20 December 2013

Kion Mi Faras?

I had an idea for a Twitter project a few days ago, going off what I'd written about previously about people publishing fiction as tweets. It's almost done as far as the initial phase goes: the plot is finalized and there's really only one sentence (tweet) keeping the text from being finalized. I'd then thought to have a cover image, basically a tweet with an illustration. I'd pondered the idea of mixing images with the text, but it seemed to throw off the structure, hence downsizing it to a cover. This is where things started going a bit sour. 

This has not been a great few months for me, going back to the early weeks of September. It hasn't been any one particular thing, or even a culmination of small moments of unpleasantness gathering up. At least, it doesn't seem like either of those. It's something more deep-seated, less the goings-on around me and more how I find myself reacting to it. It's hard to follow, I admit (and you're only reading about it). The only way I can really describe it is that it's like how I felt in those months after I graduated college. I'd come home from work, eat dinner, watch some videos or play some games, do a little housework, maybe call some people, and then I'd get in my car and go to the library near where I lived to check my messages and do some browsing. It wasn't that I couldn't afford internet at home; it was something more Calvinistic, making it a small hassle I had to get out of the house for. Anyway, I'd get done updating a journal or answering e-mails or browsing, get my jacket on, and go back to my car. 
What would happen then is that I would be sitting there, in my car, on a quiet street at night, keys still in my pocket, and feeling like I was going to break down sobbing any minute. It was all there, the lump in the back of the throat, the tears welling up in the eyes, the icky feeling in the pit of the stomach, every breath feeling like it was going to be the one to let out the first whimper, and this colossal feeling of sadness. 
It never really went all the way, and that was always the part I found most frustrating. It was like these feelings were rising to the surface, and all I had to do was let them out, give them the floor to say what they wanted to say. I didn't want to avoid it or suppress it or avert it. On the contrary, I wanted to have a good cry. It sounds masochistic, but I wanted to have that moment of dejection. I wanted to let myself feel like a total failure and hit that rockiest of rock bottoms because then at least I could have somewhere to go. I'd take those moments to feel that way, so I could pick myself up and say, "Okay, had that moment. Let's carry on." Sure, it may come back, but I'll take visits over a stay, so to speak. 
I could have gone on listing the events that may have been causing those feelings to build, but at the time and even looking back, there's this kind of disconnect in the causality. 
Another, more obvious manifestation of these fits of, let's just say it, depression would happen when I would draw in one of my sketchbooks. Every so many pages, I'd find myself writing this almost manic, self-defeating note, practically screaming, "Why do I bother?" and, "I'm never getting anywhere with this!" and especially, "I'm not improving." Like I said, though, I'd have that moment, and then carry on. I'd still draw, I'd still work on art projects, that was never going to change. 

Now, though, I think it's starting to. I'm still producing content, but anything beyond scribbles or rough notes not only feels arduous and daunting, but actually oppressive, even painful. It feels like a bad idea, and I should never think that. 

Going back to the Twitter story project, after dismissing the alternating image posts and considering a cover prefacing the narrative, I got an idea to make an actual book of it. The story would still go live as these tweet posts (which only number five), but then they would be compiled into a PDF with each one getting its own page and serving as a caption to an illustration. The Twitter posts would be the free version while the illustrated (possibly expanded) edition would be sold on Lulu. I'd effectively eat my cake and have it too, still do this fun project for kicks and have it be part of something bigger and more serious. 

Why the Hell should I do any of that? 

Why am I creating so much work for myself that I don't even feel I can do? What will I have at the end of the day? Will it be worth the time and effort? Can I do this at all? Should I even be talking about this? All I'm doing is building it up at worst and wasting my time at best. Time doing what? I have no clue, and that's the problem all over again. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know why I'm bothering. I don't know why I'm trying. I don't know what any of this is going to mean. Is this genuinely being productive? Am I pushing myself too hard to take my work to the next level? Am I not doing enough to push myself? How do I bounce back from this? 

What am I doing? 

....

Good night, and good luck. 

15 December 2013

Like a Villain

Here's an example of what a colossal asshole I can be. At least, that's probably what it looks like to this person whom we'll call Lando for no particular reason. 

I've been selling things on eBay lately in order to finance some hardware upgrades I'd like for a web production. The sales have all gone very well, to the point that I can be a bit more shrewd in my asking prices. In general, I try to be that salesman who would much rather make a sale than hold out for a price I may well be waiting the rest of my life for (Bird in the hand/two in the bush, you get the idea). I also have a background working in customer service for a cell carrier. What this means is that while I do genuinely love helping people, I also know when people are frankly just being entitled little shits who want a cookie for getting to class on time. 
Someday, boys and girls, I'll tell you all the full story of the car salesman who begged and begged me to set aside a Playstation 2 for him, even though there was no way for our store to set up, maintain, or honor any sort of waiting list, his firm and repeated belief that being "desperate" and saying so will generate big, blue, Sony-branded boxes out of the ether itself. I won't bother telling you the bribe he offered me or how many times he told me he was desperate before making me an offer. To be fair, though, it was a substantially better offer than the one I got from this eBayer. 
I get a message asking me about the item, prefaced by a little anecdote about how it's for his kids for Christmas, and followed by an offer to end the sale early for him. I expected someone would make an offer as my timing was admittedly not real conducive to eBay's tradewinds. Christmas is ten days away, and there's at least 4 days left on the auction, so of course you'd want it in a timely fashion. 

A few quick facts about this auction before moving forward: The item has a starting price and a Buy-It-Now option for more. Shipping is not included and it has (at the time of this writing) two watchers. Not exactly lighting up the charts, but it's exactly the minimum number of people needed to start a last-minute bidding war, a race to see who can place a bid closest to the end time in order to block everyone else without breaking the bank. Lando basically didn't want to bother with this tango, yet felt the Buy-It-Now price was a little out of his price range. This is totally fair, and like I said, I'm not above meeting someone halfway on a price to make a sale. 

The offer was for the starting price. 

Strike one: Not even close to halfway. In fact, it's not any distance from the start. I don't really get mad. It's an honest question, one to test the waters, size up the seller. Hell, the strike only sticks if the issue is pushed. Maybe he thinks he's doing me a favor. Who knows, maybe he meant to put something else down instead of the starting price. I err on the side of caution, answer his question, but ignore the offer. It seems the politest way to decline without making an issue of how really shortsighted the offer is. I mean, it's an auction, and you can see the other watchers (and not every watcher makes their presence known). 

Next message thanks me for the answer, but asks what I think of the offer. 

Strike two: pushing the issue. I mean, at least be sporting about this. Sure, there weren't any bids yet and I wouldn't really have been penalized for ending the auction early, but if you're going to try and play a stratagem, try and think of one that gives you an ADVANTAGE in the competition. This is not making me an offer. I get impatient, but I'm still giving the benefit of the doubt they mean well. I reply, explaining that this auction has two watchers and it wouldn't be fair to them if I ended it early, especially if it's only for the starting price, and that the Buy-It-Now option is the only way it's ending early. 

"I am one of the watchers." 

Strike three: Now, you're insulting me. At first, I'd started to write back, "But not both of them." followed by an explanation of how one is a very different number than two. However, I took a deep breath and responded with frank civility, "Nonetheless, it is unfair to any other prospective buyer to close the sale early as is with the offer being only the opening bid. You'll have to do better than that." Like I said, if you're going to try and make a backroom deal, don't bargain with an empty hand. This is entitlement, pure and simple. Moreover, it's condescending. Lando is working under the premise that 1) I'm desperate to make a sale (I'm not), and 2) he thinks so little of everyone else who may be interested that he doesn't put any effort into distinguishing himself. This is like a student getting up during a test and asking the teacher if he can see the answer sheet, expecting to receive it entirely on the power that he's the only one who had the gall to ask in the first place. If you want an exception made, you've got to prove yourself exceptional. I have no patience for people who don't get this. I'm not above charity or compassion, but in the words of a wise man, "God only helps those who help themselves." Call me a cold bastard if you like, but when I make exceptions for people, it's because I think they're worth it. 

So, what do I do? I go into the auction's page and raise the starting and buyout prices by five dollars. I get a message from Lando inside of ten minutes. 

"You raised the price?"

I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further. 

14 December 2013

Never Knew It Was That Bad

I tend to go on these cookie-baking benders around this time of year. It goes back to this really crummy place I lived in for far too long where the best way to keep it any reasonable temperature in the winter was to use the oven as often as possible. Strangely, it was very efficient, surprisingly cost-effective, and you got cookies out of the deal. 

This year, I'm going to be doing something a little special. My roommate's nephew has a little girl with a peanut allergy. In fact, I think it's nuts in general. I'm not sure how severe it is in terms of triggering it, but given that the reaction is severe enough to warrant the use of an epipen, the matter's academic. You don't take chances, is the point. 

When my roommate was babysitting her once, she mentioned their having soynut butter in the house. I'd always seen jars of the stuff when I go grocery shopping, and I decided to pick a jar up to see what it was like. For starters, it' kind of ridiculous how expensive this stuff is. Then again, when I get peanut butter, I tend to go for the pricey stuff anyways, quality vs. quantity and all that. As for the soynut butter, I had it with some apples, and it was really good, very distinct, but ultimately as satisfying as peanut butter. 

I thought back on my little venture a few days ago when making some sugar cookies. I'd made peanut butter cookies a few times before, and it hardly seemed unreasonable to substitute the key ingredient. So, the little sweetheart is going to be getting soynut butter cookies as a present: 

I'm not sure how well this will work out, but it's a chance I'm more than willing to take. It should be fine. The only thing hiccup in the plan thus far is that, as cookies go, the flavor may be a bit bland. That's because of a rather startling revelation I got today when getting ingredients. As far as I know, there's only one brand of soynut butter, so that was the easy part. I had coupons for Market Pantry flour and sugar, so there was that choice. Finally, I went to get some white chocolate morsels. I figured that since the flour and sugar were a bit on the cheap side (they don't really need to be otherwise), I'd make up for it by pulling out all the stops when it came to the chips. I found a bag of Ghiardelli "gourmet" morsels and thought, "Aw, Hell yeah!" 

Then I read the back of the bag. 

Peanut/Tree nut warning. 

Okay, peanuts, chocolate, two great tastes that taste great--yeah, true, but that doesn't mean they're joined at the damned hip. After standing dumbfounded in the aisle for what felt like an hour, I thought, "Well, it's Ghiardelli, they're probably using exotic ingredients and/or are too niche to care about nut allergies." I figured I'd have better luck with Toll House; they're more well-known and would probably be the most concerned with something like that. 

Another nut warning. 

Granted, this was a little less ambiguous than the one for Ghiardelli by specifying that these morsels were made on equipment used to process peanuts, but almost anyone with a nut allergy will tell you that's a hair barely worth splitting. Feeling very defeated, I put the Toll House morsels back, rummaged through a few other varieties like milk chocolate or mint to no avail, and finally picked up a generic-branded bag of white chocolate morsels. 

There was no nut warning. 

At first, I think, "Score!" but let's put this in perspective. Ghiardelli and Toll House apparently cannot make any sort of chocolate chip without getting peanuts into the mix somehow, so what are these store brands doing different? Also, if you know anything about how branding works, the only difference between a big name and a no name is often quality control. What doesn't make the cut for the big guys is savings for the little guys to pass on to the less discerning customer. In other words, even if they don't come from the same place (another common occurrence in branding), you still get what you pay for, and if paying more can't even afford the peace of mind that a little girl's throat will not close up from eating your product, again, it's not a risk worth taking. Maybe I'm missing something, maybe I'm overthinking this, but should it really be this hard to keep the damn nuts out of our other food products? 

In any case, I just hope they turn out well, and that she ends up liking them. 

08 December 2013

Stumblrbum's Photo Finish

Tumblr's attempts to make posting photos via their mobile app have more or less all gone to pot. At least, that's been my experience of late. To be fair, it's good that they're trying to make it so you can post sets of photos instead of one at a time. Unfortunately, this simply doesn't work efficiently enough, and when your update is less efficient than spamming single photo posts, you really need to rethink your design schemes.

Recap: it used to be that after I took a photo, I could go into the "share" menu and select "Tumblr" from a list of sites. This would take me to a menu within Tumblr's mobile app to create a photo post, complete with tags and tweet settings. It was all very handy apart from not being able to post photosets.

Now, it's completely reversed. I have to go into Tumblr, select the photo post option, and then be taken to a menu where I can pick the photo from my gallery via thumbnails (more on that later) or go into my camera and take a new photo then. First problem, apart from this being very tedious and rather greedy on Tumblr's part by making "timed exclusives" of my photos, is that I can't access all of my camera's options, like exposure and effects filters. Couple that with the fact that I now have to open one application and make at least two selections in order to open another app which otherwise can start up almost instantly, and this is a really bad start. Second, I noticed that the photos I posted this way had a kind of checker board artifact pattern over them, like an old TV with the RCA cable coming loose. When your 21st century digital imaging system looks like a CRT monitor with flimsy composite connections by default, something's gone fundamentally wrong somewhere very far back in your process.

When something works just fine before an update, that's not a hardware failure, that's a limitation. What makes it really awful is that my phone is middle-of-the-road as far as tech specs go, so your update has potentially cut off about two-thirds of your users. Hell, I've heard from people with better phones than mine that they can't post photos at all, now or before.

Now, I have a good idea what your two cents on the issue is, "Look, you're overthinking this. Just do what you did before. Take the photo, then go into the app and post it then. You said yourself you can see your gallery as a grid of thumbnails to choose from."

Problem the third: Not every photo shows up in that grid, and which ones do and don't at any time is completely random.

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Burns and Smithers walk through layer-upon-layer of security checks to get to a master kill switch for the power plant, only to find that said room has a rickety screen door that's nearly fallen off its hinges as another entrance? At least there you get to the same room and everything is there that should be because the console is bolted to the floor. There are more reliable ways to get to Narnia than my own damn photos. I'm really not kidding when I say that certain photos I take will not show up in this menu until days later, if at all. This app is in my phone. It literally has access to all my files on that device. I have to give it permission to do this when first installed. It's designed to be invasive, and it can't even do that. When FOX NEWS has a more complete picture of a story than you, it's time to rethink every decision in your life, ever, and when you've reduced me to making FOX NEWS jokes to analogize your incompetence, then you've really screwed up.

Speaking of grabbing at straws and not getting the full picture, today was kinda the last straw. I'm sitting in a Steak 'n' Shake, drinking coffee, eating a cinnamon roll, and making sketches in a notebook, as I'm wont to do at least once a week. Another part of this ritual is taking a photo of my setup, a spontaneous still life. Think of it as a kind of creative litmus test; if I can make coffee and pastry look interesting, I must be doing something right. Anyway, I go into Tumblr to post the photo, going through the menu to get to the camera app that otherwise starts up instantly and taking the photo. Normally, after all that, I get the menu where I can add a caption, tags, and all that other stuff before posting fairly quickly to my dashboard. This time, however, I get an error message that it could not save my photo and to try again later.

This is the equivalent of taking the photo out of my hands, throwing it in the cluttered mess of other photos which haven't simply gone missing, and saying, "Maybe it'll show up later."

The sole redeeming factor in this debacle is that while Tumblr lost my photo, my phone didn't. I could see it in my gallery right away (my gallery, not Tumblr's slapdash interpretation of it) and now, several hours later and using the full version of Tumblr, I can post it here by way of my DropBox, which the photo was auto-saved to within minutes of being taken.



And here's another I took without using Tumblr's increasingly lackluster interface (notice the effects filter):



So, what does this mean? Well, it simply means that my more spontaneous uploads of photos will be posted to Twitter instead of Tumblr (and then Twitter because of auto-share). If I end up taking a lot of photos of something, like stages of a cooking project or something, I'll post them here as a set. Granted, it's entirely possible Tumblr will fix this issue in future updates. However, given that it's made two since I started having this problem, I'm not optimistic anymore. At least now, though, it doesn't crash when I try to read notes on posts. 

03 December 2013

Sharing is Caring

About what exactly, I have no idea.