Afton Station’s classic Packards, Afton, OK

Located directly on Route 66, The Afton Station Packard Museum, is yet another historic Gas station and mechanics shop that has been repurposed into a museum. This one is dedicated to the Packard and other classic cars — but I can’t tell you much as it was closed-up by the time I got there (4:30 ish on Sunday).

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That said, the town it is in is DEAD… to the point of scary; I’d say a good 80% of the businesses on this street are closed up and the few people that I saw (were more stumbling than) walking around all looked suspiciously like meth users.

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So between that and the weather, I was pretty motivated to not stay here too long. I did however peer through the windows, and from the look of it,

IMG_1127.JPGA very large gift shop that once again is mostly filled with EXACTLY the same merchandise I’ve seen elsewhere. IMG_1126.JPGAnd a collection that consists of seven cars shoved into the garage, with very little to no explanations. IMG_1129IMG_1128

The gas station of the future, a Tesla super charging station in Kettleman City California

At some point in the future places like this will replace gas stations along major roads. Here, rather than pouring gas into your car, you hang out and wait for your car’s battery to recharge. While I’ve seen individual electric vehicle charging parking spots, and even some sponsored by Tesla…  This was the very first time I saw a Tesla super station.

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I counted, this location is capable of charging 40 cars simultaneously, and also has two spots dedicated to handicap vans… plus a few window washing things scattered around, should you need to do that.

The “station” also has a waiting area that I couldn’t get inside of because I’m not a Tesla owner (I asked saying I just wanted to take pictures, but they said no), but I could see (through the windows) and they had come complete with a coffee shop, with a staff member working the cappuccino machine, as well as what seemed to be free bottles of water and/or various other drinks plus some snacks, all of which are available to Tesla owners as they wait for their cars to charge

Computer History Museum: Mountain View, CA

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California, is a relatively new museum that’s still finding its legs. It is a work of love the houses donations not only from corporations, but from the individual movers and shakers of the bay area (the guys who actually invented the stuff you use today) who donated items from their garages and attics — as in some of them are friends of mine and I remember when this place first opened up.

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One of my favorite people on the planet, I guy who I’ve known for over 20+ years (I knew him when was still an un-tenured professor in Chicago — we used to be dance partners at a country western bar in Chicago — he’s had four books on the New York Times best seller’s list since then), who I wanted to catch up with while I was in town (he’s become impossibly hard to contact since his success) suggested that we meet for lunch at a South American place called Voya located in Mountain View — we had ceviche which was ok, and a few other fish things… didn’t think it was anything to write home about and I was paying more attention to being with my friend than the food… so no review

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(I got his Uber driver to take this photo of us before he took off — I think our last photo together was at his wedding) … ANYWAY… AS I got there a bit early … while waiting for him to arrive, I was walking around…

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you know you’re in the Bay area when….

when I realized that the computer museum …. (one of the jewels of the bay area) was directly across the street …. A place I have not been to in about 16 years… So after he went back to work I went in for a visit.

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By the time I had shopped the gift store, gone to the bathroom, took my purchases back to the car (in part out of fear that my windows had been smashed — see below), yadda yadda, yadda….

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It was already was already 3:30 in the afternoon and instead of having to pay $17.50 to get in (YEESH, that’s EXPENSIVE) I only had to pay $10. You’ll notice this is NOT advertised on their sign. In fact I was utterly clueless to it and just got lucky … the guy who was working the front desk… who had seen me earlier while I was scoping out the gift store

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Whole sections of the store are devoted to women in the sciences stuff, or stuff geek girls might want…  so I got very buy-happy/excited
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Why yes I did get the bumper sticker, why do you ask?
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And of course I got the geek girl jewelry (am now the proud owner of the hoop earrings with fuses hanging in them –these are the sort that are hidden in cars and appliances), and a few other pieces made from computer parts
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That said, NOT ONE of the t-shirts for sale had a V-neck or scoop neck collar, so I didn’t get any of them (which made me very sad)

… HE assumed I had timed it intentionally, calling me a “smart woman” for doing it; but I swear, it was just dumb luck.

That said, there are two sections to the museum, the first one is to the left of the check in counter where you buy your tickets. The other is off to the right, between the counter and the gift shop. The first section, left of the counter, is mostly devoted to temporary exhibits (more than one) while the other is the permanent collection.

At the time I went one of the temporary ones was devoted to a brilliant woman who was not really awarded her just deserts in her lifetime due entirely to her gender… Ada Lovelace

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Lovelace is considered by some to be the first person to fully recognize that the computing machine had applications beyond simply doing calculations, wrote a paper that included an algorithm on this topic, and is as such considered (by those who support her) as having been the first computer programmer (software engineer, versus hardware engineer… and “never the twain shall meet” (for those who don’t know, engineers tend to be one or the other, only VERY rarely are they both).

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The other ‘temporary’ exhibit seemed to be more of a rotating one devoted to any and all of “newest” computer driven technology trends (well, the ones that are public anyway), everything from computer graphics, to texting, to medical technologies (like MRIs) to…

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…the currently oh so sexy topic of fully automated cars. These would be the next step forward after my Subaru which has saved my life more than few times already by spotting potential accidents that I fully admit that I utterly would have missed (or not as the case might be) but for its warning me of them. My car, however, I still have to drive, in the future… a technology which is already visible (in its testing phases), at least on the streets of the Bay area…. is completely self driven cars.

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Pics I took of the testing of “self driven cars” on Bay area streets

This exhibit talked about the not to distant future (hopefully) where they’ve managed to test all the bugs out and fully self driven cars are ready for prime time (a future that I for one look forward to, as I’ve never been one to drive for the fun of it).

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This included side topics of how they are able to now utilize the computer graphics from the previous room create virtual car crashes. Virtual testing allows manufacturers a much cheaper way to test every conceivable sort of normally inconceivable crash, rather than actually smashing up a car. As some of you know, they used to only test two or three different sorts of common crashes; virtual testing allows them to reenact the uncommon ones, as well as test what might happen in those relatively unlikely cases with the newer cars, not yet on the roads.

IMG_0312Additionally, as self driving cars rely a great deal on computerized maps, they also had a small exhibit showing just how advanced this has become… presented by Google Maps

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And there was also segment devoted to Wikipedia (which anyone reading my blog knows I’m a big fan of)

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Indirectly the Museum was exhibiting something it never talked about directly, but which I’ve NEVER seen before and hence was VERY aware of… i.e., a new technology for use in museum presentations

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Now that said, One of the things that impressed me was an innovative sound management system that I’ve not seen anywhere else.

If you look carefully at the picture below you’ll see a woman watching a video in the middle of wide open space… this is pretty unusual although you might not realize it… normally movies are presented in cordoned off areas where the acoustics can be easily controlled. What’s even more unusual is from where she’s sitting the sound is completely clear and distinct, almost to the extent that it was like wearing headphones … or as though it were the only sound in the room, like in a movie theater. YET, from where I took the picture, you can only barely hear what she’s listening to at all.

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How you ask? Well… look above her head and you’ll see there is small white square hanging from the ceiling… That’s where the sound came from… Now, logic dictates that it’s some sort of directed speaker that produces very directed sound waves. As in, she can hear it loudly and distinctly without it annoying someone a few feet away (where I was standing). From there, it merges into a sort of white noise created by the various soundtracks all running simultaneously but without the effect of cacophony of sound, like you get in other museums.

You can’t see it, but right behind me was a different video, with the same set up, with its own sound track, that in no way interfered with the experience the woman in the above picture was having. Now let’s face it, I go to a LOT of museums and I’ve never seen this technology in use before. I have no idea how much it costs but I hope to see it a lot more regularly from now on. It rocked…

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Returning to the museums itself: On this same side of the museum there they also have regular demonstrations of the OLD IBM mainframe computer systems that used to process things like company payrolls, first introduced back in 1959, which had been given the catchy name of the IBM CMH-1401

IMG_0305The demos are given every few hours by actual retired former IBM employees, whose jobs had been to keep the 1401 running in its heyday (read the signs below)IMG_0306

Interestingly, they do so to large throngs of very interested young programmers… keep in mind this was about 3:30 on a Wednesday, not one child or family unit in the room.

IMG_5202These all looked to be young programmers (most were between 23 and 35), new to the bay area (possibly)… and you could tell the older retired engineers were really happy to be so appreciated by the younger generation of engineersIMG_0304At the end of the demonstration you could create a punch card with your name… which I did, and receive a custom printed … on a HISTORIC printer … that says you visited the place (as you can see I was there on September 5th, 2018).

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After this I went to check out the permanent exhibit: This is in fact my 2nd time coming to this museum. The first time was about 16 YEARS ago in 2002 (the year I finally completed my dissertation) while I was still living in the bay area and was invited to the grand opening event for this ‘new’ building for the collection… by friends who had donated various contents from their garage to be shown in here … in fact I knew more than few people at that event who were all there for the same reason (donating objects to the collection). I have to say that at that time the museum was HIGHLY UN-impressive… Since then, major upgrades have occurred and it’s clear they have hired a fairly decent curator to organize the thing, and while it’s still imperfect, it is now quite IMPRESSIVE, although imperfect.

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It starts out logically enough with “ancient” tools for making calculations (as in ones my dad was using 50 years ago), like slide rules, abacuses and maritime tools… and then moves on to things like

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Calculating tools that helped during World War II, back when women who typed in the all the data were called calculators, to innovations of the 1950’s

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there’s discussion of stops and starts and lateral moves as various technologies came up and then quickly died as someone else came up with a more elegant solution

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And there’s discussion of the problems women had entering the male dominated field… to techs that I remember using when I was in grad school (20 years ago)

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I particularly got a kick out of the video game section which talked about these on-line Unix based games like rogue and dungeon crawls where if you got far enough in the game you were allowed to contribute a dungeon section that you had coded yourself to the larger game… but it meant you had to learn the language C++ in order to do it… which drove a lot of players to learn to code.

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… and there were also the more passive games, where you just a customer, like Pac-Man (which my brother excelled at) and pong. IMG_0299IMG_0327

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One of the things that I did NOT like was just how easy it is to get turned around and lost in the maze of exhibits.

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Look at the map above, even there it’s like, “HUH” … unlike most museums there’s no clear path, it’s like a bit like a  giant fun house maze

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… to the extent that there they have had to place massive markers on the floor to direct you around … markers that if the museum were well laid out shouldn’t exist. That said, I can SORT of see a justification for messy layout, in that innovation and the connections between technologies isn’t a straight forward thing. Innovation goes backwards and side-ways and every which way… but a museum really shouldn’t do that.

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I mean look at the above space, really look at them, and tell me if can figure where you’re supposed to go next in terms of the layout of the exhibit. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to it… and seriously, I got kind of lost in it. I almost never get lost.

The future is ALMOST now…or what’s normal in the SanFran Bay area is freaky everywhere else

You know you’re in Silicon Valley when… Didn’t happen to run into any of these in while attending my friend’s 50th wedding anniversary in the North Bay (i.e., north of SF) but as SOON as I got south of San Francisco …. BOOM… these suckers seemed to be everywhere ….  Google’s beta test versions of self-driving cars (i.e., the car drives itself) … there are testers seated in every vehicle who are there to make sure it doesn’t do anything stupid or kill anyone, but for the most part these cars are driving themselves.

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They’re easy to spot because of the radar type things on their roofs.

Welcome to the future!!!

That said, I wasn’t there but a day when I noticed one of the “hiccups” in the system of these new cars… as of today, they drive like your 80-year-old grand mother… in particular the one in the upper right hand picture was in the left turn lane and took for bloody fucking ever to make up its mind that it was in fact safe to make the left turn.

I’ve seen this happen more than a few times now, and then I heard a TV commentator talking about how drivers in the south bay are starting to get pissed off at the Waymo’s blocking traffic in left turn lanes.

The pics I took while NOT driving, were taken on a quiet suburban street in Sunnyvale, not far from Google headquarters…  outside the home of my friend where I was staying for about a week or so… Every day, almost like clockwork…  this Waymo showed up, would pull to the side of the road, stand there for a bit, then go on its way. One day I ran out (grabbed the pics) and got the girl inside to roll down the window. I asked her WHY were they doing that. She said, “I have no idea, the car does what it wants to do, I just sit here and take notes.”

A few days later I went to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California and saw this display on the topic, about the not to distant future (hopefully) where they’ve managed to test all the bugs out and fully self driven cars are ready for prime time (a future that I for one look forward to, as I’ve never been one to drive for the fun of it).

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Cars & Books on Tape, the digital edition

I’ve been listening to a lot of books on tape during my long drives across the continent. Used to be I’d never have done this; I had tried listening to a book on tape many years ago while driving and realized that it distracted me from the task at hand, so I stopped. It is an oft neglected truth that driving is the single most dangerous thing any person is likely to do on any day; it is more likely to kill you than terrorism or cancer, or any other of the boogie-men of modern society. To quote Robert A. Heinlein‘s book Friday (one of my favorites — reread it countless times, and just refinished it a few days ago: “This rule is analogous to the fact that the person most likely to murder you is some member of your own family-and that grim statistic is ignored too; it has to be. Live in fear of your own family? Better to be dead!”) People are the same way about driving, and to their detriment. I’m more than half way through my life (I have no expectation of getting to 100), and I’ve already lost more friends and or loved ones to death by car than from anything else, so I don’t ever forget that fact. When I read books, I tend to get a sort of film playing inside my brain, like a half-awake dream, and I discovered the same thing happens when I listen to a book on tape when driving, and I find myself slipping into looking at that more so than the road … so for years I just wouldn’t do it — but things have changed.

About — come to think of it, it was almost an exact year ago (2015), after having spent about seven full hours at Universal’s Amusement park in Orlando, attending their annual Halloween Horror Nights event (I’ll write a review of it at some point, but let’s just say, “No, don’t go”) … I got into a horrible car accident on the I4 expressway while driving home that totaled my car. The park closed at 1:00 am, and by the time I got to my car and to driving home at about 2:00 am, I was seriously fatigued — enough so that my response time was just a fraction too slow, when the car in front of me slammed to a stop to avoid the car accident that had just happened in front of her. I braked hard enough to keep from killing myself, but was just a second too late to avoid a collision. The car crumpled, taking the majority of the impact, and the air bags and my safety-belt kept me from more than some impressive bruising. (The occupants of the car I hit were apparently fine, other than a good fright — this according to the teenage boy who came by my car to talk to me, and just dumped their rental car and grabbed a cab to the airport — which is where they had been heading).

I, on the other hand, was taken to the hospital (there was a worry that my ribs may have been cracked by the airbag, but were just bruised), and ended up in bed for over two solid weeks, because the impact not only sprained a few joints, but also set off a horrible case of positional vertigo that for days afterwards resulted in any slight movement of my head setting the room to spinning around me. And for those who have not had the pleasure, it’s like being on a roller coaster that spins you around, and not being able to get off. It is something I’ve been struggling with now for about 10 years, a side effect of an allergic reaction to penicillin that damaged my inner ear — according to the doctors; it can be, and was, brought on like gang busters by things like a car accident. It is also why I no longer will ride even the gentlest roller-coasters, or any amusement park rides that involves spinning. Firstly, those things are no longer fun for me, and more importantly, they can actually trigger the sensations so that I’m too dizzy to walk unassisted for at least the next hour or so.

After the accident, once I was healed fully and able to get back on the horse (so to speak), I had to do something that I’ve never before done alone, buy a new car. I suppose it’s a rite of passage, of a sort. Till then pretty much every car I had was a hand-me-down from my parents, or were used ones purchased with my father by my side, making sure his little girl didn’t get fleeced. (Side note: One year my new years resolutions included, ‘I will learn to drive a stick’ which meant us buying me a really old but reputed to be reliable Saab 900 with very little acceleration for $1,000 — with the expectation of my stripping the gears while learning; as luck would have it, it turned out to be so ridiculously reliable that it lasted me about four years, until its said lack of power finally got on my nerves, and I traded it in for a newer used Saab, which turned out to be a hell of lot less reliable.) But, like I said before, my dad had died, and I was now for the first time in my life having to learn to function without that sort of support.

I ended up posting my need to Facebook, and relying on the collective advise of friends — and cross correlating those with the most recent IIHS safety awards. From that, I only allowed myself to consider cars that were also on their TSP+ rated list (with “advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention”). My final considerations were: 1) sufficient power to keep a fully loaded car going up a steep hill at the speed limit, 2) enough trunk capacity for my three suitcases and other crap (a friend convinced me that loading anything that looked ‘potentially desirable’ into anyplace visible to thieves might result in break-ins), 4) a sunroof (highly useful in hot climates when you need to cool down a previously parked car), and finally, what I — as a single woman traveling alone — affectionately refer to as, 5) the “rape button” (a Telematics system, like OnStar, or any of the other equivalent ones, which automatically call for help when the airbag is deployed, or if you hit an emergency button — plus a host of other functions).

Ultimately, I bought a 6-cylinder Subaru Legacy (the brand all my female friends were pointing me towards) with “EyeSight” and all the other safety bells and whistles, which initially I bought because it was more ‘functional’ than sexy. (I only later discovered that it is considered the car of choice for Lesbians — that said, one thing you say for those gals, they’re practical, as is this car.) I however — having sort of been lured towards other sexier cars that were more fun to drive, but always lacked one or other of the full assortment of features I had decided I needed, had compared the Subaru to “a nice, honest, hard working, if slightly plain, girl who is also a very good cook” when describing it to the salesman. That said, I passed over the cheer leaders and got the Subaru, and I have since fallen very much in love with it.

In order to get “all the safety” stuff I wanted, I was also forced to buy the packages that included things like leather seats and all sorts of other things I didn’t necessarily want or need, but obviously didn’t mind (seat warmers, etc). My priority however was SAFETY! After having just had a head-on accident that could have killed me — and also been struck with the thought that, if I had, let’s say, run into a deer at night on a lonely road, “who would have called 911?”, that was first and foremost on my mind.  And, it extended all the way from wanting state of the art, high-tech, crash avoidance systems to the aforementioned “rape button” — which also necessitated buying a yearly subscription to the satellite system the telemetrics system communicates with. I will note however, when I called my insurance provider to tell them the Vin Number on my car, and to hear just how much of a hit to my insurance this new car would cost me, my agent typed in the number and started laughing.
“What?” I asked her, “what’s so funny?”
She answered: “Your old car was a ’97 Nissan Sentra, and you paid ‘$X’ — your brand new car with leather seats and everything else is going to cost you only $0.67 more. I’ve NEVER seen anything like this before… its considered SO MUCH SAFER than your old one that even though it’s brand new, and 20 years newer than your old car, the insurance costs are almost the same.”

So, returning to the topic at hand, books on tape; like I said before, because I found that listening to the books distracted me a little, and made me less of a safe driver… and considering that driving a car is the single most dangerous thing most of us do, I had long ago stopped listening to them when driving. But this car… it is a wonder of modern technology. The thing practically drives itself. It is not yet to the point where you can set the destination into the computer and climb into the back seat, like with the Tesla, but it’s not far from it. You still need to steer the thing, and it can’t see red lights or stop signs, but if you set it to cruise it can see the car in front of you and will slow down to keep a safe following distance between you and it. This is GREAT for long distance highway driving where road fatigue tends to make you a bit less safe, and even better for stop and go highway driving. If the car in front of you comes to a full stop, even if you never touch the break, so will your car. If the car in front of you than starts to move, and you neglect to notice, it tells you. If you have been driving for two hours without a break, the car starts beeping at you to turn off the engine and stretch your legs. Hit a different button, and it can usually see the lanes in the road, and keep you from crossing over them unintentionally. If for some reason the EyeSight system is NOT working (which can happen because of adverse conditions, like heavy rain or fog), the system warns you that you need to take over (or better yet, get the hell off the road). Once I got to the point where I realized I could in fact trust the car, that just as my insurance provider thought that it was hell-of-beans safer than driving a traditional car, a friend convinced me to give books on tape a try during my hours long cross country treks, so I did.

My downsizing of my life had actually begun a few years before my dad had died, when I moved to S. Korea to teach University. Clearly, schlepping my book collection across the ocean made no sense, and apartments in Asian cities are cramped, the way apartments in Manhattan are cramped. So, I had purchased two Kindles from Amazon (one for the home, one for at work — I would listen to books while proctoring exams, etc.), and loaded those up with e-books. In general, I only purchased books where the publishers allowed for text-to-speech, as audio-books at the time were very pricey (and you get used to computer voice the same way you might a friend’s heavy accent — for the most part, it does a decent job).

Then after dad died and I had decided to hit the road, I happened to notice that, and this was well AFTER they had purchased Audible in 2008, Amazon was offering deals; if you already owned the e-book Amazon would allow you to upgrade to the Audible version, sometimes for only a dollar or two more. I started off with one or two books that were cheap upgrades of eBooks I had not yet gotten around to reading, decided that the upgrade was worth the price, and did the same for more… and then once I got my new car, and realized that I could now listen to books while driving, I decided it was worth it to me to join their special club for audible users, which offers discounts on books I didn’t already own, etc. My new car’s entertainment system also came with all sorts of bells and whistles I was slow to discover, such as multiple sound ports, as well as a plethora of USB ports, all of which were hidden discreetly in closed compartments, away from prying eyes. And then after a while I stumbled upon the fact that the USB ports doubled as sound ports for the iPhone. After that I had the brain fart that since my car would also link any sound played from the iPhone into the stereo system, and since I was no longer using text-to-speech, I didn’t really NEED to be using the Kindles anymore while in the car.

At that point, let’s just say I got a bit ‘over excited’ by my audible purchases, and started to run up quite the bill. I happened to mention this on Facebook, and got a round ribbing from friends about, “why aren’t you borrowing them from the library instead of buying them?” And I was like, “I’m driving all around the country, I can’t borrow CD’s and then return them, I need digital.” And then was assured that the libraries now lend those out too… who knew? To be honest, I haven’t used a public library in years, so I was kind of behind the curve. Last time I had checked, maybe ten years ago, they had not yet gotten with the e-book program, and you know… time flies when you aren’t paying attention (that and there are all sorts of free sites for e-books these day, such as the Gutenberg project which has over 53,000 freely available books at this point). So last week, since I’m currently in the area anyway, I went to my local public library, checked into it… sure enough they do now lend audible books via a web site (although the selection is very limited, if its not a bestseller odds are you won’t find it there; even the selection of masterworks is kind of sketchy). Also, I learned that my library card, which had worked without need of any sort of update since I was in the 2nd grade (so over 40 years), was no longer any good. They have a new system now — possibly as a result of 9/11 and the Patriot Act, where its has to be renewed every three years, so I did that.

That said, when I compared what I owned, to what was available to borrow, I was much relieved to find only a small handful of overlap. MOST of my books that I had purchased tend to fall into the category of history books, or the sorts of things you would read for a University class, and only a handful of those were best sellers. In fact, when comparing the two collections I only found three history books (that I owned), and my Game of Thrones series to be duplicated (as in I could have borrowed instead of purchased). Huge sigh of relief. I then sat down and a fairly exhaustive search of the library collection of audible’s to borrow, and only found 93 books I was interested in. … I will take the 5th on how many others I already own. Let’s just say, between the two I’m set for books for a few years to come, and they don’t weigh anything, or cost me anything to shelp around.