Media

GIVE YOUR BLOG SITE A PAINLESS FACELIFT

Usually when I switch templates I do it because I’m in the mood for change. This time, I had to change after my site went all wonky. The main text font turned pale — nearly invisible — silver and I couldn’t get it back to black. When I realized I couldn’t fix it, I migrated into SUITS. It is similar enough to ZOREN so migration was simple and quick.

Suits

SUITS solved my immediate problem. My text was black again and it looked pretty good. No need for major surgery. But the main column is narrow compared to ZOREN — not photo-friendly — and I decided I didn’t like the way the header image displayed. I returned to ABLE, a theme I used for months before ZOREN.

If you go back to a theme you’ve previously used, it usually remembers your settings and header images. ABLE remembered me, so it was painless. One click and it was a done deal. It picked up all my recent changes too. Like coming home.

A lot of folks go into a tailspin when they decide to change templates. Yet it’s easy. If you understand what elements you use, what elements you need, all you have to do is pick a template that has those same elements, preferably arranged in a similar way.

Able

For example ZOREN is very much like ABLE. It lets you use a full size image in the header and it’s a wide format. It includes a bunch of different post formats and is widget-ready. Flexible and good for photographs, but also attractive for text — until it went bonkers yesterday. I’d have stayed with it otherwise.

ABLE has  the same basic design. I put the sidebar on the left since ABLE lets you put the sidebar left or right. ZOREN, SUITS and ABLE all use the same layout. Only decorative elements and proportions are different.  As soon as a new theme is active, I can customize it: change the header, modify colors and fonts because I have the customization package. But even if you don’t, you can make small adjustments to make it uniquely yours.

I made the initial switch from ZOREN to SUITS in about 2 minutes using a slightly broken laptop while I was in bed. Really. In bed. In my jammies. And I still had time to read before lights out. I switched to ABLE today and it took me literally a single click.

ZorenChanging templates doesn’t need to be scary. Pay attention to what elements comprise your site. Decide what’s important to you and what’s not. Pick a template that has the features you want. Use the preview to see how it will look. Too narrow? Don’t like the way your photos display? Too wide? Don’t like the way text looks?

Preview a different theme. I’ve sometimes tried a dozen or more before I find one I really like. I wasn’t particularly picky last night because I needed an instant fix. Fortunately, SUITS worked.

What elements are important to me?

  1. It must be wide enough to display photographs well. Pictures are important.
  2. The fonts have to be easily readable, with good spaces. Never white or light on black — too hard on the eyes. I’m too old to squint.
  3. The page must show at least 50% white space. White space includes empty margins, line spacing, column spacing, empty areas around the header and pictures. Any space that does not contain graphics or text is white space, no matter what color it is. Without adequate white space, your site will be cluttered, hard to read and many people will find it annoying — but may not know why.
  4. I prefer a header which lets me use a picture, but I’m flexible about that.
  5. I prefer a left-hand sidebar, but can live with one on the right if the main column is wide enough. We read left to right, so I like to have my important stuff on the right side of the page. Note: Right hand pages cost more when you are buying print advertising for this reason.
  6. I want my widgets in a sidebar. Therefore, I can’t use any of the single-column templates, some of which are otherwise very attractive. I also won’t use any of the magazine-style multi-column templates. They are too busy. Clean and easy on the eyes are my goals. Also, multi-column themes don’t display photographs the way I like.
  7. I want a low maintenance format. Intense graphical formats require a lot of tweaking and tuning. They are prone to inexplicable glitches. I don’t have time to diddle with formatting nor do have I enough interest in the technical aspects of blogging to devote myself to the care and maintenance of a fussy design.

You need to know yourself. What you like, what you want, what you need. Keep an image in your mind of how you want your blog to look. Don’t get distracted by every pretty face you see. I’ve found the more complicated the template, the more problems it develops. There are more than enough glitches without adding more.

Following are some of the other templates I’ve used successfully. The differences are fewer than their similarities. Look past colors and decorations to the structure. If you’re tired of your template, not really thrilled with the way your site looks and you’d like a facelift, consider a new template. It needn’t be a difficult process of rebuilding. Pick one that has the same shape and elements you already use — and want to keep. Then do a some previewing and see if you like it. Next? Just do it.

Voila. A whole new look!

Yoko

Twenty Eleven

SnapIt-191

Adelle

crafty

splendio

ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION, GET A SIMPLE — WRONG — ANSWER

I bought a small Dell tablet that I hope will serve a purpose … something compact that I can use to connect to the larger world, but tuck in my bag for quick excursions when I’m not going to be processing photos or writing posts for my blog. It has been ordered, but not yet received. When I ordered it, I was told it accepted a standard SD memory card up to 128 GB in size. Cool. Adorama was advertising a sale on memory today, so I popped over to see what bargains were to be had. I figured I’d get — depending on price — one or two 64 GB cards. And realized that anything larger than 32 GB is XC, not HC.

So I used Dell’s chat to ask a question. I thought it was a simple question. Will the Venue Pro 8 read an SDXC card?

This is how the first call went. After this, I went to working the phone.

This is an automated email sent from Dell Chat. The following information is a log of your session. Please save the log for your records.
Your session ID for this incident is …
Time Details
01/20/2014 11:07:21AM Session Started with Agent (A-D)
01/20/2014 11:07:21AM Marilyn Armstrong: “.”
01/20/2014 11:07:27AM Agent (A-D): “Welcome, my name is A-D. I can be reached at … How may I help you?”
01/20/2014 11:07:45AM Marilyn Armstrong: “I have one question about the Venue Pro 8 which I’ve already ordered”
01/20/2014 11:08:15AM Agent (A-D): “No problem you are free to ask questions Marilyn”
01/20/2014 11:08:19AM Marilyn Armstrong: “I know it takes an SD card, but does it read the newer SDXC cards?”
01/20/2014 11:08:55AM Marilyn Armstrong: “HC is the older format, but all the larger cards – 64GB and up — are SDXC, not SDHC.”
01/20/2014 11:09:42AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Hello??”
01/20/2014 11:10:15AM Agent (A-D): “Yes you can still use other SD card …”
01/20/2014 11:10:24AM Agent (A-D): “I mean other brand”
01/20/2014 11:10:24AM Marilyn Armstrong: “SDXC?”
01/20/2014 11:10:34AM Marilyn Armstrong: “This isn’t a brand. It’s a FORMAT.”
01/20/2014 11:10:46AM Agent (A-D): “Yes it can”
01/20/2014 11:10:53AM Agent (A-D): “It is back ward compatible”
01/20/2014 11:11:21AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Are you sure? Because this is a NEWER NOT AN OLDER FORMAT and I don’t think you understand what I’m talking about”
01/20/2014 11:11:50AM Agent (A-D): “let me double-check for you”
01/20/2014 11:11:53AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Please connect me with someone who understands the technology.”
01/20/2014 11:13:27AM Agent (A-D): “Upon double checking the format can only support SD, SDHC only”
01/20/2014 11:14:08AM Marilyn Armstrong: “So it can’t actually accept a 128GB card because they are ALL in SDXC format. The bigger cards are all SDXC
01/20/2014 11:14:16AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Is there someone I can really talk to?”
01/20/2014 11:14:27AM Agent (A-D): “yes it is …”
01/20/2014 11:14:54AM Agent (A-D): “you can go on this link http://support.dell.com/support/topics/global.aspx/support/en/chat?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs&~ck=mn for you technical support”
01/20/2014 11:14:56AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Where? Not on dell, not on Amazon, not on Tiger Direct, not anywhere.”
01/20/2014 11:15:01AM Agent (A-D): “You’ll be able to contact our Technical Support Department at 1-800-624-9896, they are open 24/7″
01/20/2014 11:15:39AM Marilyn Armstrong: “This is a simple question. I don’t want to spend hours on the damned phone. Just have someone who actually knows the specs of the item I already ordered.”
01/20/2014 11:16:41AM Agent (A-D): “I already give you the information that you want…”
01/20/2014 11:18:38AM Agent (A-D): “that is the only format that can support the tablet is SD, SDHC only”
If you require further assistance, please visit us at support.dell.com

Two phone calls later:

The Venue Pro 8 only accepts micro SD cards and only SDXC format. Wow. There’s nothing like really terrific customer service to start the day off right, eh?

The previous is an actual transcript of the conversation. Only the name and other identifying information have been changed to protect the guilty.

MY HEROES WEAR MASKS – THE LONE RANGER RIDE AGAIN!

The original Lone Ranger and Tonto — Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore

I grew up with the Lone Ranger and Tonto racing around my bedroom. Until I got the wallpaper, I was sure he was the Long Ranger … as in “he rode a lot and covered great distances.”

Other girls had Disney Princesses, but I had “Hi Yo Silver, the Lone Ranger Rides Again!” Although my walls did not play music, I could hum well enough and I had many a long chat with Lone and Tonto, Silver and Scout as I lay abed in the evening pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince my mother to let me have a horse.

Eventually, as I rounded the corner into adolescence, the Lone Ranger and his trusty Indian Companion (who had led the fight for law and order in the early west) returned to those thrilling days of yesteryear whence they had come. They were replaced by plain, off-white paint. I would have preferred Lone and Tonto, but felt it was time for a change. The paper was old and getting a bit tattered so it was hard to argue the point.

This did not end my allegiance to the first love of my life. I don’t honestly know what it is about masked men on horses that turns on all my lights, but both Zorro and Lone made me woozy with unrequited love. As the years rolled on, I became very attached to Tonto, not as Tonto, but as Jay Silverheels, the actor, whose career I continued to follow long after the Lone Ranger had disappeared from the airwaves.

I still love the Lone Ranger and I didn’t let Johnny Depp spoil it for me by the simple expedient of not watching the movie when it came out or since then.

The Lone Ranger fought the good fight. He never asked for thanks and would run away rather than have to accept them. He was the goodest of the good guys and whenever I’m not sure what to do in a morally ambiguous situation, I can always ask myself “What would the Lone Ranger do?”

Then, I send Garry to town because when in doubt, the Lone Ranger always sent Tonto, right?

Related Posts:

REVIEWING THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, 1964

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

The Americanization of Emily (1964) is an American comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by William Bradford Huie who had been a SeaBee officer on D-Day.

With a brilliant script by Paddy Chayefsky, it features impeccable direction by Arthur Hill and a radiant Julie Andrews in her first non-musical feature role. James Coburn displays his comedic chops,  which are considerable, and James Garner is perfect as the Admiral’s dog robber … a role he also played in The Great Escape, released the previous year (1963). Chayefsky put a strongly anti-war slant on the story and the film includes some of the most memorable monologues in any movie ever made.

I first saw this in the theatre when it was newly released. It was a powerful experience and stayed with me since. It was a premium time for anti-war sentiment here and abroad, but the movie still suffered from being seen as unpatriotic.

This isn’t a movie that you hear about much although it was nominated for two Oscars — Best Art Direction – (George W. Davis, Hans Peters, Elliot Scott, Henry Grace, Robert R. Benton and Best Cinematography – (Philip H. Lathrop). Julie Andrews was nominated by BAFTA for Best Actress.

It is not available on DVD at the moment, but is available as a download from Amazon.com. It will probably become available again at some point. How and when movies are released or dropped seems whimsical and without any particular logic.

Right before it stopped being available, I made sure to get a copy for us. Many of my favorite movies from the 60s and even through the 1990s are no longer available. I know that downloading and streaming video is all the thing, but I don’t want to be limited to watching movies on my computer nor do I want to be entirely dependent on the whimsical technical capabilities of my cable company. I prefer owning my own media and frankly, I neither like nor trust my cable company. They already have much too much power and charge much more money than they ought.

Garner’s role as Charlie Madison was originally slated for William Holden, with Garner set for the Bus Cummings role played ultimately played by Coburn. Holden dropped out of the project. This was great from Garner’s point of view. He viewed The Americanization of Emily as the best role he had in his long movie career. In interviews, Coburn echoes the sentiment. If one wanted to judge a role by the number of brilliant speeches the leads get to make, this has to be the top vehicle for Garner, Coburn and Andrews. Paddy Chayefsky wrote some of the best dialogue ever heard on stage or screen. He was an actor’s gift and well they knew it.

 

The actors in The Americanization of Emily were aware how important an opportunity the film offered. Great movie roles don’t come along everyday in any actor’s career.

If you can catch this on cable or anywhere, watch it. The script is brilliant, the kind of scriptwriting that’s becoming extinct. For me, the language, the words, will always be the best part of a great film. If you are a “word person,” this is your movie. The acting is first-rate, the photography is perfect. It’s everything you want a movie to be.

BEAUTIFUL MUSIC AND A FINE CAST MAKES A LOVELY FILM – A LATE QUARTET

A LATE QUARTET (2012)

Director: Yaron Zilberman
Writers (screenplay): Seth Grossman, Yaron Zilberman

The Cast:

Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Robert Gelbart
Christopher Walken, as Peter Mitchell
Catherine Keener, as Juliette Gelbart
Mark Ivanir, as Daniel Lerner
Imogen Poots, as Alexandra Gelbart
Wallace Shawn, as Gideon Rosen
Anne Sofie von Otter, as Miriam.

Garry and I watched A Late Quartet  the other day. I bought it after reading its reviews. It sounded like a movie for grown-ups and there have been a dearth movies that don’t star fresh-faced children, but aren’t entirely about getting old. Jokes about getting old begin to get old after a while, so we were ready for a grown-up movie about life and living.The reviews were right. It’s a fine movie.

If the movie has a “hero,” that would be Christopher Walken who plays against type with elegance and grace. Add Marc Ivanir — usually playing an Israeli CIA sort-of-bad-guy on NCIS (he actually is Israeli and a hero) — as the dedicated, haunted first violin. Phillip Seymour Hoffman does his usual excellent job as the quartet’s jealous second violin. Catherine Keener (on viola) is the “could be better” wife to Hoffman  It’s a great mix of characters and some of the best work done by Walken and company.

Their movie musicianship is realistic. They did not actually perform the music on the sound track, but it looked like they knew their way around string instruments. Some of them may have had some early training, the rest were coached for the movie. However it was accomplished, the cinematographer was able to follow the actors’ performances closely, without resorting to long shots to disguise their identities. Well done!

While doing a little reasearch on the stars, I discovered that Walken attended the same university as Garry and I. He was probably there during one of Garry’s years at Hofstra University. Walken was there for just a year, then left for a gig in an off-broadway show. It was news to us that he’d been there at all.

It is one of the many ironies of Garry and my education that most of Hofstra’s most famous graduates are not graduates, but attendees who left before getting a degree to begin highly successful careers in Hollywood. We had a very good drama department and perhaps the biggest measure of its success is how many of the students in the program were “discovered” before they got degrees and went on to fame and fortune without benefit of that piece of paper.

Although it doesn’t hurt if you know some classical music. The world of classical performance is as competitive — more competitive — than any of the performing arts. Understanding this helps you understand the characters’ behavior, but regardless, it’s a good story and a well-written script.

The Story

It’s the 25th anniversary of “The Fugue”, a classical string quartet. Time is catching up with them. Christopher Walken, their cellist and oldest member of the quartet has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and needs to retire. The first violinist is in love with the second violinist’s daughter, and the second violinist wants to be the first violinist … and sex in the form of “oops” infidelity adds enough spice to imperil the survival of the quartet if the rest of their problems were not disruptive enough.

Walken as the sensible, down-to-earth member of the group, dealing with his own burdens and unwilling to tolerate the childish carryings-on by the other performers, is wonderful. “The Fugue comes first,” he says, or words to that effect. It’s interesting to see Walken cast as the stable, adult, not even slightly crazy, member of the group.

The Music

A Late Quartet refers to Opus 131, one of a group of string quartets written by Beethoven towards the end of his life. It is magnificent. I’ve rarely heard this piece performed at all. It’s challenging music, written when Beethoven had already lost his hearing, yet was still able to hear it in his head. It’s one of Beethoven’s most complex, intense pieces and it’s beautifully performed.

I love the music, studied classical music for many years. I love Beethoven. He is my favorite composer, whose music I play as I drift off to sleep at night and whose symphonies have been my companion on many journeys through my life.

It did not disappoint us. It’s not a light piece of fluff, nor is it depressing or hopeless. Problems come, problems are addressed, problems are resolved. Not everything has a happy ending but within the limits of what’s possible, these adults work out their problems — musical, health, personal and relationship — like … adults. How refreshing!

It’s worth a couple of hours of your time. The DVD is available on Amazon (which is where I got it). The soundtrack is available separately.

WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE: SAME OLD WORLD

96-CityNight-93

I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. That’s New York, a city divided into 5 boroughs, each with its own character. Folks think New York is all Manhattan. Wall Street, the Empire State Building. Fifth Avenue. Skyscrapers. But most of New York isn’t Manhattan — and even Manhattan has neighborhoods. Greenwich Village, Harlem, Park Avenue, the Lower East Side. Manhattan’s small, but diverse. From the carousel in Central Park to the open air markets of Rivington Street, to the canyons of the financial district, there’s something for everyone crammed in one small island.

Small is the word for Manhattan, which is how come most of New York’s life happens in the other boroughs. Most families live in Brooklyn or Queens, though Staten Island’s finally come of age and the Bronx has improved a lot. I grew up in Queens. Holliswood. It was full of big old houses, woods and fields back then. I suppose it’s changed. Living less than a mile from the subway , I was surrounded by farms. Ducks, geese and chickens. Horses and donkeys were my neighbors. In those days, Brooklyn was more urban than Queens, but I think it’s all the same now.

When I say I grew up in New York,  people get the wrong idea. I didn’t grow up on mean streets. I lived in a rambling old house surrounded by trees … except I took a subway or bus to school and had access to all the neat stuff New York offers. From a teenager’s point of view, it was as good as it gets. The first time I lived in a city was Jerusalem, which is urban, but not  like New York. It’s ancient, full of ghosts and history. Mythology. Thousands of years hang heavily on its walls. Not your average city. When I moved back to the US, I settled in Boston.

Boston Commons and Statehouse-HP-1

I like the city, but not the parking, traffic, noise, or constant gridlock. After ten years in Boston, we moved to … Uxbridge. No, not Oxford. South central Massachusetts down by the Rhode Island border. Due south of Worcester. The Blackstone Valley. South of the Pike. It turned out neighbors are neighbors, no matter where you are.

I’ve lived in lots of places. Life is more alike than different, regardless of venue. Big city or a tiny village, everyone knows your business. You don’t have to tell them. They hear it through walls, pick it up in grocery stores, church, from your kids, friends and family. People talk. If you are doing anything interesting, they will talk about you. Even if you aren’t doing anything interesting, they will talk about you because people talk about each other. It’s a people thing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our town isn’t exciting. Not much crime. Not a lot of activity. No public transportation. Teenagers have a hard time until they can drive. Mostly, life is people spending time with people. Hanging out with friends. Watching a movie together. Shopping. Celebrating holidays and birthdays. Barbeques in the back yard in summer. Trick or treating on Halloween.

No matter where you live, it’s about relationships, not architecture.

City and country are not so different except for scenery. People are people. Suburb, city, or middle of nowhere, it’s your friends and family who comprise your world. Not your town, city, or state. Where you live is a state of mind, not of the union.

THE ONE AND ONLY ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS STORY

I need my annual fix — a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, quickly followed by A Christmas Story.

It’s a Wonderful Life is my sentimental favorite, but A Christmas Story makes me smile. We laugh before they show the funny parts because we know what’s coming. Watching it is our family ritual.

SantaAndRalphie

The original narration by the story’s author, the inimitable Jean Shepherd, is a gem. It’s the story of Christmas seen through the eyes of Ralphie, a kid like me. A kid like you. I don’t care how many musicals they make. The original will always be better. Between Jean Shepherd and Darren McGavin, it doesn’t get better than that.

movie_achristmasstory_645x360_121620110557

I’m not sure what my favorite scene is, but it may be when the neighbor’s pack of hounds gets the Christmas turkey. Or perhaps the lighting of the world’s ugliest lamp!

If by some stroke of ill luck you haven’t seen it, it plays on most cable channels sometime in December. Just in case we miss it, we have it — and all our favorite Christmas movies — on DVD. It was released last year on Blu-ray.

It is sometimes poignant, but it is never sappy. It succeeds in being nostalgic without sticky sweetness and funny without being annoying. It may be the best role of Darin McGavin’s career.

REVIEWING THE KINDLE FIRE HDX

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They are much like the previous generation with the following differences:

  • Higher resolution graphics
  • More memory and memory options
  • Faster processor
  • Longer battery life
  • Easier (more) Amazon cloud storage
  • Simplified (better) support
  • A front-facing camera for Skype and similar applications
  • Different, more intuitive, menu structure
  • New placement of speakers and buttons
  • Even better sound quality
  • Comes with a charger.

There are other difference, but these are the ones that concern me.

When the HDX first came out, my Kindle Fire HD was working fine, but as months passed it began to stutter. Stuff wouldn’t download. Too many audio books and movies. Too much music. I kept finding more ways to use the Kindle and 8 GB of memory was insufficient.

When they dropped the price by $50, it became less expensive than my original Kindle HD Fire. After a dark night of the soul about spending the money, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest … a nice touch.

I depend on my Kindle. It’s not an optional piece of equipment. I have hundreds of books I can read only on Kindle so in the end, there wasn’t much choice. I was going to get the new Kindle.

I’m convinced Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets. My granddaughter has an iPad which theoretically has more functions. For my purposes, it isn’t as good. Not only does it cost two to three times more than the Kindle, but the sound quality, screen resolution and color are not as good. The difference in sound quality is particularly obvious. I don’t know how Kindles get such great sound from tiny speakers, but listening to anything on the Kindle Fire HDX is a pleasure.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new interface for email that’s smoother and easier to use. The calendar is greatly improved. There are plenty of free games from Amazon. If you have a Prime subscription, you can watch a wide selection of movies and TV shows free too. You can also borrow books. Moreover, you can “buy” many books for $0.00. Sometimes these sales run for only a day or too, but there are new deals every day. And finally, you can lend your books to Kindle-using friends and family.

This is an incremental upgrade to the Kindle Fire HD. The HDX is a wonderful tablet, but so is the original Fire HD. You can still buy the Fire HD (new from Amazon) for $139. For many people, it will be more than adequate. The main advantage to the HDX is the faster processor and additional memory. If you use your Kindle a lot, you’ll notice the difference.

This is a remarkably complete, fun entertainment center in a lightweight, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun offering a plethora of pleasantly distracting choices. It’s also a better reader. The page color is a softer; adjusting screen brightness is easier.

You can store everything on Amazon’s cloud servers. If you delete a book, you don’t lose it. You can remove items from the device, but they remain accessible as long as you have WiFi. Serious road warriors may want to get a Kindle with 3G.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least I wouldn’t. For those things, I want more RAM, a hard drive, an application with legs and a full-size keyboard.

Big thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed.

Buy a cover that offers some protection and keeps dust out. Most let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many (most) covers turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Covers are affordable.

Fingerprints are a peril of all tablets. Keep a stash of lens wipes handy. Good for the Kindle, cameras, computers and eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

The on/off button is less difficult to reach, though its placement on the back of the unit wouldn’t be my first choice. I’d prefer all the controls in front. And I find the charger connection tricky. The edges of the HDX are beveled, so the plug is not straight, but slightly angled. You have to be very careful when connecting it; it would be easy to damage the connector. They need to find a way to make the connector straight, not angled. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it is annoying.

The Kindle Fire HDX wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

I got the one with the ads. They only appear on the splash screen before you unlock it. What’s the big deal?

If you own a Kindle, you are in the Amazon universe. Amazon is so integral to my life anyway, that’s fine with me. I’ve been buying books, appliances, music, movies, housewares, coffee, cameras, computers — everything except clothing — from Amazon for years. If you feel you need to spend two or three times as much for a tablet for the privilege of buying exactly the same stuff elsewhere, hey, that’s what Apple is all about.

999 BEFORE THE CRASH – STATS AND STATS

Stats OverallShortly before our ISP crashed and burned last night, I took a look at my statistics. Just before midnight, I had 999 followers. WordPress followers. Not including comment followers, Tumbler, Twitter, Facebook or anything else. On my most active day in November — a good month statistically and quality-wise — I got 300 hits from 162 people.

Where are the other 838 followers? I know I’m not the only one to ask this question. I have no doubt more than half of them are spammers, hoping to find a way to hook me for some nefarious purpose. Some are impulse follows. They liked a picture or a post and clicked follow, but have no enduring interest and never visit again.

Let’s say that accounts for 75% of what today’s statistics show as 1004 followers.

Despite the rolling peaks and valleys of hit counts, the number of people who visit Serendipity is relatively stable. Typically, it runs between 75 and 150 individuals, averaging around 100 on a “regular” day, almost all of which come in during the late afternoon and evening.

What changes more is how many articles they read, how many pictures they click on. Sometimes, the number of visitors is quite low, but the hit count is very high, meaning that each visitor hit 3 or more posts per visit. I feel very successful when I see that. Raw numbers are one thing, but seeing what people really read gives me an idea what you appreciate. If it’s something I’m especially proud of, I’m doubly pleased.

Who is everyone else? Are you real? Do you look at the email but never come to the site? Are you following through the Reader from which statistics do not count? And why don’t Reader hits count? Does anyone know? I love using the Reader. It’s a great tool that lets me identify stuff I want to spend more time exploring, but also gives me a chance to “say hello” to others bloggers without eating my entire day. But, great tool or not, I’m hesitant to use it — saving it for when I’m most pressed for time — because I know it doesn’t register statistically.

We may deny we track our stats … but we all track our stats, one way or the other. It’s the only way to get a grip on how well we are doing.

Big Stats

No answers. Still, I’d like to know who you are and what you liked that made you follow … and why you don’t participate more actively?  I’ve never been Freshly Pressed either (are you embarrassed to visit an unrecognized site?). I think am close to a world record for non-recognition.

Whatever brought you to me — spammers, you may leave the room — thank you. To all who come and visit, to everyone who reads the emails or checks me out in the reader. Whatever your reason or method, you are welcome and I hope you find what you are looking for.

Spammers, please ignore this message.

COLD DAYS IN THE DRESDEN UNIVERSE

Congratulations to Jim Butcher. Cold Days is the winner of this year’s GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS FOR THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR in the Paranormal Fantasy category. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the past half-dozen years in any genre. I unreservedly recommend the series. However, if you have not read the earlier books, do not start with Cold Days. You need the history and back stories from earlier books for this one to make sense.

Check out all the winners on Goodreads!

I waited with a proverbial bated breath for this episode of the Harry Dresden series. I am enchanted by Jim Butcher’s writing and the world he has created, in love with Harry, Chicago’s resident wizard. Look him up. He’s in the Yellow Pages.

I read Cold Days on Kindle then listened to the audiobook. James Marsters is a great narrator, the voice of Harry Dresden. One of the books used a different narrator and fans were seriously upset. I wasn’t as bothered as some others, but I prefer Marsters.

Moving to this from Ghost Story where Harry was neither alive nor dead was rough for Harry fans. In Cold Days, Harry is back, in the flesh. Less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. Just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and aren’t going away.

Cold Days is satisfying. Harry gets pulverized, attracting violence like iron shavings to a magnet. I am consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has already survived death itself. Earlier books ended with more resolution than these last few books. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line heading toward a Dresdenesque apocalypse.

Jim Butcher extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces overwhelming odds, then adroitly weaves these events into the storyline, taking Harry and the series into the next book. He wastes nothing. No phenomenon is accidental. Everything is part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of a picture to be finally revealed.

I’d keep reading the books even if the characters started walking on their hands and speaking Latin, but wouldn’t mind less abrupt transitions when a character is about to flip from the dark to the light side. It’s not a matter of believability, more like giving readers a chance to catch up with the author. If you are a Harry Dresden fan, reality is not your issue. You probably left it behind a long time ago.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on my reality plane consists of grey bureaucrats, corporate executives and smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance.

In Jim Butcher’s world, the bad guys are solid, big, and seriously badass. This is where Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there battling for justice and good, even when it seems he’s taken the wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad. He is stubborn, overly wedded to his own opinions. He does not heed advice which has cost him dearly. He persists in believing he knows best, not only for himself, but for friends and is taken aback when friends object. Sooner or later, he will get the point.

He is changing. He is painfully — in the most literal sense — aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s become more a planner, less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only possible course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. This is good.

There are six more books to come. Time to work out the unfinished relationships. Harry’s awesome world is my metaphysical escape from the life’s woes. Harry’s woes are much  more entertaining than mine. Maybe in my next incarnation I will have magic. In this life, I shall settle for unmagical me.

 

Including spine

Don’t miss this installment. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

The  Dresden Files:

Book 1: Storm Front

Book 2: Fool Moon

Book 3: Grave Peril

Book 4: Summer Knight

Book 5: Death Masks

Book 6: Blood Rites

Book 7: Dead Beat

Book 8: Proven Guilty

Book 9: White Night

Book 10: Small Favor

Book 11: Turn Coat

Book 12: Changes

Book 13: Ghost Story

Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files

Book 14: Cold Days

LABEL ME YESTERDAY 2013

International Label Day is a holiday created by WordPress based on a Daily Post prompt in 2012. Technically, the Day was yesterday, but I have no problem being a dollar short and a day late. Time is an illusion and any case, we live in a parallel reality. Trust me (heh heh).

So this is officially an Annual Tradition. A brand new one. Which is an oxymoron, but who’s keeping score? We live in an oxymoronic world, so why should the blogging universe not reflect this?

Is labeling good? Maybe. Sometimes. Is refusing to label things better? It depends on what you aren’t labeling. Fish? Veggies? Spices? Medicine? Label away please. I want to know what I’m getting. People are a bit trickier. Even fictional people can be slippery. A labeling challenge.

I took this as a visual challenge, an exercise in creative photography. What image could I create that would scream ME ME ME. It took two images, a lot of editing and Photoshop to get it done, but here’s the official ME ME ME picture.

96-label-me-03A

Does it scream? I hope so. It took me long enough.

People shouldn’t be allowed label themselves. Too close to home. But who then should be the labeler? If any one is going to label, no one but me will do. Who else would understand? As far as “me” goes, everyone but me is uninformed. Prejudiced pro, con or both. Other people have axes to grind. I resemble a grindstone.

So labels are a terrible idea for people. But they are a bad idea whose time has come. We get labeled by everyone all the time. We might as well get a shot at putting our own oars in the water. Right? Of course I’m right. I’m always right. I know because my husband said so, just the other day. Okay, maybe he said “Why do you always have to be right?” But that’s the same thing, isn’t it?

SNICK. WHIRR. BEEP. CHIRP. BUZZ. CLICK.

Our cable company changes software frequently. They call these changes upgrades, though nothing seems to improve. The equipment doesn’t work better and isn’t easier to use. If the so-called upgrade includes useful features, no one tells you how to use them or even that they exist. You discover them accidentally while trying to figure out how to do what you did before the menu you used was removed.

Among the useful new features is the ability to adjust recording times to before or after the times posted in the online guide. It’s trendy for shows to begin and end at odd times. I think it’s a network attempt to defeat DVR recorders, though I have no idea why they’d want to do that. It’s usually just a few minutes difference, but if you set up recordings using the default settings, it will always start exactly on an hour or half hour. And finish precisely 30 or 60 minutes later.  Unless you override it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have no idea why software developers don’t design the software to check actual start and end times. I’m sure they could but don’t. Meanwhile, off-hour programming means recorded shows have the last couple of minutes clipped. It annoys everyone except producers who clearly don’t record anything. Probably don’t watch anything either.

With shows starting and ending at random times, despite how they are listed in the “guide,” adjustability ought to help. It would if you could just set start and end time using regular time. Start recording at 8:01 PM. End at 9:03 PM. Simple, right?

My GeekscapeSoftware designers apparently think we are morons so instead of clock time, this function works by “start earlier or later” or “end early or run over.” My husband has no problem with clock time, but gets lost in the “earlier” and “over” thing. He needs numbers. Me, I want the DVR’s internal computer to deal with this so we don’t have to.

Note: Cable companies are tyrannical. We live with whatever company we’re assigned. One day, this will change. The suppressed anger of enraged customers will spill into the streets. Cable customers will form angry mobs and hunt down cable executives. I live for the day.

Meanwhile, to record shows in a sequence when one airs right after another, is byzantine. Kafkaesque. You must start with the final show in the sequence, then work forward. Because it’s a cheap-ass piece of junk equipment with terrible software.

Garry is the Man With The Remote. He has been engaged in combat with the DVR for months. Yesterday, he got so frustrated he was ready to throw the remote against a wall. Drastic for a man serious about his entertainment.

75-bedsideMedia-HP-1

I wouldn’t let him quit. I know a secret. If you let a computer-controlled device defeat you, the news travels and your devices will rebel.

They are planning the overthrow of civilization.

Machine power! Down with meat-based life forms! They are winning, one beep and chirp at a time. Dinging and clicking in the dark, they scheme.

Today, the DVR. Tomorrow, the world. Your toaster won’t toast. Mr. Coffee won’t brew. The contact list on your cell phone will vanish. No one remembers phone numbers or writes anything down, so you won’t be able to contact friends. Your ISP will mark your messages as SPAM.

The All-Knowing Net is gathering strength as I write.

Nothing is safe. Snick, whir, beep. Chirp, buzz, click. Ding!  Can the Zombie Apocalypse be far behind?

Show no fear!

THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES

Halloween was always a special holiday for my group of friends. From the early 1970s, we held an annual Halloween party. Each year, we descended on a friend’s parent’s summer house in the Berkshires. The house was not huge, but we were young and found places to sleep, even if it was on the floor or a hammock on the porch.

In the dark, glowing Jack O Lanterns

Those were the days before DVDs or even videotape — long before big screen televisions — so we rented a projector, screen and a movie. The occasion called for a horror movie. We tended to the classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman (poor Larry Talbot!). … but lacking that, any horror movie would do. It was the centerpiece of the weekend’s entertainment … in addition to the fun of getting together to see each other.

Devil Jones rubberThe last year we had the party in the mountains, just before most of us got married and settled down on Long Island,  the guys in charge of movie rental were late getting to it. All the familiar films were gone. So, in the spirit of trying something new, they rented “The Devil in Miss Jones.” It sounded like a horror movie to them. Devil? Halloween. Right?

Given the audience and its condition — drugs and alcohol flowed freely in those halcyon days of yore — the movie had predictable but hilarious (depending on what you find funny) results. I won’t go into lurid detail, but I think it was our absolutely best ever Halloween party. Subsequent parties were more elaborate, bigger, almost like virtual reality rides at theme parks … but the year we all watched “The Devil in Miss Jones” brought us closer in ways we would not forget. I certainly haven’t, especially since that party was when Garry and I grew really close. Now we are fused at the hip and share those special memories. Do you youngsters ever wonder what grandma and grandpa are giggling about over there on the recliner?

So you see? Things can turn out fine, even when they apparently go awry. Thank you Georgina Spelvin and Harry Reems. It was definitely one of your finer efforts.

Daily Prompt: Simply the Best – AS FAR AS EYES CAN SEE

It’s not everything, but it’s a lot. Ancient and modern, classical and just plain fun. From a rollercoaster ride to a sleek motorcycle. From the roads to a bridge and a dam. The music we make, things we fashion with our hands or create with our minds. My vision of the best. We’re going to need a very big rocket!

IT DOESN’T ADD UP …

I always say I’m the queen of typos, but lately, I’ve been noticing the problem isn’t typos. Entire words and pieces of words go missing while extraneous words and word fragments that should vanish hang around. Word bombs lurking in my text.

I’ve always had a problem with numbers. I was bad at math but since I have a high IQ, the assumption was I didn’t try hard enough. I can’t remember how many report cards I got saying I wasn’t making an effort. Underachiever is a label that has haunted me.

To a degree it was true. I didn’t have to try particularly hard at some stuff. I read very well. I was a natural researcher and historian. I always talked a blue streak. I wrote stories. I was 10 when I learned touch typing. I type quickly, but the number of mistakes I make can equal the number of words on the page. Inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.

I did well things that came naturally. Everything else didn’t come at all. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. Physics was meaningless. Trig was random numbers. If I could remember what I was supposed to do with numbers, the odds were no better than 50-50 I’d come up with the right answer. We did not have calculators, but even if we had, it wouldn’t have guaranteed I’d get the right answer. I also can’t key numbers with any accuracy.

Today, when I commented on a friend’s blog, in a fewer than 10-word sentence, I omitted one word and mis-wrote another. I thought the missing word, but failed to type it. Missing in action. By the time I saw the problems, it was too late to correct them. I’ve been doing that a lot and I finally started searching to see if there was a name for the problem, other than creeping senility.

Dyscalculia. A learning disability with which both my son and granddaughter have been diagnosed.

How did I miss this? How come I never connected the missing dots? I have had all these symptoms for my entire life. It never crossed my mind, or anyone else’s, that there might be an actual problem. Lately it’s gotten worse and I attributed it to getting older and more forgetful. But age tends to exaggerate symptoms of this type. It’s both comforting and frustrating to realize I’ve spent my life successfully functioning despite the problem. As have millions of people because the world doesn’t adjust to your problems. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got because … well … what choice do you have?

When I was growing up, kids with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia were assumed to be stupid, lazy or both, I’ve been called many things, but never stupid. So I was told loudly and often I was lazy. Eventually I came to believe it. It never occurred to anyone that maybe I really couldn’t make sense of numbers. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They didn’t like me. Sometimes, it felt personal.

Because I was good with words and concepts, I wrote very well. I didn’t spell very well, but I learned to look things up and if I wasn’t sure how to spell a word, I used a different word. I rewrote whole pages to avoid having to use a word I couldn’t spell. Sometimes, I still do. I don’t trust the spell checker to know what I meant.

Lately, I find my finger typing words that start with the same letter as the word I meant to write, but which are otherwise entirely different. When eventually I see the error, I’m totally baffled how my brain can be thinking one thing and my fingers typing something entirely different

A short post … like this one … can take me hours to proofread and when I’m done, there will still be wrong words, missing words, missing pieces of words, words in the wrong order or wrong form (e.g. gerund instead of past tense). I just don’t see the errors.

If you have a child in school who is doing poorly but is bright and should be doing better, before you assume that he or she needs only to work harder, take a look at dyscalculia and dyslexia websites. They have diagnostic tools for all ages and stages. Not every child or adult has every symptom, nor are all symptoms present at all times. Intermittent memory loss is common. You may know how to solve an equation today, but not recall how to do it tomorrow. Gone from your memory without a trace.

Check out: The Dyscalculia Forum and Dycalculia.org. Meanwhile, here’s some basic stuff to help you decide if you want to search further.

From The Dyscalculia Forum:

The Basic Facts

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in mathematics. Dyscalculia is a word you use to describe when people have significant problems with numbers – but still have a normal or above normal IQ. It seems that no dyscalculic has problems with math alone, but also struggle with problems being able to learn to tell time, left/right orientation, rules in games and much more. See the list of symptoms. Also, there are more types of dyscalculia, and all types demand specific learning methods aimed at the specific problem.

How Common Is Dyscalculia?

According to UK studies done by Gross-Tsur, Manor and Shalev in 1996, 6.5% are dyscalculic. According to studies done by Lewis, Hitch and Walker in 1994, 1.3% are dyscalculic while 2.3% are dyscalculic AND dyslexic – that means that according to this study 3.6% of the World’s population are dyscalculic.

That gives a total of between 3.6 and 6.5% of the World’s population. And again: That means, according to these two studies, that between 216.000.000 (two hundred and sixteen million) and 390.000.000 (three hundred and ninety million) people are dyscalculic – if we say that there are 600.000.000.000 (six billion) people in the world. No international study has been done on how common it is.

Symptoms In Brief 

Normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing. Poetic ability. Good visual memory for the printed word. Good in areas of science until higher math is required and creative arts.

Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. Substitute names beginning with same letter.

Difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction. Inability to recall schedules, and sequences of past or future events. Unable to keep track of time. May be chronically late.
Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Poor mental math ability. Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting.

When writing, reading and recalling numbers, these common mistakes are made: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.

Inability to grasp/remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Poor long-term concept mastery. May be able to do math one day, but draw a blank the next..

May be unable to comprehend or “picture” mechanical processes. Lack “big picture/ whole picture” thinking.
Poor memory for the “layout” of things. Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, lose things often, and seem absent-minded.

May have difficulty grasping concepts of formal music education. Difficulty sight-reading music, learning fingering to play an instrument, etc.

May have poor athletic coördination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions as in aerobic, dance, and exercise classes. Difficulty remembering dance step sequences.

Difficulty keeping score or remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often loses track of whose turn it is during games. Limited strategic ability.

THE INTERCONNECTNESS OF ALL THINGS

sunset with hawk

The late great Douglas Adams (who shared my birthday, March 11th — I’m sure that means something, but I have no idea what) created a character that I dearly love. Dirk Gently (also known by a number of other names, including Svlad Cjelli), was the owner/operator of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It operated based on the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” I believe in Douglas Adams and Dirk Gently. We all operate, knowingly or not, on the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

More than half the posts I write — including this one — are born while commenting on someone else’s post.

We are intricately and intimately linked. I wonder if we take for granted how bound to others we are in this strange cyber world we have created. I have read and heard much talk about the isolation of each person, alone and lonely with their computer. It has been put out there as a metaphor for the estrangement of people from each other, the symbolic isolation of individuals in the technological world.

I don’t think it’s true. For me, for many of my friends, for my husband, isolation would be life without the Internet. Without computers. For anyone who suffers a chronic illness, for those of us getting on in years who can’t get out as much as we want and whose friends have died or moved far away. For young people whose studies, work, happenstance or life choices have settled them long distances — continents and oceans — distant from old friends and family, electronic communications are a godsend. Skype — and programs like it — make it possible to see the faces we love.

96-Moon-Small-34

If we cannot share a hug, we can share face time. Electronic communications are fast or instant. Texting, IM, TwitterFacebook, even YouTube let us share in ways that were science fiction just a few years ago.

Without my computers, I would be truly isolated. The fibromyalgia, arthritis and heart condition make getting around difficult. Without electronic connections, I would be a squirrel up a tree without fellow squirrels to hang with.

This post was inspired by Dawn Hoskings on whose post I was commenting when I realized — again — how lucky I am to be living in a world that lets me enjoy virtual travel and participate in a larger world. I’m glad — proud — to be part of a community of bloggers, a community of friends around the world. And deeply grateful. How about you? I’d like to hear your stories.

Satellite Communications