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How I Spent My Staycation

… or maybe I should have titled this “How I am Spending My Staycation” because I have another day to go.

We do lots of staycations. We love going places and seeing things, but sometimes, we just want to veg.

However, during this staycation I’ve been pretty active. I’ve met my exercise goal every day of this staycation except maybe today … nope, I’m on track again today.

Usually, when I take a staycation, I write a lot. And I did get in a couple of good writing sessions on Saturday. But not much since.

Instead, I have been on a tear on my violin. I spent this summer on a quest to get the best sound possible out of my violin. It was playing particularly badly. I had tried a D string out of aluminum rather than silver because they kept fraying, but the sound was like a sick french horn. I could almost not bear to play it. The A string wasn’t much better, and the G string would slip under the bow.

Since I knew that the violin once sounded pretty good, I took it to a different luthier–one in Melbourne rather than in my hometown. I asked for his opinion of the bow and the violin, and he told me he thought they were both better than “student violins”. I took that to mean they had hope. He replaced the bridge and the sound post with upgraded versions (who knew?), and put better-quality hair on the bow. I took it home and noticed some improvement after a settling in period of about a week. Then, I changed the strings to a set that promised a warmer sound.

And suddenly, my violin was fun to play again.

Choir practice started again last week, so I had lots of new music to practice, plus I continued some favorites. I have been working all summer on Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, a piece that almost every intermediate student learns in order to master “bow crossings”, which is moving from one string to another under one bow stroke. It’s hard to play well this way. I have also been working on Dust in the Wind, because it is a nice challenge and everyone knows it. I recently added Hava Nagila, a Jewish anthem, because it really rocks, and I came up with an arrangement that includes some bow bouncing techniques that I want to master.

So other than hanging out with my daughter and my husband, that’s how I’m spending my staycation. I’m back to work on Thursday.

But for now, I’m off for my second practice session of the day!

Is the “Old School” Obsolete?

It’s amazing how one blog post can lead to another.

Last week, I vowed to go old school with blog posting and reading. Well, that plan encountered a few snags. Good thing I’m persistent.

Snag #1 – No RSS Feeds

I had two visitors in my last post who have blogs, and whose feed I wanted to add to my feed reader. Alas, their websites do not include feeds. Which led me to a realization and a related snag.

Snag #2 – RSS Feeds are Passe

I don’t really care about this. I vowed to go old school, and RSS definitely qualifies. 

(What's with all the headings, you might ask? Well, my blog has this spiffy new Gutenberg editor, and I'm playing around with it. This is a Preformatted block.)

So I did some research. I Googled “Is RSS obsolete”. Some articles, dated 2013 and 2015, answered with a resounding yes, and talked all about how Facebook are sooo much better, because they’ll curate you, dontchaknow.

Whenever I read about “curated” websites, think of museum curators, who put together the displays based on what they think you would want to pay money to see. In the case of Facebook and Twitter, the curator is the Algorithm, and it shoves you content based on what it thinks will keep you on their site long enough to serve you more ads. That’s why you get articles with titles like “Stacy Starborn no longer plucks her eyebrows! Here’s why!”. And “She was jaw-dropping in 1998. See what she looks like today!”

If I want to be curated, I’ll go to a museum.

–Me

But one stood out, an article at Gizmodo: Why RSS Still Beats Facebook and Twitter for Tracking News.

(So yes, I was looking for people who were thinking like me.)

Per the article, RSS feeds are useful precisely because they do not attempt “curation”. The author didn’t actually say, that; it’s my summary. If I want to be curated, I’ll go to a museum.

And besides, it seems that most professional websites still use RSS feeds because, well, it’s simple. It was called Really Simple Syndication for a reason, and countless APIs (website communication thingies) already use them. No point in throwing it away at all.

Snag #3 – My Feed Reader is Lazy

Good old Google Reader used to wrest a feed out of any blog, whether it published an RSS feed or not. My feed reader, Inoreader, could not find a feed on several websites. Research leads me to believe that this may be a “pro” feature. I have not looked into it yet. My approach was to leave nice comments on the blogs in question, asking them to please publish a feed.

Google Reader Today (sniff!)

Yes, I could subscribe to the websites via other means and get emails. But honestly, those emails will just get lost. When you have had the same email address ever since Google opened Gmail to all comers, you have a lot of junk coming to that inbox. And most of the time, when I look at email, I am not blog surfing at that time. I blog surf on a bit of a schedule.

To get around all of these snags, I’m going to do a few things:

  • Continue to nicely ask owners of interesting blogs to publish a feed,
  • See what the “pro” level of Inoreader will get me, and determine if it is worth it,
  • Check out how IFTTT might help, per the suggestion in the Gizmoto article that I linked above, which was an intriguing suggestion.

Any other suggestions?

How Social Media (almost) Killed My Blog

Anyone looking over this website for the first time will justifiably come to the conclusion that I have lost interest in blogging. That’s really not true at all. I merely got discouraged.

Part of the “sell” in setting up profiles on social media is to help you “engage” and get your stuff noticed. For me, it had an opposite effect.

I started blogging in 2007 with the launch of Fantasy Debut. It was the third blog I started. The first few had no readers whatsoever, except spammers. But when I launched Fantasy Debut with the release of Lisa Shearin‘s first book, Magic Lost, Trouble Found, little did I know that she would notice immediately. I posted an as-I-read-it review of the opening chapters. She left my very first comment. By the end of that book, I had already attracted several avid readers, some of whom had blogs of their own. Naturally, I checked out their blogs and learned of even more books–and blogs.

The community grew organically from there. Or rather, I joined the already-growing community. A lot of us made our start that year.

For a while–I admit–I got a little carried away. I posted a lot, and when I wasn’t posting, I was reading other reviews, and when I wasn’t doing either of that, I was checking out my blog stats. It was downright narcissistic, and when I realized that, I deleted my link to Google Analytics and focused on content.

I was never a superstar. But my blog had a respectable following, and I could tell how “engaged” people was by the number of comments they left. I moved my site to tianevitt.com and renamed it Debuts and Reviews. Thanks to Feedburner, I was able to take most of my readership with me, and the others seemed to follow.

When Twitter became popular, I signed up. I did the same for Facebook. For a while, all went well. Someone once described Twitter to me as a river of posts that I could stick my toe in at any time to see what was going by. Facebook was the same way. Yes, I didn’t see everything, but I did see a wide selection of content from people that I followed, and I read a wide variety of posts. Thanks to retweets and reposts, I do think I saw everything worth seeing. Both sites drove traffic to my site, but, when I did go back to Google Analytics, I noticed that my blog was really no bigger than before.

I retired Debuts and Reviews after The Sevenfold Spell was published, and my readership consequently–as anticipated–declined. I am not blaming Facebook or Twitter for that. I knew it would happen.

But then, along came the new Algorithms.

Behind the scenes, first Facebook and then Twitter started arranging the timelines differently. Two things happened simultaneously–I began seeing the same people over and over in my feed, and fewer people reacted to mine. The bottom fell out of my “engagement”.

Apparently, the Algorithm had decided that I was a bore. Which may be true.

However, I never spent a lot of time engaging on those sites because I was busy engaging on blogs. When I read a post on Twitter or Facebook, I would click through to the website and leave my comment there. Apparently, I ought to have either tweeted a reply, or left a Facebook comment. And maybe I ought to have paid to “boost” my posts. The fact that I never changed my behavior made me an undesirable.

Over on Twitter, I noticed that my feed was littered with retweets from the same few people. I was unwilling to unfriend them, but Twitter apparently rated their feeds very high, maybe due to their status as prolific retweeters.

During the same timespan, Google Reader discontinued itself, and I never found a satisfactory replacement.

Over time, my readership dwindled to a few that I can call long-term friends. They still read all my posts and they come by to comment, which makes me happy.

However, it is very discouraging to post stuff that few people seem to ever see. So I actually did so less and less often.

~*~

That’s not the end to this story. I’ve decided to try again. How?

I’m Going Old School!

Google Reader ain’t coming back, so I looked around for an alternative, from which I will be starting from scratch. Therefore, I signed up for and installed Inoreader on my iPad. I added Fantasy Cafe first, sine I knew Kristen was still blogging. I also knew that she still maintained a blogroll (which kindly still lists this blog). From there, I found two other live blogs that I remembered that are still active–Angieville and SciFiChick. Another site I looked at, http://mariazanninihome.com/, doesn’t have an RSS feed. So I subscribed via WordPress.

As for this site, my old Feedburner RSS feed still works, and is still attached to this website. I also have subscribers to this blog via WordPress, and I will look into what else is out there now, since RSS is the Way of the Past–not the Future.

Twitter

There is some hope for Twitter. I figured out how to restore the original feed by unclicking an option in Settings for Show the Best Tweets First. Kudos to Twitter for providing that option. Boos to Twitter for turning it on without telling me in the first place.

Assuming my tweets are not rated “Best”, here’s how to see a greater variety of tweets (including mine!) in your feed:

  • Click the little round icon for your account in the upper right heading bar.
  • Click Account
  • Scroll down to Content
  • Unclick “Show the best Tweets first”

You will NOT regret it. It’s like getting the old Twitter back.

Facebook

Facebook makes it MUCH harder. You can select people to prioritize so they appear at the top of your feed, but there’s no blanket “Just show everything ordered by time” option.

So I’m still researching it. It may be a lost cause.

Blogrolling

I’m reluctant to announce things, because I tend to forget about my newfound commitment and not follow through. But, I’m going to go ahead an announce this. The next step in bringing back my blogging mojo will be to start blogrolling again. what’s blogrolling, you may ask? When I find interesting stuff, I’ll favorite it in Inoreader, and then post about it here, on an as-I-think-of-it basis.

Let’s see how this works out.

Finishing the Danged Books

I have what I think is a good reason for not blogging lately. I have just been finishing the danged books.

It seems that I put up this new website last year, and once I got that accomplished, I pretty much devoted almost all of my writing efforts to my books. I guess that isn’t a bad thing. But it’s terrible for my social media footprint.

First, I decided to rewrite one of my novels in third person. I had been waffling on that for a few months, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Then, a recent news story really helped me strengthen one of the main conflicts. I finished that rewrite and polished and considered it “query ready” by January. I rewrote the synopsis, and polished up the query.

But then what did I do? I dove right into my other novel, which was in the midst of a rewrite as well, and now I am finishing up that one. I have been having rewrite fever.

I have not even been reading much this year. The number of books I’ve read this year has been tragically low.

Oh, and I also started writing what I consider to be the space epic I have always wanted to write. For years I have been writing little snips and setting them aside, knowing they weren’t quite what I wanted, and looking for that big idea. Well, it all came together, and I’ve started the opening scenes in Scrivener, which I purchased a while back. I am also incorporated many of those old ideas, and am pretty happy with what is coming together.

But that’s a side activity while I finish this rewrite.

Honestly, for a while last year when I was going through a period of fragile health, I wondered if I had lost that writing spark. But it is difficult to keep the writing spark when you cannot sleep more than 5 hours a night and your immune system is recovering from powerful antibiotics. Once I fully recovered, I not only started writing again, but I am playing my violin consistently as well.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Hope everyone has been well!

 

An Amused Shopper’s First Ikea Experience

Thomas, the oh, so proper British voice on Waze, got the pronunciation wrong.

“Turn right. Then, keep right. Then, Eekaya will be on the right.”

“EEkaya,” I said. “Is it EEkaya, or Eyekeeia?”

“Eyekeeia,” my daughter said.

“I think you’re right,” I said as I kept right. I had heard it pronounced by my sister, who had told me about Ikea, and who would know such things. “But I like EEkaya better.”

Just then, the trees to my right parted, and the incredible blueness of the Ikea building came into view. It was the second time I had seen the building. I had forgotten about the blueness. This picture, carelessly shot with my phone, does not do it justice. It is bluer than my Air Force Blues, and about as blue as my Nivia bottle. It is about as blue as blue can get and still be blue, and not, say, purple. And the only thing that out-did the blueness was the goldness of the single contrasting color. I asked my daughter if it was yellow or gold, and she opted for yellow. I thought it was gold.

It was a great, square Lego of a building, not a window to be seen, although I would soon discover that I was wrong about that. The windows could have only been on one side that had been obscured by trees, so as to not disrupt the overpowering experience of that first blue impression.

I eyed a cop standing near the entrance, and wondered if something had happened, or it he was part of store security. I found a parking spot near one of the wide sidewalks that run between some of the rows of cars, and we got out.

By the time we made the short walk to the front of the store, the cop was gone. We dutifully went into the entrance. A couple of young associates gestured vaguely as we went in the only possible direction that one could go in. We found ourselves in a stream of people winding about the store. It was not crowded, but one definitely did not want to go upstream. I took a picture of an illustrative corner (which turned out poorly), and opined that the only thing that was missing were arrows on the floor.

That’s when I noticed the arrow on the floor. I took a pic of it as well. There was something unusual about the arrow. It was oddly luminescent. It nagged me for a short while before my daughter pointed out that it was not painted on the floor, but projected.

We tried out a wing chair, and then rejoined the river of people.

“We’re being herded,” I said.

 

My daughter had no comment.

The furniture was true to the catalog that Ikea had sent to my home some months ago. A preponderance of white and steel, pale wood and modernity, except the odd wing chair or other enduring classics. Some of the couches looked very comfy. I pointed out a dinette set and said, “I like that, but it’s way too short for you.”

I live with tall people. At 5’6″, I’m the shortest one.

Most of the furniture did seem a bit short. I spotted a corner desk for $168, that looks very similar to the one I am using now, and which I paid $199 for. It looked equal in quality to mine. But, it seemed a bit short. I didn’t bring a tape measure, so I can neither prove nor disprove this impression.

At a kitchen display, we spotted something we wanted. It was a tablet stand, of pale bamboo, perfect for my iPad, and perfect for our (tall) kitchen table. When I decided I wanted one, my daughter said she wanted one as well.

There was only the one tablet stand visible. On it was a tag that indicated that I could pick one up in the Kitchen Showroom. I looked around. Was I not standing in the very definition of a Kitchen Showroom? I spotted a little back room and went in, but it was apparently a Pantry Showroom. There was nothing in there that did not have a similar blue tag.

 

There was no help for it. I would simply have to remember the tablet stand when I reached the actual Kitchen Showroom. Or maybe there is an App for That? Turns out, there is. And the introductory description even addresses the very need that I encountered just then. “The IKEA Store app is here to make shopping in the store smooth and simple. From planning your visit to remembering everything when you get there …”

So there. That’s what I did wrong. I neglected to plan my visit (at all), and I failed to download the app. I have also been neglecting to properly capitalize IKEA.

We rejoined the flow and after a short walk, I did find the Kitchen Showroom, which contained neat stacks of stuff, all clearly identifiable and packaged in white. After a brief search, we found our tablet stands and rejoined the flow.

At this point, I began to look around for a restroom. There was a one-dimensional map of the store that depicted all the various departments with large dots, arranged in a row rather than a representation that showed all the turns and twists. It reminded me of subway maps. No attempt to be realistic, other than what is ahead or behind. I discovered that the restroom was near the store restaurant, which was only a few stops ahead.

“We’ll have to check out the cookies when we get there,” I said to my daughter. She agreed. I had heard all about the delicious cookies from my sister–the same one who had provided the authoritative pronunciation. We found the restroom, but since I had neglected to grab a shopping cart on the way in, we had no where to put our not-yet-our iPad stands. I had no convenient husband around to act as my merchandise holder, so I broke a strict shopping taboo by bringing the tablet stands into the bathroom. We did our business in the spotless bathroom, and then went in search of cookies.

The restaurant area is the lone part of the store that had windows. it had a cafeteria-style serving area, cash registers, and plenty of tables. We beelined for the dessert section, and looked around for the fabled cookies. And while I saw plenty of other delicious-looking desserts, such as cupcakes and sliced chocolate cake, there was not a cookie in sight. Perhaps I should have looked near the cashiers. While there, I looked at over dinner menus, which looked quite nutritious and delicious. I was tempted and speculated that my daughter might find find something she likes here. She informed me that she would prefer McDonalds.

We left the cafeteria and found ourselves in another Kitchen Showroom. This one had lots of dishes and cookware. I thought I saw a cast-iron frying pan, so I headed there, as I am always in search of the perfectly-sized cast iron frying pan. I found a frying pan, but no cast iron.

My daughter expressed a wish to check out, so I inspected one of the subway signs. I noticed that there were a few shortcuts indicated, and one led to the exit. I found the indicated shortcut, which is a narrow passage between sections, sans arrows. Think of it as a tributary in our river metaphor. We did have to swim upstream a short ways to get to said tributary, but no one gave us any dirty looks.

Ahead of us, there were only other Showrooms visible, so I asked one of the ubiquitous sales associates, who wore blue and yellow striped shirts, where the checkout area was. She indicated (without using so many words) that if I were to continue to swim downstream, I would find myself there.

And I did.

As we headed toward the cash registers, I, at last, spotted the cookies. I picked up a box.

“They’re tea biscuits,” my daughter said.

And that’s exactly what they were, except I thought they were more like animal crackers, each shaped as an I, a K, an E or an A. I had been envisioning a delicious chocolate chip cookie, not animal crackers, no matter how delicious they were reputed to be. I put it back. My daughter made no objection. We were checked out with the perfect blend of efficient and friendliness. On the way out, we passed a “Wrapping and Inspection” table. There was no Inspector about, so I wondered what that was all about.

And we were done. Our first IKEA experience was in the bag. Without a bag.

We hit a McDonalds on the way home.

My Summer. And Fall. And Winter …

Hi, everyone, and Happy New Year! A very belated Happy New year. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

Music

I mentioned that I had taken up the violin again. It’s been a good twenty-five years, but I two years of very good lessons (in the early 90s) to draw upon, and YouTube has turned out to be a fantastic resource.

It is helpful to have a commitment when doing something like music. My daughter is singing with the church choir, and I promised her that I would be playing with the choir by Christmas. I was able to keep my promise. I am not very good, but I seem to be good enough. Catholic music seems very well suited for violin because so much of it is a slow tempo in a minor key.

Playing music is a bit more of a challenge than it was when I was twenty-five. I’ve had to overcome a bit of arthritis and regain my finger flexibility. It is still not quite back yet. I have trouble with some of the reaches, as well crowding my fingers together in order to play half-steps in tune, such as from F# to G on the E string–very difficult for me. It was once trivial. I also now have vision problems, and the music stand needs to be a good three feet away in order to avoid hitting it with my instrument. It helps that I have a pair of reading glasses that are a few years old, so they are actually pretty good for reading at a bit of a distance.

On the bright side, the skill has come back quickly, and I continue to hear improvement every week.

Writing

I finished a major revision on one of my completed novels and I dove right into finishing up an in-process revision of another. I know I should just start submitting and/or self-publishing the first one, but I can’t seem to stop myself–the writing is just going too well. My sister wants me to start releasing my time travel novel a chapter a week on this blog. She has heard of other writers who have had success with that, but before I commit to such a thing, I would need to research exactly what those other authors did (I have names) and try to guess how successful I might be.

Work

Work has been crazy. I often end up drained by the end of the day, to the extent of which I may have some decisions to make. So that’s all I have to say about that. I have been thinking about doing some business analysis blog posts, and posting/linking them on LinkedIn, under my professional account (not my writer account). I even have some articles ready to go, many of which I wrote years ago for the benefit (and amusement) of my teammates. If I decide to do that, I’ll build another WordPress site for the blog and an online resume, similar to what a lot of user interface developers do. It will definitely have to be something easy.

Goofing Off

Yes, I do get time to goof off. My daughter and I also took up beading, but until she gets better at crimping, we only do that sporadically. My eyes just are not up to it. I can come up with some pretty patterns, and if I lay it out for her, she’ll bead it up. If I don’t lay it out for her, she seems at a loss as to how to imagine a pattern. But that should come in time. We’ re going to do rearranging on our spare room, and part of it (the sunny spot) will be a beading station.

One thing I haven’t been doing a lot, is reading. I think, this year, I have read fewer books than in my entire reading life. Something had to give, I guess.

~*~

What have you been up to? Do you have any good rousing adventure stories to recommend, to get me out of my reading rut? I’m in the mood for a rousing adventure epic. Genre is flexible–either a space epic, a fantasy, or even something historical (if it’s adventurous).

New Web Home! For Real This Time!

Well, I had a few hiccups, but I have finally completed my move into my new web home. This last step–which required intervention by the folk at wordpress.com, was to bring my WordPress subscribers over to this site by way of Jetpack. Woo-hoo, no more double posting!

Regarding this theme–expect it to change. I am not in love with it, and have so far, been unable to use my banner with it. So I’ll have to either make a new, ridiculously huge banner, or find another theme.

When I haven’t been doing this (which has not taken a great deal of time) I have been busy re-POV-ing a novel and taking up the violin again after 25 years. I think both topics are worth a blog post. I’ve also been using Scrivener for my new stories, and I have a mostly-written blog post on that as well.

I have not been reading a lot, which I miss, so I’m on the hunt for a new, meaty, epic fantasy to read. Any recommendations?

Quick Update

Unforgivable. I have not posted since May. And with a brand-new website, too!

But I’ve been writing. A lot.

I like to have two things going on, so while I am drafting a new novel, I am also revising one of my existing novels. In this case, I am converting an entire novel from first person to third, and I am adding another POV character. It’s a big job, but I’m over halfway finished.

When I finish, I’ll repolish the query and synop, and begin sending it places while I turn my attention back to my new project.

In other news, my health is finally improved. I finally feel over the dreadful antibiotics that I had to go on this time last year, and which, I swear, wiped me out for a solid year. I figured out some of my sleeping issues (absolutely no sugar or milk products after six) and it is a wonder what enough rest can do for you.

Finally, I got Scrivener, which is a writing tool specially suited for large projects such as novels and screenplays (and, apparently, legal briefs), and I have started a software review. I’ll try to finish that up soon.

So I had the good fortune of losing my Fitbit …

Why was that a good thing? Sometimes good things come in roundabout ways.

  • Problem: I couldn’t sleep through the night.
  • Solution: I bought a Fitbit One to help me track my sleep (and activity).

Fitbit gave me a lot of raw data. I was either “awake” “restless” or “asleep” in tiny slices throughout the night, oftentimes each slice only one minute long. All this raw data was hard to make much sense out of, but one thing I did know: on a good night, I only get about 6 hours of sleep. Enough to not be a zombie, but not enough to sustain my creativity. At the end of a workday, I was always wiped out, and I certainly did not have enough creativity left in me to do things like writing or blogging.

  • New Problem: I lost my Fitbit. I wanted to replace it.
  • Solution: I looked for a new sleep tracker. Preferably something better.

I had two qualifications:

One, it had to have good reviews for sleep tracking.

Two: it had to share data with my Apple HealthKit app. The fact that Fitbit did not share such data was a huge strike against it, and was a mistake I did not intend to repeat.

I wanted to get a tracker for my daughter as well, because I suspected she had sleep issues, and another one for my husband, because he was holding his Fitbit Charge together with superglue. Literally.

So when I saw the Misfit Charge had great reviews, communicated with HealthKit and it was only 20 dollars, it was a no-brainer.

Why is it so cheap? Turns out, the Misfit Charge is also being marketed as a smart button, and Misfit really wants them to be useful enough for you to want two or three of them. So I did buy three of them, one for every member of the family, plus I bought a five-pack of wristbands.

And thus, the reason why the loss of the Fitbit was a good thing: thanks to the improved sleep analysis of my Misfit, I discovered that I am a light sleeper. That should have been obvious, I guess, but the raw data from the Fitbit was really difficult to analyze. Once I realized that miscellaneous outdoor noises were waking me up, I started playing with white noise apps, and my sleep problems are almost over.

Oh, I still get the occasional stomach ache and headache, but I can hardly blame my Misfit for that.

As for my creativity? Well, over the weekend I wrote almost 5000 words for an entirely new story. And tonight, I wrote this blog post.

I’d say it’s back.

New Web Home!

I am very excited to be using a self-hosted website once again! I found SiteGround just a week ago and selected it because their focus on fighting hackers, which is what drove me away from self-hosting three years ago. So far, they have been extremely helpful–a refreshing change!

Right now, this place is a bit bare, but I will be tweaking it in the coming weeks. What do you think of the tiled blog post layout? I’ve never tried it before, but it looks fun.