A to Z ’17: Reflections



How did the A to Z Challenge go for me? Very smoothly. It should by now: this was my fifth year doing it, and I’ve learned from my mistakes in previous years.

  • I got everything written and scheduled before April 1.
  • I responded to most of my comments, at least giving the comments a “like.”
  • I tried to visit everyone that visited me, and the people who had visited them.
  • I found a lot of blogs by going through the list from the Theme Reveal. I’d visit a blog and its visitors, and added all that were participating in the challenge to a Feedly list so I’d remember where I’d found them. I think I added about a hundred blogs to that list.
  • You’ll find a list of my entries for the Challenge here. It’s the first entry in the list under “Special Pages” in the sidebar.

Now, hate me all you want: I suggested going without a list this year. We’ll talk about the reasons why we chose to go that way at a later date, probably on the Challenge blog. We’re all busy reading your reflection posts and tallying the results of the survey (which is here; you have until the 20th, a week from Saturday). From my perspective, I’ve always found that visiting my visitors and their visitors works much better than picking them at random off a list. Last year, by the way, Jacob had a project whre he went looking for new blogs to read, and documented the whole process. It’s a good read.

Great job, everyone! I’ll try to get to as many of you as I can over the next few months.

One other thing: Some WordPress users are having trouble leaving commnents on Blogger blogs. It was the reason I set up the simulcast blog for the main Challenge blog. If you’re in that position, here is a suggestion:

  • If you have a Google account, use it to comment on Blogger.
  • If you don’t have a Google account, open one, then use it to comment on Blogger.

Google hasn’t changed Blogger much since they got it, apart from finding new ways to force ads onto people’s pages and making it almost impossible to comment with anything other than a Google account. It’s a pain in the backside, just like almost everything else Google touches, but it’s best to play along.


Zyzzyva #atozchallenge


So, we’ve wrapped around. As promised, when I got to Z, I’d end the word with A. I considered a bunch of words here, including Zola (for Emile), Zorba (the Greek), zebra, and zinnia, but somehow I knew I could do much better than that.

A zyzzyva, as Wikipedia tells us, is a long-snouted beetle no longer than an ant, found in tropical America around palm trees. Its name is more noted for being the last word in many English-language dictionaries, just as Zeke Zzzzypt was the last name in the Chicago white pages for years.

Zyzzyva is also the name of a literary magazine based in San Francisco. They publish the magazine three times a year and focus primarily on underrepresented authors. Their About page tells us

Every issue is a vibrant mix of established talents and new voices, providing an elegantly curated overview of contemporary arts and letters with a distinctly San Francisco perspective.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Zyzzyva is a free word study program made available through the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA). Written by Michael Thelen, it’s now maintained by the NASPA Zyzzyva Committee. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux environments, and I understand there might be an iOS version, though it evidently doesn’t run on iOS 10. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t tell you how it works, but if you like studying words and/or playing Scrabble, it might be worth a look. Have I mentioned it’s free? The current release is 3.1.0, which includes the OTCWL2016 and CSW15 word lists. The app has a Facebook page and can be found on Twitter as @ZyzzyvaApp.

And that, my friends, brings us to the end of this year’s A to Z Challenge, for me, anyway. I’d like to thank my fellow cohosts, Arlee, Heather, J, Alex, Jeremy, and Csenge, and especially I’d like to thank everyone who made this year’s challenge the best yet, particularly those who stopped by and left a comment. You made my day. See you next year!

Carl Yastrzemski (“Yaz”) #atozchallenge


A baseball post! Who’d’ve thought?


How do you replace a Hall of Famer who might have been the greatest hitter of all time? In 1960, the Boston Red Sox were faced with this question as Ted Williams, who had patrolled left field for them since 1939 (with time off for service in World War II and the Korean War) announced his intention to retire from the game. Ted had a fantastic career, with a .344 batting average, a .482 on-base percentage, 521 home runs, 1,839 runs batted in, and three walks for every strikeout. Were it not for his extraordinary patriotism, Henry Aaron might have been chasing him for the all-time record in home runs. He homered in his final at-bat, a way of thanking the Boston fans.

The job of replacing Ted was handed to Carl Yastrzemski (ya-STREM-ski), a 21-year-old outfielder who had hit well in 1960 at Minneapolis, then Boton’s AAA affiliate (the following year, the Washington Senators would move to Minneapolis and become the Minnesota Twins).

Carl Yastrzemski 1963 Topps baseball card. Source: The Golden Age of Baseball Cards

Was Carl as good as Ted? No one was as good as Ted. But Carl was more than good enough. He led the American league in hitting three times, including 1967, when he also led the league in home runs (44) and runs batted in (121) — in other words, the Triple Crown. That year, he led the BoSox to the American League Championship and into the World Series, where he batted .400 and hit three home runs against the St. Louis Cardinals in a losing effort.

When it was all over in 1983, Carl had a more-than-respectable .285 lifetime batting average, with 452 home runs and 1,844 runs batted in, besting his predecessor by five RBI. He led the Red Sox in eight different all-time categories, and, as with his predecessor, that earned him a place in The National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. I remember Yaz from the games he played against the White Sox. You hated to see him come up to bat with men on base, because more often than not he found a way to beat you. He’s one of those guys that, when he beat you, you just tipped your hat to him. What else could you do? He’s in the Hall of Fame because of it.

Be sure to be with us tomorrow, April 30, for the last entry in this year’s A to Z Challenge.

X-Ray #atozchallenge


“X-Ray” is used for the letter X in the NATO spelling alphabet, which I used as the theme for my first-ever A to Z Challenge back in 2012. I remember getting bogged down in the details when I tried talking about Röntgen and his discovery of the x-ray, until finally I gave up and talked about X-Ray Specs and the other wonderful toys you could buy from tiny ads in the backs of comic books.

Anyway, the x-ray was discovered by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895. He was doing experiments with vacuum tubes, and noticed that a treated piece of cardboard was starting to glow, and that, when he held his hand up in front of it, he could see the bones and everything. He thought, hey, this might be useful someday…

Anyway, x-rays can be found on the electromagnetic spectrum above ultraviolet light and below gamma rays. Their wavelengths are between 10 nanometers and 10 petameters, with a frequency between 300 petahertz and 30 exahertz.

X-rays are especially useful in medicine and dentistry, as we all know, and while they pose a slight health risk, it’s actually lower than the risks posed by naturally-occurring radiation, if this page is to be believed. It’s a case where the benefits from the x-ray outweigh the risks from it. I get my teeth x-rayed about once a year, and it allows my dentist to see if there are any cavities below the gum line and to look for cancers they aren’t able to see on visual inspection. When I was in the hospital after my stroke, I caught pneumonia; they x-rayed my chest daily for about a week (usually at 3 IN THE MORNING) to see if I was getting any better.

They also use x-rays in airport security, to examine the contents of carry-on luggage. They tested the TSA inspectors on their ability to see guns and explosives hidden in carry-ons, and the results were, shall we say, less than satisfactory. Back when he was working, my father-in-law learned to use an x-ray to examine steel tanks for possible weak spots. He got really good at it; he could show the TSA folks a thing or two.

So much for x-rays. What have been your x-ray experiences?

Wax #atozchallenge


Doing the research for this, I realized that the subject of wax is much more complicated than I originally thought. So I’m going to limit this discussion to just one kind of wax, the kind that housewives put on their kitchen floors up until the mid-Seventies.

Building custodians still use this sort of wax, as we can see in this video on the right way to do it.

There are many more videos on how to do this on YouTube. I just wanted to show you that it’s still being done. Just not at home, with the advent of no-wax vinyl floors that (supposedly) get that wax shine without the wax.

Daytime TV used to have at least ten ads for floor wax each hour. OK, I’m exaggerating; more like seven or eight. Here are some of them. We used Glo-Coat, because it shielded against black heel marks.

Just so you know, no, a heel doesn’t magically appear under your foot when you step on the floor. Glo-Coat was manufactured by Johnson Wax, now called S. C. Johnson because almost no one waxes their floors anymore. Johnson Wax also had Klear as an entry into the floor wax battle. Where Glo-Coat Shielded against black heel marks, Klear didn’t yellow floors.

The 500-pound gorilla in the floor wax business had to be Aerowax, mostly because it was cheap and had the best commercials. This is a mid-1950’s commercial for Aerowax as seen during the popular (at the time) soap opera, Love Of Life. This isn’t an especially good commercial, but it is a demonstration of the commercials where a spokesman for the product spent sixty seconds trying to browbeat you into buying the product, kind of like political commercials these days.

There are plenty more commercials for floor wax and other defunct products on YouTube. I try to feature a couple each week, for no reason other than I feel like it. Anyway, I’d like to end with a joke:

A policeman calls his sergeant. “I’m at a house where a woman murdered her husband because he walked on the floor she just finished washing and waxing.” The sergeant said, “Have you arrested her?” The cop says, “No, not yet.” “Why not?” the sergeant asks. “The floor isn’t dry yet.”

Did your mother (or you, for that matter) wax your floors?