Thursday, December 24, 2009

An elegy for Zoot

Today I bring you sad news. Well, actually, I'd be pretty surprised if it's still news to you, since I grievingly made it known to everyone I talked to in the past 2 days.

My beloved Neon, my trusty transport ever since I got my driver's license (that was 10 years ago), has sadly passed away at the age of 15. Zoot was a good hard worker but suffered from mysterious ailments on a regular basis that had him in the car hospital a good deal of the time. Nevertheless, Zoot kept his spirits up and had body art that made his mother (me) proud.

Well, yesterday Zoot blew a head gasket while courageously trying to make it to a dealership where he could have his water pump replaced. When I learned the cost of fixing said gasket, I made the difficult decision to pull the plug on my old buddy, and abandoned him to the capable hands of Roy's Quality Car Care, Inc. Zoot is a registered part-donor, and I can only hope that his bits and pieces (including his brand-spankin' new, 525$ alternator) will be used to help save the lives of other needy automobiles around the nation.

Zoot, if you're listening, I miss you! And I want you to know that even though I may have other cars in the future (in fact, I hope I get one soon, or getting to Baltimore for class this semester will be impossible), you will always be my first.

And now, some commemorative photos:


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Lineup

My Lineup

  1. Notepad
  2. Dreamweaver
  3. Media Player
  4. Photoshop
  5. Word
  6. ZSNES
  7. Excel
  8. IE Tester
  9. RealPlayer
Do you ever wonder what sort of programs people use most on their computers? I do all the time. Think about the things you can learn just from looking at someone's Start Menu--all these facts about what they do, what they find important. Take, for example, my most recently used programs list.

At the top of my list is Notepad--appearing there because I use it to store the ever-growing list of "things to blog about" and refer to it constantly when blogging and write in it constantly when not blogging. I also use Notepad for - surprise! - taking notes! If I have something short and textual that I need to remember, I'll document it in Notepad. Longer, more complicated information gets written up in Word.

Second is Dreamweaver. I like to think that says, "Valerie is a Web designer." Frankly, I can't think of much else it could say! Who could AFFORD to own Dreamweaver without being a web designer? Fourth on my list, Photoshop, is there for pretty much the same reason. Except that it's also there because I'm compulsive. Not content to have my Facebook photo appear as shot, I had to intensify the colors a little and crop it to ensure that the important parts wouldn't be too small on Facebook. That was my most recent use of Photoshop.

But back to item #3. The first program on this list that isn't pure workhorse, Windows Media Player is my tenuous connection with sanity when I'm working on work (in which case I am listening to music of various and sundry types) as well as when I'm working on more artistic endeavors (in which case I am listening to audiobooks). It is also the program I use to play the practice CD's for choir concerts, but I'm done with those for a little while.

Item number 5 is Microsoft Word. Honestly, I can't think of a good reason why this program is so high on the list. I guess sometimes I use it to open instructive attachments from design clients... and I guess I have been using it pretty extensively to check and re-check the choir schedule... But I know for a fact I haven't been using it to write up long, complicated information. And sadly I have had no academic papers to produce recently, either.

After that, ZSNES. Bonus points to you if you know what this program is! If not, I'll tell you. It's an emulator used to play Super Nintendo games on your PC. ZSNES is on my Frequently Used Programs list because my current favorite pastime when I'm too beat to work on work or artistic endeavors is to play Earthbound, which is a pretty awesome little game with a pretty awesome little cult following. Does this mean I'm a cultist? Well, I don't know. I acquired the game from a friend, so I'll lay the blame on him.

Item number 7 is Microsoft Excel. I find this spreadsheet program invaluable for creating invoices for my freelance work. Also, I keep lists in it (such as Songs To Get, with columns for artist, song title, place originally heard, and places where it's available for download). As with Photoshop, this program makes the list because I am both a Web designer and compulsive.

The last two items in the lineup, I consider the "flukes." They come and go, and are rarely the same from day to day. In fact, since this morning, one of them has changed to InDesign (it says I'm a designer) from IETester (it says I'm a web designer, one who delights in the ability to run three different versions of Internet Explorer at once!). The other is RealPlayer, because even though Windows Media player is much better at keeping my stuff organized, RealPlayer is much better at ripping CD's. I have been ripping CDs.

So that's my lineup. What's yours? What does it say about you?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A similar discourse about squirrels

By the way, I plan to make a whopping 5-day trip to Ohio for Christmas this year. If you're in Ohio and want to visit with me, get in touch with me soon! I will be there from Tuesday through early Saturday next week!
One of my readers actually wanted to hear me talk about squirrels, so, what can I do but oblige? Frankly, it won't be too much of a hardship.

If the seagull is the top bird in the collection of "things that make me squeal with delight," then the squirrel is the mammal. The other day, I was riding in a car, looking out the window with a ludicrous grin on my face. No one asked me why I was smiling, but if they had, I would have had to respond, "I saw a squirrel."

Who can resist the allure of squirrels, with those big bushy tails, and the ridiculous things they'll do for food? The way they chatter when they're offended and squall sadly when they're unhappy? Have you ever seen a squirrel in the rain? They huddle with their tails over their heads and make woebegone noises. It's heartwrenching. Like watching one of those commercials for Feed the Children. Of course, wet squirrels don't make any effort to look for shelter, mostly because they're dumb as posts, but still, I feel for them.

I have been likened to a squirrel on a number of occasions. Actually, whenever people try to assign me an animal identity, it's usually some small rodent-like mammal or other. Probably because I'm just so cute! Or is it because I run around stuffing grain products into my mouth? It's true that when it's cold and rainy, I really don't feel like doing anything but huddle with something over my head and make woebegone noises. Whatever the reason for my association with the adorable vermin, I'm proud to be considered among their ranks! In fact, if you are familiar with me on AOL instant messenger, you will know my avatar is a squirrel.

That avatar picture is one of three that I made for a class but never used. One of them has appeared on this blog, but the last one, you might never have seen. Here seems as a good a place as any to share it! I might also share that all three of these images are available as free clip art on Deviant Art.

Speaking of art, let's talk about squirrels in comics! The same friend who mentioned actually being interested in a post about squirrels also introduced me to this cartoon about squirrels, which was done by the artist of a webcomic that actually features squirrels pretty frequently, sometimes in conjunction with incomprehensible science and philosophy. Something for everybody!

And that same friend also introduced me to videos of squirrel fishing, wherein you get squirrels to do amazing feats of acrobatics by offering them a nut on a string. This is a lot more humane than fish fishing and much cuter to watch.

So, seeing all that stuff about squirrels out there on the internet, I have to conclude that I'm not the only one with a soft spot in my heart for squirrels. And with that happy thought, I think this discourse has come to an end.

P.S. If I had a tail, it would totally be a squirrel tail.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More than you ever wanted to read about seagulls

I like what Anonymous had to say about my Wireless Conundrum a few days ago. Unfortunately, I had to delete his or her comment, because it linked to a whole collection of dubious websites. In fact, I don't think Anonymous really cared about my conundrum at all, and it was pure coincidence that his or her comment contained such pertinent wisdom: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

I have a pretty decent cell phone provider already. Why stress myself out about picking a new one? I like the phone I've got, and the only time I'm unhappy with Verizon (Verizon Verizon Verizon! Read my blog!) is when I receive a gratuitous text message. So yes, I'll keep the bird in my hand and forget about bushwhacking for a bigger better deal.

Speaking of birds, don't you just love seagulls? The rest of this post is going to be about seagulls, because it's about time someone gave them the attention they deserve!

I got started on this topic because I was listening to my dance mix CD and noticed that one of the less-listened-to songs on it (Wave, by RAH) has seagull noises! Whee! That made my day! I think I have to modify one of the criteria for my favorite music: Everything's better with a synthesizer, and everything's better with a seagull. After I heard that, I tried to think of other songs with seagulls in them, but surprisingly, drew a blank. I could swear there were a ton of them. The only one that I can think of that comes close, though, is Belfast by Orbital, which does not actually have seagulls in it, but the high-pitched whiny sound in it reminds me of them. Surely there are others! I even found a whole forum thread about songs with seagull noises, but I didn't recognize any of them!

Alas.

Well, the other great thing about seagulls is that, not only do they make cute noises, but they look cute too! Check out the multitude of seagulls that I photographed on my recent trip to California!

And then check out this fun buddy icon I made in honor of a Rolling Stones song that supposedly goes "No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue." Ha. We all know what the real lyric is!

But wait! There's more! There's the Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video! Which is not only funny, but features at the end - yes - a seagull! Oh wait! There's one more video on YouTube featuring seagulls. You must see it. It's a true work of art!


Oh yeah! And if you visit The Silly Side, you might just read a story about a seagull or two! And after that, you will probably be tired of seagulls. I will never get tired of seagulls, but I will understand if you want to call it quits. I'll let you rest until tomorrow. We'll talk more about squirrels!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Microsoft for the win!...dows

My last post on cell phones really brought in the traffic. Let's see how many comments from total strangers I can get when I start dropping these big names: Microsoft. Apple. My excuse for this experiment in keyword-stuffing is the surprising regularity with which I surprise people by my choice of platform.

Yes, folks, that's right! I do not use a Mac! I am a creative professional, and yet, I use Windows! I draw pictures like this


on my PC! I design websites and write illustrated fiction, and I do not own a single Apple product. Nope, not even an iPod!

One time someone told me, "You look like you'd use a Mac." It was because of my penchant for long flowy skirts. Dude, I'm completely over my long flowy skirt phase. Now I'm into short twirly skirts. Besides, is it really obligatory that every creative type be bound to some stereotypical love affair with Apple?

Hey, remember those ads from back in the 90's? When Apple's tagline was "Think different"?

I don't either, but I do remember the slogan. And, by golly, I'm gonna co-opt it for my own subversive purposes! I'm gonna think different and defy all the expectations that are laid out for me! I'm going to be an artist and I'm going to proudly, confidently wave my Microsoft banner high, because even though I won't get to see a spinning beach ball when my computer freezes up, I also won't be paying several hundred dollars extra for the privilege!

And oh, did I mention? Windows. Apple. Microsoft. Windows. Apple. Read my blog!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Wireless Conundrum

Alert! Before you begin, be aware that this entry is very long, and consists mostly of me vacillating about issues that are of no interest to anyone. I put it here mostly to help me make a decision, and (so altruistically!) possibly help any other poor decisiveness-challenged soul in their search to find the perfect wireless provider.

The past 2 months, I've received notifications from Verizon, beginning, "You are trending to incur high text messaging charges..." This is not because I have a texting problem, but rather because the rest of the world is textier than me. See three posts ago.

For a long time - even before Verizon started sending me its subtle upgrade nudges -  I've been contemplating possibly changing my service provider, since the ads that I keep running across are so convincing ($25 for unlimited talk and text! 50$ for unlimited everything!). I can not make up my mind, so why don't you just sit back and relax as I drag you into my agonizing decision-making process?

This whole thing got started early last spring, when I first noticed the ads for Cricket Wireless, touting some really low rates for cellular service (they're even lower now). But I quickly rejected that provider when I saw how abysmal their coverage is outside of a few select metro areas. As someone who spends several days a year traveling between Maryland and Ohio (and dreams, longingly, of a leisure trip to somewhere else), I knew I would be unhappy relying on such a feeble network.

Now, you should know that my current cellular plan (which includes talk minutes that I never exceed) costs 40$ a month. Taxes and fees bring it up to something like 48$ a month, and text messages are 20¢ each. It usually ends up being just about 50$ a month.

Shortly after the appearance of Cricket, Boost Mobile came around, with their very tempting offer of 50$ a month for unlimited nationwide talk, text, and web. I even went so far as to purchase (for 10$) a phone that will work with their SIM cards (which cost 20$), mostly to test out the reliability of the signal (because they have a decent pay-as-you go option as well). I haven't bought the SIM card yet, because it occurred to me after I got the phone that if I switch providers now, I'll have to break my contract with Verizon, which will result in a disgustingly high early-termination fee, so I might as well take my time making this decision. The other catch with switching to Boost is that they do not provide you with free phones, which Verizon does as long as you renew your contract every 2 years. Now, Boost claims that taxes are included in their monthly fee, so let's assume that miscellaneous other fees bring the bill up to 54$ a month. And then we add in the cost of a new phone--say 120$.  Spread out over two years, that would come up to approximately 60$ a month.

Now, with Verizon, I could add on unlimited text messaging OR 25MB of data transfer for the same price (that's text OR web, but not both. So Verizon has a slight disadvantage, but actually, I really can't see myself using my phone much to surf the web. After all, I spend most of my time with my laptop). So, really, when you get down to it, Boost isn't such a great deal. Rats. Now what am I going to do with that 10-dollar piece-of-junk phone I bought?

So we've concluded that Cricket is out of the question, and Boost remains only a remote possibility to consider sometime in 2011 when my Verizon contract runs out. Thus, you can pretty much ignore all the preceding paragraphs. But here is where the true dilemma appears. A few days ago, I received an email from a new provider, Credo Mobile, which has just one offer that looks pretty good: 1000 minutes and 1000 texts for 50$ a month. Plus, they'll use part of your payments to donate to nonprofit organizations. Plus, they'll throw in a free phone. Plus, they'll buy out your contract! Sounds like it's irresistable.

Just two questions: How reliable is their network? and Are the free phones any good? And a third: How much does it cost after taxes and fees? To answer question 1, Credo uses the Sprint network. I looked at the coverage map, but it is not very helpful. To find out for sure, I'd really just have to use the service for a while. But unlike Boost, Sprint does not use SIM cards, and I'd have to purchase a contract in order to test how well it works. Also, this special offer is only available until December 18, which doesn't leave much time for experimentation.

So, assuming I'd be willing to take a chance on signal strength, and assuming that fees are negligible, the decision really comes down to whether I'd be happy with the phone itself. Being the charmingly OCD person that I am, I am extremely particular about the features of my cell phone. It must have a built-in MP3 player. It must not have its primary screen on the outside (because I carry my phone in a purse along with things like emery boards, which are deadly weapons to shiny plastic, and besides, it is inevitable that sooner or later, I WILL drop the phone. And it will be on some surface like rough pavement that will cause irreversible damage to the exterior). Ideally, it would not have buttons on the outside, but my current phone does, and it's not unbearable. It must have a headphone jack. It should probably have a camera, but I might be able to live without that. It must not be shaped like a Blackberry (those things are the phone equivalent of trolls) nor have that blobby figure-8 shape that was so popular in flip phones a couple years ago. 

Unfortunately, none of the phones available from Credo meet my exacting standards. They do have some nice flip phones, but if my primary motivation for changing my plan is for text messaging purposes, then I'll feel pretty sad to trade in my QWERTY keyboard and go back to finicky ol' T9 input. They have 2 QWERTY phones, but they both have huge beautiful exterior screens with no means of protection. Oh, the irony, that my current phone is perfect for texting, but my current plan is worthless for it--and that by switching to a plan that's perfect for texting, I'd have to settle for a phone that's worthless for it!

Well, if you're still out there, and your eyes haven't glazed over and your fingernails are still short enough to type with, I'd appreciate your input on this matter. If you're not still out there, then I guess there's no point in saying goodbye now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Every Time I Hear that Song

If you don't know the country song that inspired the title of this post, I highly recommend that you don't listen to it. It's probably one of the most boring songs in the history of music, but now I've got it stuck in my head because I stupidly decided that I needed a clever title that used the lyrics of a song that's about songs that take you back to some time in the past. Because that's what this entry is about.

Like "Temptation Eyes," which reminds me for some reason of brown couch cushions and fires in the fireplace at my old house on Eversham Court.
And this Weezer song called "Buddy Holly," which reminds me of candy corn and the forest green minivan pulling into the driveway at my old house on Crissey road. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has kind of the same effect.

Numerous songs remind me of sitting in some living room or other, listening to my Dad's band play them: "Jenny (867-5309)," "Bus Stop," "Wasted on the Way"... One of them ("Allison") strangely enough, does not remind me of these mini-concerts, but rather a party held by a friend (whose father was also in the band) at a hotel's pool, at which I ate Bugles and got a small plastic bag full of candy.

I really could go on like this for quite a while, because I've got most of these songs sitting right in front of me. Usually when I hear a song that reminds me of days gone by, I make a point of adding it to my digital collection--not always because I like it, but because these songs are the closest thing I've found to a personal time machine.

However, I don't own all of them, and occasionally I'll hear something that gives me a pleasant anachronistic surprise. Recently, I was listening to Internet radio and got a blast (pretty literally) from the past, when they played the James Bond theme song. As soon as I heard it, I was transported to my dad's basement, eating Wheat Thins and blowing my brother to smithereens by way of the Nintendo 64. Or possibly Slapping him silly! Or maybe Klobbering him! Haha! These stupid terms are amusing only to me, but to me, they are the means to a cheerful jaunt down Memory Lane, complete with warm sun shining and happy birds chirping! Wow, who would've thought I'd be so sentimentally attached to a video game that usually ended with my character collapsing in a pool of blood?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

How to save the children from certain depravity

I cannot keep it a secret any longer! I have to tell someone! It might be an obsession. I have been looking at... beer websites!

Cue the melodramatic music!

OK, really, I was looking at the beer websites because I happen to work for an organization whose focus is on beverage container waste, and I was searching (unsuccessfully) for a company that still uses refillable bottles. But the point is, I was looking at beer websites, and what I found was shocking!

You know, even though I eschew alcoholic beverages, I didn't think anything of going to look at websites about them. That is, I didn't until I tried, and encountered the fearsome guardian at the gates--the age-verification dragon of doom! I was not permitted to enter the sites until I proved to them that I was over 21 years of age. By "proved," I mean I performed various feats that only a legal adult could do, such as enter a date of birth using a series of pull-down menus.

After this rigorous testing of my maturity, I was able to view the sordid content of the websites. It's a good thing they don't let the kiddies in. Otherwise, they might have been able to see...
Pictures of beer! Or possibly even find out... where they could buy beer!

What exactly are these websites trying to protect underage people from? I mean, the secret's out. Beer exists. And it's not like you can drink it through your computer monitor.

I wonder what nutcase is behind this virtual carding phenomenon. Maybe a gaggle of silly legislators. Perhaps a bunch of liquor peddlers wanting to build a good public image. Perhaps just some crazy drunk. Whoever it was, they came up with the stupid idea of the week!

I really can't believe that this nonsense is being practiced on alcohol company websites all across the country. But whatever. I guess I'll stop ranting now. I have better things to do. Maybe I'll catch some beer bottles on webcam.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SMScapades (a very belabored title...sorry)

I am still not officially done with the template, but fixing it will involve a lot of tedious mucking about in the stylesheet, to figure out why some of my declarations are being ignored, and then doing some heavy research into hitherto-untested Javascript features. And I'm tired of tedium and heaviness, so I'm gonna slack off and write away my frustrations!

Speaking of slacking off, there is a phone number on my bulletin board that has been there for 3 weeks. It is the number for a potential client that a former client told me about. I have not called it. Mainly because I am afraid the potential client will answer!

I'm sure if it was an email address, I would have been done with it ages ago and would now be raking in the big bucks building the awesomest website the world has ever seen! But since it is a phone number, it is doomed to sit on my dry erase board until the ink permanently adheres to the surface.

I console myself with the thought that I'm apparently not the only one with a mortal fear of phone calling. It seems this younger generation (you know, those pipsqueaks two years my minor) communicate almost exclusively by text message. I can't fault them; I'd do it myself if only I was willing to shell out 5 extra dollars a month for a texting plan, but some people take it too far! I tell them "Don't text me--it costs me 20¢ per message," and they just keep on texting me, with essential questions like, "What's up?" I call them and leave a voice mail--they text me back!

I have discovered, to my great delight, that I can send messages to most cell phones via AOL Instant Messenger. I really am a champion at instant messaging, so I can usually satisfy these people's texting addictions without driving myself into bankruptcy 20 cents at a time.

Now, if you didn't know, the first cardinal rule of IMing is "Type fast." The second rule is, "If you can't type fast, make up for it by dismembering the English language." Even though this means that I must daily witness the sad demise of my favorite language, I also get to partake of some pretty interesting messages. A few examples follow.
  • I say, "It seems dangerous." My chat buddy says, "It snot"
  • I say, "I do like poo." Yes, I am ashamed to say that that gem came out of my keyboard! I was talking about billiards!


So yes, while instant message typos often seem to degrade into jokes that you tell in kindergarten, at least one of them gave me a great intellectual chuckle (which means it's probably not really funny). Here it is:
  • I say something (via voice mail) along the lines of, "I am backing out of our previously planned social engagement," which comes out as adrenaline-charged nonsense as per the rules of making phone calls. My chat buddy says (via text message! Argh!), "y arent you cumin sweety??" I answer (only in my head, because I think after crushing this person's heart by refusing to grace them with my presence, I really shouldn't be making bad jokes about their poor spelling), "Because cumin isn't sweet, it's savory!"
BAHahahaha!

Haha.

Ha.

Umm, so, I was going to go on another little rant about some other text/IM mannerisms that annoy me, but this post is getting a little long, dont you think?

Yeah, I think. TTFN!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Template

Updating my Blogger template. Things could get ugly for a while.

UPDATE (November 18):
I am not done, but I am so tired. I'll let it rest for a while. Sorry you can't read some of the links.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Picky eating

While I was sitting around, waiting for my bagel to get cold, it occurred to me that I have really odd eating habits. And then it occurred to me that I should share them with you!

So. Bagels. I really like bagels. I can eat them plain with nothing on them and they make me pretty happy. But my favorite way to eat a bagel is to toast it, slather it with cream cheese, and then put it in the fridge and wait for the whole thing to get cold again. I also prefer brownies and pies cold, but unless I'm really hungry, I'll wait until my ice cream gets soupy before I'll eat it.

When I eat cookies, I can't just take a bite out of the whole cookie. I have to break a piece off in my hand and nibble on that. The same principle applies to bananas. I cannot eat a banana unless it has been sliced first. And I won't eat corn on the cob, but I'm happy to eat it once it's been cut off. Whole carrots, though? Not a problem--I don't even bother to peel them. I eat the skin of kiwis, and with apples, the skin is just about all I eat.

I am a vegetarian, but I will not eat onions or peppers. I also dislike rice and all other whole cooked grains. When I buy snack mix, I throw the pretzels away.

I don't put milk on my cereal. I don't put butter on my bread. I don't put dressing on my salad. I don't put sugar in my tea (in fact, I never drink tea, or any other beverage except water, unless someone gives it to me).

I eat oatmeal uncooked and dry.

I eat pizza with a knife and fork. I eat quesadillas with a knife and fork. I eat muffins with a knife and fork. In fact, I eat just about everything with a knife and fork, unless it is the type of food that will fall apart if you cut it. Or if it would be better eaten with a spoon.

I'm sure there are more culinary quirks that I could think of, but I bet my bagel is nice and chilly now, and I'm HUNGRY! So I'll sign off, and while I'm gone, you can tell tell me: What sort of bizarre things do you do when you eat? Surely I'm not the only one... right?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's a whole new me! But with the same low threshold for annoyance.

Usually I’m impressed with the way Google does things. Even though they’re slowly taking over the world, they seem to do it by being extremely useful, but Google Accounts – the thing that provides the backbone for all their other services – seems to be the stupidest system ever invented.

I’ve been using the “wrong” email address for most of my Google services for years, but once I signed up for AdWords and suddenly started receiving all sorts of business notifications in the email inbox I reserve for friendly communication, I decided it was time to fix things.

It was hard. After struggling for a while with the crazy interface that kept sending me back and forth between AdWords and Google Accounts, I eventually decided it was time to click the Help button. It was actually a link. I didn’t let that stand in my way.

What did stand in my way was the fact that help wasn’t helpful. It basically told me you can change your account address any time, as long as it’s not a Gmail address. If it is a Gmail address (which mine is), then you’re out of luck. Sorry! Too bad! Now what kind of nonsense is this--where an entity (such as Google) actually makes things harder for the people that use its other services!? They’re supposed to treat me better because I’m a loyal (ahem, freeloading) Gmail customer!

Well, humph, I thought. Perhaps Google has just made an honest mistake, and will help me out if I approach them through the appropriate channels and call them stupid. I thought this plan was coming to fruition when I found a link to “Contacting Us.” Alas, when I followed the link, I was presented with an impressively worthless set of options. First, I was invited to look in the Help Center. Well, since I’d just come from there, I rejected that choice.

Then, to my great joy, I read that if I “have a great idea or suggestion,” I should let them know! “We enthusiastically read and tally all your suggestions,” Google gushed at me from the web page. I clicked on the link, prepared to inform them that it was cruel and unusual to send me AdWords notifications where I’m expecting emails of adoration from my admiring fans. Instead, I was presented with four pre-written suggestions. If any of them happened to be the feature that I actually wanted Google to implement, I could then click the “Suggest it!” button to its right. Google apparently has some forward-thinking notion of the meaning of “suggest.” Why waste people’s time by making them come up with suggestions on their own? Let’s save them the work by anticipating all four of the things that they might conceivably want to suggest, and let them choose from among those options!

Well, I did click one of the buttons, just because the feature seemed like it might be useful in the future, but I returned to the previous page still clinging to the archaic belief that I might have an idea I might have to explain. Perhaps I could explain it in a forum! How fortunate that the next option on the list was “post your question to the Help Group!”

The Help Group was conveniently available in the following languages: 한국어, Türkçe, Nederlands, polski, Русский, Français, Deutsch, Italiano, Español, Português (Portugal)‎, Português (Brasil)‎. No, not English. How silly for Google to have a help forum available in the language spoken at its corporate headquarters!

Well, below that were some options for Contacting Support, and there I saw the Holy Grail that I had been seeking! “I cannot change the email address on my account”! I clicked on it and the first question was, “Did you enter the correct email address?” This did not bode well. Google was already assuming that (1) I had actually been given an option to enter an email address and (2) I am stupid. Following gamely along this path did not yield results, and eventually I gave up.

This story may have a happy ending. I have opened a new Google Account, added it to as many services as I can, and granted it administrative access. I am in the process of trying to remove that access from my personal account wherever possible. So I'm mainly posting this entry to find out if my attempt at changing my Blogger sign in was effective. I sure hope so. Still, it woulda been a lot nicer if Google would have just let me choose a different address to receive emails.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Valerie makes keen observations on pop culture

For those of you who are not up to date on the pop charts, the title of my last post was a not-so-veiled reference to the song, "I Gotta Feeling," by the Black Eyed Peas. Now this is one of those songs that gives me a feeling that my brain cells are in mortal danger. It sounds like it was written by a bunch of idiots on speed ("Let's do this...then let's do that...then let's do it again! And do it and do it and do it do it do it!") Yet for all that, it's kind of annoyingly catchy.

Now, while we're on the subject of music, check out this song, Oru Maalai. No, it's not that great. But it's got its moments. Wait until you get to 4:03. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, one of the singers breaks out with this, "Aw!" Who would have thought of just randomly sticking an Aw right there? But it totally makes the whole song! Or maybe I'm just being overenthusiastic about a tiny fragment of the middle of a song, like always.

Now, while we're not really on the subject at all, what's with this character, Domo? Right now there's some advertising campaign at 7-11 featuring this strange brown blob with teeth. Before that, wasn't he on an advertising campaign for Target? How come I never see him doing anything but selling something for some corporation? Maybe he's a washed up celebrity.

OK, I might have also seen Domo doing this. I ran across the blog of the person who originally took the kitten photo. Interesting story there, and also some information about what Domo really is, which I'll try not to remember, because I'd rather have something to wonder about in my blog.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I got a feeling... that tonight's gonna be a crappy night

Tonight is Halloween! Time to dress up and party! You all know me--party animal extraordinaire! Let's recap the wild and crazy shenanigans I've gotten into on Halloweens past:

2008: Stayed at home and worked.
2007: Stayed at home and worked.
2006: Stayed at home and worked. Perhaps handed out some candy. I don't remember.
2005: Stayed at home and did hand out some candy. Not much. The trick-or-treaters are in short supply in our neighborhood.
2004: Stayed in the dorm and went candy-scavenging after the trick-or-treaters had done their thing. Yes, I am truly that shameless.
2003: I can't even remember.
2002: Ditto.
2001: etc.

This year was going to be different! I was invited to a party, and a friend wanted me to come out with her to Palace of Wonders, which is supposed to be a fairly interesting place. I had a homemade costume - which I must say I was pretty proud of - almost all ready to go! And then I got a cold. Now some people, upon getting a cold, would just sniffle a little and get on with the partying. But Valerie, upon getting a cold, also gets chills, muscle aches, headaches, toothaches, and enough nasal congestion to convince her she's going to die of suffocation--and so she sniffles a lot and gets on with the lying in bed gasping for air for the next two days. So, the first Halloween in 8 years that I've actually had plans was once again spent having no fun whatsoever. I think I'll go drown my sorrows in some diphenhydramine.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Maryland is weird

Maryland, my Maryland! I adore it so! Even though we have winter here, which makes me whine and complain incessantly for about six months of the year, I really don't have any serious intentions of leaving. The reason I'm so fond of my state is simple: Maryland is weird.

Take, for example our government public health agency. Our neighboring state of Virginia has, unsurprisingly, a Department of Health. West Virginia, always using slightly longer names than its namesake, has a Department of Health and Human Resources. Off to the East, our neighbor Delaware has a Department of Health and Social Services. But Maryland? Well, Maryland is weird. We have a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Think about that for a second.

Mental hygiene? It calls to mind public service campaigns with taglines like, "Have you flossed your brain today?" Of all the things to be hygienic about, our state chooses something that can never be washed. Or perhaps they really wanted to be the Department of Hygiene and Mental Health, but then decided that didn't give the citizens enough to puzzle over. Just think: Maryland is fighting Alzheimer's every day, with nothing more than the name of its health agency!

And then there's this other mystery of Maryland. Every day when I drive north on I-95, I view the sign for "Carpool Parking." And I wonder, does it not defeat the purpose of carpooling if you have to drive to get to your carpool? Oh Maryland, my Maryland, you do everything so backwards! Wait! Perhaps "Carpool Parking" is really a front for Super Sock Discount Dealers! The next time I go up 95, I should visit and find out what I'm missing.

Well, there's one more thing that's weird and wonderful about the Old Line State (other than its incomprehensible moniker). It has the craziest shape of any state in the union! Now I'm originally from the Midwest, and the states out there are fairly simple and stolid--good hardworking homey shapes you'd expect out in farm country. There's Ohio, shaped like a heart, and Michigan, shaped like a mitten. Farther west and south, you get shapes like boxes and various kitchen implements. But nothing so mundane for Maryland! Maryland is shaped like a deformed plesiosaur!

Maryland is shaped like a deformed plesiosaur!See?

Maryland, you make me laugh!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

10 Minute Tirade. Socks.

I have 10 minutes.

In those ten minutes, I have an urgent need to inform you that I recently checked through my sock drawer and was appalled to find that every single pair of socks in it had either a hole or a poorly patched hole or some combination of any number of each of the above.

Well, I went to Target to rectify this situation, and was appalled to find that every single multipack of socks there was all in one color, or at best, a mixture of analogous colors. Now, when you buy a whole bunch of socks at a time, you are surely buying them to wear with a whole bunch of outfits, so why should all the socks in the pack look the same? Shouldn't they be a variety? That's what I wanted. A variety.

But I settled for a package of 6 socks in varying shades of green and brown, and then, because I've been wanting knee socks for a long time, I also picked a 3-pack of them, in varying shades of purple and gray. But I would have been so much happier if I could have purchased a 3-pack that would have matched every outfit I could conceivably invent.

Hmm. Maybe I'll try eBay.

But my 10 minutes are up!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I didn't get the chance to use the awesome word, 'semiotics,' in this post, so I'll use it here.

They say there are only two hard problems in computer science: cache invalidation and naming things.

I am not a computer scientist; I wouldn't know.

But I believe I can sympathize, because there are – very similarly – only two hard problems in web design: cross-browser compatibility and making icons for things.

This entry is primarily concerned with the latter.

I have been known to spend hours staring at my screen, wondering how to visually represent a concept like “websites.” Or how to create a picture of "give" and ensure that it's not mistaken for "take."

It doesn't help that the established icons for so many things are already obsolete. The idea of email is almost always represented by a picture of an envelope. Hello! When was the last time you packaged your email into an envelope before sending it off? And the "Save" icon – a floppy disk – hasn't made sense since the last century.

I think we'd all be better off if we abandoned our notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, and just started using – well – words. Highly popular websites, like Amazon and eBay, have hardly any incomprehensible graphics cluttering up their interfaces.

And if the eye-candy addicts out there can't stand the thought of a web page without pictures, I hereby decree that we should emphasize color as the way to differentiate things. Once I'm familiar with set of options (say, in a menu where little icons precede the item name), I scan the list in search of the icon with the right color. I don't really read the names, and I'm certainly not keeping my eyes peeled for the tiny little picture of the two blobs that look kind of like hands shaking each other. So colors it is! I'm going to use this technique the next time I'm asked to design a web site.

Which looks like it'll be never.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This post is brought to you by the letter Y.

If I had to choose a favorite letter, it would be the letter Y.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Y?" And I can answer that question in two ways:
  1. Yes, really. Y.
  2. Because I can answer that question in two ways.
What other letter is as versatile as Y? It can be both a letter and a word and an entire sentence at the same time! It can be both a vowel and a consonant. It can be both a question and an answer.

Y, unchallenged abbreviation for the word "yes," is the most optimistic and agreeable of letters, offering affirmation, confirmation, and even elation, in the most concise form available to the English language.

In addition to being friendly and positive, Y is honest. Its very appearance is a reflection of its nature. As it splits off into two branches, Y visually indicates its way of going both ways.

The letter Y is an ambassador of dichotomy. And therefore I love it, because it represents the mysteries of existence, the continual divergence of paths. When you look back on your life, do you wonder what would have happened if you had done this instead of that? When you look to the future, do you see the ever-branching web of decisions before you? Y weaves itself into all of these philosophical ponderings, ubiquitous yet unseen.

What a wonderful letter. Don't you agree? If all my lyricism above didn't sell you, how about this: What other letter gets the privilege of headlining for a word like "Yackety-yak?"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Green Goodness (aka Conspicuous Consumption)

This is my fourth year volunteering at the Green Festival, and I have to say, it's been my favorite year yet. Not necessarily because the festival was better--just because I had a better time.

The volunteering was good. I spent 5 hours working on Friday morning doing what I do best: organizing things. We started by folding and stacking T-shirts in same-color piles, to be sold during the festival. When that was done, we moved on to consolidating all excess T-shirts into boxes. I also had my first experience with zip ties--oh, so gratifying! And after the 5 hours, free admission for the duration of the festival!

I went alone this year, which was an infinite improvement over the first two years, both of which I spent in the company of at least one person who moped and sulked the whole time we were there, and last year, when, due to icky weather and depression, I decided not to go at all. So this year I was free to browse at my own pace and spend annoying amounts of time deciding whether or not to buy various combinations of items. And buy I did. Even though I make a point of avoiding having too many possessions, there are times when I just want to gloat over my material acquisitions. This is one of those times.

I went there with the goal of finding a new winter shirt, a pair of earrings, and possibly some shoes. When I got there, I realized I didn't like the winter shirts very much, it was silly to buy new earrings when I have plans to make some in the near future, and the shoes were way out of my price range. So instead, I left with a skirt and a pair of gloves. They were frivolous buys totaling 65 dollars, but oh-so worth it! The skirt is khaki color, pure hemp and cotton, and has a scene of clouds and birds printed on it! The gloves are fuschia, alpaca wool and outrageously long, which means I can keep my arms warm and still wear short sleeves! And best of all, they were for a good cause!

OK, I realize no one is as excited about my new possessions as I am, so I'll refrain from telling you all about the stuff I got for free, which includes brochures from a number of worthy organizations I'm glad to have discovered, and -- oh, wait, I'm refraining. But I just can't refrain from sharing the thrift store success I had on Monday. After all, pre-owned stuff? Very green.

That day, I went to the thrift store with a donation of purses (purged in order to avoid having too many possessions--oh, the irony!) and went home with two new tops and three sets of hair clips for a total of thirteen dollars! The hair clips were an especially amazing find, because I've been searching forever for little jaw clips that are metal (not plastic, because those always break after a few uses). Sometimes I find them, but there are never enough in a set to hold up a bun, which is how I use them. But at the thrift store on Monday, they were selling sets of 2 each of black, silver, and copper metal clips for just 79¢ each! I was able to purchase three sets (6 clips in each color) for less than the cost of one similar set at the store! Victory at last! I also got a cute new blue-and-white striped summer blouse (I justify this purchase because my collection of oversized solid colored t-shirts is starting to depress me), and a black blazer. The blazer was the perfect buy, because with a blazer, you can turn any outfit into a professional outfit -- infinite versatility for just six dollars!

All right! Enough of that! I vow not to buy any more stuff until I put away all my summer clothes and realize that I still need that winter shirt I didn't buy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Questions About Questions

Questions I ask

If I kept a book of the questions I ask that no one answers, it wouldn't be very long, but reading it would send me into an apoplectic fit. I am so frustrated! This mini-tirade is addressed to all the people who have ever unanswered a question I asked.

When you ignore my question, what does it mean? Does it mean you didn't hear the question and I should ask it again? Or does it mean you just don't want to answer, in which case, why don't you just tell me so and save me a lot of mental agony? Did you know that every time I have to ask the same question, the difficulty increases exponentially? Did you know that by the third time I've had to ask a question, I would just as soon roll around in a nest of fire ants than ask it again? But did you also know that by that point, I would be so desperate about not knowing the answer that I might just roll around in a nest of fire ants anyway, out of sheer insanity?

Questions I'm supposed to answer

At the store where I work, I get involved in a lot of conversations that go like this:

Shopper: Whanga nafum ina cauliflowers?
Me: What?
Shopper: Cauliflowers.
Me: Cauliflowers?
Shopper: Yes.
Me: What about them?
Shopper: Where can I find them?

Now, for example, if I responded, "Where can you find the what?" then yes, "cauliflowers" would be a logical answer.

But my saying "What?" gives absolutely no hint that I've heard a single word you uttered. There's nothing to even indicate that I heard the question mark--for all I know, you might have said, "We need a friend called Flowers." So how do you come to the conclusion that I heard the beginning and middle of what was clearly a question, but zoned out for the finish? How, in other words, do you decide which part of your question to leave out when you re-ask it?

These grocery-store interrogations are silly, to say the least. And they could be blown out of existence by an invention we learned about in elementary school: complete sentences. (Complete sentences that begin with "And." And are followed after the period by parenthetical comments with sentences inside them that are incomplete and begin with "And." Rock!)

So, when I say, "What?" you say, "Where can I find the cauliflowers?" When I say, "What about the cauliflowers?" you say, "Where can I find them?" When I say, "Where can you find the what?" you say, "I'm not sure if you can use "what" in place of a noun. I'd better consult Strunk & White and get back to you."

Following these simple practices, we can make the world a better place!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

ADD is fun!

And yesterday I took the box that I'd moved from my bookshelf to another shelf, and I moved it back to the bookshelf.
Today I made a noble attempt to find that email with the login information for our webstats on the new server. By "noble," I mean, I opened my email client and found that the "sent" folders I'd so carefully deleted yesterday were back and more useless than ever. So I made a couple futile attempts at deleting them, then had a go at finding the actual folders (or files that define them?) on my hard drive. Found the files, renamed them, restarted the client, and there the folders were! Went back to the Windows folder with the files I'd renamed, and found that they'd duplicated themselves! I gave them back their original names and trolled through the config file to see if I could discover any settings that might allow me to permanently delete them. Found several settings that looked promising, looked them up in online documentation, where they were annoyingly undocumented! The "meaning of values" was left blank! AAAGGGH!

At this point, I decided it would be a good use of my time to find anagrams for my name. Turns out there are several, which make pretty good additions to a Renaissance conversation. Behold:

    "Hark, my friend! Is that some form of gardening implement?"
    "Verily, a hoe!"
    "And pray, then, what is that other gardening implement lumbering threateningly toward it?"
    "Ye rival hoe."
    "Oh."
    "Methinks there is to be some affray."
    "I do hope they get on with it. I'd like to see the quarrel before I have to go finish mucking out the stables... Oh, vie early, thou swashbuckling tools of the garden!"

After the fight...

    "Marry, that was a good show!"
    "Verily! Worthy of being immortalized in song. We should write a ballad about it!"
    "O! I have lyre!"
    "And after we're done writing our masterpiece, we'll go to bed."
    "Ah, my favorite thing to do--lie over hay!"

The End.

*I make no claims as to the authenticity of the language used in the above dialog. It may or may not be an accurate portrayal of what I may or may not be accurately describing as Middle English.

Now, where was I? Oh. Yes. Webstats.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Freedom versus Stability--Valerie takes a crack at answering her favorite question.

Now I have officially rejected an opportunity for "a real job" in favor of a dubious, frivolous, freelance fling. The people at the staffing firm seemed a little puzzled as to why I would pass up this opportunity, but frankly, who could be thrilled about starting a job that would require one to work 8 hours every day, drive 15 miles there and back during rush hour, and then follow it up with more work from home, which one would do terribly because of being tired and pissy from all the driving? OK, so maybe other people have more terrible trips to and from work, but all that in combination would kill me.

Because I had reason to believe that this fling would actually provide me with some steady work, I decided now was also the time to see if I can make freelance work my full-time job. Hence, Val's Galore is now holding a sale on design and website management work! I've been working all morning on the finishing touches to an email campaign to some of my former and current clients. To be honest, though, I'm a little scared of embarking on such an uncertain path.

To illustrate, here are the things I've done today instead of promoting my promotion:
  • Exercised twice (Excuse: I was too cold to concentrate, and I needed to warm up)
  • Called the bank about setting up a checking account (I did this while exercising, so it wasn't a complete waste of time)
  • Checked out the new user who's following me on Twitter (they'd already gotten suspended for suspicious activity by the time I checked--I attract such illustrious followers)
  • Removed all the books-I'm-going-to-sell from my bookshelf and put them on the floor (this was so I could arrange them into lots and decide which ones are most likely to actually get sold)
  • Removed the box containing paperwork from staffing firms from my bookshelf. Put the box on top of another bookshelf, where I won't keep it because it looks stupid. Put the paperwork on the floor.
  • Got a belt out from the closet, so I will remember to put it on when I go to work
  • Put all my sandals into storage and got out my winter shoes
  • Wrote this blog post
But, well, paranoia aside, I'm excited about the possibility of doing something purposeful and productive! Now I'm going to send those emails! Loyal readers, if you know anyone who might be interested in having a creative freelancer at their service, please direct them to www.valsgalore.com/10sale.

Thanks and love ya!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Valerie's Thoughts on Other People's Random Thoughts

A friend posted this list of "thoughts from people in their 20's and 30's" on Facebook. I'm not sure why the age is relevant, but it was kind of an interesting read. I am reposting portions of it (it was really quite long) here, because it will provide you all with entertainment while requiring a minimum of thought on my part.

Some of these thoughts are strikingly similar to mine. Some of them I just find funny. Some of them, I think are dumb.  I will, of course, provide Galorious commentary on all of these so you know how things should be.

Also, I should mention that a commenter to the original post posited that these quotes probably came from ruminations.com, which I visited, and it seems like a worthwhile site to visit again.

Without further ado, some ruminations.

-I don't understand the purpose of the line, "I don't need to drink to have fun." Great, no one does. But why start a fire with flint and sticks when they've invented the lighter?
Actually, I use this line, so I have a vested interest in defending it. I was trying to think of a good extension to the fire analogy, but I'll just tell it straight: Why spend money on something that you don't need and at best tastes awful, at midway makes a fool out of you, and at worst kills you?

-Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.
I personally like to do a little hop-skip, then execute the 180, then change my mind and veer back in the direction I was going, then turn again, oscillate for a fraction of a second, and then head back.

-Do you remember when you were a kid, playing Nintendo and it wouldn't work? You take the cartridge out, blow in it and that would magically fix the problem. Every kid in America did that, but how did we all know how to fix the problem? There was no internet or message boards or FAQ's. We just figured it out. Today's kids are soft.
Yeah, but why start a fire with flint and sticks when they've invented the lighter?

-Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the f was going on when I first saw it.

-I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

- I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.


- Lol has gone from meaning, "laugh out loud" to "I have nothing else to say".

- I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

- Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart", all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart".

- How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear what they said?

-What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other?


- While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and instinctively swerved to avoid it...thanks Mario Kart.

- Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

- I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the shower first and THEN turn on the water.

Me too. Someone should start a poll. Do you get in the shower first, or do you run the water first?

-I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.
I can! My life is boring and depressing, but I almost always get enough sleep.

-Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't want to have to restart my collection.
That's why you just don't bother having a collection. I mean, how many times do you really want to watch one movie anyway? Just rent it once or twice if you have to.

- "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this ever.
For me it means I'm going to machine wash it anyway. So far this hasn't been a problem.

-When I meet a new girl, I'm terrified of mentioning something she hasn't already told me but that I have learned from some light internet stalking.
Really? I'm always flattered when someone mentions something about me they've found on the Internet. First, it means I'm notorious! Second, it means they're probably not a psycho, loser, or both.

- As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists.
I never have a problem with cyclists. Pedal power to the people! I just wish I was a little less wussy, so I could actually ride my bike places...

-Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still
not know what time it is.


-the other day, one of my friends 4 year old kids asked me "What would happen if you ran over a ninja?" How the hell do I respond to that?

Gosh! I wish someone would ask me what would happen if I ran over a ninja!

-It really pisses me off when I want to read a story on CNN.com and the link takes me to a video instead of text.
Really. Who has the patience to sit through a video when you can find exactly the information you want just scanning through words?

-I wonder if cops ever get pissed off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit.

-I think the freezer deserves a light as well.
Ours has one! Suckas!


This has been another worthless use of your time. Thanks for reading, and tune in next week for Valerie's Thoughts on Something Else That's Not Worth Thinking About!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When an irresistible force such as you, meets an old implacable object such as jeans

Actually, I didn't have that many insights on the publishing process; I just watched a designer move things around on a page, testing all sorts of layouts. But she did it really fast. Right align! Left align! Up at the top of the page! Down at the bottom! When I move things around on a page, I am not nearly so efficient.

But while we're on the topic of work, let me talk about an interesting subject that's kind of related to the dynamics of big companies. It has to do with Casual Friday. Now, I've always been under the impression that if you have Casual Friday in your workplace, you are allowed to wear anything that you'd wear to, say, a casual dining restaurant. You know, something that's clean and won't make the other diners lose their appetite. But in the last place I worked, on Friday, you were allowed to wear "jeans" - that was the only article of clothing that was expressly permitted - as long as you kept up a "professional" appearance. I took this to mean that nothing in my large collection of peasant skirts and sundresses would be appropriate. Nor would any of the cute and clean-cut but rather fun T-shirts that I like to wear on occasion. I decided that on Casual Friday, you had to wear basically the same thing on top that you always wear, but you were allowed to wear jeans on the bottom.

Jeans! How is that a privilege? It took me fourteen years of life before I would willingly put on jeans, and then it was only because I was tired of being the pariah who wore stretch pants and T-shirts. When I work at the grocery store, spending my day climbing into the back of the truck, or dragging around big tubs of moldy cheese awash in rancid milk, I wear jeans! Jeans are what you wear when you need durability (and, sometimes, social acceptance)--not relaxation! They are only comfortable if you are standing up. When you sit down (which you do a lot in an office) jeans become tight in all sorts of uncomfortable places. Whenever I get home from a day at the store or an outing on which I wore jeans, the first thing I do is take them off. If it's late, I switch to pajama pants. If the day is still young, I change into a skirt--the exact same thing that I would wear on a non-casual day!

Bah. I reject the tyranny of this so-called Casual Friday! How fortunate that no more temporary jobs have yet turned up and I've got a bit of freelance work to keep me busy for a while--I can spend all day working in my pajamas!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Office

I might have escaped from Pachelbel's Canon at my dad's wedding, but I was not so lucky today. One of the people in my office had it playing softly at his desk. Just loud enough so I could hear it. All day.

It could have been traumatic, but since there was nothing going on to get emotional about, I managed to survive. And I will never have that particular musical experience again, because my temporary gig at that office is over. My time of indenture is up. I am, at least for the present, back to moping around at home, feeling directionless, rather than scrambling constantly from one workplace to another, feeling overwhelmed. (Note to self: No moping! You have piles and piles of stuff that you promised you would do as soon as you had a few free minutes. Do it! Do it!)

Regardless of whether I'll actually be in another office in the near future, my last day at this one is an occasion for contemplating more of the mysteries and wonders of office life.

For example, email. How on earth did office workers survive in the days before email? Did they have to actually walk over to each other's offices? I tried that. No one is ever there. Or did they use those things I've heard of called "inter-office memos?" It sounds so tedious, all this mucking about with carbon paper and correction fluid! I can't imagine that anyone ever got any work done in an inefficient environment like that!

I guess maybe they made up for their communicative inefficiencies by going overboard on job-role efficiency. One thing that really freaks me out about office work is that it's so compartmentalized. As one half of a two-employee organization, I am used to being the "do-everything girl." I write, I edit, I design, I communicate with the public, I communicate with the vendors, I keep the basic financial records, I manage the contacts database, I coordinate mailings, I procure, I distribute, I create the content for the website, I upload the content to the website, I create the architecture for the website. And I do it on a part-time basis. At a bigger organization, a job description like that is inconceivable. It seems, at a big organization, that you have a few specialized tasks to do, and if you need something else done, you don't learn how to do it yourself--you pass it off to someone else and let them work their magic. How oppressive, and dull, and conducive to growing brain plaques!

In just two weeks, I have learned a lot about the dynamics of a big company, which were hitherto unknown to me. I have listened to people's conversations about resumes they received, and gained valuable insight into the hiring process. I have seen real paid designers in action, watched drafts get edited, and gained some insight into the publishing process. I have bored you to tears. Let's stop.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Aaaaarrrrrrgh! And I mean that in a good way.

Congratulations to my dad and Jackie, who got married today in the most fun wedding I've ever been to!

Who gets married in a biology classroom because that's where they met?
Who has their reception at the zoo, where they provide the most adorable cookies shaped like penguins and seals you've ever seen?
Who gets married on Talk Like a Pirate Day and gives all their guests treasure chests and gold coins?

Ahoy, that's who!

When I grow up, I want my wedding to be just like my dad's! Uh, well, actually, I want my wedding to be just as original as my dad's! Which means I want my wedding to be nothing like my dad's! Whatever--the point is, I was surprised to find that I had a good time.

Being perennially single, I tend to take it personally when people around me get married, and I was a little skeptical about the enjoyability of attending a wedding by myself. But I was fortunately spared from a depressing excess of romance, in that the wedding itself was intentionally a little bit silly, and Pachelbel's Canon was absent from the program.

All in all, it was pure fun! I was seated at a table with lots of strangers who did not terrify me but were actually fun, plus my brother, who - when he was not stabbing me with cocktail swords or hanging desiccated chicken kebobs from the centerpiece - was also pretty fun, plus a former co-worker who is always fun! And the cookies were fun!

And now I'm done!

P.S. OK. I'm not quite done. Did I mention that the server accidentally skipped over me in the distribution of champagne, thereby allowing me to be my usual teetotaling self without having to draw any attention to it!? And that I went home with a purse full of chocolate coins!? Wow! What a perfect night!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I finally joined the real world.

I am officially working as a temp now, helping keep up the website of an organization in DC. It is the first time I've really been to work outside of the food industry or environmental advocacy field. Even though they are officially a nonprofit, they are a professional membership organization, and consequently are bigger, more formal, and relatively well funded compared to what I'm used to. They take up three floors of their office building, and they even have their own IT department--how novel! I feel so corporate!

After being there a week, I have all sorts of things to say about working in an office.

One thing I conveniently forgot in my two years of working from home is that office buildings are always cold--even when it's a hundred degrees outside. Last time I worked in an office, I had a wool sarape pretty much permanently attached to me. This time, though, growing more and more tired of being a slave to temperature, I am bravely wearing what I think I ought to be able to wear, and thus spending all day fighting off the goosebumps and nursing cups of tea. Ha! Take that, you fascist air conditioner! I may become addicted to caffeine, but I refuse to let you dictate what I wear!

Speaking of what I wear, I am finding the office dress code to be quite a challenge. Spending the last five years cultivating my quasi-hippie wardrobe has left me pretty unprepared for a business-casual environment. I estimate I can last a maximum of another week and a half before I have to start repeating outfits. I might be able to stretch it a few more weeks if I give in to my desire to be warm and break out the winter clothes. But after that, repeating outfits will become inevitable, and with that will come depression and a feeling of stagnation.

One of the things that I'm counting on to save me from feeling stagnant is the fact that I am just a temporary worker. My first day, it made me feel kind of inferior. When people called me a temp, I felt like they were saying, "You don't belong here, and don't you forget it!" But after my first experience in the lunchroom (see previous entry), my disillusionment with the area (I was spoiled by having my first job in DC be at Dupont Circle, a social hub of the city), and my only lukewarm interest in the work, I learned to be quite pleased to be just a temp. Now when people introduce me as such, I feel relieved and re-energized. I'm like, "That's right! You don't own me! I'm not your slave! I'm more like your indentured servant!" It's kind of fun! If I can get more temporary engagements, I could have a string of new jobs, work in a string of new places, meet a string of new people (if any of them deign to meet me), and never get bored. Temping seems like something I might want to pursue for a while.

I have lots more to say about working in an office, but I seem to have recovered my long rambling style and should probably stop now and save it for another day. I'm off to enjoy my first weekend that actually is a weekend for me, rather than just another day identical to the rest of the week! I'm going to continue fighting the good fight by going out to the Veg Fest in short sleeves despite the 68-degree, looking-like-rain weather.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I think I must be misinformed about common courtesy.

If you worked in an office, and you saw a new person eating alone at lunch, you would invite them over to your table, right? You would at least introduce yourself, right?

I give up.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yesterday

All my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're...

Blogging sure is easier if you just repeat what other people said. I'll try to write something slightly more original, but it's not going to be easy. I have all these thoughts flying around in my head, but none of them want to land long enough for me to actually say anything about them. And you know me, I like my posts long. If I can't ramble on for at least 6 or 7 long, wordy paragraphs, I probably won't bother with the topic at all. But I'll try.

Here are some things that gave me pause yesterday. I didn't get to write about them then, because I was even more flighty than my thoughts, and plus I had to run errands and go to choir practice.

Yesterday I saw an abundance of crossing guards. Do you think they like their jobs? Are they, like a lot of cops, drunk on their sense of power? Or do they really feel embarrassed and superfluous and guilty because they are pretty much the sole reason that cars are lined up for blocks on all sides of their 4-way stop?

Yesterday, I was speaking with a recruiter, and she mentioned that someone wanted to interview me. I said, "Oh, that's so delightful!" She said, "I love the way you put things!" I thought, if people got chosen for positions based on their quirky mannerisms, I'd be a senior executive by now! But alas, I have to rely on my good looks instead. Ha ha ha ha ha! No wonder I don't have a full time job.

Yesterday, I was kind of punchy because of all these interesting things that kept happening. Today, I'm trying to bring back the feeling, which is why I'm saying ridiculous things and pretending they're funny!

That's all I have to say about yesterday. Only five paragraphs (not counting this one or the plagiarism that constituted the first paragraph), and not very long and wordy. I'm slipping.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

On dating online

Speaking of dating...
I just realized I have music from every one of my past significant others—except the one who was a music major. Interesting.
So, have you ever used an online dating service? Are you too embarrassed to admit it? These virtual lonely hearts clubs are treated with skepticism by the socially higher-functioning among us, but I figure they have their merits. How else are shy people like me going to find each other? I have met a few of my favorite people through dating sites (not that we're actually dating now or anything). But meeting people online definitely has its drawbacks.

Outside of dating sites, how do people meet each other? Maybe they are coworkers. They get to know each other through work, and then they start meeting each other outside of work. If they're in school, they obviously meet each other in class, then they arrange study groups after class, and then study sessions in dark janitorial closets after the school has closed. Or perhaps they start chatting on the subway and go home with each other's numbers. Later on, they meet for coffee. Sometimes one of them hollers at the other out the window of the car. People seem to think that's a good idea, but frankly I have my doubts as to its success rate. But the point is, there's an established sequence for things, and it involves a timeframe that spans several days, weeks, or maybe even months.

There is something about online interaction that makes people lose all sense of the proper romancing procedure. Let's say you're acting out scenario a: You're chatting with a new coworker you think is the bee's knees. After two minutes of getting to know each other, do you then strip off all your clothes and say, "Hey, whaddaya think? How would you like a piece of that?" So what makes people on dating sites think it's acceptable to send you nude pictures of themselves as soon as you're finished with the introductions?

How about scenario c: meeting on the subway. Let's say you're chatting with a stranger you think is the cat's pajamas. You tell them your name; they tell you theirs. Do you then say, "Hey, now that we know each other, let's have a hug!"? So why do people that meet you for the first time on a blind date want to start things out with an introductory embrace?

And why do they assume that they are going to want to spend hours and hours with you the first time you meet? I have recently talked to several people that I met online, with whom I've either planned and carried out, or merely discussed, an actual date. An overwhelming number of them (ahem, that is 2 out of 2. I'm easily overwhelmed) expressed disappointment with my plan to meet for dinner and then call it a night. They responded with things like, "I'd rather see you all three days," and, "Just dinner? Why not something afterward?" Why not spend all night together? Why not meet and then just never part?

Did it ever occur to these guys that I'm not such great company? Did they ever imagine that after having dinner, they might want to call it a night? I don't care if you think someone is the monkey's cufflinks based on a few emails and online chats; what's wrong with making sure you really like being around them before committing hours of your life into their hands?

Am I just cold and heartless, or are these guys just overenthusiastic? Either way, I think it's time to add another clause to Valerie's Guide to Dating Valerie:

5. You can't hurry love.
If you think you want to be with me, you have to be willing to take it slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo - wait - what was I talking about?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hire Valerie

The all-consuming object of my life (second only to the other all-consuming object of my life) at present is to get a job. As you well know, I work a comfortable number of hours at a wage low enough that I can just barely pay the outrageously cheap rent that buys you residence with a bunch of people who are terrible to get along with. I would like to change this. Seeing that there are only two semesters until I graduate and that I have no classes during the current semester, I have decided it's high time to get a better job. One that will provide me with enough income that I can find more desirable housing.

It has not been easy. For a few months, I was scouring the online classifieds and sending out resume after resume with no result. I received one call back from some guy with a thick accent who was almost completely unable to explain what he wanted, except that he wanted it far too cheaply.

Oh, yes, I do get regular calls from the insurance companies that have carefully reviewed my resume and decided I would be a perfect candidate for one of their sales representative positions. Because, obviously, insurance sales representatives are "publications professionals with skills in web design, print design, and writing."

I get regular emails as well from companies looking for a customer service representative, which sounds boring, but still higher paid than both of my current jobs. The only problem is, every email I get on that subject quotes a lower hourly rate than the last one. And I'm skeptical of any shotgun message that makes its way to me. It has the insidious potential of really being a job in sales. Possibly insurance sales.

Finally I received another email back from a representative at a staffing firm, who after meeting me, seemed really enthusiastic about my potential to get hired by one of his clients. Unfortunately, I didn't get hired by one of his clients.

Only a few days after my interview with him, I got a call from another staffing firm and another interview the next day. The representative I spoke to also claimed to be impressed by my skills. The day after my interview with her, she called me to let me know she wanted to send my portfolio to a potential employer offering work that sounded right up my alley. She wanted, however, more information about my knowledge of search engine optimization, writing/editing, and my graduate program. I emailed it to her within the hour, but while I was at work that evening, she left a voice mail saying she hadn't received it. As soon as I got home, I sent the email again, and I called her the next morning and left a voice mail asking if she'd received the messages. No reply.

I'm feeling very frustrated by these repeated false starts and dissolving job opportunities. Yet, like the fox that couldn't reach the grapes, I will claim that I didn't really want them anyway. After all, is having to wear a suit all the time really worth having gainful employment?

Maybe I should just spruce up my freelance website and start offering discount deals to my lapsed clients. Or maybe I should start randomly sending my resume to nonprofits. Or maybe I should pick one direction and stick with it for more than a day at a time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

More perils of being Valerie

I humiliated myself multiple times at work today. Now, because I don't know when to quit, I'll recount the embarrassments in my blog!

First, I confessed to my coworker that I don't know how to make friends. I'm sure all you readers have read similar confessions from me so many times that it's just a fact of life and not a confession. But the people at work all seemed genuinely surprised that little miss sunshine has no friends. So then my coworker said she'd start inviting me with her everywhere she goes because she feels sorry for me. Yippee. Charity friendship, here I come!

Well, after that, my manager decided to laugh long and loud at the nice suggestion I gave to the nice lady that she could use her baking chocolate (she'd bought it thinking it was drinking chocolate) to bake brownies, since she couldn't return it opened and without a receipt. I said, "That's not funny! I was just trying to be helpful!" And he said, "It is funny! It's a good thing!" And I said, "Maybe it would be good if I was trying to be funny, but I wasn't!" And he said it still was funny and it was just "such a Valerie thing to say." All right, fine. At least I have character. I guess, deep down, I don't mind playing the clown.

But I do mind alienating people with the stupid things I say, which is what happened in the last, and far worst, embarrassment. Every evening, we make an announcement at 8:50 reminding customers that we close in 10 minutes, and a second announcement at 9:00 to inform customers that we are closed and they should make their way to the registers. I have those announcements memorized, and I can recite them like a pro. But today, my manager asked me to make another announcement at 9:05 to encourage the stragglers to get out of the store. My impromptu announcement went like this: "Good evening shoppers! The time is now 9:06 and we will be closing our registers in the next few minutes. If you haven't made your purchases by then, you will lose your opportunity to do so." I knew instantly that it was the most horrible announcement in the history of store announcements! Being thus mortified, I could not even think of a friendly closing line, so I just held the phone (our version of a microphone) for a few seconds, squeaked audibly into it, and hung it up. Oh, the horror! Apparently there was only one person in the store...but if they report the incident to the owner, my job is gone! The manager (the same one who laughed at my brownie suggestion; he laughs at pretty much everything) laughed hysterically and said it was great. I was not convinced. Everyone else laughed hysterically too.

I snuck out the back door and went home.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Driving Adventures with Valerie

This morning at 9, I was supposed to go on a hike near Baltimore. Last night, I got home from work fairly late, and instead of researching how to get to the hike, I watched a movie, figuring I'd get the directions this morning. So I did, but of course that, plus refusing to set an alarm clock, plus taking a shower and brushing and tying up my considerable amount of hair plus trying to find something for breakfast meant I got a kind of late start. It was nearly 8:20 when I left, but thinking that a Baltimore address meant the park would be near campus which is about 45 minutes away, I figured that wouldn't be a problem as long as I drove with a purpose.

I was wrong. At 9, I wasn't anywhere close to where I needed to be. Oh, well, that was OK, I concluded. If I didn't manage to meet up with the group, I could still get to the park and enjoy a nice solo hike.

However, in my hurry, I had written inadequate directions, which made it difficult to get to the park. I thought I was supposed to take exit 20 to get to I-83 (I hadn't specified whether that was 83 North or 83 South) and then take a right on York Rd. I crossed I-83 before I got to exit 20, but concluded that the exit number was the most likely piece of information to be correct, so I kept going. But at exit 20, there were no signs for either 83 or York Road. At that point, I wisely got out my gigantic Baltimore area wall map, and found out that I was supposed to have taken 83 North and THEN gotten off at exit 20.

OK, so I needed to turn around. I had started out going north and thus assumed that I would need to go south to go back, but had already gone so far around the loop that I was actually going south again, so I really needed to go north. Too bad I didn't figure that out until I actually got back on the highway and saw I was still going in the wrong direction. I had to go 4 miles down the road before I reached another exit and succeeded in turning around.

Well, now, when I saw the signs for 83, I knew I was back on track. I was still going to make it to the park. 83 North, then exit 20, then follow the nice instructions. But after driving on 83 for just a short while, I discovered I was going south! I don't know how I had managed that! I swear I took the exit for 83 north. It was almost 10:00. I was an hour late, and I didn't want to turn around a third time, so I just went home. Actually, first I went to the University of Baltimore and had a heck of a time trying to find out where my projects had been kept. But I got them. I got home.

Since I was already in the car, I took the opportunity to see if I could fix the various nonfunctioning dashboard meters. I couldn't.

When I turned on my computer, I noticed an email from the leader of the hiking group. It had arrived at 8:20 this morning, stating that the hike had been canceled.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The lion sleeps tonight. And tomorrow night. And the night after that...

One of my neighbors is in the habit of playing oldies really loud--loud enough, at least, that I can hear it quite plainly through my window, day after day. I have not been able to figure out if this neighbor is listening to his own collection of music or a radio station with a very limited repertoire, but I hear the same songs all the time. Usually I don't really notice it, until "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" comes on. Then all of a sudden it's high pitched wailing assaulting my ears. Is it really possible to sing that high? Does it have to happen every single night?

Today I discovered the culprit. I was walking home from work and heard some song which was forgettable but nonetheless part of the familiar playlist. I followed my ears and saw him sitting in a chair in his backyard. It's a guy who lives on the street behind me. I know his address now, but I don't think it would be nice to publish it. I also know his last name because it's posted prominently on his house. It's a good thing for him that his attempts at DJ-dom amuse me more than annoy me.

Speaking of songs that traumatize...

Most music, I either like or dislike. There are just a few pieces, however, which I do like but still have unpleasant effects on me because they are indelibly associated in my mind with unpleasant things.

It's been 3 years since I originally blogged about this - apparently so long ago that it was in the blog that AOL deleted - but still I cannot hear most of Vivaldi's Four Seasons without feeling a certain sense of dread, sleep deprivation, sadness, and biscuits. All because, for a time brief period one summer, I used that CD to wake me up for my opening shift at Bob Evans.

And then there's that song, "Mama Said (there'd be days like this)." One time long ago, I (think I) happened to see a movie about Captain America, in which (I think--it really was long ago) this song was played. Something about that movie horrified me. It had something to do with a rat, a man with glasses, and a little boy who met an upsetting fate. Now whenever I hear "Mama Said," that old horror comes back to me.

Too bad, because they're really kind of catchy--the Shirelles and Vivaldi alike.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Classic Val's Galore

I now present to you a relic--one of a collection of stories from a time when I could not quite spell, but was able to manage a mostly coherent sentence. In honor of my turning 26, let's step back in time and have a look at a fictional masterpiece that I created at the age of two. In this endeavor, I am deeply indebted to my mother, who not only took on the laborious task of transcribing these stories from my juvenile dialect, but who also rediscovered them in the attic at just a time when I am experiencing a literary dry spell. Ha! Now I don't have to do any thinking! I can just reach into the great coffers of my creative past and pull out...

Valerie

This story is about weeds. They grow in Valerie’s garden. Carrie went to the store and saw weeds. She dropped down her suitcase and made a bong. This is a fire. The fire has to take Valerie to the store again, because she ran out of her weeds. Then Valerie and Carrie ate dinner. They ate carrots and fish. The Queen came and said to them, “Do you want to live with me?” They said, “Yes.” And then they bumped their car into Carrie’s suitcase that she dropped.

A snake came by. Carrie and Valerie and the Queen had a meeting. And then Baby Eric came by, walking with a brand new stick, and they were glad to see him making a bright sunshine. And then a banana was walking. He came from the banana tree. Eric brought the purple sunshine home to his mother and he said, “I brought a sunshine to you. Do you like it?”

Mommy said, “I don’t want a sunshine in my house.” Then mommy put Eric in the corner. And then a ghost came walking by. The sleepy ghost went walking in his breakfast suit. Carrie and Valerie and the Queen and the Ghost and the Snake (their names were Moss-Bus and Chair) got sucked by a tree.

Then a GREAT BIG car came walking down a road. It swallowed up the tree. Then Tweety-tweet (a bird) came tweety-tweeting until it saw its mother bird. It saw its mother bird before a sailing boat came up. The sailing boat sank. The mother bird and the baby bird swallowed up the rocks and the sailing boat. And then the little red baby came by and a blue ghost. The baby and the ghost got swallowed up by the great big car. Then Carrie and Valerie came back again and non once came walking by until Eric and his mother came with a girl and then something good happened.

Valerie and her mother dropped down a carrot. Then the carrot went to the garden and picked up her Mommy carrot. Then the Daddy carrot came walking by a girl. Then Carrie worked in the garden and played in the garden.

Valerie doesn’t have any eyes cause her eyes got dead. One more cardinal came and walked by a little cube.

The carrot family was swallowed up by Valerie. Then sweet Mother came by. Valerie, Eric, Carrie all loved each other.

The End.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The depressed economy hits Valerie in unexpected ways

I feel pretty fortunate that I like to live simply, because it makes life in an economic recession pretty much the same as life any other time. I have a place to live, a way to get around, and enough money coming in to ensure that I eat regularly. That's enough for me, and I can't say I'm feeling the strain.

There is one thing, however, that I've noticed and I resent: sending mail has become entirely too much of a hassle. You know why? No, it has nothing to do with the cost of postage, though that is depressing emotionally as well as economically. It's that I actually have to write out my return address on everything I send.

It's a scandal! It's a outrage! What happened to the days when I got so many pre-printed return address labels from nonprofits that I didn't know what to do with them all? All I can conclude is that the charities are cutting back on their spending by cutting back on their free gifts as well. In a way, I'm relieved, because I don't have to feel quite as guilty when I throw away all their requests for money. But in a way, darn it, I just want to send mail the lazy way!

Oh, yeah. Here's an inspiring message that I doodled a few days ago instead of doing page layout like I was supposed to be doing. I think it's strangely pretty, and appropriate for today's post.