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Monthly Archives: May 2013

two_mules

A close up of the eyes of a mule.

A mule walking towards the viewer across a field.

Last weekend, my sister and I took a trip to western Maryland. We stayed in a vacation house that was located on the property of a farm. Near the house, there were a couple of mules. One spent most of his time standing underneath a flowering tree. He looked sweet with pale pink petals over the back. The other one, whenever he saw us would come to check us out. I had the distinct feeling that he was a little bit bored and people coming and going were the big events of his day.

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First things first: Gimp.

As someone who’s used Adobe’s products for over a decade, I’ve been trying to make sense of what’s been going on with that company lately. Like many of their customers, I have a love-hate relationship with the company. Their products are not cheap. The first version of their Creative Suite that I bought was actually an old version because the computer I had at the time didn’t wasn’t sufficient to run the version that was most current. I remember searching around for an old copy. Even still, it felt like an indulgence, a very expensive toy, because I was not, nor was I ever, a professional graphic artist. I had already been using a stand alone copy of Illustrator for a few years at that point. When I received a digital camera as a gift, I was the first person I knew, outside of the person who had given me the camera, to have a digital camera. At that point, the Creative Suite, bundled with Photoshop, made sense, or at least I could justify spending the money. It came with Adobe’s website editing software, GoLive. I had a bit of fun learning how to make a web page. Eventually, Adobe acquired Macromedia and its products like Flash and Dreamweaver. GoLive, which I preferred to Dreamweaver, was discontinued. However, that didn’t matter much at first because I wasn’t a web designer and I continued to use that old version of the Adobe Creative Suite until that computer went belly up and I had to get a new one.

Generally, I get a new computer when the old one is too dead to repair. I go as long as I can between new machines, which is about a year or two longer than the average. I rarely buy a computer simply because I want something shiny and new.

It’s hard to explain my behavior in terms of the paradigms used by marketing departments. When I was in my mid-thirties, I dated a marketing executive for a time. He told me that he originally wanted to be an engineer, but was rejected by the engineering school because his grades and test scores were not high enough. Instead, he majored in business. He was exceedingly amused by the fact that he now told engineers what to do and made tons more money than they did. Needless to say, he didn’t increase my respect for marketing people. I have been in every category of the Diffusion of Innovations theory. The funniest part of that theory is the ascription of personality traits to what should be functional categories. So the early adopters are “younger in age, have a higher social status, have more financial lucidity, advanced education, and are more socially forward,” while laggards are “focused on “traditions”, likely to have lowest social status, lowest financial fluidity, be oldest of all other adopters, in contact with only family and close friends.” I have been both, sometimes in consecutive years.

I was among the first non-tech people I knew to have a personal computer at home, and the first woman by several years. Consequently, when I don’t like a new innovation, like that jumping paper clip that totally freaked me out, and I’m told that I should accept it because “it’s the future” and my only reason for not embracing it is that I’m “afraid of technology,” I am not convinced. Clearly the person who is saying these things has no clue what he or she is talking about. By making sweeping generalizations about my personality, which I know to be untrue because, after all, it’s my personality, the writer is demonstrating that he or she has no interest in facts or analysis and is posturing for some reason that is beyond my ability to understand. Some of the people I know who are the least interested in touch screens, the most skeptical of “the cloud”, dislike terribly Windows 8 and don’t engage much in “social networking” are tech people. They are not afraid of technology. Mindless consumerism, however, doesn’t appeal to them much.

When Windows 8 was not installing correctly on my computer a few weeks ago, I looked on the internet to see if anyone else had had the same problem and if there was a solution. Instead of finding a discussion of real problems I found article after article of psychic psychologists masquerading as tech writers that helpfully offered that people having problems with Windows 8 were just laggards afraid of the future. Do these people even realize how stupid they look when they write that crap? Hello? You’re a tech writer and you don’t understand “Windows 8 operating system crashes” is not a choice I made?

Finally, I built my new computer, yes, a desktop, installed Windows 7, installed Slackware Linux (yes, I’m old), and took out my three-year-old disks of Adobe’s Creative Suite and installed it on my new computer. Considering that I just spent a load of money on hardware as well as paying for both Windows 7 and Windows 8 (yes, I’m unhappy about that) I wasn’t about to spend money to upgrade to the next version of Creative Suite, at least not right away. However, I tend to plan big purchases ahead of time so I can save up or adjust spending in other areas if necessary, so I looked on Adobe’s website to find out what version they were up to. Everything was Creative Cloud, Creative Cloud, Creative Cloud, as if they had only one product. So, when Adobe announced last week that they were no longer offering their Creative Suite and now only selling their Creative Cloud, it came as no surprise to me. Their website had been reflecting that decision for a few days at least.

So what is this Creative Cloud? First of all, it’s loved by Wall Street and deceptively named. If that doesn’t raise your suspicions right there, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

First of all, it has relatively little to do with the “cloud.” Just the other day, a friend of mine, a programmer, editor at a technology magazine and all-around knowledgeable guy, writing about a different subject, said to me, “Most people don’t know what they mean when they talk about the cloud. Marketing people are the worst. They call things the cloud that have nothing to do with it but it sounds innovative.” He wasn’t talking about Adobe’s Creative Boondoggle, but he may as well have been.

In “cloud computing” most of the resources do not sit on the users’ computers. This WordPress blog that I maintain is a great example. I access the dashboard where I do most of the work of writing, organizing and posting through my browser. None of this resides physically on my computer. The text files and image files are all stored on a server that is maintained by WordPress.com. I access all of WordPress’s wonderful bells and whistles via the internet.

In contrast, Adobe’s Creative Clouding the Issue is comprised of core programs, the same programs you know and love to hate like Photoshop, that sit on your computer. So, you may reasonably ask, what’s the difference between Adobe’s Creative Suite and their new Creative… uh… uh… you know. Mainly, the difference is pricing. Instead of a one time cost, you will now pay on a monthly basis. Whereas the Creative Suite was last released in several different versions that catered to different groups, contained a different set of programs and  were priced accordingly, there will be only one level of subscription which costs $600 a year or $80 a month. Currently, you can buy an old version, Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium 5.5, on Amazon for $569.98 for the Mac version and use it until your computer conks out. Adobe maintains that the Creative Cluh… Cluh… Cluh… Thing will be less expensive than purchasing the current version of the Creative Suite Master Collection, their most expensive, most complete offering, and updating to newer versions regularly. Okay. But I didn’t do that. The Creative Suite Master Collection is currently available at Amazon for $2,149.75. When choosing which creative suite to purchase, I would try to decide which programs I would really use and choose accordingly. Now, if I was rich….

Hell, who are we fucking kidding. If I was rich…. If I was rich I would be the female goddamn Tony Stark. My computer wouldn’t be running Windows, or Linux for that matter, it would be running my very own operating system, you know, the one with the AI interface that gets my sense of humor. My “office” would look like the bridge to the Starship Enterprise. I wouldn’t be driving a cute little economy car, I’d have a Maserati. Yeah, I know I never go over the speed limit because I’m super-duper law-abiding, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have lots of plans for my spare cash, the spare cash that Adobe is eying so greedily.

Perhaps it was just bad timing for me to learn about this. As I’ve described else where on this blog, I just spent a lot of money putting together a computer. I went through a literal nightmare with Windows 8. I have so many thoughts racing around my head about all the garbage I’ve been reading, it’s hard to get it out in a coherent fashion. I’m just getting to something of a saturation point with hearing people proclaim, “It’s the future!” as if this is supposed to be a meaningful statement. It reminds me of when I was young, living in New York City and spending far too much time in bars and nightclubs. I never read fashion columns. I never read about what was “hip”, “cool” or “trendy,” because I knew that things were hip, cool or trendy because of me and people like me. The lifestyle journalists were reporting on our collective behavior. It’s stupid to do something because it’s cool. You do it because it’s fun, or you like it and, if enough people agree with you, lifestyle journalists will declare it a trend. So, when CEOs of tech companies declare something “the future,” they have it backwards. They get to offer products to the public, and we declare what the future is. Let’s also not forget that the future may very well be more than one thing. We have both motorcycles and eighteen wheel trucks, and vehicles of almost every conceivable size and shape in between.

As my mother likes to say, “That’s why there’s vanilla and chocolate.” However, reading tech news these days is like watching people proclaim “the future is chocolate!” It doesn’t seem to occur to them that some people will choose to not have ice cream. I last owned a television on which I could watch broadcast t.v. in 1998. I just didn’t watch it enough to replace it when it broke. Some people do opt for “none of the above.” More and more the web feels to me like t.v. with an order form attached, a future that I think would suit corporations just fine.

The future is the cloud. The future is mobile. The future is touch. The future is software as service. These are nothing but marketing slogans by hucksters with a product to sell. It may be a good product, or maybe not, but they’re still nothing but marketing slogans. I really can’t believe apparently functional adults take these statements seriously.

I’m apparently not alone in feeling uncomfortable about Adobe’s Creative Accounting. There’s actually a petition on Change.org objecting to Adobe’s new pricing scheme. I don’t expect any of these companies to “reverse” their decisions. After all, technology rarely, if ever, moves backwards. However, I think it will move forward in a different direction. Here’s the bad news for Adobe and Microsoft: I am your market. If you don’t please people like me, you’re in trouble.

Some final thoughts about where Adobe’s heading: Tossing up a word salad that makes Sarah Palin sound like Shakespeare, David Wadhwani of Adobe explained the company’s direction to Digital Arts magazine.

The way we do that isn’t necessarily to take what we’re selling now and make it cheaper and cheaper because I think there is an inherent value that what we’re creating gives creatives some of the new value we want. However, I think that there are decided opportunities that we can take some of the technology that we have now and surface them in different ways that are more affordable and more approachable to a broader set of customers. And so if you’re asking: am I interested in leveraging this new platform and the flexibility it gives us? Then the answer is absolutely yes.

“…there is an inherent value that what we’re creating gives creatives some of the new value we want….” What on earth does that even mean? What does it mean to “surface” something? Admittedly, I’m one of those stick in the mud people who can’t stand the word “gifting” when “giving” would work perfectly well. This puts me in mind of what Fred Vincy in Middlemarch calls “shopkeeper’s talk.”

It’s also important to note that Adobe has ventured into social networking and hardware. I can’t help wondering if they fancy themselves a total creative ecosystem.

Here’s some lists of alternative software:

LifeHacker: Build Your Own Adobe Creative Suite With Free and Cheap Software

Inconsequence: It’s time for a change: Adobe jumps the shark

I’ve used Gimp and like it a lot. If you don’t have to collaborate with other people who use Photoshop, I really recommend trying it. Inkscape, at least when I last tried it, doesn’t hole a candle to Illustrator. I tried Corel Draw a very, very long time ago and thought it was comparable to Illustrator, but it was so long ago I can’t vouch for it. Illustrator, not Photoshop, has been the main program tethering me to Adobe.

 

My mother and her friends grew up in the fifties. They went to college, married young and had two kids each. Of the eight of us, my sister was the oldest. Then came D, the only boy. There were four of us who were approximately the same age, K, D’s sister, T, L and me. J brought up the rear. I like all of these people, but somehow we just never became close. Several times, however, I made a stab at a closer friendship with T and K.

One weekend I stayed at T’s house. Their house was what is called a Cape Cod style, a free-standing suburban house with a fairly compact layout. The second story was under the eaves with a sloping ceiling and dormer windows. It was long and narrow and ran the length of the house. T’s bedroom was at one end her younger sister’s bedroom was at the other with a bathroom they shared in between. The two bedrooms were reached by a staircase that was tucked away behind a door, so the second floor felt like a children’s hideaway. Their mother gave them a slightly freer hand in decorating their rooms that most suburban mothers did and each room reflected its occupant’s taste.

T’s room had ruffled curtains and walls painted a soft pink. On the carpet, lying in the middle of the room as if she had just finished reading it earlier that day, was a book. I looked at the title, My Darling, My Hamburger. That had to be one of the stupidest titles I’d seen in a long time and I didn’t hesitate to say so.

“Yeah, but it’s actually a really good book. Do you want to borrow it?”

I picked up and flipped it open. “Yeah, okay. If you say it’s good.”

T excused herself for a moment and headed to the door. On the side of the door facing into the room was a full length mirror. As T approached it, she paused for a second and regarded her reflection. Suddenly she stuck out her tongue and made an angry face.

“Why did you do that?”

“I hate the way I look,” she said matter-of-factly and sauntered out of the room.

After the door clicked shut, I approached the mirror and looked at my own reflection. I made a similar ugly face to see what it felt like. It felt silly. Then I looked at myself again. It hadn’t occurred to me to have an opinion about my face one way or another. Until then, I just accepted it for what it was neither thinking it was pretty nor ugly. My eyes were brown and my hair was brown. I knew enough about the culture’s standards of beauty to know that these were not the preferred colors, but I didn’t dislike them on other people and didn’t attach much meaning to it. I turned away from the mirror, sat down on the rug and opened the book.

In those days, I could inhale a young adult book and there was no need to borrow it since I managed to finish it before leaving. It was, at least in my memory, a dreadful book. It was, very palpably, intended for teenage girls a few years older than I was at that time. Of course, no one reads the books intended for their age group. They read the books meant for kids a few years older. By the time you’re twelve, and adults idea of appropriate entertainment for you seems juvenile. At least, that’s how it was in those days. Kids seem to stay kids longer these days.

In the book, there was a good girl and a bad girl. The good girl is insecure. The bad girl is attractive and has boyfriends. The bad girl gets pregnant and has an abortion, which of course has complications. Sexuality needs to punished. I wasn’t very old, yet I could see through the lesson I was supposed to learn from the book. These were the roles offered to young women, but I didn’t want to be either girl. Nor did I want to be like T, sticking my tongue out at my reflection in the mirror.

My sister stopped by and while she was here she asked me to show her how the drawing program works, so I did this quick little doodle.Just a doodle of a face. It’s pretty simple. I use a Wacom tablet and ArtWeaver. ArtWeaver has both a free and paid version. The free version works pretty well. At 29 €, the paid version isn’t a bad deal either.

Scarlet Tanager

Lately, I’ve given up on the possibility of meeting anyone who can actually tolerate me, but for a decade, starting from the age of thirty five, I had profiles up on dating sites. Whenever I’d fill out those profiles, I’d feel really self-conscious about my hobbies and interests, all solitary and sedentary. So, I’d add hiking. Now, my idea of hiking is essentially a long walk. If it requires buying equipment at REI or EMS, well call the EMT because I’m about to start hyperventilating. But I do like a nice walk in the woods, so in order to not sound like a lump on a log, I put down hiking as an interest on dating sites.

About seven years ago, through one of those dating sites, I met a boyfriend who was a serious birder. This means waking up at the crack of dawn to go tramping through a swamp until sunset. Sorry folks, coming home and checking each other for ticks is not my idea of foreplay. I want lunch. I like to take a break and sit once every four or five hours. This is why I call myself a lazy birder. I’m probably an embarrassment to real birders like my ex-boyfriend.

Here’s my list from our weekend trip to western Maryland. New birds are in bold.

  • Northern Cardinal (we saw a male feeding a female, which is a courtship gesture)
  • White Crowned Sparrow
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Black Capped Chickadee
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Goldfinch
  • Tufted Titmous
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Purple Finch
  • Song Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Green Heron
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Killdeer
  • Wild Turkey
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • American Robin
  • Yellow Rumped Warbler

And, after we left the state park and headed off to dinner, a Pileated Woodpecker!

Photos for those who are interested Read More

Your faithful blogger here. I’ve gone to the wilds of North America to bring back photos. There is no internet connection where I’m staying. I’m currently sitting in front of a restaurant in another town where I was able to get some cell phone reception. I don’t dare try anything fancy like pictures. Will post photos when I return to civilization.

In the meantime, here are some links:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2013/05/07/yes-joseph-harker-white-society-really-is-implicated-in-sexual-abuse/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/08/christian-home-schooling-dark-side

http://homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/homeschool-confidential-a-series-part-one/

Not me. The Jay.A Blue Jay in a treel

I’ve mentioned it elsewhere before, but since I put up posts on quite a few different subjects, I don’t know if there are many people who read the majority of them, so pardon me if I repeat myself. About two summers ago, I started feeding a chipmunk out of my hand, mainly because it amused me that he had gotten so friendly. Eventually, the squirrels got in on the action. Meanwhile, there had been this Blue Jay that hung around watching. If a stray peanut was missed by a squirrel, he’d swoop down and get it. He especially seems to love peanuts. (unsalted only)

A Blue Jay taking off with a peanut in its beak.

Not being very original with names, I call him “Blue.”

The black markings that encircle the Blue Jay’s head and face are unique to each bird. Researchers think that they use these markings to identify one another. We have several Blue Jays that come near the bird feeder, but I have difficulty telling them apart by their markings if they’re not sitting side by side. However, I suspect it’s the same Jay that comes when I call the squirrels.

The neighbors must wonder why they keep finding peanuts in their flower beds.

Pardon me folks for an intemperate rant, but it’s just about all I can think of at the moment. This is trivial, I know. Somewhere in the world people are experiencing true suffering, but still, I’m mad and I can’t concentrate on anything else. Before I can describe the event which has put me in my current, livid state, I need to give you a bit of background.

Several years ago, I moved to Baltimore. For a time I lived with my sister while I looked for a more permanent place. The summer before last I found one. It was a beautiful apartment in a beautiful building in an okay area. Plus, I could afford it, which was no small thing. It is by far the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in. It even has a pool. What it doesn’t have, however, is acceptable internet connections. You see, here in the U.S., in most cities, our internet is provided by poorly regulated monopolies who are accountable to no one. As monopolies, they don’t give two hoots about their customers and in our libertarian inspired business culture, the government does little to regulate them. They take your cash and give you as little as they can get away with. The monopoly in my particular area is Comcast. I paid for one of their most expensive internet only plans, because I don’t watch t.v. and I don’t have a landline. From them, I received speeds so low I couldn’t connect to SpeedTest.net in order to test them. It would take about five minutes to load a page of plain text. I know when I said this people thought I was exaggerating. I had my sister come over and tried to open a page that was  mostly text. She sat and watched the clock with me. Trust me, you don’t need a stop watch. Whether it was 4 min. 55 sec. or 5 min. 5 sec. hardly mattered. It was, for all intents and purposes, not functional as a connection. We called customer service a couple of times and got no satisfaction.

Without disconnecting that service, I then signed up for a plan with Verizon to have an internet connection via a mobile hotspot. I know this is supposed to be an expensive way of connecting to the internet, but what choice do I have? I kept the Comcast connection because, while painfully slow, it was rarely entirely down. The mobile connection is variable. The fastest speeds are slower than the fastest speeds promised by Comcast, but at least I see them from time to time. Generally, it’s better. However, the device itself is flaky. It stops working for a day, then I get a notice that it needs a firmware update. That these things have happened in conjunction several times makes me think they’re related. Then, for a while, that device was not working, nor was my Comcast connection working. My sister came over here and loaned me her Sprint wireless internet device, which I’m using right now. I’ve had it for a couple of weeks and every time I say, “Hey, let me give this back to you,” one of the other two connections go down. So, right now I have three means of connecting to the internet from three different companies and I still can’t get reliable service.

So, last night, I was following one of the Maya 3D tutorials online when my Verizon connection, which I had been using, goes down. I get up to take a look at it. The indicator led is a solid red. I try turning the device off. It does not respond. I used my sister’s connection, which I really ought to give back to her one day, for the rest of the evening. Two hours later, when I went to bed, it was still lit up red. When I woke up this morning, the led was blinking green again like everything was normal.

According to an article in the New Republic:

For a while, Verizon challenged Comcast and Time Warner’s Internet supremacy by offering fiber-optic connections. Fiber, which has been widely adopted in Europe and Asia, provides speeds and capacities that cable simply can’t match. But then Verizon stopped extending its fiber network, and, with the acquiescence of Obama’s FCC, reached an agreement with Comcast and Time Warner to buy valuable segments of the wireless spectrum and to jointly market their products. The effect was drastically curtailed competition in both wired and wireless Internet.

Left to their own devices, the big telecom firms have transformed high-speed Internet into “an expensive luxury reserved for the rich,” Crawford writes. A third of Americans don’t have high-speed Internet, many because it’s not available where they live or because they think it’s too expensive. Those who can afford it get service that is pricier and slower than in much of Western Europe and Asia. Last year, Americans paid Comcast a monthly average of $153 for television, telephone, and Internet. According to a New America Foundation study, Parisians paid as little as $34.47 a month for the same bundled services, with Internet speeds five to 20 times faster than Comcast.

As if I needed one more reason to want to move to Paris. Anyway, I have the cold comfort of knowing I’m not alone in my misery.

I went online today to research if there are any other ways of connecting to the internet. There are not. Whenever I read about cloud service, hell, Adobe is even trying to push a cloud version of their Creative Suite, I wonder what dream world the heads of tech companies are living in. Meanwhile, what I want most from WordPress is a little application, a little like the dashboard, that will sit on my desktop and I can compose my blog entries even when my internet is down and upload them when that little window of opportunity comes around. For now, I write them in Notepad or Notepadd++ and copy and past them in, but then I have to futz with the formatting. I wonder where all those people who think the cloud is the future live. Paris, apparently.

Here’s a video of Susan Crawford speaking about the subject. Start it at about the 8 minute mark because it’s preceded by an unusually long and boring, although typically academic, introduction.