Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I don't usually wax political but...

The President is going to go on tv again today in another attempt to push his Wall Street bailout plan. Please, we already know what he wants to do. Obviously the nation has a major problem with it. Bush didn't get what he wanted, so he's going to go on tv again so he can harangue the nation into accepting what he wants, so we in turn will cajole Congress. It's so typical of the protect-the-rich attitude Bush's administration is famous for. Maybe, if the government had cracked down on the out-of-control increases to home loan interest rates before they got out of control, we wouldn't be in this mess. Perhaps if the lenders we're expected to bail out had lowered their interest rates as more and more of their customers went into bankruptcy and foreclosure, we wouldn't have this problem. These lenders are sitting back while Bush fights their battle, knowing full well they are the ones responsible.

Switching gears: I'm still trying to finish reading Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I keep picturing Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig as I read. I have lots of assignments due by the end of this week so I won't get to it until Monday, if then. I also have 1.5 fingerless gloves knitted. I need to finish that as well.

I'm still utterly enchanted by Facebook!

It's raining cats and dogs right now.

I need some chocolate pudding.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My Life: A trail of abandonded websites.

I'll start with a quick follow-up to two issues I've been blogging about this semester: the demise of my iMac and my annoyance at the liberties retailers take with my email address. I mentioned earlier that I was so angry at Apple's refusal to service its older-model computers that I was tempted to fire off an email blasting their lack of regard for long-time customers. Apple headed me off by sending an email to inquire whether or not my visit to the Genius Bar was satisfactory. Here was my chance. I politely made my opinions known, and checked off that I did not want a follow-up phone call to discuss my experience. I generally expected a half-hearted and ultimately meaningless email to follow, something along the lines of "we're sorry you were not entirely satisfied, yada yada yada." What I received this week was an email from Apple advertising "iMac: the perfect desktop computer for your home." Right. Because a) I gave the Apple store my email address for the purpose of confirming an appointment, and b) they now know I need a new computer...With that, I'll lay this subject to rest.

This week's assignment is the World Wide Web itself! I'm currently working on my personal website--the first one I've created in years. I remember how excited I was when I first went online way back in 1993. There were thousands of websites, or, as most individuals called their personal website back then, homepages, to browse through. I was desperate to join in and build a homepage of my own. But first, I needed to decide on a subject. I needed to find my "thing." I joined Geocities early on, delighted with their little virtual "neighborhoods" that would host a user's web address. After much consideration I decided to go with a Riot Grrl theme. Thus, Grrlzine was born. Armed with an HTML guide in one hand and a web graphics book in the other, I put together what I considered to be a pretty snazzy--and snarky--website. And I broke all the rules regarding good web design in the process. Animated GIFs? Check. Busy and confusing backgrounds? Check. Haphazard image placement? Check. If that obnoxious dancing baby animation had been around in 1993 I probably would have included it. In the meantime, a tiled photograph of Diana Rigg as her Avengers character Emma Peel--rendered in hot pink and black contrast in Photoshop--would have to do. I updated Grrlzine slavishly for a few months until it was brought to my attention that another woman was publishing an actual paper zine called Grrlzine--and had been for quite some time. She got there first, and she was way cooler than me. Undaunted, I switched tactics and launched Avenue A soon afterward. My new "thing" would be a NYC-centric art and pop-culture guide. I was way out of my element. Apart from a virtual art gallery featuring my artwork and photos, and a lame list of my favorite shops and restaurants in NYC, there wasn't much content. Eventually I lost interest, and gave up on contributing to the internet. Sure, millions of other people with nothing interesting or important to contribute continued to contribute, and that's one of the pros as well as one of the cons of the internet, but for me, well, I simply gave up.

These days I prefer the quick-edit instant satisfaction of the blog's format. I'll discuss my blogging habits later on in the semester. For now, I've dragged out the HTML guide (thank you Visual Quickstart Guides!) as I immerse myself in yet another crash course in coding.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Hey, guess what people? I'm now a part-owner of a multi-million dollar failure of a financing company! But I can't keep track of which one I own. AIG? Lehman Brothers? I forget. I, along with all of you, get to bail out the rich greedy b*****ds who have enormous mansions, pensions and bank accounts by taking on the bad debt they accrued by constantly raising the adjustable interest rate on home mortgages. All because I'm an American taxpayer. Whatever. Just put it on my tab, along with the war in Iraq.

In order to supplement a class assignment I spent a lot of time this week perusing the mind-boggling variety of Yahoo Groups. Before I began this class, I belonged to one, count it, one Yahoo group run by a local clothing and accessory store. I like getting updates on their sales and their cool evening events such as art shows and DJ parties. I still belong to only one Yahoo Group because, frankly, I get enough notices in my email inbox already, ranging from yarn sales to fabric sales to a fitness center begging me to rejoin. The latter is particularly annoying, but it illustrates why I used my Yahoo email in the first place: to keep the utter CRAP away from my real email address. I use Yahoo for a variety of functions: blog-generated email, email from retailers and e-tailers, the Yellow Pages, and internet radio. Anything is possible on Yahoo, yet I never use it for its original purpose: that of a search engine. In the early 1990s, in those heady days when I eagerly explored the vast network known as the internet, I flipped between Yahoo, Lycos and a third search engine whose name I can't even remember. Yahoo quickly became my search engine of choice. This lasted through to the year 2000 when a young upstart by the name of Google came along. I first heard of Google in a USAToday article describing a new trend in which people were "googling" blind dates before the first meeting to see what information came up. I've been in love ever since.

I searched the Yahoo Groups for quite a while this week. While I'm tempted to join a Harry Potter knit-along in which every participant is knitting the Ron Weasley giant block-letter initial sweater, I ultimately decided I didn't have the time, or the inclination to keep up with various knitters all over the world, kindred spirits though we may be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Wave makes me sad.

Thanks to internet radio stations like Pandora and Yahoo I can enjoy a trip down memory lane by tuning into my favorite music from the '80s. Neon accessories, rubber bracelets and spikey hair may be a thing of the past, but thanks to internet radio, I can hear Boy George asking "Do You Really Want to Hold Me?" or Devo exhorting us to "Whip It" at any given hour of the day. This is a good thing. Music fans anywhere can choose from a virtually unlimited list of genres and create their own playlists and stations. Thanks to the all-encompassing, cross-media capabilities of the internet, these stations link to band biographies, similar artists for fans to check out, and, most importantly, links through which customers can purchase their favorite music. No matter how bizarre, old, or obscure, if it's included on an internet radio station, it's been made available to purchase. This is also a good thing! For years I have been searching for the original 7"single version of an obscure new wave song "Nowhere Girl" by an equally obscure British new wave band called B-Movie. Long out of print, my only option was to scour used record stores and Ebay in hopes of scoring a less-than-pristine vinyl copy, or to buy an entire compilation album that may or may not contain other songs I like. The soundtrack to the film 200 Cigarettes has the original version, and is not a bad album altogether, but the film I relied on to relive the glory days of new wave so disappointed me that I refuse to buy its soundtrack! Any movie in which Casey Affleck and Courtney Love are the couple you're supposed to be rooting for can't be good. But I digress.

I was in high school during new wave's heyday of 1980-1984. When my high school glory days came to an end, so, did new wave's. The terms "Alternative" and "Modern Rock" sprang up to describe the slightly left-of-center rock music. Thanks to the internet, I have created my own New Wave station, chock full of the music of my youth, with its gloriously off-kilter aesthetic. My station includes "Nowhere Girl" in its original synth-heavy glory, as well as a host of other songs that meant a lot to me when I was growing up. When Pandora.com played this song, it was a good twenty years or so since I'd heard the original version in its entirety.As soon as I hear the synthesized opening bars of "Nowhere Girl" I'm immediately transported to the bedroom in the house in which I grew up. I spent a lot of evenings sitting in my beanbag chair listening to the only new wave station in the NYC tri-state area. It was great to hear this long-lost musical gem again, but I had a rather unanticipated reaction when I heard it: I teared up! Yup, I got all verklempt as soon as I heard it. The point of my story? Thanks to internet radio, I've discovered just how much the nostalgia I feel for my teenage years can get to me. These days I find myself older, slightly wiser, and still trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up. New wave transports me back to a time in which I had very few worries, a time in which I was certain things would be different when I was older. Hearing my favorite songs these days reminds me of the hope and certainty I felt as a 14-year-old looking to the future.
It's not the up-tempo songs that make me sad, though it's great to hear them as well. Among the dozens of fly-by-night, one-hit-wonders the new wave era spawned, a lot of good music made its way over here from across the pond, even if the American audiences generally didn't appreciate it. "Oblivion," "The Bugle Sounds Again," anything from Aztec Camera's High Land Hard Rain album still makes me somewhat emotional. This album was a Christmas gift from my mom in 1984. I listened to it for two months straight through Christmas break and into the second semester of my freshman year of college before It hit the fan, so to speak. My parents' divorce and various related issues clouded the rest of my college years and changed my life irrevocably. This album reminds me of the last carefree days before things got ugly. "Wishful Thinking" by China Crisis, with its gentle orchestral qualities does the same thing. The Bongos, vintage Elvis Costello, Squeeze, all these bands take me back to my high school and early college days, and that makes me a little sad becasue as adults, we all, to varying degrees, wish we could see things the way we did when we were younger.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

E-mail: How Much Is Too Much?

In the November 14, 2007 issue of Slate Chad Lorenz announced the death of e-mail. He has obviously never shopped at Bath and Body Works. I gave this store my e-mail address when they told me they would occasionally email coupons throughout the year. That was two weeks ago. I've received an e-mail from them literally every other day since August 28. They e-mailed me twice in one day on September 3rd. If e-mail is truly on its way out as Lorenz suggests, no one told the promotion and sales department at Bath and Body Works. Lorenz's position on e-mail, along with this week's other articles and discussions really made me stop and think about a form of communication that we all take for granted by now. Our study of e-mail made me stop and think, for the first time, about how much e-mail I receive from places where I've shopped, both in-store and online. It finally dawned on me: if Igive someone else permission to e-mail me, just how far does that permission extend? How much is too much?

Here is a sample of some of the e-mail titles in my Inbox this week:

Bath and Body Works new Black Amythest Fragrance is here!
Find the car you've been looking for!
Bath and Body Works Free Aromatherapy Offer Inside!
Best suprise are in bedroom (sic)
and finally,
Four Goats and a hank of cashmere

The last title isn't as distressing as it sounds, by the way, since it comes from a knitting website I subcribe to. The third title presumably is somewhat distressing. I obviously didn't open it...

Bath and Body Works is really beginning to annoy me, and that has me postulating on the abuses of e-mail. Maybe their e-mailing privileges should be revoked. As I mentioned above, I've received e-mail from them every other day advertising limited-time discounts and special offers, most of which are available through online purchases only. If this company seriously thinks I have the money and inclination to buy bath products every other day, maybe they should stick their heads out the window and take a look at how much gas and groceries cost lately.

The knitting website I subscribe to is even worse than Bath and Body Works. Knitting Daily is an online knitting forum run by Interweave Knits in order to supplement its quarterly magazine. Knitting Daily posts articles and surveys on knitting trends, new fibers and pattern and technical help. The editors update it on a daily basis. They also e-mail me on a daily basis to let me know that the daily update has been posted to their site. Daily. I implicitely gave them permission to contact me when I voluntarily submitted my e-mail in order to register for this free site. But again, just because I gave them my e-mail, does that give a company license to bombard me with electronic communication? In Knitting Daily's case, I can't see what purpose is served by such frequent contact. I as a subscriber am fully aware that they update the website every day. I already pay this company good money through my subscriptions to two of their publications. What good does e-mailing me so often do?

It's the same with every shop I've ever purchased from. Old Navy, Eddie Bauer, and Lands End have been offering me special deals for weeks, if only I'll buy any pair of pants or spend $100 on outerwear. So once again I'll ask: When I give someone permission to e-mail me, are there limits on how far that permission extends? Apparently, the assumption out there is that there are no limits. Of course I can always unsubscribe to the worst offenders, but occasionally there are times in which I genuinely wish to be notified on sales or other promotions. So it seems that I have no choice but to put up with all the superfluous e-mails, or to get cut out of the loop altogether. As luck would have it, I could use some new pants, so I'll put up with all the e-mail for now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Strawberry Whine (Continued)

For today's post I'll continue my ruminations on the need to keep up with the internet's technological advances. In the post below I whined extensively about my 8-year-old iMac's obsolescence. I don't mind the slow operating system on my iMac as much as I mind the fact that the damned thing requires more RAM and updated operating software just to be able to surf the internet. Eventually the hardware could no longer keep up with the software. I have 1 gig. of RAM in this computer, and I use it for everything. Internet surfing, paper writing, graphic design and my creative writing projects. Right now I have all of my projects safely saved onto Zip disks, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to access them.

I brought my iMac to the Apple store two nights ago. The technician took one look at it and said, "I don't know what I can do for this model because we stopped making it . I'll check it out for you but technically we're not even allowed to look at these anymore." Thank you, Apple customer service. I'll save the rant about deserving appropriate technical support no matter which Apple I own for another time. To my surprise the computer started up without any problems, but when he plugged the Zip drive in, everything froze and disappeared. I was a little confused, but at least the technician didn't charge me for looking at it, and he got my zip drive out of my zip disk as well. The drive worked on his newer iMac without any problems, so obviously, I'm facing the inevitable task of having to replace my computer sooner or later. No one actually laughed at my iMac, but a few techies shook their heads in a mixture of pity and disgust, and one young salesgirl went "AWWWW!" and patted my iMac in the same way one pats a dog's head.

So this is my dilemma: Do I continue to buy new equipment every 5-8 years? It looks like I don't have a choice, which means most internet-savvy consumers don't, either. Part of the iMac's problem is OS10.4, which is running on a G3 processor. The technician told me that 10.1 would be better to use with such an old processor, but I bought the upgrade because I could no longer access the internet using 10.1. As I said in my earlier post, living without internet access is not an option. 24-7 on-demand access to news, entertainment and shopping is taken for granted these days. I refuse to live without the ability to check my course materials, shop online, and communicate with friends and family from the comfort of my own home. The internet has brought the entire world to everyone's doorstep, and once we've become accustomed to that, there's no turning back.
I attended Parsons School of Design (of Project Runway fame!) in the nineties. Every single computer lab on campus was wall-to-wall blueberry iMacs, which means, of course, that many major learning institutions invested huge amounts of cash on Apple technology. I wonder how much Parsons had to spend to replace all those Blueberries. It doesn't seem very customer-friendly to me.
I'm fast approaching middle-age and already I can feel the crank letter-writer coming out in me. I'm almost tempted to write a letter--well, by letter I mean e-mail--to Apple letting them know how I feel. In the meantime, I'm not sure what to do. This sounds stupid, but I haven't plugged in my iMac since I brought it home from the Apple store. I'll get around to it this weekend. If I can still use it for everything except accessing what's on my zip disks, I'll take that for now. But if that' the case, what will I do about my novel-in-progress??

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Online Rhetoric, but first, please stand by...

Just in time for ENG830: I have somehow offended the computer gods.  I'm experiencing technical difficulties.  It's just my luck that my computer conks out one week before starting a completely online course.  My 8-year-old Strawberry iMac gave out last week.  The problem? None of the icons shows up on the desktop.  Not the hard drive, not the zip drive, not the folder full of downloaded knitting patterns and, especially horrifying, not the folder full of my papers for the summer class on American Lit I just completed.  My Doctor Who wallpaper still displays, however, so I'm hopeful that my hard drive is all right, just playing hard-to-get (to).   I lugged my computer down a flight of stairs and out to my car and drove to Best Buy to seek help from the Geek Squad.   The security personnel tagged my iMac as soon as i went through the automatic doors so it wouldn't look like I was stealing it.  Seriously? Does anyone even sell these things anymore? Remember these iMacs? They came in those weird round shapes and fun fruit "flavors?" The "geeks" at the Geek Squad told me they couldn't do anything for such an old Mac, so I had to make an appointment with the "geniuses" at Apple's "Genius Bar." Don't get me started.   Keep in mind, this is the same store at which a salesman once asked me if I knew whether or not my computer had a CD slot. Don't get me started on that either, or I'll go on and on about the CompUSA salesman who called me "baby" and made fun of the Mac "dinosaur" CompUSA fell all over themselves to sell me nine months earlier... . I fully expect to be laughed at when I walk in with my old-school iMac.  Pre-internal CD burner.  As a die-hard Mac fan, this is a problem I've continually had to face: Apple's annoying habit of rendering their own technology obsolete 6-9 months after it was introduced.  My iMac is old, but perfectly serviceable.  In the meantime I've had to resort to my backup computer: an equally obsolete iBook.  I'm already having problems.  I can't sign up with AIM or Facebook through Safari, and, after spending an hour writing this post, Safari quit (unexpectedly mind you) and I had to seek out my sister's newer iBook to finish. For some reason, Blogger's autosave didn't work on my computer.

What's the point of my anecdote? I share it to ask this question with my ENG830 class: how important is it to keep up with online technology, and what happens to those who can't or won't keep up?  I'm hoping the loss of my computer is only temporary, yet already I'm scrambling to work online.  Buying a new computer is not an option at this point, so I would have to use communal computer labs in order to do my work.   Internet access is not only increasingly convenient, it is increasingly unavoidable.  The Department of Education has made its financial aid application available only online, along with the paperwork for federal student loans. Entertainment, news and media are available 24/7, and updated at all hours of the day or night.  Internet enhancement is becoming more and more integral to modern life.  My technical difficulties transcend inconvenience; they are affecting my ability to participate in a prescribed component of my graduate degree.   

I realize my problem stems from my personal computing platform of choice.  Apple is notorious for relentlessly updating its technology, but on the other hand, I've avoided major software bugs and steered clear of Vista-like debacles.   The fact is, it is extremely necessary to keep up with online technology.  As we move toward a more technological society, the internet is at the forefront of information dissemination.   Breaking news and video are available online almost instantaneously.  Students can complete courses or even entire degrees online.  The lack of internet access is not an option.

What about those who are wary of the internet?  I work with students and parents, and there is a great deal of resistance to the internet among parents and older, non-traditional students.  The people i speak with who can't or won't keep up with the internet are frustrated at the lack of options when taking care of their academic paperwork.  I have heard anger, frustration, fear and even sheer panic in their voices.  I can understand their frustration, but to me it's equally frustrating as I try to help them.  The truth is, the speed and universal accessibility of the internet is changing information and administration.  Whether it's a university or a government office, once the decision to go completely online has been made, it's up to everyone to learn how to keep up, or be left behind.

I'm hoping my iMac is repairable.  Instant access to entertainment and news is a necessity, not a luxury, and I have become accustomed to having it available in the comfort of my own home.  I'll spend as much time at the computer labs as I need to, but in the end, I'll probably do what I have to--and spend what I have to--to surf from the comfort of home once again.