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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy Solstice

We've been having a cold, rainy June here in Seattle, with a nice sunny day thrown in now and again.  A couple of days of fair weather happened in the middle of this week, so Sean and I headed to the foothills of the Cascades, an hour away, where we have a special camping spot on private land.  This is one of the benefits of an Internet business--we can go away on an overnight trip at our whim and Pistil Books still carries on 24 hours a day by itself.  The huckleberries and salmon berries were ripe, the birds were noisy, the bears were leaving droppings full of cherry pits, a waxing moon, and it was lovely.

We also recently experienced one of the pitfalls of an Internet business recently:  database failure (We use Homebase, Abebooks' book inventory program, built on Access.)  After making a mistake while re-pricing all of our inventory, I thought "No problem, I'll just recover using my backup file (which we are very conscientious about making at least once every day)." So I "recovered" the file, only to find the data stopped at April 5, more than two months behind.  Internet bookstore nightmare!  It was a Thursday night, after Abebooks' closing time, so I waited until 8 a.m. the next day to talk to tech support.  Of course we really wanted to get our database back up and working ASAP, so we we would have it over the weekend.  But due to some bad (or absent) communication on Abebooks' part (they gave us the wrong email address to send the backup file to, for instance), we ended up being without a working Homebase for five full days.  This meant we couldn't list new titles, update our online inventory, or create invoices.  Even so, we were still selling books during this time.   And we were inspired to contact a techie friend about possibly creating our own custom data base.

Reading Notes

Last week I saw Spencer Wells lecture and read from his book, Pandora's Seed:  The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization, at Town Hall.  Spencer Wells is a geneticist, anthropologist and host of National Geographic television shows.  The gist of talk was that humans were actually healthier back when we were hunter-gatherers, the proof for this being fossil evidence which shows less tooth decay, bigger pelvic girth, and longer lives in the time before agriculture.  Hunter-gatherers also lived in groups of less than 140 people, which meant closer relationships and self-rule, though he didn't use the term "anarchy."  Wells ended his talk with an admonition that our current way of life with its dependence on fossil fuels is not sustainable and that we must change our ways, but he was hopeful that we could do so, since humans are "innovators" which has given us our evolutionary edge.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan eats four very different meals:  A McDonald's meal consumed in the car (conventional industrial food, based on corn); a meal made from organic food purchased at Whole Foods (industrial, not local); a meal made from food grown at a small intensively managed farm (not certified organic, but definitely local and using minimal inputs, based on grass); and a meal that Pollan foraged (mushrooms) and hunted (wild pig) himself.  He traces each meal back to its origins in an entertaining and thoughtful manner.  Interestingly enough, given Spencer Wells' talk, the meal Pollan found most satisfying was the hunter/gatherer dinner.

I also finished Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, a 500 page novel from 1995.  The narrator, Mr. Ryder, is a famous pianist visiting a small central European city for a big musical event.  The novel reads like a very long nightmare; not so much scary as endlessly frustrating, surreal, and nonsensical.  Ryder is constantly being led astray from one task or event to the next, never quite knowing what is going on, but trying to act like he does.  I can't say I actually "enjoyed" this book, but for some reason I felt compelled to get to the end.

I've also been reading essays from The Best American Science Writing 2009, and making my way through the New Yorker's summer fiction issue, with stories by writers under 40.

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