I’ve been using the RSS reader Feedly since 2013, when Google unexpectedly and unpleasantly announced that it was shutting down Google Reader forever and ever. Feedly was the closest alternative—design-wise, it somewhat resembled Google Reader but was slightly better. (Design has never been Google’s strong suit, if you ask me…)
Fast forward to 2017. Feedly is quite popular since it gained a lot of users when Google Reader died an early death. Unfortunately, the designers and developers at Feedly have been tinkering with it more and more. They kept changing where the settings were, what everything looked like, and all sorts of things. I got sick of it, so a few weeks ago, I exported my feeds and deleted my account.
I started using the WordPress.com reader and it’s surprisingly decent. I mean, I tried it once before and didn’t like it, so I am pleasantly surprised this time around. Granted, I don’t know how useful this would be to someone who doesn’t blog and/or comment a lot with their WordPress.com account. Yes, you do need an account to use it (but that goes for just about any web-based RSS reader out there). I’m a tiny bit obsessed with WordPress, so it is nice to have all of the sites I follow in the same place as my blogging.
If you are looking for a central hub to keep up with your favorite sites, I think this reader is worth a try. And just so you know, WordPress did not pay me to say any of this. Though in advance, I feel compelled to tell any WordPress employees reading this that I am willing to accept payment in the form of free WordPress.com goodies (as in, the various paid upgrades they offer) or cold hard cash wired into a bank account. 😉
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.
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.
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.
I have a folder in my bookmarks called “Later” where I save things that I want to share with you on this blog. I’ve had these two links saved there for ages, so I am finally going to post them.
The first is called “Beginning to self-edit.” Writer Sherwood Smith talks about visiting a writing workshop run by a friend. The writers had all finished NaNoWriMo and were beginning to edit their novels. The advice in the whole post is interesting, but I saved the link to share this one bit:
The next couple of people’s suggestions were a bit more idiosyncratic: “Throw out the first three chapters of any first draft,” —great advice sometimes, but by no means universal, especially for writers who actually begin the story too late, and end up shoe-horning a ton of flashback into the front in order to orient the bewildered reader—and, “Make sure your ending closes the story suggested by the beginning.”
A lot of advice I’ve seen talks about starting the novel too early in the story, so it was gratifying to see Smith mention that it is also possible to start too late. I had that very problem—beginning my story too late—with the book I’m currently working on. In my case, I think I started it about twenty-five percent too late. The draft I’m currently working on starts a bit earlier. And while I do know the story still will need editing, I do think it’s stronger right now than it used to be.
The next link is the about page of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. I’ve never read any of his work, but I have heard of him. What I didn’t know until recently was how much he wrote before he found a publisher. His website says he wrote seven novels as an undergraduate. I read somewhere else that he had thirteen complete by the time he sold his first book (which was the sixth or seventh book he wrote, if I remember correctly). I think the moral of the story here is that we writers just need to keep writing. I mean, thirteen novels is some real commitment. I’m impressed.
The March writing report is rather dismal. Honestly, I kind of just want to skip it and forget that it happened. But in the interest of transparency, here it is.
I wrote a total of 12,642 words in March, which is an average of 408 per day. That’s dreadful because my goal for this year is 700 per day. I skipped writing on 18 days, which I think is a record for me this year! On the days I did write, I actually did quite well, so I think the problem was not enough writing. I can’t remember what I was doing instead of writing. It certainly wasn’t crocheting because I’m still working on my pink afghan, even though I wanted to be finished months ago!
So here’s to a better writing month in April. I’ve missed some days already, but that’s okay because we all need a break. I’m almost finished with my outline, which is great. I can’t wait to start writing my next book!
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.
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.
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.
The first computer I ever owned was a Dell laptop. It was big, fat, and clunky—but I loved it.
It was kind of a horrible computer. It had a tiny hard drive and not even 1 GB of RAM. It ran Windows XP. The trackpad didn’t always work right and the display quality was terrible. But it was a decent price. My parents bought it for me for school and I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Pretty much everyone in my year at school had the same laptop, with the exception of a classmate named Brittany. I sat by Brittany in English class, which allowed me ample time to admire her gorgeous PowerBook G4. After I’d spent a lot of time admiring her computer, mine didn’t seem so great.
It was a thing of beauty, that PowerBook. The casing was a beautiful aluminum. It had a matte display and a smooth trackpad with a single fat button to click. It won’t surprise you when I say that when offered a computer upgrade, I asked for a Mac.
I was lucky. My parents bought me my first Mac shortly after Apple began offering Intel processors in their computers. I had a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 200 GB hard drive and 1 GB of RAM. It had lovely matte display—something Apple doesn’t offer anymore, but more on this later. Not only did it look nice, but it ran the most excellent operating system I’d ever used up to that point: Mac OS X 10.4, Tiger.
It wasn’t a perfect computer, looking back. In the time I had it, I experienced kernel panics every so often. A kernel panic is the Mac equivalent of the “blue screen of death” on Windows. According to research I’ve done since, this probably meant the computer was underpowered, i.e. it didn’t have enough RAM and/or a good enough processor.
The computer also went through batteries like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. The batteries kept going bad—but back then, Apple’s warranty plan actually would cover the cost of a new one. The display started buzzing like a fluorescent light burning out. The warranty plan helped with this, too, thank goodness. By the time said warranty plan expired after three years, I’d gone through four batteries and two screen repairs.
In the meantime, I’d fallen in love with Apple. I raved about my computer to fellow students, which led some of them to get their parents to buy them Macs, too. I had the first iPhone. I worked as a freelance tech journalist while in school and covered the iPad launch in 2010. Everything was good.