Sunday, December 31, 2017

How to Drive Writers Crazy (In Three Easy Steps!)

Step one: Be a NYC literary agent with a large online following. Be especially encouraging to new authors.

Step two: Host periodic flash fiction contests. (There may or may not be real prizes, but bragging rights are a definite thing.) Better yet, host a multi-part flash fiction contest over the holidays. For part one, make the contestants write a 30 word story including the word "bird". Four days later part two is a 25 word story including "ring". A few days later part three is a 25 word story including "colly". (Yes, you've read that correctly. Colly. Go ahead. Just try to casually throw in "colly" or "collywobbles" in a story with only 25 words. I'll wait. Waiting.... Still waiting... Yeah, it's not easy is it?)

Step three: Announce the parameters for the fourth and final part (20 words, "sent"). Announce the deadline (1/1/2018 6am Pacific). And then -- this is the important part for driving everyone crazy! -- don't open the comments at the start time so nobody can enter the fourth part of the contest. Tada! Achievement unlocked!

Anyhow, I have my fourth entry done even if it's not submitted. There are nearly 100 people doing this. Some of the entries are pretty amazing. I can't say I'm particularly good at flash fiction but this whole thing has been fun.

And yes, I used "colly" in round three. I think I deserve a prize just for that.

"Now, careful. Walk on the left side."

Happy New Year!

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs! 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Back to Winter

Last night in my southern California hotel room I had to turn on the air conditioning because it was humid and 73 F in the room and there was no way I was going to sleep in that heat.

I went for a 4+ mile run this morning in a t-shirt and running pants -- the fog burned off and I spent the second half of the run wishing I'd brought shorts with me. But really, who thinks to pack shorts for the end of December?!

Then I got in my car and drove a really long time with all of the other people fleeing southern California. (Seriously, I-5 was insanely busy today and there weren't any accidents to blame it on.) When I got to Sacramento the temperature was 50 F.

That's the kind of winter I like.

My pet sitter left a note that the cats were affectionate and "the birds were noisy until they were fed". I laughed. Really? My birds? Noisy? That doesn't even begin to describe it. Still, I guess that was the easiest way for her to tell that they were doing well.

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs! 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Never Play Scrabble Against Someone Who Has Memorized All The Two Letter Words

No visit to my parents is complete without the ritual humiliation of a game of Scrabble with my mom. Luckily this time I made up for my lack of skill by picking some good tiles, so while I lost, I only lost by a small amount and didn't need to go on a seven year journey to regain my honor.

(I used all seven tiles one turn and got the extra fifty points [see comment about getting good tiles above] and still managed to lose. Oh well.)

And because I know I'll lose the picture again and the internet never forgets, here is the magic stollen recipe as made by my mom with my "help". I've included the picture of the cookbook (The Spice Cookbook) so if anything looks really wonky you can check it, but there are modifications to be made.


2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 - 115 F)
2 tsp sugar
1 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) soft butter
2 large eggs
6 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp grated lemon rind
1/2 c currants
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup glaze cake mix (the weird candied fruit mix)
1 1/3 cups chopped almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

Place the first 3 ingredients in a mixing bowl large enough for mixing the dough. Let stand until yeast softens. Cool milk to lukewarm and add to yeast along with the 1/2 cup sugar and butter. Mix well. Beat in eggs. Stir in 3 cups of the flour, together with the salt, nutmeg, and lemon rind. Beat until batter drops in sheets from the spoon. Stir in remaining flour, raisins, currants, weird candied fruit mix, and 1 cup of the almonds. Turn onto a lightly floured board. Knead and keep retrieving all the fruit that keeps falling out until dough is smooth and satiny like the sheets from the honeymoon suite in Las Vegas. Put dough into a greased bowl, turning to bring the greased side to the top. Cover and let rise in a warm comfy place (80 - 85 F) 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size. Punch down dough. Get all your aggression out. Go on! Cover and let rest 10 minutes.

Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a rectangular sheet 1/2 inch thick and about 12 inches long. It's okay that you apparently can't divide things in two even pieces. The world will not end although you may have to bake the humongous "half" a little longer. Mix the 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle it, together with the remaining almonds, over the dough. Fold sides of each piece of dough to the middle and stretch to make long loaves, thick at the middle, narrow at the ends. Somehow I missed this part when I was "helping" and just folded them in half lengthwise and it worked just fine. Place each on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise in a warm place (still 80 - 85 F) 45 minutes or until double in size.

Bake in a preheated moderate oven (375 F) 25-30 minutes or until browned. Cool on racks.

When ready to serve, brush loaves with melted butter and sift confectioners' sugar over the top. This makes a big mess but is totally worth it. Enjoy!

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs! 

Thursday, December 28, 2017


It's almost time for New Year resolutions. Traditionally I've been against the idea, partially because I think it's stupid to tie a bunch of new behaviors and goals to something arbitrary like the position of the earth in orbit around the sun. (I realize that probably doesn't make much sense to anybody else -- just go with the flow here.) But the other reason I hate resolutions is that I can never come up with concrete goals.

This year, though, I think I'm going to be more general. I'm not going to claim to be getting in shape, or losing weight, or improving my mind because I'm just planning on continuing on my current path.

Instead, I'm planning on making more mistakes and failing.

If I'm screwing up, that means I'm trying new things. I have all kinds of things I would like to try (starting with querying a novel with agents) and there's a whole list of ways everything can go sideways, some of which I can control and some of which I can't. But either way I'd like to be more comfortable with the possibility that things can go wrong and it can be because I messed it up.

Maybe I'll come up with a mistake-o-meter with the number of times I've screwed up in the past week. Or... maybe not. I guess that could be the first mistake.

An example of a mistake. It turned into my favorite page of the Christmas calendar I made for my parents.

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs! 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

I Want A Recount

First off, this is what you get when you have a family of engineers who refuse to spend money on something new when they already have something that sort of does the job. Sure, the tripod isn't really designed to hold a phone, but that's what clamps are for.

It worked just fine.

Yesterday my brother Jeff got extra brownie points for finding the oven light switch. Today he was trying to get the china down from the top shelf and the step stool he was using (for we are a mighty but short clan) slid out and he dropped the container that held all the big plates, breaking five of them in one fell swoop.

One would think that might lower his rankings, but my mom was so glad he hadn't hurt himself that somehow he ended up with bonus sympathy points despite breaking my mom's china. It's like he just can't lose. I'm going to have to study his technique...

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs! 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Things I did today:

- Made the toaster work in my hotel room, thus avoiding returning to the madness of the breakfast room.

- Won a grammar argument with my mom. This never happens. Maybe I should take up diagramming sentences as my new hobby.

- Slept in until almost 8am because I didn't have four little furry people sitting on me, one little furry person jumping up to lick my face, and one large furry person shoving me off the bed with his nose. Also, the conures' screaming cannot be heard from five hundred miles away.

- Got the web link and password to watch my dogs in their "luxury suite". So far I've watched the big dog lick his privates and both dogs bark at things out in the hallway. So essentially it's exactly what they do at home. They seem to be surviving with minimal trauma.

- Worked on the super secret Christmas present for my parents which is the same thing as the super secret Christmas present I give them every year. (Shhhh!) (For those who are confused, my family doesn't celebrate until tomorrow.)

- Helped make the stollen. This qualifies as baking under direct adult supervision. Of course the step I did by myself (splitting the dough into two parts and rolling out and assembling the loaves) resulted in two wildly uneven loaves. So apparently I cannot be trusted even when directly supervised.

- Read two pages of online reviews of my parents' new oven, every single one of which contained a complaint about the lack of external light switch. (Samples: "WHO WANTS AN OVEN WITH A LIGHT THAT ONLY COMES ON WHEN YOU OPEN THE DOOR???????", "The lack of an oven light switch is driving my wife crazy.") Laughed about this. Realized I really love my own oven.

- Thought about the 25 word flash fiction that is due for a contest tomorrow.

Things my brother Jeff did today:

- Found the light switch for the oven.

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs! 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Why I Hate Touch Screens (aka, What is that smell?)

Same situation, two cars:

2002 Civic (no bells & whistles): "Ew, what's that smell? Oh right, I'm approaching Coalinga. Feedlot." Without taking my eyes off the road, I reach over and hit the recirculate button. I know which on it is because there are only four buttons and you can feel a bump where each one is so I can just skip the one all the way on the right and hit the one next to it.

Total time: < 1 second

2016 Super-duper-does-everything-for-you Acura: "Ew, what's that smell? Oh right, I'm approaching Coalinga. Feedlot. Crap, how do I turn on recirculation?" Look at the touch screen. Look at the road. Look at the touch screen. Find the icon on the bottom row that has the car with an arrow going through it. Accidentally hit the one next to it (vents open on the bottom, top, or both). Look at the road. Wait for it to go back to the previous menu. Hit the correct icon. Look at the road. Figure out which of the two choices is recirculate. Hit that icon.

Total time: ~30 seconds.

My car smelled like cow poop for about half an hour.

Anyhow... the good news about failing to get started at a reasonable hour is that the Grapevine is lovely during a sunset, don't you agree?

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs! 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Five Stages of Housecleaning for the Petsitter

It's that time of year again. So here are the five stages of housecleaning for the petsitter:

1. Denial
This is the stage that lasts for the first eleven months of the year. I am down (down!) to four cats, two dogs, and three birds. I'm not one of those people who gets insomnia and then stays up until three in the morning cleaning the grout with a toothbrush. (I don't get insomnia because "a clean conscience is the best pillow" and my conscience is sparkly. It's way cleaner than my house. I'm just throwing that out there to annoy all the people I know who have problems sleeping. Y'all should just be better people and then you'd be able to sleep at night.)

I occasionally try to keep on top of things, but really -- I have a whole list of things I'd rather do than clean the house. I do make sure it's clean enough that I don't have bugs or rodents moving in, but if you're allergic to pet hair... you probably want to be heavily medicated before coming over or just stay away.

Mostly I just don't notice it. I don't wear my glasses at home, so everything beyond a few feet is pretty fuzzy. I also don't look up at the ceiling to notice the cobwebs. I run the handheld vacuum every couple of days until the charge runs out, which keeps the pet hair from drifting down the hallway. I sweep. I do the dishes. But I don't really dust. I pretty much suck as a housekeeper and I don't really care.

2. Anger
In the beginning of December I mostly just get angry that another year has gone by and I still haven't hired someone to come in every couple of weeks and clean the place. I mean, really. It's not all that expensive. I could afford it. Heck, I'd be putting money into the community locally. I'd be saving Woodland!
And yet I still haven't done it. And the beginning of December is too late. Besides, I'd need to clean before they came over to give an estimate anyhow, so it wouldn't help at all.

3. Bargaining
If I mop the living room, I don't really need to clean the window sill in my bedroom, right? Why would my petsitter even go into my bedroom (unless it's to find Effing Scooter who likes to hide under my bed and holy crap, that's where the dust bunnies go to die...).

4. Depression
Do you know how many places four cats can throw up hairballs in a year?

5. Acceptance
I usually get to this stage the night before I have to leave. I mean, my petsitter is a professional. She goes into houses of people who have pets all the time. I can't possibly be the worst at cleaning. (That's a lie -- I could easily be the worst, but remember, the five stages aren't necessarily a linear process and I can be in acceptance and denial at the same time.)

Anyhow, Happy Holidays everyone. I'll be over here marveling at what color the kitchen floor is when it's clean...

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs! 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

But Will It Be Brittle?

For reasons that are obvious to anyone who has ever seen me ignore directions and carry on, I've given up on baking without direct adult supervision, which means holiday cookies are out of the question.

However, I recently came across this peanut butter brittle recipe which I've heard is easy and as a bonus, doesn't require the stove, thus cutting down my chances of burning the house down to almost nothing. So I bought the ingredients today and whipped up a batch.

First off, let me just say that 50% of what I do in the kitchen is prepare food for the critters, so even though they were all fed only one hour before, all the little furry people in the house rushed to join me in the kitchen in anticipation, except the little dog because after six years she still won't go into that one section of the kitchen, so she got excited and wagged her tail just outside the kitchen. "Get out of the kitchen!" was said approximately fifty times this evening. Its effectiveness was... limited.

Also, my microwave is at least 25 years old. I mean, I think I got it from my brother in 1992 and I don't know how long he had it before that. It still works great, except for the interior light and the turntable. So that section that talks about monitoring closely until it's the right color? Well, I went with checking it every thirty seconds ("Get out of the kitchen!") and then pulling it out at the four minute mark ("Get out of the kitchen!") when one section was really dark brown and the rest was more golden. (Note to self: probably should have at least turned the bowl when I was checking it every thirty seconds.)

(I threw some dark chocolate pieces on the top just to see how it would be.)

I only burned myself a little bit ("Get out of the kitchen!") mixing in the final ingredients and I avoided (just barely!) melting the plastic measuring cups that kept coming in contact ("Get out of the kitchen!") with the hot bowl.

I'm not sure I'll ever get the bowl clean again. If I'd been smart I would have just waited for it to cool down and then given it to the big dog, but I already threatened to cancel Christmas for him today after he got into the kitchen trash while I was taking a shower, so he doesn't deserve peanut brittle even if he would do a great job cleaning the bowl.

It's still cooling, so I don't know if it will break apart like it's supposed to or just bend because I didn't cook it long enough. The stuff left in the bowl seemed okay though.

Now I'm trying to remember if I even like peanut brittle...


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Friday, December 22, 2017

How... Interesting...

So I'm setting up my author website, and... I feel like I should point out right now that I write software for a living and I have built many websites in the past.

Many really ugly websites.

I'm beginning to think there's a gene that allows people to design websites that don't look like they were stuck in the 1990s. Except I think that all my websites look like they are twenty years old because that was the last time period during which everyone expected programmers to do website design.

Scooter gives the blank stare of disapproval to my website design

Smart people who want a website to look good these days hire website designers. There's a difference between a developer and a designer. A developer can make all the widgets work and will make the page not crash when "users" (aka, the stupidest people in existence) defy logic and do exactly the wrong thing.

Website designers, on the other hand, make the website look like it was put together by an adult who doesn't wear just grey and black because those colors always match and you don't have to sort laundry. (Not that there's anything wrong with being ultra-efficient in clothes selection like that.)

Anyhow, WordPress really tries to help people out with their default themes. And yet...

Let's just say that if this writing thing ever really goes anywhere, I'll probably be hiring a web designer to take over.


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

G.O.A.T. *

It's been a long day and I'm sick so I'm going to cheat and post something that I wrote as a birthday present for my friend Richard, part of a series of "origin stories". It will be helpful for you to know that Richard has more cats than I do (currently), including a gray cat named Sherman. Sherman is known for getting into trouble. When you go over to their house, someone needs to be on Sherman patrol every time the front door is opened because he likes to dash outside and get chased around the neighborhood until he hides under a car.

* G.O.A.T. = Greatest Of All Time or Gray Ones Are Trouble, depending on who you are talking about.

It was a dark and stormy night nearly fifty years ago when a meteorite fell to earth, blasting apart trees and mountains in its path. Yet it was not a meteorite at all, but a lost soul, fallen to earth.

No, this was not Richard.

This was the inkling of Sherman.

As the life force grew, the planet around him wept and wailed, for Gaia could see the path of the future should Sherman’s march remain unchecked.

In desperation the planet gathered all the elements of life together, a soup of barley, carrots, celery, a little bit of thyme, salt and pepper to taste… oh wait, wrong soup. No, the planet made a sturdy homunculus from a stout oak branch, clay from the depths of the earth, and pollen to energize it.

(The pollen turned out to be a really bad idea — the future hero’s allergies and asthma were predestined.)

As the spark of Sherman grew, moving ever closer to corporeality, so too did little Richard (no, not _that_ Little Richard, the other… oh never mind), ever gaining wisdom and strength (aside from the allergies and asthma), and when the villainous Sherman finally was made flesh, Richard was able to imprison him while he was still weak from the transition, before he could wreak havoc on mankind.

Even now Richard remains humanity’s only hope (aside from Jennifer), waiting for the inevitable escape of the Sherman the Gray, Beast of Chaos. Always watching. Always prepared.

#SecretRichardOrigins #HappyHalfCentury


In other superhero news, what's with this mutant lemon thing? They're both from the same tree.

Also, here's the action shot that happened as I was dropping the phone...
Photography. Still not my strong suit.


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I think I've mentioned this before, but when I first moved to Woodland there were no squirrels here.

It was the weirdest thing -- our motto is "City of Trees" and Davis, a mere 10 miles south of here, is overrun with the things. And yet for the first 10+ years I lived here, I only had one squirrel sighting. My neighbor told me there had been some great squirrel extermination project fifty years ago, but I refuse to believe you can semi-permanently wipe out something that leaves a niche unfilled.

What?! I haven't been running through the ivy trying to get to squirrels in the back yard!

Anyhow, all that changed a couple of years ago, and now there are squirrels all over the place. The little dog doesn't even notice them, but the big dog is obsessed. If he's seen squirrels in a particular tree within the last few weeks, we can't go by it without giving him a chance to look long and hard. (This also applies to fake deer. He's a little special.) Today he pranced all around at the end of his leash because there was a squirrel across the street, sitting on the ground, taunting him.

We pass a few infested trees during our cool-down walk after a run, and this is how I know that the big dog could go another few miles without any trouble. (I, however, cannot. Maybe if there were trees filled with chocolate or Pad Thai, but sadly we just have squirrels.)

Speaking of metaphorical squirrels, though, I had planned to pick up a prescription refill for Crow the cat today and then I got in my car to go to work and did the mental equivalent of "Look, a squirrel!" and forgot about it until it was too late.

Tomorrow is another day...


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

There IS Room At The Inn

Things are looking up on the home front. I now have a new kitchen faucet and will not be forced to leave a note for my pet sitter asking her to be careful not to touch the old faucet because it might just break in half.

Corky the plumber (not his given name) finished in a couple of hours and as he was leaving said "there's no way you would have ever been able to replace those valves by yourself" then backtracked and said he wasn't disparaging my strength but instead the state of the last of the galvanized pipes that are still in the kitchen walls. Anyhow, that made me feel better about having to pay a bunch of money for this which may have been his intention.

The dogs have a place to go for the holidays (yay!). Since my pet sitter only comes by once per day, the dogs can't stay at home and even though I started the process before Thanksgiving, my dogs were on the wait-list until this evening. If they hadn't made it off the wait-list, they would have had to come with me which would have been difficult because:
  • Despite being buckled in in the car, the big dog sits in such a way that he falls off the seat every time I brake.
  • When comfortable in a room, the little dog barks at people driving up, which would go over really well in a hotel at night.
  • Neither dog likes to be outside very long and since my parents don't allow dogs in the house they (the dogs, not my parents) would probably sit at the door and whine and bark for days on end during the daytime.
  • Neither dog is particularly happy around strangers. The little dog is really bad around children (which is why I never bring her around children). I don't think there will be any small children at our gatherings this year, but I'd still have to keep a close eye on both dogs and that's not very relaxing.
Anyhow, the dogs will once again be staying in a "luxury suite" and spending their days barking in the chorus.

 Also bad travelers, but that's expected.

As part of my "taking this writing thing a little more seriously" plan, I'm going to set up my author website this week, possibly using Bluehost. I guess I should really make a decision about what name to use -- full name? first initial and last name? My full name is just too darn long. If you're reading this before Friday and you have Thoughts About This (or the website in general), let me know.


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Monday, December 18, 2017

I Wasn't Kidding

Seriously. I vacuumed up all the little pieces of styrofoam all over the house this morning, then took a shower and came back out to the living room to this.

I guess I could take it away, but they're having so much fun with it.

In other news we're reorganizing again for the... fifth?... time this year. I don't have an MBA or any desire to lead my way out of a wet paper bag, but I'm starting to think that I should start my own company just for some stability. My manager-on-paper will now have to add two new random people to our island-of-lost-toys group.

Ah well. At least my paychecks don't bounce.


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Like Herpes...

Yesterday I vacuumed up all the little bits of styrofoam that have been shredded off the big block by the cats. I just took this picture of Guido in my lap.

It really is the gift that keeps giving.


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

It's a Nyet-i, Because They Really Don't Exist

Went to a get together today during which we argued about whether one should or shouldn't be forced to watch "Logan's Run", among other things. I still say it's past the point at which it just becomes a sign of masochism.

While I was there Jennifer (who knits amazing things and is an actual professional knitter) made this red and white hat for the Yeti and I realized that the pictures don't quite make the size of the lawn ornament clear. Still, the hat is cute and it fits on the gnome (or it would if his head was free standing).

In other news, today was going to be the day. Today I was going to end my procrastination of over a year and actually change out the kitchen faucet which has been slowly disintegrating since I moved in. I stopped being able to swivel the faucet a couple of years ago, and last year a big chunk of metal fell off the stem. It leaks a bit in that spot (not as much as you might think, though) when the water is on, but it doesn't leak when the water is off so I haven't been too worried.

I wasn't kidding when I said it was disintegrating.

Anyhow, I watched some YouTube videos and it looked like something I might be able to do if everything worked out, so I cleared out everything from under the sink, set up the work light, dusted off the box with the new faucet, and... I can't get the valves closed. At all. Either one.

So the valves need to be replaced as part of this. That means the water to the house needs to get shut off. And that's the point I tap out and call a professional. Plumbing projects in a 60 year old house snowball quickly, and I don't want to have to move into a hotel to take a shower because I decided to try to change out the faucet that was still working.

Anyhow, I'll call someone who knows what they are doing and has the tools to make things easier.

It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Importance of Not Knowing

There have been times in my life where I felt the need to know the answer to any question that came up, partially as a habit formed by being in school for so long, and partially to feel like everything was under control. But sometimes it's good to not know everything.

This is my local coffee shop, Morgan's Mill. (They also sell beer, wine, and some food, so I don't know if coffee shop is the right word -- I come here for the hot tea which is loose-leaf and quite good, and also the pizza waffle.) The building used to be a mill, I assume, unless there really is no truth in advertising. They have tables and couches if you really feel like slouching. Of course, this is Woodland, so they also close at 8pm most nights (and 3pm on Sunday). Oh well. You can't have everything.

In any case, there's that door at the end of one of the rooms. I've never seen it open, so there could be anything behind it, possibly even a portal to another universe. I mean, probably it's either a room that holds coffee shop supplies, or a part of the building that hasn't been renovated, which is why I've never asked what's back there. At this point the reality would be a disappointment.

This picture's also from the same room. Jeff was kind enough to point out that the beam in front of the wall is a retrofit and that's probably keeping everything from falling down. Gotta love that repair, though. That's how we roll here.


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

When The Sun Don't Shine...

I've started the long "learning to purl" slog again -- hence there is nothing to show this evening because I didn't want to take a picture of the results. I've almost got it, but I do something on my knit stitch that makes it even and loose, and I'm not doing whatever that is when I purl which makes it really... really... tight and the next row is just painful to get through. So yeah. I'll get there. Maybe.

In the meantime, I got my birthday present. The cats are currently shredding the big block of styrofoam it came packaged in, which is fun for them but going to be a nightmare to clean up. But isn't this thing awesome? It's solar powered, so the light is on at night.

All I can say is that there are worse addictions than garden gnomes. So there.


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Great Communicator

At work we recently switched over to using the Google suite of tools -- gmail, Google Docs (very similar to MS Word), Google Sheets (a really poor imitation of MS Excel), some presentation software, and a few other things that I haven't been forced to use yet. Initially the rumor was that it was going to save a bunch of money. Then it came out that it didn't save any money, but was going to increase collaboration.

I can kind of see why they wanted to do this. I mean, for years the way most things worked was someone created a spreadsheet with a bunch of information and mailed it out. Different people would make modifications and email that changed version around with a slightly different name. Other people might start making modifications on the original version and send that around, so no one version of the file had all the changes, and pretty soon nobody had any idea what was going on but it probably didn't matter because there was some other problem that was more important now anyhow because the company had reorganized and centralized or decentralized depending on the month. Then a new spreadsheet would be created for the new problem and start the rounds.

File Naming Conventions

So using a file that everyone could access and make modifications to would seem to solve this issue. (The file updating issue, not the reorganize/centralize/decentralize/hike! thing.) Of course, we lost some functionality along the way... little minor things like the ability to search for numbers in email (really! you can't do this in gmail!) which is completely unimportant unless your entire designation system is based on six digit numbers and you need to see if there have been problems with this particular place in the past. But hey, why would we need to be able to do that?

Anyhow, because my group has been busy working instead of embracing collaborative tools by taking dozens of hours of training, we haven't really become experts on this whole thing yet. But I tried today! I had two data sources with conflicting information, so I created a spreadsheet with the conflicts and put it on Google Drive and sent email to everyone asking them to highlight which column had the correct value.

It seemed like a simple thing.

First off, it turns out that I should have sat through more of the training or something, because even though I sent everyone a "sharable" and "editable" link, nobody could edit the file. So then I sent another email telling everyone to just send me the changes that I needed to make.

Of eight people, three didn't respond. That's not too bad since some might be on vacation or working nights. One person highlighted the correct information. Three people highlighted both columns (with conflicting information). One person just changed some values but didn't indicate what he had changed. All of these people (myself included!) are functional adults with college degrees.

Yeah. It was one of those days.


It's Holidailies time! Now go read some other blogs!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How To Be Bad At Baking

I woke up a few minutes before my alarm this morning, so I was browsing Facebook and there was an ad from King Arthur Flour for springerle molds. (They also had a recipe for anise drops, another cookie I've never seen referenced elsewhere.)

If you don't know what a springerle is, it's a German anise cookie that has a picture embossed on it. I've never seen the molds advertised anywhere before, but apparently Facebook and King Arthur Flour know me well.

I'm not really good at following directions (yes, this is an understatement) which makes me a pretty terrible baker. Baking requires precision. What I do is more... hand wavey. Sure, that's a good amount of flour. Yeah, I like vanilla, so I'll dump in a bit extra. Well, the yeast might be a little bit old, so I'll just bump up the amount. This is not the way to get consistent results when baking.

(I've also had the occasional complete disaster, like the time I made my first cake from scratch and missed the line for flour, but in my defense I was young at the time.)

I made springerles just once, many years ago. After a huge amount of effort I ended up with thin wafers that you could break a tooth on. That's why my mom has the springerle board now. She can follow directions. She also claims that the weather makes a big difference on how they turn out, but I can't remember if it's supposed to be humid or dry for the best results. Either way, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't end up with the same thing no matter what the weather.

Maybe when (if) I remodel my kitchen I'll make an area suitable for rolling out dough and I'll force myself to follow directions and get better at baking...

 This was the last thing I baked. It tasted fine but looked nothing like it was supposed to.


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Monday, December 11, 2017

Sick Day

Woke up this morning feeling like crap with a bunch of weird dreams that suggested I had a fever, so I stayed home and went back to bed. (It also made me re-evaluate why I wimped out on yesterday's run at the two mile mark -- I thought at the time it was because it was hotter than I'd expected, but now I think maybe I was starting to feel bad because of whatever this is.)

After another ten hours of sleep I felt better, so I spent the afternoon reading the archives on Query Shark, which is a blog where writers send book queries to be critiqued. At some point in the upcoming year I'm going to start sending queries for my first novel to agents. A lot of people recommend getting 100 rejections before retiring the novel and moving on to the next one. Still, there's no point if having the query be the reason for the rejection -- if they hate my novel, that's one thing, but if I can't even get them to look at it, that's a completely different problem.

Anyhow, mostly what I've learned is:
  • use present tense
  • make it clear who the main character is right in the first sentence
  • make the main character's problem clear right away
That seems pretty basic, but you'd be surprised how many people can't get even that bit straight. And these are people who are looking for help on their queries -- I can't imagine how many queries go to agents where the author doesn't realize what's important.

I also listened to a couple of podcasts and knitted yet another Yeti hat. This time I went with a boxy hat instead of a round one. Maybe someday soon I'll even look up how to purl...


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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Best Ever!

Remember how I said I was going to get a bunch of necessary things done this weekend? Clearly I meant next weekend, because today I made this:

And this:

I have to say, I'm kind of impressed with how they turned out since I was just making it up as I went along. I'm fairly certain that's not how you're supposed to use two colors together, but I'm lazy and tying a bunch of knots held no appeal

Also, the big dog tried to walk off with an entire ball of yarn. I'm not sure what that was about. He won't even play with dog toys.


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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Don't Ask

I went to the craft store today to get a couple of things, including yarn for the project discussed yesterday. I got a lot of yarn, in all kinds of colors. But it's not like it's going to go bad, right?

It wasn't until I headed for the checkout desk that I considered how friendly people in craft stores are. Inevitably I'll buy a bunch of random stuff and when they're ringing it up they'll ask what I'm making. This time I was sort of hoping we wouldn't have that conversation because "knitting hats for my Yeti lawn ornament" makes me sound kind of weird. The good news is that this store is on the other end of town from my house, so I hardly ever run into anyone I know there.  But the really good news was that it was eight at night and the cashiers were too tired to care, so I didn't have to say anything.

Anyhow, I came home and tried to remember how to cast on. It's been a while. I did finally figure it out, and then I cast on a bunch of stitches and started knitting.

When I say "started knitting" I mean just that. If I need to purl I'm going to have to go watch a video or something because I can't remember how and even when I knew how it was a pain. So I'm just knitting. Since I'm completely winging it, this works out just fine. I figure I'm good for a while although eventually I'm going to have to figure out how to decrease. Also, after going a few rows it turns out I might be making a poncho instead of a hat because I fear that I got a little too excited about casting on. Whatever. I'll figure it out.

Guido finds my knitting an excellent meditation aid. He watched me the entire time. I don't think he wants the yarn as much as he really, really wants the knitting needles. They are now safely locked in a drawer that (I think) he can't open.

So yeah... I spent the evening knitting a hat for my lawn ornament. How about you?


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Friday, December 8, 2017


It's holiday season again, and if you're me that means the following:
  • avoiding all stores because they will be playing horrible Christmas music
  • cleaning the house before the pet sitter arrives (and yes, this is a month-long project)
  • watching horrible holiday movies
Holiday movies are a really weird thing. They're all just awful, but awful in a way that must have required some real effort to get balanced. The writing is bad, the acting is bad, the directing is bad, the cinematography...yeah, it's not like I have any idea what that is but I'm sure it's bad -- everything, just everything, is bad. If any one piece were competently done, they wouldn't be as fun to watch.

This year, though, I'm not watching any holiday movies because I cancelled my Netflix subscription last month. It's been a rough year in general, and it seemed like every new show was just one more F*@&$% white man whining about how rough he had it or saving all the helpless women-folk or just generally being the savior because he was the only one qualified merely by being 1) white and 2) male.

(I mentioned it's been a rough year, right? I'm aware there may be some selection bias in my overall view of the television and film industry. But still.)

In any case, I cancelled my Netflix subscription so now I have a chunk of time to do something useful.

Or at least now I have a chunk of time...

Jennifer pointed out that my Yeti with gnomes could really use a bunch of little hats, and I feel like my knitting skills might be up to something like that. Granted, it definitely won't be a hat that a person would be willing to wear, but lawn ornaments can just take their damn chances.

I think I'll have to go get some festive yarn tomorrow.


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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Forests of Christmas Past

 "I don't care, just give me the cookie."

I don't decorate much at all for the holiday season. I think the last time I really got into it was when I was living in the dorms in Germany. I was downtown and I decided to get a live tree in a five gallon pot. Then I had to lug it home (a couple of miles), back aching and needles poking me in the face. Yes, there were many strange looks as I walked. I was almost home when I realized the store at the end of the street was selling the same tree.

Anyhow, these days I've given up on decorating completely. Even through the cats have gotten older and more sedate and would probably leave a tree alone, now I have the dogs. The little dog would be okay with the whole thing, but the big dog would undoubtedly take it as a sign that I'd set up indoor plumbing for him (hey, it's cold outside!) and my living room does not need that. Maybe I could hang a six inch rosemary tree from the ceiling or something, but at some point it just gets ridiculous and you need to give up.

 This is probably not what they mean by an action shot.

I still have time to change my mind though. In my family a tree bought more than a week before Christmas is... I don't know what it is because it never happened. We always waited until the last possible moment to buy a tree. In fact, I think my family's appearance on the Christmas tree lot was the official sign that it was time to close for the season.

As you can imagine, we always got a great deal on a tree that was... a great deal. It might have been a tad crooked or have some other minor defects, but overall it was fine. Besides, why would you pay a bunch of money for something you're going to toss out in the street in a couple weeks? And by the time you put on lights, garland, decades of mismatched ornaments, and some tinsel, nobody can even see the tree underneath. So if there was a big bare spot in the back, or a branch had to be moved to a different part of the tree, eh, not a problem.

All those perfectly decorated, perfectly symmetric trees make me think that whoever put them up never had a family tree.

A less temperamental model


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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Latest Conference I Didn't Attend

About a month ago my boss called me on my day off and when I answered the phone with "Gosh, this must be really important", he told me he wasn't sure. That's always a good start to a conversation. Turns out that the gigantic dinosaur that my gigantic company had recently purchased was having some sort of conference in early December and my boss' boss' boss (there might be one more level in there but I can't be bothered to learn the company hierarchy -- I shall hereafter refer to him as my great grand-boss) wanted me, specifically, to attend.

When I say "some sort of conference" I'm not being deliberately vague to avoid giving details that would get me fired. Literally all my boss knew about this conference was that
  • it was two days (starting on a Tuesday) and
  • it was in Santa Clara.
 We googled the crap out of the name and came up with one web page that just had some pictures of people in a hallway. But he thought maybe there might be some sort of hackathon involved. Or maybe not. There was also no indication of what subjects the conference might cover. Or even what audience it was suitable for.

At this point I should have just said no, but the only way to get off the phone (on my day off, mind you) was a weak "okay, I guess".

Then I spent the next two weeks complaining about it. Nobody had any information about the damn thing and on a good day it would take about three hours to get there from my house. That would mean leaving my house at 5am and not falling asleep in stop-and-go traffic, spending all day learning... something.... and then driving back home again. And then doing the same thing the next day. They did offer to pay for a hotel room, but then I would have had to set up pet care. As it was I'd almost certainly be missing agility, and that would not have gone over well with the little people in the house of the dog variety.

Anyhow, I finally told my boss that I wasn't going to some conference that didn't have an agenda, and besides, I'd probably fall asleep and crash my car and it would be all the company's fault.

That's when the guilt-tripping started. "But [great grand-boss] requested you by name!" And then grand-boss told me that great grand-boss had requested that I go.

Finally I did what any mature career-oriented person would do -- I made plans to go.

Just kidding. I sent mail directly to great grand-boss. This is pretty much verbatim what it said [with additional explanations]:

Dude, [I know it was a business email, but we're both from California so this is a completely appropriate salutation.]

If you want me to quit, just tell me that. Don't make everyone in the chain of command try to convince me that I want to go to some random conference without an agenda in the bowels of Santa Clara.

Best wishes, [I probably didn't add this]
About five minutes later I got a reply:
LOL. You don't have to go if you don't want to. [Grand-boss] had suggested your name.
And then suddenly I was no longer on the list.

I mean, there's probably a reason I have a job instead of a career, but at least I didn't have to drive to Santa Clara at 5am yesterday and today...

Yep, it's a totally unrelated picture of cats and tea. 


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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Is It Time To Go Yet? How About Now? Now?

In general my cats are pretty good alarm clocks, and they'll start bugging me within fifteen minutes of when I normally get up. They do still need to work on the concept of daylight saving time. The dogs, though, have really narrowed down their time-telling skills to one specific point in the week.

Every Tuesday at 4pm, it starts. The whining. The watching. The jumping up every time I move. Only on Tuesdays. And always starting at 4pm. Unfortunately, we don't leave for agility for another two and a half hours, so it's really annoying. Impressive, but annoying.

George being bullied by Crow the cat

I know they're having hot winds and wildfires in the southern half of the state, but up here it suddenly got cold two days ago. (That's cold according to Woodland standards -- it's probably still considered balmy if you live in a place where white stuff falls from the sky, but I had to put on a scarf. And I thought about finding my gloves.) My dogs love the cold in small doses. Two days ago it rained, which brings up all the distracting smells. All that stuff combined meant that there was more excitement than precision at agility tonight.

I know I always laugh about my dogs doing the exact same things incorrectly which means I'm the one at fault (true!), but they're different in a lot of ways. Ginger runs the course, her little fluffy tail wagging the entire time, and I really need to indicate where she's going well in advance or she'll just run somewhere at top speed. So if she's coming out of the weave poles, I had better have already told her the she's going out over the jump and then off to the teeter so she can plan her path or there's going to be trouble. She's usually a lot faster than George because of that and yet... we have evenings where she just flips me the metaphorical middle finger and wanders off to do her own thing. It doesn't happen very often any more, but there was a period of about two months a couple years ago where I was ready to strangle her on a weekly basis.

They eventually worked it out

George has a different approach. He continues to get more confident, but he always knows exactly where I am and listens when I call him back on course. He won't yet run too far in front of me, so I can't stay still and direct him -- I have to get a lot closer to all the obstacles to keep him going or else he turns around and comes back to me. We're working on it. He has started to memorize courses -- he got a little goofy tonight and skipped one obstacle, then ran the next four in the correct sequence while I watched him without directing him at all.

So yeah, we had a good time tonight and I think my fingers may thaw out at some point before we go to bed...


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Monday, December 4, 2017

Maybe Just Stick To The 'Three Rights Make A Left' Rule

I think I caught a glimpse of my own future the other day, and it's a little bit scary.

So I was running plodding along on my usual route down Gibson to the one stoplight I need to get through in order to make it to the edge of town.

(I realize this makes my town sound even smaller than it is -- we have 50,000+ people and many, many stoplights, but I happen to live about one mile from commercial fields on the south end of town and that's where I try to spend most of my running time.)

Anyhow, as I was huffing and puffing my way down the street I noticed cars braking and swerving around a car that was stopped in front of the intersection at a green light. This part of Gibson is two lanes in each direction and this intersection has a left turn lane, so the only reason to stop in the number one lane on a green light is car trouble. And I'm an expert at car trouble! I mean, I'm an expert at commiserating about car trouble -- I can't actually fix anything. I'm so useless with cars, the last time I tried to put air in my tire I somehow ended up with lower pressure than I started with, but I'm totally blaming that on a broken air machine or something. Yeah I don't get it either.

As I got closer (slowly, slowly!), I saw the car only had one of its emergency flashers on, otherwise known as the left turn signal, and about that time I realized that this car wasn't experiencing motor difficulties, it was experiencing driver difficulties. As in, the car was stopped at a green light in the lane that goes straight, waiting for the left turn light to turn green. However, the left turn light wasn't turning green because there wasn't a car in the left turn lane.

The light went through three cycles that way, with that car sitting, waiting for the left turn signal to turn green. By the time I ran past them there was a car next to them in the left turn lane, so I didn't feel obligated to help. (Yeah, I'm not sure how exactly I was going to help either -- I mean, clearly this driver wasn't going to be able to parallel park their way into the left turn lane, and the big dog and I probably couldn't set off the sensor.)

I did sprint past the front of their car, though, because I figured at some point the driver was going to give up on the stoplight completely and gun it and it would be my luck to be right in front of them when it happened.

This picture is completely unrelated, but isn't Ripley cute?

So that's what I'll be like about thirty years from now, but instead of my spouse sitting next to me in the car distracting me to the point I don't notice we've been sitting at the same light for over five minutes, it will probably be a dog or cat. Let's just hope they get the kinks worked out of self-driving cars soon...


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Sunday, December 3, 2017

The End of Civic-isation

This year I finally replaced my car. The "thinking about replacing my car" saga had already been going on for a few years when I wrote this gem back in 2012:
Anyhow, what will likely happen is that I'll just keep driving my Civic until it suffers from some catastrophic break down, at which point I'll walk to the nearest car dealership and buy the first thing I see.
I'm not going to say I can always accurately predict the future or anything, but... it turns out that I know myself pretty well.

On a day when the temps were around 110 F, I was driving back from the Walnut Creek office, cruising along at 80 mph in the fast lane in my 2002 Civic with 250,000+ miles when suddenly I had no acceleration. Also, every single light on the dashboard was lit up. It was also making a sort of funny noise, but at that point I was more worried about the fact that my speed was dropping.

Turns out that putting your emergency flashers on will convince some people to let you merge when they otherwise might not be so inclined, and I was able to make it across five lanes of traffic onto the off-ramp before I lost momentum. As a bonus, I ended up in the shade. As an extra bonus, I was right next to a Dairy Queen.

So I had fries and a soda while I was waiting for the tow truck. While I was waiting, I did the math -- 250,000+ miles on a car that was over 15 years old with something really wrong with the engine... In my book that equaled time to get a new car. I mean, what if it broke down again and I was forced to get food in a Burger King, or worse, McDonalds? There's only so far a person can go.

But then I had to find a new car, which turned out to be the first car I drove at the dealership in walking distance.

I'm not really in love with my new-to-me 2016 Acura TLX -- it's pretty, but it's meant for someone with more expensive tastes and a love of stupid gadgetry -- but at least it gets me from point A to point B reliably so I guess I shouldn't complain too loudly.

Still... I miss the old Civic.

Our Last Outing


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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Plod By Plod

The Atlantic published an article that I've seen referenced a few times called "Why Writers Run" that makes some long argument full of famous figures in the literary world that writers tend to be runners because running frees up the conscious mind to craft loving sentences or something like that. The implication, of course, is that writers who don't run are pretty much just talent-less hacks. They probably even write genre fiction.*

I write and I run. I don't do either particularly well, although I'm better at both than everyone who sits on their couch watching television instead of doing either. I have four finished novels and a few more that are in various stages of completeness. I also drag the big dog with me three times a week and think bad thoughts when we come back after four miles and I'm too exhausted to stand while he's busy running after squirrels.

This is after a run. He doesn't look very tired, does he?

I'm a plodder. **

I'll certainly never win any races -- my goal is to keep my mile split under thirteen minutes and I don't always hit that goal. (My favorite excuses: I run on gravel, there's a stoplight on the way there, and sometimes I'm running with a bag of dog poop.) According to MapMyRun, I did once have a seven minute mile, but I was also teleporting around the neighborhood at the time, so I have doubts about the accuracy of that measurement. Most people, on hearing of my running times, say "Isn't that about the same amount of time it takes to walk a mile?" To them, I say: No, dammit, why does everyone think that?! It's way faster than walking speed. By at least a minute. Bastards.

I'll probably also never be traditionally published. There are a ton of people out there who are better writers who have better ideas. (Then again, there are a lot of traditionally published books that aren't better written and have worse plots.) I'll still be working on it, next year, but realistically the odds are low. (My favorite excuses: So many to choose from -- editors! publishers! the reading public! the non-reading public!) But I keep plodding on, working on revisions of one while writing the next.

So why do I do either one? Because it's all about me. While I complain quite a bit during the process of both, I like to have run and I like to have written. It's that simple. I don't need "success" in either field for it to have any meaning.

So there you have it. Embrace your inner plodder.

* That's a joke. I'd read genre fiction over "literary" fiction any day of the week, and I write what I like to read. But I've learned my lesson about being in critique groups with literary fiction people. And poets.
** This is different from being a "plotter" as distinct from a "pantser", both terms being used when describing how much planning goes into a novel before it is written. In those term I'm usually somewhere toward the "plotter" side of the spectrum.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Digital Graffiti

Welcome to December, the beginning of cutout deer hunting season (according to the big dog who tried to take down a herd of them on a stranger's lawn last night)!

Behold the mighty hunter!

This is also the beginning of Holidailies, so I am planning to post an entry every day this month. (If it is 2020 and this is the last entry on the blog... well, I'll be in good company if my random trawling through the blogspot ranks is any indication.)

In addition to writing in this blog, I'm planning to continue to vandalize improve my workplace, this time digitally. If you remember, I swapped some of my own paintings in for the "art" that was on the walls and waited to see if anyone noticed. That was over five years ago. Those paintings are still on the wall (upstairs now) in the building. I don't even work in that building anymore.

Anyhow, within the last year the company set up an internal website so all the groups would have somewhere to put important communications. Use of the website has been pretty hit-or-miss -- in reality, if anyone posts anything they have to send out a mass email with the link to what they wrote, which sort of defeats the purpose, but whatever.

As I was clicking around I realized my boss had claimed a spot for our group back in April. It still has the standard "this is the page you will customize" landing page, so I know nobody is using it. Better yet, I have write access! I assume this means I have carte blanche to start posting blog entries. I figure as long as their tangentially work-related and I don't waste a bunch of time on them I probably won't get fired. And I'll amuse myself which is really the only reason I ever do anything. This will be the perfect place to make fun of all the engineers. (Nicely, of course, because I'm not really a terrible person.)

I'm taking bets on long it will take for anyone to notice.