Book Review: The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

This is a fun middle schoolers book that focuses on a haunted house and how its mysteries are resolved by a group a seventh grade kids. The intended audience is young, but Lindsay Currie does an admirable job of creating a spooky haunting and mysterious circumstances that even adults can enjoy. (Additionally, as you can learn in this review, you really should be reading children’s books once in a while anyway.)

gordon meyer with book

Although I enjoyed the book and I recommend it, I was frustrated at times with the protagonist. She’s an unlikeable precocious girl who moves from a shit hole city in Florida to the wonderful Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park, and she is adamant that the move is a downgrade. I also stumbled over the timeline of the story when, more than halfway through the book, it is mentioned that only one week has elapsed. This didn’t jive (for me) with how long it takes to settle into a new home, get started with a new school, and exchange letters with an out-of-state friend. And in the end, when she very predictably decides that Chicago maybe doesn’t suck, it’s not clear how soon this realization came, which made it unsatisfying.

But don’t let me dissuade you too much. I’m glad I read it, and I admire its overall pace, tone, and construction. Plus, annoyances aside, it was lots of fun! I got my copy (which was signed!) at Volumes in Wicker Park, but of course, you can find it at Amazon too.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Cosmic Serpent

I wish I could remember who told me about this book; I’d like to thank them. The book is hard to describe because a cursory description — an ethnographic narrative about the similarities of cross-culture shamanism and DNA structures — doesn’t really do justice to the insights and feeling of revelation that the book provides. If you’ve studied esoteric works, the connections that this book identifies will bring forth more than a few “ah-ha!” moments. If this is all new to you, it might just pull you down a rabbit hole from which you’ll never escape.

gordon meyer with the cosmic serpent book

The book’s subtitle is “DNA and the Origins of Knowledge,” and the reviews from far more serious readers than I are not just notable, some declare that it could be a Copernican revolution for both social and life sciences. And while there is a psychedelic aspect to it, it’s perfectly approachable to those, like me, with an unexpanded mind.

A sampling of the notes I made while reading:

  • I was particularly tickled with the discussion that modern anesthesia is based on curare, which is a Stone Age formula that Western scientists insist was accidentally discovered by Amazonian natives, yet it is very complex to create and, even today, it remains unknown as to how it actually works. (Remember that next time you’re having surgery!)
  • Another interesting fact that stood out: If one were to stretch out the DNA contained in the nucleus of a single human cell, it would be a two-yard long thread that is only 10 atoms wide! If you were to lay out all the DNA in a human body, it would stretch 125 billion miles. (Presumably even longer for someone built like I am.)
  • Regarding the “cosmic serpent” of the title, it is primarily an old god found at the beginning of all cosmogonies, and this book lays out the ways in which our understanding of DNA overlaps with the serpents’ characteristics and traits. Is it possible the answer to life was given to us in life-creation “myths”?
  • That’s a bold claim, but using only a rationale perspective that insists on dissecting and separating all things into compartments to understand them destroys complementary insights. Or, to put it as Roald Dahl wrote, those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

The author of this book, Jeremy Narby, has done an excellent job in making it both readable and technical enough to provide some real insight — not too bad at all considering he’s an anthropologist. (That’s a joke. Sort of.) The back third of the book contains more than enough footnotes and references to satisfy any nitpicker or researcher. Get your copy at Amazon (no relation to the Shamans).


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Working around fuzzy PDFs from Shortcuts

Thanks to Readly and Apple News+, I read many magazines on my iPad, and sometimes I want to save an article for future reference. To accomplish this, I capture a screenshot of each of the article’s pages. However, this clutters up my Photos, and the pages can get separated from each other over time. Definitely not ideal.

What I need is a way to stitch these pages together into one document. The only satisfactory way I’ve found to do that is to collate the screenshots into a multi-page PDF.

It seems like a Shortcuts action to automate this process would be a good approach, but it’s not. The only reason this doesn’t work is that the built-in “Make PDF” action in Shortcuts compresses the crap out of images and makes them completely unreadable. Here’s a screenshot that demonstrates the mess it creates.

fuzzy pdf from Shortcuts

The best alternative approach I’ve found is to select each screenshot in Photos, then tap Share > Print. (You don’t actually need a printer.) When the printer selector screen appears, pinch out on the preview of your document. Then, with the preview displaying full-screen, tap Share and select a destination, such as Files or Mail. This will save a high-fidelity PDF. Look how lovely it is by comparison with the abomination from Shortcuts:

clear pdf

Once you’ve saved the PDF in this manner, discard it by tapping Cancel. You’re done, and now you have a perfectly usable PDF tucked away. You can go ahead and delete the original screenshots from Photos.

It’s a shame this can’t be automated, but at least we have a workaround until Apple improves Shortcuts with better output.

By the way, the ability to save a print preview was a gem from a previous version of the Tips.app. Have you read a tip today?

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Dutch Shoe Mystery

My earliest memory of “Ellery Queen” is the eponymous Mystery Magazine in my father’s lunchbox. He was a civilian Air Force employee, and he’d spend his breaks reading the short stories (when he wasn’t reading Popular Science or Popular Mechanics). But aside from that, I didn’t really know anything about Ellery Queen, including whether he actually existed.

(He didn’t. Ellery Queen is basically the American Sherlock Holmes, invented by two cousins who collaborated on the many books published under the pseudonym.)

gordon meyer with book

I decided to read this book because it came highly recommended as a classic Queen novel, and as an excellent example of “Fair Play” mysteries (where the reader is provided with all the clews and info necessary to solve the case, if they are smart enough). I was also motivated to read it because the nifty niche store, Mysterious Bookshop, was having a club meeting to discuss it with the son of one of the authors.

I’m a fairly studious and fast reader, but I barely managed to finish the book in time for the meeting. That’s primarily because of the writing — which is very engaging but also filled with archaic and learned references. Queen, it seems, is a bit of a snobby dick. This slowed down my consumption of the prose as I felt compelled to look up unusual words, phrases, and idioms to satisfy my curiosity. I loved every minute of doing so. (I kept my notes in the nifty Craft app, by the way, which is the first time I’ve used it. I was generally satisfied with that choice.)

Did I manage to solve the mystery? Nope. My chief suspect was disqualified (no spoilers!) about 50 pages from the end. Oh, well. Honestly, I wasn’t trying that hard, I was just enjoying the ride. (Which is a legit way to approach the Queen books, I learned at the book club.)

If this sounds appealing, I recommend you give one of his many books a try. I strongly suggest buying from the Mysterious Bookshop as the “American Mystery Classics” series is lovingly constructed — and, as others have noted, some Ellery Queen reprints (and the Audible audiobook) omit entire chapters or important diagrams. (Yes, there are diagrams!) Happy reading!

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: There Once Was…

(Or, why I’m not a poet)

gordon meyer with book

There once was a stream
With no water, just zines
(Tiny books and art made from dreams)

There’s Corinne
and Liz
Drinking coffee (with lids)
Sharing grins and drumming up biz

It’s how I discovered the charm
of this small (yellow) book of yarns
Morality tales both clever and smart
So you should buy it
Seriously

There Once Was… #1 by David Hankins


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Upgrading to eero 6 and HomeKit

A quick word of caution. Although I’m a fan of eero (starting before Amazon bought them), if you’re a HomeKit user, there is an obvious oversight in their software of which you should be aware.

Replacing an old eero device with a new one is easy using the eero app. But, when you delete the old device, the unit is not removed from HomeKit. And once the device is removed from your network, you can’t delete it from your home. You’ll be forever stuck with error messages about “non-responsive” devices in your Home app.

eero homekit error

eero tech support confirms that there is no way to fix this after the units are decommissioned. Clearly, their software should either do this for you automatically, or alert you before you shoot yourself in the foot. But it does neither. Fair warning.

See also: eero Beacon Deployed, and Inconsistent eero Speed Test Results Explained.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Covering a doorknob hole

When we moved into our place, the front gate had a deadlock and a locking doorknob. This combination created some usability problems:

  • the doorknob, when locked, could be easily unlocked by reaching through the fence and turning the dial on the inside knob. This made it silly to ever bother to lock it.
  • when the doorknob was unlocked, it would turn (of course) but if the deadlock were locked, the gate still couldn’t be opened. The state of the deadbolt was inscrutable.
  • there’s no indication which way the gate opens. So, even if both locks were not engaged, you had a fifty-fifty chance of the gate opening when you pushed it. If it didn’t open, you couldn’t be sure why.

I quickly noticed that most visitors struggled with these conditions. Pushing, pulling, turning, and so on, never sure if the gate was locked, or if it was some combination of the three possible impediments. (You can view a photo of the gate in this post.)

To correct some of these issues, I removed the doorknob from the gate. But this created an unsightly problem — there was a hole where the knob used to be. Additionally, because the gate is iron, I wanted to cover the hole to prevent water infiltration.

It was inexplicably hard to find, but I did eventually uncover the two solutions I needed. The first is a plate that covers the hole where the doorknob used to be, and the second is a smaller plate that covers where the latching mechanism used to protrude.


doorknob hole cover

Here’s what I purchased:

I can’t recommend the Door Hole Plate Cover that I used because the bolt that comes in the package is too large to fit through the hole in the cover. (What the hell‽) I had to enlarge the hole to make it work. But perhaps you can find another brand that’s properly designed. The Door Edge Filler (not shown in my photo above) fit perfectly, but you’ll need to supply your own screw to install it.

For more on my modifications to this gate, see: A Remote, Wireless Gate Alarm


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Astronumerography

gordon meyer astronumerology book

The prolific Professor Oddfellow has resurrected (and, I suspect, updated) an ancient form of divination and personality reading that combines astrology with numerology. It’s a deep system, but clearly explained and is based on your birthdate, so the occult mathematics aren’t too intimidating. And the result is a lovely figuregraph that makes utilizing the revelations and insights simple. I especially appreciated both the summary worksheet, and the example readings, that the author includes. (I do wish, though, that blank reading sheets were available for download.) Now that this system has been made accessible to a modern audience I expect to see it offered by psychic readers in most large cities. Avoid the rush and get your copy at Amazon then check out Oddfellow’s other books while you’re there.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Old Fashioned

The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail with Recipes and Lore by Robert Simonson was a gift from a dear friend, who clearly knows me too well.


Old fashioned Book with Gordon Meyer

Half of the book is filled with inspired and tempting recipes for the drink, but it’s the first half that was truly delightful. Simonson has dug deep to uncover the origins and mythology of the drink, with the result being a love letter that those similarly smitten will savor and enjoy every bit as much as a finely made example of the subject. Here are some of my favorite (lightly summarized) bits:

During the early years of its prominence, the drink was widely regarded as a “matutinal cocktail” — that is you drank it in the morning. An 1874 piece of advice is that “a bourbon whiskey cocktail before breakfast is the best thing for complexion.”

Rather than chipping away at blocks of ice and getting irregular pieces, Chicago bartenders, in 1899, were the first to create uniform two-inch cubes so that every drink got the same amount of ice.

Originally, the Old-Fashioned was served with the spoon used to mix it (as it is traditionally mixed in the serving glass). It was awful manners to remove the spoon and lay it on the bar. “What of the danger, when bending an elbow, of jabbing oneself in the eye with the spoon handle? Well, anyone who drinks as hastily as that deserves to hurt himself.”

The prospects of determining the origin of the Old-Fashioned are dim, but there is fairly strong evidence it originated in Chicago. It was first documented in the city in 1899, along with a list of other “old fashioned” drinks with Gin, Brandy, and other base alcohols that I will now no longer consider to be abominations.

Chicago has long been a whiskey town. Only 300 miles from Louisville it enjoyed a ready supply of Kentucky bourbon. An 1870 survey found that of the $15 million spent annually on booze in the city, fully $9.6 million went towards whiskey. (Aside: in approximately 2010, a bartender who had newly arrived in the city from Ohio, told me she was very surprised how many whiskey drinks Chicagoans ordered.)

In 1945, a visitor at the Drake hotel (perhaps in the Cape Cod Room, which I miss very much) ordered an Old-Fashioned and told the bartender to leave out the fruit, except the lemon. The barkeep replied, in part: “I’ve built Old-Fashioned cocktails these sixty years. Yes sir, since the first Armour was using a wheelbarrow in a slaughterhouse, and I have never yet had the perverted nastiness of mind to put fruit in an Old-Fashioned. Get out, scram, go over to the Palmer House and drink.”

Although the drink is enjoying a comeback, there were some dark times for it not all that long ago. By the final decades of the twentieth century a young bartender was easily stumped by a request for an Old-Fashioned, and the patron ordering the drink was quickly tagged as a hopeless old fogey. (I experienced this at the lobby bar in the Paris Las Vegas not all that long ago!) The American Midwest is one of the key regions that saved the drink from being lost in time.

Simonson makes an interesting point that many drink recipes were forgotten during prohibition. An entire generation of bartenders lost. A consequence that I hadn’t previously considered.

The recipes in the second half of the book feature lovely photographs and mouthwatering descriptions. The section on “traditional” style mixtures is my favorite (especially since I don’t have most of the more exotic ingredients required for the non-traditional ones). I noted a few I’ll try, including an Absinthe Old Fashioned, the venerable Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned, and one that features Old Dutch Genever — a welcome discovery from our classes at the Bols Bartending Academy in Amsterdam.

While I was reading this book I was also impressed with its quality paper, binding, and overall production. I wish all books were as lovingly created, and no surprise, it’s another volume from Ten Speed Press. Get your copy at a nearby bookstore, or if you must, from Amazon. And, cheers!


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Stuff a stocking with history!

Give the gift of Chicago neighborhood trivia and unusual facts with these inexpensive handmade booklets. Get 'em at Volumes Books and Quimby's, or direct at www.BizarreChicago.com


Bizarre Fact Files by Gordon Meyer

#LoveYourLocals #ThingsNotGenerallyKnown

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer