31 December 2010

This Week's Gem From Kate's Music Library

(If anyone has a better title for these posts, don't hesitate to recommend it to me!)

The last Christmas song recommendation of December!
This is a gorgeous arrangement of 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel' by Phillips, Craig and Dean. They're quite popular in the gospel music circuit but I don't really care for their other material because of how much it's overplayed (there are songs that they released three years ago that still play at least three times an afternoon on the local Christian station).
Here it is on YouTube (you may have to turn up your computer speakers to hear it). Buy it from iTunes here.

(By the way, if anyone out there is wondering if I'm getting paid to endorse this, the answer is no. I just love music and quite like the iTunes Store and I want you to experience all this great largely-unheard-of music and the wide (legal) selection on the iTunes Store. I'm getting nothing out of this except the thrill of sharing great music with people.)

30 December 2010

The Birth Of A Computer Nerd -- Part One

(This wasn't meant to be a two-part post, but it became rather long during composition...)

As you have probably figured out by now, I'm a bit of a computer nerd.
Okay, I'm a regular computer nerd.
Okay, okay, I'm one of the most obsessed self-taught computer nerds you might ever meet.
It wasn't always that way though. Ten years ago my family didn't even have a computer. To me, windows were those glass panes you look out of to see the boring treeline across the road, and an apple macintosh was the dyslexic term for that slightly crunchy reddish fruit. I would have assumed that Linux and DOS were acronyms for some political 'undertaking' or (in the case of Linux at least) perhaps a new brand of toothpaste. Computers were those little beige TV screens that apparently were madly intelligent and going to take over the world.
My only exposure to a computer before age nine was playing a side-scrolling plunger-shooting game on my best friend's family's computer. (It's aimed for the younger set, but it's still slightly addicting if you're not wanting to think much for a few minutes.)
When I was nine, my grandmother (always farther ahead of the times than my parents, whether she understood the technology or not) got a brand-new computer. At the time that meant Windows ME and probably at most an eight gigabyte hard drive (I don't know how much exactly, but the tower's in my possession now so I could look it up. Come to think of it though, I don't think it works anymore).
Probably one of my most ridiculous memories of childhood was when my little sister and I got to use our grandmother's computer for the first time.
We were enthralled by Solitaire and even managed to figure out Spider Solitaire. We also played a bit of Minesweeper, but we couldn't figure out the point of the game and therefore just kept clicking squares until one turned red and it wouldn't let us click anymore. We knew to click the face at the top to start over, but we bored of that quickly because of the seeming lack of purpose behind it. (Flash-forward: I didn't know what the goal of Minesweeper was until I was probably about fifteen. But I digress.)
We also discovered Paint. As a result of this, my grandmother's computer became inundated over the next several years with random doodles created in Paint by my sister and me.
However, we eventually got bored with the computer and wanted to turn it off.
There was, in Windows ME, a neat little button in the Start menu that said 'Shut Down Computer.' Perfect.
My grandmother and I (my sister had wandered off by that point) clicked it and a little box came up.
It read, 'What do you want the computer to do?' then displayed a drop-down menu with the options Shut Down, Sleep, Hibernate, and Restart. We didn't know what Sleep and Hibernate were, but we knew we wanted it to shut down, so that's what we selected.
Nothing happened. Several times we selected the Shut Down option, and the computer gave no indication that it was doing anything resembling turning off. We tried selecting Sleep and Hibernate, but to no avail.
Even with my complete lack of experience with computers, I knew that you never pressed the power button to turn it off. Never. Ever. I didn't know what would happen if we did, but I didn't want to wreck my grandmother's nice new expensive computer.
So we closed the dialog box, thinking maybe it didn't 'take' (or something) and tried again. We clicked 'Shut Down Computer,' selected the 'Shut Down' option, and waited.
Nothing happened.
The only buttons along the bottom of the dialog box were 'OK,' 'Cancel,' and 'Help.'
We clicked Help, and (as I've come to realise is typical of Microsoft's Help files), learned nothing.
Finally though, after quite a while, my little nine-year-old mind had a thought.
'If you click 'OK' to make the other boxes do something, what will happen if we click 'OK' here?'
Brilliant, I know. And it only took half an hour.
Anyway, I suggested it to Grandma, who, lacking any better ideas, tried it. Lo and behold the computer shut down.
From that day forth I never forgot how to shut down a Windows 95/98/ME computer.

24 December 2010

A Gem From Kate's Music Library

Merry Christmas everyone! (Christmas Eve to those of us in the west.)
I've arbitrarily decided that my music recommendation day will be Friday. Don't ask why.
Well okay, it might perhaps possibly be so I can post two Christmas songs before December ends and the 'legal' period for Christmas music is over.
Today's song is 'One Small Child' by Connie Scott. Unfortunately doesn't appear to be on YouTube (gasp!), but you can buy it from the iTunes Store here.
Seriously, go buy it. It'll be the best dollar of your Christmas money you will ever spend. (Until next week anyway.)
I'm not too familiar with a lot of Connie Scott's work (I've heard some, years ago), but the Christmas album is beautiful. Sure it has some eighties overtones, but we can all use a little eighties music in our lives, right? (Says the child of the nineties...)

21 December 2010

A Proposition

I was thinking the other day about things I could post on this blog so it doesn't end up getting neglected for so long. Then I thought, 'well, I've got a rather eclectic/obscure music collection. Perhaps I could recommend one song a week and get some of these excellent bands some well-earned (and in most cases posthumous) attention.'
So... there's the idea. What do you, my readers, think of it?

12 December 2010

How To Write A Novel: A Step-By-Step Guide

For anyone who might be wondering how to write a novel, here's a step-by-step guide to the process (updated November 2010 during the writing of my most recent novel).

1. Turn computer on. Wait fifteen minutes for the dumb thing to boot up.
2. Open iTunes, some kind of web browser, and Notepad (for plot hashing, of course).
3. Open several tabs in the web browser -- one for Facebook, at least one for your webmail, one for your Blogger dashboard, and anywhere between one and... dozens to catch up on your blog reading.
4. Read your email. Catch up on your Facebook news feed and read notifications. Ignore twelve FarmVille requests.
5. Look at list of twenty people that you really should email back.
6. Decide that you'll reply to those people later. After you've made your quota.
7. Read blogs for a half hour.
8. Refresh Facebook.
9. Get up and go to kitchen to get food. Find nothing of interest. Return to computer and refresh Facebook again.
10. Consider actually digging out flash drive containing novel.
11. Read more blogs.
12. Refresh Facebook. Write status bemoaning lack of inspiration.
13. Scroll through iTunes, trying to decide on music to listen to.
14. Remember you wanted to search for a song on the iTunes Store.
15. Search song. Add to wish list.
16. Click on interesting-looking album at the bottom of the page.
17. Preview entire album.
18. Add ten songs to wish list.
19. Click on interesting-sounding song nearby.
20. Add three more songs to wish list.
21. Check wish list.
22. Decide to buy some songs.
23. Check wallet. Find no money. Sigh and return to iTunes library.
24. Scroll a little bit more, looking for a musical selection of interest. Find nothing.
25. Go back to Facebook. Hit 'refresh.' Get no response.
26. Spin circles in desk chair for five minutes.
27. Threaten computer with hockey stick. Computer calls your bluff.
28. Bite back nasty words and check how much money is in the 'MacBook Savings' envelope.
29. Sigh. Pound desk in frustration.
30. Ctrl-Alt-Delete and kill off web browser program.
31. Wait ten minutes for computer to realise 'End Program' actually means 'End Program.'
32. Reopen web browser and all tabs.
33. Scroll through iTunes library a bit more. Narrow your current listening choices down to five different albums.
34. Get flash drive with novel out of drawer/bag/pocket/trash can.
35. Refresh Facebook.
36. Plug in flash drive.
37. Spin more circles in chair as you wait for computer to load flash drive.
38. Start playing a song in iTunes. Decide you don't want to listen to that song now. Start playing a different song.
39. Open file on flash drive that isn't at all related to novel.
40. Come up with brilliant plot twists for nine other stories you're putting off until the current one is finished.
41. Oh yes, the current novel. Go back to drive contents window.
42. Refresh Facebook.
43. Remember you wanted to update profile picture.
44. Open resource-hogging photo editing program.
45. Scroll through three folders looking for photo you have in mind. Realise it wasn't as good a photo as you thought.
46. Scroll through eleven other folders looking for suitable photo.
47. Stumble across those lovely family portraits you took three months ago and never did send to your grandmother.
48. Email photos to grandmother.
49. Do some light editing on about a dozen photos.
50. Get bored with photo editing. Decide to write.
51. Go back to Explorer window of flash drive contents.
52. Click on 'Screenplays' folder.
53. Open two screenplays-in-progress.
54. Reread them and remember why you abandoned them in the first place.
55. Correct spelling of main character's name in four places.
56. Close files.
57. Go to 'Novels' folder.
58. Open novel file.
59. Wait three minutes for Word to open and load file.
60. Refresh Facebook.
61. 'Like' two posts and comment on another.
62. Look at four or five profiles, chosen largely at random.
63. Read another blog.
64. Check email.
65. Refresh Facebook.
66. Get up and go to kitchen.
67. Look for food. Find nothing of interest.
68. Make stop at washroom.
69. Return to computer.
70. Refresh Facebook.
71. Think up potential simple math problem for a different story idea.
72. Write out problem in Notepad file, using spaces to line up columns perfectly.
73. Solve problem.
74. Forget what answer to problem was for.
75. Realise that computer seems sluggish.
76. Look at Taskbar to see what programs you can close.
77. See novel file. Bring that window to front.
78. Hit 'Enter - Tab' to start a new paragraph.
79. Watch blinking cursor for a few minutes. (Optional: Spin a few circles in chair.)
80. Decide to write blog post about lack of inspiration.
81. Refresh Facebook.
82. Write blog post.
83. Revise blog post. Extensively.
84. Publish blog post.
85. Notice typo.
86. Edit blog post.
87. Refresh Facebook.
88. Publish newly edited blog post.
89. Go back to Facebook. Realise the idiots changed the layout. Again.
90. Spend twenty minutes trying to figure out how to update your status.
91. Write angry status update about stupid Facebook developers.
92. Check email.
93. Add three sentences to novel.
94. Refresh Facebook.
95. Start playing a different album in iTunes.
96. Play air guitar, air drums, and/or air keyboard to seven rock songs in a row.
97. Refresh Facebook.
98. Pick a new album to play in iTunes.
99. Decide to actually take a stab at writing this time.
100. Start writing. (Hint: See if you can introduce a talking fish or a random fireball or something. That will help with this exercise.)
101. Get lost exploring random unrelated-to-plot thought in main character's head and manage to scrounge up 6,000 words by bedtime (meaning four AM, of course).

There you have it. Repeat this schedule every day or two and you're bound to come up with a novel eventually (as long as you work on the same file every time).
You're welcome.

08 December 2010

Jumping Off The Carol-Killing Cliff

Being a sort of casual music nerd, I naturally pay a fair amount of attention to Christmas songs, and over the past few years it seems that there's always one song that everyone covers in the same year. This results in the same radio station being forced to play varying versions of the same song twenty times in an hour for twenty-five straight days because there is nothing else to play.
Why is this? Why do all the artists pick the same song to cover every year? And why is it always the annoying songs? In the past few years, 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree,' 'Jingle Bell Rock,' 'Walkin' In A Winter Wonderland,' and 'Sleigh Ride' (barely tolerable songs in their own right), have all been slowly bludgeoned to death by the warbling voices of past-prime 40-somethings trying to be cool, screeching guitars (fine in other cases, but please don't touch the Christmas material), and a ghastly overload of lyric-drowning drums. (I won't even get into the lyrical mutations of what used to be 'The Twelve Days Of Christmas.')
This year the victim seems to be 'Let It Snow.'
I've never really cared for that song -- too much fluff (no pun intended) and not enough substance if you ask me. For some unknown reason I've always thought the lyrics to be bordering on nonsense.
I would ordinarily be glad of this -- one would think that hearing the same song literally thousands of times between the first of December and Christmas day would result in a total boycott of the mangled songs over the next few decades or so. Unfortunately, if the past few years are any indication, that will not be the case. Usually the 'chosen' song enjoys an extreme spike in intense popularity for one Christmas season, then returns back to its slightly-lower-profile-but-still-overplayed status the next year... only now there's seven hundred different remixes of it and they're all equally unbearable.
Another one that's suddenly become the Christmas song of choice is 'I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.' This mystifies me, as I'd never even heard of the title until this year, and believe me, I know nearly every Christmas carol in existence. I would never have expected such an obscure song to go mainstream, at least not for a few more years. It's a nice song, but its sudden popularity and the resulting avalanche of hard-rock remixes worry me. To beat the annoying 'cutesy' songs to death is bad enough, but to ruin the classics is bordering unforgivable. There are just some songs that are not screamo material, and Christmas carols make up at least 95% of that category.
And to think I used to wonder why everyone seems to hate Christmas.

06 December 2010

The Plight Of The Short

I am five feet, three inches tall, and have been for about four years now (at least).
The next shortest person I know is something like five feet, seven inches tall.
This wouldn't be so bad if I lived in, say, the Philippines. But, no, I live in North America, where everyone and his chihuahua is taller than me. Unfortunately for me, North America is also the place where you must be a carbon copy of everyone else or they all ignore you -- while, of course, being politically correct and non-racist about it.
Do you know how socially awkward it is to be in a conversation with people two or three years younger than you and they literally talk over your head? It's made even worse by the fact that after a few minutes your neck gets sore and you can't look them in the eye because you have to lower your head. And then they think you're antisocial and abandon you completely.
So if you happen to be a tall person (five feet, five inches or more if you ask me), I ask you on behalf of short people everywhere to please at least look us in the eye every once in a while. I know it does wonders for my day after being (I hope) unintentionally ignored for weeks and weeks on end...
And if you happen to a short person, know you're not alone. My chiropractic bill for neck problems is frightening too.

01 December 2010

Prodding My Memory

Computers really are smart, aren't they? The Windows ones are at any rate. They make sure you will never forget how much you hate them and how much more money you'll need to save before you can buy a Mac and actually get some work done instead of doing diagnostics on your computer every time you attempt to use it.
Today -- rather, yesterday -- the intelligent Windows computer must have thought I was overdue for this reminder. So, being the helpful device that it is, it... well, reminded me (as if I'd forgotten).
I had reached the end of my novel at just over 74 000 words. The goal is 50 000, so of course I'm far past winning.
However, the NaNoWriMo website requires that you upload the text of your novel for them to count so they know you have actually written 50 000 words or more and can give you access to a well-deserved winner's certificate. Verification, they call it.
It was 11.20 PM and I had just polished off my novel, milking a few extra words out of it here and there, and was finally ready to upload it to get it verified. So I went to the website, pasted the text into the 'verification box'... and Firefox froze.
Completely, totally froze. I know it's probably at least twenty below zero (Celsius) outside, but honestly, this computer has been on for a few hours now, it should have generated enough heat to handle a simple copy-paste operation.
I managed to close the stubborn thing via the Task Manager (the Windows computer user's best friend if you ask me) and restart Firefox (this takes twelve minutes). It allowed me to log back into the site, get to the verification box... and once again froze on the copy-paste.
I began to panic. I have less than a half hour until the verification box is closed to me, because then it will be 1 December local time and the contest will officially be over.
Once again I manage to force Firefox to close and get it to reopen. By now it's 11.40 PM. I have twenty minutes. Again it lets me log in only to freeze when I try to verify.
I'm in tears. That only happens once every six months or so -- I do not cry easily. I have worked so hard on this novel and now I can't even get it verified and get the official winner status that I so richly deserve?
The computer is moving more and more slowly every time. Recovery is taking longer and longer. I figure I have one more chance to get it right before running out of time and thus officially losing the contest.
I'm completely fed up with Firefox. I try Internet Explorer, but it freezes before it even loads the home page.
Fine and dandy. I've never particularly cared for IE anyway.
So I try Safari. I haven't the faintest idea why or how we've got Safari installed on our Windows computer, but it's my only hope now. I double-click it... and am pleasantly surprised.
Within seconds I am logged on to the NaNoWriMo website and at the verifier. I copy and paste my novel into the box. For a split second nothing happens and I began to panic even more, thinking the blasted thing's frozen again.
But then the pointer returns to normal and I am allowed to scroll down to the 'Submit' button.
I think I was happier when I clicked that little baby blue button than I was when I reached 50 000 words.

So I am now officially a winner of National Novel Writing Month for the fourth time in a row. The novel was 74 834 words and 247 pages long. Hopefully I can write the next one on a MacBook.