Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why I Hate Microsoft Today

My all-time favorite Microsoft joke goes something like this: Two men are flying in a helicopter in dense fog in the Pacific Northwest. They're having electrical problems with the chopper, navigation's shot, and they're running out of fuel, but they know that if they ditch, they'll probably die. Suddenly, there's a break in the clouds, and they see a building in front of them. The co-pilot sees someone in a window and scrawls a message on a piece of paper: "Where are we?" The guy in the window frowns, scribbles, and holds up an answer: "You're in a helicopter." "Aha!" the pilot says. He banks a sharp left and lands them safely at a local airfield. "How did you do that?" the co-pilot asks. "Simple," the pilot replies. "You asked a question, and you got an answer that was logical, correct, and absolutely no help whatsoever. It had to be the Microsoft headquarters."

That's pretty much my deal today. I have, though a circuitous process, ended up with two reconditioned Macs, both of which have MS Word installed. I have never used Word at home, even though they force it on us at school. It's bloated and rude (if I wanted you to do my formatting for me, why would I spend the time to set it up myself??). But now I have Word, so whatever. Turns out they don't have the exact same version of Word, though. The iMac will translate my files from school. The laptop doesn't. Turns out I need a service release to make the laptop's version of Word work right.

So I blithely go to the Microsoft website to download the service release. Can't find it. All the page links are dead. Microsoft just released Word for Mac 2008, so they deep-sixed all the support for my version of Word. It's old, but I guess their corporate policy is "make 'em buy a new one!" Doesn't matter whether I can actually *run* the new one on my computer, I don't have much of a choice. It's find a copy on eBay, or tough you-know-what.

It's days like this that make me proud I've never spent my own money on a Microsoft product. Leeches. But if I want to read my files, I'll have to hold my nose and do it. Grr. Are you listening, Bill Gates?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

10 Things You'd Buy if You Had a Million Bucks

Barenaked Ladies are so going through my head right now...

The rules: Ten things you'd buy, no scholarships or altruism, completely self-centered. Ooooookay--since scholarships and college plans are my default in my "win the lottery" plan, this might be tough.
  1. 1959 Corvette Convertible, Admiral Blue. I love, love, love the look of these cars! It's a work of art, and it hauls butt. Great two-for-one, huh? $150K
  2. A sabbatical. Since health insurance and pharmacy benefits are so out of hand these days, replacing my salary and benefits will run about $100K.
  3. Home improvement. I love my house and my neighborhood, so I won't be buying a McMansion (I object to those on so many levels anyway). Interior/exterior painting, back porch pavilion/patio/deck and accoutrements, master bath redo, spa tub in middle bath, kitchen cabinet refinish/retrofit, selected antiques, window replacement, new irrigation, sod, landscaping, tree work. Since I like the best, $200K.
  4. Ancestry tour. Use that sabbatical time to visit all the countries of my decidedly mixed ancestry at a leisurely pace. Flights, ferries, and deluxe accommodations in Scotland, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Austria, and the Azores Islands. With souvenirs, $200K.
  5. Wardrobe. After the personal trainer gets through with me, I'll need new clothes. Style and comfort, natural fibers. I won't go crazy with labels, but I will demand quality. $50K
  6. Home theater. Huge TV, a jillion speakers all through the house, central control, custom bookshelves, CDs of everything I've ever loved, DVDs out the wazoo. While I'm at it, make the house smart. $50K
  7. Geek me out: MacBook Pro 17" laptop, color laser printer, projector, Mac Pro wired to the gills (30" cinema display), the works. $15K
  8. A horse. A really nice horse, probably a Morgan/Arab cross. With tack and lessons, $35K
  9. A barn and acreage for the horse, plus feed and care. Around here, $100K.
  10. A house elf, aka a housekeeper and landscaping crew, with occasional visits from a chef and a professional organizer. $100K
That's it! Once you get going, it's easy to spend piles of vapor cash. Selfish enough for ya?

Monday, January 28, 2008

$700 V-8 Moment

Remember those commercials for V-8? The ones where the characters realize the folly of their ways and whack themselves in the forehead, saying "Wow! I could have had a V-8"? That was me earlier today. 'Cept my moment didn't have anything to do with the USDA Food Pyramid.

Today I got the call from the nice man at the data recovery service that has my dead hard drive. Dead it is. Physical damage, thank you very much, not helped in any way from the optimizing process of a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, optimizing the drive meant that the bad part scraped across the drive plates. So now the only way to recover the data is to do a raw data recovery.

A raw recovery means they find all the files they can that have the same extension. All the .jpg files in one folder, .awk in another, etc., etc. With no filenames attached, thank you very much. So I might get my data back, assuming they can recover most of it, but I won't be able to identify any of it. I'll have to go through whole folders, file by file, determining whether the file numbered 3042.jpg is a picture of my kid's Christmas or some cheesy picture on a random website I visited once. Yegods. Fun of this sort will take just slightly less than forever, and I'll be ponying up $700 for the privilege. But it's worth it to get the aforementioned Christmas photos back, along with not having to recreate all those files from scratch. Thank the good Lord I did have the presence of mind to back up the novels, or I'd really be a babbling wreck right now.

The lesson, my darlings, is to back up. Back up, back up, back up. RIGHT. FRICKIN'. NOW.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Classy Dame: Helen Mirren


Helen Mirren really is a Dame--she was named a Dame of the British Empire in 2003. But it's not just for that reason that Dame Helen is Classy. She's smart, and she doesn't take herself too seriously. She's a brilliant actress with incredible range--from the evil seductress morgana in John Boorman's Excalibur to Prime Suspect's alcoholic Sup. Jane Tennison to Queen Elizabeth II (her Oscar-winning performance in The Queen)--every role she inhabits is multifacted, as if she has some more surprises hanging back just in case. Plus, she's always lovely (no fashion emergencies here, and did you see that Oscar dress? Stunning!) and gracious (she acknowledges mentors and shares credit for her faboo performances with her co-stars). All of us should aspire to be this kind of grownup.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thirteen Questions to Ponder

I stole these from Macy (waving...again....). She stole them off the Net somewhere. They're worth it.

1) If you could time-travel, and go back to any particular time/place in history, what would it be?
Turn of the century America. Love those Gibson Girl hairdos. And is it weird that I could totally rock a bustle?

2) If you could go back and relive any time in your life, what would it be?
Early teens--but not for the teenage stuff (that was a nightmare, what with the glasses and braces and impossible curly hair in a bad cut and all). In my early teens, all four of my grandparents were still alive, and so were three of my great-grandmothers. I would listen more and record more--I cringe at the life wisdom I missed because I was too busy obsessing over my stupid teenage angst!

3) If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?
Its ability to pack on the pounds and hold onto them so tightly. That would take care of the frog chin, too.

4) If you could do anything in the world for a living, what would it be?
Probably write.

5) If you could only read one book over and over again in your life, what one book would that be?
Only one? That is so unfair. I could read and reread Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, though.

6) If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I'm good right here in sunny Florida, but it would be cool to have a vacation home in the Carolinas. Mountains or beach, depending. Or maybe Prince Edward Island, right, Tori?

7) If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your days, what outfit would that be?
Cotton pajamas, assuming I wouldn't have to go out in public. If that, then probably yoga pants and a lightweight fleece or French terry pullover. Bare feet, of course.

8) If you could have dinner with any one person (dead or alive) -- anyone -- who would it be?
Thomas Jefferson.

9) If you could ask for any talent or skill and instantly receive it, what talent would that be?
I can already tie a cherry stem into a knot with my tongue, so I guess playing a musical instrument.

10) If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
My stress level. It's paralyzing.

11) If you could name your biggest regret, what would that be?
Not going to the West Point Hop with A.B. because I had a (loser) boyfriend and thought I had to be all noble and faithful and crap. Loser boyfriend totally didn't deserve that level of devotion.

12) If you could have exactly one million dollars right now in your hands, what would you do with it?
Pay off debt, set up college funds, travel, and donate to my schools.

13) If you could fix one major world problem on this Earth, what would you fix?
Greed. Greed for money and power is the root cause of most of the Earth's problems.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Books and Cooks: Fall On Your Knees


Cover Image


This one was a wild ride. Basically, take nearly every dysfunction you can think of, pack it into a dreary gray setting, stir, and allow to fester. I can totally understand why it was an Oprah pick--it's pretty dark. At the same time, there are some laugh-out-loud moments.

Fall On Your Knees is the story of the Piper family of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. James, a young Gaelic piano tuner, falls immediately for the underaged daughter of a prominent Lebanese businessman. Forced to marry when Materia is disowned by her father, they give birth to Kathleen, a vocal prodigy,
serious and devout Mercedes, and Frances, a wild child. Clashing cultures and buried secrets propel the action, set during the early years of the 20th century.

Ann-Marie MacDonald has a lyrical style. Some passages are just gorgeous, and you can spot her theatrical origins in her dialogue and stage management. The narrative doesn't follow a specific time sequence, and since you're viewing the same events from multiple points of view, it's easy to get confused at the partial pictures you're being presented.

It's a thick read, complex throughout. I don't know that I'd attempt it again. Kind of like Canadian winter weather--grey. Unrelentingly grey, with flashes of sunshine. Just not enough of them to leaven what is, at the end, a heavy chew.

Monday, January 21, 2008

This is NOT Happening!

Today started off beautifully. Got to sleep in (a crazy luxury when my normal day starts at 5 am), wrote my morning pages, got a little breakfast, it's gorgeous outside, kids are getting along. Another Pleasant Valley Monday.

And then it went to hell.

Computer starts acting up. It's been twitchy for a couple of days--hanging browser, won't force quit, off and on, etc. I think maybe it's a network thing. Patrick, my Mac guru, says to unplug it and bring it in. So I do. He can't get it to boot right, either. Then we discover, to his chagrin and my horror, that MY HARD DRIVE IS IN MECHANICAL FAILURE. Nice safe data, no way to access it. At all. No pictures, no files, no software, no website I built from scratch but haven't uploaded, nada.

Of course, there are very nice people with safe rooms who will carefully remove the disc, put it in a working case, and pull up my data for a fee, which is roughly the cost of A WHOLE FREAKIN' NEW COMPUTER!!!

My checkbook and I are fighting right now as it is. I am so not in the mood to have to buy a new system. Or even an old system.

This is exactly what happened with the car. It was acting up, we put a chunk of repair money into it, and then it died forever. Had to buy a new car. Looks like Passat infection spread to my iMac. It was acting up, I put a chunk of money into it, and now it's dead forever.

So now I have three options to consider:
  1. Put a different hard drive into my iMac shell, roughly $100 or so.
  2. Buy a slightly newer used Mac for $400.
  3. Say "what the hell, it's only debt" and buy a new iMac altogether, about $1200.
Thank God I had the presence of mind to copy all the novel files onto an external hard drive so I could save them to my new(ish) laptop. Too bad I lacked the presence of mind to copy every freakin' thing else! So now I have trapped data on a hard drive that's fine, but will require a very expensive key to get back out. The universe is currently laughing its ass of at me right now.

This was not in my plan for today.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cool Chick: Drew Barrymore


You have to give props to someone who emerges from the child star wastelands (and I do mean wastelands, since she had a vicious cocaine and alcohol addiction when she was a young teenager) and manages to become a successful adult. She's funny, adorable, and doesn't take herself too seriously. She really does deserve the "American's Sweetheart" title folks give her. For her joie de vivre alone, she's a cool chick--but her business smarts and staying power make her a worthy choice.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fightin' Me Some Foo

Cashed in DH's Christmas tickets tonight, the "rock 'n roll" part of his Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n Roll theme, and spent a solid two hours with these miscreants:

They're not kidding about loud--my ears are still ringing. But that's a good thing. Every once in a while, you need your innards cleaned out with a rock enema. Reminds you that although your outer shell might be graying and increasingly creaky, inside is a cool 27-year-old who has the whole Foo catalog on her iPod.

It was a great show, too. Dave Grohl can f*in swear--and scream (how he avoids laryngitis every other week, I have no idea), and shred on guitar. He broke a string on his acoustic during the middle set, played on a small round stage that got lowered from the ceiling (very cool). The band's as good as he is, if not quite as versatile. Taylor Hawkins may even be a better drummer than Dave. Terrific lights, even if they seemed to be blinding us like errant SUV high-beams (the fact that we were in nosebleed didn't help). Creative staging. These guys really get the whole "put on a show" thing. It was awesome. Rock royalty, I must say. I gotta see them again.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ten Movies That Disappointed You

Ooo--tough one here. I tend to willingly suspend disbelief, so I can go for just about anything, movie-wise. I may have to drag DH into this discussion...
  1. The Remains of the Day - I'm all for repressed feelings and swooning and all, but I was ready to clock Anthony Hopkins upside the head with a salver at the end of this one. Just tell her you love her already!
  2. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace - Lots and lots of pod racing, and not enough explanation. Just what the heck are metaclorians, anyway? Better backstory, maybe? Stiff, stiff, stiff acting. Blah.
  3. X-Files: Fight the Future - Not even as good as one of the episodes, unfortch.
  4. The Age of Innocence - I love me some costume dramas, but even Daniel Day-Lewis couldn't save this one. I fell asleep.
  5. Pulp Fiction - I so wanted to be hip like everyone else swooning over Quentin Tarantino. But QT reminds me a little of a weird cousin of mine, and once they did the syringe of adrenaline to the heart bit, I was outta there. Haven't looked back, either.
  6. American Beauty - I adore the score (Thomas Newman), but can't really work up much of a sweat over any of the characters. It has its moments--Annette Bening's lovemaking screech being a laugh out loud example--but it's just so...overrated. Kind of like red roses.
  7. The Shining - Scatman Crothers was perfect as Halloran, Jack maybe so as John, our crazed writer, but what pissed me off was the freakin' hedge maze. The creepiest thing about that hotel was the possessed topiary! This one could have waited for CGI. And speaking of a need for CGI...
  8. Fahrenheit 451 - One of my favorite books of all time, so naturally, I loathe this movie. LOATHE it. Bradbury imagines flamethrowers and salamanders, but we get a bunch of stiff European actors in bad costumes burning books on hibachis? No, thanks. I hear Frank Darabont's working on a script for a remake. Please, God. That Mechanical Hound has been waiting 60+ years to be unleashed.
  9. Sullivan's Travels - I know, I know, it's a definitive classic comedy I should appreciate better. I started the thing up three separate times and managed to get distracted each time by something pointless and stupid. Finally gave up and put it back in the Netflix envelope.
  10. Lost in Translation - I don't get Scarlett Johansson. Sue me.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Beg, Borrow, or Steal?

If there's one thing English teachers agree about, it's that plagiarism is bad. Very, very bad. Kick you out of school and pile on the shame bad. Which is why most of us work ourselves into a bulging-vein froth when we INSIST that our students CITE THEIR FREAKIN' SOURCES, for Pete's sake. Doesn't always work, but that's not for lack of trying.

So I have to admit I was a bit gobsmacked to read that Cassie Edwards, a multi-published author of historical romances, has been found to be--how should it put it?--leaning a little too hard on her source documents. As in, incorporating whole paragraphs with no citation leaning. I can feel the vein bulging as I write.

My first book was an historical, set in Renaissance France and Scotland (which probably explains why it hasn't yet been published). You know, the kind of thing you need to research a lot. I got some killer notes from some crusty dusty public domain books from the Rollins College library. One of them was a great bit about a woman disguising herself as a nun to escape from Paris during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. She nearly made it, but she had on red shoes. They caught her. Great detail, right? I borrowed it. Put my heroine in a nun's habit, totally forgetting her red slippers. She got spotted, but she got away.

Leaning on the research? Of course. Plagiarism? No. I lifted the detail, but the context differed. Most importantly, the passage I read bore little resemblance to the one I wrote. That's how research should work. I don't see this kind of thing in the examples cited for Cassie Edwards. Ethically, I have a problem. As a reader, I have a problem. Ms. Edwards' paragraphs incorporating her research read just like the source works. There's little attempt to smooth the prose, make it sound natural when a character relays the information through dialogue. In any writing situation, that's a bad idea. It's especially bad when the clunky prose ends up that way because it's been badly grafted onto your storyline.

The whole sordid tale, including examples, can be found at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books (one of my fave book blogs, BTW). There's even commentary from La Nora herself, who as you probably recall, was at the center of a nasty plagiarism suit with Janet Dailey a few years back. It'll be interesting to watch this story develop, although I doubt it'll get the kind of media attention showered on Kaavya Viswanathan. Then again, Ms. Edwards is a septugenarian, and not a Harvard hottie.

Too bad. Plagiarism makes them equally ugly, from a writer's point of view.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Musings: Stranger Than Fiction

Santa brought me this movie for Christmas, which became an immediate favorite after it reached the top of the Netflix queue. For one thing, it's a fanciful view of the life of a writer, and for another, it's an examination about the relationship between life and art (truth being, after all, "stranger than fiction").

In short: Harold Crick, an IRS auditor, begins hearing a narration of his mundane life, down to the number of strokes he takes while brushing his teeth. With help, he finally identifies his narrator as Karen Eiffel, a well-known author, who is writing a book with a central character named Harold Crick. He also realizes she's planning to kill him.

First off, props to Zach Helm for such a wonderful screenplay. In two hours, we get a discussion of the nature of comedy and tragedy, coincidence, responsibility, writer's block, cookies, anarchy, life, love, and yes, even death and taxes (the title of Karen Eiffel's book in progress). It has comic and tragic and even heroic moments. As a bonus, it's beautifully cast (who knew Will Ferrell had it in him?), and the art direction is right on the mark. Karen Eiffel, the blocked writer, is a chain-smoking neurotic, barefoot, wearing a stupendously ugly cardigan. Emma Thompson plays her without makeup! I'd like to know who's been spying on me--excepting the cigarettes, of course.

Helm's written some great lines, too. My favorite bit takes place in a guitar shop. Harold's trying to pick a guitar that suits him best; they all have something to say about themselves, like the Gibson Les Paul that says, "When I get back to Georgia, that woman gonna feel my pain." (He ends up taking home a surf blue Fender Stratocaster.) But there are plenty of little moments to admire throughout.

Stranger Than Fiction has a little something for everyone: the writer, the romantic, the pragmatist, the mathematician (all that counting!), the English teacher, the cynic, the poet, and the dreamer. Is it a perfect film? No. But for its wit, and for totally understanding the concept of writer's block, it's a must-see.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Gutsy Broad: Elizabeth Edwards


Okay, I admit it. I have a fangirl crush on Elizabeth Edwards. There's just something about her I really respond to. Like her willingness to call out rude, mean-spirited behavior (yes, I'm talking about that Coulter woman). Or to keep on keepin' on despite a cancer diagnosis--and recurrence. She lost a son in a car accident. She has two small kids at home and a daughter in college. Her husband's running for President, and despite the aforementioned small kids, cancer, etc., she's on the campaign trail because she believes in his message. Talk about a Steel Magnolia! That's my kind of Southern belle.

You don't have to like John Edwards. But you do have to admit that he showed excellent judgment when he married Elizabeth.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Ten Predictions for the New Year

  1. Florida will not get hit by a major hurricane despite Apocalyptic reporting from The Weather Channel and nearly every Florida newscaster drawing breath.
  2. Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination for President.
  3. Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination for President.
  4. Get used to saying "Madam President."
  5. Britney Spears will do something stupid. Oh, wait a minute. That's not a prediction; that's a certainty! (Although girlfriend deserves a calm 2008!)
  6. Ratatouille will win the Oscar for Best Animated Film.
  7. Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal will get engaged.
  8. UCF will repeat as C-USA champs and win their bowl game this time.
  9. Celebrity obsession will be "so five minutes ago."
  10. They'll finally get the goods on Barry Bonds.

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