Lingering at the Crossroads

On the profundity of book quotes.

I don’t buy printed books anymore. I read ebooks, usually on my iPad, after either buying them or getting them on loan from the library.

Yes, I will agree that there’s something nice about holding a printed book in my hands, smelling the paper when I open it for the first time, and turning physical pages made of real paper as I read. But there’s something even better about being able to carry dozens — if not hundreds — of books with me everywhere I go and to be able to pick up any of them where I left off, no matter where I am.

Besides that, there is no place for printed books in my life these days. I’ve become transient, with most of my physical possessions packed for the day I land, hopefully on my feet, in a new home.

Highlights and Notes

Although I never put pen to paper in any of the printed books I owned — that would be sacrilege! — do “mark up” the ebooks I’ve bought. I do this by highlighting passages and adding notes. I can later go back and review these highlighted passages and think about what they meant to me when I highlighted them — and what they mean to me now.

Cover of 11/22/63I just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I’d gotten it for Christmas last year (or maybe the year before) and it has sat on my iPad, downloaded into the Kindle app, for months.

Reading is one of my few escapes from reality these days, but it isn’t easy for me to do. I have a hard time staying focused on any thought-related task; I do far better with physical tasks. And I have to admit that after taking a long break from Stephen King — the last book of his that I read was The Dead Zone and I didn’t even finish it — I didn’t think his brand of horror thriller would be a good match for my mood. But the book, which centers around time travel to stop John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, wasn’t quite what I expected. It was more historic fiction than horror — no demons in the corn or giant crabs on the beach. It was also long — 853 pages! — and I found it absorbing enough to keep my attention for the several days it took to read. I think I can safely say that I enjoyed it.

Of course, that’s not what this blog post is about. It’s about the truth I found in some of the book’s passages that I highlighted — truth that applies to what I’m going through now.

The latest version of the Kindle app offers four highlighting colors: pink, blue, yellow, and orange. I used pink to highlight five brief passages that made me stop and think about my divorce.

The Crossroads of my Marriage

A good portion of the book deals with the relationship that forms between the protagonist and a woman he meets in his travels. They fall in love, but he’s got a secret that he can’t share with her. It’s got nothing to do with her or their relationship, but his inability to share that information with her is causing problems with their relationship. He writes:

Sometimes a man and a woman reach a crossroads and linger there, reluctant to take either way, knowing the wrong choice will mean the end…and knowing there’s so much worth saving.

In hindsight — which is usually 20/20 — I know when my husband reached the crossroads of our marriage. It was in mid 2011, before I got back from my fourth summer season in Washington.

By the time I got back in October, my husband’s roommate had finally left, leaving our Phoenix condo open for me to move in. We still had the house in Wickenburg, of course; my husband had been living in Phoenix during the week and in Wickenburg on weekends for the previous three years. He had a roommate in Phoenix most of that time and his roommate did not make me feel welcome. So I avoided the place as much as I could. With him gone, however, things changed. We got new furniture and blinds for the condo and I moved my office into the second bedroom. I lived there with my husband and our dog and usually went back to Wickenburg on weekends with them.

I thought being together more would make our relationship better, but it didn’t. My husband never seemed happy; I assumed it was his job, which I knew frustrated and annoyed him. His behavior frustrated and annoyed me. Things deteriorated, fights erupted, he gave me a steady diet of disapproving glances whenever I wanted to do something that he didn’t like. But he never talked to me about what bothered him so I continued believing it was the job.

In reality, he’d reached a crossroads that I hadn’t seen. I don’t know exactly when he got there — I suspect it was during the summer, while I was away. A year later, in September 2012, he told a mutual friend that I hadn’t told him that I loved him when he came to visit me for my birthday in 2011. He was carrying around that disappointment (or anger?) for over a year but hadn’t said a word to me about it. (I never was much of a mind-reader.)

So he reached the crossroads and likely felt very alone. He lingered there, waiting for something — I don’t know what — to happen. Meanwhile, I was chomping at the bit — as I so often am — anxious to move in one direction or another. His malaise and my inability to make it go away by doing what I thought he wanted me to do — making a home for us in the condo — bothered me, but I still didn’t see what the real problem was.

He got to the crossroads without me, while I was spinning my wheels in frustration just down the road. Or maybe up the road.

He lingered at the crossroads of our relationship from at least October 2011 through my departure for my summer season at the end of April 2012. And then he decided on a path — one that clearly proves that he didn’t think what we had was worth saving.

He began looking for my replacement. He found her in the form of a desperate woman eight years older than him, a woman who sent him photos of herself in lingerie, a woman who convinced him to ask for a divorce. A woman who even provided him with lists of divorce attorneys to call, along with the advice that he should call as many as he could because I wouldn’t be able to work with any of the ones he’d spoken to. A woman who called him “baby” and would eventually manage his side of our divorce.

He reached the crossroads of our relationship and made a decision without me. He put his fate in the hands of a stranger. And I’m living — no we’re living — with the fallout from that decision now.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. Relationships need to be completely honest and open. As two people travel through life together, they should do so hand-in-hand so when they reach a crossroads, they reach it together and can guide each other to make the right decision on which way to go.

I wish we’d both understood that.

Undeserved Anger

Later in the book, the main character gets caught lying to his girlfriend. He gets angry about it and thinks:

We never get so mad as when we get caught, do we?

This sentence hit me like a freight train and brought me back to the August day when I discovered that my husband had lied about having an affair and hiring a divorce attorney. I caught him in the lie and texted him about it. He reacted with rage — rage directed at me.

Yes, he was angry at me because I’d caught him in at least two lies.

His reaction bothered me a lot. The man I’d fallen in love with would have been calmer and possibly — but not likely — apologetic. He would have attempted to offer some sort of explanation. He wouldn’t have reacted in angry rage with a threatening and accusatory email response.

As if it were somehow my fault that he’d lied to me.

We never get so mad as when we get caught. I knew firsthand what that meant.

The Bad Dream that Doesn’t End

Later in the book, the main character and his girlfriend have a falling out — mostly because he’s hiding the truth from her. (His motives are good, but how can she understand that when she doesn’t know the full story?) The fight is over and he’s leaving. He’s thinking:

Part of me was thinking this was all just a bad dream, and that I’d wake up soon. Most of me knew better.

This describes my state of mind since June 30, 2012, my birthday, when my husband called me on the phone to ask for a divorce. I didn’t know then that he was probably calling from the home of the woman he was living with, the woman who had become his mommy and would direct his actions against me for the next nine or ten months. Back then, it was just a shock — only weeks before, we’d been discussing him and our dog spending the summer with me.

For months, they subjected me to every form of harassment they could muster, trying to wear me down, trying to make me give in to a proposed settlement that would take away nearly everything I’d worked so hard for my whole life, leaving me homeless with my savings drained. It wasn’t enough to be wronged by his lying and cheating — they wanted to ruin me financially, too. Every time they’d throw some new form of harassment my way, I’d think that what was happening couldn’t possibly be happening. It must all be a dream — a terrible nightmare — and that if I were lucky, I’d wake up soon in my own bed with my husband beside me and my dog at the foot of the bed.

I even dreamed about him. I dreamed about making love with him. I dreamed about him holding me in his arms, comforting me as I sobbed from the grief I feel every day. I dreamed of him saying he was sorry, that he didn’t mean to hurt me, that the woman he left me for meant nothing to him and he was coming back to me.

But there’s no waking from reality, no matter how unreal it seems.

And I know that.

FEAR

In the book, the protagonist had been married to an alcoholic who went to AA. He mentions one of her AA slogans:

FEAR, standing for false evidence appearing real.

This reminded me of the paranoia that my husband and his girlfriend/mommy were apparently suffering from. She followed my Twitter stream like a circling buzzard’s eyes follow the trail of a wounded rabbit. She’d seize upon some innocuous tweet and send it to their lawyer as evidence of some imagined wrong-doing. I tweeted about flushing a dead fish down the toilet and it became evidence that I was destroying my husband’s valuable exotic fish. I tweeted about scanning and shredding documents as part of my paperless filing system and it became evidence that I was destroying my husband’s documents. These claims went as far as the court, along with fifty pages of other tweets, accompanied by demands that I stop destroying my husband’s property and grant him an immediate inspection of our home.

The only problem was, the fish belonged to me, they’d cost less than $10 each, and they were already dead. The papers I was scanning and shredding were all mine. I’m not a complete idiot.

Their — or perhaps just her? — paranoia led to fear: false evidence appearing real.

It’s almost sad to see my husband stuck with someone so psychologically unhinged that she reads between the lines and sees threats everywhere. Almost. But as my friends tell me, he’ll get what he deserves. Apparently he deserves to live out his life with a vindictive and paranoid old woman.

Why Does Life Have to Bite?

The last passage I highlighted is a piece of dialog from the protagonist’s girlfriend. At the risk of sharing a spoiler, let me just say that she was attacked and severely scarred. She says:

“Also, I’m angry. I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel, as well? Why does it have to bite?”

And this is my problem with the whole situation.

My divorce ordeal — and I really can’t use a more appropriate word — has hit me hard, harder than anything I’ve ever had to live through. My parents’ divorce, deaths among family members and friends, personal illnesses, financial hardships — nothing comes close to the pain and suffering I’m dealing with right now, every day of my life.

There’s no closure until it’s over — and even then I doubt I’ll ever have the closure I need. That’s mostly because I still don’t understand how it happened. I still don’t understand how the man I spent 29 years of my life with could throw away everything we had to shack up with a woman he’d met less than a month before. I still don’t understand how a man I loved and trusted with my life could betray that trust and subject me to the kind of mental torture he’s been throwing at me for the past nine months.

But I need to put things in perspective, as my wiser friends have pointed out.

One friend likes to talk about the hypothetical “little girl with cancer.” Yes, I’m better off than she is. At least I’ve had 51 years of life and most of it was relatively pain-free. The little girl with cancer won’t have that.

And, closer to home, I have a very good friend who is also going through some difficult times with her partner. On so many levels, her situation is far worse than mine.

Or I can just read the news and think about the millions of people worldwide, living in hunger and poverty or in war-torn nations. Losing family members, homes, livelihoods. Living in situations so horrible I can’t begin to imagine what their lives are like. I don’t want to imagine it. Like most other Americans, I’d rather turn a blind eye to the world’s more serious problems and wallow in my own grief.

And I know that’s wrong.

But it’s all relative.

Life is hard, life is cruel, life bites.

I suppose I should be happy that things aren’t worse. But that’s a very difficult proposition to grasp, especially with my future so uncertain after so many years spent planning and ensuring my — no, our — financial security.

My Crossroads

Now I’m approaching a crossroads of my own life. It’s not a place I ever expected to be at age 51. I planned and worked and saved and did everything I thought was best to avoid being someplace like this. I doesn’t seem right that I should be here.

It isn’t right.

But right doesn’t matter. As much as I’d like to believe it does, it really doesn’t. No one really cares about right and wrong. I’m naive to think otherwise.

Eventually, my divorce ordeal will end. The loss of my husband, my dog, my home, and the life I loved will be complete. The man I loved and the dreams I thought we shared will fade away like so many broken and dried autumn leaves on winter’s first cold and windy day. I’ll stand at the crossroads and I’ll make the decisions I need to move forward alone, with whatever the judge decides I’m allowed to keep.

As so many of my friends tell me so often, I’m a strong woman and I’ll be okay.

But I can’t help thinking about the mistakes that were made at that other crossroads, the one I didn’t see. And I’ll always wonder how things could have been different if the man who’d reached that other crossroads had chosen a path that I could rejoin him on.

Interesting Links, November 23, 2012

Here are links I found interesting on November 23, 2012:

  • Grand Old Planet – "…the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence." It's a sorry state of affairs, especially when you consider that not all Americans share the same faith — or even beliefs.
  • What Should Children Read? – Schools will soon be placing more emphasis on reading nonfiction. And I think it's a pretty good idea.
  • That Awkward Moment When a Creationist Gets Outwitted by a Sixth Grader – During a debate on God's existence, an 11-year-old boy challenged Young Earth Creationist Eric Hovind with a question and Hovind imploded with an answer that makes no sense whatsoever.
  • Those who celebrate science (and those who don’t) – "Rubio was asked a scientific question in a secular setting, offered an ambiguous response as to whether he believes the planet is billions or thousands of years old, and suggested an objective, scientific truth may be unknowable, though reality shows otherwise. On the other hand, Obama was asked a theological question in a religious setting, offered a response that rejected young-earth pseudo-science, and suggested spiritual, philosophical truths may be unknowable." How can people compare the two situations?
  • Windows 8 — Disappointing Usability for Both Novice & Power Users – This reminds me a lot of when Microsoft radically changed Office for Windows to remove the menu bar and rely on a completely unintuitive "ribbon." Change for the sake of change does not necessarily make a product better.

Ebook Review: The Pillars of the Earth

Ebook FAIL.

Since this week’s blog theme seems to be FAIL, I figure I’d finish off the run of FAIL posts with the most epic failure of all: Penguin’s “ebook,” Pillars of the Earth. This attempt at ebook publishing is so full of FAIL that I almost don’t know where to begin.

When is an Ebook not an Ebook?

Home ScreenWhen it’s an app.

That’s the first problem. Announced almost the same day as Apple’s announcement that iBooks would support multimedia elements, I made the assumption that this new, “amplified” edition of Ken Follett’s novel would be an example of iBooks’ new capabilities.

I was wrong.

Not only is this a standalone iPad app, but it requires a whopping 1.54 GB of storage space on an iPad. “Updates” — and there has been one so far — are equally huge. In fact, Apple warns you:

Do not attempt to download this product wirelessly. Download in the App Store on your computer and transfer to your iPad by synching your apps.

The product itself is poorly designed, consisting of:

  • An ebook reader module. There’s nothing special about this at all. While it mimics the iBooks’ curling page flip, its implementation is sluggish and buggy; more than once, the page flip happened so slowly that it was impossible to turn the page. (It just wouldn’t move enough to “flip” over.) I had to quit the app and restart it to continue reading. The table of contents is broken down to the chapter level which wouldn’t be so bad if the chapters weren’t 50+ pages long. As a result, if you wanted to go back to a previous part of the book, it took forever to go to the page you wanted and then return to where you’d left off. Ebook settings do not include font size; you have to pinch to change that and more than once, it reset itself.
  • Character TreeA “Character Tree.” This feature is supposed to help you understand the relationship between characters. I found it nearly impossible to navigate and parts of it seemed to be locked out. It was more of a source of frustration than information. I still can’t figure out why some characters have flashing halos.
  • About the Author material. This includes text and video information about Ken Follett, author of mostly spy thrillers. This book is not spy thriller.
  • About TV Series material. This is the extras stuff that’ll likely turn up on the DVD. Starz marketing material, through and through. I figured I’d go through it when I was done with the book, but after the disappointment of being locked out of content, I figured it would be better to avoid additional frustration.
  • Links. I guess if they’ve got us, they may as well shoot marketing material at us with both barrels.

The settings screen is a joke. While it might have been a good place to put font settings, instead it offers just two options: Page Flip Sounds and Use Night Theme.

Annoying DialogI think the ultimate indicator that this is a poorly designed app is the dialog that appears every single time you open the app. Illustrated here, it includes a Don’t Show button. I tapped it every single time, but the damn dialog continued to appear.

Typos, Missing Breaks

The ebook text had its own problems:

  • There were typos. Real typos. I stopped counting after seven.
  • There was no indication of scene changes. For example, you’d be reading a scene where two characters are talking or doing something. Next line, another character who isn’t in the scene is talking or doing something. Huh? While the printed book may have used additional space to indicate a scene change, the ebook version doesn’t bother with such niceties. I guess they think the reader needs to be jarred to his senses once in a while.

Apparently, copyediting is not part of the ebook production process at Penguin.

The Movie Clips

Embedded in the book’s text are icons that, when clicked, may or may not display a movie clip from the Starz dramatization of the book. There were four problems with this feature.

  • Movie ClipThe clip usually did not match the text. The screenplay is apparently not a faithful adaptation, so dialog, characters, and scenes are different. Watching these clips while reading the book is like reading a book and watching a movie roughly based on it at the same time. Not a very rewarding experience.
  • The clips are teasers. There’s not enough content to make them valuable. They’re merely a tool to get you to watch or buy the Starz series.
  • The clip would not reliably play full screen width. You had to coax it to fill the screen by tapping a button in the upper right corner.
  • Unable to PlayThe clip would not display until it had aired on Starz! This zapped me early on. After reading a passage that described the cathedral under construction, I was pleased to see a video icon, hoping to be able to visualize the rather complex description. Instead, a dialog box (see image) told me that “speed-readers” had to wait until that clip aired more than a week later! My surprise quickly turned to anger when I realized I’d been sold a marketing tool for Starz.

The Book

Ken Follett writes spy thrillers. I’ve read a few of them. They’re good. Ken Follett should keep writing them and stop writing medieval historical fiction.

At first, the book was a pleasure to read. It introduced me to medieval times with an air of authenticity — other than dialog, of course — that was enjoyable to me. The dialog was not authentic at all and I think that’s okay. I don’t think I could have struggled through medieval dialects, spelling, and grammar.

But the book got very long very quickly. I’m a fast reader and can normally knock off a novel in two or three days, reading in the evening before bed. This one took more than a week. It seemed to go on and on and on. The story got boring. Even when it was supposed to be exciting it got boring.

About halfway through, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the book anymore. I’d passed the point of being able to watch video content — nothing was available to me — so all I could do was read. And what I read was disturbing.

Spoilers Ahead!

The book had several antagonists. One was a violent man named William who couldn’t seem to have sex with a woman unless beating her was part of the act. He raped one of the protagonists while her brother was forced to watch and then had his groom rape her, too. He basically went through the book, beating, raping, and killing. There was no stopping him. He literally got away with murder again and again.

It made me sick.

Another antagonist was a bishop who would forgive William for his sins. No matter how bad they were. He was evil in his own way and also seemed to get away with his acts over and over.

These two antagonists, and a few other minor ones who wound through the plot, had their way with just about anything. It was heartbreaking to read their latest dastardly deeds, page after page. After a while, I wondered why I was reading. There was no enjoyment in the plot, no real reward for the reader who needs to see good triumph over evil. It was simply a long, drawn out punishment for the good guys.

We’re not talking about a short book here. The mass market paperback — the version you’d buy in an airport bookstore, for example — is 983 pages. That’s a hell of a lot of evil to wade through.

Oh, every once in a while, the protagonists would win a small victory. They defended their town against William and his raiders, “only” losing 70 or so people in the process. Hooray. That was after William had burned their town to the ground on the previous raid, killing innocent men, women, and children, including one of the protagonists, and causing the financial ruin of the woman he’d raped while her brother watched. Talk about insult to injury, huh?

Throughout the whole book, I kept waiting for William to get his just desserts. He finally did, on the last pages of the book. Somehow he and the rest of the cast had managed to live — during medieval times, when Wikipedia reports average life expectancy to be only 30 years — to their 50s, 60s, and beyond. It was then that William was finally hanged. An astute reader will realize that the bad guy has lived a long and comfortable life, directly responsible for the rape, maiming, and murder of hundreds of people, and it is only in his old age that he’s finally punished. We’re supposed to be satisfied with that?

The interaction between the characters was unrealistic and contrived most of the time. I’d read a scene and wonder why they did (or didn’t do) what they did (or didn’t do). It doesn’t seem to make sense sometimes. It’s as if the author’s only purpose is to set them up for something in the future — something unpleasant. And there are only so many times you can get into a character’s head and read the same thoughts before you stop caring about what’s in there.

And sex? Not only is it prevalent throughout the book, but it’s often quite graphic, with various private parts being stroked, grabbed, fondled, squeezed, sucked — you get the idea. I don’t know how it got past the Apple censors with this rating:

Rated 12+ for the following:
• Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content or Nudity
• Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence

Mild? I don’t think so. The graphic descriptions of the rapes with their violence against women were disturbing enough to warrant a more protective rating than that.

And I don’t think I’ve read the words fuck and cunt so many times in a book in a long time — if ever. If this were a movie with that language, it would be rated R — that’s 17 and older, Apple.

But the most tasteless bit of narrative? One of the protagonists having sex with a stranger within hours of his wife dying while giving birth to their child. And we’re supposed to like these characters?

Finally, the book was supposed to be about the building of a medieval cathedral. In reality, it was a book about the brutality of the ruling class, the corruption of the Catholic church, and the rough life of peasants during medieval times.

Spoilers Done.

A Learning Experience

I thought this “ebook” would be a publishing breakthrough. That’s how it was heralded on USAToday and other news outlets.

After seeing the excellent Wired app — which I need to review here, too — I had very high expectations for ebook publishing. I thought that publishers finally “got it.” I didn’t expect them to take advantage of readers by selling them advertising material for a partner organization. I didn’t expect to be locked out of content I’d paid for. I didn’t expect an ebook to take up so much precious space on my iPad.

I’m not the only one disappointed by this mess. The iTunes store shows only 29 ratings averaging only 2 out of 5 stars. I wonder how many other buyers have demanded their money back, too.

My refund comes this week.

Highest Duty

A book review.

Highest DutyLast night, I stayed up late to finish reading Highest Duty by US Airways pilot Chelsey B. “Sully” Sullenberger. Captain Sullenberger was the pilot in command of US Airways Flight 1549, which landed with no loss of life in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009.

I’d been wanting to read the book for a while but I kept putting it off. I wanted it to be my first purchased ebook experience. I was supposed to get a Nook for Christmas, but the idiots at Barnes & Noble were completely clueless about customer service and timely order fulfillment, so I canceled the order. I wound up with an iPad in April. After weighing the benefits and drawbacks of ebook reader software — iBooks, Kindle Reader, and B&N Reader — I decided to go with the Kindle software and ordered the Kindle edition of the book from Amazon.com. From what I hear from Twitter friends, the iPad makes a better “Kindle” than Amazon’s Kindle.

On Heroes

I’ve always been intrigued by Captain Sullenberger’s modesty and apparent reluctance to bask in the limelight of his extraordinary experience. People call him a hero but he [rightly] refuses that title. He quotes from a letter he received after his Hudson River landing: “I see a hero as electing to enter a dangerous situation for a higher purpose, and you were not given a choice.”

I agree with this definition of a hero. Captain Sullenberger did what he had to do and was fortunate enough to have the knowledge, experience, demeanor, and team to carry it off successfully. His love and respect of life — including, of course, his own — is what motivated him to do everything he could to succeed.

In many ways, that’s better than being a hero. When a terrible situation was thrust upon him by circumstances he could not change, he rose to the occasion and emerged victorious, saving the lives of 105 people. Along the way, he gave the rest of us hope — after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, in the midst of a serious economic recession, with wars going on in the Mideast — he showed us what people can accomplish when put to the test. He gave us the happy ending we all needed.

It Wasn’t a “Miracle”

Another thing that intrigued — and, I’ll admit, pleased — me about Captain Sullenberger was his failure to credit his success to the intervention of some supernatural being. I’m talking about God.

I can’t tell you how sick I am of seeing famous athletes and celebrities and just plain people thank God for something good happening to them. Scored a record number of goals in a basketball game? Thank God! Won a Grammy? Praise Jesus! Tornado took out the house next to yours but left yours unscathed? God was watching out for you!

It makes me sick. People don’t want to give themselves credit where credit is due. They work hard, they train, they practice, but they give God credit for getting the ball through the hoop. They learn music, they practice singing, they get a great producer who helps package their material, but they give Jesus credit for winning that Grammy. They don’t want to admit that luck has a place in our lives — good luck preserves one house while bad luck takes the one next door away. What of the people who lost the basketball game or the Grammy or their home? Did God simply not like them as much? And what about when these winners get their own dose of bad luck — injury, illness, scandal, death? Did God change his mind about them?

Captain Sullenberger, however, did not thank God or any other supernatural being for the positive outcome of his Hudson landing. At least I didn’t hear him do so in any article, interview, or elsewhere. I wanted to read the book to be sure that he didn’t thank God within its pages. He didn’t.

And that just makes me respect him even more.

The Story

The book mingles autobiographical material with events from the day of the landing. The autobiographical material was presented in a roughly chronological order, but did bounce around a lot with side stories, including references to the Hudson landing. I’m not sure that was the best approach, but it did keep me reading.

Captain Sullenberger is clearly a true pilot. He entered aviation because of his love of flying. From his start as a teen, he took aviation seriously, learning what he could to be a better, safer pilot. He understands the importance of knowing an aircraft’s systems inside and out. He understands the value of studying past accidents to prevent future ones. He also understands that all the things that happen in our lives define who we are and how we will react in a given situation.

Flight 1549 from Wikipedia

This iconic photo of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River by GregL originally uploaded to Flickr can be found on Wikipedia under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

A detailed discussion of the events of January 15, 2009 begin about 60% through the book. The story is riveting. He combines his narrative of what happened with references to his past that he believes influenced him to make certain decisions. For example, his knowledge of research into why military pilots sometimes ejected too late is part of why he decided not to worry about saving the airplane by attempting an airport landing and instead concentrate on saving the people by landing in the river. (There’s a lot more to his decision than that; this is just part of what went into it.)

Throughout this part of the book are bits and pieces of the cockpit transcript, recorded by microphones during the flight — the so-called “black box” data. Even though I knew how it would end — don’t we all? — I found the details fascinating. It was a great example of teamwork between Captain Sullenberger and his first officer, Jeff Skiles. Later in the narrative, it was clear that the flight attendants were also part of the team, helping passengers off the plane in as orderly a manner as possible.

The aftermath of the experience also made interesting reading. Getting an inside look at the mail Captain Sullenberger received from people on the plane — as well as many people who had no direct connection to the flight or its passengers at all — revealed the psychology of people. I’m not the only one who appreciated the happy ending to that seemingly doomed flight.

The Soapbox

One of the complaints people have had about the book is the soapbox aspect. Captain Sullenberger believes that airline pilots are not treated as well as they should be by their employers considering the hours and responsibilities of their work. He believes that pay cuts and pension cuts are making it ever more difficult to attract and retain quality pilots who actually care about their work. He suggests that airline pilots are like bus drivers of the sky.

Although I don’t have intimate knowledge of the airline industry, as a professional pilot who has worked for a large tour operator, I know exactly what he means. Aviation employers don’t care how good a pilot is. As long as the pilot meets insurance requirements and can do the job, all that matters is how much that pilot costs. In my experience, many employers would rather hire a cheap, entry level pilot than a seasoned professional who costs more. They don’t see the benefit of the experience. They’re gambling, of course, on the equipment and circumstances of flight — when something goes wrong, will the entry level pilot have the experience and knowledge to bring the aircraft and passengers back safely?

In the airline industry, pilots are locked into their employers for seniority. If they leave one airline, they lose all seniority and start at the bottom at their new employer. This prevents experienced pilots from looking for better jobs. It stagnates the employee pool. And although Captain Sullenberger didn’t mention this, it prevents good ideas from one airline from migrating to another.

Captain Sullenberger does discuss how many airline employees have simply stopped caring about anything other than what’s in their job description. As budget cuts reduce non-essential staff, customer service suffers. Captain Sullenberger talks about his personal experiences going the “extra mile” to help passengers who can’t get the help they need from other airline employees. He talks about how most airline employees are simply tired of doing other people’s jobs. He doesn’t blame them — he hints that they’re underpaid for what they’re supposed to do — but he does decry the system that results in this poor attitude.

He also believes that budget cuts have the potential to reduce safety. A good example of this is the emergency procedures book that his first officer needed to consult on the loss of both engines. In the past, the book had numbered tabs that made it easier to find content. The airline, in a cost-cutting measure, had stopped including the tabs, making it necessary to thumb through the book and look at individual page headings to find content. In the slightly more than three minutes the cockpit crew had to land the plane without engines, every second was valuable. Yes, this flight had a happy ending — but could other flights be lost due to cost cutting measures like this? It certainly makes you wonder.

My feelings about Captain Sullenberger’s soapbox are mixed. I didn’t like reading his complaints, but, at the same time, I knew they were valid. And I know that his experience and the interviews, articles, and books that come from it are the perfect way to get the message out.

While Captain Sullenberger was careful not to criticize his airline, it’s clear that US Airways is just as bad as the others when it comes to matters of pilot compensation and cost-cutting. Perhaps his insight will help make the situation better?

Sadly, it probably won’t.

Thumbs Up

In all, I give the book two thumbs up. While it’s especially good reading for pilots and others interested in aviation, I also think it makes a good guide for young people who want to make something of their lives. And for the rest of the world, it’s a great look at one of the most amazing emergency landings we’ll likely ever see.

Why I Canceled My Nook Order

And why I might buy one anyway.

As an avid reader, I’ve been attracted to the idea of an ebook reader for years. But until this past autumn, I haven’t really found one I thought I’d actively use.

Before that were offerings from Sony, which seemed to fall far short of what I thought was a good design. The blinking page turns would drive me batty, since I knew I could go through an average page in 10-20 seconds. (Have I mentioned that I read very fast?)

Kindle came out and lots of people loved it, but I was turned off by Amazon.com’s aggressive marketing, limited format support, and high book prices. (Like many other book buyers, I don’t feel that an ebook’s cost should be anywhere near the cost of its printed version.) And when Amazon snatched purchased books off of Kindles without warning, I started wondering what other kind of access Amazon had and whether it would use it.

Enter, the Nook

NookThen Barnes and Noble introduced its Nook. Or at least it announced it. It seemed more in line with what I was looking for in size, cost (for the unit and books), features, and flexibility. I visited B&N stores regularly to get my hands on one and give it a try. No joy there. Even after November 30, when the units were supposed to be available for purchase, I could not seem to find one. And I certainly wasn’t going to buy one until I either read a lot of reviews about it or had some quality time with a demo unit. I did see a few reviews and they were, for the most part, positive. But I still wasn’t prepared to buy one until I could walk away from the store with it.

Christmas came. My husband decided to buy one for me. Of course, he couldn’t get his hands on one, either. But he ordered one online. They said it would ship in January. He asked for some kind of card he could give me on Christmas Day, in its place. They charged him $4 for a card that looked like a nook. And that’s what I opened on Christmas Day.

A few days later, he checked with B&N again to see when the Nook would arrive. They projected the end of January.

FAIL

An Apple Tablet?

This week, the Apple Tablet rumors have been in full swing. I’ve been wanting an Apple Tablet — or at least thinking I wanted an Apple Tablet; more on that in a moment — since last spring. I actually put off the purchase of a 13-inch MacBook Pro, hoping a Mac netbook would become available before then. Apple kept insisting they weren’t going to develop a netbook. I caved and bought the 13-inch MacBook Pro to replace a 15-inch MacBook Pro and the 12-inch PowerBook before it. (I still have both of those; anyone want to buy one?)

So here I sit, on January 6, expecting a Nook right around the same time that Apple might announce something infinitely better.

Or not.

The way I see it, Apple could do one of two things:

  • It could announce an Apple Tablet that basically reinvents ebook readers and tablet computers at the same time. Kind of like what the iPod did for MP3 players years ago. Something that would blow all the existing options out of the water. Something not only I’d want, but everyone with a need (or desire) for mobile computing or an ebook reader would want.
  • It could announce an Apple Tablet that, although attractive in its design and interface, falls short of what I need or want as an ebook reader or tablet computer. Or marry the device to a partner that I can’t do business with. This is what I thought about the iPhone and AT&T. I might have gone with the iPhone if I could choose my own carrier — without jailbreaking — but the AT&T partnership was a deal breaker for me.

An iPhone-like Situation

Indeed, my situation today has a lot in common with the iPhone announcement and release. Back then, I was in the market for my first smartphone. My Motorola flip phone was four years old (at least) and I wanted to tap into the basic computing power of a smart phone to store contact information, calendar events, and simple applications that would help me as a pilot (weather, flight planning, etc.). It was vital that the phone be able to communicate with my Macs to exchange information. When the iPhone came out, it looked like a dream come true.

Yet just days before people started lining up to buy iPhones, I bought my Palm Treo 700p. At the time, it was a better decision for me. Two years later, I updated to a Blackberry Storm. Again, it was better for me.

You see, unlike so many other people, I don’t buy the hot new gadget just because it’s a hot new gadget. I buy it because it meets my needs. The iPhone doesn’t meet my needs. I need a carrier with coverage in remote places. Verizon is that carrier. (Hell, AT&T can’t even get a good signal at my house.) I’m not interested in dropping $1.99 every few days or weeks on cool apps I don’t need or playing games on my phone. I’m not interested in being able to join wi-fi networks — in the very remote places I go, I consider myself lucky to have a cell signal at all. I need “tethering” to get my computer on the Internet via my cell phone’s Internet connection. The Treo and the Storm both support that through Verizon; I just learned that the iPhone still does not via AT&T. I’m not interested in jailbreaking a phone to add features that the maker and carrier don’t want me to have. I want a fully functioning, fully supported smartphone that does exactly what I need it to do, right out of the box. That’s why I don’t have an iPhone.

Now before you iPhone lovers get your panties in a bunch, just remember that I’m talking about my needs and wants. Not yours. Yes, your iPhone is very cool. Yes, I wish it met my needs. But although it might be perfect for you, it simply doesn’t meet my needs. I made my decision. Don’t waste your time and mine blasting me in Comments because I haven’t drunk the iPhone Kool-Aid and sacrificed my needs so I can be cool, too.

My Point

And that brings up one of two points in this post:

  • Barnes & Noble failed when it introduced its Nook right before Christmas and didn’t have enough units on hand to sell to customers who wanted them. That failure was only made worse when the Apple Tablet rumors starting churning up again. Why would anyone buy now and wait until January month-end for a device when Apple, which is known for innovative, game-changing designs, could announce a competing product around the same time? Hell, if the Apple Tablet is the product I hope it is, I’d buy one even if I already had a Nook. But the Nook hasn’t arrived and B&N has just lost a sale.
  • Although I’m huge Apple fan who has been using Macs since 1989, writing about them since 1990, and, indeed, earning a living as someone who teaches others about Apple products and software, I won’t buy an Apple Tablet if it doesn’t meet my needs. (Maybe it’s because I’d be buying it for me, and not to impress others with it. ) I’d like to think that there are other people like me who feel the same way. Don’t buy it just because it has an Apple logo on it. Buy it because it’s the best product to meet your needs.

It’s because I’m willing to wait and see what might be available soon that I’m in a good position to get what I want instead of compromising on features. I like immediate gratification as much as the next geek, but after buying so many gadgets over the years — heck, I still have a Newton MessagePad on the shelf! — I’ve learned not to rush out and buy what might be the next great thing. I’m willing to wait, at least until April or May, to make my ebook reader purchase.

Whether it’s an Apple Tablet or a Nook or something else that materializes between now and then remains to be seen.

But one thing’s for certain: it will be the right purchase decision for me.