Friday, October 2, 2015

Correct Spelling?

I’m working on a book in which an egg hatches a caterpillar.  I want to describe the egg as miniscule.   My spell checker immediately changes it to minuscule.  When I insist that I want miniscule, the word gets a red underline as an error.

So, I looked it up.

Merriam-Webster says:

“Usage Discussion of MINISCULE

The adjective minuscule is etymologically related to minus, but associations with mini- have produced the spelling variant miniscule. This variant dates to the end of the 19th century, and it now occurs commonly in published writing, but it continues to be widely regarded as an error.”  

The OED says:

The word was originally minuscule, borrowed from French. The minuscule spelling has always been the preferred spelling. However, miniscule is not as simple as a typo. According to the OED, the first citation of the miniscule variant is from 1871, so this is a form that has been around quite a long time.

The OED says the following about miniscule:

Variant of MINUSCULE adj., probably arising partly from shift of stress from the second to the first syllable, and partly from association with MINIATURE adj., MINIMUM adj., etc.
So, there are two reasons that miniscule persists as a variant.

The first is the shift in stress. In English, unstressed vowels are often reduced to schwa, [?], no matter what the fully stressed vowel would have been. Minuscule used to always be pronounced with stress on the second syllable (containing the "u"), and was therefore unambiguously an [u] sound. When minuscule began to get stress on the first syllable, it was no longer clear from hearing the word what the second vowel was.

The second was the existence of semantically similar words that contained the spelling mini, such as miniature and minimum. The word mini is associated with small things.

Therefore, a person spelling the word minuscule, having no auditory cues to indicate the spelling "minu", and knowing other smallness words contain "mini", has every logical reason to think the spelling should be "minuscule".


This is a book for children. Am I obliged to use the “correct spelling” or may I get away with the “logical spelling.”

Why does it matter if words are spelled in various ways, if the reader can understand what is meant?  How long does it take for a spelling to become accepted?  1871 is 144 years ago. Do I want to be part of the spelling police, and use the “correct spelling” when I didn’t even know it existed until a few hours ago?

What exactly do I want to pass on to the children who read my book?  Love of butterflies, yes. Love of words, yes.  I have always loved the word miniscule.   And until today I did not know it could be spelled any other way. 

I am sharing the world I love in this book.  Some child may lose the National Spelling Bee if I use the non-standard spelling of minuscule. Is this a reason to continue using a spelling that makes no sense?

And no, I don’t want to use a synonym, like minute or tiny.  I want to use the word that best expresses the smallness of the egg.

I’ve always had a problem with authority.  Now the problem is which authority – my own sense of the right spelling, or that of a dictionary?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My First Visit to Planned Parenthood

I was 17. I did not consider myself a sexual being. The sex-ed class at my high school was mainly a vocabulary lesson. And I had no idea what an erector set had to do with babies. And whatever sex was, we weren’t supposed to do because it would cause babies. And babies would ruin our lives.

I’d had trouble getting a tampon in and I didn’t believe my then boyfriend (now husband for the past 48 years) when he explained what he wanted to do.  Biology took over.  I called Planned Parenthood the next day.  I figured they would be nicer and less expensive than a doctor.  I wasn’t even making minimum wage, and my take-home was $34 a week.  My rent was $40 a month including utilities. I also had payments on my motorbike. And regular expenses like food and books.

Planned Parenthood gave me an appointment for a week later, at 9 AM on Saturday.  When I showed up, they ordered me to change into a paper costume and sit in the waiting room.  I did so, along with about 20 other women, also wearing scratchy paper costumes, that tended to flap loose in embarrassing ways..

We had to sit through a class on how many sperms are in a typical ejaculation, and we passed around a plastic breast with a lump in it, so we’d know what cancer felt like. Then we got called back one at a time for an interview. 

My interviewer kept asking me if I could pay for it.  I was terrified of being denied birth control, so I said yes. Over and over.  She said the bill would be about $60 including a one-month supply of pills.  That was nearly my entire savings, but I kept saying yes.  Later, one of the other women told me if I’d said, no, they’d have given me a discount.  But I didn’t know that. 

After over 2 hours of sitting around, my paper costume was getting tears in it.  I was feeling totally embarrassed.  Supposedly I _knew_ better than to be in this situation. After all, I’d taken Sex Ed. (Later, my city ranked highest in STDs in the entire state – which probably is a comment on the quality of the sex ed program.) My mother would be furious if she knew I was here. And I might be pregnant.  Abortions were  illegal. And in my mind, pregnancy was not a good reason to get married. My mind kept going in loops about what if, and how scary!

Finally, I was called back to see the doctor.  He saw my name on the form I’d filled out, so while I was lying there, legs in stirrups, and he was poking and prodding me, he asked if I was related to Richard (with my same last name) who lives in Chicago.  “Yes,” I said.  “He’s my uncle.  You aren’t going to tell him I was here, are you?” 

The doc just kept going on and on about how he and my uncle were such good friends, and they’d gone to school together. Finally, he promised not to tell my uncle. Then he wrote a prescription for birth control pills, but told me not to start taking them until after my next period.  He made I big deal about taking them at the same time every day, and never skipping a day.

Then he left.  I wiped the goo off my crotch, put my clothes back on, paid for the visit and the pills and knew I’d have to find an extra $16 every month to pay for more pills.  If I wasn’t pregnant.  If if if.. (Luckily, I wasn’t.)

And I wondered if a regular doctor might be cheaper, and take less time, and not make me sit around for hours in a paper costume, and didn’t know my uncle.  But then, I didn’t know what kind of regular doctor prescribed birth control pills, and if they’d even see a 17-year-old. And if they did, would they repeat the Sex Ed lecture about how bad I was being? Planned Parenthood seemed like my only option.  I wanted to rename them Planned Unparenthood. And I wanted to redesign the entire system so there wasn’t a 2 hour wait in a paper costume. And the doctors didn’t get to see the women’s names. And if they give a discount based on income, they should say so.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Two Kinds of Theft

Two kinds of thieves

My mother, who is 92 and uses a walker, was pushing a cart full of her groceries to her car. A man followed her.  When she opened the trunk to put in her groceries, he opened the hood and appeared to remove something. 

He told her there was something seriously wrong with her car and she needed an $8500 part to fix it, which he just happened to have.

He escorted her to the ATM, which luckily had a $200 daily limit.  My mother gave the man her $200.  He yelled and fumed that his wife wouldn’t like it that he had sold this $8500 part for $200 but he would fix her car.  

He walked her back to her car, re-opened the hood, appeared to put something in, and went away.

My mother told the store manager. He said she should have come to him before going to the ATM.  She was feeling threatened.  She thought she had to go to the ATM with the man who had her car part.  She does not know how to fix cars.  She did not know if her car would start without that part, if he had actually taken something.  She didn’t feel confident enough to get into her car and see if it starts.  

She was picturing calling AAA, waiting for hours, having her car towed to a shop, where they would want more than $200 to replace the stolen part.

Meanwhile, in Philly, I put out boxes of old clothing and a VCR that still works for Big Brothers Big Sisters on their pick-up day in my neighborhood.  I clearly labeled the boxes with BBBS signs.  When I came back in the middle of the day, half the boxes were missing, and  the remaining boxes had been opened.  At the end of the day, all the boxes were gone, and there was no receipt from BBBS.

I was giving this stuff away anyway.  All I was robbed of was my tax deductible receipt.

My mother was robbed of real cash on her limited income, and her dignity – knowing she was taken advantage of by a criminal.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sears Dryer Installation Blues

We bought a washer and dryer from Sears online.

The first time the delivery man had both the washer and the dryer on his truck. He delivered and installed the washer. But the washer pan was too close to the wall for a back installation, so the dryer would need to be vented on the side. The dryer is switchable.  But the driver did not know how to switch it. So, he took the dryer back to the warehouse.  He delivered and installed the washer. He also left the vent pipes and elbow and stacking kit.

The second time, the driver brought a dryer with the vent switched to the right. But stairs to the room where the dryer will go are 27.5 inches wide.   If the dryer vent is at the back, the dryer is 27 inches wide and will fit up the stairs. If the dryer vent is on the right, the dryer is 29 inches wide and will not fit up the stairs.  So, the dryer would not fit up the stairs and the driver took it away.

The third time, the driver brought another right-side vented dryer and took it away.  He also took away the screws for the stacking kit and the vent pipes and the elbow.  He said they were the wrong type of vent pipes.  I learned later that he was wrong – they were exactly what we ordered and exactly what we need to install the dryer.

The 4th time, the delivery man brought the rear vent dryer, brought it up the stairs and promised that an expert installation team would be by in a couple of days. He also brought screws for the stacking kit. 

The 5th time, instead of an expert installation team, two men came and said they were supposed to pick up and remove the dryer.  I refused. They brought a vent pipe and elbow, but they took them away with them.

The 6th time, we talked on the phone with two sets of scheduling people, both of whom promised that this time we would get an expert installation team.  Instead we got a driver who did not know how to switch the vent from the back to the right.  He also did not have a vent pipe or elbow.  He promised he would call the installation customer care and we would get a phone call within 20 minutes.  

As I write this, It is now 5 hours later and nobody has called.  I called Sears customer support and they offered to send an outside firm to install it for $160.  I told them I have already paid for installation and I want what I paid for.

I called the installation number.  The recording said to call back during business hours.  I was calling during the stated business hours. I waited to see if it would let me leave a message. Then it hung up on me.

No wonder Sears is going broke. Meanwhile, I want my dryer installed.  I unscrewed the back to see if I could switch the vent.  Even thought I got all the screws out, I couldn’t get the back off.

Maybe the access is on the bottom. I give up for today.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sanders vs. Trump

Yesterday I met a man who was a Donald Trump fan.

I asked why.

He said he likes the fact that Trump is a businessman.

I said, Trump has bankrupted three companies yet managed to make millions for himself while destroying his employees’ pensions.

He said that’s just because laws allow it.  And he thinks that if elected, Trump would change the laws.

I asked why.

He said that Trump is already rich and therefore doesn’t need those laws any more.

I said Trump reminds me of Johnny Rocco in Key Largo.  What does Johnny Rocco want?  Johnny Rocco wants MORE.

He said, “Be nice, now.”

So, I asked if the race were down to Donald Trump vs Bernie Sanders, who would get his vote?

He said that was a difficult choice, but probably Trump.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Pope is Coming

The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming!  And some of it fell on my city.

I admire and respect this Pope, even though I’m not Catholic.  But he’s not a rock star.  I don’t understand the magic of being in the crowd when he speaks.

I live in the green zone.  That means that buses won’t be running through my neighborhood when his eminence is here. If I drive a car out of the zone, I will not be allowed to drive back into the zone until after the Pope leaves.  I am permitted to walk or bike out of the zone and return. Some of my neighbors are leaving town for the duration.

We’re told that at least 1.5 million people will be here to see him.  These people are paying $1000 a night to stay in hotels that are walking distance from where the Pope will speak.  These people will eat in restaurants.  The restaurants are trying to figure out how they will get food with the driving restrictions.  Same for the grocery stores.  Some exceptions will be figured out.  Right now, it looks like chaos will rule.  

It’s even worse for people who live in the black and red zones. These are zones where the Pope will actually be.

At this point, I don’t care if he can do the loaves and fishes magic.  I have an artificial hip, so it is unlikely I’ll be able to get through the metal detectors to hear him.  Besides, it will probably be easier to hear him from home on the internet.  In which case, why doesn’t he stay home, too?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Barnes and Noble's Mistake

In 1978, I wrote a picture book story: Ladybugs for Loretta.  My friend Francie illustrated it.  Because our only publication option was print (ebooks hadn’t been invented yet) we decided to limit the colors to black and red.  That meant two pieces of art for each drawing and two passes through the press.  We printed 1500 copies.  We split the stack. And we sold them.

A few years ago, we had an offer from a small press to bring our book back into print, but with only black and white illustrations.  We turned them down

A few months ago, Francie emailed me – she had used her watercolor magic on all the old illustrations.  Would I please drop everything and make ebooks?

I did some minor edits to the text.

She sent me scans of all the colored art.  

I used my word processor to create both doc and pdf files.  These days, that’s easy. Just click Publish to PDF.

I uploaded the PDF to Amazon.  Voila – we had a published book.

Amazon has a print-on-demand division. I sent them the PDF and a cover graphic.  Now we had the print book we’d always intended, which full color illustrations on every page.

But, we were missing part of our audience – in other words, we wanted to expand our market.

Barnes and Noble has an ebook reader called Nook that is supposed to be at least as good as Amazon’s Kindle.

I tried to upload the pdf file to Barnes and Noble. They don’t accept pdf files.  

I tried to upload the doc file.  It was over 20 megabytes.  They don’t accept files bigger than 20 megabytes.

I tried using BN’s online book creator tool.  I got about halfway through the process and the website said I had exceeded my size allowance.  Plus, their book creator is flow style, which means that art and text are not necessarily on the same page.

In order to get Ladybugs for Loretta onto Barnes and Noble’s Nook platform, I went back to the pdf, made screen cuts, reduced their size, reduced their color density and reduced their pixel count.  Finally the file was less than 20 megabytes.  I uploaded it.

But the result is that the Nook book is lower quality than the Amazon book.

BN is already number 2 in the market.  They don’t need to be number 2 in quality as well.  I hope they figure this out soon.  I’ll be happy to upload a quality file to replace the current minimalistic one.