and has been a holiday staple ever since. 

A Christmas Story (1983)

It's not an understatement by any stretch of the imagination to say that 1983's A Christmas Story is the movie that changed Christmas movies forever. It's also the least likely of all possible films to accomplish that feat. For one thing, it took about 12 years for the film to be developed by director Bob Clark. Plus the story was a tough sell to studio executives. The movie only did a modest amount of business upon it's initial theatrical release. In fact, had it not been for home video and pay television the film would have likely been forgotten. But repeated airings on television have helped the movie build a devoted following. I didn't even discover it until it aired on cable many years after its release. 

The film is about a nine year old boy who wants nothing more for Christmas that a Red Ryder BB gun. His parents object based on the possibility he will get hurt ("You'll shoot your eye out" young Ralphie is told over and over again). But the film really is as much about the family as it is about Christmas. It provides a slice of life that almost anyone can relate to on some level.  

Elf (2003) 

This movie has a couple of connections to A Christmas Story. First, director Jon Favreau has cited A Christmas Story as inspiration for Elf. Secondly, Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie in A Christmas Story, appears in Elf as, well, an elf. 

This is another movie that took a while to get made. The script was originally written in 1993 with Jim Carrey slated to take the title role. Initially much darker, Favreau worked with a group of writers (including star Will Ferrell) to lighten up the script. The finished product is a charming movie with absolute perfect casting. Much of the charm in the film is Will Ferrell simply being himself particularly in the improvised montage sequences of him in full elf costume running around New York. 

Eloise at Christmastime (2003) 

In 2003, ABC decided to adapt two of the Eloise books by Kay Thompson into full length movies. Eloise based on Eloise at the Plaza aired during the summer followed by Eloise at Christmastime in the fall. Of the two, Eloise at Christmastime is the better film. Much of the charm of the film has to do with the performance of then ten year old Sofia Vassilleva as Eloise and a strong supporting performance of Julie Andrews as Nanny. The two films were filmed back to back and it's clear by the time the second film rolls around that the cast had really become comfortable with one another. Visually speaking the film looks like the scenes were pulled directly out of the books. It's a joy to watch every year on Christmas Eve Eve. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Weekend Links 12-18-20

This is going to be my last Weekend Links post for 2020. I still have a couple of things scheduled to post over the next couple of weeks but will be taking some time off from the blog for the holidays. Hopefully we will have a lot more fun content for you in 2021. Weekend Links will return on January 8, 2021. In the meantime here are a few links for your weekend reading.

You never know what you will find buried in the garden. Gardeners unearth coins inscribed with the initials of Henry VIII's first three wives. 

Last week Chuck Yeager passed away at the age of 97. Homer Hickam writes about what made Yeager a true American hero. 

Sir David Suchet reading The Night Before Christmas is just the holiday content we need. 

We also recently lost the great espionage novelist John Le Carre. This interview from 1965 with Malcolm Muggeridge is thoroughly fascinating. Thankfully he changed his mind and decided to continue writing sp novels. 

Pez dispensers are particularly popular as stocking stuffers this time of year. However the mints were actually developed as an anti-smoking measure. 

Podcast of the week: I just discovered The Golden Age of Baseball podcast and it is a delight. It is hosted by Eddie Robinson who just turned 100 years old this week and is the oldest living Major League Baseball player. His stories of his playing days are fascinating. 

This just goes to prove that there is a club for just about everything. 

During the tumultuous year of 1968 the Apollo 8 mission brought peace at Christmas to all the Earth. An excerpt from the new book Operation Moonglow: A Political History of Project Apollo. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Weekend Links 12-11-20

 It's hard to believe we are just two weeks away from Christmas. Soon 2020 will be in the rearview mirror and not a moment too soon. In the meantime, here are a few links of interest for your weekend reading.

Like many families, A Charlie Brown Christmas is annual tradition for us. Turns out we have none other than Willie Mays to thank for serving as a catalyst for the holiday classic

ICYMI: I started a new feature on the blog earlier this week. 

Neat history: Divers discovered a Nazi Enigma cipher machine that was tossed into the Baltic Sea during World War II. 

Answering the important questions: why do we call coffee a cup of joe? 

When you think of Audrey Hepburn you probably think about films such as Roman Holiday, Sabrina, and My Fair Lady. But it turns out she also has quite the list of crime films on her resume

Podcast of the week: this week it's two of my favorite podcasts for the price of one. Caroline Crampton of Shedunnit hosts Catherine Brobeck and Kemper Donovan of All About Agatha to discuss all things Agatha Christie including the pros and cons of reading her detective novels in publication order. It's quite a fascinating discussion. 

Hard to imagine really that there were times when certain Christmas songs were banned. 

Speaking of Christmas, take a look at some spectacular Christmas light displays

Who knew that a cereal icon could be both inspiration for invention and the cause of tremendous controversy? 

Literary history: Evelyn Waugh loved Perry Mason novels. It always surprises me how many authors are fans of crime fiction. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Take Five: Christmas Songs

 Today marks the debut of a new occasional feature on the blog called Take Five. It's basically a list of my five favorite things in a particular category. Today we'll get into the Christmas spirit with my favorite Christmas songs. 

I have a confession. I am not a huge fan of Christmas music. Back in college when I was working as a disc jockey I worked a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day playing nothing but Christmas music. I discovered right away that Christmas music is (a) abundant and (b) of varying quality. It took me several years afterward before I would sit and listen to Christmas music for extended periods of time. Even now I can only take it in small doses. But there are five songs here (in no particular order) that will definitely put me into the Christmas spirit.

1. Please Come Home for Christmas - The Eagles (1978)

When Please Come Home For Christmas debuted in 1978 it became the first Christmas song to debut on the Billboard top 20 since Roy Orbison did it with Pretty Paper in 1963. This is a cover of a Charles Brown song that originally debuted in 1961 however the Eagles had far greater success with the song than Brown did. This is the classic Eagles lineup of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmidt, Joe Walsh, and Don Felder. A wonderfully bluesy Christmas song. 

2. White Christmas - The Drifters (1954)

It's no secret that Irving Berlin's White Christmas is a holiday classic. Bing Crosby's version of the song is the best selling Christmas song of all time. But this doo-wop version from the Drifters is a whole lot of fun. This is the "early" version of the Drifters long before the runaway success they would have with Under the Boardwalk. The song went all the way to #2 on the Billboard R&B chart. It has become a Christmas classic having been featured in films such as Home Alone and The Santa Clause

3. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole (1946) 

One of the difficult things about trying to select my favorite Christmas songs is trying to first figure our which song to choose and then which version. With most holiday standards there are numerous versions available. But this is one instance where there is no improving on the original. Nat King Cole was the first to record this song and it is still the best version in my opinion. 

4. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - James Taylor (2001) 

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas is arguably one of the most recorded Christmas songs. There are literally hundreds of versions of the song. The tune originally was written for the 1944 Judy Garland musical Meet Me in St. Louis. This version was actually recorded after Taylor had laid down tracks for his album October Road.  As a result, the recording has a spontaneity that is not necessarily heard in other versions of the song. I like this version of the song more than any other I have heard. 

5. Christmas Time Is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965) 

There is one Christmas album that will get constant play around my house: A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi Trio. This jazz album became an immediate classic upon its release. It's hard to single out one track but this one will do the trick. It's one of the original compositions for the film and features a children's choir on the vocals. It captures beautifully the essence of the animated special. 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Weekend Links 12-4-20

We are back after a week off for the holidays. Hope that you had a great time with your loved ones. 

I've got a new feature appearing here starting next week. I hope you will enjoy it. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to be informed of new posts. 

Now on to this week's links for your weekend reading....

This story sounds like something straight out of Fake or Fortune: a missing Australian masterpiece was discovered hiding in plain sight

This is really neat: phone cases that will make your phone look like a book

Just what your next party needs: a giant Twinkie. 

Answering the important questions: why do hospital doctors wear white coats? 

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that catching a foul ball is really difficult. Of course you could consult this book for tips. 

The hunt for the original McDonalds french fry recipe. Yes, it's true that McDonald's fries don't taste the way they used to. 

Happy 100th birthday to the theremin which just happened to have been invented by a Soviet spy

Podcast of the week: this episode of All About Agatha features an interview with Dr. Mark Aldridge who is the author of a forthcoming book on Hercule Poirot that looks fantastic. It's a really fun conversation. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Weekend Links 11-20-20

 Congratulations on making it through another week. Here are a couple of links of interest for your weekend reading:

There used to be a time that renting a movie involved a trip to Blockbuster Video to pick up a VHS tape to play on the VCR at home. Blockbuster might be a thing of the past but there are free video kiosks popping up across the country. 

The true story of the Juliet Club: Verona's love letter writing workshop.

Things you probably didn't know about the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. 

Time waster of the week: clicking on Random Street View will give you a Google street view of a random street somewhere in the world. Keep clicking next to get a new location. 

Sometimes you never know what you will find: workers in Athens found the bust of an ancient Greek god in the sewer while making repairs. 

Book excerpt: the evolution of espionage fiction from the introduction of the new book The Big Book of Espionage edited by Otto Penzler. 

Spruce up your virtual meeting backgrounds with these downloads from the National Trust. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Weekend Links 11-13-20

 It's a bumper crop of interesting stories for your weekend reading.....

Fascinating artifacts from the FBI's photo archives

If you are of a certain age (like me) you will remember popping a TV dinner in the oven. A brief history of the culinary treat. 

This looks like fun: one of the most beautiful libraries in the world lets you spend the night.

Picture this: aerial photographs of famous landmarks

This is one for baseball fans: 3 triples + 2 singles + 1 double = 0 runs. You could look it up. 

Celebrating 100 years of Agatha Christie

If you like reading the Queen of Crime  you are likely to enjoy Anthony Horowitz's new novel, Moonflower Murders. Here is a review of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Ranking all 24 James Bond films. Related: the time Sean Connery's brother portrayed James Bond's brother in an Italian film. 

Dutch museums unveil an online exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh's works. 

Why Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek will be remembered as a cultural icon. From the new book Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider's Guide to Jeopardy! by Claire McNear.

Believe it or not: there is one company in America that still makes washboards. Business is booming. 

Answering the important questions: what if someone objects at a wedding? 

Fun fact: London's first police force was founded by novelist Henry Fielding and his brother. 

Unfortunately, FedEx wasn't an option: a carrier pigeon's military message was delivered a century too late. 

Friday, November 06, 2020

Weekend Links 11-6-20

The Presidential Election was held on Tuesday of this week here in the U. S. and strangely enough as I am writing this post we still don't have an official winner. At least we can take solace that the campaign is over and the votes have been cast. Now it's just a matter of making sure the votes are counted and the winner determined. I have seen lots of folks publicly expressing anxiety over not knowing the winner. Since I didn't vote for either of the major candidates I don't feel that same sort of investment in having one person win over another. As long as the process of counting the votes has been fair I am satisfied. 

It's probably fair to say that it is "so 2020" for the election to take so long to decide. This whole year has been weird. I have been prone to wander around the house muttering this line from one of the Harry Potter films: 

In the meantime I will continue to assemble links of interest to take our minds off these mad times. Here's what caught my eye this week.

The inside story of the "crime of the century". It's interesting to me all the different ways that the authorities bungled the investigation in the early days. It's also interesting to note that this case would serve as a major inspiration for Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express.

Speaking of Agatha Christie, some criticize her works as being stuck in a time that no longer exists. Laura Thompson, author of Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, respectfully disagrees

The curious history of the dust jacket. 

Talk about disaster planning: an Oreo vault built in the event an asteroid collides with Earth. 

Strange, but true: in the early 1900's the U. S. Postal Service allowed you to mail a child. The weird part is some parents actually did. 

Music to your ears: why certain songs send your brain into pleasure overload

How the introduction of the cheap ballpoint pen changed writing forever. 

Podcast of the week: I thoroughly enjoyed this episode of All About Agatha which features an interview with Anthony Horowitz. His new book, Moonflower Murders, will be published in the U. S. next week. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy and it is a terrific read. I especially enjoyed the discussion on how he writes his books. I also discovered his favorite mystery writer which is someone I had never heard of before. 

I love these rules for writing from Frank Cottrell Boyce. Especially #8. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Weekend Links 10-30-20

This weekend marks both Halloween and the end of Daylight Savings Time here in the United States. Have a safe weekend and enjoy that extra hour of rest. Here are a few links of interest for your weekend reading:

Here is how trick or treating became popularized. 

Why Arsenic and Old Lace is the perfect movie for Halloween.

With the time change this weekend we will be setting our clocks back. For most of us it's not a big deal. At Windsor Castle, however, one man is responsible for changing the 400 clocks in the castle. 

This gave me chills: a Colorado high school choir performs "Down to the River to Pray" in a hotel. It is amazing.

Prepare to be heartwarmed: finding love at the Dunkin' Donuts. It's a wonderful story. 

This is the kind of news story I am  here for: an airport security officer rescued a kitten that had wandered onto the ramp.

Readers of this space know that I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie's novels. Here is a great list of her "essential" works. 

Ever wonder why lightbulbs don't last? It's because of a conspiracy. 

There's an app for everything these days including one that will let you know whether the McFlurry machine at your local McDonald's is working. 

The KGB museum in New York was one of the countless casualties of the pandemic. The good news is that their entire collection of artifacts is for sale. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Weekend Links 10-23-20

 Congratulations on making it through another week. Here are a few links for your weekend reading.

They say there is a Shakespeare quote for every occasion. Does that also apply to Shakespeare mugs? 

Speaking of Shakespeare, a first folio set a record for the most expensive work of literature ever sold at auction. 

This year marks the eightieth anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation of Rebecca. Here's the story of the woman who helped the director bring the novel to life on screen. 

This is fun: select the year you were born and the engine will show you the words that first appeared in print during that year. 

It's a rite of summer: the joyful sounds of music in the streets means that the ice cream truck has come to visit your neighborhood. There were many times my girls would be overcome with excitement at those sounds. This is the story of the company that makes virtually all the music boxes installed in ice cream trucks. 

Talk about an expensive Christmas present: the puppets used in the 1964 stop action animation television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are up for auction. 

The problem with home renovations is you never know what you will find hidden in the walls. 

Lucky detectorists: two British teens found ancient coins over a thousand years old. 

These kinds of stories warm my heart: a painting looted by Nazis from a Jewish family in 1933 was returned to its rightful owner. 

These two soldiers literally stared death in the face. Their story of survival is remarkable. 

This one is for Doctor Who fans: A dispute featuring a town council, a science fiction museum, and a Dalek. 

Weekend podcast: one of my favorite musicians is Diana Krall. She is an incredibly talented singer and pianist. I loved listening to this episode of The Checkout podcast where she discussed her craft as well as her new album This Dream of You. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Weekend Links 10-16-20

 This weeks post is going to break all the rules. By that I mean that I am purposely disobeying my own ground rules for assembling these posts. First of all, I try to draw from as many different sources as possible. However, some of my reliable sources had so much good content this week that I am offering multiple posts from the same site. 

Secondly, and more importantly, I purposely avoid politics in these posts. The links featured here are meant to be a distraction from politics and other current events. However, I ran across a couple of articles this week that were too good to pass up. I will put those at the end so that you can skip those if you like. 

Now onto the links for this weekend:

This year marks the centennial of the publication of Agatha Christie's first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles. To celebrate, here is a wonderful collection of the book's covers through the years. Just looking at this article will help show you why I have different editions of the same novel in my own collection. 

Sophie Hannah selects ten underrated Agatha Christie novels. I haven't read all of them yet but can agree that a couple of them certainly don't get the attention they deserve. 

One more Christie related link: How I Learned to Stop Being Sexist and Love Miss Marple. Exit question: who would you like to see portray the spinster sleuth? I like the author's suggestion a lot. 

If you ever lose your jewelry you can always call the Ring Finders. 

With more and more meetings moving to Zoom these days we are getting a look at other people's bookshelves. Why are we so focused on them? I think in a way it helps reveal something about a person. The fact there is an entire Twitter feed devoted to bookshelf credibility tells us how a real our obsession really is. 

Besides Agatha Christie another of my favorite mystery writers is Anthony Horowitz. Here's an introduction to his novel series for adults. By the way, the television adaptation of his Alex Rider series premieres in the US on November 13th. 

Weekend playlist: this week I have been listening to Palo Alto by Thelonius Monk. In 1968, a sixteen year old high school student hired Monk and his quartet to play a fundraising concert at Palo Alto High School. An enterprising school janitor recorded the session which is now available to stream. It's quite a performance. 

The reason why it is hard to spot your own typos. It makes a lot of sense. Thank goodness for autocorrect.

It's been 70 years since C. S. Lewis published the first volume of The Chronicles of Narnia. Why the novels still hold our imagination even as adults. Of all the books I read to my girls when they were younger these are still my favorites. 

This is some fascinating research: how readers rate New York Times bestsellers. 

Finally, a couple of articles about the election. The headline of the first article sums up how I feel: Why can't they both lose?  I don't identify any longer with a particular political party and I don't necessarily endorse everything that this site would stand for. However, I think the article makes some important points about what is at stake and what the two major candidates for president represent. I find myself agreeing with Joel Belz that someone other than the two major party candidates would be preferable in this election. 

Friday, October 09, 2020

Weekend Links 10-9-20

Hard to believe that we are already into the second week in October. Where has this year gone? 

Here are a few links of interest for your weekend reading:

Secrets of strong writing from the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There's a lot of great advice in this article. 

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the finest art museums anywhere. It's also the place to go if you want to see the works of Claude Monet. 

I've always been curious about this even though I don't own a dog: why do dogs bury things? 

Longread of the week: how to misread Jane Austen.  I'll be honest and admit I have only read one of her books which was Pride and Prejudice. I had to read it for a college literature class. I have seen adaptations of almost all of her novels so I am at least somewhat familiar with the canon. But I think that many people want her works to say what they want them to say rather than reading them at face value. 

Craig Johnson, creator of the Longmire novels, researches the mystery of an American painting that could once be found in most watering holes across the country that has since totally disappeared. 

Found: tapes from a 1962 Ella Fitzgerald concert in Berlin. I have been listening to this performance and it is every bit as wonderful as you would expect one of her concerts to be. 

I don't endorse cheating. However, this was a fun thought experiment. How the 1919 Chicago White Sox could have thrown the World Series and gotten away with it. 

Friday, October 02, 2020

Weekend Links 10-2-20

Hard to believe it is already October. This year continues to fly by. Here are a few links of interest for your weekend reading.

I don't read the news too much because it's mostly depressing. But this post from Gracy Olmstead on reading the news in dark times really struck a nerve. You can also sign up for her monthly newsletter at the link. I highly recommend it. 

When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. In fact that was my plan until I grew too tall to be a test pilot. Anyway here are some interesting facts about astronauts. Related: what it's like to live and work on the International Space Station. 

The Society for American Baseball Research debunks eight myths about the Black Sox scandal popularized in Eliot Asinof's book Eight Men Out and the film of the same name. 

Found: a rare edition of William Shakespeare's last play. 

Also believed to be found: the Amber Room which was once part of a tsarist palace and was looted by the Nazis during World War II. 

Answering the important questions: why do milk jugs have those inverted circles?

Weird history: the unsuccessful plot during World War II to fight the Japanese with radioactive foxes. 

Remembering mystery writer Jacques Futrelle who sadly is probably best known for perishing on the Titanic. 

This is something I hadn't considered: how the U. S. Postal Service selects literary stamps

I had one of these as a kid and probably many more people did too. A brief history of the Wooly Willy. 

This is another article that really struck a chord with me. Things I did that my kids never will. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Weekend Links 9-25-20

 As summer gives way to fall, 2020 continues to churn on with uncertainty. It sure seems like this year has been no other in terms of the challenges we have faced. Perhaps that is why I have been committed to finding diversionary links to fill these pages. I hope you enjoy this weekend's collection of links.

Letters play a key role in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Often a letter will help propel the story forward. One author has worked to bring those letters to life in a new edition of the book. 

These are some amazing photographs: capturing Ellis Island's lost period before its restoration. 

I suppose this gives new meaning to the term "epic battle": this Dungeons and Dragons game has been going on for 38 years!

All British people are potential murderers according to Richard Osman, author of the upcoming novel The Thursday Murder Club which looks like it will be fantastic. You can read an excerpt here

Answering the important questions: If I haven't read X book, am I reader? I think this is a fascinating question particularly there are a number of books that many folks would say I should have read and that I haven't. 

True crime solved: a fortune in rare books that had been stolen in London have been found under a floor in Romania. 

I tend to read a lot of mystery novels written in the so-called Golden Age (basically the period between the two World Wars). Here's a list from Martin Edwards, current president of The Detection Club and an expert on Golden Age fiction of authors from that period that deserve a lot more attention

The Walther PPK is known as a classic spy gun because it is so closely associated with James Bond. However, when the gun was first introduced in 1930 it revolutionized the way that pistols were made

Travel to Europe or anywhere else isn't really feasible right now but here are a list of American towns that will make you feel like you are in Europe. 

Without a doubt one of the most difficult sequences to film in Star Wars was the fighter battles near the end of the movie. Director George Lucas turned to footage from World War II aerial battles for inspiration. 

A new adaptation of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small has just premiered in the UK and will air in the US on PBS in 2021. Herriot's children reveal the truth behind the beloved books

Friday, September 18, 2020

Weekend Links 9-18-20

 Happy Friday! Here is your weekly roundup of interesting links for your weekend reading.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. So what better way to celebrate then with a life-sized cake shaped like Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.

Speaking of anniversaries, it is also the 25th anniversary of the premiere of the short-lived but beloved PBS series Wishbone. Here's a fascinating oral history from the creators of the show.

 Now I know where I want to take my next vacation: Lindt has opened the world's largest chocolate museum in Zurich. 

Selecting the best P. G. Wodehouse books. Because he was so prolific it is often difficult to narrow down a "best of" list when it comes to Wodehouse. Still there are a lot of interesting selections on this list even if it omits my personal favorite, The Code of the Woosters.

Throughout baseball history, there have been many players who only played in one major league game. In fact, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, there have been approximately a thousand players who have only played once. I had no idea they tracked this information. Perhaps the most famous was Archibald "Moonlight" Graham who was also a prominent character in the movie Field of Dreams. But this story is probably the most unique "one game wonder": a player who made his major league debut in a game he didn't actually play in. What's even more interesting is that while he never had a major league career his younger brother was a Hall of Famer. 

Speaking of baseball oddities, you don't see this every day: a player who gets ejected while crossing home plate on a home run. 

How a thirteen year old's comment to her father changed the course of asthma treatments

Ever wonder what happens to books left behind in public places such as subways, airplanes or hotels?

There are many reasons why Agatha Christie is considered one of the greatest novelists of all time. One reason could be because she can draw readers in with some fantastic opening lines. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Never Forget

The following post was originally written on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. It is my own family's history of our experiences on 9/11. I am reposting it today because we can never forget what happened on that terrible day.


I will never forget 9/11. No matter how hard I try, I can't block out the memories of that day. They will be forever burned in my memory.

I was supposed to be attending a meeting in Bala Cynwyd (just outside of Philadelphia) on 9/11. My wife and two daughters (ages 4 and 5) went up a few days early to explore the Amish country as well as downtown Philadelphia. We had had a great time visiting an area that we had never visited before. But that Tuesday morning everything would change - in ways far greater than we could have ever imagined.

The day started normally enough. My meeting was supposed to start at 9:00 so I headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant early to eat breakfast. My wife and daughters were a little later getting ready.

Our meeting started on time and was underway for about an hour before taking our first break of the morning. Many of the folks in this meeting were from New York. While we were on the break, several guys tried to call the office but couldn't get through. One of them finally decided to call the operator and see what was wrong with the telephone lines. He would be the first one to share the news with us: the World Trade Center had been hit. Another person came in and said it was the Pentagon. It would be a few minutes before we realized that it was both.

By the time we managed to get a TV brought into the conference room we were able to see the replay of the South tower being hit. Moments later it collapsed. It took all of us only a split second to decide we needed to go home. The fourth airliner, United flight 93, would crash in Western Pennsylvania within the next few minutes.

My wife had taken the kids next door to Denny's to eat breakfast. A waitress told her that the Pentagon had been hit. Her sister's husband often worked at the Pentagon. Was he there? Frantically, she was calling her unable to get through. It would be much, much later before we found out he wasn't there and was completely safe.

My wife came back to the hotel not knowing how to find me. At the time, I didn't carry a cellphone (I have ever since). She was in the lobby trying to call her sister when I finally came upstairs. I looked at her and said "We're going home".

At the time we lived in Richmond, VA, almost directly due south along Interstate 95 from Philadelphia. Under normal circumstances, it would have taken about five hours to drive home. But Washington, DC is directly on Interstate 95. Due to the attack at the Pentagon, Washington was completely locked down. Our only choice was to head west and then south in a long circle along interstates through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virgina. It was a long drive home.

As we were leaving the hotel we turned on the local news on our radio. The mayor of Philadelphia was holding a press conference announcing the evacuation of the city. Everyone was being ordered home since at that time we didn't know where the hijackers intended to fly United 93. It was reasonable to assume that Philadelphia was a target.

One thing was clear: we were at war. We weren't sure yet who was responsible but we knew we had been attacked. The peaceful setting of Lancaster County was strangely appealing. Surely whoever this was wouldn't attack the Amish. We would be safe there, wouldn't we?

As we drove on there was this eerie feeling of not knowing what to expect next. Would there be further attacks? Who was responsible? Why had they attacked us?

Our daughters tahnkfully were oblivious to what was happening. At least until the announcement was made that Walt Disney World had closed (we had made our first visit as a family the previous year). Then it registered with them that something was wrong.

Everywhere we stopped along the way home people seemed to be trying to carry on with life as normal even though they all knew that life would never be normal again. Everything had changed.

By late afternoon we had made it to Harrisonburg, VA (about 3 1/2 hours from home). At first we thought we would just find a hotel room and spend the night but there were none to be found. Greyhound had ordered all their buses to stop wherever they were and as a result people had to find hotel rooms. Everything was closing down: restaurants, stores, shopping malls were all closed. We managed to find a gas station that was still open. When I went in to pay there was the extra edition of the local paper with the photo of the burning towers above the fold. This was not just a bad dream. This was real.

As we left Harrisonburg and headed towards home I can remember the eerie sight of a single jet plane crossing the sky. I knew it was a military plane since all civilian aircraft had been grounded much earlier in the day. This is what it felt like to be at war.

We eventually made it home safely that evening. But we knew that everything had changed. A couple days later we got another grim reminder of just how serious things were.

Where we lived, we never saw military traffic. But around 9:00 one evening just a few days after the attacks we were buzzed twice in the span of a couple of minutes by a pair of F-14 fighter jets. It was yet another reminder that we were truly at war.

There would be other reminders, as well. I went to Las Vegas for a meeting a couple of months later (a meeting that was originally supposed to take place the week after 9/11). The sight of armed soldiers patrolling the airport was a clear sign that things had changed.

While I was in Las Vegas I stayed at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino. As the name suggests, the hotel is supposed to remind one of the New York skyline. Even three months after 9/11, there was a memorial of flowers, posters, and messages of support for the police, firefighters, and people of New York City. I couldn't help but be struck by the sight.

Driving by the Pentagon several months after 9/11 and getting to see firsthand the devastation caused by the terrorists would be yet another grim reminder of the war we had been dragged into by our attackers.

I can't forget no matter how hard I try. We should never forget for this is why we fight.