Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rules of a different sort

Whoa, I actually have some time to myself today -- that means, while I'm eating my breakfast, I'm going to blog instead of work, before getting back to the packing (for my move to a new house, which I'll tell you all about later). For now, since we're on the subject of rules, I thought I'd share with you my thoughts on the rules of grammar.

They are rather elusive little buggers, the guidelines that define the structure of an English sentence. They constantly change with time. While some grammarians cling to time-honored rules with rigid desperation, others happily toss away traditions with alacrity.

And the poor pitiful students of English are caught in the middle, commanded by one style guide to do one thing, and by another to do another. A language expert may advise them to follow this rule and this rule and this rule, but ignore that rule as complete bunk. This is confusing and annoying, and, to illustrate my distaste for the whole unsystematic system, I present to you a (slightly edited) blog from way back, when I was reading a book on prose styling for a class.

October 14, 2007
Beware the Grammar Guru: or, Rules are Made to be Broken

I've been reading through Sin and Syntax with a lurking sense of indignation. I'm not complaining...exactly...I have learned things. But the message of this book seems to be, "Follow the rules of the English language...except when I tell you you don't have to."
The author (Constance Hale) gives us leave to commit syntactical crimes that are probably punishable by death in some circles of zealots:

To proudly split infinitives is the prerogative of any writer, she claims. Even though pedagogues trying to apply Latin grammar to our Anglo-Saxon tongue insist the split infinitive is a no-no, they're dead wrong.

Later, she explains, Some traditionalists disparage the vogue for hopefully as a sentence adverb, calling it 'one of the ugliest changes in grammar in the twentieth century.'...Grammarians, get a grip. Hopefully as a sentence adverb is here to stay.
Valerie's note: If you do not follow the exciting world of language hockey, the use of "hopefully" to modify a whole sentence is a topic of intense debate. Technically, if you say, "Hopefully the grammar gods won't strike me down," you are actually saying, "The grammar gods won't strike me down (and they'll be full of hope while they're not doing it)," which is awkward for one thing and completely different from the typical intended meaning of "I hope the grammar gods won't strike me down." See this recent post from a language blog I read on occasion.
In a later chapter, she asserts: Make my day. Start a sentence with a conjunction.

Still later, she pleads, Can we bury the schoolmarm's rule, 'Never end a sentence with a preposition,' once and for all?

Speaking of schoolmarms, my sixth grade teacher told our class that one should never begin a story by introducing oneself; Hale buries that rule by describing Moby-Dick's introductory sentence, "Call me Ishmael," as one of the strongest opening lines in American literature.

With all these so-called "rules" that are now okay to break, what rules can we really trust? Who made Constance Hale the Queen of Communication? Why should you believe her more than any other grammarian, writing teacher, or poet on the street? Why should you believe her more than, say, me?

I've run across a lot of advice in Sin and Syntax. Some of it I like. Some of it I don't. The next time I feel like blogging, I intend to question some of this advice. There are at least two sides to every story, and I don't think we as writers should confine ourselves just to Constance Hale's point of view. As long as we're breaking rules, we might as well break them our way.

But that's for later.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rules of Attraction

Recently, I told a friend that I have given up on dating entirely. While this is not a new development, our conversation did remind me about why I've made this rather self-defeating decision.

After a couple years of Internet dating, and even meeting up with some of the guys who have flagged me down on the street, I have had next to no success. This has mostly been because I just wasn't interested—also pretty self-defeating on my part, but it's not something I can help! I've rejected guys for a number of reasons, but probably the most common one and the one that's most deadly to a future relationship is a lack of physical attraction. Though this is somewhat superficial, let's face it: If the thought of kissing someone makes you cringe, dating them will never work.

Sometimes, an unattractive face grows on you over time, but time is one thing that blind dating does not afford. Generally, you are expected to make a decision about the other person after a single meeting that may be as short as one hour!

So! I'm still single because all men are ugly. But what makes them ugly? Well, that's (after a rambling 3 paragraph intro as always) the topic of this post. [Edit, October 25: No, all men aren't really ugly! That was hyperbole for comedic effect. I don't want to be responsible for causing anyone to get an inferiority complex.]

I read recently that generally people are attracted to people who look different from them (an adaptive trait to avoid inbreeding). This seems to be confirmed in my tastes. In terms of coloration, I'm pretty much a genetically watered-down Heidi. So it's not surprising that I go for men who are dark haired, dark eyed, and dark skinned.
Ooh la la!
I have pretty close-set, deep-set eyes, and my tastes run to guys with big, widely spaced girly eyes (but is this a reflection of evolutionary tendencies, or just a reflection of how much I hate my kind of eyes?). Although as soon as I bring this up, someone will say, "You're not fat!" I do, undeniably, have chubbier than average cheeks, and I am attracted to faces that have the exact opposite. All in all, it seems my genetic makeup dictates that I go for a distinctly alien mien.

Except when it comes to mouths. Along with my chubby cheeks, I was graced with tiny rosebud lips (a terrible combination), meaning that I prefer people with a wide mouth and a forest of teeth. Aliens do not have mouths at all.

While all these first-glance preferences can be superseded by a general rapport brought about by someone who charms me by following all the rules to dating Valerie, there is one physical preference that I just can't seem to shake: I only like skinny men. It doesn't seem to matter how long I've known someone or how much fun we can have together. It doesn't matter if he's the world's greatest conversationalist and we have every common interest two humans can have—if he's not at least as thin as me (on a fat-to-height ratio), I just can't seem to get interested romantically. This makes me feel like a superficial jerk, but all the guilt in the world can't persuade me to change my tastes.

This poses two problems. Firstly, it contradicts the genetic theory of attraction. While I imagine myself to be a blubbery elephant of a person, I have it on good authority (namely, everyone who talks to me) that "You're not fat!" And while one can question the veracity of that statement (it seems to explode reflexively out of anyone's mouth as soon as I mention being chubby, which makes me think they might still be saying it if I weighed 300 pounds), I also have it on statistical authority that I'm not fat. So if I were supposed to be attracted to my opposite, I should be ga-ga about heavier men. Secondly, since I'm statistically not fat and the majority of the American population is, this severely limits the pool of dudes who meet my exacting specifications. Especially when you factor in all the hard-to-find personality traits (which could be the topic of several additional posts, so I'm not even going to start) that I also prefer.

So what's an extremely selective girl to do? The answer is, stop going on blind dates. No point in spending your entire income meeting strangers for dinner, only to tell them, "Sorry, you're just too human for me." Therefore I will wait, averting my eyes from happy couples, glaring disdainfully at engagement ring advertisements, and choking back the tears at weddings, until that happy day when I can again fall in love with the wrong guy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Can't think... Wait! I can always think about chocolate!

My life is so stressful right now, I'm always worrying about something. My heart is always racing. The idea of sleeping is totally incomprehensible. Every time I eat, I wish I hadn't. I cry over everything. I feel like I'm watching The Blair Witch Project 24/7. Yes, I actually found that movie terrifying.

I keep looking at my blog and my List of Things to Blog About, but I can't seem to concentrate enough to make an interesting entry. And so, a few minutes ago, while bouncing in my chair and aimlessly opening and closing documents and websites, it occurred to me: Chocolate is always interesting!

Even if the chocolate writer is out of her head on adrenaline, and additionally hyped up with caffeine from the object of her writings, she will still be bound to write something good!


I'm thinking about writing reviews of chocolate bars. No, I'm not going to be one of those chocolate connoisseurs who looks down their nose and mutters things like, "a heady aroma, but a little timid on the finish." That would never work, considering my crippled sense of smell. But I can write about who has the prettiest chocolate bars!

Have you ever opened a chocolate bar and - before your raging appetite did its damage - been struck by the design on the bar? If you have expanded your horizons beyond Hershey's familiar artistry, you doubtlessly have. If you have not, never fear! I am going to bring the art of chocolate to the olfactory-deprived but aesthetically appreciative masses!

Perhaps, should I perform my work with appropriate sophistication, chocolate bar companies shall even begin beating down my door for the privilege of having me rhapsodize about their product!

Today, however, in the absence of doting candy companies lining up on my porch, I shall do a great favor to the brand of chocolate that is conveniently on sale at my store: Dagoba.

I shall explore every contour of its Beaucoup Berries bar and determine if it meets the exacting set of standards known as "my fickle approval."

Dagoba Beaucoup Berries chocolate bar, wrapped and uwrapped

Externally, the Dagoba packaging is pleasing in every way. A nice size, big enough to provide a satisfying sugar rush, but not so big that it inspires visions of yourself as the circus Fat Lady. Dagoba packages come in an appealing rainbow of shades to tempt every appetite. But on the inside...what a disappointment. A chocolate bar like the wall of a log cabin...log on boring log. Although I must give credit to the ease with which you can snap off an appealingly stick-shaped bit, the plain architectural vibe makes the bar as a whole pretty unexciting.

Wow, I can't believe how much time I spent on that futile activity. At least it gives me an excuse to eat lots of chocolate!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bye Bye Buy Buy

This is what my computer likes to tell me these days when it gets blue. It'll be merrily chugging on its way, running the screensaver more often than not, when all of a sudden it will get sad and decide it needs a break. Since my computer's desire for a break rarely coincides with mine, this is a problem. Not a terrible problem, since I have not yet lost any work because of its intransigence, but an annoying problem. Do you know how long it takes to restart my system after an unexpected shutdown!?

So, while I continue to do useless things to the video drivers and the BIOS, and will eventually reinstall Windows, in an attempt to fix this problem, I have little hope of success. I believe that all the problems with my computer stem from the graphics processor, which is unfortunately not a separate card, but a unit that, as far as I can tell, is built into the motherboard, which costs almost 300 dollars to replace. Might as well buy a new computer for that much. And, if perchance, the graphics processor alone is replaceable, the part is impossible to find for sale, and will require removing every other part of the computer to replace it.

So, I believe it is time to shop for a new system. It feels like only yesterday that I purchased this lovely green Dell laptop, but actually, it was 2 and a half years ago, and with planned obsolescence being what it is, that's about as long as anyone can expect a lovely green Dell laptop to work well. My Toshiba was 3 and a half years old and still kicking—minus 2 USB ports and the DVD drive—when I finally let it go. I would try to keep this one around a little longer—after all, the occasional Blue Screen of Death is nothing compared to spending your whole month's income on a computer—except that I'm afraid of the future. I need a backup system, so that I can continue to do my job in the inevitable event of catastrophic failure.

Thus, I shop. And I've discovered some interesting things about my computer-shopping habits. For instance, I've become obsessed with graphics cards. I feel it is absolutely necessary that my next computer should have a replaceable graphics card AND that its graphics card should not be some rinky-dink Intel Mobile Express Chipset, but should instead be a high-powered workhorse that will never fail me. Never.

This is silly because (1) the only reason to have a high-powered workhorse for a graphics card is if you play 3-D video games. Which I don't. Well, I might. But I'm afraid to try because I'm afraid to try. And (2) no matter how high-powered the graphics card is, it will still fail me if it is so inclined. But, if it's one of those big fancy schmancy ones, it is more likely that I'll be able to buy a new one online should it be the uncooperative sort.

My next matter of excessive preference is the hard drive. I don't really care about capacity. My current hard drive holds 140 GB and still has room, and all the new drives out there are significantly bigger. But ever since I was shopping for my last computer and was advised to get a computer with a fast hard drive, I've been unwilling to settle for anything less. 5400 RPM? Pshaw. Not good enough for me! Unfortunately, the computers with 7200 RPM hard disks are few and far between. I'm still not sure if a faster hard drive makes for significantly better performance, but I'm afraid to step down now.

And of course, to top it all off, I want the power without the weight and without the cost. My current system weighs something over 4 pounds. All the ones that I find online that meet my exacting specifications weigh 6 to 8 pounds! Unbelievable! AND, most of them cost over a thousand dollars! I refuse to spend over a thousand dollars for a computer, since I spent that much on this hunk of junk, thinking it would be my Old Faithful, and here I am replacing it before 3 years are up! What's the point of spending for quality if it's all going to fall apart anyway?

I'm making this very hard for myself. Now I'm wondering if I can get a desktop for home use. Desktops don't get battered around as much, so they last longer, and replacement parts are cheaper and easier to install. Then I'd have to keep all my files on an external hard drive, and bring it along with my demoted laptop any time I needed to work away from home. I'd also need to make sure all the software I use is installed on both systems. Naah. Too complicated. And besides, how would I fulfill my frequent need to do my work while lying on the floor? I think that, as a professional who works from home, I should just resign myself to the necessity of periodic replacement of the equipment. I can probably write it off on my taxes.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


There are so many things I just can't work up the energy to do right now, even though it would be a really good idea. Here they are:
  1. Designing nametags for Global Deposit Summit attendees
  2. Investigating restaurants for Global Deposit Summit dining options
  3. Replying to potential client about website SEO
  4. Posting content on current client website
  5. Listing things on eBay
  6. Working on that music video I've been making
  7. Playing that computer game I've been playing
  8. Decorating that T-shirt that needs resuscitation
  9. Submitting that T-shirt design to
  10. Paying the bills and organizing the receipts
Here's what I feel like doing:
  1. Carrying boxes up to the attic
  2. Delivering a letter to the mailbox down the street
  3. Reading
  4. Crosswords
  5. Making lists
My body has not been good to me of late. Here are some things that are wrong with it.
  1. Tonsillitis followed by a head cold last week
  2. Terrible stuffy nose, likely due to allergies, today
  3. Arthritic left hip, especially after a period of inactivity
  4. Strained left elbow from ??? finally getting better
  5. Dry lips cracking on the left corner
  6. Arthritic left wrist that gets contrary whenever I work it too hard
  7. Right big toe that erupts into pain if I stand on it wrong
  8. Bruised right knee from various encounters with milk crates
  9. Sprained back from lifting crate of cheese this morning. Ow, ow, ow.
Numbers 1 and 2 inspire me to create this more in-depth list about my chronic stuffy nose--a source of continual agony to me. I keep resorting to ever more novel remedies that mostly don't work. Here they are:
  1. Sudafed PE (ineffectual)
  2. Sudafed original (possibly works if I double the dose and don't have too stuffy of a nose to begin with)
  3. Claritin, Alavert (ineffectual)
  4. Oxymetazoline HCl (works like a charm, but can only be taken for 3 days and cannot be used "frequently")
  5. Benzedrex (works pretty well, but also can only be used for 3 days and not "frequently") 
  6. Vicks inhaler (ineffectual)
  7. NasalCrom (Does it work? Doesn't it? Not very well if it does, but I keep taking it anyway)
  8. Benadryl (Doesn't work, but helps me fall asleep when I can't breathe)
  9. Aspirin (ineffectual)
  10. Ibuprofen (ineffectual)
  11. Saline drops (Slightly helpful for 5 minutes)
  12. Blowing nose (helps for about 2 seconds)
  13. Plastic surgery (works until septum reverts to its pre-surgery crooked state and gets inflamed with ever-increasing frequency)
  14. Exercise (I can usually breathe as long as I am upright and moving about. This works until I get tired.)
  15. Steamy shower (ineffectual)
  16. Turmeric suspension in water (Tried this for the first time today. It might have helped. It might have just been a fluke)
Alternate routes to relief of stuffy nose for consideration
  1. Visit allergist and learn if there is an avoidable cause of congestion
  2. Visit ENT and learn if my deviated septum is more devious than originally thought and whether it's advisable to try and have it straightened again (not my idea of a fun time)
  3. Acquire prescription for decongestant that actually works
  4. Drill new hole in nose. At this point, this is sounding pretty appealing.
**Edit September 10: Add my left knee to the list of physical ailments! Must've strained it while walking funny yesterday to avoid hurting my back.**

    Saturday, September 4, 2010

    Short Shorts

    Today, I present to you a few random thoughts about various topics that just don't have the stamina for a full-fledged entry on their own.

    That's not a chicken, that's a ... chicken.

    In the store recently, I was privy to a conversation between a mother and her young son, which ended with the mother telling her little protégé, "That's not a chicken--that's a rooster!" Parents, why must you propagate this kind of misinformation to your offspring? Roosters and chickens are not mutually exclusive. Roosters are, in fact, a subcategory of chickens. The female counterpart of the rooster is known as the "hen." Do I need to draw you a Venn diagram?

    While we're talking about chickens

    Do you ever have days when one moment, you're in the depths of despair, and the next moment, you're whistling the Chicken Dance? I do. It's disconcerting.

    A brief history of technology

    In the Stone Age, they invented the wheel. In the Iron Age, they invented the ferrous wheel.
    Sorry if that one's already been done.

    Rhymes with English

    Here's a new word for all you whose love for language overshadows your love life: "singlish." Use it to describe your relationship status when you are in love with someone who doesn't love you back, are in the middle of a breakup, have a long-term friend with benefits, are hopelessly addicted to someone you've only met online, or are otherwise indisposed to starting a new relationship even though you're not technically in one. It turns out I didn't invent this word, but I only found it in use after I'd already thought it up on my own, so I consider it my own ingenious invention. And what a useful invention for me, since I'm about as lucky in love as a soldier ant. Now I'll have a single concise word to describe my numerous failures--much better than my usual "Uuuhhhh..."

    Yeah, I did have to draw you a Venn diagram.