My First Business Trip

Okay, the title of this post is a little bit misleading. This wasn’t my first business trip—the trip to New York in 2015 that I forgot to blog about was my first business trip—but this was my first trip with my current company.

The city by night after we arrived

Two of my coworkers and I went to a major city in the southeastern US. We ate some fabulous food, which was great. My prior company had a limit of what you could spend per day on meals. I think it was $25 or $35, which isn’t very much for a major city. My current company doesn’t have that. We are asked to “use judgment” when choosing where to eat, which I interpreted to mean that the five star restaurant I really wanted to go to was off-limits. Within reason, though, we could eat anything we wanted. Swiping the corporate card was very satisfying. 😉

However, the highlight of this trip was the hotel. We stayed in a Four Seasons, which was a first for me. I’ve wanted to stay in one for a while. Allow me to explain.

Several years ago, I started writing a crime thriller. In one of the scenes at the beginning, my intrepid protagonist gets to stay in a Four Seasons with her wealthy cousin (the cousin’s wealth greatly ties into the crime aspect of the book). I stopped working on the book for a while, then came back to it in 2015 and finished it. In preliminary edits, I ended up cutting the Four Seasons scenes—too much backstory—but those scenes still had been fun to write and I harbored a secret desire to stay in a Four Seasons. (Also, that book is one of my favorites that I’ve written so far, so I really need to go back and give it a proper editing and try to sell it to a publisher.)

Anyway, who would have guessed that years later, I would be able to stay in a Four Seasons? It was a very neat experience and I do have photographic evidence to share with you.

Here’s the hotel room: the first photo is at night after we arrived and the second is during the day.

The bathroom was quite luxurious, so I had to photograph that as well.

That’s a five-star toilet right there.

And that, my friends, was my experience at the Four Seasons. I ate the restaurant one morning for breakfast, which was decidedly lackluster, so I went to a local bakery the other mornings. Of course, the whole time I was there working and eating with my coworkers, I kept thinking of the book I wrote and how my trip wasn’t just an ordinary business trip. It doubled as book research, a fact I’m sure all my fellow fiction writers will appreciate.

Happy Easter!

Traditional Russian/Ukrainian dyed eggs called pysanki [писанки]

Happy Easter, dear readers! This year is the last until 2025 that western Easter and Orthodox Easter are on the same day. I hope everyone had a good holiday.

Wednesday Music: Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ From ‘The Four Seasons’

Dear readers, I can’t believe I haven’t posted about this piece before. It’s appropriate for this time of year. Today’s piece is Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, La primavera. That’s Italian for “spring.” Here’s a bit about it.

  • This piece is the first in Vivaldi’s cycle known as The Four Seasons. Each season is a concerto separated into three movements.
  • There are poems to accompany each season and the music is supposed to evoke imagery from the poems. For example, in Spring, there is a barking dog marked in the viola section. I’m not sure if the music actually sounds like a barking dog, though…
  • Other imagery supposedly in this piece are birds singing and thunderstorms. Again, I’m not sure I hear this when I listen to it—but based on the accompanying poems, it’s what Vivaldi wanted us to hear.

Enjoy!

Or click here to see on YouTube.

A Boring New Theme

You guys, I’m so annoyed. Remember that old theme I had on my blog that I really liked called Libretto? Well, I can’t use it anymore. For some reason, the first several words of every post weren’t displaying. They were in a different, all-caps font and they worked fine until recently. So, no, I didn’t make any typos in my posts (well, I have been known to do that, but in this instance, I didn’t!). It was just that the theme was cutting off these words. I have a feeling it has something to do with web fonts (I am not completely certain what those are but I’ve had trouble with them in the past). Regardless, I have a new theme for this blog right now called Penscratch 2—and I don’t care for it. It’s so characterless compared to Libretto. Seriously, look at this screenshot of what Libretto is supposed to look like and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition to blogging, I’ll be looking for a better theme for this blog in the near future. Any suggestions from the theme library are welcome—as long as they’re free. I’m a bit wary about paying for a theme, since I wonder what’s to stop it from breaking like my good old Libretto did?

Note: The problem described above with the Libretto theme isn’t present in all browsers on all systems, so you may not have noticed it. I’ve noticed it mainly in Safari. However, since I don’t fully understand what’s causing it, I don’t want to use that theme until it’s fixed.

A Message From The Other Side

A strange group of events happened this weekend—obviously it’s a coincidence that I saw a pattern in since the human brain loves to find patterns, even when they don’t exist—but I still wanted to blog about it.

First, I read some history books about the Nazis and was reminded of my friend Tommy because we used to discuss twentieth-century German history together all the time. I dedicated an edition of Wednesday Music to him one October. Basically, he was my best friend ever but then he died, which was devastating. All during this past weekend, I kept being reminded of him. It was all very random stuff: something my phone did, something else I saw online, etc. The culmination was yesterday, Monday, when I was browsing The Passive Voice blog and saw this graphic (found in this post).

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

That was Tommy’s favorite quote. I was shocked to see it pop up on my computer screen as I clicked through to the next page of posts on that blog. And while obviously it’s just a coincidence that I happened to see this quote yesterday, a part of me felt like it was him sending me a message.

Вечная память.

Wednesday Music: Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in G Major

I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember when the last Wednesday Music post was. I would look back in my archives, but that would probably be demoralizing, so let’s just say it’s been a while. Today’s piece is Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 7 in G Major, G. 480. Now, the numbering of Boccherini’s cello concertos always confuses me—I swear I’ve also seen this one referred to as Concerto No. 3—but I know I have the G. 480 correct, so if you find this piece with a different concerto number but still listed as G. 480, I’m assuming it’s the same one. Here’s a bit about it.

  • Boccherini didn’t list this piece in his own catalog of works, but it was published in Paris in 1770, and most scholars seem to assume it was written slightly before then. Boccherini himself probably performed it in Paris.
  • During the time the composer wrote this concerto, he was at a high point in his life. He was very popular and he was working as a chamber composer for the Infante Don Luis in Spain, so he had financial stability as well.
  • The accompanying orchestra for this concerto is composed of strings only—no woodwinds. This was more common in the pre-classical era than the classical era.

Enjoy!

Or click here to see on YouTube.

Apple & Me, Part 2: Cracks In The Foundation

Note: This post is a continuation of a story I started to tell in an earlier post, so if you haven’t read the earlier one yet, you might want to do that, as this probably won’t make much sense without it!

By the time the trackpad on my first Mac broke, I was deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem and loving every minute of it. I replaced my first iPhone with the iPhone 3GS, which I used for the next four years. (I actually still have that phone. It’s docked to an iHome and it plays music to wake me up every morning.) I didn’t have an iPad yet, but I’d started to secretly want one.

When I took my laptop with the broken trackpad to the Apple Store the day after it broke—this was 2010, dear readers, which meant it was easy to get a next-day appointment with Apple—they gave me bad news. Because the computer was out of warranty, it would be over $200 to fix the trackpad. I left with the trackpad still broken and started using a USB mouse.

My faithful old Mac

A few months later, just in time for the new semester, I got a brand-new shiny Mac laptop. It was a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 500 GB hard drive, 8 GB RAM, and a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. It also had plenty of ports: USB, Ethernet, FireWire, and an SD card slot. It even had a CD/DVD drive, which I used many times over the years. It was a nearly perfect laptop—its only flaw was the glossy screen. Sometime between the time I bought my first Mac and this second Mac, Apple had stopped making matte screens. In typical fashion, the company decided it knew better than we customers did about what we needed on our computers. Keep in mind glossy screens are by no means an industry standard, since the computer I use for work has a lovely matte screen that I rather like. Therefore, I think it’s rather silly that Apple doesn’t sell matte screens at all. But I digress.

The new laptop came with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard installed. I didn’t know it at the time, but Snow Leopard was to be the last truly great (and stable!) version of Mac OS X. Since 10.7 Lion, it’s been downhill ever since. (Seriously, don’t get me started on the monstrosity known as “macOS Sierra.” Just don’t.)

Right away, as soon as I opened the box that the new laptop came in, I noticed the computer didn’t come with a bunch of random free accessories like the first Mac I had. I didn’t get a nice black cleaning cloth, a remote, or a DVI to video adapter. Just like the matte screen, these had somehow vanished in the intervening four years since I bought my first Mac. Unlike the matte screen, they were still available—for a price. Luckily, I already had them from buying my first Mac, so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

I still have that Mac I bought in 2010. That’s how I was able to precisely give the specs above. In fact, I’m typing this very blog post on it. It’s still my main computer and even though I’ve been forced to upgrade the operating system a few times, I still love this computer.

It was joined by a third Apple device in 2013: a 4th-generation iPad I got in graduate school. I still have that iPad, too, and it’s been very helpful with my Russian studies since I’ve had it. I got a new iPhone shortly after the iPad, which means I’ve owned a total of three iPhones.

Over the years, as I acquired my devices and Apple sold more and more iPhones, I slowly began to feel less passionate about Apple. I certainly didn’t love the company anymore. I liked it. A mild to somewhat enthusiastic liking was all I could muster up. Despite its faults, I reasoned, the products and software were still better than Windows or Android. At least I didn’t have to pay for expensive antivirus software—and then still get viruses anyway. That’s what made me stick with Apple products, despite a growing list of complaints.

My complaints mostly centered on the operating systems, both mobile and desktop/laptop. Once Apple made them free (yes, my dear friends, you used to have to pay for the operating system on your Mac computer!), the quality went downhill—big time. You know that saying You only get what you pay for? Never was it so appropriate than in this situation. Honestly, I’d rather pay $30 for an operating system (this was how much an upgrade to 10.6 Snow Leopard cost when it came out) and get something with a minimum amount of bugs than get it for free and feel like an unpaid beta tester due to the bugginess. That’s basically what people who use Apple products are nowadays: Tim Cook’s unpaid beta testers. Based on the quality of the software I see coming out of Apple, the company must have fired their entire quality control department between 2010 and now.

And those are just my complaints with the operating system for Apple’s computers. The mobile operating system, iOS, is exponentially worse. I’ve disliked it for a while now, mainly because Apple keeps it locked down under such tight control that you can’t do anything with it. If I want to delete the caches for applications on my laptop, that’s quite easy to do. If I want to do that on the iPhone or iPad, I either have to delete the app and reinstall it (if I’m lucky and it’s something I downloaded from the App Store) or I have to reset the entire device to factory settings. Think about that for a minute. Isn’t it absurd? There is no way to access a cache file or a preferences file for a default iOS app such as Weather. (Okay, there might be if you jailbreak. But jailbreaking is a big hassle and I’ve never done it. As far as I know, you can access such files on Android without having to go in a root the device! Though if I am mistaken on this, please correct me.) It also seems like there are major bugs whenever a major version of iOS is released. That happens way, way too often, if you ask me. There shouldn’t be that many bugs in a product released that isn’t a beta version.

It wasn’t until recently, though, when I researched the newest Mac laptops, iPhones, and iPads that I came to a very surprising conclusion, one that will shock everyone who knows me personally: I am not going to buy Apple products anymore. Yes, I know that means returning to the warm, virus-laden fold that is Microsoft Windows. But this is my decision, and I came to it due to three reasons: the latest version of iOS, the latest version of Mac OS X (excuse me, it’s macOS now—gag), and the new Mac laptops Apple is currently selling.

Stay tuned to the next post for more…