Autodidact: self-taught


Why There Are No Reviews

by V. L. Craven

I’m in New Orleans for a week so there will be no film or book reviews for a couple weeks.

I’ve actually left the house. It’s incredible.

It’s raining like nobody’s business here, which is what you want when you go on holiday. And I’m here with a group of friends from all over the U.S., U.K. and one from Australia, so people are handling the humidity and rain in various ways.

Those from the northern parts of the U.S. don’t understand warm + rain.

The U.K. people aren’t coping with humidity and heat.

The American Southerners are: What? This is strange?

And the Australian, being accustomed to living in a place where everything is trying to kill you, is happy to be somewhere relatively safe.

When we arrived at the airport the first thing we saw was a sign advertising crawfish strudel. This is an abomination. Our taxi driver asked if we’d tried one.


I should have taken a photo of the sign. I’ll try to get one on our way out of the city.


The Well Film vs Novel

by V. L. Craven

Similarities and Differences Between Elizabeth Jolley’s Novel The Well and the Film Based Upon It

This post includes spoilers for both the 1986 Elizabeth Jolley novel The Well and the 1997 film of the same name. There are spoilers everywhere and will not be behind the usual ‘here be spoilers’ tags. If you need a moment to decide if you’d like to continue reading, here is a photo of Pamela Rabe.

The Well Pamela Rabe

If you’ve decided to stick around, then here we go.

There are more similarities than differences and the film sticks very close to the book–closer than most adaptations do. Many of the same conversations happen, though perhaps in different places.

The most noticeable difference, however, is the choice of casting Pamela Rabe as Hester Harper. In the book, Hester is menopausal or after–she’s fifty-something if she’s a day. Whereas, Rabe wouldn’t have been forty when she played the role. (Don’t get me wrong, they made the correct decision, but I was surprised by how much older the character was in the book.)

Per usual, there’s more about everyone in the novel–films don’t have the ability to capture the inner world of the characters the way books do–and we learn more about Hester’s beloved governess Hilde and Mr Bird and Katherine’s friend Joanna, as well as Katherine’s time at the orphanage.

Hilde had to leave one day after having a miscarriage (or giving birth? it’s difficult to tell from the description) when Hester was fourteen. Hester found her in the middle of the night on the floor of the bathroom bleeding profusely and crying. The next day her father took Hilde away and Hester was sent to boarding school. This gave Hester quite a dim view of bearing children or childbirth or relations between men and women.

Mr Bird dies suddenly near the end of the book but was trying to look after Hester right up until his end. There is some intimation that he was romantically interested in her, possibly. He certainly had affection for her, as he’d sent her cards on special occasions her entire life. She hadn’t wondered why until it was too late to ask. The original Hester Harper is remarkably self-involved.

Joanna, Katherine’s friend who spends most of the book and film on remand, sends letters and plans a visit. She eventually becomes an evangelist and her final letter in the book arrives on white paper with a gold cross on each page. She invites Kathy to join her for a tour of the States.

The Hester Harper of the book seemed much more frivolous and less capable than the one in the film, who was always in control and knew what was what. The Hester of the film also seems to have more of a sense of humour and a better singing voice.

The Katherine of the book (she’s never given a surname) is more annoying, but she also looks after Hester. She’s less conniving in the source material, whereas in the film, she comes across as money-grubbing and manipulative. This could be because the book is very much from Hester’s point of view, but the film has to be from a more objective viewpoint. However, in the book, Katherine never refers to her benefactress as ‘Hester’, as she does in the film. She always calls her ‘Miss Harper’.

The original Hester Harper is much less likable. She’s insanely possessive and absolutely will not allow Katherine to bring a man into their house and certainly not allow her precious Kathy to have a baby, even though, as she ages, these are things the younger woman expresses an interest in. She’s jealous of Joanna, as well, but not to the same degree, and, by the end of the novel, she’s resigned to letting Kathy go with Joanna to America if she wants.

The book explains where Hester gets Kathy (see my review ) which I had found confusing in the film. And in the book the Harpers didn’t have Molly–the woman they let go in the film–to make room for Kathy. The girl also didn’t find the work too hard and strop off only to return. Films need conflict, though. Something else the book explains that the film doesn’t is what Katherine sees in Hester. She seems to like looking after the woman–she brings her sweets at the dance, for example, in the book. But in the film it’s unclear why she’d return that day early on when she’d decided the work was too hard.

In the book, Katherine wears the yellow dress to the dance that Hester makes for her. It’s cause for some snide comments because Mrs Borden thinks Hester is trying to keep Kathy like a child even though she’s twenty-one, but Katherine likes it–she certainly doesn’t intentionally ruin it the way the character in the film does.

After the man is put down the well everything goes the same in both media. However, in the big argument in the film, Kathy says something to the effect of, ‘If you give me the key I’ll do anything you want, I’ll be so good.’ Intimating sexual favours. This line doesn’t appear in the book, though earlier Hester reflects on how her enjoyment of watching Katherine dance makes her feel and:

She groaned. The dance was for her the only physical manifestation of physical love. Hester did not feel guilty about the feeling. It was private. She pulled off onto the gravel for a few precious minutes alone on the edge of the great emptiness.

Afterwards, in her weakness, she cried a little…

So clearly there was sexual attraction on Hester’s side, even though Kathy doesn’t mention it in the book and that’s really the only mention

The last scene of the book is Hester with a petrol can in the car with Mrs Borden and a bunch of her children. She and Kathy had run out of fuel and the older woman felt like a walk so the younger woman stayed in the car to work on her sewing for an upcoming fete. Joanna will be arriving by then for a week-long stay.

The well has just been permanently covered over after the downpour, which nearly filled it. Hester had it covered as she thought Kathy would realise the men working on it all morning would have surely heard anyone alive if, indeed, there had been a living soul down there.

Hester has also set herself on the plan that, if Kathy decides she wants to go to America with Joanna, she’ll simply have to let her and fill the emptiness of her days by constantly finding things to do with her time.

The film ends with Hester in the Bordens’ car with the brood and Kathy hitch-hiking with a bunch of money. The book is never clear on if Kathy has the money or not. In the book Hester doesn’t look for it the way she does in the film.


Oh, and in the book the woolly hat is red, rather than yellow.


Back in the Net(Galley)

by V. L. Craven


When I purchased my first Kindle (what was then called a Kindle Keyboard) in 2010 I had no ebooks, but there was a wonderful service called NetGalley that would remedy that situation. Publishers listed soon-to-be released books with the service and provided a digital copy to readers in exchange for a review.

I read like a crazy person. All of these books! For free! And all I had to do was write a review of them, which I would have done anyway? Remove yourself from my proximity because I don’t believe you. Happiness ensued.

I got to read several excellent books I otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. It was like the days of being a bookseller when the big white box arrived with all the ARCs (advance reader copies). Except I didn’t have to get off my sofa.

Eventually I fell away from NetGalley–it wasn’t intentional–I acquired my own ebooks and read physical books I had at home. I was writing, I fell into a depression and stopped reading, etc. These things happen.

Then, last week, a lovely person from Grove Atlantic contacted me through this site and asked if I would be interested in reading Bradford Morrow’s newest book, The Forgers. I’d really enjoyed his novel The Diviner’s Tale , so I said yes. She sent the link through NG and I went in (after working out my password) and found this info on my profile:

Queen of Impossible Numbers

Now, maths and I… we have a long history of just… we’ve decided to ignore one another as much as possible. But even I know that 100% is as high of a percentage as a person can earn.

I thought that since I’d read 16 books, somehow the algorithm they use had given me 100% for all 16 books, but on the page that explains the Feedback to Approval Ratio it says that 80% is if you’re approved for 10 books and you review 8. So exactly what you’d expect 80% to mean. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when I submit my review of the Morrow book (which is compelling–look for that review in a couple of weeks). Will the algorithm correct itself? Will I suddenly have 1700.0%? Stay tuned!

–Queen of Impossible Numbers


Happy 4th Anniversary

by V. L. Craven

Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog.

This will be the 588th post. And there are 236 pages.

It’s gone through some changes over the last four years, but it’s found its niche now and I’m looking forward to the next fourth years.

As a reward for my followers, my tattoos:

Poe, corvids and Tim Burton homage.

Poe, corvids and Tim Burton homage.


A logo from an academic organisation in my writing. The motto means 'Learn so that you may live.'

A logo from an academic organisation in my writing. The motto means ‘Learn so that you may live.’


Tree cover-up tattoo including an owl and blood moon.

Tree cover-up tattoo including an owl and blood moon.


An ouroboros. A symbol of self-reflexivity.

An ouroboros. A symbol of self-reflexivity.


Alchemy symbols from the Middle Ages. From top Arsenic, Sulfuric Acid/Vitriol, Antimony.

Alchemy symbols from the Middle Ages. From top Arsenic, Sulfuric Acid/Vitriol, Antimony.


Brimstone/Sulfur alchemy symbol.

Brimstone/Sulfur alchemy symbol.


The Sigil of Astaroth, Crown Prince of Hell.

The Sigil of Astaroth, Crown Prince of Hell.



Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

by V. L. Craven

Pit and Pendulum illustration

Get it? A Pit and the Pendulum reference. I’m witty. I’m also apologising for being so remiss in posting.

This winter, which, with any luck, may possibly end at some point in the next six months, has been a difficult one for a variety of reasons.

Seriously. Why? I live someplace warm to avoid this nonsense.

Seriously. Look, I live someplace warm to avoid this nonsense.

Anhedonia , about which I’ve written before, and other personal events have got in the way of (or even feeling like) writing much of anything. Or really doing much of anything other than play Legend of the Cryptids and 2048.

And faff about on Tumblr. My site there is called Bookish and Macabre , where I post book-related or spooky or Gothic sorts of things.

Old Manuscripts

Or, sometimes, a combination of those.

There’s also the occasional Sherlock, Hannibal or Harry Potter gif. And soon I’ll be posting book and film reviews that don’t necessarily fit with the theme of this blog. I’ll still be posting here, though, as well.

It may take me a bit to get completely back into things, but here goes.

And when I came in to write this post, I was greeted by this:

LIKE 666

Which was immensely cheering, I can tell you.

See you on Thursday with a comparative film review of 30 Days of Night and Let the Right One In.


Guest Post: Voodoo In New Orleans

by V. L. Craven

Today we have a guest post by Michael Hibbard about his experiences in New Orleans.

New Orleans is one of the most amazing cities I have ever visited in my entire life. I have traveled all over this great country, visiting 37 states thus far. But, out of all the places I’ve visited and lived, New Orleans will always have an inexplicable hold on my soul. Back in 2010, I had traveled twice to New Orleans, and once in 2009. I almost exclusively spent my time in the French Quarter because there is so much to see in such a small area. Amazing restaurants, Jazz in the air, art galleries, voodoo shops, cemeteries and the people make this historic town a jewel in the American Crown.


One afternoon, I stumbled across a mask shop, wanting to get an authentic hand-made Mardi Gras mask. The experience was more than I had bargained for. The proprietor of the shop was an older Creole woman, very friendly, and hospitable, like all the people I met on my trip. No matter where you go in the French Quarter, you’re treated as family. I started to chat with the woman as I was paying for the mask, and in passing, I mentioned that I was on my way to the Voodoo Museum . It was at that point that I learned about Voodoo in New Orleans, first hand.

The woman closed the door to her shop, which was a bit unnerving at first, but I sensed no maliciousness from her. She went back behind the counter and began to tell me a fantastic tale.

“There are two types of voodoo,” she said conspiratorially in hushed tones.

“There’s the fake voodoo you see on the street an’ in the stores. And there’s the real voodoo you won’t find but in the bayous and hidden places.”

She didn’t wait for me to ask before she started again.

“I was in love with a man, and he was in love with me when I was jus’ 18 years old. We’d been fixin’ to get married. But someone else had other plans.” She looked about the room as if she were fearful to continue, but did so anyway.

“Anotha girl in the Quarter had this man in her sights, a voodoo queen. An’ she put a curse on me, an awful curse. An’ over a few days, alla my hair fell right out.”

Of course, at this point I was a bit skeptical of the story, perhaps something the citizen of this venerable city subconsciously concocted to keep the mystique alive. I asked her what happened in the end.

“He left me ‘cuz I was cursed an’ alla my hair fell out,” she said, obviously saddened by the whole affair. “That’s when I when back to the church and I ain’t never left. I go every Sunday, lord willin’”

I thanked the woman for her time, and told her I had to get on my way before the museum closed. The story, as I just related, was burned in my mind, word for word – as if a warning to not trifle with things that I do not know or understand.


My next stop was the Museum itself at 724 Dumaine Street, only a few short blocks from the mask shop. The older African American woman running the shop was just as pleasant as she could be, took my money and said to take as long as I wanted. The front of the museum was a store selling gris-gris bags, voodoo dolls, and books on the history of voodoo in New Orleans. Harmless enough. But as I crossed the threshold into the museum itself, the mood changed and my sense of security hung just beyond the door.

As I walked through the narrow hall, connecting several other rooms, the first thing that struck me was the beating of drums that played through speakers mounted throughout the building. The tracks being played were those of actual voodoo drums played during rituals to rouse the Loa from their slumber. They had a strange hypnogogic which made one feel as if they had entered an entirely different realm. But, I proceeded anyway.

I learned early on from my various trips to other shops that it was considered a sacrilege to take pictures of someone’s voodoo altar. Almost all voodoo shops and practitioner shops had such an altar, and they all had a prominent display sign forbidding pictures. The museum proudly allowed visitors to take pictures.


A typical altar is devoted to a particular Loa and is decorated with gifts to appease them. The above altar was devoted to Papa Legba .

The more I wandered through the museum, the more I was beginning to feel this sense of dread come over me. It was as if someone had thrown a hot wet blanket over my head, making it difficult to breathe. I do not know if it was the building, the Loa, or the drums that beat constantly as I wandered the narrow halls and small rooms.

I started to hurry, and take as many pictures as I could. Below are traditional voodoo dolls from the 19th century.


This is a bible that was opened at the foot of the altar at the heart of the museum, but strangely, when I took a picture of the altar, I later found that it was completely dark.


It was at this point that I found the building to be completely unbearable and I hastily made my way out back into the sunlight. I never went back to the museum in my several return trips to New Orleans. However, my story in the exploration of New Orleans Voodoo does not end there.

Later that day as the sun was beginning to set over the Mississippi, and I decided to take a walk to St. Louis Cemetery #1, the resting place of Marie Laveau , the most famous of all voodoo queens in the history of New Orleans. The legend says that if you make a wish and draw XXX on the side of any voodoo queen, your wish will be granted, as long as you leave something.

Now, having talked to the shop keeper and visited the museum, I felt it best that I not mess with someone as powerful as Marie Laveau. Instead, I went to the crypt of another unnamed voodoo queen, pictured above.

To understand my wish, I must tell you that this was my first trip to New Orleans, and I was immediately entranced by it, as I’ve mentioned before. The previous night, we had dined at a restaurant that was over 150 years old, and when we were done, I stepped out onto St. Anne’s street with the intention of going to the Boutique du Vampyre, a curiosity shop next door.

The sun had already set, and the gas lamps had been lit, and for what seemed an eternity, I stood there hypnotized by my surroundings. An inexplicable sense of Déjà vu overcame me – the clip clop of the mule drawn carriages, the sounds of music wafting on the gentle breeze coming over the levee, the smell of lavender, and the view of St. Louis’s Cathedral. I was overwhelmed and knew inherently that I had been there before. It was then that I decided that I would do anything to live in New Orleans, because it wanted me there. But I was leaving in two days, and that was not nearly enough.

So I stood at that tomb, with a piece of brick that had crumbled from decay and the ravages of time, and I drew my XXX and wished that I could stay just a little bit longer. I pocketed the piece of brick, almost unconsciously and went about the rest of my stay in New Orleans.

The day before I left, I did what most people do, and I got a Tarot Card Reading at Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop, but a strange young man by the name of Charlie. I say strange because there was something about him that struck me, something that made him stand out from the rest of the denizens of the French Quarter. He was a bit unkempt, with a weary look in his eyes. Now I had been extremely skeptical about any Tarot Card reader, because it can be a form of street magic. But something told me Charlie was different. As he read my cards, I was careful not to make any moves in body language or speak that might trigger him to give me information based solely on observation – I wanted to see if he truly had the power of foresight.

His reading was frighteningly accurate. And, while I’ll not get into the details, I did ask him one question, when the reading was done. I asked, “Will I ever move to New Orleans?” He turned over the card on top of the deck, the Star card, which is the card identified with New Orleans. He said to me, “New Orleans wants you here, but you will have to make difficult decisions on being here.”

I left feeling as if I’d been given a stock answer I was a bit dejected.

The next day was time for the trip to be over. My morning started off with a three course Creole Breakfast, with French Onion Soup, an omelet and strawberry crepes cooked table side. We had to catch our flight by three P.M., and as we checked out of the hotel, and started to walk towards Jackson Square one more time, I got a phone call.

It was Priceline calling me to tell me that a bad ice storm had hit Richmond, and that all flights would be cancelled for two days. They had already rebooked my flight and hotel. My wish, by whatever means came true.

So, for two more days I meandered the streets of the French Quarter, drank at the oldest pub in the United States, Jean LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop, pictured below, and visited several other key sites in the Quarter.


On the last day, I decided to respond to a job ad in the local newspaper. It was the perfect job for me, because it was in the field I already work in. Thinking nothing of it, I closed up my laptop to get ready to pack up. The only place I visited every day was the Café Du Monde to feast on their famous Beignet and drink café au lait Chicory Coffee.


I sadly left New Orleans, with heaviness in my heart. Not wanting to leave a place that seemed like home. We boarded our plane and headed for the first stop in Atlanta with a two-hour layover. As I sat in the terminal, I received a response from the company I had applied to and they were already scheduling a phone interview, which later lead to a flight back to New Orleans for them to offer me the job.

Now, as Charlie had said, “you will have to make difficult decisions on being here,” he could not be more correct. The job offer came at the high of the housing crisis here in the US, and unfortunately, I was unable to sell my house, which subsequently resulted in not moving. It was a tough decision, but I made the right decision for now.

I will conclude this tale with one very poignant message. Magic, voodoo, is real. There are things in this world that we cannot explain, and perhaps shouldn’t try to explain. Our world, our universe is a wondrous and amazing thing. I was an unbeliever in these things before my trip, but now, I have seen that there are forces at work that we will never understand – needn’t understand.

Accept this with an open mind. Everything I have said is true, and every encounter I’ve had was witnessed by someone else. Voodoo is alive and well in New Orleans. And it is something you should treat with the same respect you would a Lion or a Tiger.


Anhedonia Addams

by V. L. Craven

When the Autodidact in the Attic was small, she became acquainted with another little girl named Anhedonia who would visit for long stretches of time and occupy all of the Autodidact’s attention. Anhedonia was quite distracting. Nothing seemed very important when she’s around.

The two girls spent an inordinate amount of time together as children and teens and even into their twenties. Then they grew apart to some extent. Though Anhedonia never goes away for too very long, these days she usually only returns for day visits every now and again.

But recently, she arrived out of nowhere–as is her wont–and has settled in. And she’s one of those guests who, when she’s around, you simply can’t do anything with. She’s uninterested in going anywhere or doing anything except spending time with you. And she reminds you that, ultimately, everything is an exercise in futility so there’s really no reason to do anything in the first place.

If you ask me, Anhedonia needs to cut back on the Existentialists.

I mentioned that once and she just quoted Macbeth at me.


I don’t have any photos of her–she’s incredibly shy–but here are some approximations of what she’s looked like over the years.

We first became acquainted when I was 8 or so and she would have looked something like this:

Anhedonia 1

(The little girl from  The Colors of Evil. )

Then, she grew up a bit and looked like Wednesday.

Anhedonia 2

You know who’s next, right?

Anhedonia 3


Now that we’re adults she looks more like Death in  Mortys  than Morticia, oddly. Very tall and thin and pale. Tilda Swinton with long black hair, really.

Anhedonia 4



In all seriousness, anhedonia is ‘the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable’.

I’ve always thought it sounded like one of the Addams family cousins, though.

She’s been visiting so I’m dealing with her at the moment.


Regular posts will resume this Friday with a book review of a Gothic story for children. Or a story for Gothic children.

See you then.




by V. L. Craven
Alchemy Wheel 3

Have an alchemy wheel. Thanks for stopping by.

If you’ll look to the right, you’ll notice some spanky new features on the site, including an email subscribe link, a category drop down menu, and, coming later today, a Facebook like button that connects to our Facebook page of fabulousness.

I’m also doing some other site maintenance and making some improvements on the backend (teehee) so enjoy your blog experience.

Have another. I have several.

Have another. I have several.


Do Your Body Parts Belong to You?

by V. L. Craven

What if you, I don’t know, have a part amputated, put it in a barbecue smoker for safe keeping and then lose the smoker because you can’t keep up the payments? Does the person who bought the smoker own your leg?

What do you think after you read this article about a North Carolina man whose leg was auctioned off in the smoker he could no longer afford to house.

Joy. I love it when the state I live in makes international headlines with quality stories like this.

This is going to court… It brings all sorts of questions to mind.
Why keep an appendage that’s been amputated? How do you preserve that limb? I know you can embalm a limb, but embalming is only to slow down decomposition–not stop it. Obviously, after whatever is done to it one doesn’t have to keep the limb in air-tight or temperature-controlled conditions.

If I were the judge of this case I’d say the leg didn’t belong to either of them.

Then get out my LART.

[This is a repost. Original post date: 6 October, 2007]


Becoming a Nielsen Ratings Family

by V. L. Craven

The Nielsen ratings are, theoretically, very important to people that decide what to air on television. I say ‘theoretically’ because they’ve chosen our household (consisting of my husband, myself and our two cats and dog) and we don’t own a television.

Not THIS Nielsen

Wrong Nielsen, but my sentiments, exactly.

Though their materials are addressed to ‘TV Research Home’ rather than our names, we’re assured we’ve been chosen to represent our area.

Being that this home hasn’t had a television in years, I’m wondering how they decided on us, but we’re not representative of our area, I’m nearly positive, as we watch Netflix and YouTube on a 21″ monitor in our living room.

This is what happened:

A couple of weeks ago we received a postcard informing us we’d been chosen by Nielsen to possibly become a Nielsen ratings household and to watch our post for more information. (A friend of mine was in a Nielsen household so I knew that this would just be the first round of the selection process.)

A couple days later, this arrived:

Nielsen Envelope

‘We’ve produced the TV ratings for over 60 years!’ By polling people without TVs? That explains a lot.

If you’ll notice, the upper right hand corner say this:

Nielsen envelope close up

Apologies for the crappy quality of the photos. We don’t own a decent camera, either.

All righty. My voice says, ‘We only watch television shows that have been vetted by our friends because we don’t have time for the bajillionty hours of rubbish you make.’

I opened the envelope and caught a familiar scent that I couldn’t name, but figured it was something to do with the ink they’d used for the pamphlet. Then I spread everything out on the counter and realised the smell was ink. The ink they use to print money.

Because this is what was in the envelope:

Nielsen Envelope Contents

Count ’em, baby, FIVE American dollars.

Clockwise, starting in the upper left corner: Introductory letter, five brand new American dollars (holla, holla, y’all!), a pamphlet explaining why what we’re doing is Important, the actual survey, a return envelope and the envelope everything arrived in.

My husband:

HardCORE Baby

Still, two dollars short of being gangsta.

My friend who’d been in a Nielsen household twice said they got paid $30 each time so we were a bit offended. It’s almost as though the opinions of people without a TV are worth less than the opinions of those who actually have one. The money is also probably why they sent the postcard ahead so people didn’t just throw out the blue envelope along with the cash inside.

First, we read the pamphlet:

Nielsen Pamphlet 01

Nielsen Ratings Pamphlet 02

(Clearly, it’s not a ‘unique’ experience, if they let people do it more than once.)

Nielsen Ratings Pamphlet 03

Then we settled in to do the survey.

Nielsen Ratings 2013 Survey 01

Nielsen Ratings 2013 Survey 02

1] I can’t recall what I chose for this one, as I know a great deal of TV is crap, but we only watch really great things. So we’re personally ‘extremely satisfied’, but we also only watch one or two shows at any given time.
2] We went with American Horror Story, The Following and Face Off. AHS was off the air by the time we got the survey, but we couldn’t come up with a third show.
3] Evenings for both weekdays and weekends (meaning we watch Netflix and certain YouTube channels then).
4] Zero. Though I really enjoy the underlined ‘working’ TV sets.
5] No.

Nielsen Ratings 2013 Survey 03

This was the most interesting bit, to my mind, because they’re obviously interested in Hispanic or Latino households. I only hope they’re trying to have a representative number of Spanish-speaking houses rather than choosing to ignore those.

The survey could be either sent in through the post, over the phone or online. We went with online.

Roughly a week later we received a letter saying they really, really wanted our opinions and to please complete the survey. We’d done that already, so now I don’t know if they’re counting our important vote or not. Oh well.

For those of you who care, our typical viewing is British TV that may or may not be available in the States, films or documentaries  (or several seasons old TV shows) on Netflix, SciShow, Crash Course, the Brain Scoop, QI, etc on YouTube and, roughly twice a year, the complete series of Black Books and Spaced.


A Coxcomb in Black Armour

by V. L. Craven

I was looking for information on one of my ancestors and learned about this dashing fellow:

William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven. Patron of EvilDude Barbers

William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven. Patron of EvilDude Barbers

That’s William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven , the second in a long line of William Cravens. (Between the mid 1500s and 1965 there have been twelve titled William Cravens and who know how many non-titled ones.)

He did several things of the impressive variety, but I particularly enjoyed this bit:

As a Privy Councillor he seems to have been diligent enough: Pepys in his Diary regularly mentions his attendance at the Committee for Tangier and his chairing the Committee on Fisheries. In the latter role Pepys was rather shocked by his bawdy language which Pepys thought improper in a councillor (though perhaps natural in an old soldier)…. Pepys’ attitude to Craven varies in the Diary- on the one hand he calls him a coxcomb and criticises his chairing of the Fisheries Committee; at other times he is glad that Craven is his “very good friend”.

He also stayed in London during the Black Plague, when other nobles were getting the hell out of there. He was all: ‘Plague schmague. Look at my luxurious hair and black armour, not to mention my hyper-cultured-villain facial hair; do you really think your air-borne demons can get past those? Pah! I laugh at your impertinence.’ Instead, he was all: ‘Just calm the fuck down– I’m in charge now. And here, have some places to bury your dead. Now, I have a horse to ride about looking fucking majestic .’

I can’t seem to find the info on when our family crest was created, but our motto is Virtus in actione consistit  (virtue consists in action), which sounds like soldier talk to me. ‘Enough with the diplomatic yapping; I have a horse and a battleaxe outside going to waste.’ I’m not really into violence, but I often wish people would shut the hell up and do something, which is clearly a centuries-old Craven family policy.

Is it weird to find a long-dead ancestor attractive? Is it only weird if that long-dead ancestor doesn’t look like the prototype for every single bad guy ever?

No wonder I’m in Slytherin.

Another portrait:


You better WORK

And a full version of the detail above.

William Craven I


The Chemistry of Tea

by V. L. Craven

All of this information comes from Rajini Rao , a very smart lady on Google+.

• The Science of Tea: For 4,700 years, this infusion from the tender leaves of Camellia sinensis has been delivering a cupful of healthy antioxidants and good cheer. Did you know that tea is the most widely consumed beverage, after water? To celebrate the birthday of +Siromi Samarasinghe , who has a PhD in tea chemistry, here is some chemis-tea.

• Caffeine : Did you know that weight for weight, dry tea has more caffeine than coffee? But because more coffee is used per cup than tea, brewed tea has significantly less caffeine (~90 mg/250 ml).

• L-Theanine: A rare amino acid (γ-glutamylethylamide), found almost exclusively in tea, it has a calming effect on the brain. Theanine suppresses the stimulation by caffeine of brain excitability, reduces blood pressure and protects against neuronal cell death. It is a structural analog of glutamine, which is a byproduct of glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. Theanine inhibits the transport of glutamine and dampens neurotransmission.

• Catechins: Up to 30% of dry weight in tea, catechins are a type of antioxidant also found in chocolate and wine (Mmm..). Catechins are classified as flavonoids and have been shown to reduce the risk of stroke and cancer.

There are many other antioxidants and polyphenols found in tea. Tea is best drunk in company, but if you are alone, you can still have a tea party:

I had a little tea party
This afternoon at three.
‘Twas very small-
Three guest in all-
Just I, myself and me.

Myself ate all the sandwiches,
While I drank up the tea;
‘Twas also I who ate the pie
And passed the cake to me.
-Jessica Nelson North


[Me again: The best part of this post, all of which is pretty fantastic, is that I learned there’s a PhD in tea chemistry! That’s brilliant.]


Father Frost Exists! HE DOES!

by V. L. Craven

Russian children aren’t allowed to think their parents are lying.

I love stories like this. I tend to think of Yanks as being the biggest idiots on the planet when really every country is stupid in its own way it’s just much more amusing to pick on the richest person in room. Like why it’s fun to watch fame whores make complete morons of themselves. The U.S. is the fame whore of the world, my friends.

Which is why I love stories like the one above where a Russian ad was banned because it denied the existence of Father Frost. “It said that declaring that Father Frost did not exist implied that parents were not telling the truth, so undermining childrens’ trust in them.”

Let’s ignore the misplaced apostrophe in “children’s” and focus on the real message: Kids, always believe your parents, even when they lie to you.
And then get on the Yanks here who continue to support Bush even after they know he lied to them.

[This is a re-post from a previous blog. Original post date: 01 January 2008]


Aqua Falls Pet Fountain: The Hidden Solution

by V. L. Craven

[This is a guest post by Autodidact’s husband.]

We recently attempted (unsuccessfully) to switch our cats from the icky, smelly canned food they’ve been on, to a cleaner, less stinky diet of dry food. To ensure that they would continue to consume enough water after  the switch, we decided to buy one of those pet water fountains that’s supposed to be attractive to them and encourage them to drink. However, I didn’t really do much research on the available models, plucking the first one I encountered – the  Aqua Fountain Aqua Falls – from the shelves of the local superstore and assuming (foolishly) that it would just work.


After just a few hours of leaving the fountain running, we realized that this wasn’t the case. Not only was the pump VERY noisy, but the water was splashing out over the edges of the fountain reservoir, creating a large wet patch on the floor, and deterring the cats from going anywhere near it. I checked the manual carefully to make sure that we weren’t doing something wrong, and consulted the collective wisdom of the internet, but although we certainly weren’t alone in experiencing this problem, no-one could suggest an actual solution.

And so, for the next 3 weeks, the Aqua Falls remained unplugged, merely serving as a rather expensive water receptacle and slowly collecting bits of half-chewed cat food. We couldn’t return it to the store we’d bought it from because we didn’t have the original packaging, so I decided to do one more search online to see if anyone had come up with a solution. One product reviewer suggested that it was all about the narrow gap through which the water was forced, creating the ‘falls’ effect. He recommended inserting something into the middle of this gap in order to increase its height, thereby encouraging more of the water to flow through the center, and less towards the edges. I was willing to give it a shot, so I retrieved the fountain from its corner of shame, completely disassembled and cleaned it, and then rebuilt it. I jammed a small nail into the gap, filled the fountain, and plugged it in. The results were underwhelming: the nail completely disrupted the water flow, creating two messy, splashy streams on either side.

Out of desperation, I began disassembling the fountain again to see if there was any other way I could bodge a solution without completely breaking the thing. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, I happened to notice a small protrusion on the side of the pump. Closer inspection revealed this to be A FREAKING POWER CONTROL. A control which the manufacturers don’t mention anywhere in the product manual, and which no-one else who I had seen online, complaining about the splashiness, had mentioned finding. A quick test run confirmed that simply reducing the power level of the pump by half not only reduced the volume of the pump, but also totally eliminated the splashing problem!

So, there you have it, folks: the hidden solution for which you’ve all been looking. I just had to share, and this seemed like a good place.

You’re welcome.

Of course, having their own personal water fountain isn’t going to stop the cats from drinking out of the dog’s bowl.


Meta Post

by V. L. Craven

Nostalgia about nostalgia about nostalgia.

I was fiddling around on my computer and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” comes on my mp3 player and I’m instantly thirteen. Smell is supposed to be most closely linked to memory but when I hear certain songs I may as well jump in a time machine, so much do some songs put me right back in the frame of mind I was in when said song was ubiquitous.

It’s fitting that the song that set me off this time was Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, a list song he wrote about the key world events occurring in his lifetime. I was born nearly thirty years after Mr Joel (him = May 09, 1949 me = June 09 1978) but his song about his childhood defines my childhood. I ‘came of age’ when his song of coming of age was popular. I know every word of the song even though the vast majority of the events happened before I was born.

I’ve always prided myself on differing from my peers by not caring about age difference but recently it has occurred to me just how important certain events can be to people. One day I will meet a person who wasn’t born when 9/11 happened and I will be baffled; just as people who were alive when JFK was assassinated feel when they talk to people my age. When that happens I’ll feel as I do now about JFK people: that it’s such a defining moment I can’t believe I don’t have a memory of it. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t a sentient being then–I should remember something like that. I’ll feel that way about future pro-9/11 kids. Nostalgia is like a supremely bizarre LSD trip.

This whole thing has been exacerbated by a project I was working on for one of my bosses where I needed to find sites with lists of things people in their sixties had seen invented as well as things people in their 20s had never lived without. I discovered The People History which lists useful info for each year in U.S. history, as well as Wikipedia’s Years in Literature which has lists of popular books for any given year. They also have music. It’s fascinating, addictive stuff. And normally I believe in connection across generational differences. but after poking around on some of these sites I can see how some people would only want to be with those they could identify with chronologically. In twenty years I don’t know if I could be interested (emotionally/intimately) in a person who had no concept of 9/11, even though I’m no patriot. The whole project has made me think, which I appreciate.

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