Saturday, September 14, 2013

On "Dumb" Quotes and the Necessity of Code-Switching

This may be a mind-numbingly boring discussion about fonts, menu's on MS Word, and such. You have been warned...

I got a new laptop recently and installed my good, old 2003 version of Office which I've assumed--for maybe the last 10 years--I like better than newer versions. I've been using the computer at my office a lot which has the pre-365 office or our Mac, which has 2011, and I've never gotten used to the Calibri, 11pt font and all the other jazz that has changed. Or thought I hadn't anyway. Turns out, I've grown really used to a lot of the changes in Office over the years. Although I definitely like opening a document and not having to change font style or size or the spacing between paragraphs, there are definitely some things getting on my nerves.

The one that really prompted this post is its use of "dumb" quotes. You can see them there. The straight kind. I know some people prefer them and they work better in a lot of internet situations, but that doesn't keep them from being annoying to me or make me think of some copy and pasted--and thus probably plagiarized--piece of writing. I've gotten a lot of them over the years, and its become a tag for plagiarism or, at the very least, bad student writing. So, it's annoying to have that kind of conditioned response to my own writing... cause my own writing rocks. Give me my beautifully curly "smart" quotes back!

The next thing is why on earth did they have the ability to change border width under "Page Setup" in the "File" menu!? What's it doing all the way over there? Makes perfect sense to put it under the "Format" menu, but no, all you can do there is give your borders lines of varying styles and widths. Clicking on the "more" box under the paragraph menu is way easier and intuitive.

The review tab in the recent versions of Word? Love 'em. Just click on the tab and turn the track changes settings on or off. Click to insert a comment, delete a comment, delete all comments. All these are very easy in more recent versions of Word. You can never go back again.

Ok, so what? Why does this matter or what am I saying? It kind of reminds me of an experience on my mission where I went back to my first area--where I'd assumed for the year since I'd been there that I was a better missionary then, a way better missionary--but getting there I shocked a member out of her slippers I'd changed so much, and it seemed for the better. Way better. I was so off on my views about the past.

But maybe hating Word 2003 is not quite that significant. Maybe I'm just seeing that Microsoft has really made some improvements over the years. Sure, they've made some missteps--one last dig at Stever Balmer before he goes, right?--but really, I think the interface has really improved in A LOT of ways. Bravo men and women of Redmond, WA.

But maybe it's something else, still. Maybe it's something about code-switching and all the codes we have in this digital world. Do you use Windows or Mac? A lot of people will just go with one or the other because of the slight differences that require you to remember a different set of protocols or "moves" when doing one or the other. My desktop is a Mac, like I said, but most of my other computing is done on PC's, so I'm often missing the command button when I try hot keys on the Mac. Or I have a couple different kinds of mouses that I use which causes mix-ups here and there. Touch screen interfaces verses non-touch screen, the tap=click on most mac trackpads that will often not work on pc touch pads. Or the different ways you scroll on touch pads. And then there are the andriod vs. iOS vs. linux.. DOS... or with the mild web design I do, there are codes for html, CSS, Java, Flash, and they're all a bit different and require the brain to think in slightly different ways. At some point, it's a lot to take in. It gets easier to just stick with what you know and not bother with the other company's stuff which is probably the point.

So, just some thoughts on all the codes and patterns that my brain is asked to think in in this digital world, and which, for the most part, it does really well. One summer when I was traveling through Europe, I had to learn slightly different patterns for each country's keyboards. I don't remember all the slight differences, but I know the German keyboard had the "z" in an odd place. And I'd make a couple mistakes, but then my brain adapted, patched in the new code, and away I went. The human brain seems well-suited to codes and code-switching, and why not? They're all just different languages basically.

Oh, the mad proliferation of codes, though.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Game of Vikings, Game of Wood

We made some sets of Kubb. One for my sister and one for the Steele cabin. Also known as viking chess, its a game where you throw wooden dowels and knock over wooden blocks. Its a fine, fine lawn game introduced to us by some fine, fine folks out East. We thought we'd introduce it out West and gain fame and notoriety that way. So we started with some blocks we had cut.

We sanded them down.

Sand, sand...
Sand 'em down good.

Real good.
And then painted them. Here is our second set in progress. Sadly, somehow, we didn't get a shot of the final product with the awesome design Heather made for it. The blue and orange were very striking with astylized leaf design we put on it.

Here's the first set I tried my hand on. For my Moose-loving sister.

Kubb in action. Game of warriors and seafarers.

Too fast to see sometimes...

The sound of the dowell knocking the kubb is so satisfying.

Definitely a game where you don't want to get behind.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Much Better Blog

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011


She kept saying "bread is forgiving," as she mixed the ingredients with her hands. Calling for more flour. Getting her husband to heat the honey/molasses mixture. She was blind, but she still made bread every week, and was teaching us her special recipe. Trying her recipe on my own, I hoped it was true.

I had to change some things. We were almost out of white flour, so it was going to be mainly wheat instead of mainly white. I was halving it too, and realized only once I'd finished the dough that we'd stopped taking notes once the dough was done, so I didn't know how long to cook it or at what temperature. I hadn't really expected to get past the "add flour until it's just right" part of the recipe though, so what's a couple botches more or less?

Not that I'm horrible at bread, but it seems so hit and miss. Such a mystery. Like when to use a comma. I remember deciding to make some Challa bread as a teenager and it went gangbusters. But I had a friend with some whipped butter on hand to garnish the top which really helped. I tried again a couple years ago thinking it'd go perfect with some lemon curd I was attempting, but the yeast didn't rise. The recipe said to put the yeast in warm water, but my definition of "warm" didn't match the yeast's. It was a dismal. I have since learned that "warm" means as hot as it'll come out of most taps.

So it was with a mixture of apprehension in past attempts, new knowledge of my old foe, and faith in my mentor's attitude about bread that I approached this new recipe.

It was wonderful. It turns out that tasting delicious buttered and be-jam-ed bread that I made myself is one of life's really sweet moments. Couldn't get over it all night.

And it wasn't a fluke. My second batch was just as good. Or better?!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Love vs. Hate

A week ago we got 20 lbs of Fresh, New Jersey blueberries. They're coming out our ears, and they're awesome. We've been putting them on and everything we can think of. This morning we're low on cereal--cause blueberries are awesome on cereal--and I was thinking of what else I might make for a fancier breakfast that could include blueberries... blueberry oatmeal!?!

Now, I hate oatmeal. I really hate it. No matter how many times I've tried it, it is always the foulest mess of pottage. Other than partially rotted soybeans covered in raw eggs, mustard, and soy sauce, I don't know if there's anything I'd rather eat less. My childhood was largely spent trying to avoid choking down my mother's oatmeal. Gagging on it when I had to. Trying to disguise the taste with heavily jammed toast and silently crying when the toast ran out before the oatmeal. (Nothing against Mom. She loved the stuff and was just trying to feed 10 kids.) But I hated it. And if I avoided it at breakfast, fine, but then that's lunch. Not having it for lunch? Well, by the time dinner came, it was a cold, gelatinous chunk of gag that I was going to eat if I was going to eat anything. I never tried to see if my parents would hold to their guns across multiple days, but those nights alone in the clean kitchen eating the last bowl were bitter indeed. Sigh. Anyway, in spite of my mother's many many attempts, I never got used to it. Hate it still.

But I LOVE blueberries! Big, juicy, plump, full of antioxidant blueberries are awesome in shakes, on cereal, in pies, in jam, in cakes, in muffins, in waffles--in tons of stuff I love, the blueberries make it better. I remember driving home from Yellowstone one year through Idaho and stopping at every--EVERY--road-side huckleberry stand we saw. I never got sick of it.

This is the first time I have ever been excited to make oatmeal. I looked up a recipe online, ignored the orange zest it called for and got to work throwing salt, cinnamon, honey into the oatmeal. I was extremely self-satisfied with myself for this awesome idea and kept wondering why my mom had never thought of doing something this delightful with oatmeal. Maybe because it was zucchinis and apricots coming out our ears instead of blueberries in which case I'm extremely grateful she didn't come up with throwing in whatever surplus plant we had on hand. But I was feeling like a champ. This was gonna turn everything around. The oatmeal was nice and creamy. The blueberries and broken a bit and everything was turning a nice blue. This was going to be the exact opposite of every oatmeal I'd ever had. Redemption by blueberry.

I took a bite. It... tasted like oatmeal. I added some brown sugar, made sure I got a blueberry in there. The blueberry was great. A burst of warm, sweet flavor. Took another bite. Missed a blueberry. Meh. It's kind of a draw. Though maybe a win for blueberry since I am finishing the bowl. I'm not hating this oatmeal. I just don't love it. Which is a huge improvement from hate.

It's certainly not the bluebegeddon I was hoping for, but making oatmeal palatable is no small feat. And I'm willing to try this again with some recipe modification or perhaps a new recipe.

Also to try: Blueberry Grits, Zucchini Grits (grits are to me as oatmeal is to my mom).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


We got back from Utah recently. It was great to be there, and I was really missing the mountains, family, friends, and how close everything is when we were driving to collect 20 lbs of blueberries and there were fireflies EVERYWHERE. Really. Every field we passed had swarms of fireflies. It was awesome. One point for PA.

My attempt to capture the magic... can you see them?

The fields of bioluminescent magic made me wonder whether fireflies--or lightning bugs as I keep calling them in my head--are as fascinating and grotesque as glow worms. They're no more abominable than you're average bug, but evolution and development have created an ironic tragedy for them.

Today I'm at the library and checking out some old National Geographics and happened upon a picture of a jar full of fireflies with a short bit about how the firefly is in decline. All over the world they think populations are falling although they're only starting to keep a tally. They think loss of habitat and light polution are the main culprits. I think of a lone firefly looking for that elusive love and losing him or her amid the distant flashing of headlights, business signs, and bright parking lots.

With firefly populations in decline, China is of course working on a replacement.

Not sure how PA's population of fireflies is compared to the past, but it's lovely to see.

Here's a video which I couldn't tell if it was catching them. But it did a bit. Gives you some idea.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Three witches tell the warrior Thane
That King Macbeth cannot be slain
He kills the King;
His fortunes swing.
Birnam Wood to Dunsinane.