Whatever happened to good old Blogging, hey?

Why don’t I blog anymore? Sometimes I go back looking for recipes or something and stumble across an older post and think “Damn, I can write pretty well. Why don’t I do that more?”

I guess the answer is “No time, no inclination.”

But we’re nearing the end of the calendar year, and I’m kind of… getting in the mood and the mindframe to write moar stuffs, and to catch up on things, and reflect. There’s a lot that I never blogged about at the time, that now I wish I’d noted down, if only to fix in my mind where and when and who and what and why.

Reading, Reading, Reading

I’ve been Twittering and even Google+ -ing more than actually blogging, but mostly what I do is read, read, read my newsfeed. Currently, that’s in Feedly, but Feedly doesn’t seem to want to provide a feed for free of the items I read, but I can send the best to Pocket (eyeroll), which can provide an RSS feed of my read and unread Pocket items. And now there’s something called “IFTTT.com” that can provide “recipes” that link different social accounts. I’ve just set it up to either create a new Facebook post with something favorited in Pocket, or to put anything saved for later in Feedly into Pocket. It’s to consolidate the stuff so that the best ends up on Pocket, I suppose. There are lots of other recipes and possible social sites to link there, too.

Currently Listening

I’ve been fooling with iTunes a lot more, since the recent death of my iPhone 4GS and the need to try to get all MY GODDAMN MUSIC on all my devices. Unfortunately, Apple makes life more difficult for users by not only changing the form factor of their products so that new cables, docks, and cases are required after almost every required upgrade, but forcing users to “authorize” their devices to use the music they purchased or ripped. This gets to be a problem if you forget to deauthorize a device when it’s replaced, or if it’s locked up, crashes irrevocably, and can’t be deauthorized without doing something like deauthorizing ALL devices, which can only be done once a year. I should think about doing that, since it’s nearly the end of one calendar year.

I’ve also got two Apple IDs, a lamentable state. The very old one is linked to my old, old, old AOL account, and a few of my songs, which somehow managed to survive on my old laptop through various changes of hardware, were purchased under that account. For some reason, Apple cannot make it possible to merge an old account into a new one. And it’s hard to fix problems with iCloud, too. Fortunately, there’s home sharing now, and iMatch (paid service, not going for it currently), but at least I was able to get all my iTunes libraries to be readable (all the music is now off of my desktop rather than part of iTunes’ folder tree, though).

I’ve been going through my iTunes and adding ratings, deleting songs that annoy me, and in some cases (I DON’T KNOW WHY) some songs go to iCloud and just won’t DIE, DIE, DIE. I think these are songs that I deleted long ago, but they got revived when I re-downloaded from the detachable hard drive. Which probably means that I’ll have to back up everything back to the hard drive in order to prevent the same thing from happening again. And it also may mean that my multiple locations will confuse the issue. I was using Clementine the other night to play music, and hit a snag with some kind of “encryption” error (probably one of the songs downloaded with the old Apple ID that needs to be reauthorized to this computer). Eh, feh, meh.

My rating system is basically like this:

* – Listened, don’t like it, can be deleted
** – Worth keeping, don’t dislike it
*** – Like it, not a favorite
**** – A current favorite, makes me turn up the volume on the headphones
***** – A lifetime favorite, makes me jump up and dance

I’m currently about a third of the way through rating my music, rediscovering stuff I haven’t heard in years. I’ll have to proceed carefully when I’m ready to back this all up so that I don’t lose all the ratings… again, eh meh feh. You can see my progress by checking the “currently listening” widget in the rightward column. I may go back and re-arrange that so the list is longer.

I have… even older choices that are on cassettes. Of those, the ones that mean the most have been purchased at the iTunes store, but I’m starting to get the idea the purchasing a CD is the smarter way to go, given the way I’ve been burned on some of my purchases.

Travel

The big, big trip in August with David’s dad Sheldon and his friend Linda was a lot of fun, as we went all over the Pacific Northwest. It had a fair amount of scope creep (we went too many places, mostly because Shel wanted to re-visit some things, and because David and I wanted to show Shel and Linda our favorites). There are plenty of photos, but I haven’t organized them. Afterwards, David remarked that it had been pretty expensive, so we probably would skip Hawaii in 2014 (we generally go every 2 years). Okay, so we would do something else, and I didn’t earmark 2 weeks away in February or March, when we like to go to the islands.

Then about a month ago, David said wistfully, “do you think we could go to Maui? I miss it.”

Fortunately, I was able to get some air space (thanks to Travelocity, after checking in SABRE), get some ground space (thanks to Condo Connection), and get some vacation time moved around (thanks to… work?) and we’re going. There’s no big plan, it’s just a return to one of the places we love. I’m hoping the condo I ended up with will be okay, as none of the places we’ve stayed at before were available or on the list of properties that Condo Connection handles. I’ve used so many different booking companies over the years, but one I won’t use again is Expedia, because the checkin process with them is a mess if you arrive after hours.

Some of the booking services I’ve used in the past include:

Condominium Connection for Napili Point, Royal Kahana, Poipu Shores (Kauai), and probably Maui Kamaole
Condominium Rentals Hawaii for Maui Kamaole
Maui Condo for Maui Kamaole, others.

I went looking for even more places I’ve used, but can’t find the websites… yeah, we’ve been to Maui a lot over the years (and to a lesser extent, Kauai and the Big Island).

I’d still like to get back to the Royal Mauian, but they sell out for whale-watching season a lot farther in advance. The one time we got in there in a 6th floor center unit, it was through Expedia, and the checkin process was awful – had to call someone to let us in, and the unit wasn’t ready. It’s an ideally located property in Kihei, far enough back from the main street, but perched right between 2 good swimming and snorkeling beaches. They don’t sell through many condo services, though, and the best units are center section, upper floor. The rooftop deck can’t be beat.

We’ve been at the Maui Kamaole a lot, probably because as one of the bigger properties in Kihei, they often have space. Not close to the water, as it’s across the street, but the sloping grounds are pretty and the choice of several pools and jacuzzis, and ample outdoor barbecues make for a nice property to spend off-beach time at. I have fond memories of scrunching my feet down in the crushed stone at the bottom of the one jacuzzi there, feels great on tired feet as the hot water comes up from below the smoothly polished gravel.

We’ve been to Hale Pau Hana at least twice – but probably can’t afford to stay in the Penthouse again, as they’ve remodeled and the price is now around 1800.00 per night, though with 3 or 4 bedrooms, it’s an incredible spot for large groups. Downside: it’s on the third floor, with no elevator. Still, it looks incredible now. The other units in the high-rise part of the building are fine, but they don’t have in-room washer and dryer from what I recall. That penthouse was something extra special, even before the big remodel. At least they seem to have gotten rid of the waterbed in the master bedroom – the upgrades look really beautiful, but I don’t think I’d want to do the 3 or 4 couple thing again, particularly as the last “bedroom” is a TV room with sofa bed.

We’ve been to Napili Point several times. David doesn’t like the rocky entry to Honokeana Bay, but I don’t mind it, and there are ALWAYS turtles there. And the sandy beach is just a short walk around the point. Also, restaurants like the Gazebo and the resort of Napili Bay are walkable.

This time we’re trying a place in Kahana, which is south of Napili, north of Kaanapali. It’s called the Royal Kahana, a big high-rise condo. Doesn’t look like the grounds are much to write home about, but the price was good and the example photos look fine. With this kind of property, each unit is individually owned and decorated to the taste of the owner, so you never know. You can request a recently upgraded unit sometimes. I booked this one through Condo Connection – had to laugh, I’ve used them enough they recognized my email and have a sort of profile with them. They use Skype, in addition to the usual email and toll-free phone.

The way this winter has been, we’ll be glad to get out of town and away from the cold.

Family

That’s getting kind of fun and interesting, since Shel and Linda are still chugging along happily! Good developments for my brother-in-law Dan with his new job and girlfriend, Tammy. Got to see some of my side of the family in August, too. Lots more that’s not for bloggery, but it’s all pretty good.

Friends

I lost my friend Tim Black last summer – how strange that was. He sang in the choir at church and seemed to be getting his life on a better track (lot of struggle, there). But suddenly, we got word that he’d had a terrible stroke, and he was gone in a week. His family decided to have a memorial in the late fall, just before Advent. So I made sure to have the afternoon off to attend, and also the choir prepared one of his favorite pieces to sing. Almost all of the core members were able to be there, plus a couple of extra people, so we were able to sing him off home.

Everyone else I know seems to be doing all right, though I need to check in with a few people – even in this hyper-connected age, it’s all too easy to lose touch.

Work

Work is weird – how bad can it be, working from home? It’s pretty isolating, for one thing. But I love the commute and I love the convenience. I’m just not sure how long it’ll be like this, because some things are changing behind the scenes in the next few months. I think it won’t really affect those of us at peon level, but stuff way over my pay grade is changing. I think for now I’m set as far as being on my same team, doing what I currently do – but there’s always the chance that someone far overhead will rearrange things like teams, accounts, and workflow. Of interest: I’m on a pilot project for a “new-new” booking tool that as far as I can tell is a re-skinned version of the “old-new” booking tool. It’s not officially in use yet, hence the pilot. I’d feel better about using it if it didn’t look like the same old thing as before, which is much slower than it’s supposed to be and inclined to lock up if you fight the process by doing too much the “old-old” way, which is faster and more reliable, but not as lockstep consistent as the new-old and new-new tools. Le sigh.

Epilogue

And look at that, it’s a blog post! And all of my iTunes songs have been rated and I’m all synced. There were some songs that I downloaded from the Internet about 4 computers ago that were stubborn about copying back and forth; I decided they were worth buying from iTunes, what the hell, hey? There were only 4 of them ::eyeroll:: out of about 870 that successfully updated.

So. Christmas time is come and gone, and it’s almost New Year’s Day. I’ve been fighting a cold that seems to just be minor sniffles with an annoying dry cough that comes and goes – I was slugging ginger tea and honey before Christmas Eve, so that I could sing, but have slacked off since then. At some point this week, the tree comes down, and the lights, and they get packed away. But for now we’re in that slightly seedy, post-Christmas festive mood. My week off is over, and it’s back to my normal workday routine tomorrow. Maybe I’ll actually blog again more frequently, now that I’ve got the music sorted (I like to blog while listening to something).

Until then, adieu (adieu, adieu).

Listening, listening, listening: will probably get things set up perfectly just before Last.fm quits working.

It’s not easy getting Last.fm to work on an iPad… there’s only partial functionality (I suspect that due to Apple’s well known aversion to all things Flash, and also to their reluctance to grant control of the iTunes player to third parties).

Now that I’m working from home, music is becoming more and more a necessity. I couldn’t listen before in the office environment, which could have helped me tune out distractions. Now I can listen, and it helps me stay focused while working on records in “waiting for calls” mode. I have a normal clock radio in my home office that can dock with my iPhone 4 (but not charge it, it’s an older model radio) and play either iTunes or streaming radio via various iPhone apps. Then  I realized from this post  that my iPad has more capable built in speakers, and tons more options for streaming radio.

Anyway, there are various ways to listen to music on the iPad, and I’ve tried most of them. Only a couple integrate with the Last.fm “scrobbling” feature, which compiles lists of music tracks played. I seem to finally have settled on 2 iPad internet radio apps in addition to iTunes, which are something called Radio.com and the one that works best for me, Tunemark. This is in addition to at least 2 other radio apps that I use (radioBOX and Tuner), but that don’t get “scrobbled” by Last.fm to keep a running list of songs played via streaming radio. There’s Pandora, too, but I ended up deleting it, may try it again later but it wasn’t coordinating with Last.fm any more. Why do I keep the non-scrobbling ones? Mostly because they have different lists of streaming internet radio stations, some unique or hard to find. Some are easy to set up. So they’re not worth dumping.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to get the Last.fm “custom stations” or “create your station from an artist, song, or genre” feature working on the iPad, because that seems to be kicked off only using a browser version of Last.fm that requires Flash, which Apple refuses to support. Meh. The only other way to get this feature is to install the Last.fm desktop client, which of course can’t be done on the iPad, because APPLE. Grr.

On the other hand, I was playing around on the old laptop and there I have tons of options.

  • Had previously installed a cross-platform player called Clementine that scrobbles tracks and streaming radio. It’s simple, easy to work with, it just works.
  • Installed the latest beta version of the desktop Last.fm client, which is reportedly buggy, but working more or less fine for me on Ye Olde Lap-Top Computer (it may help that it’s still WinXP, don’t know). But the fabulous custom radio feature works, and the integrated plugins for Winamp work, whoo hoo! I can even “love” songsI
  • Installed the latest Winamp, ditto whoo hoo, especially as I had never bothered to import my iTunes library… and it seems I should have, because my laptop has the oldest and most complete version of my much neglected and out of date music database. I found tons of music that hasn’t survived the leaps to my old pre-Gateway computer, let alone to my old Gateway and the current custom-built with the blue blinky whirry lights. AND the Winamp plugin works – I could never get that working before. Oh, maybe I should check to see if it detects streaming radio tracks… the inability of Winamp to scrobble on my desktop on the old version is, heh heh heh, ,what got me kind of in this musical obsession death-spiral in the first place. And… there we have it, Winamp does NOT scrobble streaming radio, but it starts to scrobble saved podcasts (I have a copy of This American Life’s “Pools of Money” show on the economic crisis, and the Last.fm client detected it and the audio tracks I’d imported from iTunes
  • Tested a different Last.fm plugin, Adaba’s Last.fm Pages and widget. Didn’t work, too bad, it hadn’t been updated in 2 years, and it had the ability to create pages with latest tracks, favorites, etc.
  • Installed another plugin called Last.fm Tabs, which adds interesting features below the current one, WPLast.fm. So now I can show favorites, top rated, and so on. Not quite as good as an entire page of recent tracks, but okay for now. I may explore a different method to put that on its own page later.

So: on the iPad, I can scrobble tracks from iTunes, and scrobble some streamed radio from the Radio.com app (which has a pretty nice interface, but a lot of dead Yahoo radio links, because CBS Radio killed them or something). My iPad streaming Radio.com app (which has a pretty nice interface, but a lot of dead Yahoo radio links, because CBS Radio killed them or something). My iPad streaming radio app of choice is Tunemark, which I think was a 0.99 BARGAIN.”>radio app of choice is Tunemark, which I think was a 0.99 BARGAIN.

Radio.com was HARD to configure for Last.fm. For some reason I couldn’t get signed in for a day. Then when I thought I had turned it on, I hadn’t actually clicked a little green user icon dingus and REALLY complete the connection to Last.fm. Once that was done, the generic user icon (which looked like a Plamobil wee-people) turned into a faint AS (which scrobblers know stands not for Arne Saknussemm but for Audioscrobbler, the precursor software Last.fm bought). It took me 2 whole days to stumble into the solution – not found in any FAQ that I could find.

Yet Tunemark is a pleasure to use and configure. It comes with the stock Shoutcast directory of internet radio stations, but it’s easy to add a stream URL (Winamp is awful for adding URLs, but I grumbled and got along for years). I had to look up some of the harder to find URLs (for some reason, CBS is a major thorn in the sides of internet radio listners, they hid their high-bandwidth URLs well).

A couple of really cool features on Tunemark (and now I finally get to use the fancy new Twitter embed) are the ability to Tweet a track title and artist, or to post it as a status update to Facebook. Also, it has a way to “tunemark” or bookmark a track, which adds it to a local list which can be exported. Pretty cool, eh? I’m still figuring out what other features are hidden behind little icons.

Oh, lookit that, that’s so cute! Yep, it’s cool functionality… and similar to a nifty little thing that the old, old, old offline WordPress client ecto used to have. Just push the little “musical note” button while iTunes was playing, and it would insert a “currently listening” thing into the post. Le sigh, ecto or whatever it’s called now has been dead for Windows users for years… shame, that. Anyway, the thing is, all this fun musical woolgathering is dependent on one single piece of software – that old Audioscrobbler that Last.fm bought 6 years ago that they’ve gradually let get long in the tooth until now, it seems, it’s easier for them to update for everything BUT Apple products. There must be some longstanding fued or something. If they ever break the functionality for scrobbling to Last.fm or any other site from iTunes or from Apple products, a scream of rage will go up from thousands and thousands of hardcore music-track collectors. Reading some of the years-old pleas in the Last.fm community support pages these last few days, I’ve gotten a sense of how bored the Last.fm folks are with answering the same question over and over again: “WHEN WILL LAST.FM HAVE ITS OWN iPAD APP? WHEN? THE iPHONE VERSION LOOKS TERRIBLE ON THE TABLET!”

The beta version of their software is working. I’m hoping that a website redesign is coming (without the horrible Flash that means I can’t work all the music, video, “play” or radio buttons on the iPad or iPhone). But I have a horrible feeling that I’ve finally figured out how to make a record of all the great music I’m listening to now, only to probably lose this ability at any time, at Last.fm’s whim. You see, CBS Radio bought Last.fm a few years ago. Not long after that, they took their best streaming URLs behind a kind of content wall (forcing listeners to listen to high-bandwith WXRT HD via their website, for example) and they also appear to have simply turned off a lot of Yahoo! radio streams, after taking them over. So it’s not known how long CBS might be okay with the whole “scrobbling via API to various third-party players and blog plugins” concept, unless they see significant purchase revenue from incoming links to scrobblers’ pages. I dunno.

Anyway, I’ve listened to a lot of old and new music tonight playing around on the iPad and Ye Olde Laptop, the Dull Uninspiron. While it lasts, I’ll enjoy listening during the day, too.

More music later. And more tweets.

So,

Review | The Imperfectionists – When News Was Printed With Ink On Paper

Book: The Imperfectionists

The iPad has been tempting me to try buying eBooks to eRead in my copious sPare time.  Last night I happened to catch an episode of the Canadian culture and current events show Q that included a very positive review of The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman.

As a former English major, I’ve avoided reading serious novels for decades; I’ve read a couple of books in recent years that featured that cutesy scribbled-script kind of font with whimsical names like “The Lost Weekend of Cooking In Provence” or “The Lumpy Girl’s Guide To Off-Putting Personal Hygiene” and that was about it for “chick lit” for me.  And frankly, I didn’t love them as much as the art directors and the review-blurb writers did.  I’ve also avoided most serious fiction and non-fiction, although I do enjoy the occasional foray into historical biographies.  That Samuel Pepys, for example – what a party animal! He really knew how to report a story, and put the journal in journalism, too.

Anyway, I decided I’d try reading something I hadn’t read before, go out of my usual habit or comfort level for reading. Meanwhile, the second “The Girl Who…” novel sits on my bedside table: an actual book, and it’s something that has to be tackled when I’m in the mood for violent modern suspense novels, but not soon.

So after hearing this enthusiastic review on Q of what sounded like a Book of the Year, or the Decade, I decided it was a good candidate for my first paid-for e-book (stylebook: is it eBook, e-book, ebook? These things mattered to me once, and they may again) I used the Kindle app that my husband David recommended over Apple’s own application, iBooks.

I’ve been reading some free books via both apps, and it feels more comfortable and less busy-crazy-making to read on the Kindle, now that I’ve figured out that a single light tap on the right or left margin will slide the page, rather than the vigorous swipe that iBooks seems to expect.  The iBooks app also shows the mini-icons for bookmarking, changing font size, etc. constantly, while the Kindle only shows them if you tap in the center, between the two pages. Otherwise, they don’t appear, and the page (or pages) are nicely readable in either portrait or landscape mode, with no distracting graphics. Just text, in an easy to read size with a decent amount of whitespace between the lines. The iBooks app looks cluttered to me now, because there’re little border graphics that look like “page edges” just like in a “real” book.

So after seeing several news stories about the supposed death of old-fashioned journalism and/or newspapers, and one beguiling obituary of an old-fashioned journalist who might have inspired a character in this book, it seemed the stars had aligned. I downloaded “The Imperfectionists” and began reading last night.

Structurally, it has a jumbled timeline, and each chapter gets inside the head of a different character associated with “the paper,” an unnamed international publication based in Rome that sounds like a combination of the news bureau Gregory Peck worked for in “Roman Holiday” and the International Herald Tribune (which is a subsidiary of the New York Times now, and has its own iPad app). The author worked at the IHT for a couple of years and wandered the globe as a correspondent, so he knows the world he creates for this novel.

Each character shines, in all his or her imperfect glory, for the reader for a brief chapter before departing the stage, to be replaced by another character. Some of them are heartbreakingly flawed – bitter, lonely people who refuse to blame themselves for their own failures. Some of them are opaque; what makes them tick? Is it love of the heart, love of words, or love of getting a byline on the front page? Some of them are maddening, and deserve to be shaken.

Sometimes it’s clear what happens to the current protagonist when the chapter ends, sometimes it becomes clearer a few chapters later when another character offers some kind of insight on them – they all circulate in and out of each others’  lives, and chapters. The passage of time is even more compelling as the characters and their time at “the paper” come in piecemeal, like copy filed just before deadline that must be put into some kind of order before each page and section can be put to bed. It’s up to the reader to put the stories in their proper order, and work out how the personality of “the paper” changed through the years as the publishers, editors, stringers and reporters came and went. It’s all a grand, glorious Puzzle-Wuzzle.

I haven’t quite finished the book; I thought the NYT review started to give the ending away when I went there just now to verify something so I clicked away quickly. Try doing that with a pile of moldy newspapers and books!  But I’ve enjoyed every chapter, even the ones covering characters that are completely unlikeable, unloveable… and fascinating.

This is writing at its best — character studies that would flutter the page with their breathing if I were reading a hardbound or paperback book.  As it is, they fairly dance amongst the pixels, each in their own era.

The lively, yet unexplained postwar beginnings of “the paper” crackle like an unfiltered Old Gold, with the crystal ashtrays and the “discreet” bar in the corner of the newsroom. The middle years reference huge international stories in the background, while the editorial staff struggle to send or find someone to cover them, and the reporters try to expend as little effort as possible doing so. The later years get to the Iraq War, modern cell-phone and laptop journalism, and a sense that the newsroom has literally seen better days (the stains on the carpet could tell a story of their own of office potlucks and “scoop” parties that got out of hand).

I’m about 3/4 done with the book, and I have to say I can’t wait to see which character steps out of the background next — or whether it will be a completely new character, not yet conceived or introduced.  I also have to say that I’ll be sad when I finish this book, because part of its charm is teasing the story of “the paper” out and re-composing it in my head, from optimistic past to grubby present to uncertain future.

The personality of “the paper” shifts a bit as each publisher, each editor-in-chief comes and goes. Money is often a problem, and so is creeping apathy and excuse-making (as in, writing stories that the shrinking readership ought to want to read, rather than reporting news that might attract new readers).  I’m looking forward to finding out why the enigmatic founder started it in the first place, but I’m guessing it has to do with heartbreak, missed chances, and regret. I’m also looking forward to finding out what the dynamic present-day editor-in-chief will do to try to restore “the paper’s” reputation and credibility — and whether the seeming inevitability of web and mobile content over printed paper will revive it, or prove fatal if not handled well.

Meanwhile, there’s still a few new people to meet. More later.

UPDATE: I’ve finished, and I was right, I’m sad that it’s done. It’s all over with a whimper, not a bang; my least favorite character of all was also the one that was necessary to balance the others out and bring the narrative to a close. There’s a wrap-up chapter that covers all the unresolved characters’ fates.

I was right about why the paper was originally started, although I didn’t really articulate it in so many words. It’s clear that the family dynasty associated with the paper, from the founder father to absentee owner son to emotionally absent grandson, was incapable of making complete human connections. This inability to connect, or facility to make disastrous connections, was a theme with nearly everyone in the book. Some dealt with it more gracefully than others.

I’ll be thinking about these people for a while. They’re not easily characterized characters, that’s for sure.