Friday, December 18, 2009

So, I moved my blog

I got so frustrated with fixing the comment situation on this blog, I decided to move it.  The feed, I believe will redirect automatically, but here are the urls you need to know.

blog url: http://www.geekymomblog.com/
feed url: http://www.geekymomblog.com/feed/

Please come on over.  It's even decorated for Christmas!

Comments

So, my comments are gone.  Haloscan was bought out, and, unfortunately, they want to charge for their comment system.  So I exported 7,456 comments, over five years' worth of comments.  All the old posts have no comments now.  I think this one will have comments--we'll see.  And all that crap under recent comments--no clue.  Sigh.  It was a good run.  We'll miss you Haloscan.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Anti-Social Groups

Many of my compatriots have noted how unsocial the groups are in the new dungeon system that automatically groups people together.  I have noticed the same, and in fact, that's why I'm still doing runs with guildies on a regular basis.  The other thing about running with these anonymous groups is that they go so fast, you can't even pause to comment in guild chat.  At times, this isn't a problem.  After all, the point of these runs is to get emblems and most people in the groups have run these dungeons plenty of times.  Often, then, the dungeons are just cruising along just fine; there's no real need to say anything.  But I've been in a few groups where some communication, even if just about the task at hand, is definitely in order.

Once I was healing a dungeon where the tank wouldn't wait for me to get mana before plowing ahead into the next group of mobs.  He died once as a result, and then yelled at me for not healing him.  I yelled back that if he wanted me to heal him, he needed to wait until I had the ability to do so.  I'd said something a number of times about this.  If he'd been paying attention, which I don't think he was, he would have known that.  One of us, him I think, quit the group over that.  And the next tank we got was great, waiting for everyone to be mana'd up before beginning a fight.  And I've seen other situations where someone should probably have said something before someone else messed up and got us all killed.  I saw a druid aggro an extra group or two, making healing super challenging for me.  And I've seen the less traveled dungeons, like Oculus, fail pretty badly.  Actually, my experience with Oculus has been that as soon as people see that that's the draw, they quit.  I popped into one where 2 people had already left the group and another person was saying this was their first time in it.  I quit that group.  It would have been hours of my time, just gone!

Some people are saying that the new dungeon system eliminates the need for guilds.  It might for some people, who are in the game just for the game, but for people who like to hang out with others virtually, guilds will still play an important role.  It's a little like IRC chat with a game in the background.  And the harder content, raids and the highest level dungeons, are still better to do with a group you're familiar with.  So guilds might change, but they'll probably still be there in some form.

Review of Photo Card sites

Normally, we create our own Christmas cards.  I will often buy something that looks nice, sign them, and ship them off to friends and relatives.  We've done a newsletter or two, usually after big changes in our lives, like getting new jobs or moving.  This year I decided to go high tech (as I should, with a name like Geeky Mom!).  Everyone's always clamoring for pictures of the kids, so I thought a nice card that had a few pictures would be a nice treat.  We don't take many pictures.  We certainly don't do formal pictures (though now I kind of wish we did).  But I gathered a few photos together that I liked and ventured off looking for a place to produce a good card out of them.

I originally started making a newsletter out of them with Pages, which, from a technical standpoint, was working well.  From a personal standpoint, I felt "ick" about it, so I dropped that idea pretty quickly.

After a Google search, I started at Tiny Prints.  (Confession: when I am searching for products or companies, I really do click on the sponsored links or the ads.  I figure if they're smart enough to advertise on Google, they're worth my checking out.)  Tiny Prints had some truly lovely designs and plenty that allowed several photos and so I selected one I liked and began designing.  It was easy to upload photos and I could even connect to Flickr and import photos from there, so I was cruising along.  I dragged and dropped my photos on the front and even had the option of putting more on the inside (which I did).  The whole process was very intuitive.   I wanted to have them mail the cards, so after reviewing my results, I checked the option to have them mail them.  All I needed to do then was upload a CSV file with all my recipients names and addresses.  I readied the file and went through the upload process.  It didn't say much about what to do except that I needed to tell it what column was what.  I had combined first and last names in the first column, so I just told it that was a first name.  I had combined city and state, which it balked at, so I put them in separate columns.  But it wouldn't overwrite my old data.  So, one by one, I deleted my old contacts and imported the newly corrected file.  It finally recognized all my contacts.  I added them to the order and then clicked the "go to cart" button.  Cart was empty!  I did this a few times and never got the cart to fill up, so I went to another site.

Next up was Shutterfly, a site I've used before and from which I've received many a card.  They do nice work.  They had nice options, though they didn't have one with more than 4 photos.  I had 6-8 that I wanted to include.  At this point, I didn't really care.  I just wanted to be done.  I created the card quickly and then when I got to the point of mailing out the cards, I was going to have to enter each name and address by hand.  No thank you.  I moved on.

So then I hit Kodak Gallery.  The designs there were fabulous--lots of options and plenty with more than 4 photos.  Like Tiny Prints, I could put photos on the inside and even on the back!  Very cute!  Like the other two sites, Kodak offers a "mail it for you" option.  But it, too, required hand-entering each address.  Again, I moved on.

I landed at the one of the most venerable card companies in the US, Hallmark.  They had photo cards and plenty of designs, including the one I chose, which had many photos, inside and out.  Since I'd been through the selection process and had a good idea of what kind of card I wanted, I settled on this one quite quickly.  I imagine that if you don't know what you want, you could spend quite a while searching through the selections.  Tiny Prints offers the option of narrowing by number of photos, type of card, and even color.  Kodak did as well.  Hallmark didn't.  You had to look through the 5 pages of designs, so that was one drawback.  But, when it came time to put address in, I easily uploaded my csv file and bingo, all my addresses were there.  And they're there for the future, too! I can enter birthdays and anniversaries and mail cards right from Hallmark.  I like that.  So, I ended up ordering from them, even having a few extra cards shipped to me in case there's someone I forgot.

So here's the summary.  None of the sites really sucked.  They all had good designs and were easy to use.  Where some of them failed was in the addressing to recipients section.  I'll give Tiny Prints a pretty big break since this portion of their site was in beta.  I'll definitely be returning to check them out.  Generally speaking, when someone is ordering en masse, they need to send to a lot of people.  Uploading a file, or importing from any number of contact programs (as several sites offered) is an absolute necessity.  I used to be in the greeting card business, and I'm quite impressed with the offerings now available online.  Most of these sites offer all types of products besides cards--books, calendars, mugs, and more.  Some sites might be better at those things than others.

One thing I noted on all the sites was that it was geared toward people without hyphenated names or multiple names in the family (true of both the creator and the recipient). For example, I wanted to put Blank/Blankenship in the return address, but it balked at that.  And there was not enough room on most designs to put something like this, even if hyphenated.  Note to card companies: give more space for the family name. Maybe people who hyphenate or keep maiden names don't send cards!
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Poll: Best and Worst Gifts

Many years ago, I did a poll here for the best and worst gifts you've ever received.  The answers tickled me.  So, what were the best and/or worst gifts you've ever received.

My best: my wedding ring in the shape of Queen Elizabeth's crown

My worst: I can't really remember, because I usually return them. :) I've gotten some bad sweaters in my life.

Like before, I'll post the results.

More Christmas Poetry

(because real work is too hard)

Part the first

I was dressed all in cotton, from my head to my feet,
And my clothes were all tarnished with flour and sweets.
A bundle of gifts I hauled from the trunk,
And I looked like the homeless hoarding my junk.

My eyes, how they drooped! My dimples how sallow,
My cheeks lost all their color, my whole face kind of yellow.
My sad little mouth was drawn up in a bow,
And it really looked as if I might just blow.

The stem of a glass I held tight in my fist,
And the liquid soothed all just as I wished,
Sinking down through my throat and into my belly,
Which made me feel like I was made out of jelly.

The cheer soon returned, my right jolly old self,
And I laughed as I downed yet another mad elf.
In a blink of my eye and a twist of my head,
I soon came to know I had nothing to dread.

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And wrapped all the presents, then turned with a jerk.
Then laying a finger aside of the key,
And clicking the mouse, off the gifts went with glee.

I closed down my browser, and let out a long whistle,
And breathed in fresh air so that I would not fizzle.
But I say to you all, before I fade out of view,
Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year too!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mad Elf Ale to the Rescue

Seriously, after a parent-teacher conference, a trip to the department store, the card store, the grocery store and the hardware store, I need a drink.  Too bad it's only 3:45 and we still have a winter concert to attend and before that, dinner to make.  I got 10% of the stuff I wanted to get done done.  I guess there's always tomorrow.

The week before Christmas

And all through the house, every creature was stirring, especially the mouse.  (Computer, that is).

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that something would soon appear there.
The children are restless, about to unwind,
While visions of vacation days dance in their mind.

And pa in his sweats, and I in my robe,
Shopped online for gifts around the globe.
When out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter,
That I rose from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the blinds and threw up the sash.

The sun on the rain of the newly swept street,
Made it look new and uncannily neat.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the trash truck drawing ever so near.

With a shout out to pa and a rushing around,
We hauled out those cans without losing much ground.
More rapid than eagles the holidays they came
And now we knew that this was no game.


Now gift cards, now wrapping, now cooking and baking,
Don't panic, don't sweat it, it's all in the making.
To Amazon-dot-com, to the end of the mall.
Dash away, dash away, dash away all.


As wild animals that before the storm all bolt,
When they see the funnel cloud drop with a jolt,
We dispersed in all directions, each on his own,
Hoping without hope to just get it all done.


And then, in a twinkling, I heard quite nearby,
The sound of the phone making its cry,
Reminding me over and over and over again,
To clean up the kitchen, to put the clothes on spin.


(To be continued . . .)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas shopping: Help Wanted

We ventured to the giant mall yesterday to do the rest of our Christmas shopping.  After eating lunch and walking around for about 20 minutes, we decided to go home and shop online.  Things I hate about shopping at the mall:

1. It's crowded.
2. It's giant and requires a lot of walking to get from store to store--good exercise, sure, but not so good when you're trying to be efficient.
3. Salespeople push things on you.  For most of the people I have left to buy for, I haven't figured out what to get.  I'm just looking around, thinking about things.  I do not need people to hound me to buy something.  Note that this is different from the ones who are truly helpful.  I'm talking about the ones pushing crap you don't want to buy.

Still, online shopping can be just as painful.  I've spent the better part of this afternoon looking for things.  Some things I wanted to buy, I didn't, because they didn't offer gift wrapping.  So I actually did a search for online shopping with gift wrapping.  These two articles gave me some ideas.

I'm still stuck, though, on what to get my father.  He's a hard man to buy for. He's a golfer, a wine enthusiast, and a hard-working lawyer.  He also likes biking and watching football.  You'd think I could come up with something with all that.  I've decided not to go in the wine direction because that's what I did for his birthday.  I don't know what he has golf wise.  And I'm not very knowledgeable about the other stuff.  So, I'm stuck.  What do you all suggest?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Slumber Party Survived!

Guests resting at a sleepoverImage via Wikipedia
Last night Geeky Girl had a couple of girls over for a slumber party.  I had gotten tons of snacks for them, including a request for sundae makings. There was popcorn and pretzels and hot cocoa. We'd downloaded Elf.  Geeky Girl got out some key Wii games.  When they arrived, we ordered pizza--cheese only, of course.  They ate picnic style on the floor.  After dinner, the silliness began.  They watched tv and commented on the relative cuteness of people and on their acting abilities (wow!).  Geeky Boy was the recipient of a giggle fest.  There was a ghost story, which meant a trip upstairs to discuss the story and request that the lights be left on.  They never watched Elf.  Instead, they put on music and took turns pretending to be in a music video.  They did eat sundaes and pretzels.  And I think they mostly enjoyed themselves.  They were asleep by 11:15.  I'm about to make them waffles for breakfast and then everyone's going home.

I don't remember ever having a slumber party myself, only going to them.  We certainly had plenty of room for one (unlike in my current house--more than 3 invitees would be pushing it).  At my slumber parties, we had seances and played truth or dare.  Someone's hand always got put in water, a bra got frozen, and sometimes conflicts broke out.  Compared to those, this was tame.  Maybe kids just don't do those kinds of things anymore.  Geeky Girl did mention wanting to put whipped cream on someone, which I forbade for fear of it getting on the furniture.  Maybe they needed a critical mass of people (which, thankfully, we'll never be able to fit in our house) and an instigator.  Whatever kept them from the crazy antics of my childhood, I am grateful for.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Opportunity Knocks

A week ago, I applied for a part-time job.  Event though I enjoy my independent status, I keep an eye on various job lists, looking for interesting opportunities.  Thought I've seen some intriguing full-time jobs, I haven't considered them simply because they're full time.  I'm just not ready for that.  I was a little reluctant about applying for this part-time job, just because it would be a change in my current routine, but there was a lot that interested me about it.  It was in my field, educational/instructional technology, but was for a slightly different audience than I'm used to.  It entails teaching student teachers in the sciences about using technology in their teaching.  I love working with science teachers, so that was a plus right there.  Also, I knew I might learn something from teaching this class.  The differences between higher ed and K-12 are great enough that I'll have to do some work and learning to understand the constraints of K-12 and technology work.  I have investigated working in K-12 and it just seems like a really interesting place right now when it comes to education and technology.  The class is 5-weeks long, and intense 2 hours/day, 4 days/week session.  That schedule, too, intrigued me, compacted a semester's work of work into 5 weeks, something I've done before, and it fits with my schedule. 

So I applied on Friday, got a call on Monday, and interviewed on Wednesday and accepted the job later that afternoon.  I got a very good vibe, obviously, from talking to my interviewers and the more I talked to them, the more interesting the job sounded.  The class is small, fewer than 5 students.  That, too, is a plus, especially when it comes to a hands-on course.  I'm pretty excited about the whole thing, actually, even though I went in a little reluctantly.  On the way home from the interview, as I was thinking about accepting the job, I thought about how much I liked that I could pop into something like this.  Though it would certainly be nice to have something more permanent, for me, I like having a variety of opportunities and the freedom to take advantage of them as they come along.  In theory, that's what the consulting work is like, though it may be that I end up doing more part-time things like these.

Friday Fun: Parenting's Not That Hard


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Girl Drama

On the way home from school yesterday, I was talking away about my own day, when Geeky Girl stopped me and said, "Mom, I need to talk to you."  These are words you both want and don't want to hear from your kids. On the one hand, I definitely want my kids to come to me with their problems.  On the other hand, what if the problems are too big even for me to handle.  "I have some girl drama issues," Geeky Girl continued.  This, I could deal with.  I won't blog the details, but let's just say that this was a legitimate conflict, a social thing handled awkwardly on all sides.  Feelings were hurt and no one knew quite how to smooth them over.  Geeky Girl told me all the ways they'd tried to resolve this issue, including trying to "talk it out" (GG's term, not mine) during library time.

Geeky Girl and I talked over potential solutions, the pros and cons of all of them.  We sat in the driveway for a good fifteen minutes going over the possibilities, put it aside for a while, and then came up with a final solution before bed.  Social interactions are amazingly complicated.  Kids this age are still incredibly self-centered usually and take everything personally, something that will continue, I told Geeky Girl through high school.  There will be people who don't wave to you in the hallway and you'll want to think that they did so on purpose, as a slight.  And maybe they did.  But, I told her, it's best to assume they didn't.  Assume the best in people without getting walked all over.  It's a fine line to hold.  Always believe in yourself, be true to yourself.  I told her all of these. And I told her to be the bigger person and be the first to patch things up.

I remember so many situations in middle and high school, where I was put down by "friends."  I'm sure I did my fair share of ignoring people, purposely not talking to people, and other behaviors intended to hurt people's feelings.  It's a kind of defense mechanism really.  Someone hurts you, you find someone else to hurt and/or hurt them back.  I don't want Geeky Girl to do that.  If I could keep her from getting hurt at all, that'd be great, but I know that I won't be able to do that.  In the short term, she's going to be around these people for quite a while and she'll need good friends to navigate the teenage years.  In the medium term, her horizons are about to expand when she goes to middle school and she may or may not remain friends with these same girls.  And then in the long term, the chances of her remaining that close to her elementary school friends beyond college are pretty slim.  Possible, but not likely.  But, of course, all that is meaningless in the moment.  And in the moment, she wants the whole thing to go away.  And now it's on her shoulders to try to make amends, even though she wasn't in the wrong in the first place (no one was, really).  A lot for a ten-year-old.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Shiny and New

Yesterday, Patch 3.3 dropped. With it came new dungeons, new raids, and a whole new way of grouping up with people to run dungeons. It also came with extended downtime, tons of issues with people logging in, not being able to zone into instances and more. Even on a standard patch day, one can expect servers to be down until about 1 p.m. est. But on this day, servers didn't go back up until about 7:30 or 8. Which left a lot of us a little antsy. I had planned on a little late afternoon trial, but when the servers didn't come up, I had to do actual work. And laundry. It was sad. I was thinking about all those poor sys admins freaking out as they tried to figure out how to fix the problems.

But once I got in, I was able to run a couple of dungeons fairly quickly. I was anxious to try the new dungeon finder that collects a group across not just your server, but all the servers. Like battlegrounds, where people from many servers can be in one battleground, dungeons now work the same way. And it's random! Which I really like. So, the way it works is that you click on the dungeon finder, which is where the old LFG icon used to be, and an interface comes up where you select what role or roles you can play. Some healers can heal or dps. I can dps or tank (though I'm off tanking for a while). After a few minutes, you are automagically grouped and transported to the dungeon. No summoning people, no waiting for someone to finish a quest or fly from the boondocks. It's awesome! There are pictures and more info on how this all works at WoW.com.

Don't get me wrong. I love running dungeons with my guildies, but sometimes there just aren't enough people on to run. And we tended to stick with just the daily and maybe ToC. And it sometimes took forever to get a PuG together to run something. The general public also wanted to just run the daily usually. Now, though, I can see myself running enough dungeons until both my 80s have hundreds of emblems of triumph and can buy all the gear they want without wasting a lot of time. So last night, I hopped into the dungeon finder, checked off the dps option and wandered around Dalaran while I waited. The first dungeon I ended up in was my least favorite, Oculus. In fact, the whole group complained about it. But we did it. Because it was the first random dungeon I'd run, not only did I get Emblems of Triumph off each of the bosses, but I also got some gold and 2 Frost Emblems, which gets you gear like this. My next dungeon was Azjol-Nerub, which went very quickly and netted me a couple of extra triumph emblems.

For fear of getting sucked in and playing all night, I logged out after that, but plan to play again later today, after I get my work done. I'm anxious to try the dungeon finder with my lower level priest and with my 80 who lacks decent gear. I really like the fact that it's random. I'm partial to surprises and back when I played a lot of Civilization IV, I always chose the random option. I like the challenge of dealing with the cards you're dealt. Though some of my guildies said they'd had some weird groups, with players who weren't geared at all, the two groups I had seemed really good. I didn't inspect their gear, but I could tell from how fast we downed mobs that we had a good collection of people. It would be cool if they could add the ability to friend across servers. Then you might end up with a collection of strong people you could call on for raids and dungeons when you can't or don't want to rely on randomness.

I'm also looking forward to seeing some of the new content, but that's definitely something I hope to do with the guild. And, of course, I'll write about it here when I get there.
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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I'm in a giving mood

Maybe it's because of the holidays, or maybe it's just who I am, but lately, when people mention they like something or want to try something, I want to go out and buy it for them as a surprise. These are people I barely know. I actually had the thought of looking up a blogger's address (someone who blogs under their own name, obviously), and sending them something they'd mentioned they'd like to have. I can't afford to do this, of course, but I really do wish I could. I just like the idea of someone getting something they want totally out of the blue.

The Internet and Entertainment

People are talking about the proposed deal between Comcast and NBC and what it will do to the business. NBC owns Hulu, which streams many popular tv shows (and many not-so-popular ones) for free, allowing people to watch shows any time. The speculation is that this will no longer be free, that Hulu will go behind a paywall. Comcast claims this won't happen, but because online streaming sites are not yet profitable, it seems like a paywall is one avenue for revenue.

The thing is, most people pay for tv already, via their cable bill, so having to pay to watch the same shows on another device is irksome. Some people, like Coates, don't pay for cable and instead watch via Hulu or iTunes, paying for shows as needed. Ideally, I think, one would pay one bill and then have access to the same content via whatever device you want to watch it on whenever you want to watch it. If I get HBO by paying extra through my cable company, I ought to be able to watch those shows on my computer or my iPhone without having to pay for it again. Right now, that's exactly what I have to do in most cases. In theory, the cable companies are working on a system that will allow subscribers to log into a site and watch the same shows they might watch on their tv on their computer.

But the elephant in the room in all of this is the changing habits of tv viewers. People just don't plop in front of the tv anymore at specific times. They have certain shows that they watch, but not necessarily when the network airs them and often without the ads. I watch very little tv myself and we've considering cutting off our cable and buying what we need through Amazon, which downloads to our TiVo box (for which we have a lifetime subscription). Yesterday, over lunch, I finished watching The Biggest Loser from last week, which I recorded via TiVo. And that's usually how we watch tv. We record 5 or 6 shows and then we watch them when we have time. All of us are more likely to be online than in front of the tv when relaxing. If we were in a pay per show situation, I suspect the cable company and the network might be losing money off us. So, the big question is, how do you allow consumers to continue in their tv watching habits and still make money?

I like my tv. It's big and it's in front of the couch where I can stretch out and relax. What I'd like is to be able to watch the show I missed last night and forgot to record without having to pay extra. I'd like to turn on my tv and be offered that option. I'd even be willing to watch an ad or two.

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