Technology

OBJECT OF DEJECTION – I MADE IT MYSELF!

The Object of My Dejection — Tell us about the object of your dejection — something you made, a masterpiece unfinished, or some sort of project that failed to meet your expectations. What did you learn from the experience? How would you do things differently next time?


When I was a young mommy working full-time and raising my son, I thought I should make my own clothing. It would save a lot of money. My mom made all my clothing when I was a child. She continued throughout her life to make her own outfits and they were gorgeous and classy.

The dolls stand next to the clock is my sewing machine. Yes, it is still there.

The dolls stand next to the clock is my sewing machine. Yes, it is still there.

Now that I was grown up with a job and a toddler, she occasionally — if I begged and pleaded — made something for me. Things I wanted but couldn’t find in the store, or afford if I found them.

I waxed nostalgic about the days when Mom made my clothes. I didn’t appreciate how beautifully everything fit. How special the outfits were until I was much older. When I was a kid, I wanted was to look like everyone else. Kids are dumb that way.

I spent childhood watching my mother create things on her magic Singer Sewing Machine. Most the clothing I wore to school and all of my dress clothing was homemade.

How hard could it be? I picked up a second-hand sewing machine. Took a sewing class. Bought a few patterns. Bought fabric, zippers, buttons, threads — all those little widgets and doodads sewing requires. Thus armed, I dove in and made a few new outfits. I was delighted by how much I could make for a pittance, especially compared to buying its equivalent ready-made. People stared at my clothing. Admiration? They must be impressed. I was right.

Long pause. “You made that yourself?”

“How did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess.”

singer sewer 2

It turns out you have to set both sleeves the same way so one isn’t puffy while the other lays flat. There’s pattern matching and buttons which are supposed to line up. Zippers aren’t supposed to stick out or be bunched up. So many details. Hems? One length all around seemed to be the standard.

Those pesky collars — they never came out right. It was getting personal. Even is a big word in sewing — the noun, not the pronoun form. Both sides of a garment are supposed to be identical or so close that the differences are invisible. Unless your model is oddly shaped.

I took another sewing class. This time, I was ambitious. Tailoring. It didn’t go nearly as well as sewing had. There was padding and that stuff which stiffens fabric. I gave up, threw in my pinking shears and folded up the machine where it remains to this day.

Nowadays, I play to my strengths. I have cameras, take pretty good pictures. Write little stories. Wrote a book, maintain this blog. I leave the handicrafts to the handy. Does anyone need an older, but barely used sewing machine?

TACHYON WAVES, WARP DRIVE, AND INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES

Garry and I have been watching “Star Trek: Next Generation.” We missed the show’s initial run. 1987 through 1994 were our busiest years. Rebuilding a life. Restarting a career. Buying houses. Getting married. Moving. Moving again.

Watching TV wasn’t a big item on our agenda.

BBC America is showing the series, albeit not in any particular order. We are catching up, watching two or three episodes per night.

star trek next gen cast

They do a lot of tech talk on the Enterprise. I accept it with alacrity. No problem. Pass the warp drive. I’ll have a side order of tachyon particles. I understand that science as well as I understand ours.

Which is to say, not at all. Tachyon energy is crucial to all kinds of weaponry and fuel. They are part of what powers the warp engines on the Enterprise. The warp engines are what lets the Enterprise be the Enterprise, travel at speeds faster than light … fast enough to explore the universe. Slither through wormholes. Travel through time.

For your information, a tachyon particle moves faster than light. The complementary particle types are luxon (particles which move at the speed of light) and bradyon (particles which move slower than light). If you live in the Star Trek universe, tachyon particles are as common as dirt. Or electricity.

I understand exactly as much about tachyon waves and warp drives as I do about the internal combustion engine. True, I studied this stuff in junior high school (middle school to you kids). The information didn’t “take,” and whatever is going on under my car’s hood is a mystery. As is the electricity that powers this computer. As is all technology.

enterprise next gen

Effectively, everything is a mystery. I understand the technology of the 24th century exactly as well (and as much) as I understand the technology of the 21st. I am equally comfortable in both.

How many of you know how the stuff you use all the time works? I know how software is designed, how code is written and compiled. I used to know how to do a little coding. In the end, though, I have no idea why code does anything. Why, when you compile a program, does it work? It’s just text. Why does it do what it does?

Why does anything work? Tachyon particles, warp drives, internal combustion engines, electricity, cell phones, WiFi. It’s all the same. Magic.

And now, back to the Enterprise, already in progress.

AFTER THE END COMES RENEWAL: EARTH ABIDES

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

I first read this book 40 years ago. It wasn’t new then having been written in 1949, yet it has stuck with me, despite having read thousands of books since.

Earth Abides is sometimes referred to as “the original disaster” story, but it isn’t a disaster story at all. It is, as the title suggests, a book of renewal and hope.

Although events are set in motion by a disaster — a plague that starts somewhere, no one is sure where — and kills off most of the population, that’s only the beginning of the story. A few people are naturally immune to the disease. Also, anyone who was ever bitten by a poisonous snake and survived is immune.

The remnants of humanity find each other and form groups, then tribes.  They repopulate the earth, creating a new society that has bits and pieces of what had gone before, without much of the baggage of the past.

The book was re-released in a 60th anniversary edition a few years ago, including a newly recorded audio version that has an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot count the number of copies of this book I’ve owned. I buy copies of it and lend it to people. It’s theoretically on loan, but the books are never returned, so i buy another copy.

The book is a bit preachy, but George Stewart is a lot less preachy than Anne Rice and I agree with him.

And, what seems ordinary today was revolutionary 63 years ago.

The book holds up well. Technology has moved on, but because technology is insupportable on a depopulated earth, it makes no difference what had or had not been invented. It is all useless without supporting infrastructure.

You can’t drive cars without gasoline, use phones without service. Our satellites might continue to circle the earth, but who would send or receive their signals? After our batteries go flat, it’s over for technology.

The world ends, the world begins. Earth abides.

Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the ability to not only survive, but reinvent the world and be better than we are.

If you haven’t read this book, read it. It’s available on paper, for Kindle, and from Audible – an excellent recording with a fine narrator. I recommend it.

I love this book. I read a lot of science fiction, or used to … but I’m finding most of the new offerings in the genre bleak, to say the least. Hope is as scarce in recent science fiction as the visions of the future are barren and grim. Everything seems set in some version of an ugly, dystopian future emphasizing the worst traits of human nature. Granted we are flawed and there is much evil amongst us, but I don’t necessarily want to dwell in that wasteland.

Earth Abides is exactly the opposite. It is timeless — and rich with hope.

DISIMPROVEMENT 101

It’s a trend. Developers and software companies, from the corporate level down think we are stupid. That we need everything to be made very simple lest we be overwhelmed by too many choices, too much information.

Statistics on the old, unimproved stats screen

Statistics on the old, unimproved stats screen – showing just about everything at a glance

How do I know this? Because the trend in software from most mainstream companies (excluding Adobe, which possibly accounts for their phenomenal success) has been to automate everything.

New disimproved stats page, showing less information in a thoroughly inconvenient format

New disimproved stats page, showing less information in a thoroughly inconvenient format

To leave us with few — or no — choices. Because if we have choices, we’ll screw it up, right? Because, we are stupid.

WordPress, not content with their poorly received “improved posting experience” which caused near insurrection by bloggers, has come up with an “upgraded stats page.” It’s even worse than the “improved posting experience.” Hard to believe, but it’s true.

Commonsense says an upgraded stats page contains more and/or better data. Perhaps a faster response time with improved navigation.

You would be wrong. Instead, we are getting much less information, no navigation other than scrolling (a lot of scrolling) and a slightly slower connection.

Why? Does it not occur to WordPress to test this stuff with users before dumping it on us and telling us these downgrades are really upgrades? How stupid do they think we are?

Seriously guys … how about some beta testing? Surely that would cost nothing but a little bit of time. I’m sure most, if not all, of us would happily do your beta testing. For free. Just ask. Really.

I am not stupid. Or a newbie. Neither are most of the people with whom I connect with on WordPress. If you want to put out a “statistics lite” version for your baby bloggers, that’s fine. Offer it as an option to those who feel less is more.

I don’t think the new page is easier to understand or better in any way at all. It’s less informative and has lots of links for people who are clueless about blogging without providing anything useful to experienced bloggers. That’s a world away from better. Less is not more, not if you are talking about statistics.

Better ought to mean more statistics, additional layers of information. It should include improved navigation tools — and scrolling isn’t navigation.

A bigger typeface doesn’t improve the quality of the data, especially if you’ve eliminated everything but data for one previous week.

Yup, that’s right. You can’t get stats on previous years. No depth. No way to chart overall progress unless your blog is a week old.

It’s sad. Unnecessary. And infuriating.

For other opinions, see If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Anyway and My iPod Has Issues – WordPress Has Joined the Crazy Club.

THE “MISSING” REPORT

I sat here last night. Pondering the differences between this computer which runs Windows 7 Professional and all my other computers which run Windows 7 Home Premium. That was the precise moment I realized I had not the slightest idea where I’d put the system disks for this computer.

And then there is the software and the manuals for all the applications I no longer use, books, a few antiques, and more, mostly obsolete, software. And one music box.

Software and the manuals for applications I no longer use, books, a few antiques, and more, mostly obsolete, software. And one music box.

It was alarming. It got more alarming the more I thought about it. I also realized I had no idea where I put the system disk for Windows 7 I installed on another laptop. For that matter, I was a little hazy on where to find the disks for any of our computers. The only stuff I can locate quickly is for a computer I no longer own, but gave to my granddaughter.

I have every version of Quicken I ever bought — a lot of Quicken — and I no longer use Quicken. I do know where my DVDs for Photoshop are. I have located at least half a dozen versions of Scrabble, none of which run on this operating system.

Sometime around midnight, I went into a frenzy of searching for the system disks for this computer because I doubt they are replaceable. Garry found them, on the keyboard of the electric organ (as opposed to the piano).

I must have been in some kind of daze when I did the setup on this computer. Normally, I take system disks, put them in a manila envelope, label them in big fat markers as “red laptop” or “silver XPS” or “Garry’s 14Z.”

So many computers have come and gone, I have system software for computers that left my possession years ago. I’m not sure what “Garry’s 14Z means, because at some point, his 14Z had to be reloaded and I gave him my 14z. After repair, what had been his 14Z became my “spare laptop,” the one I use to listen to audiobooks as I fall asleep. Or make a final check of email late at night. So what, exactly does “Garry’s 14Z” mean? My bedroom computer or his laptop?

I have every version of old software I used. Manuals too. Empty boxes for each camera I bought. Which is a lot of cameras and a lot of boxes. I have empty Kindle boxes back to the first keyboard Kindle I owned.

I should throw at least some of the stuff away. I finally got rid of the boxes of floppy disks as I no longer have any way to read them. But I kept CDs of documents and photos going back more than a decade, even though I have this same data on three different external hard drives.

No wonder I can’t find anything. Between junk and having become increasingly distracted and absent-minded, important pieces of my life are vanishing.

Everything is “somewhere.” Nothing is lost. Just … missing. I can’t even blame it on the pixies. It’s definitely me.

A Final Note: I bought the carved zebras (in the photograph) at a yard sale 7 or 8 years ago. While I was running my online shop, I got a call from the buyer for a major (you’d know the name) retailer. She wanted 3,000 of each. Sadly, I only had those two. They are one of a kind hand-carvings.

We all wait for our ship to come in. Mine came. I couldn’t board. It left without me. That’s the way my life goes.

HEY, SANTA BABY! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s that time of year. Decision time. What do you want from Santa? Whether you are 7 or 70, there’s stuff you’d like to see under the Christmas tree. Yes, Virginia, I am 72 and still believe I am among Santa’s chosen few.

96-SantaPops-12-9-12_121

I’m a big fan of the NCIS TV series, but my wife has cleaned out that store for me. Some days, I’m a walking clone of Leroy Jethro Gibbs. I even stretch my neck in Gibbs fashion. Today it’s real because my back aches something fierce.

72-drone-advert_10

So, I’m set with Gibbs stuff. What do I want? Wait for it. Wait for it. It’s from the Geek Love store. My very own At-Home Drone!

I saw it in this past Sunday’s news magazine section. I want it! The Protocol Dronium is remote-controlled. It soars through the air. It snaps photos you can later share via USB connection. It’s only $99. I want it!

I’ll be the NSA deep cover agent in my town and valley. I’ll spot perps before they pull their caper. I’ll share my intel with local leos. I want my drone, Santa!

Dwight Eisenhower was our President-elect the last time I felt so strongly about a Christmas present. My wishes were fulfilled when I found the glistening 2 gun Roy Rogers set under the wonderfully decorated tree that seemed 10 feet tall. My Dad looked 10 feet tall too, as I strapped on my guns.

Dad has been gone a dozen years now, followed by Mom. I’m sure both would agree I deserve this Christmas present.

My own drone.

I’ve been a good boy this year, Santa Baby. Surely, you know I’m counting on you.

(Note from Santa: Don’t call me Shirley.)

TESTING 1-2-3

72-Thanksgiving-First Snow_15

This Christmas cactus was too dark, too grainy, very crooked and distorted. In a single operation, I straightened, skewed, cropped and de-noised it. Surprise!

I finally made the decision to buy onOne’s Perfect Enhance 9 module. I had already decided against buying the full suite. Too many of the tools in it were ones I’d rarely or never use, or duplicated tools I had in other software.

72-Nov-Mallards_010

This picture was not only out of focus, but so crooked I did not expect to salvage it.

The enhance module has a bunch of features I can and will use, and they may help me rescue borderline pictures which are too grainy or too soft. The sharpening and noise reduction functions in this software are exceptional.

Cleaned up, with the tones more even. And, of course, straightened.

Cleaned up, de-noised, and straightened.

Another feature I didn’t expect but am enjoying is the multi-faceted crop function. It lets me straighten, skew, and crop in a single operation.

Adjustments were made on just about everything, from brightness, to contrast. It has been straightened and sharpened.

Adjustments were made on just about everything, including exposure, saturation, and contrast. It was straightened and sharpened.

As far as I can tell, it is not well-integrated with the Windows Photoshop CS-6. All the onOne tutorials use a Mac version which has different menus from my version. I’m not sure what version of Photoshop they are demonstrating, but I have not (yet) been able to integrate this module as a Photoshop plug-in. It remains essentially a standalone application which uses some Photoshop features and formats. I like it anyway.

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