The only reasonable thing…

I make no apologies for the length and breadth of my to be read pile. Admittedly, my “pile” occupies a 7×14 foot wall now… with the nonfiction section bleeding over into another room, but seriously, no apologies at all. I like having options from the kings of Wessex to Buffy at my fingertips.

I’ve posted before about the ever-expanding need for shelf space. More is never quite enough. Knowing that, I’m going to do the only reasonable thing I could think of.

Over the next week or so, as I’ve been threatening for months, I’ll be culling the shelves. Every book in the pile is one I looked at least once and thought would be an interesting read. Time passes and other, more interesting books arrive. Some book is always lingering at the very bottom of the pile – a book that standing on its own I’d likely find entertaining or informative, but that as part of the wall of text will probably never be the next book I actually read. It’s a regrettable side effect of time being a finite and regularly diminishing resource.

Some of those titles, though, are still things I’d very much like to read, even if it’s at some ill-defined point in the deep future… like sometime after 2035. Other things in the pile won’t even make that cut. Those, I’ll shuffle off to Goodwill or maybe sell off to Wonderbooks for pennies on the dollar. Either way, some of the collection will work its way back into circulation next week.

For the rest, maybe four or five individual shelves worth, I’ve ordered up a bundle of banker’s boxes and acid free packing paper. Those will be going into long-term storage. It may be decades before they see the light of day again… but having spent no more than a dollar or two on any one of them, keeping them around doesn’t cause me any particular heartburn aside from needing to free up some floor space in one of the closets. That’s not too high a price to pay to make a bit more prime space available for new additions of more immediate interest.

It’s times like this I deeply regret not buying the house with a finished basement or a 4th bedroom.

What I’d rather be doing…

I’m not working this week. It’s the first time in this plague year I’ve taken a block of days off in sequence. I’ve spent the last couple of them knocking around the house, cleaning, and running errands. It’s nothing spectacular, but all things that needed doing. Here on Tuesday, we’ve arrived at the point in time where I have nothing particularly pressing to do.

What I’d like to spend this new-found free time doing, is digging around some of my favored used book shops and carrying home untold treasure. What I am doing, as you can see, is sitting here at the keyboard writing about what I’d rather be doing. 

There are, of course, reasons for this. Perhaps I should say there’s one main reason that’s not happening at the moment… but to tell that story, I have to first tell you a bit about my general philosophy of acquisition. 

Some collectors focus on a particular author, a genre, a time period, or topic. They might want signed copies or first editions. Me, well, I want nice copies, firsts if I can get them, but ultimately, my focus is on bringing in books I actually want to read. That goal has been achieved in spades. There’s literally nothing on my “to be read” shelves that I don’t want to read. 

With 500+ volumes now lingering on those to be read shelves, though, I’m beginning to feel like a victim of my own success. Based on my average yearly reading rate, I’ve built up a slightly less than eight-year backlog… and because I keep the to be read anti-library separate from the ones I have read, space is becoming something of an issue… again. I’ve lost track of how many times this has been the case already. This time, though, I’m running up against a physical limit on available wall space for more shelving in that particular room.

With all that being the case, it seems that I have a couple of possible courses of action: 1) Dramatically reduce the number of books being brought in until I’ve freed up space; 2) Viciously cull the to be read list with a goal of jettisoning somewhere between 25-50% of titles that are “below the line”; 3) Let the to be read pile bleed out into new space; 4) Box up titles I’m not likely to get to any time soon and allocate them to deep storage in an under-utilized closet; or 5) Accept that this is just life now and buy a warehouse.

So, I’ve got some decisions to make. I like the idea of bringing some discipline to the collection – of focusing in my reading on whatever I decide are the highest priority books. I absolutely hate the idea of conducting a great cull. It’s an admission of defeat – that no matter how interesting, I’m accepting that I’ll never, ever get to it. It’s even worse knowing that a year or two from now I’m likely to be in the same position… although it guarantees that after a few cycles of binge and purge, I’d have a heavily curated reading list with every title intensely focused on what appeals to me in a book. There’s an appeal there, to be sure.

Right now, at this minute as I’m writing, I fully intend to drastically slow down the number of books arriving until I’ve made some decisions. That’s not saying tomorrow I won’t be schlepping through a used book shop fondling a new box of books I just couldn’t live without. Still, I feel like I deserve some credit for even considering the issue in depth.

I’m making a list and checking it twice…

I probably put more effort than is strictly necessary into traveling. Even a million years ago when I was traveling for work on a regular basis, I was the guy who showed up at the airport with a giant suitcase that pushed the 50 pound weight limit for a four day trip. It got exponentially worse when I lived in the center part of the country and most of the trips suddenly because reachable if I were willing to put in a long day’s drive. Then I’d fill the bed of the truck with all manner of stuff that I might possibly need, or more often just things that would make the hotel room feel more like home. If I couldn’t actually be at home, that was the next best alternative.

Seriously, I’d show up at five star hotels, slide into their valet line, and proceed with an unpacking experience that looked like a cross between the arrival of a gypsy caravan and the journeys of Lawrence of Arabia. What can I tell you, I’m believe in my own comfort… and for me, that generally means having the right things on hand whenever I might want or need them.

Here we are many years since those trips of old… but the impulse to take the whole house with me is as strong as ever. That’s why I’ve been working on my Christmas List for the better part of a week now. It’s not a list of presents, of course, but rather my planned packing list.

The list these days is a little different. It consists mostly of dog beds, dog food, dog toys, dog medication, crates, bowels, leashes, harnesses, and then the usual allotment of books, electronics, charging cables, and a few changes of clothes. In other words, mostly things that I could personally live without, but would really prefer not to if it’s avoidable.

This year I’ve gone so far as to have some of the requirements shipped ahead. Yes, thanks to Amazon I have pre-positioned certain dog related items at our holiday destination so we can just fall in on it when we arrive. Then all I’ll have to decide is whether to abandon it in place or repackage it for backhaul. It turns out you can take the boy out of logistics, but you can’t really shake the logistics out of the boy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start thinking about the Tetris-style load planning I’ll need to sort out to make sure everything is safely stowed in the truck cab or at least protected from the weather under the bed cover.

Obviously I have no idea how normal people travel.

So this is my life now…

I picked up a dirt cheap pressboard bookcase at Walmart 18 months ago that has already started falling apart. I added another, bigger, better unit a while after that, but the anti-library, the books I’ve got stacked up waiting for a chance to read, is once again spilling off the shelves and creeping ’round the walls in the spare room. Sure, you might say I have a bit of a problem, but when I’m picking most of these books up, in hardback, for a buck or two a piece, it’s not exactly like I’m out on the streets looking for heroin. In terms of problems, it’s hardly the worst one I could find myself suffering from.

A reasonable person would probably just slow down a little – maybe work through some of the backlog before bringing anything new into the inventory. That’s a sound, logical approach. And it’s not at all how the mind of a book collector works. I’ve already had to take a pass on sifting through a couple of collections for the gems and that mostly just breaks my heart.

The time to make a purchase, especially those from yard sales, thrift shops, estate sales, and used book stores, is when you see something. A piece of any quality is almost sure to be gone the next time you walk through the doors. Some items you’ll probably never lay eyes on again given the vagaries of how things ebb and flow into the secondhand marketplace. Miss them and they’re gone.

I’ve been hoping to pick off some bookcases of opportunity from yard sales or junk shops for the last few months, but haven’t found anything that really suits the requirement. Unfortunately, I think that means this weekend I’ll be giving in to the home storage juggernaut that is Ikea. I don’t particularly love their stark white aesthetic, but the kind of cabinets I desperately need right now aren’t for display purposes. I need storage space measured in linear feet, capable of gulping down fifteen or twenty hardback books at a time. The standard Billy bookcase isn’t what I’d call pretty, but it’s functional, expandable, and affordable, which is precisely the niche I need to hit at the moment.

So it turns out this is my life now – the relentless pursuit of books and bookcases in which to store them is how I’ll be spending the rest of my days.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

​1. The “to read” pile. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve always had a problem with acquiring books. For most of my adult life it’s been manageable largely because I moved every couple of years and shipping large boxes of books gets expensive. I had an incentive to purge the shelves from time to time. After settling in at Fortress Jeff, though, moving every three years didn’t become much of a threat. What we have now is a collection of books that I want to read, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. The shelf I bought to store this unread library is already filled to capacity and spilling out across the floor. It’s a hot mess. I read an article recently that argued your “to read” pile should always be larger than the collection you’ve already read because it reflects your goals as well as you’ve accomplished… but I’m fairly sure they were thinking about books that teach you things and not a shelf filled with detective novels you’re going to get to at some point. If I were slightly less compulsive about displaying books-as-conquests I could probably have convinced myself to get a library card or fully embrace e-books. Now with no physical check on how many is too many, I fully expect the pile to get worse long before it gets better. I need to either make more time or learn to read faster.

2. Geography. I got a notice that something I ordered online has shipped and was expected on time for delivery. I was apoplectic to see that it was scheduled for delivery “tomorrow” but was sitting quietly in New Jersey. It turns out that even after being here for more than seven years it’s hard to remember that this part of Maryland is about 25 feet from New Jersey and items might not take a week to get here from there.

3. Facial recognition. Monday afternoon I was having trouble getting my phone to unlock with facial recognition. Having to manually enter a six digit password is so 2000-and-something. It was annoying. In displaying my annoyance to the phone, I inevitable scowled at it… at which point the fucking thing immediately opened. Apparently that really is “just how I look.” Frankly, though, I’m a little surprised the infernal contraption didn’t also require me to roll my eyes.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Storage options. Fifteen years later and Jeep still hasn’t designed a good place to stow a cell phone that’s both accessible and not prone to sending your device flying in a random direction when you hit a rough patch or tighten up in a turn. You’d really thinking that during those intervening years that kind of thing would have come up. I mean it’s not like people are toting around fewer electronic devices now than we did way back in the mists of time.

2. National polls. Can you please for the love of God stop citing national polls in talking about which candidate is up and which is down? National polls are worth less than the paper they’re printed on. Since we’re a federal republic consisting of 50 sovereign states, a district, and a handful of territories who are all responsible for holding their own elections, we don’t have a “national election” so much as we have 50+ smaller regional elections for national offices. Those are the results that matter. If you want a sense of who’s up or down, tell me what the breakdown of the states looks like. Otherwise I’ve got a solid recommendation for where you can stick your poll.

3. Kitten energy. It’s been a little more than eight years now since I’ve lived with a young critter in the house. The intervening years have left me with many pictures that remind me how utterly adorable they can be, but somehow my memory blocked out just how much energy they have… and the fact that they want to burn off all of it between midnight and 5AM. Even with two infinitely understanding dogs taking the brunt of it, the wake up calls as 12:30, 2:00, 3:15, and 4:15 are something of a struggle. It’s an awfully good thing the little bastards are so cute, because no one would tolerate them otherwise.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Outlook has exceeded its storage capacity. I got an email from Outlook this morning at the office, roundly chastising me for vastly exceeding my network storage limit and effectively forcing me to dump easily tens (and possibly hundreds) of thousands of emails from the neat and orderly file structure I’ve had since the dawn of time into giant “pots” of email segregated by year. Sure, yes I know there are automatic ways to find all sorts of files, but nothing makes me (professionally) happier than seeing a neatly organized rhyme and reason for how my files and documents are arranged. I want to know how to get to things without needing to ask the machine to find it for me. It’s a personality quirk. Still, at a time in history when electronic storage is cheap and easy, running out of network storage is just stupid, bad, and wrong. Google might be mining my every message for content, but at least those pricks have never imposed a unilateral ex post facto storage cap on me. After all, you just never know when that email thread from February 2007 is going to suddenly become important. Based on my observation, the future largely a rehash of something we tried five or ten years ago… and when it comes around again, I like to be able to reference the documentation showing why it’s as bad an idea now as it was then. Forewarned is forearmed.

2. Pay walls. I’m a reasonably informed person. I try to draw my information from a variety of sources both national and international and representing multiple ends of the political spectrum. I think it’s important not to rely too much on any one news outlet, although I clearly have a few favorites. Regardless of whether you’re a favorite or not, I’m not going to pay for access to news content online. Not. Going. To. Happen. With a million other competing news sites and blogs, I don’t have any reason to pay for the news – for the same reason I wouldn’t pay for a newspaper when I was an undergrad. Aside from not wanting to pay just to read the one article a month I might be interested in, the same or similar content is available somewhere. In college it meant stopping by the local coffee shop or McDonald’s that always had plenty of copies of the paper laying around. Online it means clicking over to a news aggregator or running a quick key word search. It’s cute that news providers are desperate to hang on to the 19th century subscription model of distribution, but I’m not convinced it has a place in the 21st century. There are plenty of other, likely more lucrative, ways to get at the consumer’s wallet… if you’re just a little bit innovative in the approach.

3. George Foreman. A George Foreman grill was one of the first kitchen appliances I received after graduating college and striking out on my own. That original grill is long gone, but I’ve always had one stashed in a cabinet and used it at least once a week if not more often. Then I moved a month ago. The only thing I lost as part of the move was the Foreman’s drip tray. One single, solitary piece of plastic gone while moving the entire house. I have no idea how something like that would get lost in transit, but it did. I’ve been using assorted substitutes for the last few weeks. None of them have been particularly good at filling the role. I assumed jumping on Amazon and ordering a replacement would be cheap and easy. As generally happens when I assume, I was dead wrong. Not only where they not cheap, but they weren’t in stock. Anywhere… unless you wanted to order one “used, but clean” from eBay. Uhhh… no. Thanks. That’s ok for books, but not something that’s going to live in my food prep area. So instead of a $.37 piece of plastic, Amazon is sending me a new $49.99 grill tomorrow. It feels a little like swatting flies with a cruise missile.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Instead of sending me an email saying my statement is available, how about you just email me the effing statement and save me half a dozen clicks, a password entry, and hunting around your site looking for my statement. I know you’re trying to drive traffic to your craptastic site so you can generate more ad revenue, but you’re using a really douchy and inconvenient method of making that happen… and that virtually guarantees that I won’t even consider buying whatever your marketing geniuses are trying to sell. Sure, the email notice is better than paper, but just barely.

2. The Cloud. About a year ago, we suffered through a veritable avalanche of reminders “Make Sure to back up your C: drive to the cloud.” This week we’re suffering from a flood of equal and opposite reminders to go clean up the files we’ve stored in the cloud, it’s taking up too much space on the server. Sigh. Yes, networked storage costs money, but its not that much money. And really, being able to revive a document you worked on three years ago that’s suddenly relevant again is pretty much priceless.

3. Dogs. Most of the time, dogs are perfectly happy leading their lives of sleeping, eating, going outside, and repeating ad infinitum until the end of days. Every now and then, though, they decide to change things up… for absolutely no apparent reason. Or maybe it’s just me who can’t figure out why a dog would come into the kitchen after spending half an hour outside, grin at you (and yes, I’m quite sure she grinned), and drop an enormous deuce on the floor. I love these dogs like most people love their kids… but sometimes I’m amazed that anyone puts up with having the little heathens living in their home.

Long-term storage…

The risk in throwing things away is that you’ll wake up one morning and realize you just tossed out something you now need. In the vast majority of cases, this moment never happens and we go on with our lives with a little less crap laying around junking the place up. Some people have a harder time than others letting things go… or even just accepting that even though it’s something they very clearly remember doing that was important once upon a time, no one is ever going to need it again.

I can’t stress with enough conviction that we will never, under any conceivable circumstance, need to retrieve the office document archive from 1985. After 26 years, it’s probably safe to assume that those days when you were the young buck are well astern and you should probably just let them go instead of insisting that we hold them in our very small storage room “indefinitely.” Those boxes are more likely to fall over on some poor unsuspecting intern and kill them than they are to contain anything that anyone in the office might actually find useful.

I hate to have to be the one to bring this up, but you’re already the person in the office who keeps too many plants and too much trade show swag in your area. I’d consider it a massive personal favor if we could try to avoid you ending up on the pilot episode of Hoarders: Cubicle Farm Edition. So please, dear colleague, let it go.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Stand to the right…

Since there were no pre-orders or reservations for the iPad 2, there’s really no difference between standing on the right or left this time around. All the early adopters and true believers are going to be lumped together with the casual buyers tomorrow. Probably a good move if your goal is to generate nice lines at 5:00 in time zones across America… conveniently scheduled to coincide with the evening local and network news cycles. Needless publicity stunt or not, I’ll be there tomorrow – in one of those rare moments when my desire for new and shiny overcomes my natural aversion to large groups of people.

I’ve got my product all picked out – 16GB, wifi, 3G over AT&T (seriously, they’re good for data… actual phone calls, of course, still suck). A spur of the moment panic about “what if” storage needs could bump that up to 32GB at the moment of truth, though. I mean who wants to be caught without enough storage for a crapload of TV episodes, songs, and apps, and the occasional movie, right? Although the new ability to stream media around the house may make the larger sizes redundant for all but the most serious power users.

Hopefully by this time tomorrow I’ll be home fondling my newest piece of kit. If you want the scoop, check back here in around 2:00 CST tomorrow when I’ll be blogging live and in person from the Apple Store in Memphis. Geeky? You bet. Fortunately, I’m pretty OK with that. See you in line!