Writer’s Workshop: Challenges and Crushes

I was going to do the “write a blog post inspired by the word: challenge” this week, because next Friday is the beginning of signups for the Blogging From A To Z April Challenge. You’ll note that the badge for this year’s challenge has replaced the QR code I had up there (they wanted me to pay to keep it there, can you believe it?), where Olaf is pointing…

I realized that I’ve already written about the Challenge for the Writer’s Workshop, though, so you can just go over and read it there. Seriously, it’s a lot of fun, you get to meet some other bloggers and read some pretty dynamite blogs, so I hope you’ll consider it.

Anyway, with that out of the way, I figured I should pick another prompt. It came down to a choice between “list your top 8 favorite candies,” which I’ve done already, twice in fact, and “tell us about a crush you had in high school.” So, I guess I’ll do the second. Promise you won’t laugh…

I didn’t date much in high school, so I spent a lot of time at home watching TV, especially on Friday nights. I think, besides In Concert and The Midnight Special, my favorite show was The Brady Bunch, for one reason…

Maureen McCormick as Marcia, Marcia, Marcia Brady (source: Express.co.uk)

Of course I had a crush on Marcia Brady. I think every guy around my age did. The ones who didn’t had a crush on her younger sister, Jan.

Jan Brady (Eve Plumb) (source: Newsmov.biz)

In fact, as Jan got older it became almost a “Ginger vs. Mary Ann” thing.

Dawn Wells and Tina Louise as Mary Ann and Ginger on Gilligan’s Island (source: The Age of Volcanoes)

So, if I wasn’t doing something else, which was most Friday nights, I’d sit and watch The Brady Bunch, really just to see her. I mean, she was everything: cute, dressed nicely, probably smelled good, and seemed like she was friendly, at least friendlier than the girls I was in school with. Marcia was supposed to be my age, meaning that, if the stars had lined up just right, she’d have been a classmate, and we could have commiserated over geometry. Or not. Probably not. Still, it was fun to imagine.

Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia, wrote a book, Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice, a few years ago, in which she said that Marcia was a pretty tough standard to live up to. In the book, she answers the burning question “Did Marcia and Greg ever…?” Guess I’ll have to read it to find out.

Writer’s Workshop: Not Exactly Perfection…

Last year the prompt “Write a blog post inspired by the word: perfection” came up, and I wrote a piece on it. The same prompt has come up, and as I really don’t have anything for any of the other prompts, I’m going to use the same prompt, but I have a whole different angle on it. I went out to The Free Dictionary, and as I read through what it said, the Spanish word perfecto started showing up in the section that translates things into Spanish. And I had my inspiration.

Source: ebay

When I started kindergarten back in the early ’60’s, we (or, more correctly, our parents) were told that we needed a cigar box, sans cigars and covered with something like Con-Tact paper, for us to put things like crayons and other art supplies in. Nowadays, there are boxes made for that exact purpose, but this was back before we had things like that. Anyway, I forget whether Mom or Dad or Fabulous Auntie Jill (who was living with us at the time) got it, but I trudged off to kindergarten with my cigar box, covered with blue Con-Tact paper to hide the fact that it once held Perfecto Garcia cigars. Virtually no one covered the inside of the box, so whatever art was printed on the lid was visible when we opened them. When I was bored in kindergarten (which was the entire time, and thank heaven it was only a half day), I would glance around and see what kind of cigars everyone else was advertising. And I’d see one or more of these:

Of course, by then Mrs. Comeaux was telling me, “Johnny, pay attention.” And she’d go on blathering about whatever it was she was blathering about and I’d go back to checking out cigar box lids.

I’ve always been a fan of artwork done for advertising, packaging, and product logos, and I wonder if it started back when I was in kindergarten. No, I was already into all that by the time I got there. I’m still fascinated by it. I think I missed my calling.

Writer’s Workshop: My Latest Purchase

NOTE: What follows is a product review, so I think I’m obligated to say that neither Reiyin, the manufacturer of the device, nor Amazon, who sold it to me, paid me for the following.

Thanks to tinnitus, there’s a constant ringing in my ears, which doesn’t bother me much during the day, but can be a hassle when I’m trying to get to sleep at night. My solution to this is to listen to the sounds of the sea and rain all night. I have a number of mp3 tracks of those sounds on my iPod Video and play them all night or until the battery runs down.

Rather than using headphones, the preferred method of listening to stuff on an iPod, I have had a succession of speakers made by iHome that plug into the headphone jack. That works well, but the cord is sometimes a hassle, especially when I have to adjust the volume to hear the sound file (because, after all, they’re all recorded at different levels, because that’s just the way the audio engineers roll). On more than one occasion I’ve picked up the iPod and sent the speaker flying across the room. After doing this for the umpteenth time, I decided that the way to go was Bluetooth. Problem was, my iPod was manufactured about five years before some genius at Apple said, “hey, you know what would be great on the iPod? Bluetooth!” I needed the piece that allowed me to use my iPod with a Bluetooth speaker. I thought I had one from back when I was trying headphones with the unit, but it appeared to have pulled a Mandrake on me (i.e. vanished) and I needed a new one.

I found the Reiyin WT-01 Wireless Bluetooth transmitter at Amazon for $23.99. It plugs into the headphone jack and transmits to whatever Bluetooth device you need it to, in my case a Bluetooth speaker by iHome.

source: Amazon.com

Any time I’m going to buy an electronic doohickey from Amazon, I read the reviews, especially the less-than-complimentary ones. Granted, most of the one-star reviews are by people who got a broken unit or couldn’t make it work because they didn’t follow the cardinal rule of dealing with any sort of gadget (RTFD), but sometimes there are valid points, and the one thing I noticed a few people said was that the sound was less than perfect, and others said the range was less than idea and that there was a delay between the source and the destination. In my case, these weren’t an issue: the signal is being played on a 2″ (50 mm) speaker, and it’s basically white noise, so fidelity wasn’t an issue (and I’m hardly an audiophile, anyway). So I ordered it.

I had no trouble pairing it with the speaker, it got the job done, and I’m not accidentally throwing the speaker around the room when I pick up my iPod. The one complaint I have is that, at 2.62″ x 0.56″ x 0.69″ (67 mm x 14 mm x 18 mm), it’s a little big. If I were taking it on the road with me, it might be an issue, but since I’m not, it isn’t.

So, I think it’s worth what I paid for it.

Writer’s Workshop: Relatives I Never Met

Describe a time or moment when a stranger helped you.

I’ve had a very interesting 48 hours here (it’s Wednesday afternoon as I write this).

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I have from time to time dabbled in the dark art of genealogy. Both the Ancestry and 23andMe genealogy sites offer DNA testing, and both Mary and I have sent in our spit to be tested. Mine really yielded nothing more than I already know: I’m practically entirely Irish on both my mother’s and father’s side. Still, I thought it would be a good idea to start building the family tree for my father’s family. My aunt Alice (Mom’s sister) has done quite a bit of work on their side of the family, and I started on Ancestry tracing my roots, as it were. One of the things I learned was that Grandma Holton had a brother named Sylvester that I had never heard of, and assumed that he died young or wandered off somewhere.

That all changed this week when I was contacted via 23andMe by one of “Sylvester”‘s daughters, Roni, who said that his name was actually John Sylvester (as was his father) and that she had eight siblings, one of whom was still living. In other words, they’re two of Dad’s cousins that I never knew. We’ve exchanged information, and I’ve found a new interest in tracing my roots. Her information has helped me flesh out some of the details I was missing, and suddenly I’m finding a lot of the information that had me stymied.

More importantly, I found family I never knew I had. Neither Grandma nor her sister or brother that I knew had spoken of their family in more than general terms, or (more likely) I never thought to ask them. That’s my fault: I should have asked, but you know how it is, none of this means anything until they’re gone. If there was one bit of advice I could give, it would be don’t make that mistake. What kills me now is learning they all lived in the same neighborhood as we did, and we never knew it.

Writer’s Workshop: In Search of A New Assistant

No, I’m not looking to replace Mary, who’s more than an assistant. She’s the love of my life, and has been for over 40 years. No, I’m looking for something to replace Evernote.

I love Evernote, but lately I’m hearing rumblings that it might be on its way out, or at least things aren’t as good as they seem, and I’m concerned that one day they’re going to pull the plug on me. Besides, lately I’ve become less enchanted with it. The desktop software seems bloated, the browser version is less than adequate, and the iOS app is awfully slow and I hardly use it, anyway (maybe because it’s slow). It also seems to be gearing itself more for business and team use and that the changes that are being made to accommodate that are making it harder for me to use. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like a person who loses a lot of weight and needs a smaller wardrobe.

Which is another thing: I keep a lot of stuff in there, and a lot of it is stuff I don’t actually need anymore. I have manuals for products I no longer have and programming languages I no longer write in. I have hundreds and hundreds of pictures that I’ve saved that really belong somewhere else (I’ve stopped putting pictures in Evernote in favor of putting them in Pinterest), articles I put aside that I’ve never looked at again because they’re about things I’m no longer interested in, receipts for payments I made for insurance, property tax, credit cards, etc. four or five years ago, and all sorts of miscellany which, if I were to look at it, I wouldn’t know what I was looking at or why I was looking at. I’m like the person that moves every few years or so because it gives them an excuse to clean up and throw things away or find new homes for them. Kind of like KonMari for my digital life.

And there’s the issue of cost: Evernote costs $80 a year. The replacements that I’m considering are either free or under $20 a year.

I heard lots of good things about Bear, and I gave it a trial run, and it was okay. One thing it had was Markdown support, meaning I could write notes in plain text and have it format them for me (boldface, italic, underline, put headlines and links in, etc.). It would be $15 a year, which would allow me to sync between my desktop, laptop, and phone (all of which are Apple). I started a free trial a couple of days ago, and the more I work with it, the more I can see it’s not what I’m looking for.

Another thought I had was to use the Notes application that’s delivered with all the Apple stuff I have. Big advantages are that it’s free, it syncs with all my devices, and the stuff I put into it is stored in my iCloud. Big disadvantages are no tagging and I have to cut-and-paste anything I want to save from the browser. It’s great for text notes, though, and I plan to use it for those.

My first several attempts at using OneNote crashed and burned: I found that, once I logged off, I couldn’t log back in. Well, I must have done something right this time, because I have it working pretty well now. Maybe it was using a Microsoft signon that did the trick. In any event, advantages are that it’s similar to Evernote (with some huge differences), there’s a migration path between the two, there’s a clipper for the browser that functions a lot like Evernote’s (and seems to work better), and there’s IFTTT support. Disadvantages are that tagging is a bit klugey and, like everything else Microsoft, it’s ugly, but then Evernote is, too.

So, I’m going to see if I can make OneNote work for me, perhaps in conjunction with Notes and iCloud. If there’s something you think I should know about any of the above, or have another alternative I should consider, I’d be glad to know it.