Where Does The Weekend Go?!

If there’s one complaint I have about most weekends, it’s that they’re too short. Seriously, I have so much to blog about, but no time to do it. It’s not like I was sitting around wasting time online this weekend (that’s definitely something I have been known to do…). I was out and about, running errands, walking around in the freezing cold (for exercise, not the errands), and listening to my audiobook. And now it’s Sunday night and I feel like I didn’t get anything done! Well, I did make a ton of progress on my photos organization project today, so that’s a good thing. But I didn’t blog or write fiction or even read very much.

When are three-day weekends going to become a thing?! I, for one, eagerly await such a development.


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.

Everything Wrong With Mark Henshaw’s ‘The Fall of Moscow Station’

At least the cover is nice…

Okay, the tile of this post is slightly misleading. There may be more wrong with this book—Mark Henshaw’s The Fall of Moscow Station—that I don’t know about because I stopped reading on page 70. (To put things in perspective, there are 338 pages in this book.) All of the inaccuracies have to do with Russia or the Russian language. They drove me so crazy that I could not finish this thing. I’d had really high hopes for it, too.

  • Page 24: A character says, “I am familiar with military tattoos. The one on the victim’s shoulder is not uncommon among soldiers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate. You might know them as the GRU, the old masters of the Spetsnaz Special Forces.” Honestly, this isn’t wholly inaccurate—the Spetsnaz served in the GRU, but they’re also in other branches of the military and intelligence services. Perhaps the author knows this and omitted it from the book because it was beyond the scope of information we needed. However, I’ve been unable to locate any information about tattoos specific to the GRU or Russian military. I could be wrong, but I feel like the author might be confusing this concept of tattoos with the Russian criminal underworld, where there are specific, distinctive tattoos used.
  • Page 27: “‘Spasibo.’ Arkady Lavrov ignored the American in favor of the sentry. ‘Pozhaluysta zakroyte dver.‘” Maybe it’s just me, but throwing in a pozhaluysta (please) when asking someone to close the door boggles the mind, especially since the speaker is an intense spy who’s the director of the GRU. To me, it would be more likely he’d bark in Russian, “Zakroyte dver,” with the implication in his tone that if the door wasn’t closed promptly, there’d be hell to pay.
  • Page 42: On a CIA dossier describing a character’s resume, we have the following information: “Listed as Vice President for Communications Security, ‘Zelyonsoft’ [zelyeniy is Russian for ‘gold’].” No, zelyeniy [зелёный] is green. Zolotoi [золотой] is gold.
  • Page 60: Remember that GRU director on page 27 who was ever so polite in asking for the door to be closed? Well, here we have this sentence about him: “But the FSB general was a solider and appreciated the willingness to take the initiative.” People, the FSB and the GRU are two totally different intelligence organizations! The FSB grew out of the KGB when the Soviet Union fell. The GRU is foreign military intelligence. And then there are other intelligence organizations like the SVR for external intelligence (though allegedly the FSB works in this area as well). My point is, they’re all different and you’ve got to keep them straight if you’re including them in a book. Wouldn’t it be rather silly to mess up the FBI and the CIA in a spy thriller?!

And there you have it. I was so frustrated with the book because I kept being jolted out of the story by these issues, so I stopped reading it on page 70. Maybe I’m picky, but there are lot of books out there and limited time to read them, so I’ve got to be choosy. I finished reading an alternate history recently (SS-GB by Len Deighton) and I’m still plugging away at Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard in Russian. If someone else has read The Fall of Moscow Station and tells me it greatly improves later, maybe I’ll finish it. But until then, I think I’ll read other books.

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…

Annals of Kboards: 100,000 Words a Week

Sometimes, if I’m feeling in a certain frame of mind, I’ll go check out the forum on Kboards.com. Kboards, in case you aren’t familiar, is a forum that sprang up after Amazon invented the Kindle and set up a way for people to directly upload their content to Amazon’s site in order to sell to Kindle users. The forum is for self-publishers/indie publishers/whatever they’re calling themselves nowadays. (Sometimes people who upload their works to Amazon and other self-publishing websites get really annoyed when you call them self-publishers. They want to be called indie publishers instead. And I’m not trying to knock self-publishing, because I think it has its place and I’m considering self-publishing a book so obviously I’m not against it, but let’s not kid ourselves. If you upload your work yourself to Amazon/iBooks/Smashwords/whatever, you’re self-publishing. Let’s not mince words.)

Anyway, Kboards is full of fascinating posts. A lot of them are from people asking advice of how to market their book, or find a cover designer, or how to solve common technical problems while uploading to Amazon. All normal, run-of-the-mill stuff. Occasionally, though, you can find a post that is pure gold. Here’s this one from October (a friend shared it on Twitter back in December and the link has been sitting on my iPhone ever since because I kept forgetting to write about it). It’s called Writing 100,000 Words A Week (+Update: Becoming A No.1 International Bestseller). It is so absurd, I almost think someone made it up just to have a laugh at all of us reading it. Anyway, here are some choice excerpts from this forum thread, with my commentary interspersed.

The original poster, i.e. the person who started the topic (and therefore gave it that ridiculous title) is named Cael. So here’s a summary what she wrote to start off with: she started writing a lot (like thousands of words per day) and realized you have to be consistent. All very true, in my experience. My writing works out a lot better if I do it as often as I can. Obviously you have to be fully focused while writing—no random internet browsing, social media, etc. The poster says this and I agree.

Here’s where we come to the objectionable part: she claims she wrote 100,000 words in a week. A week, people. Now, I know not everyone “speaks” word count the way we writers do. In publishing, they usually say there are 250-300 words per printed page, which means she says she wrote 330-400 pages. In a week. Length-wise, 100,000 words is a full novel. And she claims she did this in a mere seven days.

Leaving aside the fact that you still have to edit all those words once you finish, that words out to 14,285 words per day. I don’t see how a person could physically type that much. I typed 5,000 words in a day once while working on an old project and my hands were killing me afterwards. I then realized I didn’t want to destroy my poor hands and fingers, so ever since then I’ve just aimed for consistent writing every day. I don’t manage to write every single day, but it’s pretty close. 14,000 words in one day would destroy your hands. Doing it for seven days straight would probably do irreparable damage.

“Ah, my dear Natasha,” you’re saying, “what if she isn’t actually typing? What if she’s using that clever dictation software they have nowadays?” I admit, that was one of my thoughts, too. She does mention using dictation in some instances, so it seems like she’s using a combination of both. But still, even a combination of writing and dictation to produce 14,000 words per day just doesn’t sound good or feasible in the long run. I actually have no idea how many words I speak aloud per day (because who goes around counting that sort of thing?), but I’m guessing it’s a lot less than 14,000.

Anyway, let’s take this at face value and assume she truly did write 100,000 words in a week. What did she do next, you ask? Surely she went back, read her story, made some notes of things to edit (because, let’s face it, we all make mistakes in our first drafts and don’t even realize it until later), and then commenced editing. Nope! As logical as that assumption is, it is wrong. She slapped the whole mess up onto Kindle, commissioned a cover (which even I have to admit is nice—it’s probably the only nice part of the book), and voila! She’s a “published author!” And now she’s an “international bestseller” too!

Yep, an international bestseller with a grand total of 17 reviews on Goodreads and 9 reviews on Amazon. I hate to tell you, but a true “bestseller” has a heck of a lot more ratings than that. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the book industry can tell you that. And I’m not saying self-published books can’t be bestsellers—because they can! There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is putting this word vomit up for sale and calling it an international bestseller.

Sigh. I need to stop getting so worked up about this. After all, it looks like the free market has spoken: she put her book up and most people have chosen not to read it (as evidenced by the very low review rate). Now you know why I stopped downloading self-published Kindle books. Ninety-nine percent of them are like this. I have encountered good ones here and there, but they have become more and more difficult to find because rubbish like this clogs up the searches. I’m so thankful for the library system where I live because it allows me to read decent books for free.

And now you know why I do not frequent Kboards very often! Threads like this one are enough to make your head explode!

Exciting News!

Dear readers, I have exciting news. I’ve been holding off on saying this because it didn’t feel official, so to speak, but it definitely feels official now.

My big news is I got a new job. It’s in the same industry, pretty much doing the same work, but at a different company. A recruiter from my new company contacted me over a month ago and I agreed to go in for an interview. From there, things started off great and got even better, which culminated in a job offer. I gave my notice, worked for two more weeks, then spent my last day at my old company.

I don’t really blog about my job much for many reasons. First, it’s honestly not that exciting. I’m willing to bet the majority of my readers really wouldn’t be that interested in it (I promise it doesn’t really fit with the theme of my blog). Also, one never knows who is reading one’s blog. I’ve never told anyone at work about my blog, but still, the internet is a big place and people have a way of finding you, I’ve noticed. Besides, I think it’s important to maintain a professional appearance online. I wouldn’t want anything I wrote to be construed as me speaking for the company (something employees are not supposed to do) or sharing confidential information.

There is one thing I’ll say about my old job, though. I liked the work I did in the department I ended up in, but it was a very toxic environment. It’s very sad because one employee managed to poison the entire group’s environment. And no, this isn’t me being ridiculous and having some vendetta against this individual. I made quite a few friends in the department who felt the same exact way. It was an annoying situation, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Going to HR wouldn’t have helped. HR exists to protect the company against lawsuits and besides, there was nothing they could do to satisfy me. The only way to solve this problem would have been to terminate the offending employee and that wasn’t going to happen.

It’s stressful enough dealing with the daily annoyances present in a toxic environment. That’s a problem in and of itself. It’s quite another thing when this employee started to affect my career. At this person’s requests, I was kept off certain projects due to this individual not wanting to work with me. Luckily, I still was able to work on a ton a great projects and learn a lot. However, I knew that at some point I would want to work on the project this person claimed as their own because I will need that experience in my career. It wasn’t going to happen, so I chose to leave. Honestly, I doubt I’ll ever return to that company. Even once the toxic employee moves on, it still irks me that our manager saw all this happening and not only turned a blind eye to it, but actively enabled it.

I know this sounds melodramatic, but it’s all true. I’m a pretty easy person to get along with. I have strong opinions about a lot of things, but I’m very good at concealing them and being diplomatic. Where I worked wasn’t quite as bad as the environment portrayed in Christian Jungersen’s excellent novel The Exception, but I understand that book in a way I never did before. I have high hopes for my next job—after all, it can’t possibly be worse than where I used to work.

Why I Deleted My Facebook Account

As of this past Sunday, June 7, I am no longer a member of Facebook. No, I don’t mean that I deactivated my account. In Facebook terminology, deactivated means that although no one else can see your profile or interact with you, your account is basically dormant, sitting on Facebook’s servers and waiting for you to log in again, after which it will not be deactivated. Deleted, on the other hand, means that at the end of a two-week waiting period, your account is gone forever. You can’t log back in and retrieve it after that two weeks. Your data is gone, too, though I’ve heard it can linger on Facebook servers for up to ninety days.

I signed up for an account a few years after it started and became A Thing. With the exception of a months-long period during one year of college,* I’ve had an active account the entire time. But over the years, I grew tired of Facebook. I started to get sick of seeing obnoxious political debates, inane “trending stories,” stupid photos, and all the other silliness that populates the average person’s news feed.

I also was increasingly sick of the company’s policies. The privacy settings were never intuitive (and that’s coming from someone who’s pretty internet-savvy) and often switched to allow more people to see more things on your profile than you originally allowed. I dislike the CEO both as a private person and a businessman and I really don’t like the idea of Facebook owning everything you do on the Internet. Dealing with the site was mentally draining for me. Towards the end of my time as a Facebook user, I was logging a couple times a month, if that. And no, I never had the app on my phone.

It’s embarrassing how much time we, the millennial generation, have spent on Facebook. Based on talking to my friends and seeing stuff online, I think I spent less time on Facebook than the average person—and even that was way too much. If you took all the time the average young person has spent on Facebook since its inception and added it up, I’m willing to bet it would be enough to learn a foreign language, acquire a new skill like a musical instrument, or read enough books in a certain field to be an expert on said field. As someone who has done the first two, there’s a lot of time required to do that!

Understand that I’m not anti-social media. I love Twitter. It’s through Twitter that I found a writing group I’m always talking about (because it’s just that awesome). I like Pinterest a lot, too. I don’t interact with many potential blog readers on there, but I like finding new knitting and crochet patterns. And I absolutely adore Goodreads. It’s the most amazing website ever, if you ask me. It’s only on Goodreads that you’ll find people as equally disappointed as you are about the final book in a series you really liked is just really bad. I used LinkedIn, too. These days, it looks kind of strange if you don’t have an account and honestly, I kind of like LinkedIn.

For a while, I lived with all of the Facebook problems enumerated above. I knew they were there, but I just sort of stuffed them into the back of my mind. The thing that really pushed me to quit—the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the saying goes—was a new feature Facebook introduced. I don’t know when it went into effect because, as I said, I was rarely using my account. I noticed in the past few months that there was a search history whenever I clicked in the search bar. I assumed it was only the past five or ten searches, but upon further exploration, I discovered that Facebook had my entire search history in my account, just sitting right there. Obviously they were recording it from day one, but hadn’t made it visible to users. It may sound like a strange thing to get hung up on, but that really bothered me. Having the entire history of my Facebook stalking staring right at me creeped me out.

Some people may be wondering how I’m going to stay in touch with friends and get invited to things without Facebook. Luckily, the second issue isn’t a problem for me: my social group doesn’t really use Facebook Events to plan things. I don’t know why; we just don’t. As for the first issue, I already have the phone numbers, email addresses, Skype usernames, etc. of people I want to stay in touch with. I text most of my American friends and use Skype and/or email for people abroad. That’s also another reason I have the LinkedIn account: if someone I haven’t talked to in a long time really wants to get in touch with me, they can do so on there.

If you like Facebook and want to continue to use it, all the more power to you. If you don’t like it, I’d highly suggest following my lead and deleting permanently, if you can. It’s liberating. Whether you decide to stay with it or not, there is one thing you should do on a regular basis: log out and go do something in the real world like call a friend, take a walk, or—my favorite option—read a book.

*Note: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my Facebook-less period was also one of the most productive and intellectually rewarding times in college.