Archive for the ‘Computers & Technology’ Category

Heroic Women

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Or, A strong fictional woman is hard to find

Tech Thursday

An interesting query this morning that comes via a Facebook friend. We’re charged with finding a photo of a fictional character we believe best represents our character. Naturally, she had already my choice, which was Scarlett O’Hara.

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I racked my brain, then, thinking of fictional characters that I identified with. Jane Eyre? Yes, a strong woman but … waiting for Mr. Right. The second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca? Yes, but … mousy and without self-direction.

I scraped my mind and came up with the narrator of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and thought, That’s just way too obscure for a superficial Facebook gesture.

Anna Karenina, suicide. Madame Bovary, suicide. Lara in Dr. Zhivago, a woman defined by Yuri Zhivago.

I thought about using Dr. Zhivago himself, since that’s the fictional character I most identify with, but refused to subvert the need for it to at least be female!

So I’m left with the Lady of the Lake … just mysterious enough to be fun, and significant enough in her own right. A giver of power.

In the end, the fictional character I most associate with is the one in my mind: Delia LaGrace, the narrator of the novel I’m working on.

Now that would be an obscure reference.

Miracle on 40-Second Street

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Launching into the routine this morning of warming the kettle, dishing the coffee and the fairly tedious act of filling the coffee maker without spilling water all over the counter and myself, I waited for the reassuring sound of coffee brewing.

Hildegarde the cat was meowing (and it’s quite a lot of racket). I’m scooping food into three tiny cat bowls, pouring oats into another one for me, and I peer up at the counter, listening for the popping, steaming and dripping, the coffee miracle.

That sound did not come. I don’t know what would be worse, going without coffee, or driving in Christmas traffic to a retail store to buy a new one. The blank shelves, stripped of their contents, the half-opened boxes and shelf models all that remain. The sheer panic of seeing all the strangers that emerge from their hiding places at Christmas, that remind me the South is still a bizarre and Gothic place.

Fortunately, we have a press pot on hand for times like these that needs no filter or electricity. In the end, it’s the fail-safe option for coffee.

Never one to give up, I unplugged the coffeemaker for a few minutes, then tried again — after I’d had coffee from the press pot — and waited, my hand on the hotplate, for warmth. And got it! Yes, the coffeemaker seemed to come back to life.

Of all the Christmas wonders, this one may top the list this year. A working coffeemaker!

Santa, you’re too good.

No Tech

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

TECH-LESS THURSDAY

Trimming my computer time in the past two weeks, I’ve felt much more connected to the world, and to people. How does this happen? Not sure, but it did.

This shift began several weeks ago when I pulled out a novel that was sitting on my shelf for some time (more about the novel next week). Instead of forcing myself to pick up the nonfiction (i.e. dense) books I’d been reading for, well, years, I simply picked up a novel without thinking what I should be reading.

Simply put, I wanted to start training myself to read again. I didn’t care what I was reading, and frankly, I also bought a lot of junky magazines (you know who you are, People!)(Though Rolling Stone magazine has some of the best contemporary writing anywhere these days.)

I even bought so-called “women’s magazines” and salivated over the photos of recipes, though I don’t like food and never cook.

From magazines, I got to the novel. And from the novel, though it was not a satisfactory one, I found myself again.

Now I am reading a collection of Perry Mason novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. Wow, he is an excellent writer!

He captures the legal world with incredibly vivid language. And if Mr. Strunk ever wanted to see exceptional use of active voice verbs, Mr. Gardner is a perfect example. Rarely does he use “is,” “are” or “am” or any passive voice. It’s all active, transitive.

Yet as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, his world is dated — women with curves, from the wrong side of the tracks, and men who can’t see beyond the curves; bullies and bodyguards; debt collectors, and rich uncles.

Yet like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Gardner in many ways is responsible for creating the “noir” world, for giving us these now-stereotyped characters.

And a note about legal fiction: If you like the law (with all respect for Scott Turow) … these Perry Mason novels are for you. Quick moving, smart and airtight plots.

BLUEBIRD UPDATE: I saw Mrs. Blue a couple of days ago feeding babies on a tree branch. I only saw two babies … of course that doesn’t mean the others aren’t around, but it emphasized for me that living in the natural world is harsh and losses are high. Even in the best circumstances. No wonder mankind is causing mass extinctions. Who can compete with our toxic ways?

CREDIT CARD REFORM: I understand the new credit card reform has now passed into law. That’s good, though mixed, news. I carry a balance and have usually been able to keep them from hitting me with the late fees and jacked-up interest rates. Oddly enough, however, so-called “good credit” folks like me are known in the industry as “deadbeats.” It’s likely I’ll soon have a higher interest rate and possibly an annual fee. In the end, after looking into the complexities of this market, I’m thinking it’s preferable to pay a little bit more so I’m not being subsidized by the hardship of others. Now let’s all get better educated so we’re not losing our houses and filing bankruptcy because we don’t take time to understand credit and mortgage terms.

A note about the credit card bill: It passed with its own “fine print:” Loaded guns are now allowed in National Parks. Wha?

‘Reality’ TV

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Here we are, a Tuesday in May. In last week’s Tech Thursday, I wrote about a hike to Wolf Rock, in Stone Mountain State Park, that opened my eyes to the meaning and value of real experiences versus online ones.

That experience has become something of fulcrum for me now, as I look more deeply at what has true value for me. I’ve examined what experiences allow me to feel more fully human. (And it’s not computer ones.)

So today, a few more thoughts about what’s real and what really matters.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes about the Buddhist ideas of Perceived Reality versus Ultimate Reality. Most of the time, we go through our daily routines without much thought, taking care of our obligations, eating and talking with other people.

His Holiness explains the ancient Buddhist idea that what we see out of our visual window is just a skimming, a deformation, even, of reality.

Ultimate reality, the real real, is unseen. It’s the world behind the seen world. It’s a world of inner emotions, human mystery, needs and desires, suffering.

It’s so easy to get entangled in the seen world that we forget to pay attention to this invisible one.

That’s a metaphor for so much about our daily life: The “seen” world also describes the online, the television one, the film one. They are illusion. Sham, or shell.

As anyone knows, I am a huge fan of House M.D., Lost and the film director Krzysztof Kieslowski. Yet do I need to watch a DVD or TV program download every night? Do I need to sit through more Seinfeld reruns?

For every hour of broadcast television watched, expect 13 minutes of commercials. So when I watch a two-hour program, or when I sit down to watch news, then an hour of syndicated programs, an hour of regular programming or more (three-four hours of TV) — I have lost an hour of my life to commercials. An hour I will never have again.

We haven’t had cable tv for years, and sometimes, I must admit, I think how nice it would be to sit in front of Animal Planet, Discovery Channel or even SciFi to watch. Then I remind myself it is junk, ad after ad.

An illusion.

Isn’t peace what we’re really seeking — an engagement in something meaningful?

To be continued in tomorrow’s FD

Frittering Away

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Today a hard look at what we’re doing all this time on computers.

During a trip to visit family in the mountains a couple of weeks ago, I took a wonderful, head-clearing hike to Wolf Rock at Stone Mountain State Park.

Hiking allows me to regain my center, my values, my sanity. And during that hike, it became clear to me that I was way too involved in all things Internet.

All the images, random news stories, idle gossip and just junk had infiltrated my head and I realized, walking through the light rain, that I was frittering my life away caring about people and activities that aren’t real and have no relation to breath, flesh or beating hearts. In a word, the Internet.

In the past few months, I’ve signed up for Linkd In, Facebook, Twitter, G-mail, ebay and AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). I have more passwords than should be legal.

So when I returned from the hike, as if scales fell from my eyes, I gave them up. Twitter — gone. Madness! Facebook is still fun to visit once or so a day to see what my friends are doing, and to share some thoughts with them. Then — over! No taking those inane quizzes, and no more Facebook-Twittering. I still have a computer farm, which I visit from time to time, but not much. Why spend time in an electronic field, when there are real ones only a few yards from my house?

So I’m trying to separate myself from the Internet and computer world. Reduce the movies and downloaded TV shows I watch.

R e a d a b o o k!

I picked up a collection of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason stories, and have really enjoyed reading them so far. OK, they are dated and campy, with “loose women,” “rich daddies” and ne-er do-well-fiances.

I also took a 7-mile run yesterday, reminding me how important it is to move, to be alive, to have blood pumping in my arteries, in my heart.

My real heart!

So today’s Tech Thursday is actually Tech-less Thursday, with all apologies to my geek and nerd pals who make our virtual lives so much fun. I love your work … and enjoy tech, too … but nothing matches a real bug, created by God … a real tweet’s better than a Twitter-ed one … and a real human, or animal face, will outshine a Facebook-ed one any day.

I had a couple of other Tech issues in mind today, but on second thought, let’s just get outside on this spring day.

UNTIL NEXT WEEK, this is Tech Thursday checking out of the virtual world to enjoy the real one.

A Word Before Leaving…

Friday, April 24th, 2009

FRIDAY FOLLOW-UPS

A few words before leaving … I am going out of town today to see my niece who turned 5 years old this week … but wanted to note a few items related to yesterday’s Tech Thursday.

First, in a move that is shocking … shocking … because it should never have been needed, Apple apologized for approving the Baby Shaker application.

Just to be clear, the application was not created by Apple, only approved by it. The app (some call it “game”) was created by Sikalosoft which has said nothing about the public outcry. Bad company. Should be shaken until its eyes turn into red Xs.

Next is word that Microsoft posted the first-ever decline in its quarterly profit … from $4.39 billion to $2.98 billion.

Now before we get out the hankies, let’s remember … this is Microsoft (boo, jeers) … but after all, it’s a giant American company, built in the old-fashioned way … with a combination of brilliance and thievery … and therefore deserves our, at least hedging, support. I don’t want to see MS sink anymore than I want the president to fail … (wait a minute, who would want the president to fail? Oh yes, Rush Limbaugh).

Meanwhile, the greedy people keep filing lawsuits against us hoi polloi. This lawsuit, being judged by the man who took down Napster, claims DVDs copying software should be banned. Hello? If I own it, I should be able to copy it.

Last, in a somewhat sad note of apathy, Facebook users failed to respond to a request to vote on the new terms of usage. After the big brouhaha over the new terms earlier this year, only about 1 million showed up to vote on the new ones. That’s from the 200 million who use it every day.

That would be me. But I didn’t vote. I’ll let someone else figure out if it’s worth getting my karma in a wad, then vote. For freedom of speech, freedom of choice.

But first I have to harvest the potatoes and wheat on myFarm.

HAPPY WEEKEND FROM FD … SEE YOU TUESDAY!!

(S)Mac-down

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Strange news for Apple users today. In two unexpected chinks in the company’s otherwise impervious armor we have a report of a virus that’s targeting Apple operating systems.

So far, the hack only targets people trying to download pirated Mac software (and some may say therefore, they deserve it). But as an open-source gal, I believe if you can find a pirated version and are willing to work under the radar, you deserve to get away with it. Still, these are the breaks when you choose lawlessness.

For Mac users, who generally have a certain smugness us PC-ers find unnerving, it’s a dark time. They’re used to being the skateboarders and surfers of the computer world — the creative types who make their own rules because they *just that good.*

So for us plodding PC-ers out here, we’re feeling a little less, well, plodding now that Mac has gotten a little mud on their shoes. (It brings to mind Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut set in a future, when dancers are required to put stones in their costumes to make everyone equal.)

In more Apple news, a rare misstep. Someone thought it would be funny to create an app, or application, for iPhones called “Baby Shaker.” The phone would make noise that sounded like a baby crying. The way to stop it? Shake the phone. As a result, an image of a baby with red Xs over its eyes appears. The game’s tag line? “See how long you can endure his or her adorable cries before you just have to find a way to quiet the baby down!”

Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. Whoever developed that app should be, well, shaken until red Xs appear over their eyes.

Fortunately, Apple has dropped the app. Should be sent to the corner and taunted for the rest of the day for this one.

As for me, the news in PC land is that in an unexplainable phenomena, updated drivers just tend to fail. Perhaps in an upcoming Tech Thursday we can look at why, oh why, these updated drivers fail, fail, fail.

Many apologies for the absence of Figuratively Speaking Friday tomorrow. I’ll be out of town visiting my niece.

Fiction Daily returns next week … when Kieslowski Week resumes

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY RETURNS NEXT WEEK!

New feed: @fictiondaily

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Can’t help myself. I started a Twitter feed for Fiction Daily … you can find it by going to @fictiondaily … it serves up “bite-sized bits of fiction each day.”

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Terrified of the Twitterati: Yours truly

Of course I’m wondering how to use it. As I’ve found with Facebook, my status updates are mind-numbingly boring. So I have two Twitter feeds … @marionpb … @fictiondaily … and with all these forums I worry I’m just wasting everyone’s time with mundane thoughts.

Still, I’ve jumped in with both feet. These so-called “new platforms” are valuable places for fiction and so-called literature. Fiction has always been, well, everywhere. From the first days of the printing press fiction has been there … what is the Bible if not a great book of stories? Fiction serves print, which feeds fiction …from tabloids to magazines to books.

Now we have the Internet and fiction will be a part of it. I just can’t get an idea of the right voice. Casual, immediate. Chatty. A perfect place for fiction!

Yet, it seems my @fictiondaily posts come off as pretentious! Trying to say something profound in 140 characters comes across as uppity.

A writer desires nothing more than to be heard. Now, we’re heard, but what will I say @fictiondaily?

I’ve thought about posting single lines of a short story … single lines from the novel … or creating a new novel just on Twitter.

I’ve also wondered if I could start a thread for a novel everyone could participate in. It could be called @greenvillencnovel or something else.

So here I am, floundering around with these new platforms and trying to find a suitable voice … and yet still trying … wherever there are people and voices, there a writer should be, too.

SF: New Wor(l)ds

Friday, March 27th, 2009

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FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

Since we’re looking at Science Fiction, today FD turns to the words of SF.

If you’ve ever picked up a SF novel, you know there are going to be names you can’t pronounce, planets you’ve never heard of and words with more consonants than all the Slavic languages put together. In many cases, these languages are simply allowing the writer to establish an alien world.

In other cases, these languages serve as a commentary on our own world.

One of the best examples is taken from George Orwell’s 1984. In his own marvelous essay (taken from the book The Language Experience, Somer and Hoy, eds.), he examines how corrupt language is linked with corrupt politics … and the further we stray from clear, precise language, the closer we come to degenerate politics and evil rule.

He describes “operators” and “verbal false limbs,” which, he says, “save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns and at the same time, pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it the appearance of symmetry.” Such as: render inoperative … instead of kill … make itself felt or play a role in … instead of stop.

He also points out the use of passive voice as another way to rob language of its power … and in doing so, taking away our political power, as well.

We all remember how Orwell used his observations to excruciating effect in 1984 … the language he invented for that work was called “Newspeak” and it drained every experience of truth, leaving Winston and Julia and everyone else suffocating in a lying world.

At this site you’ll find an entire Newspeak dictionary, but here are some highlights:

Blackwhite … the ability to accept ridiculous ideas as true.

Crimethink … to consider any action not sanctioned by the party. Akin to Doublethink, i.e. holding contradictory ideas in mind at the same time.

Ministry of Truth … department of propaganda. Along with Ministry of Love (police) and Ministry of Peace (defense and war).

It’s interesting to note that not all SF languages are as bleak … for instance, there are people who actually speak the Klingon language that was developed for Star Trek, and other SF languages also have their own grammars.

SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!