Friday, November 28, 2008

Fiest Saga Continues

Ok, so I just discovered it’s been close to five months since I did a post on the series I was reviewing. Oops.

The next book in the series is Shadow of a Dark Queen. It jumps several years into the future. Prince Nicky is all grown up and an admiral in the Royal Navy – we don’t see much of him. We now go to characters not at all related to the Kingdom’s royal family.

Erik VonDarkmoor is the bastard son of the Duke of Darkmoor. He’s somewhere around 16 to 20 years old, and is unofficially a blacksmith’s apprentice. Unofficially because he mother will not allow the local blacksmith to send a notice to the guild and allow him to name Erik as his apprentice. In practice, Erik is a very good blacksmith, and very good with the animals a blacksmith comes in contact with – horses mostly.

Erik’s mother is a very bitter woman, which makes Erik’s childhood unhappy. In her youth she was a great beauty, and she tells a story that the Duke of Darkmoor was so taken with her beauty that he actually married her, but because a powerful noble can’t get married without the King’s permission the marriage was annulled. The Duke was married to a very powerfully connected noble, and the Duke never acknowledged Erik as his son. If he had, Erik’s mother continually tells him, Erik would be the Duke’s heir, because he was firstborn. Although the Duke has not acknowledged Erik, he has not denied him either. This little bit of legal limbo lets Erik claim the last name VonDarkmoor.

When it is announced that the Duke will be visiting Erik’s home village, the Duke arrives with his wife and legitimate sons. The oldest is intent on causing trouble for Erik, and the youngest is not able to stop him. When the older son sexually assaults a girl Erik loves as his sister, Erik ends up killing him with the help of his best friend, Roo Avery.

Erik and Roo run away, hoping to travel beyond the reach of the Duchess of Darkmoor’s agents. They are captured, taken before both Prince Nicky (who is acting as regent) and a strange woman who stares intently at them, and ultimately judged guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.

Though they are put on the scaffold, the local militia leader Sergeant Bobby arranges for Erik, Roo, and other captives to go through a mock hanging – dropping the trapdoors under them but not hanging them. They are informed they are all dead men, but the Crown has a better use for them in a specially formed military. As dead men, Bobby can kill them at any time, for whatever he wants, for any infraction.

Thus begins Erik and Roo’s adventures as they travel to the continent of Novindus, which we visited in the last book. They undergo a series of extremely dangerous adventures with some of our old friends including Calis, the son of Elf Queen and Tomas. They are fighting a serious battle against a Queen and a race of non-humans who use a dark, evil magic. Their ultimate goal may be more than just conquering and killing – and someone has to stop them before they can conquer Novindus and start for the Kingdom. Many characters die, but the quest is more important than anything that has come so far in Feist’s saga.

Erik is one of my very favorite characters. I greatly enjoyed reading his story and learning how he grows from a simple country boy who just wants to be a blacksmith, into a strong and driven man who puts loyalty to crown and home above all else. We get to learn more of him through not just this book, but also some of the next few novels.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Learning Many Things

The new job is going well. I have been there two weeks now, and am still settling in.

The people seem to be very nice. There are a lot more employees at this company than my last, and there are still a number of people I have not been introduced to. That's ok though, because I'm not good with names right off the bat.

I have a good feeling about this place. At the very least I will be learning a lot of useful skills about marketing on the internet. I am in charge of monitoring the online advertising for the company - services like Google AdWords and Yahoo! Sponsored Listings, and a few others.

I have already made myself useful. One of my first assignments was to contact some smaller online advertising services we use and make sure we have the correct tracking code installed on our website. This is so we can track how well the online advertising is performing - the tracking code lets us track what are called "conversions." This is when somebody clicks on our ads and then makes a purchase. They have been converted from a passive searcher to an active buyer, thus a conversion.

There are a couple other minor research projects I have done or am doing at work. The nice thing is that they are all relevant to making the online advertising more effective, or to help us get more for our advertising dollars. It makes sense to want to spend as little on advertising as possible while still returning good conversion rates. After all, it doesn't make sense to spend $40 to obtain a conversion when the person only buys $10 worth of items. Not exactly cost effective.

It is also a new experience for me to be working for a company that operates an online store. My last company did not have one at all. They were a multi-level marketing company, and they had a commitment to not compete with their licensed distributors. Since they provided online stores to anyone who wanted to pay the $5 a month to host one, the company could not justify competing with them in the online environment.

This attitude of non-competition meant that we did not do any online advertising. It did make sense when you consider the distributors are taught that they are in charge of running their own business, including advertising. If they were not happy with the number of online sales their store was generating, they should do some advertising!

Anyway, my introduction to online ads is just beginning. There's a constant monitoring to make sure we're appearing high in the search rankings, but not so high that we're wasting money. After all, some big name companies like e-bay and Target will routinely buy up the first listing for ALL the keywords that are even remotely related to their business. It doesn't make sense for a small company to try to compete with the dollars a giant company can throw around.

I'm also receiving a very good introduction to press releases. Now, press releases are not new to me in any sense. In fact, I did them previously, but I always considered them a waste of time and hated doing them at all. But the way this company does them is much more efficient and effective. It helps that the product they sell relates to more than one specific industry, so they can contact major publications, blogs, and news outlets across a variety of industries. The more people we contact, the better our chances of getting our press release published.

And the Public Relations! This company actually monitors a service where journalists submit requests for what they need for their articles. Maybe it's to talk with an expert, or maybe it's a request for prize giveaways for a blog. Either way, if they accept your submission they will mention your company and product, and blogs will provide a link back to your website.

There are some other job duties that I have not yet done. I'm going to be responsible for creating several posts each week for the company blog - generally things that are on sale or are related to products we sell. That should be easier than trying to regularly post on this blog, because I won't feel obligated to write giant posts - all I have to do is introduce a product and provide a coupon code.

All in all, I'm very happy with how things are turning out with this company. I know I'm still on probation for the usual three month period, and yes anything can happen, but oh, I am enjoying myself.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Beginning, End of Book

With a new job comes the end of this book.

It was a good book. It made a lot of valid points, several of which I mentioned previously.

Was it incredibly helpful in the job hunt process? Well, not for me, but I can see how it could be the thing that helps someone else land a dream job, or help someone else change careers.

What Color Is Your Parachute? made a lot of excellent points that told me I was doing the right thing in accepting the job I was recently offered. For one thing, it talked about the vast number of jobs created by small companies, like the company that I will be working for starting Monday.

Small companies are everywhere. If you look around your local suburb, you'll find many businesses that you did not know existed. From the traditional franchise business owned by the neighbor down the street, to the lawyer who works out of his home and needs a personal assistant, to the family run companies that are just taking off, small companies are everywhere, and they create more jobs. Period.

Small companies employ far greater numbers in the workforce than you know. By comparison, the number of jobs created by much larger corporate entities is minuscule. Also, those corporate jobs bearing the famous corporate name will be in extremely high demand by job hunters, which decreases your chances of landing that corporate job.

So, yes, the book was valuable in that it helped me realize that working for a small company really is a good thing. It mentioned all the points that you generally think about with small companies: employees may wear a lot of hats and do multiple jobs; the benefits may not be as generous as a large company; you may get more actual hands-on experience at a small company; you may work more closely with the owners of a small company and reap the value of their experience.

That being said, the book contained a lot of information that I did not find valuable. There were chapters devoted to how to relocate to other parts of the country and find a job quickly; how to relocate to a foreign country and find a job (and pitfalls of worker visas); how to change careers after many years in one type of work.

All these chapters were well thought out, well written, and could certainly have value to many people. I just was not looking for that sort of information.

However, I also recognize (and many of my teachers in college also emphasized this point) that the average worker today may change careers 3 to 5 times during his or her lifetime. Not necessarily because they want to, but because they get laid off, or must relocate to take care of a family member, or some other opportunity arises.

I am open-minded enough to realize that I very well could be looking to change careers later down the road, or maybe splorp! will get transferred to his company's other office in Texas. Should anything of that sort happen, I will certainly pick up this book again and follow the exercises designed to help me identify what sort of work I could do well, and enjoy doing, and maybe even enjoy doing in another part of the world.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Success in the Great Job Hunt

Hooray! I can officially say the great job hunt is over! Well, barring any unforeseen difficulties, like a natural disaster or some such.

I will be going in to my new office on Thursday to meet again with my supervisor and complete my new hire paperwork and get acquainted with my work station, then I start on Monday!

I have already made my phone calls to family and friends. They are excited for me. I also called my former boss (the one I was sorry to leave), and he is very happy for me, as I knew he would be.

I'm feeling nervous, but that's just new job jitters, and to be expected. I am horrible at remembering names and faces, and this new company has a lot more people than the last one, so I am going to be lost for a little while.

But, new opportunity, right? So I have to think and be positive. And I keep telling myself, at least the man who runs the company is much more in tune with the internet and how marketing on the internet affects your business, so it's already a much better fit for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Research: Essential to Job Hunting

The great job hunt continues apace. Thank you for your kind words and advice. I had a phone interview with a local company, but so far it has not gone any further, and no response to my inquiry. I think they have decided to pursue other options, though I have a cross-your-fingers hope that I may be called back, say, if their first choice does not work out?

Anyway. I remembered that once upon a time, my favorite teacher in college recommended a book called "What Color Is Your Parachute?" I, of course, never read it, assuming it was an extremely out of date and irrelevant book. Because, of course, my teacher was older than me (she had children! therefore she was so much older than me! yeah, maybe 15 years, max). Because she was so much older than me, whatever she recommended must have been around when she was a student, so how could it possibly be useful?

I'll be the first to admit I was wrong. Apparently this is one of the best titles for job hunters to read, and has been updated every year (except one) since it was first published thirty years ago or so.

I am reading the 2007 edition, since the 2009 edition is checked out at my library. I am not done with it yet, but I am finding it extremely helpful, and full of statistics that make a lot of sense to the average job hunter.

For example, yes, the internet and its various career-finder websites have revolutionized the way people hunt for jobs. But did you know that an average of only 4 to 10 percent of jobs are found on the internet? And only 7 percent of job hunters find a job by mailing out resumes to employers. Responding to newspaper ads has a fluctuating success rate of 5 to 24 percent, and signing up with employment agencies fluctuates just as much, between 5 and 28 percent success rate.

Depressing, isn't it? I mean, how are we supposed to find a job if these "traditional" methods of job hunting have such low success rates?

This book makes several good points, the most important of which (so far) is job hunters prefer to find a job in the above ways. And it's no wonder we like them - job hunting this way effectively removes us from direct contact with anyone else. They're time-tested ways of reducing the pain of rejection!

But job hunters are not the ones who matter - it's the people doing the hiring that matter. This book makes the point that if I, as a job hunter, don't approach the hiring people in the way they prefer, I'm just wasting time.

So how do hiring people operate? Well, they most often like to promote from within their own company. After that, they prefer referrals from their colleagues, like someone their colleague formerly worked with who is now job hunting. Working with job placement agencies, placing ads, and reading resumes are all waaaaay down at the bottom of the list of ways to get noticed by the hiring manager.

There's some practical advice about using the internet to help your job hunt, and to network with people who can help you get your foot in the door. To that end, I signed up with one of the websites recommended in the book, LinkedIn.

I'm going to equate it to a gi-normous Rolodex, except you can also see all the people who are connected to your friends and family, and potentially tap into them to get your foot in the door.

Another neat feature is that you can input companies you have worked for, and then search the people who also worked for that company. It's kind of fun to look up my college job, and see that the cranky Regional Manager I didn't like at that retail job has moved on to another company. Or to see that the people you did like are more successful now.

I spent some time with LinkedIn this afternoon, and I already have 7 contacts. The good news is that one of them is the person who hired me for my last position. She moved on to bigger and better things a couple years ago, and now that I contacted her again, she is expressing an interest in my skills, and where I want to work.

Overall, not too bad for one afternoon! I had a lot of fun checking my e-mail frequently to see if I had new contacts. If you have a LinkedIn profile, let me know!


Friday, October 10, 2008

The Great Job Hunt

So I have been unemployed now for two weeks, officially, today. Which means that technically I have not yet missed a paycheck, and am even a little ahead of where I would normally be, what with receiving money for vacation time and also being paid early for the days through the end of last month.

The great job hunt continues, but is slowing down a little bit. I was in such a flurry of sending out e-mailed resumes, and registering for various job, excuse me, career search websites for the first several days that I have already sent off my resume to a large number of companies in a relatively short period of time. And, grrr, hiring peoples are so annoying, I have received very few calls so far.

I am perfect in every way for your posted marketing job, I exceed the skill level of what you want, plus am trained on both PC and Mac, and oh-my-god that's what you're offering for money? I am was so underpaid. Why have you people not been lining up to call me?!

And yes, I realize that instant gratification is not going to happen. I'm impatient. I want this over with already. This feeling of not accomplishing anything on a daily basis is really beginning to drag me down.

The calls I have received? Um, two for staffing agencies, which are very eager to get you to sign up, and fill out your tax forms so you can be one of their employees, and get paid very little to temp at many places, and not be sure how many days you will actually be employed this week. Yeah, not digging that.

Also two calls for positions I am not sure about.

Call number one, for a web position at a very large company that is not too far away, and is actually very convenient if splorp! wanted to move closer to his work, but the very nice lady who was calling me in the process of screening resumes seemed unsure if they want to hire one person who can do a lot of website and database backend stuff (which I am not qualified to do), or if they want to hire two people, one who would do the higher end stuff, and one (maybe me) who would do the lesser stuff. Eek.

Call number two, for an entry level marketing position at a relatively large company that is involved in very interesting technology. However, this company is located in a place that is not really convenient, and might even take me an hour to commute one way during peak times (big yuck). It is also a very, very entry level position, that does not pay very well. I'm not really sold on this company, though the product they produce is interesting, and a higher level marketing job could be interesting. I really think I might be bored here, and quickly hate the commute.

Meanwhile, I'm getting ahead of myself with the idea of committing to either company.

(big sigh) This job hunting thing is getting depressing.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Only NOT Sleeping In

You would think, what with me being unemployed and all, that I might enjoy the chance to sleep in.

No deadlines, no pressure, nothing to do but make dinner when splorp! calls to tell me he's coming home.

Except for the sleeping in part. And the no pressure. Oh, and the "nothing to do" part. Technically I don't have a deadline, although I'm driving myself bonkers here because I'm so bored, so the sooner I'm employed the better.

While going to school I would never have considered myself a "morning person." I liked to sleep in, stay up late doing homework, and I never signed up for a class that started before 9 am (Except the very first semester. That 7:30 am class was horrible).

Now, I find myself with a whole day in front of me full of just a couple of hours of job hunting online, maybe an errand or two, maybe take the laundry over to mom and dad's, maybe dig in the garden ... Or maybe not any of those things. I mean, I need to do them, so I do actually have stuff I need to accomplish. I just don't think I need to do them at 8 am, do you?

Only, my body doesn't agree with me, and I keep waking up early! Like, I could go back to work anytime early! So stuff gets done around here.

I think this is a sign I'm growing up or something.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Unemployment, huh?

Today I started off the day with my telephone interview with the Unemployment peoples. You know, the department that will send me checks for being unemployed, yet looking for work?

I am so confused. I've never done this before, this registering for unemployment benefits. It's the kind of thing I hoped to never have to do, because of course I am indispensable, and they love me, and I do such a good job!

Which of course, the last two are true, the first one, not so much.

The lady was very nice, and there was just some confusion about how my final check was issued, and what it means for when I start getting checks from unemployment.

I got laid off on Friday 9/26, but they opted to pay me through the end of the month, which meant I got paid for Monday and Tuesday 9/29 and 9/30. Except the Unemployment lady was confused about what they are calling this money. While I was filing online for unemployment, I chose "pay-in-lieu-of-notice" which is apparently the wrong choice, because that's usually something like 60 days worth of pay, not two. Oh.

So I guess maybe it's severance? It's not a back pay award, and it's not vacation pay, because I actually got my vacation pay. It's not a pension, or a bonus, or a commission, because those categories weren't offered for my position. Idle time pay? Other? I'm going to have to go with one of those.

Crap, now how do I properly fill out the stupid forms for actually getting my unemployment check? It's all too confusing. Also, being unemployed is extremely boring.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Work, and Why People Suck (part 3)

So, I'm unemployed. I got laid off on Friday.

Yeah, the President of the company suddenly called me into his office at 4 PM and told me I'm laid off, due to "economic conditions."

I'll admit, I'm not the only one to go. The Controller (aka, VP of Finance) also went on Friday. I just have a sneaking suspicion that the two of us were the most recent two to ask him for something - me, I asked for more money, the Controller, he asked the President to stop spending so much money that the company is about to collapse.

Yeah, that's the gossip. The Controller (after the sudden layoff) had no problem telling the rest of us that he told the President 5 months ago that he was going to have to start laying people off. Also had no problem telling us that the company has been hemorrhaging money for years, basically ever since the President became President, after his dad died and he inherited the company.

So, maybe the real reason we got laid off is that we either asked the President for money, or we told him ugly truths?

Whatever. I feel like I should be more upset about this than I actually am. Like, I should be crying and bawling and basically out of control and asking, "Where did I go wrong?!"

Yeah, not feeling that.

True, I've been job hunting since April, when I got a "promotion" but not a raise, nor a cost-of-living increase. Still, I should feel a little something, shouldn't I?

I'm a little annoyed. Back at my review time, the moron/President didn't like that I was asking for money, and tried to phrase it as, "Well, I understand you may want more, and we can't give it to you right now. If you feel you have to look elsewhere I'll understand, but I hope you would be professional and give a couple weeks notice."

So, does the idea of professionalism not extend both ways, to giving me notice also? Or perhaps a severance package? (yeah, I got nothing.) Moron.

Overall, I'm mostly just relieved that I'm done with the place. And I keep thinking I'll be on to bigger and better things soon.

True, the actual job hunting isn't fun, nor is filing for unemployment, nor is sitting in the Social Security Office to get a replacement card (can't find mine after I moved last year - I think I shredded it on accident).

Well, ok, the idea of unemployment money is a little exciting, because I'm trying to think of it as "sticking it to the moron" since he has to pay into the unemployment fund for me.

But, truly, I'm not too upset that my time there is done. I'm going to miss a few people, and hope that my next boss is just as friendly and nice. But I'm ready for a new challenge. And God knows I haven't had a challenge at this place in forever.

So I'm ready. I'm good to go. I'm intimidated by the thought of applying to new places, and writing impressive cover letters to get myself noticed, and also by the many, many interviews that may go nowhere and feel like a waste of time. But I'm trying to be optimistic.

At least I can make sure my new boss understands that Webmaster is not related to Dungeons and Dragons, like this last moron.

Read more about why this place sucked:
On Work, and Why People Suck (part 1)
On Work, and Why People Suck (part 2)


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Awesome Book Love, Library Style

So, splorp! found this really cool thing on Google maps, which I am going to call an homage to book love:



The parking garage for the Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri looks like a shelf of books!

You can click on the picture to see my larger screen shot, or follow this link to go to the Google maps street view of Kansas City.

The coolest thing about the street view is that you can actually "drive" along the street in front of the building by pushing the little white arrows. When you do this you can see the titles of the books.

I can't read them all, but they seem to be classics. Charlotte's Web, The Two Towers, The Invisible Man, Fahrenheit 451, Plato, Catch 22, and many more are there.

I confess to a bit of disappointment that the official home page of the Kansas City Public Library does not address the history of this creative facade. The only way I know it's the right website is a picture at the top of the web site, and the mention of the Central Library address approximately matches the Google maps location. The only reason I know it's the parking garage (and not the actual library) is through other blogs: here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Post-Birthday Photos

I went out and spent more birthday money yesterday. First for a haircut, which given our local temperatures I should have done a couple of months ago. My neck is much cooler now, thank you.

I hate spending money and time in the hair salon, and I have yet to find a stylist I can stick with. As a result, my hair will look really good for one day - pretty much until I wash it. Plus, I'm impatient about my hair, and I hate taking the time every day or every other day to dry and then style it. It just seems like a waste of time to me.

I've had the same hairstyle for a couple of years now, just so I could get the same look pretty much all the time. I more or less like to have smooth, pretty much straight hair. Last time I went with the hairdresser's suggestion to thin out my hair. Yeah, big mistake. When you have curly hair, don't agree to this! It made my hair wave in really odd places, and I was left feeling like I couldn't do anything with my hair, so I just stuck in in a ponytail and waited for it to grow out and recover from the terrible cut.

This time, I enjoyed myself a bit more. The cut went pretty quickly, and I didn't have to make small talk with a stranger/hairstylist for too long. My hair is still a bit longer than I would have liked - I couldn't convince her I actually wanted to go shorter. Next time I'll be a bit more insistent. Overall, though, I liked how it turned out. A good cut can do a lot for you.

The hairdresser had a nifty tool - a flat iron with ceramic plates. I liked the effect so much that I went out and bought my own. I swear it looks like my hair is glossier now. I've been fighting my hair the last few years with a round brush and curling iron, trying to tame the frizzies. The flat iron was really easy to use, and gave me the straighter hair that I've been aiming for. Totally worth the money.

I don't always like shopping, because it seems like I try on a lot of stuff and come home with very little, but I was actually in the mood to shop! After my haircut I went and spent some more birthday money. I had a gift card from my birthday last year that I needed to spend, so I took advantage of the shopping spree.

splorp! and I cook a lot, and I've been fighting our 8" skillet for a couple of years. It's one of those issues where the Teflon® coating got damaged, and now everything sticks to the pan. Technically, we shouldn't use pans with these coatings when we have a pet bird, because if the coating is damaged and burns it can give off really toxic fumes that can kill the bird. So, I replaced the pan. Voila: my new skillet!

We own a roasting pan and a griddle by the same company, and absolutely love them. The non-stick coating is integrated in the pan, so it's much harder to damage, and cleaning is so much easier. No more toxic fume danger.

And last but best, while I was out spending money, my dad came by with his tools and helped splorp! hang my floating shelves!

Desk and Floating Shelves
My Office Space Now


I told you I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! splorp! is the one who kindly arranged my pictures on the shelves. I liked the effect so much that I kept them.

Dad's visit had another effect: I had drywall dust all over my desk (the shelves are supported by screws drilled into the walls). Thus, I had to actually clean my desk, not just declutter. I like it a lot. It makes me feel like a grown up or something. Let's see how long it stays clean!


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Webdesign Not Any Tme Soon

So, I mentioned that I put in a bid on developing a website for a guy who royally screwed up by using the wrong programs to develop his own site. Last time I spoke to him (over a week ago) he said he was going to consult with his wife/business partner the next day, and they'd call me.

Haven't heard back.

Now, the good little marketer and industrious business person in me is saying, "Hey! You need to call that guy and follow up with him!" because that's what the over-trained salesperson in me would do. The part of me that's tired of dealing with morons says, "No way! if he wants to try to haggle over a couple hundred dollars, it's his loss."

Because my job through college was in retail sales, and those people we call customers? They suck.

I've decided not to pursue this lead. Mostly because I have a bad feeling about the whole deal. When my former classmate called me about this job, she warned me that he was particularly frugal about this type of  all types of expense. And, yes, frugal is good, and yes, keeping costs down is good, and all that. But, that being said, this guy needs me and my skills much more than I need his lousy few dollars.

Also? I'm tired of business people who think they can do everything themselves and end up screwing it up, then don't want to pay to fix it. The president of my current company is famous for this, and it annoys me to no end. Just like this website guy wanting to negotiate my fee because he did the lay out already - never mind that his work is terrible and unusable, and I would still have to start from scratch to make his site work properly. Oh no, he doesn't want to pay full price because HE invested time and effort already. The implied statement being that my time and effort are worth less than his.

Now, I'm college educated (Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with the option of Marketing), and my point of view is that it's worth spending a little bit more money and getting it done right in the first place. Time is money in business, and if you waste a lot of time doing something wrong and then spend more time fixing it, you waste a lot more money than if you had paid someone to do it in the first place. This guy? Originally we went from, "How soon can it be done, because we want to get the website up quickly to attract customers quickly. A week would be ideal," to a delay of over two months now, half of which time the website he created has been sitting on the web, useless to most visitors and thus losing customers.

Oh, and you know how I have a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration? In the process of earning that important piece of paper, I learned that any type of expense for your business, like, I dunno, web site design, is an expense you can write off on your taxes.

And anyway, why would I want to do contract work for someone who doesn't understand or appreciate what I can do to improve his website's search rankings? Work that's included in the bid I put in, and which will make a world of difference in his website's outcome? It would mean taking time away from my husband, my family, and my life, just for a couple hundred dollars.

Yeah, I'm not desperate enough to put up with another moron, just for his money.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Miscellaneous Post-Birthday Thoughts

Book-shopping on my birthday was successful in that it resulted in the book I was missing from the Raymond E. Feist collection, so I'll finish off the review of that series soon.

Since I bought the book I was missing (Talon of the Silver Hawk), I went ahead and continued reading the rest of the series. Um, somehow I owned books two and three of that set, but now that I'm reading book three I don't remember any of it.

I definitely remember splorp! giving me book two for Christmas, but what's annoying is that I can't remember buying or getting the third book at all. I'm going to guess splorp! bought it for me at some time. Yea splorp!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Web Design In My Future?

I mentioned that as part of my desire to advance my career (and someday move on from my job) I took some Photoshop classes.

Well, back in late June, one of the women I met in class tracked me down through the teacher. Her boss was looking to create a website for a product he invented, and she immediately thought of me from our conversations in class (I have to admit I was a "bit" vocal in class about the benefits of Photoshop for website creation). Boss-man wanted a landing page website to advertise and attract customers for a product he created, and he didn't want to pay a whole lot of money.

Great! A landing page is a fairly simple website, it means extra money, and also something professional to build my portfolio, it's all good!

Anyway, I asked questions about images, number of pages, media content, who provides marketing text, and other stuff like that. Then I put in a bid to develop the website for them. I think my bid came in higher than boss-man was hoping, because they "decided to pursue other options at this time." Hey, when you prospect someone to develop a website, and ask "can it be done for about $100?" You should know that when you describe something as a "landing page," it is ONE page, not the five you actually want for the price of one. Guess what: the more pages you have me create? the further away from $100 you get.

So, they turned down my bid and opted to try to create the website themselves using Microsoft Publisher and FrontPage. Incidentally, these are programs that were so not designed to do what they tried to do with them.

Tuesday I got a call from the boss-man about the problems they are having. The result of their tinkering with programs they don't understand? A web page that works only in Internet Explorer, and which contains only broken links and text boxes in other browsers. And when I say other browsers, I mean ALL other browsers. Hmm, you think Microsoft (who owns Internet Explorer and Publisher and Front Page) could possibly be at fault? Nah, never!

I am sympathetic to their problem - by having a web page that only works in IE they're losing a third to a half of their internet-users-slash-potential-customers. Being in the marketing field, it's hard to sit by and see someone between a rock and a hard place, especially when they put themselves there.

So even though they called me, do they want to pay my fee? Still not so much. Boss-man is definitely hoping to negotiate a lower rate because, you know, he has "all this work done already, what with the layout being done in Publisher and all."

Uh huh, problem is that by going through two different Microsoft programs to lay it out and then "save as" and convert it to an HTML page, the two programs inserted a whole crap-load of proprietary code that works only with Internet Explorer - proprietary code which is the root cause of the website not displaying in other browsers. There's no hope I can salvage the existing code. It would actually be faster to re-create the page from scratch.

So, if I'm doing all the work of re-creating and re-coding the page from scratch anyway, tell me again why exactly should I drop my rate? Yeah, thought so. Especially when you would pay half again or double my rate for the same website from another freelancer. (Admittedly another freelancer might have a more impressive portfolio, but still, he doesn't want to pay my discounted rate - is he really going to pay the higher rate to get the same end result?)

Right now, that's the question: does he want to pay or not? I made it clear that I could use the images they created, and the colors they chose, but I'm not dropping my rate. Now he is conferring with is wife/business partner, and we'll see in a couple of days. Cross your fingers for me.

PS. Since I still might get the job, and I'm sort of making fun of them, I'm not naming the company. Bad taste, yaknow?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Photoshop Pro - of sorts

Just for fun, I wanted to show you what knowing some Photoshop can do for you.

Here we have the photo I showed the other day, of splorp! and I on my birthday.

LadyCiani and splorp!


It looks pretty good. Smiley people, looking at the camera, showing teeth, and everything.

For comparison, here's the original with a slightly different crop:

LadyCiani and splorp!


This is not so fun - yes it's the same photo, but we're amazingly red here, and very shiny on or cheeks, nose, and foreheads! We're not actually sunburned, it's just what the "auto" setting on a camera will do to you when you're in poor lighting, and the camera is actually held by one of the photo's subjects. splorp! was elected tripod duties, as his arms are a bit longer than mine. Compare not just our faces, but the color of the wall in the background, and you'll get a good idea of how much I cleaned up this photo.

Basically what I did was color correction to get rid of the worst of the red, and and a little bit of cloning to remove some of the shine on my cheeks. I left the shine that was buried in my eyebrows. Not because I wanted to look shiny there, but more because I couldn't remove the shine from that spot without removing part of my eyebrow. Yeah, that would be an attractive look - a half-missing eyebrow. I'm naturally a little red all the time - kind of like I'm blushing or warm, so I didn't want to over-correct. Doing that would make me look greenish or bluish.

You can see that some of the glare on splorp!'s glasses is gone in the second picture, though most of it is still there. There are ways to remove it entirely, but not with the format I shot in with my point-and-shoot camera.

Can you correct for glare in Photoshop? Enh, somewhat. Some people recommend shooting two photos - one of the person wearing the glasses, and a second of the person in the exact same position, but with the glasses removed. Then the process involves cropping the eyes from the photo without the glasses, and pasting them into the rims of the glasses, and blending the edges to make it look like it was always one piece. Time consuming to the average Photoshop newbie, but effective, and it goes faster if you've done it once or twice already.

For most people (people not taking their own photo), it's easier just to prevent the glare in the first place. Position the lighting source (usually the camera flash) above the subject's head, and aim it down at the subject, trying for a 45 degree angle. Since the camera flash is usually attached to the camera, this may involve stepping back away from the person, standing on a chair, and then using the zoom feature to zoom in. Usually the person in the photo will instinctively look directly at the camera, but you want to make sure it looks natural (no craned neck), so by standing fairly far back and zooming, you accomplish two things:

1) Person's neck isn't bent at an unusual angle to look up slightly at the camera.
2) Putting the flash further away and shooting down at about a 45 degree angle removes a lot of the glare from the person's glasses.

Trust me, it works quite well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Electrical Therapy

As I said last time, splorp! is somewhat injured. Mostly his neck hurts, but the doctor said it is actually his trapezius muscle - the one that connects the back, the neck, and the shoulder blade in a big triangle.

By the way, if your neck hurts for two weeks, and you finally go to the doctor and he gives you muscle relaxers, but they just make you loopy and don't really help you heal? Electrical shocks work!

splorp! does not tolerate anything stronger than over-the-counter ibuprofen very well, so the combo of muscle relaxers and strong pain meds his doctor prescribed not only made him kind of spacy, he would slur his words a little bit, and then he would sleep for hours at a time. While funny (to me), that worked ok while it was the weekend, but it's not like he could take that cocktail and go to work. Plus he couldn't drive. We were not sure how he would manage working through the pain.My sister came to the rescue. She loaned splorp! the TENS Unit she got after her shoulder surgery.

splorp! wired upShe showed us me how to attach it to him, and how it works. She helped me wire him up the first time and then we turned it up kind of high - just short of making muscles jump.

I'm telling you, it's like night and day. If you've never used one and you have constant pain, you need to call your doctor or physical therapist. As near as I can tell, you don't need a prescription for it to buy one, but there are a few cautions, and it's not appropriate for some people (pacemakers are not recommended). Plus, not only can your doctor or PT help you use it properly, and show you where to place the pads for the most benefit, if you get a prescription for it, insurance may reimburse you for all or part of the cost.

And, ok, it's not exactly electrical shocks, but (depending on the setting) it kind of vibrates the muscles, and interrupts the nerve transmissions that say "pain here!" and "keel over in pain now!"

It's a great little device, the relief can last several hours, and it can really help you cut down on pain medicine, which is a bonus. It seems to be well-designed, able to run either on batteries (and be portable) or the regular wall plug.

Using the TENS Unit, splorp has pain relief for several hours - enough to get through work, and then at night we're relying on that menthol-y smelling Icy Hot stuff.

Birthday fun!

Yes, I am now another year closer to the big 3-0. splorp! is quite happy about this, as it means he is no longer 10 years older then me. See, our birthdays are fairly close together, but for about 3 weeks he's officially 10 years older than me. Apparently for those 3 weeks it really bugs him that I'm more of a "trophy wife" than normal.

shelves


This year I finally qualified for a paid day off of work for my birthday, and since it fell on a Friday, I had a 3-day weekend (woo-hoo!). splorp! took the day off too, so we were going to enjoy a nice weekend away ... somewhere. But somehow we never planned anything, so we ended up having a nice time home together.

On my birthday we lazed around most of the morning, then went to see a movie at the cheap seats theater. We got what we paid for, because the sound kept cutting out during the movie, but oh well. Then we went to ... wait for it ... a bookstore! splorp! helped me buy a bunch of books ...

shelves
(some were his!)


... and then we went to dinner with my family, where my sister gave me a gift card to the store we just visited. Guess we have to go back again!

We had a nice time, and splorp! got me some fun stuff. I have mentioned that I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Well, the show was canceled before Joss Whedon was done telling his story, so season 8 came out (is still coming out) as graphic novels. splorp! got me all the available titles, and they're coming out at a rate of about one per month, so I'm sure I'll have a few more at Christmas.

Also, he has gifted me with floating shelves for over my desk!
shelves


Ok, so they're not floating yet. He is somewhat injured, so I made him promise not to hurt himself further by installing them himself. Plus, we need to borrow tools from dad, so it all works out.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rambling About ... Well, Not About Books

Starting this blog, I was going to talk about my favorite books. Which I started to do! Which I didn't keep doing.

I thought for sure I would be able to keep it up, and I even wrote out of list of topics, for which I would come up with a semi-corny sounding blog title, and proceed to make recommendations.

Uh huh. That's working oh so well.

I started off ok, but I guess I got mired down in the Riftwar books when I discovered I was missing one. I read it long ago, but I guess I only borrowed it from the library, not bought it.

Libraries are sooooo useful. If I go there, I don't spend money on books. And I can spend a lot of money when I go to a bookstore. Have you seen how many books I have?

one bookcase
One of my bookcases


Gift cards are a great! I can usually stick to my budget at a bookstore if I have a giftcard. ::hint hint:: Like for my upcoming birthday. (almost here!)


Friday, August 1, 2008

Magic Mailboxes, and We're Really Rolling In It ...

I don't know why, but in my family it seems that the first year of marriage is good for the new couple.

My parents talk about how during their first year of marriage, they had what they called "The Magic Mailbox." It turns out that when you get married, and you move to a place considered "safer" (read: less crime), then insurance companies send you a bunch of refunds. Mom says it seemed like every month they were getting money back from something.

splorp! and I have been married almost 2 years, and we find this "Magic Mailbox" thing to be true as well. Car insurance and renter's insurance both decreased, and they sent us a refund check. splorp! got money from a class action suit at his old corporate job (hint, major mortgage company recently bought by BofA) for unpaid overtime. Yesterday, I, too got money from a class action suit at my old job (hint: major rental car company, named after an aircraft carrier), for unpaid lunches.

Not to say that either splorp! or I ever was unpaid by those companies. We were both aware of what we should/should not be paid for, and we checked our paychecks for accuracy (I actually informed HR when I was not taxed on a bonus, and had the money declared properly). But we qualified for settlements because we were employed by those companies during the time period specified by the suit. And we both thought we were underpaid during our time at our respective jobs, so no, we're not going to return the money.

Magic Mailbox aside, splorp! and I try to live by some of the principles advocated by financial help books, like the Smart Women Finish Rich books I have mentioned previously. We don't necessarily try to increase our income - that would involve working a second job, and we enjoy actually seeing each other. It's more that we try to reduce our expenses and not incur new debt.

We have had luck this past year by shopping around for our renter's and car insurance. In spite of the discount we received last year as a result of being married, this year our insurance costs increased. By shopping around, we saved approximately $100 from what we paid last year, instead of our costs increasing by $200. Does that mean we saved $300 overall? I'll let you decide.

We also moved apartments last year. Our old apartment was nice - tall ceilings, included the major appliances, washer and dryer included in the unit, and it had AC and heating. However, the management office was mostly terrible, and included very rude people who had no concept of "open hours." We had minimal maintenance requests during our 2 1/2 years there, but it often took two attempts for the repair to be done correctly, and they insisted that one of our major repair requests could not be done at all, though the actual maintenance supervisor commented (on the day we moved out! while doing our final walk through!) that, "Oh, that's an easy fix. All you do is ... " Uh huh, why didn't that happen two years ago? Seems the management office doesn't ask the maintenance supervisor's opinion before declaring repairs unrealistic. Stupid people.

Anyway, moving apartments was a big deal. We're now closer to grocery stores, and more centrally located in town, gained a bit more square footage, gained a parking space and small garden area, but we lost some comforts. Like, we had to acquire our own refrigerator, we have no AC, our washer and dryer are gone (now we pay quarters for the laundry room), it is a much older building so some of the "decor" is dated and very dark, and one of our "full" bathrooms actually only contains a tub (really - the tile surround stops a foot above the tub ledge and there's no shower head, so no shower). Also, our major annoyance is that our master bathroom is partly in our bedroom. The shower and toilet are in a small room, but the sink, lights, and outlet (and hairdryer!) are in the main part of the bedroom. No, there is not a wall (nor a door) dividing the two rooms.

So, while the Magic Mailbox is a nice concept, and we put those insurance company refunds and other "found" monies right into our slowly growing housing fund, the largest impact on our checkbook balances has come from the downgrade in living arrangements.

How big an impact? Our old 2 bed 2 bath apartment (tall ceilings) started out at $1496 for 17 months, then went up to $1550 for 12 months, and then wanted to charge over $1680 for another 12 months, or over $1800 if we went month-to-month. That's when we said "bye-bye" and downgraded to our new (dated decor) apartment, and pay $1430 for a 2 bed, 2 bath, with the various inconveniences I mentioned.

Those amounts sound astronomical, don't they? It's a mortgage payment in most places. Yeah, we think so too. But our current rate is actually LOW for our area (gotta love Southern California - beautiful weather, can't afford to live there).

The sacrifices in comfort will be worth it in the long run, right? When I own my own home I'll be able to look back on these funky apartments and miserable apartment managers with good humor, won't I? ... Won't I?

Well, for now, we'll laugh all the way to the bank.

PS. This is not meant to imply that I suffer more than EGE did, living without drywall in her kitchen. No, she wins that round!


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Work Humor

The following short quiz consists of 4 questions and tells whether you are qualified to be a "manager". The questions are not that difficult.
  1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator? The correct answer is: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe and close the door. This question tests whether you tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way.
  2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator? Wrong Answer: Open the refrigerator, put in the elephant and close the refrigerator. Correct Answer: Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door. This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your actions.
  3. The Lion King is hosting an animal conference, all the animals attend except one. Which animal does not attend? Correct Answer: The Elephant. The Elephant is in the refrigerator. This tests your memory.
OK, even if you did not answer the first three questions correctly, you still have one more chance to show your abilities.
  1. There is a river you must cross. But it is inhabited by crocodiles.How do you manage it? Correct Answer: You swim across. All the Crocodiles are attending the Animal Meeting! This tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes.
According to Andersen Consulting World wide, around 90% of the professionals they tested got all questions wrong. But many pre-schoolers got several correct answers. Andersen Consulting says this conclusively disproves the theory that most management consultants have the brains of a four year old.

via joke website

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Look! I got mentioned!

EGE over at TheHouseAndI mentioned a fabulous blog, "It's Lovely, I'll Take It!", and I almost fell over laughing at the crazy pictures people think represent their house's best features. Seriously? You think that out-of-focus picture of your bathroom with funky wallpaper and missing tiles in the shower makes me want to buy your house?

I had to get in on the fun, so I submitted a lovely listing found in my local area. Today was my lucky day, as blog-owner Sara featured my submission. The condo association is built around a man-made lake, and that is one of the prime selling-features of units for sale in this gated complex. The condos are nice and all, but really, does this photo of the current owner and the fish he apparently caught in the lake make you want to buy the place?


Yeah, me neither. And what's with the sweater?


Living in Southern California, it's going to be a while before splorp! and I can afford a place of our own. That doesn't stop us me from looking. Hey, I don't want to ill-wish for any home owners out there, I know you like it when your house appreciates in value, but splorp! and I keep watching the prices go down, and the number of foreclosures go up.

We don't necessarily want a foreclosed home, but the more of them there are, the more affordable homes become overall. And when you're talking about an average price for a 2-BR 1-BA Condo with less than 900 sq. feet in my home town, the average price for the last several years has been $450,000 plus HOA of $300 or so each month.

Foreclosures and short sales and the general free-fall of the housing market look good to us! Maybe next year we can start looking to buy.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Webmaster Skillz Go With Photoshop Skillz

Being able to play with Photoshop is really quite fun. It comes in handy for the various things my family wants me to do, like digitally removing food stains on shirts.

But being a Webmaster and being able to edit HTML and CSS? Seriously, if you're a blogger, I think that while you may not need to know how to make them work, you need to know WHY some things work, just so you can avoid trouble.

True, blogger and other blogging programs take care of a lot of problems for you. But do you really want to forever be at the mercy of another company to redesign your blog? You should really get the hang of a few web-based elements that can make your blogging world work better.

Like, learning about posting images. No, you really don't need to know about using the actual HTML commands to link images to your blog post. Yes, you'll do just fine using the tools blogger gives you, and never learning that particular trick.

But just the other day I saw someone doing two things that made me shake my head. I'm not going to link to the blog because I don't want to start a flame war or embarrass somebody who just doesn't know better, but - these were things that no web-savvy person would do, because they have the potential for causing problems later. Yet, not only was she doing them on her own blog and posting about them, she was posting them in an attempt to teach other bloggers how to use them on their own blogs. Very Bad!

Here is my attempt to convince you to learn the right way to do things, which involves knowing a very small bit of HTML.

Error 1) Linking to an image on another person's/company's website. What's wrong with this one? Ok, first of all, it's contrary to web etiquette (it's rude!). That cute image you absolutely must have on your blog is a) probably copyrighted, and b) is hosted by someone else that pays good money to host their stuff on the web. Their hosting company allows them a certain amount of storage space and bandwidth. Every time someone visits your blog post linking to that image, you're draining the other person's bandwidth. If your blog post has so many page hits that it makes them exeed their bandwidth, it may end up costing THEM money because YOU link to their image. Costing somebody money isn't very nice, is it?

Plus (and here's where it can become a problem for you) if that person or company figures out what you're doing, they can simply move their image (best-case scenario: it results in a "broken image" for you), or worst-case scenario replace it with an image you find offensive. Imagine you're a "mommyblogger," writing about something innocent, funny, and child-related, and you link to a random-something image. If your page gets so many hits that the random image causes problems for the owner of that image, he may just decide to replace that image with something pornographic. Suddenly your nice post with the lovely image you "stole" is not so nice!

Lesson: Don't link to someone else's image. It's not nice, and it may come back to bite you in the end. Take the time to save the image to your own photo storage service, and upload it to your blog. You'll avoid problems in the long run.

Error 2) Advocating using the image tag to modify the size of an image. Basically, this person had an ad button that  would not fit on a blog side bar. Seriously? The person making this recommendation had no idea what she was doing. Changing the image by restricting its size in the image tag is the worst way to do it. Imagine you have a square image, 100 pixels wide by 100 pixels high. Now, say your problem is that your sidebar will only fit something that is 90 pixels wide or smaller. So you go ahead and tell the image tag to display this image, but restrict it to 90 pixels wide. Congratulations! Your image is now squished and looks strange, because what you HAVEN'T done is change the image's height. For example:

vs

Again, the solution for this is to not use the image on the other person's server, but instead to actually save the image, then edit it using some basic image editing software (irfanview is a good basic program, and it's free), then upload it to your photo storage service. When you change the image size, you want to make sure you change the image size proportionally. This means that your square image will reduce to 90 pixels wide by 90 pixels high - still a square.

See, these are basic pitfalls of displaying images, which you could easily avoid if you took a few minutes each day to learn a little bit about HTML and how it works. Try W3 Schools.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mad Photoshop Skillzzzzz (part 2)

(Ok, so this is what I really meant to say about knowing how to use Photoshop, but I got distracted.)

Having some knowledge about Photoshop is great and all, but when your husband volunteers your skillzzz, you better measure up.

For all those significant others out there: Don't volunteer your SO's skills without checking with them first!

While we were visiting his family, splorp! volunteered me to fix a photo of his late grandfather. Now, that wasn't so bad on the surface. The problem was all I heard was splorp! saying in a tone of voice that expresses his full confidence in me, "Oh, no problem. LadyCiani can fix it!"

Umm, what am I fixing? That might be good to know. Cause I love your optimism, but what are you getting me in to? I had to explain to splorp! that for future reference, you need to say, "Show it to LadyCiani. Maybe she can fix it." See, changing the wording gives me an 'out' if it's something beyond my mad skillz!

Seriously? This worried me. Mostly I was worried that it would be a really old picture that they wanted me to fix somehow. Hmm, what's so bad about that, you wonder. What's the difference between fixing an old picture and an new one (beyond already-digital format vs. scanned image)? Well, it could be pretty bad. It doesn't really matter if a photo is scanned or not. You can fix a scanned image just as well as one that's digital. It's just that older photos come with more problems.

Have you ever noticed that most newer pictures are glossy, while a lot of those old photos are textured? Yeah, that texture creates problems. It looks really cool, but it's the basic mechanics of scanning a photo that cause problems. When you go to scan a photo, the scanner is basically shining a lot of light at the photo. Just like the big copy machine you always wanted to use to take a copy of your butt? Yeah, same concept with the regular desktop scanner.

Still don't see the problem? The texture you find on old photos is a semi-regular bumpy texture, with a bunch of high points and low points right next to each other. Think of a hillside, and then finding a cave in the hillside. What happens when you shine a light into the cave? The darkness of the cave swallows up the light. That's basically what happens when you have a texture on a photograph. The scanner is shining light at the photo, and the low points of the photo swallow up the light. It means the now-digital-scanned image looks incredibly grainy.

True, professional photographers can probably compensate for the problems caused by the texture, but there are no guarantees. Also, if you're trying to correct the photo for light damage (yellowing) at the same time, result might look strange. (Let the lesson be, always print photos on glossy, and store in archival, acid-free storage).

Anyway, so I hear splorp! volunteering me to his mom to fix this photo, which I've never seen, and I semi-panic. I still want her to like me, not be disappointed in me! And I already know it's my mother-in-law's favorite photo of her now-deceased father. Oh, please let it be something I can do!

It turned out ok. The photo wasn't more than 5 years old, and they just wanted me to fix a food stain on his white work shirt. Not too horribly complicated, as corrections go. It wasn't like it was completely easy, though. The photo had been slightly scratched, and it had fingerprints all over it, plus I had to tell my father-in-law that he needed to clean his scanner bed. All those things are problems because when he scanned the photo, the glass of the scanner had dust on it, which transferred to the now-digital image as white flecks. The scanner also picked up the scratches and fingerprints, and I had to try to correct for all those things.

Still, the photo looked pretty good at the end. EvilMomBeast got a kick out of the idea that I could remove smudges on the walls in the background too - she called it "Painting my parents' living room."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On Having Mad Photoshop Skillzzzzzz

Except, you know, I don't really have Mad Photoshop Skillzzzz. I'm really just a dabbler who has taken a couple of classes, and everyone thinks I'm good.

Mostly I would identify as a Webmaster, but I decided a little while ago that it would pay off for me to take some classes to expand what I can do in my career. This was before I was angling to get the Webmaster job at work (yes, I still work at the same place, ::sigh::), and I figured that it would make sense for me to be able to create the images and things I need to build web pages.

Basically, it's a pain in the rear to tell the graphics guy, "Ok, I need a .jpg that's 180 pixels wide by 90 high, and it needs to show ... " Yeah, you can see where there would end up being some creative differences of opinion there. Not to mention having to send the image back to the graphics guy multiple times, as the boss changes his mind about what he wants the web page to look like. And color matching? Say, putting an image with a black background onto another black background. There are A LOT of interpretations of "black" in the world.

All in all, I decided that it would be good for the career, and good for a hobby, and hey, maybe I can stop asking husband splorp! to fix photos for me when I'm at home.

One of the best decisions of my life.

Seriously, if you have the opportunity to take a photoshop class, DO IT. Mine was offered at my local community college, and it was one night a week for a semester (about 16 weeks). Yeah, taking a class most likely means you'll have homework, but it's soooo worth it. Community college is really cheap compared to the "professional" classes offered other places. Also, there's a good chance you won't have to buy a text book. My teachers made recommendations for books that we might find helpful, but they did not teach out of a textbook, so they didn't make you buy one.

As a blogger (when I remember to post I'm a blogger), I find it comes in handy to know Photoshop. Not only because I can fix images for the shiny-forehead-spot, but also for making my own title image, and for creating buttons or anything else I want to do. Have an ad button that won't fit in a side bar? I can reduce it in size without warping the image. Want to focus on just one part of the image? I can crop out what's not relevant, and also make the colors look truer at the same time. Have a photo that's too big for where you want to put it in your blog? Reduce the size without losing detail. Photo takes too long to load? Optimize it for the web at 72 dpi without losing image quality.

Basically what I'm saying is, if you're a blogger, you know having photos on your blog will make it more interesting to read. You almost NEED this type of training. So go sign up for a class. Go on, do it now! 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stupid Humans

I have a confession to make - I love reading the advice columns from Dear Abby and Annie's Mailbox.

Mostly I love how they offer common sense, and advocate proven counseling resources for people in need.

Today, July 23, 2008, I absolutely loved Dear Abby and her item on dogs kept locked in cars.

I'm an animal person. I'd love to get a dog, but I waver between, "Our apartment has a wonderful garden area" and "It's not fair to keep a dog in an apartment." splorp! comes down firmly in the latter category, though he likes dogs too.

Dear Abby today featured people who had written in to about what they do when they see an animal locked in a car. One advocated keeping the number for the Humane Society Rescue Unit on your cell phone. The best one was saved for last:

DEAR ABBY: While attending the 1994 Gator National Drag Race in Gainesville, Fla., an announcement was made for the owners of an '89 Buick station wagon to please get their dog out of the car. Fifteen minutes later, a new announcement: "For the owners of the '89 Buick station wagon, we have good news and bad news. The good news is, your dog is fine. The bad news is, your passenger side window is now broken."
Everyone in the stands cheered! -- MITCH IN ROXBORO, N.C.

Mitch who wrote in to Dear Abby, thanks for brightening my day! I love it. I think it serves those stupid people right.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back from Vacation

Ok, so, technically I've been back for a little bit, and it's taken a while to get back in the groove of things. You know, work, blogging, etc.

Not that I'm ever all that regular with posting to the blog, but hey - I try.

Vacation was good. splorp!'s family likes me, and we took tons of photos. splorp! got some of them up on his webpage already, so you can check some out there. I got to hold the new baby, so all is good with the world.

Me Holding Max

Me holding the new baby, Max.*

I like babies, they're really cute, but I always feel awkward holding them (something splorp!'s mom picked up on right away). I'm the youngest in my (smallish) family, and my younger cousins lived far enough away that we didn't see them much except at a few holiday gatherings. Certainly I didn't change their diapers or babysit them, and the few kids I did babysit were potty trained already. It's safe to say I've never actually changed a diaper in my life (28 years old next month).

splorp!'s mom (EvilMomBeast) only teased me a little bit about the baby thing (he was squirming and I was having trouble holding on!). She knows I didn't have young kids around when I was growing up, so it was really just a quick comment of, "Oh, look at that maternal instinct. Do you need help?" Which was followed by me quickly handing the baby to splorp!, who has had much more experience with babies, what with changing his sister's diapers while growing up (the same sister who is Max's mom).

Vacation was really quite good. Central Ohio is very warm and humid, but I enjoyed myself a lot. splorp!'s parents have a pool in the back yard, so we spent quite a while outside and in the water. I proceeded to cover myself in sunscreen, because I will turn red like a lobster if I'm not careful. Gotta say, those new sunscreen in aerosol sprays? LOVE them. They're a little expensive for the number of "servings" you get per bottle, but the coverage is really good, and you don't have that greasy funky white stuff on your hands, and it dries quickly on the skin.

EvilMomBeast watches the other grandkids one or two days a week while splorp!'s other sister and her husband work, so we saw splorp!'s other nephews several times. Cute kids - and they liked playing in the pool and splashing.

I finally got splorp! to take drive me around to all the places he has told me about over the years - places he grew up and had fun and what not. Only took him 10 years, but hey, finally. (Ok, maybe it didn't take the full 10 years, but at least 8.) Every time we have visited his parents I would tell him that I want to see where he grew up, and sights around his home town, and he finally drove me around. Of course, I then listened to 2 hours of, "There's a road here now?" and "This has changed so much!" and "They re-named my Junior High School!" But I think it was well worth it. Now I can kind of put visuals with the stories he tells.

*Gotta love having Photoshop skillz!!! (yes, with a 'z') This was taken after spending ALL FREAKING DAY on a plane and in an airport, and I was extremely shiny on the forehead. Those photoshop skillz allowed me to color correct for horrible flash-induced all-over red skin tone, and also get rid of the shine.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Vacation!

Vacation in our household doesn't come around very often. Unfortunately, it comes around even less often right now, as I had to burn all of my saved vacation days and use them for sick time not long ago.

I'm generally a healthy person, but I came down with a really bad case of the flu the week after Thanksgiving, and then the week of New Years. I had to use a week of vacation time each time. The last time I was sick for a week? Hmm, maybe 1992 or so, when I was in 7th grade.

Anyway, our vacations tend to be long weekends to Las Vegas, since that's driving distance from our home in Southern California. We've also done San Diego, and a short driving trip up the coast of California. Other vacations are pretty much trips to visit family.

Husband splorp! hails from Ohio (or, as my sister is convinced, Iowa*), so we try to make it back to visit his family once a year at least. Sometimes we don't quite make it, but his mom and dad have met us in Vegas, and they've flown out to see us, so it mostly works out.

That's where we are this week - Ohio. Hot and humid, and really, really green. Growing up in Southern California, I'm more or less used to farm land, but the green here is everywhere! It's actually really nice, to see something that's not burned-or-burning roadside, or oleander bushes, or stupid ice plant growing on the side of the road. The green here is overflowing, and just - wow. Really green.

Also, the suburbs are quite different than what I'm used to. The houses are set further back from the roads, and they're spaced further apart, and everything is green with really big trees, and the brick houses! In California, we don't have much that is built of brick. We also don't have many places with basements (earthquakes, you see). So the first time I came out to meet splorp!'s family, I was really surprised by the amount of brick that is here, which they take for granted. Even splorp! is rather immune to it, and he's been in California a dozen years now.

We visited splorp!'s grandparents, and his youngest sister had her first child in February (which means splorp! has a new nephew), so we met him for the first time this trip, plus we are visiting with the other sister's family (2 nephews there), and his cousins and various aunts and uncles made special trips to see him. splorp! has a larger family than I do, so all this family is all a bit overwhelming to me, but I'm doing my best to fit in. They seem to like me, and not the fake-pretend-to-like-the-daughter-in-law-because-we're-stuck-with-her, so it's pretty good.

Soon it will be over though, but until then we're going to be relaxing by the pool, which is 84 degrees (F) in 90-some degree temperature with 85% humidity. Yeah, my hair is a frizzball.

*My sister once visited Iowa with her then-boyfriend's family for a wedding. Now, 10 years or so later, every time splorp! and I travel to Ohio, she's somehow convinced we're going to Iowa. A typical conversation between her and splorp!: Her, "So, what was it like growing up in Iowa?" splorp!, "I wouldn't know, since I grew up in Ohio."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Buccaneers Ahoy

The King's Buccaneer, Raymond E. FeistThe next book in the series (well, more or less the next book), The King's Buccaneer, introduces us to Prince Arutha's youngest son, Nicholas, or Nicky.

Nicky is described as looking the most like his father, while his brothers look more like their mother, Princess Anita. There is a big difference though: Nicky was born with a club foot, which no amount of clerical magic can heal. Prince Arutha and Princess Anita have had him examined by powerful priests of all the holy orders, but no healing was ever accomplished, and there is no explanation why the healings did not work. Nicky is a young man now, an accomplished swordsman in spite of the limp caused by the club foot. (Arutha and Anita have another child, but we don't learn much about their daughter. She ends up married off to some noble, and we really don't get to know her at all.)

Besides looking like his father (except for the club foot), Nicky has a lot of Arutha's personality. Nicky, like Arutha, tends to "brood" when deep in thought or upset. And Nicky is upset frequently, as he feels that most people talk about him behind his back, making fun of him as "the Prince's cripple son." Nicky definitely has as chip on his shoulder about that, but he takes his role as noble (and his father's son) seriously - he doesn't like it when his friend Squire Harry is a bit too insistent on flirting with the serving women. Nicky and Harry are more friends than Prince and servant, and Nicky rarely orders Harry around, but he makes a point of telling Harry to knock it off.

Nicky is a bit of a spoiled noble, not as bad as his brothers, but he is privileged and knows it. Arutha is more worried that Nicky is too soft and tender to be a good commander - all of his sons are destined to hold strong positions in the kingdom, since King Lyam has no sons of his own. Borric and Erland went off to fight goblins and command troops, and on their trip to Kesh they proved that they were more than spoiled boys. Nicky, however, has never demonstrated the ability to be a leader.

Arutha decides to pack Nicky and Harry off to be hardened on the frontier, at Crydee with Arutha's brother Duke Martin. Arrangements are made quickly, more or less to prevent Anita from developing strong objections and the prevent Arutha from changing his mind. Also going to Crydee are the strange not-magician Nakor, and the mercenary Ghuda, who we met in the last book (Prince of the Blood) as companions of Borric.

At Crydee, Nicky and Harry are in for a bit of culture shock, as there they really have no rank - or at least not the privileged rank they are used to. Martin decides the boys will act as Squires - Nicky for Duke Martin and Harry for his son Marcus. This is a bit more hard work than the work Harry and Nicky were used to in the luxury of Prince Arutha's court.

Still, the boys begin to settle down, and they are learning about the place they live now. While they are out in the forest hunting with Duke Martin and Marcus, Crydee is attacked, and the raiders take a number of common people hostage, plus Duke Martin's daughter Margaret and her companion Abigail, daughter of a noble.

Nicky leads an expedition to rescue the hostages, pulling rank on Duke Martin in the process (a Prince's authority outranks a Duke). He's accompanied by Harry, Marcus, Nakor, Ghuda, the castle magician Anthony, and the half-elf prince Calis. The voyage takes them across the sea to a continent no one has visited, and an enemy that has a horrible use for the hostages.

Nicky not only pulls rank, he grows as an individual through leadership. He has to face what kept him from having his foot healed as a child, and also learn how to lead men. If he isn't successful, then not only will all the hostages die, a lot more people in the Kingdom will as well.

The plot of The King's Buccaneer is where the plot for the arc of the whole series takes off. Unlike the previous book, this one is a major must-read to understand what happens in the next books.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Order of the Riftwar Cycle Books

So, as I mentioned yesterday, the order you should read Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar books is a very hot debate among his fans.

Am I missing something here? Am I not a big enough fan? I guess maybe I'm not emotionally involved enough in the question to cover multiple forums with debates about in what order the books should be read.

I did find a list I thought made quite a bit of sense, so I decided to copy it for my future reference. Unfortunately, I have now forgotten just where I found it (among those multiple forum postings), so you'll just have to take my word that a good number of fans seemed to agree that it was a good order to read the books, so things would follow the storyline more or less correctly.

I say more or less because there are minor details that can vary. Most of the Riftwar Cycle (as Feist calls it), is written in trilogies that deal with the lives of one or two major characters at a time, and then the next trilogy advances the storyline, but also covers maybe the next generation. But sometimes he skips around in time.

Like, x series was written before y series, but y series actually covers a time period before x series. So it can get a bit confusing. and it you accidentally skip y series (like I did), then you get hints (or spoilers) about what happened in the series you accidentally skipped. Also, because x series was written before y series, but y series actually occurs first in the time line, you can get small discrepancies in details. Mostly these are minor, and can be passed off as the differences in points of view, the same way two people will observe an event but never tell the exact same story about what happened.

So, with that long introduction, here's the list of books, as they fit into the story line, followed by their year of publication in parentheses:

The Riftwar Saga
Magician: Apprentice (1982)
Magician: Master (1982)
Silverthorn (1985)
A Darkness at Sethanon (1986)

Legends of the Riftwar (take place during the events of Magician)
Honored Enemy (2001)
Murder in LaMut (2002)
Jimmy the Hand (2003)

The Empire Trilogy (takes place during the events of The Riftwar Saga)
Daughter of the Empire (1987)
Servant of the Empire (1990)
Mistress of the Empire (1992)

The Riftwar Legacy (takes place 10 years after The Riftwar Saga)
Krondor: the Betrayal (1998) (based on the PC game Betrayal at Krondor)
Krondor: the Assassins (1999)
Krondor: Tear of the Gods (2000) (based on the PC game Return to Krondor)

Krondor's Sons
Prince of the Blood (1989) (takes place 20 years after The Riftwar Saga)
The King's Buccaneer (1992) (takes place 30 years after The Riftwar Saga)

The Serpentwar Saga (takes place 55 years after The Riftwar Saga)
Shadow of a Dark Queen (1993)
Rise of a Merchant Prince (1995)
Rage of a Demon King (1997)
Shards of a Broken Crown (1998)

The Conclave of Shadows (begins 85 years after The Riftwar Saga)
Talon of the Silver Hawk (2002)
King of Foxes (2003)
Exile's Return (2004)

The Darkwar Saga (follows on from the end of Conclave of Shadows)
Flight of the Nighthawks (2005)
Into a Dark Realm (2006)
Wrath of a Mad God (2008)

The Demonwar Saga
2 books forthcoming, presumably in 2009 and 2010

The Godswar Saga
3 books forthcoming, presumably in 2011-2013

So, as you can see by the publication date, there is a bit of jumping around. The original Riftwar Saga books were published from 1982 through 1986. Then it's followed by the Legends of the Riftwar books published in 2001 through 2003, which is followed in the story line by the Riftwar Legacy books published, in 1998 through 2000, then the Krondor Sons books written in 1989 and 1992. Yeah, there's a bit of jumping around going on.

What's even more fun? Originally the Riftwar Legacy stories were not novels - they were computer RPG games, which were then turned into the novels.

If you are one of those forum posters, please send me the link and I'll correct my post to give you proper credit!