Monday, June 28, 2010

Life After Graduation, Part 2

pen-drawn doodle that says, 'boring boing bong bog'

It occurred to me today that as a postgraduate graduate, I will probably never again have cause to create masterpieces like the above bit of nonsensical ingenuity that I doodled on the bottom border of a page of lecture notes during my last semester at UB.

I bought a window air conditioner today. This may seem apropos of nothing, but it set off the chain of events that caused me to become all nostalgic over my classroom artistry. You see, whenever I acquire something new, I have this overwhelming compulsion to purge my life of something old. It's 'cause I hate clutter. So today, while patently ignoring the existence of my new air conditioner and sweating under the breeze of two ineffectual fans (because I still feel guilty about using an air conditioner at all), I decided it was time to clean my bookshelf (again) of all the things related to my completed degree.

I ruthlessly recycled pages upon pages of photocopied articles that I'd kept, thinking I might use them as reference material someday. I culled two books that I'd been holding onto just in case I needed them as source material for a paper. I got rid of an entire notebook of typeface samples. I tossed away my student handbook and course catalog. I Freecycled two 3-ring binders and a folder, and I page of notes.

I'll miss taking notes like these--notes in which the terse and cursory comments on the lecture (half of which are upside-down) are overrun by a swarm of random phrases and pictures of owls. Don't get me wrong--I won't in the slightest way miss being bored during a lecture, but I will miss rifling through my notes and puzzling over the outrageously digressive works of art that adorn the borders of the pages. Some of my most creative designs came from not paying much attention in design class!

You know what else I'll miss? Writing papers. Yes, it's nerdy of me, but I find something immensely satisfying about pulling together a bunch of scraps of quotes from a pile of books and websites, and turning them into something that makes sense. A few days ago, a friend who is still in school was griping about how her school was forcing her to limit her 11-pages of writing to five pages, and I was jealous! If I found it immensely satisfying to put a paper together, I found it absolutely glorious to tear one apart, remove page after page, change a few words, and find that its meaning was still not lost. Yes, I do like to be long-winded when I write, but as I said, I also hate clutter.

Without term papers to write, dissect, and rewrite, I guess the only way for me to get my tidiness fix is for me to organize my bookshelf. Again.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Consider the Environment

You probably know me as your friendly tree-hugging hippie who just can't shut up about reducing, reusing, recycling, cutting emissions, and conserving energy. And for good reason—I am more than happy to talk about the ridiculous lengths to which we can go to save the earth.

For example, take a look at my headphones. They're not the only ones I've got, but I keep using them because I just can't stop!

my salvaged headphones

These headphones are a chintzy piece of junk that I think I got free when I bought a tape recorder—if that tells you anything about how old they are. When the foam pads wore out and fell off, I glued on replacement bits of foam that I repurposed from some cell phone packaging.

Whenever someone visits and looks at my headphones, they immediately tell me I need a new pair. They even offer to give me a new pair! But I tell them, no, these ones are still working and it would be wasteful to throw them away!

But I didn't come here today to talk about my headphones. (Even though I do want to remind you that when your headphones wear out to the point where they can't be saved even with new foam padding, you should not throw them out, but take them to an electronics recycling dropoff, such as at Best Buy.)

No, today I came here to talk about an environmental trend that I think is stupid!

Have you ever gotten an email, and down at the bottom, it had this slogan, "Consider the environment before printing this email?" It probably even had a cute webdings picture of a stream meandering through some trees!

That's stupid! Email works like this: You read it, you delete it. How many people in this world actually print their emails? Do you? Do you keep a paper file of every message you ever got? Perhaps even keep a duplicate file, organized by sender address, for cross-reference purposes? No one does that! Sane people will only print an email if it's absolutely necessary—like, because it has driving directions on it or something. And sane people do not like to have their intelligence insulted by insipid reminders to consider the environment before doing something that's absolutely necessary.

So, if you ever receive an email that tells you to consider the environment before printing it, go ahead and laugh! I, the tree-huggingest hippie around, give you leave to do so. And if, perchance, you are one of those people who has that slogan in your signature, consider your audience instead. Don't you think the people you email have enough sense to decide for themselves when to hit print? And if you were possibly planning on printing an email...well...consider the environment, and print on the backside of another sheet.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


As I mentioned in my last post, when I'm feeling ennuious (no, that's not a word, but it should be!), I develop 3 cravings: to eat junk food, to move away, and to wear makeup. There is, however, in recent months, another option. Lately, my general malaise has also been manifesting itself in a desire to cut my hair.

My ponytail measures 27 inches these days. It has already reached the point where people are awed by it, and there's really no incentive for me to keep growing it "until it starts to look ratty," as was my original plan. I'm growing weary of its demanding maintenance schedule (which requires a good half-hour of detangling every day, plus nightly braiding), and I've seen ladies with braids that extend past their butts, and I don't think they look all that good.

But still, I hesitate to sever all ties with my old friend (get it!?) just yet. I've begun to feel that my hair is my not-so-secret weapon. It's dramatic. It's a talking point. It gives people reason to notice me.

Without this 2-foot clump of keratin trailing behind me, I fear I would recede into invisibility. Without "Wow, your hair is getting really long!" as an opening line, my reunions with long-unvisited friends and family members might never progress past the awkward-grinning phase. I have long suspected that one of my chief social failings is that people forget me as soon as I'm out of sight. Yet, I've come to believe that my hair is the only thing that might mitigate my forgettability (no, that's not a word, either. Get used to it). Without my ridiculously long mop, I worry there would be nothing distinctive about me.

Before I commit to such a drastic move, I need to find another gimmick—something that makes me more than just another face in the crowd. There is that penchant that I have for one-of-a-kind thrift store getups... And last winter's experiment with knee socks as a wardrobe staple went off pretty well. Maybe I should learn to harness the power of accessorizing—without big tumors of hair sticking out of my head, I'd be free to wear things like hats! Or maybe I should just stop being so vain.

Anyway, while I'm pondering how to cut my hair without going through separation anxiety, I'll leave you to ponder this abbreviated top-ten list:

You know it's time to cut your hair...

  • When you can hit your funny bone with the end of your braid.
  • When you can use your hair in place of a scarf.
  • When you see your hairstyle reflected in a window, and you remind yourself of an alien in a Star Wars movie.
  • When a loose hair can work its way down your collar and become an instrument of itchy torture somewhere in the vicinity of your belly button!
  • When you start accidentally sitting on it.

Monday, June 21, 2010


When ever I become unhappy with my life, I start doing three things: I lose my desire to eat anything but junk food, I get this sudden urge to move somewhere else, and I start wanting to wear makeup. The appetite thing is easily explained by the food-serotonin link; the moving thing has to do with a desire to run away from my problems; and the makeup thing is just bizarre. Sometimes I think it's my subconscious saying, "I'm pissed off—here's the war paint to prove it!" Or maybe it's just another desperate bid for change.

In any case, I never actually do it--but since I'm constantly arguing with myself about whether it's time to give in and purchase a tube of mascara, I think it's a good time to make my stance on makeup perfectly clear.

I don't object to makeup. In fact, for most of my adult life, I had a reasonably respectable collection of it. However, I threw it all out a couple of years ago, when someone I was in love with told me I didn't need it. I wish I could say I've never looked back, but I do. Frequently. Especially during those times when I want to start wearing black and run away to New Mexico to eat cheesecake all day. It's just that, all things considered, I think makeup is something better left unworn.

Like so many of the other things I shy away from, I believe makeup breeds dependence. According to my book, makeup is something you should wear for decoration. That's why my collection of old had nothing practical in it such as foundation, but mostly consisted of an assortment of colorful eyeshadows. However, for the average female who has graduated from 7th grade, makeup is something you put on to make you look beautiful.

You understand the distinction, right? According to me, makeup is something beautiful you wear. According to convention, it's something that alters the perception of what you are. For those of us who are naturally beautiful (*bats long, luscious, unpainted eyelashes*), such artifice is completely unnecessary. But those who buy into the belief that makeup can make you beautiful soon find that they only feel beautiful when they're wearing it. And when they're not, they feel ugly. Thus they are forced to wear it all the time to keep up the image they've established for themselves. I choose to keep my face looking plain, because if people get used to seeing me with my natural look, they won't think I look like a corpse when they see me with my natural look!

Of course, there are other reasons (mostly having to do with laziness) that I choose not to paint my face. I'm pretty happy with my ability to get ready for work in 15 minutes every morning (and that includes styling my unmanageable mane, which will be  a topic of later discussion), and I don't see why I should slow myself down with unnecessary preening. Nor do I see why I should have to go through the hassle of washing it all off every night. I don't put soap on my face, period, and I see no reason to change that.

And then, of course, there's the simple argument that wearing makeup is actually counteractive to most of my goals. I maintain that makeup makes you look more gorgeous—only if you're already gorgeous to begin with! For my part, makeup is not going to hide my chubby cheeks, nor is it going to bring my eyes out of those hollows they're sunk into, nor is it going to straighten my deviant nose. Honestly, wearing makeup only makes me look old and mean, which doesn't seem the best strategy to combat a discontent brought on chiefly by loneliness.

So, while sometimes I have the urge to splash some color onto this waxen face of mine, I think for now I'll just refrain. But you ladies out there who disagree with me, go ahead and keep doing that thing you do! That way, I can compare myself to you and feel liberated, and the cosmetics industry will stay in business should I ever change my mind!

Monday, June 14, 2010

That old-time music

I never had a first-generation gaming system, but apparently I'm nostalgic about them. In fact, I seem to be on a retro tech kick. I don't know the reason, but I do know that's the reason I was compelled to create the "1980's Nintendo-Style Tree" (credit for the name goes to Geoff) of two posts ago.

It also explains my latest musical obsession. Remember when I waxed ecstatic about how Welle:Erdball composes some of their music on a Commodore 64? Well, it turns out that that delightful 8-bit music has a genre all of its own!

I discovered this quite accidentally while exploring a new website, They feature some strangely categorized genres (like, who knew rock and roll was a subcategory of rock?) and some genres I've never heard of (viking metal? screw? gabber?), one of which was "chiptune."

I decided to try it out, and instantly fell in love! Bleeps and bloops and scratchy bass galore! Wikipedia told me a lot more about the genre, most importantly the technological basis for that peculiarly fun, jittery sound that's in so much old-school video game music--it's their attempt at simulating chords. I quote, "In early video game music, arpeggios were often the only way to play a chord since sound hardware usually had a very limited number of oscillators, or voices. Instead of tying them all up to play one chord, one channel could be used to play an arpeggio, leaving the rest for drums, bass, or sound effects."

I find this inordinately exciting. If you are even half as thrilled as I am about micromusic (another name for the genre I just learned today), I encourage you to download a few of these thrilling bits of pseudo-history. How about some chiptune remixes of popular songs! Want to resurrect the 90's trance scene with some Nintendo power? Try Yerzmyey's remix of Robert Miles's "Children"! Or mix up the decades a little more, and bring some 80's into Madonna's 2005 hit that samples an old disco track: TDM and Factor 6 reproduce "Hung Up" on the ZX Spectrum (no, I don't know what one of those is, either). Or feeling a little more adventurous and want to try something totally new? Try "I Want More Diamonds!" by The Galactic Stranger. I don't remember anything about it, but I made a note to myself that I should add it to my collection.

And, if you're really motivated, you should run, don't walk, to and do some exploring of your own. Download some tracks, or listen to their audio stream! Learn about the dudes who make the songs and their spiffy equipment! And, as an added bonus, watch Super Mario spinning out in your address bar!

After you're done, be sure to tell me what you found. I just spent the last week organizing my music collection, and now that that's done, I need to mess it up a little with more new stuff!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Boos and Woohoos: Or, a Set of Reviews

I get really excited about some things, and I want to share them with the world. And some things make me really grumpy, and I want to gripe about them. But I never seem quite sure how to address them in my blog--not enough to talk about, too much of a downer...there's always something holding me back.

But not any more! I am going to write about them in the contrasting viewpoints format that is so popular among publications. You know, like thumbs-up/thumbs-down? Or like rants/raves? Except that, if you somehow managed not to read the title of this post, these are called "Boos and Woohoos!" Today's reviews are on a few topics related to environmental friendliness.


You know those yellowish envelopes you send interoffice memos in? Oh, you don't send interoffice memos any more? Well, you know those yellowish envelopes that you can buy to send your mail in? The ones that usually have a metal brad or a little doohicky with a string that you use to help hold them shut?

I always thought those envelopes were pretty cool, because thanks to the attached doohickies, you could use them multiple times. What's not cool about them is they are apparently unrecyclable! Yes, according to at least a few sources, this "goldenrod" paper is saturated with dyes that can't be removed--meaning the paper can't be recycled. Apparently this is true of any dark-colored paper. Well, I checked on my city's recycling website, and it did not prohibit goldenrod envelopes--but (and here's a point you should remember) just because the city accepts something for recycling, that doesn't mean it actually gets recycled!

So, just to be on the safe side... Next time you buy envelopes, don't choose any that are mustard or dark in color!


On a different recycling-related note, the last time I was at Payless Shoes, the cashier asked me if I wanted to keep the boxes. I said no, and asked her if they recycle them. It turns out they actually do one better: they return the boxes to the manufacturer for reuse! Way to go, Payless! Not only did you hook me up with an awesome, comfy pair of shoes that everyone compliments me on for just 10 dollars, but you also have shown a commitment to packaging reduction! If I didn't love you before for your great prices and irresistible BOGO sales (which I did), I definitely do now for your sustainable ways! Keep it up!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Life After Graduation

You know, it may be a little late to get incensed about this, but why does everyone assume "University of Baltimore" means "UMBC" (a.k.a. University of Maryland Baltimore County)? If I meant UMBC, I'd say UMBC!
A little under a month ago, I graduated from the University of Baltimore with my MA in publications design. I mentioned this to one of my freelance clients, and he said, "Ahh, you're a CSP!" "CSP?" I said. He answered, "Certified Smart Person!"

That's right. Now that I've joined the ranks of the highly educated, all sorts of new possibilities have opened up. With my advanced degree firmly in my grasp, I've already begun accomplishing great things!

I took on full-time work! (Full time caretaking the bulk foods section of a grocery store...)

Valerie wearing a silver spiral earring she designed
I converted 3 men's shirts to women's shirts!

I set up a hook to hang my headphones on so I don't have to wrap them up and stow them in a drawer every time I'm done with them.!

I designed and created 2 new pairs of earrings, one of which is finished and pictured here!

I learned – after a year of thinking it impossible – how to turn on the outdoor faucet, and then procured a garden hose, to enable future washing of my car unhindered by the expensive and frantic process of using the carwash!

I organized my beading supplies--an act inspired by the process of creating the aforementioned earrings!

I repaired the brake on my bike and logged 7.1 miles on the 2-Mile Challenge!

Valerie looking sad because there is a hole in one knee of her jeans and a patch on the otherWith a flourish of my permanent marker, I labeled all my property in the basement and shed, so as to prevent future incidents like the mysterious disappearance of my stain remover's lid!

Though I had been deeply saddened by the tragic demise of my favorite pair of jeans (the only pair of jeans I ever had that I didn't find obnoxiously uncomfortable) I finally gave them new life by sewing the patched part of them into the shape of a pouch, in which I now carry a set of tableware so I don't have to use a new disposable set every time I eat at work! Later on, I intend to turn the rest of them into napkins.

pixelated image of a tree
I moved all my cosmetics into a nice, organized box and rearranged my bookshelf! Again.

I designed a long-overdue new Facebook profile picture! It is pictured to the right. Yes. It is another tree.

Wow! I accomplished a lot of wonderful things! It's amazing where a master's degree can take you!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cocoa versus Cocaine Or, what a difference a letter can make!

Not too long ago, I helped a customer at the grocery store find some carob products. He was very adamant in his refusal to consume chocolate, and when I asked him what was wrong with chocolate, he looked at me with wide-eyed sincerity and said, "For one thing, cocoa...cocaine!"

"Oh," I said to him. "You know, they're not really the same. Chocolate is made from the cacao plant, and cocaine is made from the coca plant." The customer didn't appear to believe me, and he seemed just a little too firm in his beliefs for me to press the issue, but I would like to make it clear right here and now that chocolate and cocaine do not come from the same plant.

My self-righteous customer does not seem to be the only one holding this erroneous belief. Today, in fact, I read a news article stating that Bolivia was marketing an alternative to Coca-Cola made from the cocoa leaf. The article also stated that cocoa leaves are a major ingredient in cocaine. Now, the article cited a slightly longer article from the Irish Times as its source, so after I had spent a suitable amount of time scouring the Internet for articles about the difference between coca and cacao, and working myself into a fit of didactic rage, I looked for the article on the Irish Times website. I found it, and it said what I knew to be true--that coca, not cocoa, is the base ingredient for cocaine. So, I was relieved that the Irish Times wasn't leading people astray, but it was still too late. The damage had been done.

I must set the record straight. It's time for a botany lesson. Also a culinary lesson and a drug-manufacturing lesson--whee, you're in for a treat!

Let's do drugs first. Cocaine is made from the coca plant. Now let's have dessert. Chocolate is made from the cacao plant, also known as the cocoa plant. The terms are interchangeable, but some people prefer to use "cacao" for the beans before they have been processed.
The coca plant looks like this:

diagram of parts of the coca plant

The coca plant is a bush.
The cacao plant looks like this:


The cacao plant is a tree.
The coca plant is known to the scientific community as Erythroxylum coca. The cacao plant's scientific name is Theobroma cacao.
Cocaine is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in the coca leaf, and when extracted and purified, it becomes the addictive stimulant we all know and love. Chocolate is produced by drying and grinding the seeds of the cacao plant and mixing the powder with sugar, oils, and other good stuff, producing the addictive sweet we all know and love a lot more than cocaine.
For more information on coca, visit:
For more information on cacao, visit:

There. My desire for the truth has been satisfied. Researching that little lesson was a major effort. Now that you've been educated, please just do me one favor. Never look me in the eye and equate one of my favorite foods with an illegal drug.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Flight school

Signs in the airport gave me a few ideas about how to improve the world. Firstly, if airlines don't want you to fly sick and infect all your fellow passengers, they need to make it easier and cheaper for you to cancel your reservation. Secondly, I think someone could start a great business selling powdered shampoos and cosmetics, for people who are limited to a quart of 3-oz bottles in their carry-on bags.
Recently, I traveled by air from Baltimore to Oregon and back again. While this is not the first time I have been a passenger on an airplane, it was the first time I've been able to experience the flight with 26 years of learning behind me. This trip, I was struck by all the ways in which flying is not just a skin-drying, gravity-defying, ear-assaulting, germ-transmitting, internal-clock-attacking adventure, but it's also a learning experience.

First of all, flying is a sociology lesson. What better way to learn about herd behavior than to observe a bunch of people entering an airplane? I flew Southwest Airlines this time, and unlike all the other airlines I've flown on, which ask you to tell them your seating preferences when you book your ticket, Southwest lets you board in the order you checked in, and choose your seats on the plane. For 3 of my 4 flights, I was among the last people to board, and I watched as all the people in front of me snapped up the seats near the front. The last seat in the plane was always the last to go. What does that say about human behavior? I really don't know--I'm not sociologist! But I do know that it worked out well for me.  Being forced to sit in the back of the plane meant that I was conveniently close to the restroom. I never had to stand in line for the toilet--I could just watch the door and wait for a convenient time to get up. I also got a great view out the window, completely unobstructed by the wing. That never happens to me!

This great view and fairly clear skies gave me ample opportunity to study the ground below, whereupon I realized that flying is also a geography lesson. You never appreciate how mountains ripple out from their central ridges until you've seen them from above! You see how rivers bend and loop, and how the trees cluster more densely around them, and how even when you can't see the water, you know it's there by the branching fingers of green that it nourishes! You see big bloated riverlike bodies of water and you realize they are the reservoirs formed by dams. You can tell where people have been by the geometric shapes they leave behind them! Staring out the window was so fascinating, I wondered how many flights I'd have to sit through before I ever tired of the view of the earth from above.

As I neared the end of my flight back home to Baltimore, I had my third learning experience. Flying, I realized, is also a history lesson! I had seen how the land in the Midwest was neatly divided into gridlike patterns. (And I had pondered long and hard over how I can see circular irrigation patterns so easily from the air, yet I've never noticed them on the ground--but that's another story!) The less-populated areas of farmland were like a patchwork quilt of perfect squares, and (with a certain amount of apropos boredom) I was brought back to my school days, when I learned how the government parceled out land in the West, squares divided into smaller and smaller squares until at last they divided one final time into rectangles (yikes! Now I'm thinking of mitosis! All this talk of school will do that to me). Traveling eastward, the patchwork quilt pattern gave way to a crazy-quilt of fields of all shapes and sizes...roads going every which way...near complete chaos! This being a relic of the time when property lines were defined more by natural features than a grid. It was fascinating to look at, and to realize this distinction, even if it makes finding your way places a lot more difficult here in the East!

This concludes my rhapsody on air travel. Thanks for choosing Val's Galorious Galaxy, and have a great evening!