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!


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?