Sunday, April 26, 2009

Music Moves Me…

That song is so appropriate… How many times have we all said that? A break up… a romance… a memory… a prayer… All seem to float by on the wings of a song. Music is the glue that binds our presents and futures to our pasts. It helps to define our understanding of the world. The words of a song can bring real change. A song, even one I have heard hundreds of times, can bring new meaning to a situation. They can devastate you when you realize that you've been wrong, exhilarate you when they match your current joy, and bring a sad bit of comfort to a "Beautiful Goodbye".

Incidentally, I listened to "Beautiful Goodbye" by Jennifer Hanson about 6 times after I broke up with a good friend. It actually felt right, which is twisted, but true. We weren't meant to be more than friends, and it was sad, but… very very right. Somehow, this song helped me say goodbye to that part of us without real devastation. It was sad, and sweet and fit the situation exactly. There were no angry words, but there was nothing to cling to anymore, and it was best to let each other go. The thing that made this song so right is that it doesn't place blame, there's none to place. It doesn't wish for more, instead it is a way to be thankful for what we had, and for that I will always love it. It reflected who I was, and how I felt that day. Not truly happy, but not truly sad it is a fitting tribute to all that I and my friend had. (As an aside.. I couldn't find a copy of this song's actual music video, so somebody's mashup will have to do, but it does have a decent clean copy of the song, so it's what you get tonight. )

Music is woven throughout our relationships. We always hear about "our song" in movies, books and even real life, and there is a reason… Music is magical. It can carry us to the day we met, or the day we first kissed. It can send us on a journey of the soul, back to the days of "first love", all with the simple unfolding of the melody. A few chords, a couple choice words, are all it takes to draw the memory, make it ours, and new again. The joy of love is difficult to express. Poets, actors, and artists have all brought forth stunning efforts in the defense and explanation of love, but a song is the only medium I have found that can catch the essence of an individual and unique romance. Somehow the simplicity of a song allows people to surround and infuse it with their own feelings, their own hearts. It makes the love immortal, and on some level it makes the song immortal.

"The Song Remembers When" by Trisha Yearwood is a fitting tribute to this role that music plays in our lives, so since I haven't yet found that "our song" with someone, I will share this masterpiece with you instead. (Or at least I would have if the idiot record company would have let me embed the video. The link will take you there though).

Speaking of remembering… do you remember? And that song was playing?.. or We sang that! Songs, even those that are utterly unrelated can be profound reminders of those moments "we will never forget". "I Hope You Dance," played the year I graduated high school. Admittedly, it is the sort of sappy thing you are supposed to remember when it comes to graduation, but it doesn't change the impact it has when I hear it. It still reminds me of the thrill and hope of going to college, moving on, becoming a woman (though to be honest, most days I wonder if I ever really hit that milestone.. I think I am still trying to avoid it, truly.) Or perhaps my memories float to my senior prom with Wes, where the last dance was.. I kid you not.. "American Pie". "Sweet Home Alabama" (sorry, best copy I could find on YouTube) will always be "Sweet Home Maji Modo" (Not sure of the spelling, and never got further than changing that line.. but…) We sang it as we drove into the yard of the first house we stayed in, in the Kenyan "Bush" out with the villagers. "I Can Only Imagine" will forever draw another Kenyan picture to my mind's eye.. it was a fare well dinner in that same village. We cooked, ate goat, shared, prayed and sang with the villagers who had welcomed us so freely into their homes and lives. "So Much Cooler Online," so much fun hanging out at RyanO's house while he DJ'd his internet radio show, "Swingin' Doors". And I still "Cupid Shuffle" every time I turn "to the left" or "to the right" with any of the NABS folks. "Pussycat" has become Missy's personal theme, (with minor alterations)… "Missy cat Missy cat, I love you… Yes I do!" "Manamana" is the car trip song for watching Steve graduate from basic training… Marc and I bonded over a song called "I Hope You Die," by the Bloodhound Gang (It is an awful song, but he played it near constantly, I'm always going to remember it as one of his, and it had a good beat for Audiosurf, which is a great game, so be nice. Also, I'm not really comfortable with this one, so I am not linking to it.. you want it... you find it. I can't help that it reminds me of Marc... and no I don't share the sentiment.. meanies.). So you can see, there are too many to choose, so you won't find them all embedded on my blog here, and it isn't even half my list… but I know you have a list like this too. We all do, and it helps to make us who we are. Most of these memories wouldn't be the same without these songs, and most of these songs would be forgettable enough without these memories, but together? They build a personal soundtrack. They become a musical tribute to who we were, we are, and who we may become.

Finally, I can't count for you the number of times I have been brought to my knees in prayer, and occasionally tears because of a song.. All I can say is that music can be a truly spiritual experience. I have seen it used to teach me many lessons about my relationship with God, and I expect it will be used to teach me many… many more, though there are songs that always stand out as especially relevant, no matter where I stand, and "Canyon Prayer" by Jessi Alexander is certainly one of those songs for me. The first time I heard it… balled like a baby. All right, you people that know me well know that I didn't ball, I don't really cry when stuff hits that deep. I just can't cry, when it really matters… well sometimes, but I usually can't. Anyway, that is not the point of this blog post. I have found many songs that bring me closer to my Savior. They often teach me more than I could have learned from any sermon. I think sometimes the simplicity of music works in its favor when it comes to matters of the spirit. It has the chance to bring one point across in fairly simple and profoundly powerful terms. It doesn't have to be weighed down by argument or rhetoric. It is almost pure emotion. It gives the voice to the deepest longings of the heart. The desire to love, serve, and obey is somehow easier for me to understand when it is put to music. The gift of Jesus' sacrifice is often more real to my soul when it is sung.. He calls us to sing, to praise him with instruments and voice, I have to believe this is why. He loves music as we do, and I believe He knows, better than any how powerful a song can be. This song is powerful for me, and often draws me up short, when I don't wish to go where I ought to be… It reminds me that my loyalties really must belong to Him before all others.

Can't embed this one either.. so "Canyon Prayer."

Music can help us to say goodbye, love a little more deeply, supply a soundtrack to our days, and bring us closer to that we hold most dear. It is profound in its simplicity, and powerfully reminds us of all we are, and long to be. It makes us laugh, and cry, dance, and strive, but most important, it in large part, makes us who we are. I hope that learning a bit about the music that has shaped me will bring you back to your songs "That Remember When".

Friday, April 10, 2009

Super Size Me: Review and Commentary

Hey, tell me I'm not completely late to the party on this one, and I will gladly call you a liar, however, I wanted something to write about, and boy is this it. Wow!.. just wow. First, I will not say that all of this gentleman's research and facts are wrong, nor will I say that it wasn't entertaining, but as a serious education piece, it left more than a bit to be desired.

Are we sure this isn't a "Mockumentary"? The host was not afraid to poke quite a bit of fun at the subject, nor was he afraid that swearing or sexual discussion made his story seem less relevant. I understand that in many ways what he was really trying to put together was more of a "Shockumentary," but it didn't really do it for me. Mr. Spurlock's discussion points, while often, though not always, valid were difficult to swallow in that his style was very preachy, and overblown. I will be the first to admit that I am aware he has his finger pointed directly at people like me. I won't even disagree with the placement of said finger. I am overweight, and much of this is because of my eating and fitness habits, but here's the deal: I made those decisions. Not McDonald's, not KFC, not Blue Bunny, and not Coke. I am the woman that chose to pick up banquet meals for lunch most days at work. I am the woman who usually skips both breakfast and exercise for the five extra minutes of sleep in the morning. I admit it. Am I proud? No, not really. Am I responsible? Absolutely. Do I need a snotty New Yorker calling me out on it? No, thank you.

I feel that Mr. Spurlock, like most documentary producers, had not come into this to test a theory, but to prove a point. He already knew what he expected to find when he started. He may not have expected quite the consequences that he experienced, but on some level, he was expecting something like this to happen. He expected this "experiment" to affect his health and his mood. I can't help but wonder how much of his "mood swings" and "feeling sick" were actually caused by the food, and how much was caused by the idea of the food. I just can't be sure that what he "felt" wasn't merely because he expected to feel it. On the other hand, some of the doctor's reports are fairly scary if they are true. All in all, I just couldn't take the piece seriously.

I know this fairly short "review," doesn't really address any of Mr. Spurlock's discussion points, but that's probably not why you read my blog. If I am guessing correctly, you probably come here because you already know me, and are shocked by the spectacle of me writing anything more than I absolutely have to, and taking the time to ensure proper typing. Really I guess I just needed to see this once in my life, and then I needed to judge it on my blog. I never would have paid to watch it, but it was interesting, though not in an "I want to change my life because of this" sort of way. It was more of a… "Wow, what an arrogant jerk" thing really. However, that being said, this is my first blog post for the month, so we can thank Mr. Spurlock for that. I was casting far and wide for a topic, and he dropped one right in my lap.

So, now that I have made my opinion known on that load of… questionable content, I feel that I must mention that I do feel the need to begin some sort of weight loss plan. Certainly not because of the "documentary" though. It actually came about because I have seen the pictures from the NABS student seminar. I really looked quite a bit larger than I realized, and that makes me unhappy. So, I think first things first, I am going to look into doing a food diary for a while, just to see what I am eating, then if I can afford it, maybe Weight Watchers. If not, well I should be able to come up with something. Those of you who care, feel free to ask me about it, those who don't… well you know what to do.

Good evening for now, and I'll see you all on the flip side.

By the way, if anyone wishes to watch this "cinematic masterpiece" here's the link:

Super Size Me

Have Fun!

(I just found this "response" to the Super Size Me vid on Youtube. It proves two things. First, Youtubers will "respond" to anything that's been promoted or popular, just to get hits. Second, kittens make me much happier than arrogant New Yorkers do. Enjoy!)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Review: Terrier – The Legend of Beka Cooper, Book One by Tamora Pierce

"Right now it is a thing of blood and theft and dark deeds in the Lower City." – Tunstall, From The Legend of Beka Cooper Book 1 Terrier by Tamora Pierce

What can I say I love a good story, and although every last one of my friends who I have shared it with seem to disagree concerning its status as a good story, I love this book. I love the characters, the setting and the talking cat. (Yes, I read fantasy and have a thing for talking cats, is anyone really surprised?)

So here's the setup: In a country that is very similar to medieval England and in many ways could be a parallel universe's interpretation of that time and place, a girl begins her quest to become a city guard, known affectionately in this world as a Provost's Dog. Before we continue I had better explain how this world is not like England of yore, or there is likely to be confusion later. First, Tortall is a land watched over by a pantheon of Gods, who can, at their discretion involve themselves in human affairs. Second, it is a land that contains and allows for the existence and use of magic.

Beka is proud of her involvement with the Dogs, and for this reason begins to keep a journal of all her experiences during training. She is eager, bright, and exactable, bat there is more to her than initially meets the eye. Beka has a magical gift of her own. She can hear the spirits of the dead that ride on the backs of pigeons. This gives her a unique view of what happens in her part of town, The Lower City. When strange and valuable gemstones begin to turn up, and Beka hears the voices of eight dead on the backs of the birds, she and her training partners know they have to investigate. These stones bring a second set of villainous crimes to light and make for a thrilling if unconventional mystery.

It's not just the story though. In fact, if you know me well at all, you know that generally, I don't really care for mystery. What draws me to this book, and really keeps me hooked are the characters: For instance, Beka is paired with senior Dogs Clara Goodwin, and Matthias Tunstall. Goodwin is a hard, stern woman, who is both willing and able to dispense justice with an iron will. She is skeptical of having a trainee, and is more than happy to make sure that Beka knows it and tows the line. Tunstall on the other hand is as easy-going and fun loving as a good guard could hope to be, and he looks forward to teaching Beka about guards work. They are both funny and intelligent characters who play well off of one another as real partners and friends do. They are utterly believable and enjoyable, and the book would have been lacking without them.

The next set of characters that make the book what it is are the criminal, but ultimately good hearted, Rosto, Kora and Aniki. They are a fascinating study because they manage to very effectively be friends with, and even help the Dogs, and yet still be truly and unashamedly on the other side of the law. This rich contradiction added to deeply interesting personalities makes then extremely compelling characters.

My favorite character though, is Pounce. He is described as the "God-Cat" at a few points in this story, and it's as good a description as any. His status as more than an ordinary animal is signified by his unusual purple eyes. Although the others do not seem to hear him, he has regular conversations with Beka, and infuses the book with quite a lot of sarcastic humor, and general feline antics. He is also the reason for two of my favorite quotes in the story:

"Who needs handsome idiots when we can have kitties!" Aniki

"Cats must always be cats, even when they are gods, or constellations." Beka

Finally, of course there is Beka, herself. She is as I mentioned before, bright, persistent, and hungry for justice. She's a tad idealistic, but she's sixteen. Which of us wasn't at least a tad idealistic at that age? Anyhow, Beka's main flaw is an awful and at times, crippling shyness. Although it does improve throughout the story, there are a few points where you either want to join the other characters in helping her along, or knocking her upside the head over this particular weakness. All in all, she is a fun character to follow, because she is believable.

If you have read Tamora Pierce before, this book is different from all of her other work because it is the only story, (though the rest of the series will follow in this vein), that is written from the perspective of diary entries. Some people loved this style, some hate it. Personally until she throws in a short entry, I tend to forget it's supposed to be a journal. The entries are long enough that it's easy enough to do. I doubt some of her "journal entries" would be written the way they are in the story, if they were real, but the author is going to have to make a few concessions to ensure that the story comes through clearly.

All in all, I love the book and have read it at least half a dozen times since its release. It's not for everyone, and I seem to guess wrong when I try to recommend it, but give it a try, and if you do, let me know what you think.

(One final exciting note: The sequel, Bloodhound, comes out in two weeks.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bygone Places… Bygone Days: Kenya

Although I didn't officially "dedicate" the last Bygone Places entry, in many ways it was tied to a particular group of friends. This one is not. I've sadly lost touch with almost everyone from this experience, and it is something I now regret. These posts were intended to allow me to share places and times that changed me, but looking back now, this episode may be a record of regrets. How I should have changed, what I should and could have taken from this experience. Do not mistake me, I was changed and did grow from my time in Kenya, but I think I allowed much of that growth to slip away.

I am unsettled as I write this, because I know the kind of experience this was, I know at least a little of how it could and should have shaped me, and I know that where I now stand is not really where I should be. This is an introspective of a deeper more personal nature than that of Space Camp. This post is directly tied to the purpose for my time in Kenya, my Christian faith. Someday, I hope to write a more normal experiential blog about what happened in Kenya, and some of the more mundane things I learned, but truly, I feel that this needs to be written, and it is what I have to say tonight.

I truly say this with all my heart: My God, what have I done? I have wasted such a precious gift. I've lost so much of what you taught me in that beautiful place. I have willingly given up the treasure you offered me in the African sun, for the dust and day to day cares of the here and now.

For my readers' sake, I really should go back and explain a few things. I am a Christian, and have on one level, always believed in Christ. On another level though, I believed, but I hadn't really done anything with that belief. It is very much like the difference of claiming to be a Cubs fan though you never actually watch them, and actually attending every game, standing up for them in bars, and shunning all of their foes as your own, though of course on a much deeper, more personal level. There is of course no comparison between faith and baseball, but it was the only thing I could say to at least offer an explanation of what I mean when I say that I was, and yet, was not truly a believer all my life. I truly was changed by Him one June evening, (more accurately, extremely early morning) in 1997. It shaped many of my decisions as a late adolescent, including the college I later chose to attend, and the major I eventually chose. To make a long story short, (though I fully intend to later make a short story long on this point) I willingly offered my life and being to Christ, as Savior and Lord. He challenged me, pushed me to grow, and after many, many other adventures, led me to Kenya.

The country was semi-arid and mountainous, much like Colorado actually. The people were friendly and enjoyed our company. We taught in villages, and churches about Christianity and AIDS. We were taught about trusting in God for everything, because we couldn't trust ourselves. That lesson was much more real in a country where we didn't know the language of many of the inhabitants, vehicles and other equipment were so patched and ragged that it was truly a gift from Him to have them function, and where every place we went, we could see His glory in landscape and beast, alike.

I knew that our work could never succeed without His hand and blessing upon it. It was as much a fact as that the sun came up in the east, or that our Maasai hosts would invite us to drink Chai with them, or occasionally, sour milk. It was a new place of submission and trust. One I have never really allowed myself while I lived here. There have been fleeting moments of it, like when I know He has a task for me, and I truly see how unable I am to complete it without His wisdom and aid. I knew while I was in Kenya that I belonged utterly to God, and I was His beloved child. I knew that with His approval and help, I could change the world in which I lived. I might even, glory of glories, be used to help another come to know Him as their Savior and Lord. I had never known such peace, and such wonder. I haven't known them since either.

This is where the whole thing seems to fall apart to be honest. I came back, and for a time, wanted to continue to serve Christ here, until He again called me to share His love with others... elsewhere. I was eager, and I was willing to follow where I believed that He called, but slowly those feelings began to fade. Each day has been more about the things of here and now: paying bills, getting a degree, getting a job, getting a different degree so I can get a better job, so I can pay bills… For a time, I was attending a good church last year, and He began again, to remind me of all that it means to follow Him. (If you are in the Omaha area, I would highly recommend that you visit Coram Deo, by the way.) I was there long enough to long to return to the days where I tried to fully submit to Him, though I was still very bad about actually doing so. Then I moved, and honestly I am afraid to go back. It's hard to follow Him. I will say with all of my being that it is the best and fullest life I could lead, but it is not easy, and there are times that it will hurt, terribly, and I have allowed myself to be afraid, and not follow where He leads, and not listen to His call. I need to find a church where I can actively serve. I have to go to Him, and submit. It's the only way I will truly feel complete.

Will I do it? I don't know, I doubt that I ever fully will. I think it is human nature to wrestle with God, and the world for control, but I hope, and I pray… and perhaps this is the first step… that I will not forget all that I learned while I walked with God in Kenya. I know I don't want to forget any more, perhaps with His mercy, and help, I will have the strength to again say, I am weak, Father, and I know that my only strength lies in You. Take me and shape me so that I may do the most good possible in Your world. Rule me and teach me to love and trust only You.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Book Review: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Dianna Wynne Jones

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a wonderfully funny imaginative reference guide to the cliches and archetypes found in the fantasy genre. Mrs. Jones's book is not really intended to be read cover to cover. Instead, it is meant to be read rather like an encyclopedia or dictionary. For all that it is absolutely hilarious. To give you an example of the humor in the book here is the entry on beer:

"Beer always foams and is invariably delivered in tankards. The Management is not concerned with the taste of it. That is your funeral."

(Just as an aside "The Management," refers to the author of the cliched story in question.) Ms. Jones is fairly ruthless in her remarks. She will gladly poke fun at how a situation is described, the inconsistencies of the universe or the motives of the characters. When reading the book you become familiar with terms like "The Reek of Wrongness" or the fact that all you get to eat in Fantasyland is stew.

To be honest, the book is not for everyone, nor is it for every occasion. I would never recommend this book to any of my friends, save one in California who reads fantasy as avidly, if not more avidly, than I do. This does not mean that I would not freely recommend this book to the right sort of person. "What sort of person is that ?" you ask. Well settle down and I will tell you.

I would freely and unreservedly recommend this book to people that have read hundreds of "Lord of The Rings" look-alikes. You know which ones I mean. The "high" fantasy stories that never end before you have read three 500-page volumes, and begun to wonder "Why does this look exactly like the last fifteen fantasy books I have read"? I would recommend this book to you in a heartbeat because after reading that many books that take themselves that seriously, you need a good laugh worse than the rest of us. Not to mention that I would expect that you have felt the same way as the author about these books. You too are ready to groan at the thought of another dish of stew, or wonder what does "wrongness" smell like anyway.

There is one other class of person I would recommend the book to. Anyone who likes to write Fantasy needs a copy of this book. It makes a good reference of what not to do. It really does help a writer avoid some of the dull over-used tripe in order to ensure they don't become just another cliched, boring fantasy writer.

Fantasy at its best takes us to a world never before explored, at its worst it is a sad parody of our wildest dreams and imaginings, and leaves us wondering why, when we try to escape, is it that all we get instead is a world that is bleaker and more 2-dimensional than our own. Ms. Jones is not-so-gently reminding the authors of these books to avoid dragging their readers into this bleak and barren world.

So final recommendation? Yes if your last few flights of fantasy haven't bothered to leave the ground. However, if you don't read fantasy, or don't have a satirical sense of humor don't bother, you won't like it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bygone Places… Bygone Days: Space Camp

I spent most of this afternoon talking with my friends Alicia, Ryan and Wes. As great change is expected for one of them, we talked about how all of us have felt that Denver is like home more so than any other place we have lived. It left me thinking about special places. Places that felt like home, or where I learned about myself. Places I grew, or simply found to make me happy. In honor of those memories, I am starting a blogging mini-series which attempts to list where, when and why I found such great change in such unique places. To begin, we'll start with a pivotal moment in my young life, Space Camp.

September 1996 – Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama – I was young, I was dumb, but I say now, and with all my heart, I was changed. I lived in a small town since the fourth grade, and wasn't well accepted by my classmates. I was different in a lot of ways and it affected my social standing. I had grown to believe that I wasn't really worthy of friendship and that it wasn't really worth looking for. I went to Space Camp because I could, really. There was a special week for blind and visually impaired students, and since it was paid for through a special grant, how could I refuse the opportunity. No kid's going to turn down Space Camp. I was giddy when we arrived at the Omaha airport. I couldn't wait to start. I nearly ran to my group when we arrived and the luggage had been checked. It would be the first time I would fly, and although I didn't know it, the first time, as a young adult that I would know I had friends. There were a couple of guys that I hung out with at the summer school program held at the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped (The State's name for it, not mine. I hate that word.) so I went looking for them when I arrived. (One of those guys was Wes, by the way.) When I found them, they were talking to a new girl, someone none of us had met before, her name was Alicia. (and still is, I might add.) Long story short, in the first minutes, before we even left the airport, or made it through security, I was with three friends who would shape the majority of my high school years, two of whom are still as close as family. Wes had already been through Space Academy level One, and was now preparing to attend an advanced program, so we didn't get to spend much time with him that week, but we enjoyed one another's company (in the airports) until we all arrived in Huntsville, anyhow.

Due to an Atlanta thunderstorm, I got the chance to spend a few hours with Alicia, Brent, Wes, and several others from our combined teams. We talked and learned about each other the way high school kids do. We were loud, we were giddy, and we all babbled. There were contests to see who could use a Braille 'n Speak fastest (Alicia or Wes), overpriced greasy pizza, and fears that we might be trapped in Atlanta. Other than the concern about not reaching our destination, it was a blast. I was high on life and the fact that we had actually been on a plane in a thunderstorm, and I seemed to have people around me who cared about me. It was better than I could have imagined.

When we reached Huntsville later that evening, the teams were separated, welcomed, and briefed. We were reminded of all the rules that come with teen camps… No public displays of affection… Listen to your mentors.. No public displays of affection…Follow all posted rules.. No public displays of affection… you get the idea. After the briefing, we were sent to settle in. The rooms housed at least four students at a time, in a building that was intended to look like a futuristic space station, though honestly it looked more like two rolls of paper towel stacked on top of one another to me. Alicia and I were paired with a pair of teen witches, nasty, snotty, popular girls, who hated me. I don't mean to sound like I am pitying myself, it really was hatred. I don't know why to this day, but its true. They and their friends ridiculed and otherwise snubbed me, which all in all I was used to. What I wasn't used to though, was having friends who stuck up for me, and Alicia and Brent did. The three of us were inseparable that week. We were a team within a team. We thrilled in our successes and commiserated over our losses together. I know this doesn't sound like much, but for me, it was like a new world had opened out before us.

There was so much that happened that week I could never recount it all, but I should at least mention the simulated Shuttle Missions. We, like everyone else, hoped to be on the shuttle, and somehow, by a miracle, or cruel turn of fate, I was the Shuttle Commander for our first flight. I don't actually remember where Alicia or Brent were stationed, but I know that I felt a burden of leadership that I had never before experienced. We were sent into orbit and went through the mission with a handful of different points of terror and frustration, then it was time to land. I don't really remember quite what happened, or what specifically went wrong, but when we arrived back "on earth" there were no survivors in the shuttle, and I knew at the time with all my heart, that it was my fault. (I doubt that assertion now, but at the time, I knew it had to be true.) It was a blow, and I felt like the penultimate failure, but my friends were there. We were bummed, certainly, but they stood with me.

The second mission was a different story. Once again, we all hoped for shuttle positions, and somehow, by a true and unadulterated miracle, we all had them, at least if I remember correctly. (Alicia can correct me if I am wrong on that point). We were stationed in different places, I was a mission specialist, which meant that I did "experiments" in the cargo area lab while they were more actively involved in the flying of the ship, but that is hardly the point. I honestly have no idea whether or not the shuttle's crew were half crazed during that mission, or not, all I remember is that my part of the mission went well, and that in preparing to land, we discovered that the hatch between the lab and the rest of the shuttle were open. It was sure to be another disaster, but Brent "risked his life" to unstrap his harness and close the hatch. We survived, and the mission was a success. It was a moment of triumph for us all, and I think that on some level we all savored that victory as something more than just a simulated shuttle mission.

There were certainly other memorable occurrences that week. We simulated the moon walk, we rode the multi-access machine, (the one that is in all the advertisements for Space Camp) we broke rules, though only minor ones, and we had numerous other team building events, lectures, video presentations and the like. I remember talking about our dreams, our hopes and our fears. None of us are where we expected to be, but because of this experience, we all have memories, and I know that I am worthy. Worthy to succeed, worthy to be proud of who I am, and most important to that lost, lonely girl that I was, worthy to have friends.

End of the Linux Adventure

If you have been reading my twitters, you will already be aware that I have decided to end the "Linux Adventure" early. I could not get Samba to work with my Windows system, so I couldn't easily access my files. It wasn't worth it to me to spend my entire break fighting with Linux without reaping any of the rewards of being on break from school.

Fear not, I certainly have not given up on Linux yet. First, I am too stubborn, in the long run, and hate the idea of failure. Second, I've seen what amazing things you can do with Linux when you get the crazy system configured correctly, and some day I want to be able to crow to the world that I have done it! I have an amazing Linux set-up. Third, it's more than just a hobby. Right now, it's just a hobby, but it is too powerful to stay that way. Once I know it, it may be a useful skill to include on my resume. It also will allow me greater freedom in my computing choices, both personally and professionally, and I subscribe to the philosophy that you can get more done if you have more tools in your tool box. Thus, I'll try the "Linux Adventure" again, when I have the "file-sharing" tool actually in my tool box.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Linux Adventure - Day 1

Things are not going quite as planned on this first step in my Linux Adventure. I didn't have a lot of time before the end of the quarter, so I ended up not having time to research and implement the Samba stuff in order to make Windows and Linux like each other. This is kind of a problem for me honestly, as I like to use my files, and they are all on the Windows machine.*sigh* Anyway, due to the fact that I wanted to listen to music tonight, I fiddled with settings in Win and Lin for a couple minutes, gave up and decided that using a bootable USB drive might be a better option as it should allow me to access the files on the main system, so I have it chugging away on that project while I write on the dedicated Linux machine.

To be honest, if I thought it would actually work with Orca, would allow me to boot from a pen, and used deb packages instead of rpm, I would just install Mandriva. That is by far the prettiest, and easiest Linux distro I have ever come across. Unfortunately I know that last time I played with it, Orca would not work, and it does rely on rpm, so I don't think it is likely to be for me. If I get desperate, I may try Fedora again. It does some pretty neat things all things considered, just once again, I love apt. It seems so much simpler than other package managers that I have come across.

Another reason that the first day of the Linux Adventure went nowhere fast is that honestly I did not want to see another computer screen, (or my own for that matter) after finishing my final project for Web Fundamentals. I underestimated the amount of work that would be involved, and really didn't start on it until about 10 the night before it was due. I finished about 9 AM on Wednesday, and wasn't really feeling particularly well when it was finished. I wanted nothing to do with computers, so I refused to do anything with my machine until about 7 this evening. I have been good, and other than trying to get file sharing going, everything I have done has been done on Linux, but I can't say that I am very happy about the lack of file sharing. Of course, this is invariably my problem, and not necessarily the fault of Linux, or even Windows, but it does make me just a bit cranky.

I do have a few other comments I want to make about the Linux Adventure though, and several of them are really quite positive. First, I absolutely adore a little program called Gnome-Do It allows me to open programs and files by hitting modifier(start) button and space, then typing the names of the program or file I want to open. I haven't actually tried that with Orca yet, but that can be easily mended. I will be right back. * grin*. Well, nuts, it doesn't work with Orca, but in my case that really is a fairly incidental issue. I don't need it unless I am editing a long document, or reading a long document or web page.

Orca isn't bad, but I may have to see if I can scrape up the cash to get the Linux implementations of the IBM ViaVoice voices, as these voices drive me nuts to be quite honest.

Open Office Writer works well enough for my purposes especially since it is free, and very full featured. Mostly I just wanted a spell checker for my journal before I posted it anyway. I will have to go back to the old copy and paste routine, but that is bearable enough.

Well, my dedicated Linux system seems to have a bit of a flaw in it. I don't seem to have enough memory to run magnification on the system. Everything bogs down to something slightly slower than a crawl. I'll see how it works on the pen drive in just a few minutes.

Also, I must say that I am thankful that OO writer has been kind enough to restore documents after system crashes as well as Microsoft does, or I would have lost this entire journal entry. I might have cried if that had happened. As you can see, I am quite a way into the journal, and I would be just a bit cranky if it refused to return. Oh well, I think I am going to go try to boot the pen, and call this a night.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Handwriting Recognition in Windows 7... Good, but a bit TIPsy.

I was bored, and since I have Win 7 on my computer as a virtual system, I thought it would be fun to write about improvements to one of my favorite interface options. I know that my friends won't care, but I love the handwriting recognition features in Vista. This feature is the primary reason I left Vista installed on my main computer in the first place. If it wasn't for that option I would have already wiped Vista so I could set up for the "Linux Adventure" on my good computer. Come down to it though, and I would actually miss this. I'm thinking that maybe when Win 7 is officially released, I may run XP in a virtual machine and run Ubuntu on the other main partition, or if I go completely Linux loony, maybe I will just run Windows in a virtual machine altogether, though I question whether that would actually happen. I just don't feel like I know enough Linux to actually get comfortable with that. Oh well, that is hardly the purpose of this post, so on with the show.

Since I have been playing with Win 7 a little bit I have come to see that for the most part, I really have come to like its input panel for handwriting much more than I do Vista's. It still certainly has its flaws, but it has improved vastly and I really could come to enjoy using it. It does have a particularly obnoxious. "feature" that makes it insist on trying to fit words together in the wrong ways, but it is much better at offering alternatives when its made a recognition error. It also seems to behave a bit better about actual recognition. I still couldn't write a novel on here, but it might be possible on a tabletPC where you could actively see what you are writing as you write it.

One fantastic feature that I just discovered is that it seems to remember your earlier writing or at least it is able to fix things on the fly. It will even copy small chunks of highlighted text into the writing area where you can work on it.

The gestures seem to work a lot better than they do in Vista as well. When you try to scratch something out, as long as it has already been recognized it seems to do a good job of understanding that you want to erase it. Joining and splitting text doesn't always seem to work as well for me but I think that may be a user error. As far as editing gestures go, they seem to work very well, as long as you don't have to enter correction mode. I haven't yet figured out the best way to fix errors where Windows takes two unrelated words and mashes them together in strange ways. Since gestures don't work as well when you are in that mode it is harder to separate two characters or add an extra space between characters. I hope I can figure out how to deal with that little problem.

If I personally were designing this interface there are just a few things I would change to increase usability though. First, I would like to see my original handwriting for a bit longer though as it is sometimes helpful to consider context when making corrections to recognition errors. The other option that I find to be lacking is the ability to scroll, like a word processor. When I am freewriting, I like to be able to just flow and clean up the mess later. Sometimes I just need to get my thoughts or notes written down. However, as it stands mow, I have to clean up each page on the recognition screen as it appears or I end up with a much bigger mess later that makes using recognition impractical at best and infeasible at worst.

All in all, I would love to get my hands on a proper tablet to try some of this out in a more natural environment. For me at least I find handwriting is often the most artistically freeing way to work, even if it tends to be a bit slower and more finicky than the keyboard and other more traditional methods, and I am pleased that even with an inexpensive graphics tablet and my standard monitor setup, this process works well.

(Eww, I just made an unpleasant discovery. The handwriting recognition has a bad time with Uppercase I and lowercase l. I can understand this, they look identical when written. They also look identical in several fonts, including the one they use to create the “handwritten” look as they recognize text. They don’t look the same to screen readers though, so I hope I don’t have a bunch of “l will’s” floating around this entry. Let me know, and I am sorry if I do.)

Everything but the kitchen sink edition

I know, I'm forgetful, and sort of lazy but I realized that there were some other things that I wanted to share with my loyal readers, all two of them… First, it was a really great weekend. It was Mom's birthday so she took off of work and we went junk store shopping. Marc came down as well which was nice. Marc and I tried to surprise mom with his arrival, but since we were out shopping it didn't work as well as we had planned. Mom and I left one of the stores just before Marc showed up, so finally she figured out what I was trying to tell Marc in code, so she knew he was in town. Nonetheless, she was thrilled to have him. We bought pizza and watched a movie when we got home. It was just nice.

On Sunday, since she didn't have to work, mom, Aunt Debbie and Uncle Gary left in the afternoon to visit Granny and Papa. It was good for her. I know she needed to get away. Marc and I hung out and played games and stuff for most of the afternoon. Steve called, and it was very good to hear from him. He got on line with us later, so we were finally able to use the webcam we bought. Sadly, mom had already left so she missed seeing him, but she did get to talk to him on the phone before she left. I can't wait for him to get home from Iraq. We also used the webcam to see Maryah and Aydyn. Aydyn was so cute. Marc helped me with a couple of little things around the house, and then went to bed. I stayed up and tried to work on a homework assignment. That is a tale for another post, it didn't go well.

I am sure that some of you are curious about Marc's cell phone. It did start working again. He didn't end up needing to get a replacement, though his plan was to get an old one that belonged to one of his friends. He got his phone wet. More specifically, he let another friend's baby chew on it, and she slobbered in the microphone, so it wouldn't work till it dried out. I think this may be the 3rd or 4th time that he has gotten the inside of the phone wet, and yet somehow the crazy thing still works. I want a phone that's that robust. He throws the thing and it comes out fine. I don't get it.

Oh well, I'm having so much fun writing tonight, I may as well admit to the situation with my assignment. I fail at understanding the roots of Object Oriented Programming. We started using distinct methods in program design, and I just couldn't figure out what in the name of all that is good was going on. I finally gave up and decided it was better to turn the assignment in late, after talking to the professor, than turning in something that was complete jibberish and had no chance to compile. I did get it turned in, after some of his help, but I still am not sure I understand the concept 100%. *Sigh* I suppose I will have to get it next quarter, as I am taking Java, or I am going to be in a big heap of trouble. Here's hoping.

On the other hand, I am sort of disappointed I won't have any more Web Design classes. I really kind of enjoyed that. It was hard, but it was not the "I can't figure this out" kind of hard. It was more of the "perfect level of challenge" kind of hard. I have one large assignment left for the class, then it's all over but the shooting.. er I mean grading. I did the second test, about CSS yesterday, and I think I ought to have done well, though it caused me a bit of pain as the editor I was using didn't work at all with JAWS, so I sat hunched over the keyboard for just a bit too long. I will be curious what I get in all my classes. Wish me luck, I'll know by this time next week.

Lets see, what else? Oh, yes, Missy is very odd, and kind of mean this week. She seems to be exhibiting all sorts of traits of multiple personality, or maybe she's just being a cat. Who can say? *shrug* Anyhow, she has decided as of late that every time I sit down in the recliner, she belongs in my lap. This is fantastic. It pleases me greatly. I always wanted a cat that would sit in my lap while I read, but she's the first to really make that dream a reality. On the converse side of this, she has a terrible tendancy to nip and it also seems to have gotten a bit worse. She only does it when she is excited or when she's tired of being brushed, but she's been uncommonly excited lately. She's been tearing through the house like a jet plane, on steroids and she's been grabbing at things and pouncing and all sorts of things, just like when I first got her, but she's also increased the amount of times she bites in conjunction with the energy level. I promptly ignore her when she does it, so I am not sure what other steps I should take. I want her to know that play is great, bites aren't. Oh well, at least, with the exception of once with mom, she only seems to bite me. Silly, silly, disobedient Mouse, I'll never really understand her.

And with that, I think I will bid my fond readers adieu. I have errands to run on the morrow, and let's be honest, its 2 in the morning, the morrow has arrived without me. Good night!

Oh, in honor of Mouse, and just because I can, its an Oldie, ( as far as the internet is concerned) but a goody. Here's the Mean Kitty Song from youtube. Yay for Corey and Sparta, they make me smile.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Blah Blog

I was fiddling with my blog's design today. I just changed it because it was cluttered with a screen reader. The most important stuff, namely my entries, should come first, then the "About Me," "Friends," and other such links. Problem is, I like the initial design. I don't much care for the background, but I was going to work on that. Personally, for me, it was really cool that it looked like it was on paper. I was hoping to change the background to look like the paper was sitting on a leather blotter, or at least change the background color to more suit my personality. I may go back and play with it again, but I am a little unsure as to how to set the elements so that everything behaves as it should. I may have to go digging around in the code later, but for now I have just changed the style completely. It's all right, but it doesn't seem to have the same charm as the other one did.

Also, why on earth does blogger allow you to change every color on the page except the background color? I was thinking I could at least sort of make it mine by fixing the terrible case of "minty freshness" that it seems to have, but no, without mucking about in the code, I can't fix that little issue either.

Changing layout did have the intended effect though. Now everything is in the right order. The important stuff comes first, the non-essentials come later, so that is a victory of sorts. Anybody who is reading this, please feel free to comment on the blog's appearance and give me some ideas on how to improve. I can't promise that I will change for your whims, but I like suggestions and ideas, so fire away.

Now, off to my next set of contests… figuring out why Jaws just insisted on starting in 40 minute mode, and girding my loins in preparation for the battle that will ensue when I announce to Dell tech support that I need a new DVD-RW drive as the present one seems to have given up the ghost. There are moments, and this is one of them, that I don't really understand why I love tech so very, very much.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Networking is Not Working (Anywhere it Seems)

*Sigh* I have just managed to prove that whole student in networking thing. I have been trying to get Windows, both XP and Vista, talking to Linux so that I can have my files when I have my "Linux Adventure" in a couple weeks. I am willing to forgo the known. I am not willing to forgo either my music, my books, or my documents for the experience. So far, I am not having a good go of it. I realized after fiddling for an hour or so that Samba had never been installed on the Linux system, so that was sort of a duh moment, but it also only took about 30 seconds to remedy the problem. I now have the Samba server installed, but I next need to configure it. I started that process last night, but I didn't get very far. I would have gotten farther, but every time I turned around someone was calling me. I had a call from 9 P.M until midnight, then my brother called three times, and finally I got another call at about one A.M. I am surprised by my popularity. So, long story short, when I am not doing homework, I will be spending a lot more time reading up on how to configure Samba.

Speaking of communications not working, my brother managed to damage his cell phone. I am not sure what he did to it, he called me three or four times last night, and all he could do to communicate with me was press the buttons to cause a beep. We spent a lot of time using the "beep once for yes, twice for no" system. It was pretty funny, but I didn't learn much of what I wanted to know. I know that he didn't drop it, but I couldn't figure out how to phrase the questions, or ask the right ones, to figure out what he actually did to it. He also said that he didn't need my help ordering a used one from anywhere, but that dad is not likely to help him get another one either. I think he said he is planning to get another one, but I don't know how he is planning to do it. Oh well, in the end, I don't so much worry about it, but I do have to laugh at it. It was terribly funny. I wouldn't entirely put it past him to have faked it, but the background was quiet enough that I am pretty sure he was telling the truth. I will keep you posted when I know more.

My experiences with social networking are also falling into this article. (It seems like a good catch-all, especially with that title.) First, I will admit, I am not the person I should be about social networks. I don't like most of the nonsense that surrounds them. I've never had a MySpace, and my Facebook has languished for the last six or eight months without my even bothering to check it, until last night. I have to say, Facebook has made an awful mess of the system. I could barely navigate that page visually when I got talked into going up there last night. I have no idea how my friends with screen readers are doing it. I know they have started using the mobile page, which doesn't bode well for the accessibility of the system. All I know is that it to me it looks clunky and overstuffed. It is difficult to navigate in order to find what you actually want, and it makes me cranky. I did add a bunch of new friends last night, so if you care about Facebook, go ahead and see if I added you. It is certainly a possibility. If I didn't, don't feel bad, just submit a friend request, and if I know you, I should have you added by oh, maybe next July.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Third Time’s a Charm

Well, it seem like it's about time to give blogging another run. I know, I have an awful track record, but maybe this time things will change. I have a few reasons to believe this. First, I have my Bamboo and I have always preferred free writing by hand instead of typing. Second, I have been twittering for about six months now, so maybe I have gotten into the habit again. Third, to be honest. I sort of miss writing. It does free the mind in some interesting ways. It can be very relaxing as well in the right environment. Fourth, as my biggest problem was always "it's so much work to go to the website. *whine*." I have found a way to upload entries from my desktop. On Windows I am using Office 2007's blog feature which, once configured is great for uploading everything for me. I haven't looked for a Linux option yet, though I will have to get one soon. I will be starting my "Linux Adventure" on the 19th and since I won't be using Windows at all, and will want to chronicle the exercise, I need to get an alternative in place. Finally, I also want to start something bigger than myself, and maybe this can help me flesh that out. I don't know what exactly, I am just tired of "just existing" and I want to find a greater purpose in the here and now.

Oh, by the way, for anyone who is interested my old LJ is still up, and you can read my older entries over there.

This may look a bit funny, as there will likely be more entries today, but I feel like the introduction should be short and to the point. So, in the immortal words of Paul Harvey, I bid you, "Good Day!"