10.16.08

Shut Out

Posted in Computers & Technology at 7:21 am by Marion

TECH THURSDAY

A strange episode in computing this week when I tried to save a template for my documents. The default template for Word 2007 uses 11-point Cailibri (never heard of that one before), with block spacing between paragraphs and no page numbers. I generally stick to stock fonts — OK, I admit it, I’m an Arial gal — Times New Roman for severity when needed — and I was having to change the font, spacing and page numbering each time.

So I created my own document template. I should add that while I really enjoy all the complex functions of Word 2007, I got along just fine with the old stripped-down MS Works (Version 9). I said that about Works 5, too. Putting together the template, however, was tedious and required me to open several esoteric windows and find the inner sanctum of commands to change.

Time and again, I’d try to save as a template and Word would stick it in a completely irrelevant document folder, such as the hated “My Documents.” I’ve never saved items there!!

I realized that templates were saved in a folder called, GUESS!, Templates. But when I tried to save my little document template there, I was informed that I was not authorized!! I should contact the administrator!

I am the administrator!! I never figured it out, and so I just restarted. I changed my “User Name” (where do they get these ideas, it’s like they’re from Mars!!!) to match my computer name. By now, I’ve forgotten where the hidden Templates folder is … but I’ve figured out a workaround.

Now, sometimes, when I make a new document, I have the choice of opening “Marion’s Template.” I have no idea how I did that.

TOMORROW: Let Them Eat Cake!! Figuratively Speaking Friday takes on the Bailout!

10.15.08

I Own My House, at Last!

Posted in Events at 7:17 am by Marion

The Economic Meltdown, part 3

So I’m watching the news last night out of sheer masochism, when Brian Williams made this stunning announcement: Marion, he said, there is good news for you and Greg. Your mortgage has been paid!! BY YOU!!

Yepper, a fat $25 million in tax money has gone to Bank of America! What luck, because they own our mortgage!!

Honestly, I guess you could say that lots of people now own my house, with me. But this is ridiculous.

Actually, it’s a step in the right direction in some ways, for this ol-time socialist thinker. We have nationalized our banks. I just never expected it to happen this way.

My issue with the whole system, and with this bailout business, is why haven’t we ever ever applied this kind of focus, commitment and dedication to social problems? Why are our schools struggling? Why does a little boy in Maryland die of an abscessed tooth because his family has no health insurance?

This country has always been first and foremost about money. In many ways, that has allowed democracy to actually work … people with money are happy and they won’t riot.

Once people become poor and hungry, they will riot. Once people realize they have power, they will try to claim it … and take it away from the government.

So just keep a little change in everyone’s pocket and they will go along with the program, whatever it is. Yet these days, the whole system is grinding down to a stop: We have to grease the wheels of the big money machine.

Why hasn’t this kind of national effort focused on people? We develop and buy billions in weapons; we now owe an unthinkable amount to our banks and Wall Street. So why are children uneducated? Why is a doctor’s visit unaffordable for many people? Why does an old man lose his foot to diabetes?

10.14.08

Superbad Economics

Posted in Events at 6:59 am by Marion

Or, the Emperor Has No Clothes, Part 2

Yesterday this dilettante writer risked reputation and self-esteem to go on a bit about the economic meltdown. Having survived, today will look at the other side of Supply-Side Economics. Giving to those who already have is the dominant economic policy of the past 25 years. (“God Bless the Child,” as Billie Holiday would sing.)

Here’s another way to run a nation: Why not put money where it will actually benefit people? (I know, it’s a crazy thought.) My good friend and neighbor who manages large construction contracts says supporting infrastructure improvements would generate scores of jobs, and flush millions through the economy. Goods, such as concrete, iron and other materials, would enjoy strong sales, local governments could improve their communities … and let’s not overlook this tiny benefit: PEOPLE WOULD HAVE JOBS.

Infrastructure is only one example. What about our schools? Why did the Pitt County government, to use only one example, have to eliminate its Gifted and Talented Program this year? Surely it’s not because there’s no money: Somehow, someone has come up with an unspeakable amount to purchase bank stock today.

Funding schools … building them, too … would also put people to work, not to mention this tiny benefit: OUR CHILDREN WOULD HAVE A STRONG EDUCATION.

My friend, Charlie, calls this Demand Side Economics. I say, Great idea.

TOMORROW: Get out of my House, or Why Aren’t Adjustable Rate Mortgages a Crime?

10.13.08

Santa & Supply-Side Economics

Posted in Events at 9:04 am by Marion

OK … today I risk another tongue lashing (Mouse lashing? Keyboard lashing?) for taking on a subject out of my field, but I’m a smart-enough cookie to know wrong-thinking when I come across it. (Full disclosure: I am a writer and not an economist.)

So this week, FD takes a look at … the economic crisis!! (Drum roll, please!)

First up is so-called Supply-Side Economics. Until recently, I never fully understood what these theories and policies really meant, except fuel the market and everything will take care of itself.

Well, the reality is more insidious … and is one of the reasons we’re in this pickle. Starting in the 1980s (Reagan anyone?) certain theories came to predominate this country’s economic policies. Top among them was “supply-side” or, as some of us would say, Trickle Down economic politics.

The theory of Supply-Side is to give more to those who already have it … give more where the supply already is. Favor those who have the supply … tax cuts for the richest and for the biggest companies.

Without getting too far into the workings of this theory, it’s not too hard to see what lies at the heart of it: Stimulate the economy by stoking the big dogs.

An interesting conversation yesterday on my front porch with a friend, who’s well-read and perceptive. He manages enormous construction contracts and bids. A big-picture thinker who’s also quite conversant in art and music.

He described to me an alternative of Demand-Side Economics that would favor people who work for a living by stimulating projects, such as much-needed infrastructure.

TOMORROW: More on the economic crisis, featuring Adjustable Rate Mortgages!!

TODAY: HAPPY BIRTHDAY NOAH WEBSTER

10.10.08

Found Words

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 3:44 pm by Marion

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

Today, a few words that arise for no reason at all but to give us joy.

LAGNIAPPE. Something given as a bonus or gift. From the Louisiana French, from Spanish la napa

MACADAM. Broken stone of even size used in compacted layers for roads and paths, typically bonded with tar or bitumen. After the BritisH surveyor John McAdam (1756 – 1836) who advocated using this material.

BITUMEN.
Speaking of which … is a black viscous mixture derived as a result of petroleum distillation. From the late Middle English and Latin.

GEMINATE.
Consisting of identical adjacent speech sounds, especially consonants, doubled. From the Latin geminatus from “double, pair with.” We know it as Gemini.

ESCHATOLOGY.
An area of theology concerned with death, judgment and the soul. From the Greek eskhatos, “last” + -ology.

10.09.08

in-genius

Posted in Computers & Technology, Music at 9:54 am by Marion

TECH THURSDAY

My iTunes experience began with version 5. The newest edition, which I downloaded about three weeks ago, is iTunes 8.

One thing about iTunes and the whole iPod experience is that change is constant. As long as I can hold on for the ride, I find it’s worth the constant … well … shuffle.

iTunes 8 has a new feature called Genius and it is. (Maybe we could do without the smug-Apple-icious name, but when you’ve got it ….)

Genius allows you to click on a song — obscure or mainstream, offbeat or pop — and have a new playlist created for you. Genius creates the playlist by putting together music from your own library, so I find it’s a great way to hear familiar music in a new way, a sort of paradigm shift for the ears. Genius also acquaints me with music I’ve loaded, but haven’t listened to yet. (Who hasn’t forgotten what’s on their iPod? With 8 gigabytes, it’s hard keeping up with all those yummy tunes.)

Another feature of Genius is a bit self-serving: If you click on a song, it will recommend songs you can purchase from the iTunes store. In general I’m not fond of these cloning-type services, whether its courtesy of Amazon or Netflix.

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid infection with iTunes … it’s time to take the plunge. I have found immeasurable new pleasure and joy in music thanks to the digital form it’s taken these days. I don’t leave the house without my iPod and it goes from desk to living room to bedside; on runs, in the grocery store and in the car.

Once you figure it out, Genius is great fun. It refreshes music, organizes it in new ways, shines a light on forgotten songs and artists and kicks your favorites out of their status quo corner.

10.08.08

Deep in Thought?

Posted in Events, On writing, Press, Writers at 7:23 am by Marion

An article on CNN.com yesterday raised an age-old question: How are creativity and mental illness connected?

Present company excluded (ahem) it’s no secret that visiting the heights of human experience also opens the doors to its depths. The writer who gave us “The Brothers Karamazov” also penned “Notes from Underground” … Fyodor Dostoevsky also gave us that unbearably true scene in the “Idiot” when the beautiful but doomed Natashya takes an enormous pile of money and tosses it into a fire.

The article looks at the life and work of David Foster Wallace, a writer who died last month of his own hand. (I am among those who will greatly miss DFW and his work.)

Of course the CNN article takes that broad-brush approach all big media have to, but IMHO it misses the nuance of what it is to be human, and searching. The search gives us art; the struggle is meaning.

I would ask instead, What drives someone to search? What compels someone, a writer say, to obsessively seek meaning? Then, not finding it in the world, we hunch over manuscripts to create one where there is meaning.

Van Gogh is the quintessential “tortured artist,” but if you read his letters, collected in Dear Theo, you understand that Van Gogh’s expansive soul drove him to feel the human experience very deeply, which he translated into those beautiful canvasses. That depth also pained him, and drove him to desperate acts of self harming.

We must be very careful when glossing over the lives of artists, writers and others whose visions come from a soul-place we don’t understand. Explaining trivializes them and robs them of the genuinely human. Instead we should be grateful for the vision and art of these enormously gifted, emotionally sensitive folks and leave the answers for the next life.

PS … For a warm send-up of DFW’s prose, see this Gawker post by “The Downsized Employee.”

10.07.08

Paper or Plastic?

Posted in On writing at 8:26 am by Marion

In the past two weeks I have returned to work on the novel. I get up early and sit at my desk with a stack of paper. I do not turn on the computer.

Computers help in vast ways, there’s no denying. I can compose and type in a flash … which is great for quick paragraphs and emails. Then again, I have to ask, what kind of meaning does this rapid-fire writing really hold? Often, not much. Real writing takes place off the grid, and even when working by computer, I print often and read the paper version, and consider it by far the real one.

A shift in thinking takes place when rattling off fast words and sentences onto a screen, whereas the time and focus of writing longhand allow each phrase and sentence to hold more meaning.

What’s more, paper allows nonlinear thinking. I draw columns and lists, create details about characters and can be present when episodes are revealed in a way that doesnt’ happen sitting in front of a screen.

Not to mention there’s no surfing when you’re holding a pen.

10.06.08

Once More, With Feeling

Posted in Buddhism, HH Dalai Lama, On writing, Running at 1:29 pm by Marion

This morning despite having five million items on my “to-do” list I sacrificed all for a long run. For more than a week I’ve longed for a big run, but I spend my mornings working and by 5 or 6 p.m. who wants to run seven miles? And then wake at 4:30 a.m. to start over again?

Sundays are usually my big run days, but the past few weeks I’ve actually spent at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church … in the sanctuary, doing the rituals, confessing, reciting and singing hymns.

It’s not as strange an exchange as it may seem, running and church. Running is my church — a time of profound reflection and focus. Moreover, running fills me with ecstasy and peace — and that’s worthy of the best church service.

Church and worship, however, can lead to an even more sublime moment as we are able to share the very air with a presence greater than ourselves — the hymns, the beautiful sanctuary and stained glass windows, yes, even the robes and all the formality. They give a sense of immaterial being, bliss and hallowedness.

There is also a sense of connecting with the best parts of myself. Prayers are said not to a paternalistic father “God” or lord (sounds so feudal and harsh); rather, those prayers are sent out to the universe and back to me — so I can manifest these positive effects and also so they will take shape among all mankind.

During my Buddhist studies I continued to see myself as a Christian Episcopal. I take seriously the advice given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who suggests any disciple of spiritual enlightenment hold true to the religion of their upbringing.

Now I see the wisdom of his advice. We are shaped and formed by the cultures and frameworks of faith that vary by region and nation. We must, however, find the commonality. Only by probing our own native faith will we be forced to find that commonality.

The world’s faiths are many languages: Different words for the same experiences and longings.

10.03.08

Melting point

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 1:29 pm by Marion

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING FRIDAY

One of my favorite topics: CANDY.

I only mention it because of a word that found its way into a commentary I just finished: fondant.

cake665.jpg

Mmmmm … just makes your mouth water to hear the word.

No? OK, it’s a frou-frou word that may not be the first thing you think of when you lust for sweets.

For those of you who know fondant … then, enough said. Fondant is a mixture of sugar and water, that’s often used in cake decorating. It’s also the term for small candies of a similar composition.

Here’s where the mouth-watering starts. Making fondant candy is a very painstaking labor, requiring careful measuring, mixing, heating and working the paste to just the right texture. No cutting corners here.

All of that hard labor pays off with a dense ratio of sugar to water, so the delicious amalgam is neither liquid nor solid — but something marvelously in-between.

It can be rolled and draped in melt-away sheets over cakes, or formed into small balls for candy dishes.

Though you may not know the word, you’d probably recognize fondant if you tasted it. Fondant can be found in chocolate bonbons — it’s the yummy creme inside flavored orange, cherry or maple.

Like so many cooking terms, fondant comes from the French word fondre, “to melt.” Literally, the word fondant means “melting” — it is the present participle of fondre.

So when you reach for that irresistible morsel that seems to wither as soon as you touch it, you’ve probably got your hands on authentic fondant. Now go ahead and eat it before it melts away into nothingness!

Image is from Pink Cake Box and the orange ribbon on the middle layer is fondant.

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