Friday, April 30, 2010

I'm too busy to blog, so here's an old blog entry about blogs!

Are you tired of reading about loneliness? I am. But I'm also occupied (read:overwhelmed) with finishing my portfolio in time for graduation. So I don't have time to write a new entry. Fortunately, the blog I wrote for the class that started me out on this journey towards my neverending portfolio development project has my back. Let's see what I had to say about blogging in the golden days of 2007.

December 4, 2007
On Blogging

I'm delighted that we're going to be talking about blogs this week. Blogs, I think, are one of the most wonderful inventions of the modern era. They're a convenient way to stay informed, entertained, and in touch.

But it wasn't always so, and I wasn't always so enthusiastic. Blogs have come a long way in just a few years. My first experience with blogs came in the form of friends' LiveJournals. I read a few, found them boring and full of Internet English [editor's note: I'll resurrect a post on this linguistic phenomenon later], and quickly decided they were not worth my time.

When I first encountered the word "blog" (I think some article referred to them as the next big thing), my only real thought was, "That's an ugly word." From what I read, blogs sounded like a fad best ignored.

The first time I heard the word "blog" spoken was in a class in my last semester of undergrad in 2005. My professor, new to the concept himself, wanted us to participate in his new blog. "I got a blog," he said to us in our first class. He said it in the same way one might say, "I got a slimy creature that looks like it might spit acid at you if you touch it." The next class, he informed us that his superiors had decided blogging was too much work for undergraduate students, and the blog assignment was nixed. So I narrowly escaped the blogosphere for a little while longer.

Later that semester, I student-taught a bunch of mostly uncooperative, malevolent high school students. All student teachers were required to keep a daily journal and hand it in to our supervisors once a week. I was a terrible student teacher, but my journal was impeccable. It was the one thing I enjoyed about the whole experience—and it was my initiation into the system of regular public updates that blogging entails.

It was only that summer, facing eternal separation from my friends, and a complete lack of a future career (I certainly didn't want to become a teacher!), that finally, out of loneliness and boredom, I got a blog of my own. Of course, then, I refused to call it that. "Blog" was still an ugly word and a fad best ignored. So I called it my online journal and wrote in it increasingly regularly and at increasing length.

But now, two and a half years later, blog is a household word. If you still think of blogs as slimy creatures from the great unknown, you're officially living in the Pleistocene. Now it seems that anyone who's anyone has a blog. And anyone who's no one—they have one too.

I've got one! I'm still not crazy about the word, but one syllable beats out four any day, so I guess "blog" is here to stay. While my blog is of the lowest sort - the kind in which plebeians with no credentials ramble on about nothing in particular and have a Google page rank of zero - it is, nonetheless, a blog. And one of these days, when I'm not so busy trying to write in this blog trying to graduate, I'll actually post a new entry.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sitting in my room, analyzing social phenomena with professional disinterest

Only 2 days after writing my last little thesis on loneliness, I ran across this highly relevant article about renting friends by the hour. While that idea's pretty creepy and ultimately stupid (No matter how desperate you are, why pay for companionship when you can find it for free on Craigslist?) the article had all sorts of interesting things to say about being lonely, most of which were things that I was going to say the next time I decided to write about the subject, which I guess is now.

They say that loneliness is a feedback loop. Yes, just when I'm feeling the most unhappy with my own company, that's when it's hardest to seek out the company of others.

They say that looking for comfort in online interaction is like "eating celery: 'It’s better than nothing, but there’s no long-term sustenance.'" And yes, I was going to say that I I think having so many online friends actually contributes to my loneliness. Hardly a day goes by that I don't spend a good portion of my time chatting through the internet. I'm hardly isolated from the world, but having all these people to chat with sometimes prevents me from actually trying to be around them. Conversation is great, but sometimes you just need a warm body in your general vicinity--and by "warm body," I mean something other than a nicely heated CPU.

What I wasn't going to say, however – which the article does – is that loneliness is contagious. Oops. Just by blogging about it, it looks like I have infected my entire readership. Sorry, guys, I'll pause while you weep silently in a corner.


Pity party over? OK, we'll move on.

The article also didn't quote Britney Spears, which I was most definitely going to do. But oh, no! It's time to go to work! We'll have to continue this discussion another time!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Give me a knight with a white horse, shining armor, and the ability to arrive before he's called.

I really look forward to my days off. Today was one. This past week I worked three full days in a row at the store (whoa, I know...), so I was feeling burned out on groceries and eager to get back to my cozy room where I can edit websites in my pajamas. Strangely enough, though, while leading people to the honey all the time and making endless amounts of coffee burns me out quickly, it seems that working all by myself in a chair burns me out quicker.

Usually, after just a single day of e-freelancing, I begin to feel this creeping sense of sadness. It's a little bit lack of motivation (which I admit is pretty easy to feel when you are surrounded by all the paraphernalia of your life that have nothing to do with work), and a little bit restlessness (but you'd think that wouldn't be such an issue when I take exercise breaks every time I get too cold or antsy), but mostly, I think it's just loneliness.

I have that much-touted ability to see eternity in every moment. Unfortunately, for me, this means that when I'm happy, I think it's going to last forever and am devastated when it doesn't...and when I'm lonely, I can't help but think that's going to last forever, too, hence the creeping sadness, despite all the logical self-admonition I can muster.

I often wonder why, when I've been around people for a while, I start to crave solitude so much, knowing that only a few hours of it will turn me into a tragic figure that sits silently in shadows, leans wistfully out the window, and dreams incessantly of her white knight. However, putting it in those terms, I realize exactly why I feel lonely.

It's not that I don't need lots of alone time. I do. I'm a certified introvert. But even the most die-hard hermit needs other people occasionally. And I see that moment coming from miles away. Long before I've reached the point where I feel desperate for companionship, I'm worrying about the time in the future when I will reach that point. I worry because I know I am powerless to prevent it. The difference between a person who is lonely and one who is not, is that the un-lonely person knows how to not be alone when they no longer want to be.

That esoteric knowledge is inaccessible to me. I truly am at the mercy of whatever white knight may appear to rescue me from my solitude. For I know not how to summon one. Or, if I were not so inclined to speak in terms of fairy tales, I might say that social phobia keeps me in my lonely tower – no, no! Must dispense with the fairy tale imagery! – that the effort of reaching out to people stresses me out so much that it pretty much negates any benefit that I might gain from having company, in the event that my attempt is a success. I might also say that I don't know how to connect with people, and when I try, I end up looking like a total fake.

So I just don't try. I think it would be easier to stab myself repeatedly with a pushpin than start a conversation that might embarrass me.

Believe it or not, this hasn't been a sloppy wallow in self pity. It's just an insight. I don't think it has the power to turn me into Miss Congeniality, but knowledge is power. Maybe there's enough power in it to drive me to call up an acquaintance and see if they'd like to get ice cream with me! Then again...oh, look! Pushpins!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Love your broom.

It is a simple enough request: love your broom. It has served you well. It has lifted dust from places you'd otherwise have had to clean with your hands—ugh. It has – well, I don't know – everyone's relationship with their broom is different. But surely your broom has done great things in your life, even if you are not a witch.

There is little that pains me more than to see a big crate full of brooms, jammed on top of and next to each other, bristles sticking out every which way. That's not love! That's certain death to your faithful cleaning implements!

I get frustrated that, where I work, when we get a new broom, it lasts for about 2 weeks before it's ragged and nigh unusable. If you've ever wondered why your brooms always end up lopsided and curved, why the bristles stick out to the sides like whiskers – and why they end up this way so quickly – it could be because you've been jamming it into places too small for it. But it probably has more to do with your storage style.

When you sit down, you don't sit on your fingers! So why rest your broom on the delicate appendages that it needs to do its work? Don't store your broom on its bristles on the floor! Get a wall bracket and hang it up! If your workplace *ahem* is too cheap or complacent to make the effort to purchase a wall bracket, don't try to stuff 5 or 6 broom heads into a crate along with the dustpans, shovel, and whatever other cleaning implements are being stored there—just turn your brooms upside-down! You'll find they fit into their storage space much easier, and they live a lot longer!

This has been a cleaning tip by Valerie.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Graphic Defender

A blast from the past
In my last post, I mentioned a blog entry from way back, which I wrote in defense of the fonts everyone loves to hate: Comic Sans and Papyrus. Today I share with you the entire post (edited somewhat).

November 12, 2007

This entry has been a long time in coming. This is my objective look at the whipping boys of the design world: Papyrus and Comic Sans.

Consider for a moment. Do you despise these typefaces? Do you do so because there is something fundamentally abhorrent about their design? Do you do so because you are tired of them? Do you do so because professionals, professors, and classmates have wagged their fingers and said, "No, no, no"? I'm fairly new to this business, and I'll admit, a prejudice against these fonts was instilled in me early. Mostly for reason number 3 above. So I decided it was time to make an objective study of my own.

I've looked at these fonts, I've even interacted with them, and I am convinced they are not the devil incarnate. While I wouldn't set a book with either of them, and I wouldn't recommend them for anyone trying to project an air of sophistication, they are not inherently evil.

The problem with Comic Sans and Papyrus is that they are 2 of the very few fonts with "personality" that come in the Windows font set. And since they are the only interesting fonts that most people have easy access to, they are the only interesting fonts that people regularly use. And things that are interesting when they are fresh and new, become trite and annoying when they are old and used.

But let's not blame the victim here. Let's blame the software distributors who are too miserly with free, quality fonts. Rather than chide them for being silly and overdone, let's give these typographic workhorses the praise they so richly deserve!

Comic Sans says:
Let's take a closer look at Comic Sans. What is it good for?
Its name says it all. It's comic! It was designed to represent the speech of adorable Microsoft help characters. For that kind of purpose, it works. Don't use it on your resume, but don't ostracize it either. That's not nice. (Sure, there are lots of other "comic" fonts out there that we haven't seen 3 million times before, but again, don't blame the victim--blame the overusers who don't know when to say enough's enough.)

Papyrus says:
I have to say Papyrus is one of my favorites. Long before I ever stuck my foot in the design door, I was using Papyrus in my AIM profile. (Actually, both of these fonts are splendid for on-screen use. Other "interesting" fonts that I've known become pretty much illegible at 10 points, but Comic Sans and Papyrus? No way! They rock an IM window like nothing I've ever seen!) At small sizes, Papyrus looks stylish and elegant, and I was rather disappointed when I once blew it up to a larger size and saw that it was all raggedy-looking. I think designers think it is tacky because it's been distressed, and what good is an elegant typeface that's shredded around the edges? Almost none. The field of legitimate uses for Papyrus is very small, but people like it. So it gets used, over and over again. Poor Papyrus. I feel sorry for it. It's been used and abused.

I will sum up today's musings with yet another variation of the NRA's famous slogan: Typefaces don't ruin designs; people ruin designs. Rather than banning popular typefaces with limited uses, OS vendors should include new fonts with their software, schools should teach students the basics of typography, and everyone should remember that variety is the spice of life, but too much spice is nauseating.

With values like these in place, I'm sure the world of design will be a much better place.

There. My work here is done.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Best use of Comic Sans ever!

Even if you have never studied typography, you're probably aware that the design community - and a good portion of the general public - hates Comic Sans. Actually, for a class, I once wrote a blog post in defense of this much maligned font (and some day I will let you see it!), the essence of which was, it's not the font that's the problem--it's people using it inappropriately.

A classic real-life example, the likes of which I never thought I'd have the opportunity to share: A company - a rather respectable company that you all have heard of - which sends monthly donations to my organization, contacted us by mail to let us know that they would be making all their future donations electronically. The whole correspondence - the letter, the form we were supposed to complete, and even our address - were composed entirely in Comic Sans!

I had to do a double-take. Then a triple-take. My disbelief was so great, I forgot how to laugh. My mouth is still hanging open.

Picture this now:
Please give us your bank account number.
Nothing like cartoon lettering to inspire confidence in a financial transaction!

Did this really happen? Or was it just a strange typographic dream?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

No one respects my poor old grammar.

I think it's funny--nay, it's sad--that the Internet--which is only made possible through a complex syntax of semicolons, commas, periods, and parentheses; and only navigated with the help of colons, slashes, periods, and the occasional question mark--is so unfriendly to punctuation when used in content.

A few days ago, I posted a question on Yahoo! Answers, and a notification popped up: "Whoa! You used a lot of punctuation. Try revising your question." I was right miffed! I needed that punctuation! I wasn't about to sacrifice my good syntax to the whims of some Internet robot, so I simply ignored the warning and posted the question.

But it made me curious. I came back today and tested various questions. I get the notification when I use as little as two double quotes and a comma. I don't know how that qualifies as "a lot," and Yahoo! was not so gracious as to actually explain to me what's wrong with offsetting a quote according to the rules of grammar. Or how it can have an exclamation point as an integral part of its identity and still be so prejudiced against punctuation.

Shortly after the Yahoo! Answers debacle, I learned in an email marketing tutorial that using excessive punctuation in your email subjects is more likely to get them flagged as spam. Now, this I can understand, after receiving enough messages along the lines of "CHEAP VIAGRA!!!!!!" to be unsurprised that exclamation points might be the kiss of death. But commas? Quotation marks? Properly articulated sentences?

Punctuation is essential to meaning! You can't just do away with it because some people misuse it! Consider the classic case of the koala who eats shoots and leaves, versus its evil twin who eats, shoots, and leaves (we won't go into how that miscreant of a koala acquired a firearm).

I foresee a day when all communications revert to pre-Medieval standards: