Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The incredible disappearing Q W E R T Y

The incredible disappearing QWERTY.
What is the most important tool for me as a writer?  That is easy: a keyboard.  I mention this as I have noticed that over the years of owning various computers that the keyboard letters are fading more quickly with each new purchase as I upgrade. In essence, as I upgrade the computer, technology seems to be downgrading the durability of the lettering.  I am fairly proficient at keyboarding, but I do use certain letters as landmarks for where other keys are when I am not sitting at my desk.

You know the routine.  There are several things to get done, so I turn on the computer, run to move laundry to the dryer, come back and enter my login, but I am not sitting down, so I have to hunt and peck to locate the keys.  Only, E, R, T, I, S, D, H, L, C, and N are completely gone, and several are in the process of disappearing.  So this simple entering of a login turns into a frustrating moment of trying to visualize a keyboard my fingers know well, but my eyes do not.

Each time I sit down at my computer and note this particular annoyance, I think of a new way I can replace these keys markers:  paint (the obvious: would nail polish work?  I have a really nice opalescent.), etch them in with a hot needle (somewhat raised as the original keyboards were), replace the keys, buy replacement stickers, buy a new keyboard (really?!), etc.

Sure keyboards are a throw away item, so excess durability is useless.  But I want to be the one to decide when my keyboard is ready to go the will-a-the-wisp, and I'll make the decision based on letters showing or not showing on my screen not disappearing off my keyboard.

Maybe I just need to use my P's and Q's a lot more and my R's and E's a lot less.

Update:  I purchased replacement letters to stick on the blank keys.  Then my husband bought me a new computer a month later. So the keyboard letter wear is great on the old keyboard. My new one: well less than a year later the lovely backlit letters began to not fade, but disappear in a whole new fashion.

The keys are cut into the layer of "paint" so the light can glow the letter. But that "paint" is getting scratched off so my keyboard letters are now taking on this sort of smudged effect, rather like a ultra modernist painter swished a vaguely alphabetic impression on the board. The culprit letters are: E, S, D, T, N and M.  No surprise there. Except that I had the previous keyboard near ten years, and this one lasted a mere year.

I am still not using those P's and Q's all that much.

Any suggestions?  Should we strike, demand keyboards with raised letters, argue functionality over bells and whistles?  Maybe I'll just nail polish this time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last 2011 Tuesday prompt

Look through your memories and find one that was especially sad.   Think about all the details.  Make yourself sad. Now write it down in a narrative voice that is not yours.   Write it in poetry, personal prose or short story.  Add this twist to it: Look at it from a funny perspective.  Be smiling when you are done.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The best can come out of the bits and pieces

I have always been a believer in the idea that there are things that are specifically made to fit a situation or need, but one can always come up with a bypass if that item is just not available. This is how I manage to deal with computers that don't want to work or when an overhead projector at school decides to go on the fritz. Being a teacher, I need to be ready for every contingency.  I remind my students of this outlook when one tells me the computer died just as she was about to type a homework assignment (pull out a pencil and write) or his printer broke (email it). (Computers crashing far outnumber dogs eating homework these days).  I think I learned this make-do style from my father.

My mom always did the cooking, but there were rare times when she was too sick and my father had to take over.  He never minded, she always did.  He would look in the refrigerator and start pulling things out.  A pot on the stove was the destination for everything he found.  In the end, the bubbling mass would look like a poor quality of concrete ready for pouring.  We would make burritos with it, adding cheddar cheese and taco sauce.  Though it looked disgusting, it was delicious.

When my mom was well enough to return to the kitchen, we would all make her "sick" with our rapturous descriptions of Dad's "Slab" recipe.

I look at writing this way, too.  Need a name for a character to be common but memorable:  I pick an average name, Fred for instance, and add/delete a letter.  Fned Carson is one of the characters in my short story tentatively titled "Scrapper."  He's an average guy whose life has been flowing downhill for awhile (something that happened to my father for a time, too). My main character Moekaff, an eight-year-old boy, is left at Carson's Rest, a transport rest stop and restaurant. There the two suffer separately as they try to deal with rough times.  I needed Fned to be both an addition to Moe's troubles but also a man with a right to be angry and depressed, ready to take out his frustrations on this kid who is himself in mourning.  They don't save each other, but they do share their misery and somehow walk away with possibilities.  But that is only a part of the journey Moekaff takes before he finds a place to call home again.  I am still finishing this story and hope to make it part of an anthology of science fiction stories I have written.  As soon as it's done, I'll finish my redraft on my second novel of my Students of Jumps series, No Time Like the Present.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's Tuesday -- so here's the prompt

Your main character is asleep and though it is early, the sun is lightening the room enough to discern furnishings and objects about the place.  Have your main character begin his usual wake up routine.  When he gets up to sit on the side of the bed for the last residuals of sleep to pass, have him notice something in the room that is just not as it should be.  Maybe someone else's shoes are next to the bureau or perhaps different jewelry is in the tray where cufflinks or earrings are normally left to be put away later or used again.  Maybe the bedding is not the same as it was the night before. Whatever it is that is different, have your character figure out why it is.

(To avoid the he/she, his/her, etc., inserts to avoid saying "they," I put a male reference and for no other reason.  Replace it with a female reference if needed.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Never thought I would own an RV

So we decided to get a motor home, and my husband became married to a motor home online sales site.  He searched all the time, sometimes showing me the ones way beyond our price and others within range but not configured the way we wanted. We looked at a few and they were intriguing in unique ways.

The first was pretty good, but the owner had made no effort whatever to remove her stuff or clean up the RV.  Really, shouldn't a person clean out the stove, vacuum a bit and air out the refrigerator when you know people are going to be snooping about?  You know, if you are going to sell a house, you should neaten things up a bit, maybe bake cookies so everything smells good.  We're pretty good at looking beyond such stuff.  All the same, it was the disorganized one in my mind, besides being just too small for the price.  Had it been nice from moment one, I might have been won over despite the size.

A second looked better, larger and neat but too much looked nice but didn't work. If we didn't want to drive it any where, we were good.  The engine was spotty when it came to power, not all lights were working, inside and out, no refrigerator, etc.

We looked at a third because the price was good, but it looked like it was used by hunters without a care for cleanliness, not to mention quite a bit of the practical items missing or damaged. I began to think what we could afford was just not what we would want.  But the man kept looking.

He found another that looked pretty good in pictures and was said to be in pretty good working order.  So we knocked on the door clearly waking up the owner (even though we had made an appointment) who looked like he had partied all night.  He let us tour the RV, and I tried really hard to smell beyond the distinct odor of less than legal ingredients, look beyond the poor and abandoned attempt at refinishing the cabinets, the replacement couch (a metal frame with a lumpy mattress), no refrigerator, etc.  It was the largest we had looked at, and we wanted to give it a chance, so we talked about how we could renovate the inside figuring it would come to about $1,500. But did we really want a vehicle that might cause us to be marked by a drug dog at school because we spent too much time in our RV's fumes? We started referring to it as the drug den RV in order to differentiate it from the others that were just not what we wanted.

So he found another weeks later and pretty much after we had both determined we were going to have to save another two grand to get something we would want to camp in.  I went along, prying at my not so open mind.  We arrived in a really nice neighborhood, upscale country.  Checked out the RV on a cold rainy night.  Nice colors (time-faded pink, almost tan -- no stripes or gaudy colors), everything worked, all original except for a new refrigerator, fellow educators and the price was right for us.  So we own a motor home.  But my husband after all that looking at fixer uppers cannot leave well enough alone.  He's busy making prettier what was already pretty.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another Tuesday night writing prompt

Everybody has one of those items in their house that they don't know the purpose of. I once had a slender silver cylinder measuring thingy (received from my husband's family and sold by him at a garage sale) that was also a music box (say 8 inches tall, base included, and 2 inches in diameter).  That is, if you turn the little crank on the round silver bottom, it would play a tinny jingle.  It had marks engraved down the side I believe for measuring portions of a cup.  But if one were to put flour or sugar in it, the powder or grains would filter down into the music box box below through the margins where the silver cylinder and silver base met.  It was definitely silver, tarnished and all.  So the question is what was it used to measure?

Your prompt in all of this is find your strange item and give it a history and a purpose.  Or it you don't have such a thing, give mine a history and a purpose. And share it with me. I would love to know the possibilities behind it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tuesday prompt time

This is more of a change in perspective than an actual topic prompt.  What I suggest you do is go sit someplace where you don't usually go to write.  In my class, I have my students sit on the table or beneath it or face a corner.  How many teachers ask you to sit on their tables (none that I know of, unless you are in my classroom)?  Each of my students find something to write about because it is such an unexpected place to be.  But you could sit behind your couch, or underneath the porch swing or in a tree, behind the rose bush or under your bed. Sure some of you are saying, "Done that."  So find your own out-of-the-norm place and see what comes to mind and out those fingers.  If you have trouble coming up with something, write about "going sideways."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My father and I married people allergic to cats, but...

we did have the good fortune of having cats in the family prior to those marriages.  So what made me think of this?  I saw a Siamese cat, a beautiful brown point, sitting on a porch as my husband and I were driving home today from the store.  And I just starting thinking about my dad's Siamese cats, Ming and Ling. (There was also a parakeet whose name I cannot remember and a chihuahua named Pepe, but they have their own stories which I will leave for another time.)

They joined my dad's family before I was born, but not too much before as we still had them when I was five, and they were pretty feisty then.  My father told me those cats were fearless and intelligent.  He said there was a full-size standard poodle who lived on the block, and it would walk past the house and menace Ming and Ling, even chase them if he thought he could get away with it.

Well, one day my dad was at home -- must have been a weekend.  He noticed the two cats were hanging out in the front yard, but not just relaxing. One was in a small palm tree on the grassed area between the sidewalk and the road.  The other, we'll say it was Ling, the male of the pair, was down below walking about the spiky trunk.  It was a fairly young palm tree, as I remember I used to hang my baby doll's blanket like a hammock from the points of the sharp-edged trunk and place my doll inside for a nap while the slender swishing leaves dangled down about me, and that was after the cats had decided to live out on their own.

So he had noted their slightly odd behavior but had not thought much about it.  When he looked out front an hour later, they were still there, Ming mounted in the palm leaves above and Ling below tirelessly traipsing around the tree. My dad was about to turn back to whatever he was doing, when he saw the black poodle walking down the sidewalk.  He saw Ling still stepping around the tree casual as you please.  My father expected the cats to start spitting or run for the house.  But they did neither.  Ling sat down looking at the dog still a good fifty feet away.  That should have rang bells for the canine, but he planted himself firmly on four feet and then tore down the walk straight for Ling.  My dad regretted in that moment having had the cats declawed in front.  He'd wanted them to have some degree of protection, but he didn't have much faith in the fact that they still had their rear claws.  Just as this poodle pounced on Ling, Ming leaped from her perch above on to his back, plunging all her rear claws into his back while wrapping her front legs around his neck and biting him wherever she could reach.  Ling in turn had twisted onto his own back, pressed his front paws into the ground beneath him and leveraged his rear legs up scratching at the dog's face.  The battle lasted seconds before the dog took off making the usual frightened dog wails.  And the cats?  They just strolled back to the house.  My dad was certain it was a planned ambush.

This was my father's story as all I remember of  Ming and Ling is that they left one day.  My father said they went off for adventures.  I recall walking around the house calling their names, hoping every day they would come back.  They returned once, weeks later, looking healthy and happy and then left again presumably off for further adventures.