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."
    "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

Thanks and love ya!