plonq: (OK...)
2017-07-09 11:02 pm
Entry tags:

I may have got carried away...

When we signed up for Spotify Premium a few weeks ago, I thought it would be nice to put together a put together a few play lists for when I am at work, or relaxing at home, working in the yard, plotting revenge, etc.

Instead, what I ended up doing was just dumping every song I could think of that I like, or might like at some point into a giant play list of 3000+ songs.

On the plus side, it means I can hit shuffle and have a personal radio station of just music that I like. The down side is that it's like having a personal university station, where Tommy Dorsey might cross-fade into Killing Joke.

Megamix

That said, I enjoy the eclectic mix. I don't need to worry about getting bored with Pantera when, likely as not, Michael Bublé will be on next.
plonq: (Kinda Bleah Mood)
2017-07-06 11:29 pm
Entry tags:

Temporarily dodged a bullet

I got an email late Tuesday instructing me to board a plane the following Monday (a holiday up here) to fly out of town for an intensive 3 1/2 month training program on operating locomotives. if you do the maths, you will notice that they were giving me three working days notice for a 14+ week absence from home.

Sure. Fine. I'll just open 14 weeks worth of cat food and let them fend.

I told them to get stuffed - though in politer terms. I said that it was a ridiculously short notification, and left me no time to renew critical prescriptions, nor handle other pending issues. One of the issues being the foot that I injured during training last year that has been giving me increasing grief of late - long before they dropped this last minute bombshell on me. I got the results from my doctor on the x-rays he ordered for it, and though there are no visible fractures, he said there is definitely visible swelling. He has advised me to see a podiatrist, or or somebody who specializes in soft-tissue injuries.

When I advised the training department that there was not a chanced in Hell that I would be on a plane to the training centre on Monday, they responded by sending a passive-aggressive missive to my boss about how they had expected to find me "fit and ready" when the call came. He forwarded that to me, and if I had been angry with them before, I was even more angry with them. It appears that all of their communications have been with him - cutting me entirely out of the loop until they could drop a last-second demand on me to show up for training. The only reason I know about their snot-o-gram is because he forwarded it to me and asked for my comments.

I may have been a little acerbic in my reply, and pointed out that they were making some pretty broad assumptions about my immediate health and availability when the note they sent me last week was their first contact with me at all since October of last year. I have still not been directly advised by either my boss, or the training group that I was not expected out there on Tuesday. The communication in this whole management training program is bad beyond the point of farcical.

Something else I have raised a few times, but seems to be falling on indifferent ears, is the fact that I have about 290 working days left until I reach full pension. This means that if they force me into the 14+ week program, and I come out of it qualified as an engineer, I will still have a few months of familiarization and OJT before I am ready to start running trains. They are looking to spend a bucket load of money training me up for, at best, 150 working days of productivity.

As a shareholder of the company, I am appalled by the waste. Then again, this program is as much a social experiment as anything else. The CEO who brought it in here first set it up at our competition when he was running that company. Their board eventually pushed him out the door, and the company immediately began ramping the program down as an expensive a flop. One of the reasons they are still pushing hard to try and shove managers through this program is because of the alarming attrition rate. I don't know the actual figures, but from the results I've been seeing, for every ten people who they force through the program, two become medically disqualified shortly after they complete it, two go on long term stress leave, and another one quits to find work at a company that sucks less.

Go figure.
plonq: (Somewhat Pleased Mood)
2017-06-26 11:29 pm
Entry tags:

Rage

I did a rage uninstall on my phone today, and left an indignant one-star review on Google Play. It is the first time I have been moved to post a review, but these developers are particularly sketchy.

The strange part of it is that this was in response to a game that I've had for a couple of years. This was one of those typical jewel games where you flip the positions of coloured stones to create rows or columns of the same colour in a race against the clock.

The game has always been an ad-supported, but I've avoided installing ad-blockers on my phone because I can tolerate a few ads to support developers. Originally the ads were pretty unobtrusive, consisting of a small banner at the bottom, and the occasional full-screen ad after clearing a few levels. Over time, the ads became more frequent - usually after clearing 2-3 levels. For a brief span they had ads that would automatically bounce you to the download page for one of their other apps on the Play store, and I came close to dumping the game there, but they reverted that quickly after user complaints.

I did not play the game very often - and usually when I played, it was on long plane trips where I did not have net access, so their ad service behaved itself. Even so, whenever I played the game more recently, I noticed that it was up to popping an ad between every level clear, and then interrupting game-play to display full-screen ads. Again, after users pushed back, they scaled it back to ads ever 2-3 levels, and stopped interrupting in the middle of a level clear.

Today their game hijacked my lock screen with an ad. My phone had got an OS update earlier in the day, and at first I thought that Google had finally gone off the deep end. I closed the ad, and moments later it appeared again. I quickly realized it was tied to the Jewels Star, and I jumped to the play store to see if there were any comments. Sure enough, there was a flood of 1-star reviews by angry people who had encountered the same shenanigans.

The really insulting thing about it is that the developers are responding to the reviewers with a boilerplate response:

"ITREEGAMER June 26, 2017
Hello dear customer, thanks for your feedback and sorry for causing you this problem. We designed this lock-screen in order to make your screen more beautiful and protect your battery while charging. You can close it any time by pressing the button on the top-right corner of the lock screen."

The developers know that they have stepped over a line with this move, but based on their responses, they don't appear to care. I have a niggling suspicion that the company that developed this game may have changed hands at some point, because in spite of their irritating ads earlier, they were at least moderately responsive to the user comments. Now they are nudging the line between irritating and outright malware.

I'd recommend avoiding anything produced by these developers.
plonq: (Trying to be cute)
2017-06-21 11:14 pm
Entry tags:

Down the rabbit hole once again.

Spotify has become a rabbit hole for me lately.

CBC played a song earlier this evening, and though I tried to get Soundhound on my phone to recognize it, I guess it was too obscure or Canadian or something for the app.

At the end they identified the artist as Buffy Sainte-Marie. I went searching, but had no luck until some dedicated Googling revealed that it was actually a song she'd done with Tanya Tagaq.

Sadly, the song is not on Spotify.

No matter. I added a different song by her that I liked, and grabbed a couple by Tanya Tagaq while I was at it (she's one of those artists whose name I can never remember on demand. "You know - that lady who does the throat singing.")

I knew I had been spending enough time on Spotify when, ninety minutes later, I found myself adding Meat Puppets to my playlist.
plonq: (Emo Luna Mood)
2017-06-19 11:20 pm
Entry tags:

Sometimes reading Reddit makes me feel dumber

Reddit has taken a sharp turn toward the lower end of the Int rolls since school got out for the summer. I don't know if we've been feeding this current crop of kids a steady diet of lead paint chips, or if 4Chan has sprung a leak, but it has been some time since I have seen such a big influx of herping and derping.

It's not the stupid that bothers me as much as it is the ignorance, and not even so much the ignorance, but the perverse pride that the ignorant take in their own ignorance. People proudly wear their lack of knowledge like it's some kind of achievement badge they earned for drinking the most turpentine without quite dying.

I understand that there are some subjects that will never interest some people. If somebody tells me that they have no interest in learning about a certain topic because it does not interest them, I will take them at their word and try to refrain from being judgemental, even if it is a topic in which I have a great deal of interest. I may consider them a dullard at that point, but I will cede their right to be one. There are matters out there that hold no interest for me, and I am sure that there are people who consider me a dullard for having no interest in learning about their passions.

On the other hand, I hold people in much lower esteem when they preface their statement ignorance with, "I am proud to say that I know nothing about X..."

That declaration can be implied, by expressing ignorance in something that could be figured out with a modicum of critical thinking.

A special lad posted a picture of a carton of Ice Milk today and said, "wtf is ice milk?"

I snarked at him that ice milk is exactly what it says it is.

There was a picture of the product on the carton. His picture included the ingredients list. A moment of critical thinking might have led one to conclude that ice milk is the same thing as ice cream, but with less fat content. Or, you know, just made with milk.

It's not rocket surgery. It just required thinking from somebody with an aversion to thinking.
plonq: (Somewhat Pleased Mood)
2017-06-11 10:16 pm
Entry tags:

Cultural Appropriation

A couple of weeks back the CBC morning show was giving some air time to a young woman who was talking at some length on the topic of cultural appropriation. The concept is not new, as it reflects the natural flow of memes and influences across different cultures when they meet. Our western culture is a result of millennia of intermixed religions, cuisine, traditions and language. English is a bastard child of almost too many different languages to count.

Lately - especially among the Tumblerina crown - there is a growing use of the term Cultural Appropriation in a negative light. The suggestion is that people gain a kind of inherent copyright on their language, style of dress, food, music and other things that fall under the shroud of their cultural aegis. This girl had made it her life goal to publicly shame people - mostly those with a higher profile in the community - whom she considered to be guilty of engaging in cultural appropriation.

I don't know what goal she pursues with her end game, but I imagine it's that she wants every culture carefully socked into isolated silos, with no cross-blending of ideas. While I am pretty sure she presents herself as a champion against racism, she seems to be chasing a means to encouraging the kind of isolation and ignorance that leads directly to it.

I think that the concept of cultural misappropriation is one of the dumbest things to come out of this century so far.

On another front, every time I start to think that maybe I'd like to keep working past my earliest retirement date, my company gives me start reminders of why I want out. I will miss the people, and I will miss the feeling of being part of a larger thing. I love being one of the old timers who has forgotten more than most of the newer folk have learned. I was joking with one of the others in my seniority group about how the top three of us had about 110 years of experience between us. Also, my director has made no secret of the fact that he's a bit scared of losing any of the three of us. We are not as technically skilled as the newer folks who have more schooling, but we have a very deep business knowledge, and we actually understand what the data we work with represents.

I got a call at 4:20 this morning from my immediate manager who had a bit of a panic attack over whether one of our key jobs had run properly (it had). At around 10 this morning I got another call because we'd had some issues with a patch on one of our Linux servers (always give us more grief than the Windows servers) and it caused the revenue numbers on our morning dashboard to be low. I was on and off the phone for the next six hours before they finally released me.

I have to be back on again at 1:30 tomorrow morning for another four hour stretch to monitor everything that runs because they're having fainting spells over the idea that the same problem might recur.

For most of those four hours I'll just be listening to the phone and levelling up my rogue in WoW. Time better spent sleeping, IMO.

On that note, I'm off to bed to see if I can catch a couple of hours nap before the long night begins.

This is something I won't miss after I retire.
plonq: (Yarr!)
2017-05-31 11:26 pm
Entry tags:

A work in progress.

I fell down the Spotify rabbit hole the past couple of nights, and started building myself a big playlist. I still have a couple more hundred songs to add to it before I am done with this round of additions, but it's coming along.

I will probably break out a few smaller, themed play lists (travel tunes, etc), but there are a lot of prefab ones out there that fit that role nicely. This is just an all purpose list of songs that I like, and add when they come to mind. For the most part Spotify has a very comprehensive library to pick from, but I have been disappointed by the lack of anything by Peter Gabriel, or the strange inclusion of just about every song by Nina Hagen except for the one that I want.

Spotify playlist
plonq: (OK...)
2017-05-29 09:33 pm
Entry tags:

They just keep adding letters.

I cut up some dry salami and applewood-smoked cheddar into small cubes last night and put them together in a container for today's lunch.

Question: what do you get when you pack salami and applewood-smoked cheddar together in the same container and leave them in the fridge overnight?

Answer: Salami, and salami-flavoured cheddar (with hints of applewood).

As I was cutting up some more tonight for tomorrow's lunch, I was pondering on whether to pack the cheese separately when I remembered that we bought some Trappist cheese on the weekend.

It would take a lot to overpower the smell and flavour of this cheese. In a battle of cheese and dry salami, I don't know which one would win.

But I guess I'll find out tomorrow.

On an unrelated note, they had a local news story on CBC radio this morning, where they kept referring to the LGBTTQ community. I thought it was a mistake the first time, but they repeated it a couple more times. I finally had to get [personal profile] atara to explain it to me because she is more in tune with the Tumbler culture. It turns out that the second T is two-spirited - which is not the same as B, or the first T. Wait, so is it kind of related to being gender-fluid? Apparently not. I guess it won't be long before it's the LGGBTTQ community.
plonq: (Trying to be cute)
2017-05-28 04:03 pm
Entry tags:

The songs of your life

We recently bucked up for a family account in Spotify Premium. [personal profile] atara was going to sign up anyway, and when I learned that it was only $5 extra to sign us both up under a family deal, I figured it was worth a shot.

I'd had Spotify on my phone and Surface earlier, and removed it from both for reasons that elude me now. I probably complained about it in LJ at the time, so I'm sure I could go back and revisit my reasons. So far I am liking it a lot, so it is possible that the free version included annoyances that I am not seeing in the paid version. I do know that it had a habit of spamming me with celebrity birthday in the phone version, but that was something I could easily shut off, and does not seem like the driving force behind a full system purge.

Right now I'm looking to build myself a good play list for it. I'd love to mirror the one on my old iPod, but that would involve either manually replicating it song by song, or installing iTunes again. I'd rather not do either, but I guess the process of producing a new play list will give me a chance to add in some newer music, and revisit some of the songs that I've been meaning to remove from the list.

On the subject of iTunes, does anybody know of a good alternative I can get for Windows? I want to update the play list on my old iPod, but after my last experience with iTunes, I'd rather not expose my current install to that bit of malware.

iTunes needs to install updates. Please click "accept" and pay no attention to the details. Trust Steve.

Oh, hello, I see you have added Safari to the list of automatic "updates" again.

Fortunately, it sounds like they mercifully discontinued the Windows version of their browser, so at least I could scratch that off the list of concerns.

I like the convenience of the iPod when I am travelling, but I hate the inconvenience of trying to update its play list. It would be nice if I could just update the play list by dragging songs in or out of the folder - like on every other media device I've ever owned - but I understand that Apple does not play that way. So if anyone has suggestions for a good iTunes work-around, I'd appreciate any help.
plonq: (Entertain Me)
2017-05-22 11:54 am
Entry tags:

Avocado toast

[personal profile] atara made us avocado toast for brunch today - one of the luxuries we afford ourselves when they are in season and (comparatively) inexpensive. We usually don't have it with a fried egg on top; that kind of decadence is reserved for weekends and holidays.

Who knew that homelessness could be so delicious!

There is an Australian millionaire who made a stir when he suggested that millennials cannot afford to buy houses because they squander their money on avocado toast and lattes. I understand the point he is trying to make, but I believe he is conflating cause and effect.

I think that millennials are spending money on luxuries like avocado toast, electronics, and fancy coffees because they've resigned themselves to the fact that they are unlikely to ever own a house in the current market unless they inherit one.

Our house is comparatively cheap compared to the same house in other markets, but even so its value has quadrupled since I bought it back in '95. My wages - heck, our wages combined - are not quadruple what I was earning back then. The truth is that the price of a home in many of the prime markets is rapidly outpacing the growth in wages in those same areas.

To his defense, this guy only started with an inheritance of a few tens of thousands, versus the millions inherited by many millionaires that live in that kind of a bubble. As such, he is largely self-made and has some room to be preachy about it.

Also, there is a good point hiding in his hubris.

If you can afford to regularly treat yourself, you can afford to treat yourself about 30% less and put some of that aside. It may never amount to a house, but emergency savings can be a life saver.

I guess if it came down to pointing fingers on the matter, I'd have to put much of the blame on the parents who never taught their kids how to save. My parents did their part, even if it took nearly 30 years for the lesson to properly sink in.
plonq: (Emo Luna Mood)
2017-05-17 09:35 pm
Entry tags:

You hoped we wouldn't notice

Our VP was in town today. Actually, he's been in town for the last couple of days, but today was when he was supposed to come through the office to check on how things operate here. Everyone made sure to be in the office today - on time, and wearing collared shirts even - but in the end he never bothered to show. I guess he had lots of important things to do and we just weren't worth a few minutes out of his important day. I suspect that ultimately he blew us off because he didn't think that we knew that he was in town.

But we knew.

This is not a large department - the company has seen to that through years of deep cuts - so it is hard to keep secrets. He'd been given an edict by the CEO to get out and actually make a physical presence at some of our remote locations in order to meet the people who work for him, and get a hands on feel for what they actually do. Our new CEO does not take kindly to underlings who hide in the safety of the the head office, and he has been leaning on other VPs to get out and mingle. I suppose I can cut our VP a bit of slack, since this is the first time in his entire tenure that he has stepped out of the head office.

It can be a bit daunting to actually meet real people when you have only been surrounded by the other bobble-heads on the lead team, so I can understand his desire to coward out on us. He certainly went out of his way to try and make sure we didn't know he was in town. If it was not for a couple of our guys having deep-throat moles in the head office, we might not have known of his visit. Brushing us off - even if he thought we didn't know he was in town - is weak leadership. Sadly, it does not surprise me. I have never been blown away by this guy's leadership skills.

Our previous VP may have been a hatchet woman, but she would never have pulled a stunt like this. I didn't really like her, but unlike our current VP, at least I respected her.
plonq: (Trying to be cute)
2017-05-13 11:49 am
Entry tags:

Toast

I just noticed that I've got about 70 different remixes of Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" in my music library. I like the song, but not that much. I've no idea where those came from - probably a Perry bomb delivered by one of the Asian midget bondage porn sketchy sites that I visit from time to time.

We had avocado toast for brunch this morning along with coffee (for me) and tea (for her). It is a remarkably simple thing, and I find it to be a great accompaniment to a lazy Saturday morning. If you haven't heard of it, I'll post the recipe here.

Avocado Toast (Serves 2)
Ingredients:
4 slices Bread - your choice of style
1 large Hass avocado
A pinch of kosher salt
A splash of lemon juice

Optional Ingredients:
2 large rib-eye steaks
2 large potatoes (any kind will work, but Russets are pretty popular)
Butter (for potatoes)
Sour Cream (for potatoes)
1 ½ cups kernel corn (frozen will work)


Instructions:
Put the bread in a toaster. If you don't have a 4-slice toaster, you may wish to purchase one now. We have a toaster oven because we try to avoid uni-task appliances. While the bread is toasting, remove the peel and pit from the avocado, or remove the pit and scoop the flesh out of the skin - which ever you find easer. Roughly mash the avocado in a bowl using the back of a fork, or a dedicated avocado-masher if you are the kind of person who also has a 4-slice toaster. Add a pinch of kosher salt (or non-kosher if that's the way you roll) and a splash of lemon juice. You can use fresh lemon juice for this, but those little lemon-shaped plastic bottles are so cute, I don't know how you could resist buying one.

Ding! Toast is done.

Remove the toast from the toaster, or toaster oven, being careful not to burn yourself again. Seriously, that hurts. Don't burn yourself on the edge. Distribute the mashed avocado evenly on the four slices of toast and serve while the toast is still warm, and the avocado still chilled. This makes a satisfying brunch on a lazy Saturday, and a filling meal if you include the optional ingredients.
plonq: (Kinda Bleah Mood)
2017-05-09 11:32 pm
Entry tags:

Sometimes I think it's a shame when I get feeling better when I'm feeling no pain

After coming up clean for years, the hygienist found two cavities on the x-ray during a routine cleaning last week. The dentist came in at the end of the cleaning, double-checked the x-ray and then poked around with a probe and confirmed that I had the beginnings of two small cavities - one on the lower left side, and the other on the upper right - that would need to be addressed. They made a follow-up appointment for today to get them both drilled and filled.

On the one hand, I was glad to be getting them both out of the way at the same time. On the other hand, when you are getting fillings on both sides of your mouth, it makes it hard to pick a side to chew with during the recovery period.

I have bad teeth, which are worse for years of neglect before I got into a good cleaning and brushing cycle again. Having to get two of them extracted turned into a wake-up call for me, and I started taking better care of them again after that. I won't be growing any more teeth as I lose these ones, and I don't want to enter my later years wearing full a full set of dentures like my mother. I inherited my rotten teeth from her side of the family, and I don't want to inherit dentures from her side as well.

I am not a fan of getting dental work done - any dental work, including scaling and cleaning. Fillings and root canals are the worst though. It's not the drilling that bothers me, it's when they inject the Novocaine. I hate getting needles - especially in the mouth. The first couple of times I needed to get injections in the mouth for dental work at my current dentist, I came very close to fainting in the chair. I felt a little silly about it at the times, because my current dentist is actually very skilled; I can barely feel it go in, and there is virtually no soreness when the numbing comes out.

I think I am still traumatized by the dental work I had done on me when I was young. Dad was notorious for sniffing out details. He found a barber who would cut our hair for free, and he took us to him every time he felt we needed a trim. This guy should have been long retired, but he had a dusty old shop set up in the front of an old hotel in Victoria where he would put his blunt razor and old-time hair tonic to good use. Seriously. He hacked off our hair using only a comb and a straight razor, and he had bottles of hair tonic all around his shop.

Anyway, I think he found a deal on a dentist. This guy would do the work for cheap, as long as nobody started asking any awkward questions. The worst thing with him was the needle. My memories are probably clouded by trauma, but I clearly remember it looking like this:
Pain

It was huge. You could hear and feel the pop as it pierced the inside of your mouth, and it hurt like heck in spite of the fact that he'd swab on a topical numbing agent first. Almost worse was that he would just blast the Novocaine into you and the yank the needle out again in order to get the process over with as quickly as possible. I remember some of the injections hurting for more than a week after I'd had the fillings done. I also sometimes wonder if he watered down the anaesthetic, because I don't remember having things go as numb as they do when my current dentist performs work.

I am probably being unkind to the man, who probably prided himself in his work, but in my memories of him he was a butcher. One of the teeth I lost in later years was partly due to nerve damage he did with on of his over-aggressive fillings. The bridge that I have there now is part of his legacy. Another part of his legacy was instilling a deep fear of needles into me. It is only in recent years that I can finally get a flu shot without breaking out in a cold sweat and swooning.

One thing I can say with certainty is that if my current dentist had been the one treating me back in my youth, I'd have been more vigilant about keeping up visits as I got older.
plonq: (Please Sir May I have Some More)
2017-05-07 03:59 pm

Frustration

The basement file server has been driving me to drink lately. It was rock solid when I was running it under Windows 7, but when I upgraded it to 10 (to try and address some network issues between it and the upstairs machines), it became unreliable. The networking is rock solid now, but the basement machine has issues.

It would run for about a week at a time before locking up and requiring a power cycle. I did some clean-up and repair, and got it to the stage where it could go for about two weeks at a time, but unless it was restarted in that time, it would eventually die again.

One of the last fixes I did was to set up a reboot script to restart the machine every Sunday morning. Yesterday the machine was working fine, and this morning I had to trek down to the basement to restart it. When I checked the logs, I saw that it had not restarted this morning like it was supposed to. I checked the schedule I had set up, and I caught my mistake there - I had not given it sufficient permissions to run when nobody is logged into the machine. I changed the settings, and I'll look in on it again next Sunday.

The issue seems to be one of resource exhaustion. A small handful of services are slowly chewing up the system resources until it does not have enough left to create a login session. I did a bit more Googling this morning, and I discovered that the swUSB process I had assumed was a Windows process is actually part of the drivers for the RealTEK LAN device I'd had hooked up to the machine when we first set it up. I was using that device until sometime after the swap to Windows 10, and I am thinking its drivers did not like the update.

I replaced it with a better ASUS device awhile back, but I guess I neglected to uninstall the RealTEK drivers. A couple of sources I read mentioned that their driver had a serious memory leak, and since it is one of the culprits that always comes up when the system runs out of resources, it was an easy hit.
Resource Exhaustion

Another process that keeps coming up in the list of resource-hogs is SMSvcHost.exe. It is a legitimate service (I checked to make sure it hadn't been replaced by a Trojan), but when I poked around at what it does, it did not seem especially critical. I have disabled the service for now to see what kind of an impact that has, but so far I have not noticed any difference. If I start seeing errors and warnings in the system logs about it, I'll turn it back on.

On a completely unrelated note, while I was puttering around the house this morning, I got to mulling on old friends I had in the Lion King fandom community back in the day, and it occurred to me that I have lost touch with all but a few of them. Some of them were very talented writers, and we would often bounce our stories off each other for comments and critique. One writer was a giant in the community, whose fan fictions spawned a whole genre of fan fictions of their own. When I say "he", it was actually a collaborative team. This one writer did most of the work, but he often paired up with others in the fandom to produce the stories.

I was never a huge fan of his work, but I was also not his target audience. They were very popular with the 13-21 age group, in part because each of his stories was as much an emotional roller-coaster as it was a tale. While I admired his work, and never really begrudged him his popularity... well, ok. Maybe a bit, but who isn't a bit jealous of the popular kids now and then? Anyway, I always felt that his writing was top quality, but I also found it to be somewhat manipulative. He was a master of wresting emotion out of his readers.

Anyway, he started on a fairly ambitious writing project with a mutual friend, and as he went, he often sent me chapters to review. For some reason he respected my opinion. For the most part I did not have much feedback, other than pointing out areas where the prose became a bit too purple, or minor issues like confused attributions and the like.

Then there was the chapter.

He sent me several chapters to read through, and I dutifully read through them, making minor notes, suggesting small revisions, and rolling my eyes at obvious emotional tugs here and there. Then I got to the chapter where he excruciatingly killed off one of the main characters in a very long, emotional orgy of sadness. I could tell that he had poured a lot into this chapter, because it really stood out from the others he had written. He had obviously given it a lot of thought. It looked like the chapter he had been waiting to write.

The problem was that it did not fit. It seemed to have no place in the story other than to make the readers sad. Other than that character falling out of the story from that point forward, nothing changed. It did not inspire any action on any of the others in the story, nor did it even affect the overall plot. Everybody else in the story continued on as if nothing had happened, other than expressing their sadness that the character's passing once or twice in the next couple of chapters.

When I gave him feedback, I fear that I may have been a bit too ruthless. I told him that the chapter was wonderfully written, but that it was just an interlude of pointless pathos. I asked him to explain its purpose in the story, and pointed out that if the chapter did not exist, the story would not actually change at all. He offered up some justifications for the chapter, and I pulled out the passive-aggressive card and said, "Well, it's your story; include or exclude it as you choose. You asked for my opinion, and I gave it."

In the end, he removed the chapter, but I think it hurt him to do it. I do feel a bit bad about that in retrospect, since it didn't really hurt anything by being in there, and I can't help thinking that I overstepped a bit by calling him on it. He stopped sending me stories for feedback after that. I guess I can't really blame him.
plonq: (Masturbatory Mood)
2017-05-06 10:52 am
Entry tags:

Winnipeg Rye

Somebody posted a question to a local forum recently, asking why rye bread is so popular in Winnipeg.

I had not given it much thought, but it occurs to me that I eat far more rye bread now than I did before I moved here. In fairness, the most popular form of rye bread here is not the type of bread that I associated with it when I was growing up. I always pictured rye bread as something close to pumpernickel, with caraway seeds in it. Winnipeg-style rye is actually very light, and baked in a manner that makes for good toast, but awkward sandwiches.

Winnipeg Rye

One poster in the forum suggested that sandwiches made with rye bread are popular here because folks wouldn't live in Winnipeg at all if they did not like a challenge. It's hard to argue with that.

The population here is anecdotally divided along cultural lines when it comes to their choice of rye bread as well, with the Jewish community favouring it from one bakery, and the Ukrainian community preferring it from another. There is a third major bakery in the background jumping and waving and calling, "hey, we make it too!" Other than the shape and size of the loaves, I cannot tell much difference between the bread produced by the three major players here, though I was not born here, so my opinion on the matter is tempered by being a recent arrival versus people born into the rye situation.

While Winnipeg rye is the predominant player in the market here, there are obviously other styles available as well. Many breakfast places will give you marble rye if you order rye toast in the morning, and some of the fancier restaurants will sneak dark rye into the complementary bread plates they serve before a meal. One long-established steak house has their own in-house dark rye with a salted crust that [personal profile] atara and I both really like.

On a broader note, Winnipeg has a few cuisines that - while not unique - are an integral part of the local dining experience. If I was going to list five foods that I consider integral to the Winnipeg culture, just off the top of my head I would list:
Winnipeg Rye
Perogies
Bagels
Koubasa
Honey Dill Sauce

As a fun footnote, if you happen to visit Winnipeg and want to get a group of people into an argument, ask them how to spell "Perogies" or "Koubasa".
plonq: (Somewhat Pleased Mood)
2017-05-03 10:55 pm
Entry tags:

I may have to dust off my wallet

One of the hardest things for me in moving from Livejournal to Dreamwidth has been giving up the bulk of my user avatars. That's not to say that I have bailed on LJ. I thought about it, and to my mind, the worst case is that they end up nuking my account. The vast bulk of my posts there were public postings, so if the new Russian owners decide to scan my journal for their own purposes, there is little they will find there that they will not also find here, or on a Google search of my on-line handle.

But I digress.

The point of this post was to whine about how I only have fifteen avatars available on a free account here. That's enough, or at least it should be enough. I think that I am spoiled from having close to 150 of them available at my fingertips over on the other journal service, even if I only used a dozen of them regularly. It was nice having the weird ones available, like when I wanted to post with the avatar of a baby smoking a cigarette, or a plastic nun with sparks shooting out of her mouth.

I have read that people can become paralysed by too much choice. [personal profile] atara and I became gripped by this phenomenon when we were shopping for a new television, and we spent months researching the best set before heading down to the store and staring helplessly at a wall of screens with such minuscule differences in specifications between them as to effectively be the same model over and over. We were intimidated into inaction by the illusion of too many options in a situation where there were very few choices of consequence.

I guess what I am saying is that I want to have the option of poring over a sea of avatars before picking one of the usual three that I tend to use.

I might buck up for a paid account here.
plonq: (Hipster Mood)
2017-05-02 10:15 am
Entry tags:

CONNECT ALL THE THINGS

There is this disparaging, ironic term that used to get tossed around a lot a few years ago, but has fallen a bit out of fashion; first world problems. I encountered one of these in the wild today on a sous vide forum.

A user in the forum posted the sad saga of how his iPhone keeps disconnecting from his Anova cooker, and he has to switch to his iPad if he wants to use the remote app.

Oh no. Of all possible things, this is the worst … thing … ever.

For those who are not familiar with the process, an immersion cooker is a (usually) small appliance that cooks food in a slow, precise way. Typically you vacuum seal the food in a bag, and then immerse it in a temperature-controlled water bath for a few hours. It is the very essence of "set and forget" cooking.

There are a myriad of important uses for an iPhone app connected to your immersion cooker. It can tell you if the cooker is turned on, and if it is maintaining the temperature to which you set it. This can be very important if, say, you forgot that you turned it on, or at what temperature you set it, and you happened to fire up the app on a whim and were all like, “Oh no, my immersion cooker is turned on and its holding the temperature at 145°. How could this have happened?”

I suppose it would not hurt me to spare some sympathy for somebody who can’t use a (mostly) pointless app – though the fact that it works on his iPad hints that the problem might not actually lie with the appliance. I should check the shoes forum to see if anyone is complaining that their iLaces app keeps losing connectivity with their shoes, and they are tripping because it does not warn them that their shoes have come untied.
plonq: (Trying to be cute)
2017-04-28 04:52 pm
Entry tags:

Enigma wrapped in a mystery

I was filling in some details on a data dictionary for a co-worker for whom I’d built a data extractor. For the most part that just involved going down the column names, identifying the data types, and giving a brief explanation on what the data represented.

While I am used to a lot of our industry acronyms (SCAC, FSAC, SPLC, etc), I took the time to expand them out for her in the explanations (“Standard Carrier Alpha Code”, “Freight Station Accounting Number”, “Standard Point Location Code”, etc). All was well until I got to a number that we use internally for referencing trains within our integrated operating plan.

The number has always had an odd name, and I have always assumed that the name was an acronym for something. The system that uses it has been in place for the past 25 years ( remember when it came online back in ’92), but even though I have always known what the number was for, it occurred to me that I never knew what it was short for.

As I started asking around, it became clear that nobody else know either.

It may be that the only people who could tell us if this was an arbitrary name, or an acronym are either retired, or dead. I have a couple more long-shots that I am going to pursue on Monday to see if they can answer the question, but I have a hunch this will remain a mystery until the day I retire. Technically I’ve become one of the old-timers at the railway who is supposed to know these kinds of things.

And I don’t know. I guess this gives me the opportunity to make something up…
plonq: (Omgwtf)
2017-04-26 11:15 pm
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Not the first person, nor even the third.

It is possible that I have spoken of this in the past, but [personal profile] atara has accused me of repeating myself on more than one occasion, so if this is a repeat, then know that it comes naturally to me.

Any time I get sucked into a community, I invariably get sucked into the writing side of the community. At various points over the years I have written stories based on Dungeons and Dragons, Star Trek, The Lion King, Furry, and My Little Pony. Since I consider myself to be a moderately better-than-average writer, I will sometimes roll up my sleeves and jump in to help other writers who are still learning the craft. This can take the form of giving helpful critique, all the way to actually doing rudimentary editing for somebody if they are especially receptive to help, and are taking the assistance to heart.

I have my biases, but I try to avoid steering people toward the way that I would write something, and just stick to steering them away from stylistic pitfalls and rookie mistakes.

One mistake that is surprisingly common among beginning writers is changing tense during the story. Their narration swings between past and present tense without it being relevant to the story. Most writers seem to be surprised when I point it out to them, often claiming that I was the first to notice it. How could one not notice? Another common mistake is switching speakers in mid-paragraph, often without changing attribution. Maybe the rules have changed since I was taught, but I learned that any time the speaker changed, you started a new paragraph. One of the benefits of this is that even if you did not attribute the new speaker, the paragraph break gives a clue that it may have changed. Finally, there are writers who switch the narrative voice throughout the story. They will jump from first person to third and back for no reason other than that they forgot which voice they were using between writing sessions.

Does nobody ever go back and re-read their own work?

Stylistic pitfalls are a messier subject, because that starts to tread into the territory of, "This is just how I write." While there is nothing technically wrong with some of the styles, I have noticed that they are often popular with novice writers. I recognize some of them from my early writing, and I owe a debt to a friend who helped break me of some of the habits.

One that I see often is staccato writing. The author uses really short sentences. The sentences are all grammatically correct. They are all strung together into a story. The story will have a character. He walks to the table. He picks up a book. He reads the book. He puts it back. He walks to the door. He opens the door. He goes outside.

I think you can probably see the problem. The story never gets a chance to develop much of a flow, and it becomes fatiguing to read.

Another style that I see fairly regularly is what I call the witness testimony style of writing. This happened, and then that happened, and then they went over there, and then that happened, and then he said this, and then he did that, and then... I started counting the uses of "then" in one story, and hit fifteen by the end of the second paragraph. As with my first example, it is not technically wrong, but it flows badly, and is very dry to read.

Two more styles that I often see with beginning writers are where every line is a combination of dialogue and action. Usually the story alternates between each of the characters in the scene, with each one taking a turn to say something, and then do something. The other style is what I call the Superman narrative. Virtually the whole story is told through narration by the characters. It's a style better suited to old radio plays than a written story.

"Why are you walking over to that table and grabbing the gun?" said the professor.
"I plan to shoot you, of course. See? Look at how I am pointing it at you and pulling back the hammer," said the mobster.
"Are you mad? Can't you see that I am just sitting here at my desk writing down formulas and smoking a cigar? Clearly I post no threat to you," said the professor.
"And now you pose even less of a threat as I have unloaded three bullets into you," said the mobster.

Finally, there are the writers who combine many of the above with a need to find their own voice by playing with conventional style.

"I am going to write my entire story in future perfect tense!"

The problem with picking a weird tense (even present), is that writing in past tense just comes naturally, and the writers invariably slip in and out of past tense as they are writing. My advice to them is usually to try and master the easy stuff before they start trying to stretch their skills.

I think the worst are the ones who decide they are going to write in second person. I don't know why anybody would write in second person other than when they are writing an instruction manual, or a "build your own adventure" story. Yet in my experience in some writing circles, this is a strangely popular thing among younger writers, and goes over remarkably well with some of the younger readers. I do not find second-person stories to be the least bit immersive, and in fact they often come across to me as slightly insulting. I don't appreciate a story that tries to tell me what I am doing, or thinking, or feeling.

My response to the author boils down to, "You seem to think you know me, but you don't. Please stop writing with the misguided conceit that you do."

A lovely day to get out in #winnipeg. #kildonanpark was busy.
plonq: (OK...)
2017-04-09 10:43 pm
Entry tags:

Moving in slow motion

Unless I have buggered up the settings again, this post should automatically cross-post to both LJ and Dreamwidth. I will keep posting to both for as long as my LJ account remains active (I don't tend to delve into the kind of politics that would get my account banned by their new TOS), but DW is my new backup plan, and probably my long-term future plan as well. Once I start building up a bigger network of friends over there I am probably going to spring for a paid account.

I have about a half-dozen posts to just LJ that I thought were posting to both sites, but I derped the settings in Semagic. I've fixed that now. I think. This is my test post to check that theory.

If you are still reading me here, and want to follow me over to DW as well, you can find me here.

I went for a walk last week and caught a couple of post-melt pictures. Other than some of the larger stacks, our snow is effectively gone now.
suoıʇɔǝןɟǝɹ

As I was walking past the cemetary, I barely spared it a second glance before I backpedalled a quarter of a block to capture this shot.
Watery grave