Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A lesson on not judging people...

I just wanted to post about how wrong I was about the person I spoke of here -I saw her again at same Starbucks, but this time we sat sortof behind her. Ed pointed at her laptop and I said "yeah, I saw it" dismissively. But, he indicated again that I should read what was on her screen. ...okay, I was curious, so I looked -it looked like she was in a 12-step type program about "Coming Out To God" (and I think that's the title of a book she had beside her).

That lead me to think about how, based on her laptop which was covered in "gay stickers", I had previously assumed she was one of those "angry lesbians". How wrong I was! She is, instead, one of those hurt by the church's refusal to accept gayness as a trait instead of a choice. I totally sympathize with her now. -it's hard enough to accept on it's own without the church telling you your attraction is wrong or (at the extreme end) yelling "God hates fags!" as you walk hand in hand with your partner without thinking about the consequences.

How very sad for the world that this cannot be accepted (yet). It will. Eventually. And all you people who make us feel bad about WHO WE ARE... I hope you feel as foolish and apologetic as those who've defended apartheid, fought against women's right to vote, etc.

Oh, and I've learned my lesson not to judge people too :-( Sorry to you, whoever you are, Starbucks woman... I wish I had the courage to say something supportive to you then and there, but we're on way opposite poles as far as the religion thing goes, so I didn't even know where to start. You've got it WAY harder than I do.

...but what about those stickers? -I suppose I could admire the courage to display something so personal while you seem to be struggling for acceptance -even for/from yourself. But it seems that, in this case anyway, the root of it is just overcompensation, then right? Perhaps. But, I guess I don't really feel like making sweeping generalizations anymore... :-(

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dream: Threat on marriage cruise

Last night I dreamed we were on a cruise where Ed an I were to be married. Ed popped in and out of the dream, but I was mostly alone. This was kindof a sequel to similar dreams I had before we got married...

First, there was a flashback to the previous dreams where I was on IM in the cabin alone at night and some guy and I were having a conversation. But, when he found out where I was and why, he started threatening me -saying he was going to kill me, rip me to shreds, etc. Not too long after I found out that others on the ship were getting similar threats and 2 girls were already missing and one was found dead in "suspicious circumstances". So, I was scared. At night Ed wasn't there. When the threat became known throughout the ship, my brother stayed with me in the room.

...I think the threatening person may have been me? (I went to bed being angry with Ed...)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dream: Ed and the fish tanks

I had a dream last night that began with me getting up in the morning and noticing that the fish tank was really cloudy and silty looking. The lights weren't on yet (they are on a timer that turns them on about 10min after I wake up), but I could still tell the water quality was really, really bad.

I stepped back and realized that he had switched the fish tank and TV around (this makes no sense given our current living room arrangement, but...). And I saw that in this configuration the TV was closer to the couch and it allowed more room for us to get down the hall. So, I was more ok with what he had done after understanding why he did it, but still kind of annoyed that the fish had to suffer for it.

Then, from there, I noticed 2 new fish tanks -cubes, both freshly set up from an aquarium store. Ed said he had them out on loan or that they were returnable -he just wanted me to have them if I liked them. Sweet! But, he didn't just get the aquarium, there were plants (both real and fake) and all other kinds of accessories and new fish as well. (Enough to stock a store.) But, half the fun is picking all that stuff out. From there, stepping back on more time, the area of wall was then taken up by all kinds of 10gal tanks, all dirty and stocked with all kinds of different fish, etc.

There was even one with a snapping turtle and a 3-legged frog. When I started thinking that the turtle was probably to blame for the missing frog leg, it took a wild jump at me and I woke up.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dream Log: Overnight Dinner Party?

The basic idea in the dream was that Ed and I were invited to a dinner somewhere. It felt like it'd be a family thing, but uncomfortable, like maybe it was my Dad's side of the family.

There was a lot of time to kill before leaving and for all of the time except when it was time to get dressed for the party, it was someone else's house.

Towards time to go to bed, we went upstairs, but to get to the 3rd floor where we'd be sleeping, you had to go up one set of stairs, then down another, and then up again. It was very odd. I told Ed and the other person who was with us (my brother?) that I had seen this before and asked (my brother?) if this was really the only way up -he said it was.

We briefly went out on the upstairs balcony, but the house wasn't very well kept and it looked rotted and covered in moss. I went as far as the roof line, and wouldn't go over although I was teased by Ed about not being willing to go any further while he danced around and stuff.

Then we started getting ready for the party. I looked in the mirror and was mad that my hair had grown so that the haircut I just got a few weeks ago no longer looked like it had much style -it was basically back to the long, straight cut it was before -boring. My clothes were also boring. I looked through the closet and didn't find much except a dark-colored tie-die sweatshirt that I liked the look of and it was comfortable, but I knew it wouldn't be appropriate for the party, so I eliminated it as a choice. -I never actually picked anything out.

We went downstairs -I think it was morning, and we looked for our host, who was thinking about performing at the party. We found him playing with a sword. This is where he turned into Mike B. He started having this imaginary sword fight with himself. Pretending to struggle, etc. Then my brother (or whoever) joined him with (something). Eventually a Japanese sword was brought out to use in sword practice. Mike rolled it and twirled it around untl he got the air inside moving so it made a very low, soft hum. It was supposed to make a noise or something when used in sword play, but I grew bored and went to look at the Japanese pottery and stuff on display in the house. -The patterns painted on them were exquisite!

Then I was alone (waiting for people?) in a restaurant setting. Then I thought I was waiting for food that I had ordered. The waitress kept walking by, but I got nothing. I got up to pretend to go to the bathroom because it was close to the display area where the kitchen put the finished food, and it all looked nicely made, but not all that appetizing. It occurred to me that I had passed the table before and saw 2 of the same dishes still there. I sat back down and told the waitress she might not want to serve those dishes because they were old. She apologized that my food wasn't out yet, and I continued waiting...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Things that will kill you: Fluoride in your water

An over-consumption of fluoride can lead to: poisoning, kidney failure, osteoporosis, brain damage, and more!

Supporting a cause VS being confrontational about it

I've yet to come right out and say this on my blog because I have no idea who reads it. I know my Mom's read a couple of my photography-related posts that were linked to from Flickr, but I don't think she reads it regularly. Anyway, I consider myself bi. There. That should be fun if my family finds it...

Anyway, I deeply believe in supporting gay rights. In fact, I can't understand how anyone can deny that it's a cut and dry civil rights issue. So, there's a part of me that wants to put that HRC sticker on the back of my car.

Similarly, I want a Darwin Fish or something to counter all the religious cr@p people put on the backs of their cars.

Both are reactions to feeling attacked. Is it really a fault to be attracted to people of the same sex? Science says it's not a choice, and I have felt this way all my life. My only choice was to restrict myself to men and the result is that I've always questioned myself to the point where I felt asexual at times. Everything in my life has to be carefully controlled and outwardly perfect just like I was raised to be when our family was being torn apart by alcoholism. (Which is no one's fault, it's just a disease we need to find better treatments for.)

And, the religious (Christian) fundamentals (I try hard not to lump everyone into that group, but...) are trying to push science out of schools when our schools are doing so poorly already. They interrupt a Hindu guest's opening prayer in the Senate, while calling for more religious tolerance (huh?). And they fight to exclude the recognition of other religions by protesting stores that wish people "Happy Holidays" rather than restrict their kindness to Christians by wishing their customers a "Merry Christmas".

So, what am I to do? I feel the need to fight back. Explain my views. So, I started thinking about getting a couple bumper stickers. Until...

I walked into Starbucks one day, ordered a mocha, and went to sit down. I noticed that the lady beside working feverishly on her laptop had a rainbow sticker on there. Cool. She's a "friendly". I went on with my sipping, reading my cup, talking to Ed, etc. Then, I glanced over again and looked at the rest of the stickers on her laptop. Wow. There must have been at least 10 -the whole top was covered in stickers, and every last one of them related to her sexuality.

It was then that I realized that that's not who I want to be. Despite our similar positions on GLBT issues, she's more like the people I hate than those I'd want to align myself with. The problem -no matter what side of either debate we are on, is militantism. So, you're a Christian and I'm an atheist. As long as we respect each other's beliefs, why does it matter? Don't try to push me to believe what you believe, and I won't argue with you about why I think your beliefs are silly. End of story. -Sure, gay marriage isn't quite as easily dismissed because there's laws being considered, and that means a side must be taken, and a vote cast either for or against. But, if that same mindset were applied, I think we'd all be better off.

To push this (probably farther than I should) -I mean, what are the arguments against gay marriage? Well, you have a majority Christian nation who's led by a church who interprets one line in the Old Testament as saying homosexuality is bad. (Of course, that line is just a few pages away from several lines explaining that God wants you to make sacrifices of "burnt flesh" to him, but hey, that's the OLD Testament, no one really believes that stuff anym... oh, wait...). And the other argument is that it'd corrupt heterosexual marriage (how is that, exactly?). The one issue that may hold water is homosexual couples raising children, but that's a seperate issue anyway, isn't it? I mean, a gay couple can't produce children on their own... Yes, I know they can find a donor and produce a child that way -my answer for that is this: There are no parenting classes or consideration given to heterosexual couples who want to marry. Known violent offenders can marry anyone, including each other. Retarded couples can marry and have children...

Blah. This is just making me angrier. What do I, as a reasonable adult do? Fight back and add to the horde of people who take an in-your-face stance on their positions? Or do I sit back down and just hope people come to their senses on their own. One thing's for sure, you'll never change anyone's mind with a bumper sticker. So, how do you quietly make your arguments known? Perhaps my answer lies in my first reaction to the woman in Starbucks when I thought she just had one rainbow sticker... Hmm...

A correction about the Starbucks woman is here.

Things that will kill you: Food dye

The following blog entry covers the various ways food dye can kill you such as: cancer, organ failure, allergic reaction, mental retardation, chromosomal damage, and obsessive compulsive disorder:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Got exhaust on the WRX

Ed bought me a full ERZ "ebay exhaust" for around $325 shipped and we got it installed over Labor Day weekend. I won't write about how the install went, 'cause I'd rather forget about it. Between stripped bolts and an "extra" bolt found stuck between the tranny and a frame member, it was kindof a mess. I suspect it was due to the body shop we used after our Dec '05 accident. :-P

Anyway, it's on and you can hear the wastegate open now. Funky. Sounds like a mean cat purring at idle, and just gets meaner the faster you go.

The exhaust looked really well made, especially considering the price. No fitment issues whatsoever, the gaskets all looked good... the only complaint was that we were missing 5 or 6 bolts. -A quick ride out to Lowe's fixed that, though. All-in-all I'm quite happy. It's LOUD without the silencer, and a little less loud without it, but it sounds nice, so we'll see how long I can go without a fix-it ticket for it >:-P

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My take on this Senator Larry Craig thing...

I see this whole thing as being very sad.

Senator Craig was born in 1945, and therefore, grew up in the 1950's. An era that held homosexuality as a "sickness" that was "contagious" as you can hear and see for yourself in the 1950's era video "Boys Beware" here:

How horrible to grow up thinking you are "sick" for being gay. It's now known that homosexuality is very much a biological trait, but we haven't quite reached the level of acceptance that's required for even a Democrat to come out as gay in most places, much less a Republican.

So, for his entire life, Craig (assuming he IS gay) has been told that his feelings towards men are unnatural, sick, and harmful to society. I assume that HE believes this too, based on his voting record.

Why are we surprised, then, when he must release his repressed needs, that he choose to do so in a bathroom. It's dirty, right? The washroom is a private place for taking care all of our disgusting, embarrassing, animalistic needs, isn't it logical that he and others choose that location to take care of their "dirty" sexual needs as well?

Perhaps when we, as a society, can accept gayness as a trait, much like gender or race, we'll move on from teaching our children to hate themselves to the point where they are so repressed they seek out anonymous sex in airport bathrooms and try to pass measures against people of their own kind who's only crime is to love someone of the same gender.

To further illustrate how we ourselves have created this problem, countries like Canada, are celebrating the marriage of their gay public officials (link to story) instead of wallowing in scandals such as Senator Craig's, Mark Foley's, etc.

The housing market's falling! The housing market's falling!

Perhaps I'm being stupid or overly optimistic, but here's why I'm not panicking...

Say you bought a house about 3 years ago, at the height of the housing boom. You thought it'd be a smart investment. Interest rates were low, so you bought in.

But, you were smart about it. You did your homework by using one of the many online tools that took housing cost + interest rate and gave you an idea of your monthly payments, so when the mortgage company told you that you were approved up to $300,000 -you knew you'd be looking for something that was about half that in order to keep your mortgage payments closer to what you were already (easily) paying in rent soas not to have to change your lifestyle to afford the house.

So, you ended up buying a home for $185,000. Then the housing market fails. Homes are going for about 25% less than they were when you bought in. Your house value plummets to $136,500 in 5 years when you go to sell your home to move into a home in the same town, but with a bigger garage so your WIFE can work on HER car in the comfort of an enclosed, temperature-controlled environment as well. **Cough**, right, let's move on... Yes, so you sell your house for $136,500. Ooh, rough break, right?

So, you take your $136,500 and you buy into a house for $185,000 again. Doh! Back where you started, right? Nope. Because the housing market fell 25%, you bought into a home that was worth $231,000 before the housing market fell.

My point is, if you own 1 house that you live in (it's not an investment), then it doesn't really matter what the housing market does because whatever your house is worth, as long as you move right into another house, your housing dollar should be roughly equal when you buy as it is when you sell. In other words, when you're selling and immediately buying again, then it doesn't matter if it's a "buyer's market" or a "seller's market" -you'll always get screwed on one end or the other!

(**I am not a real estate agent. I may just be justifying the fact that I bought into a house just a few years ago. I could be totally wrong about the way the housing market works. If you make any decisions based on this blog article, it'd be incredibly stupid.**)

Friday, August 24, 2007

No one suspected a post on the Spanish Inquisition!

I'm going to share what I'm learning while I read "The Spanish Inquisitioin" by Joseph Perez, published by Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-11982-8

I'm reading this more out of curiosity about they psychology of it than I am out of religion bashing and intend to just note the facts here for those interested in the short-story. Truth is, I'm finding it interesting, but can't quite keep track of all the facts in my head, so...

This was getting too long, so it was moved to:

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Every time I call Sprint there's an issue...

Another bad review of Sprint's customer service...

A couple hours after the last post I realized what a whiny little brat I must sound like at this point -angry that my latest tech gadget isn't getting here fast enough... Well, it arrived yesterday -a week and a day after the last purchasing issue was ironed out. It's certainly not up to your average web store's standards, but it got here, so I can't really complain...

Of course, as soon as I got home I ripped through the box, powered up the phone, installed a couple apps, and surfed the web a bit. When I checked the voice mail, there was a message from Sprint saying that I should dial *2 to activate the phone. Well, according to what I've heard online you shouldn't call with the phone you are trying to activate (although you can call customer service with it unactivated -I tried), so I dialed the number that the instructions told me to with my regular phone. The auto attendant asked me some questions that I didn't know the answer to, like "are you a new customer?" uh... sorta. I tried both Yes and No, both dropped me into a queue where the wait time was estimated to be between 15 and 25 minutes. I waited for about 5, then hung up.

So, this morning I tried again at 7am CST and I got through to a rep in less than 5 minutes. (Good start!). It was an Indian girl who talked too fast for me to really keep up and she understood me about as well (although I talked clearly and slowly). It turns out that this wasn't going to be easy either. She said she had no record of my request that my number be ported from Virgin Mobile. I tried re-doing the request, but she needed a Virgin Mobile account number, and I couldn't find one, so I told her to skip it -I'd keep the temporary number for now.

She had me go into the phone settings and set up the phone. It went just fine although she spit out the numbers a little fast for me to figure out how to type/dial them in on this phone (Treo 755p), but I figured it out -no biggie. Once it was set up, she said "Ok. Now you need to choose a plan." Here's where the fun begins...

Me: "Uh, I bought the plan when I bought the phone."
Sprint Rep: "Well, it's not showing up, so we have to set it up again."
Me: "I don't want to set it up again, I already chose a plan when I bought the phone."
Sprint Rep: "You do not currently have a plan, how many minutes would you like?"
Me: "I'm not going through this again -I already have a plan"
Sprint Rep: "How many minutes do you want?"
Me: "Look. I signed up for the Sero plan. Can you put me on that plan? It's called Sero, S-E-R-O."
Sprint Rep: (silence)
Sprint Rep: "Yes. How many minutes?"
Me: "500"
Sprint Rep: "Ok"
Me: "How much is the plan?"
Sprint Rep: "$30" (right)
Me: "And how much data do I get with it?"
Sprint Rep: "There is no data on this plan."
Me: "There's supposed to be unlimited data and text messaging on this plan. That's what I signed up for. That's what I already have."
Sprint Rep: "I'm sorry, but that plan is not available."
Me: "What do you mean it's not available? I ALREADY HAVE THAT PLAN! I signed up for it when I bought the phone. You sent me the phone, so I must also have gotten the plan. It's on my invoice!"
Sprint Rep: "I'm sorry, but in order to be eligible for this plan you must have the rep that referred you to Sprint call and..."
Me: "That's not acceptable. I'm not jumping through hoops to get on this plan. I already purchased it and I have proof. If you can't put me back on this plan, transfer me to a manager."
Sprint Rep: "There's nothing anyone can do. You are not eligible for this plan. You must choose a plan you are eligible for."
Me: "Just transfer me to a manager."
(repeat ad nauseum)

I should have timed it. It had to have been 3-5 minutes of solid back and forth going in circles. I even pointed out the fact that we weren't getting anywhere. Finally she transferred me to a manager, who picked up in about a minute. When the manager picked up, all she said was "You've been authorized for the SERO plan". I was like "What!?!" She repeated herself, then I asked for the details -she confirmed both "unlimited data" and "unlimited text messaging".

Now, when I look online it says I'm on the Sero F&F 500 plan or something like that, which is the plan the rep told me about -500 minutes, no data, no text messages. But, the website also says that the details are not available because my plan was recently changed. It says details will be available after the next billing cycle. I'm willing to wait, but not that long. I think I might have to call back tomorrow or the next day in order to confirm that I'm on the correct plan.

GRRR I look forward to the day when this is all settled and I can just be happy using my phone. For now this hassle doesn't even seem worth the deal I got. But, over 2 years, I have to admit it kinda is, although I'm not happy to be giving Sprint ANY money at all at this point. >:P

Monday, July 30, 2007

Review of Allegro Medical's online store

Just to break the cycle of negative reviews, here's a positive one for Allegro Medical (at -I bought my dad a birthday present from them on Monday, July 16th and on Tuesday, July 24th, I realized that they hadn't been delivered, nor did I ever get a tracking number for them yet!?! Since my dad's birthday party was the next weekend (July 29th), I called and asked for the status of the order. -It turned out that the server in their warehouse that processes the orders crashed and my order kinda slipped through the cracks. I told them about my dad's party and that I needed them by Friday, and although it took a couple calls to follow up on it, they got the order to me on Friday -overnighted, at no extra cost to me. In short, they screwed up, they admitted it, and they made it right. -I'll definitely order from them again based on this experience!

Sprint's having "technical difficulties" -well, at least they admit it!

I ordered a new phone with service from Sprint on Sunday, July 22nd. On Monday there was an issue with them being able to pull my credit report, but that was resolved on the same day (although it took about 4-5 calls, see the "Sprint review" post from 7/23 for that story). ...My invoice said to expect the phone in 2-4 business days, so I expected the phone sometime between Wednesday and Friday, but Sprint's order tracking page still, to this minute, hasn't given me a tracking number... Today is Monday, July 30th -a week and a day since I put in the order, and one week from when the order was said to be complete. No phone, no tracking number....

So, I called Sprint this morning to find out why their order tracking page is still saying "The order is awaiting fulfillment." After a half hour on hold (yes, I timed it), I get this Indian guy who I can barely understand. He takes my order number and puts me back on hold for another 5 minutes. When he gets back on the line, he tells me something about technical difficulties and to call back on Wednesday. After going back and forth with him trying to figure out what's going on, he says it's not a problem with my order, all I can get out of him is that it's just "technical difficulties" and UPS should have my tracking number on Wednesday... Super.

...I just can't believe that I ordered the phone on Sunday, and then the next day I put in an order with Egghead for memory for the phone, and I opted out of their $2.99 "faster processing" fee, and I still got the memory on Wednesday (2 days after ordering it). I also bought 2 cases for the phone from a Yahoo store on Monday, and I got those on Friday. But I'm still waiting for the phone...

When I ordered my phone from cheap-as-heck, pay-as-you-go Virgin Wireless, I had my phone the very next day! What's up with Sprint? Is it a temporary problem? -It doesn't look like it... Google "The order is awaiting fulfillment." and you get back results from various forums where people are discussing how long it takes to get a phone. The average seems to be a week (which means Sprint's invoice should be updated so their customers aren't expecting it in "2-4 business days"). But some are reporting up to 20 days with no notice of the item being back ordered, etc. Everyone, however, reports terrible wait times when calling Sprint and horrible customer service once they finally get through. With the carriers all being bought up and the market coming down to AT&T vs Sprint, I don't expect we'll see any improvement.

I guess that when you shop by price alone, this is what you get...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How businesses view employees

I ran across this article yesterday:

The summary is that this guy pitched the idea of a hypothetical job applicant named Albert to several managers to see whether or not they'd hire him. Albert is described as someone who has exceeded work goals for the past 5 years and he gets along well with others, but while seeking full-time pay, he refuses to work more than 20 hours a week and also demands that his time not be wasted.

Steven Smith (I assume that's the writer's name?) mixes it up a bit by putting this hypothetical situations in 3 different contexts: Software development, production, and sales. For sales, it was clarified that Albert would always bring in more than 105% of his goal, but never more than 110%.

In each case, the managers declined hiring Albert. When Steve asked them:

QUOTE: "What's preventing you from hiring Albert?" A manager sneered as he said, "The notion of him only working 20 hours per week is insulting and his demand that his time not be wasted is absurd. He is being paid to do what he is told. And think of what he could produce if he worked a regular (40-60) hours. If I can't motivate him to work hard, I don't want him" The creases in my forehead became more pronounced as I said, "But isn't the guarantee of him producing 105% of his quota worth something to you?" "Doesn't matter. I might be able to hire someone who would work more hours and make 200% of his quota," countered a sales manager. my experience businesses don't really hire employees to take care of a particular task. I'm the only Systems Administrator in my office, but that doesn't mean that I have full control of the systems under my care. Often I have to do things I don't agree with because a decision has been made by upper management (none of which are IT professionals). Their reasoning is that I may have specific knowledge about the sytems, software, etc, but I don't have much knowledge of the big-picture -where the company is headed, etc. I used to ask "who's fault is that?", but I don't anymore.

Businesses (in general) have changed their structure. They prefer to work from the top-down rather than relying on the skills and knowledge of people in more hands-on roles who actually see the work that gets done day-to-day. The reason? Lack of loyalty might be one.

It used to be that people rarely changed jobs. They'd stick with one until retirement. And, as we all know, that just doesn't happen anymore. Who started it? I don't know. Who's perpetuating it? Both employers and employee's I'd imagine. But, if the employer can't count on you to be there next week, month, year -then it's risky for them to have you be a part of the decision. You may buy them into some odd platform that only you know. You might not document the solution well enough for the next guy to be able to pick up the ball and run with it. That's a fair reaction on their part.

But, this top-down system results in fuzzy, detached job roles that, in my opinion, is hindering growth as well as that much-strived-for "team spirit" or a feeling of being a part of the company rather than just an employee.

Managers want to see you in the office. They want you to be available to fulfill a task or implement a solution whenever they might come up with one. The idea of a job role being fulfilled and the employee running on autopilot is no longer the ideal. Poor Albert proves that it's not even wanted anymore. Managers, like the one quoted above, now see the ideal as being a person who will "do what they are told". So, I guess the only knowledge I bring is HOW to do what I'm told? The ability to plan ahead isn't necessary. ...No wonder outsourcing is so popular.

Could this be a result of too many (bad) managers and their egos? -I don't know. All I know is that I often feel wasted as an employee. I look around me and believe others feel the same. While the one manager in my (small) office is out today, we are all left clueless as to how to fill our time. The monitors I can see while walking through the office are displaying one of two things: solitaire or entertainment websites. No one hesitates to put the entertainment aside when a customer calls, but surely there's something more productive for us to do? But, without any value being put on us initiating anything, we fall back to waiting for the next task. In the meantime, we're not only our time, but the company's as well.

Oh, look -time for lunch! :-P

Monday, July 23, 2007

A review of my Sprint customer service experience -trying to get a new phone set up with Sprint

Whew. I feel like I just went through some initiation for some super-elite underground organization. But in reality, all I've accomplished was becoming a Sprint customer! Wow... it really shouldn't be that hard!

Here's what happened:

At 9pm last night I ordered a new phone and service plan with Sprint online.

At about 9am I found I had an email from Sprint saying there was a delay in processing my order because of a problem running my credit report. It said they'd call me, but gave a number if I wanted to "expedite the process". I did, so I called. This is call #1...

Call #1:
Nice girl, spoke English well. She said that the order was saying it was "in process" and she couldn't check or alter it -it may be going through just fine. She told me she'd personally keep an eye on it, and if it got held up, she'd call me. She took down my number, and that was that.

At about 11am I got another email from Sprint saying I needed to call them because of a problem running the credit report. Okay, I call again. Call #2...

Call #2:
This girl barely spoke English at all. She took my application # and put me on hold while she talked to the credit department. When she came back on the line she kept saying something about them "not having my credit report". -I asked several times: "Who doesn't have my credit? Sprint or the credit reporting agency?" She didn't understand my question so I tried rewording it, which was hard because it's a 5-word sentence! So, the last couple times I asked the question v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. She still couldn't tell me so we moved on.

Next, she wanted to know who took the credit report in the first place? I repeated that I purchased the phone online. She asked again -"Yes, but did they run a credit report?" I said "Did who run a credit report? The form on the web site asked for the info to run one, but... I don't know, it's YOUR website!?!" Then she says, yes, but someone has to run your credit... I replied that surely I can't be the first person ever to have purchased a phone and a plan off your website... (Silence) So, I added -I can't be expected to know how this works... The website asked for the info to run my credit, I entered it and hit "Purchase"... That's when we somehow got "disconnected".

I called back...

Call #3:
I got another girl who sounded exactly like the last girl. I asked if this was the person I was just speaking to, and gave my name. She did not reply to my question, but asked my order # and then asked me to hold. Again, I somehow got disconnected.

**I want to clarify that I never raised my voice with anyone. Towards the end of call 2 I let the girl know I was frustrated and wanted a resolution, but I was never mean or angry. I'm generally not good at being forceful with people anyway. But I was frustrated that it took half of my day to get this taken care of while I was supposed to be working.**

Call #4:
This time I called Sprint's main number. Probably a mistake if I look back on it. But, this time I got a male who was able to communicate better than the last girl, but still had an accent (no biggie as long as we can understand each other). I told him the whole story up to this point and then he asks for my name, address, phone number, etc. When he gets to my SSN, I ask if he's starting a new application. He says "Yes". I told him that I already had one, I paid for the phone, and I just needed to straighten out the credit report issue.

"Ok" he says, "no problem", I can run the credit report for you right now. I gave him my info, he put me on hold, then came back and said my credit was good, and I was approved. Sweet! But, no. He then said he needed to cancel my previous order and start a new one. I told him I didn't want to do that because I had ordered the phone through the SERO program. He didn't even know what that was. I explained it, and he said he'd transfer me to that department to re-do the order.

So, I get transferred, and a recording says "welcome to the Sprint employee purchase program, please enter a valid sprint phone number to continue". Uh... I enter the phone number I'm trying to get transferred to this new phone, and it's invalid, so it tells me to re-dial the customer service number I used to get there and then hangs up on me.

Call #5:
This time I go back to the number from their email and I get a nice English speaking girl again. She explains that they need to run the credit report in order to process the application. I tell her that the guy I spoke with 5 minutes ago already ran the report. She said she needed to run it again because that one was under a different application number. Great. Whatever, I said, I just want this done. So, she re-ran the credit report. It came back ok (again), and apparently the phone will be on it's way in a day or two.

Wow. It took over 2 hours of calling, recalling, (several times when I dialed either the number from the email or their main number I got a busy signal or "please try again"!?!) They are a PHONE company!!! WTF!?!

If I didn't get such a good deal on this plan, I would have given up. I kinda dread ever having to deal with them again, though. 2 year contract... Yikes.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Advice on Loosing Weight

In high school I was about 140lbs (chunky considering I'm only 5' 3" or so). Then in college I hung out with some pretty active guys, so I lost some weight by trying to keep up with them. I was about 125 when college was over and we all went our separate ways. Over the next year or two I probably gained about 5 pounds back. Then, in 1999-2000 I gained a lot of weight and maxxed out at 150lbs. I couldn't believe I got that bad. Over the next year or so I got back down to about 125 again, then gained 5lbs of that back fairly quickly. For the last 5 years or so I've slowly crept up from 130 to 135, but I was happy with that. But, over the last year 135 has turned into 139.6lbs as of this past Monday. Uncool.

So, it's time to take care of this before it gets way out of hand. I've signed up on a weight/calorie tracking website and yesterday I stumbled upon their "Community" (forum). Wow there's a lot of misconceptions about weight loss floating around that place!

The one thing that trips everyone is that "there must be a better way". There's not. You figure out how many calories it takes to get you through a normal day, subtract 500 from that number, and that's your goal intake for an average day for as long as you are on your diet. If you want to eat more than that, you have 2 choices: make it up with exercise, or make it up by eating less the day before or after (longer than that and you're like to "forget"). That's it.

"But, I want ice cream"
Fine. Have your ice cream. I'd suggest buying it in a single-serving size at the grocery store, though. That way you'll know that you got the serving size right and the package should tell you how many calories you've consumed. A calorie of ice cream is no different than a calorie of cauliflower, you don't have to feel bad about eating it at all. In fact, you're more likely to stick to a diet if you can work in your favorite foods. Don't fall into the cabbage and rice diet fads. Calories in - calories out. That's all that matters.

"I hate exercising"
Than don't. You'll have to eat less and your fitness level won't improve as much, but you will still loose weight.

"I bought a machine built by NASA that exercises for me"

"No really, I do curls while on it and my arms are toned now!"
You do arm exercises while in a vibrating contraption and you believe that it was the contraption and not the exercises that toned your arms. Ok... I think you got scammed and don't want to admit you wasted your money.

"Is there a pill?"
Yes, and the instructions say that it must be used along with a sensible diet. Do you think it's the pill that's causing the weight loss or the diet? Save your money, you don't need the pills. Take a vitamin instead, that's what many of them are anyway.

"What about Ephedrine?"
Do you want to risk a heart attack or stroke to loose weight at a slightly higher rate?

"If you go under 1200 calories a day you won't loose weight"
What??? This "starvation mode" stuff has been taken far too seriously. Sure, research shows that the body MIGHT slow it's metabolism some to get our ancestors past periods of famine, but is there a magic number that you shouldn't go below? No. If it's true (and it's still being debated), then it most likely happens as soon as you eat fewer calories than you spend in a day, and it's a sliding scale from there on out as you reduce intake vs expenditure. -It takes 1600 calories for me to get through a day, subtract 500 and that means 1100 calories a day will lead to the recommended goal of 1lb lost a week. But OH NOES!!! that's below the 1200 calorie cutoff. Come on people! Ooh, look at me violating your rule and still loosing weight. I'm not anorexic, I'm short. Leave me alone!

"But you have to eat more to weigh less"
People will believe anything as long as it allows them to eat more. Don't fall for it. As long as you are being reasonable don't worry about "starvation mode". One exception -eating 100 - 200 calories more for a couple days might help a plateau, but that's as far as I'm willing to trust this bit of nonsense.

"Is (insert diet program here) worthwhile?"
No. You know what they'll do? They'll weigh you, log your weight, sell you overpriced meals and a "plan" that has "fewer calories in than out" as a base (masked as "points" or whatever's popular this year), and then they'll have meetings where they pat you on your back for loosing a pound this month. A bathroom scale is what? $10? You can count calories on your own. If you need the pat on the back, try joining a forum or group online.

"What about the Atkins / South Beach Diet"
These programs are just another clever way to reduce calories. Meat really doesn't have that many calories, even the greasiest of stuff. Plus, it fills you up quicker and lasts longer than carbs do, so you eat less overall. It works, but it's not healthy. Calories in, calories out.

"At what weight will I be a size 6?"
Depends on the manufacturer. They're all increasing the actual measurements of their sizes, though, so it's just a poor measurement all around. If your goal is a size, why not just make that "Size 10" into a "Size 1" by crossing out the "0". There... does that feel better? No? Oh, well try paying attention to measurements that matter.

...of course, there's un-funny topics too. Teens and adults with identity disorders, people binging then asking how to exercise off the 3000 extra calories they just ate.

In the end, though, we're all in the same boat. Being overweight stinks. Loosing it is hard. The hardest part is not allowing yourself to believe that there's an easy way out. Walking around a store is not exercise. Giving blood does not make up for a donut, typing for 8 hours doesn't qualify as an "active lifestyle", and drinking a gallon of water a day's not going to help either.

Here's what does help:
  • Track your calorie intake and weight daily. There are many websites to help you with this.
  • If you are a "snacker", snack. Those 100 calorie snack packs are awesome -you can't trick yourself into eating more than you should that way.
  • If you eat out, check online for nutrition info at chain restaurants you go to and plan what you'll order before you're sitting infront of the menu with all those pictures of nachos and stuff.
  • Stop drinking stuff with sugar in it. There are many alternatives, you will get used to the taste of diet pop if you choose that route and don't worry about nutrasweet -the corn syrup they use to sweeten pop with in the US is just as bad.
  • If you're hungry, 100 calories of meat, cheese, or something with a lot of fiber will fill you up longer than carbs will.
  • Trick yourself into exercising by finding some activity you enjoy that gets you off the couch at least once a week -hike, bike, play a sport, take brisk walks with your dog or kids, whatever. Even just flying a kite, playing with your kids at the park, dancing to music while you fold laundry will help!
  • Don't go to buffet restaurants.
  • Avoid Mexican -those chips are too tempting!
  • When you order something that comes with fries in a restaurant ask to substitute veggies or cole slaw -don't allow yourself to be tempted!
600 calorie meals:
  • 2 slices of a medium pepperoni pizza with hand-tossed crust at Pizza Hut (and most places)
  • Pasta and marinara sauce (most places, but you have to avoid the bread etc before the meal)
  • A cheeseburger and small fries at McDonalds
  • The grilled chicken sandwich and small fries at Wendy's
  • A grilled chicken sandwich (alone) at most other restaurants (don't eat the fries!)
  • A burrito bowl with rice, black beans, and corn salsa at Chipotle (you can add lettuce if you want, but not much more than that -this is actually more like 800 calories already!)
  • A Jr Whopper, and small fry at Burger King
  • 2 White Castles and a small fry

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Things that will kill you: sunscreen

Sunscreen that absorbs into your blood is TOXIC!!!
Massive gov't conspiracy!!!
FDA hasn't studied it because manufacturers know it's not safe!!!
Oh noes!!!:

Goodbye Yahoo LAUNCHcast, hello Slacker!

Please excuse my rant from yesterday. I've found an awesome service to use for my custom online radio needs. It's -yes, I know I complained about them yesterday, but as long as you create an account and LOG IN before creating your custom station, you should be fine.

I recreated my station yesterday and listened to it from 9am to 4pm with NO ADS, NO COMMERCIALS, and I can pause a song whenever I want. There are 2 downsides: 1, it doesn't introduce music from artists that are similar to those on your list. I kinda liked that about LAUNCHcast. I found some awesome new music that way. But, with the trade-offs, it's no contest. I'll stick with -after all, there's a lot of music from the artists on my list that I've never heard, and I can always add new artists when I hear them on the radio. The only other issue is a limit of 6 "skips" per hour. Since they only play artists on your list, I don't see that as a big deal. I never ran into the limit on LAUNCHcast and they used to throw "featured artists" into my mix like "Super Gansta Daddy and his Gang of Pimps" WTF!?! Where did that come from?

So, if you're using LAUNCHcast, I suggest you give a try!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Why in the he!! is listening to music on the internet so hard!?!

I stumbled upon Yahoo's LAUNCHcast service a few months ago and I absolutely loved it. I spent a good hour searching for and adding artists that I liked to it so it'd play the music I like. Sometimes it'd choose off-the-wall artists to play like the Notorious MSG or this band that plays a song called "Are We Not Horses" that's really odd, but I loved it. So, I endured the ads and the limits on pausing and skipping because I loved how most of what it played was right-on in my book. Then, yesterday, I was rocking out to some Ani Difranco song or something and all of a sudden the music stopped. "Are you still there?" the player asked... I quickly clicked "Yes" so it'd continue the music and it did... but it started a new song. GRRR! That's happened to me before too. I don't want to be forced to rate or re-rate each song that's playing to avoid the player stopping in the middle of a song. And I refuse to pay for a radio service, personalized or not. After all, my entire CD collection is on my computer in mp3 format, so I can listen to my own music for free -I just like mixing it up a little with these online services.

So, I searched for a new customizable internet radio service and I found Awesome! It didn't even ask me to log in before creating my station which I saved as "dsmgirl". Again, it took me quite awhile to build up my preferred artists list -I searched for and added all the artists from my mp3 collection as well as from my LAUNCHcast list. When I was finally done, I played the station and listened to about a half hour of awesome music ad-free. It even tells you what artist they'll be playing next!

But, after about a half hour it told me that if I wanted to continue listening, I needed to create an account. Ok. No biggie. I created an account. I was thrilled with the service, so why not? Afterwards, though, I couldn't seem to find the station I had just created!?! I sent them "feedback" about it, including my email address like it said "so they could get back to me", but so far nothing. I'm music-less. I'm not creating the profile again.

Over dinner I ranted about this to Ed and he told me about Last FM -the service he uses. It's a social site that hooks into Mugshot and has a little program you can download that syncs your Winamp and Windows Media Player playlists with their service. Awesome! I went straight home and signed up, downloaded the program and found out that it doesn't just upload your playlists for you, it uploads them as you listen to the songs. Poop. Okay, well, I just let Winamp play through my music all night. By morning it was only at "F", but what at least it's automatic, right?

Well, I hadn't actually played any music on Last FM last night because I couldn't figure out how to do it. The interface blows. I could barely figure out how to add music to my profile! And even then, you add songs, not artists, so it's super tedious and slow. But, hey, there are no limits on skipping or ads (per Ed), the social aspect is nice, and the fact that it'll hook into my Mugshot page is pretty cool too, right? Wrong. The deal with Last FM is that you can play other people's stations, but not your own unless you pay. Great. I just wasted more time building a profile for a useless service. How hard is this you greedy f#ckers?

Come on. Give me a station I don't have to pay for. I guess I'm going back to Slacker and rebuilding my profile under my own account to see if that works. I think they are my best bet at this point.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

We made it through the LATE ride again!

364 days out of the year, Ed and I sit on our butts all day at work, then come home, eat, sleep and repeat. The most exercise we get usually happens on the weekends while we roam Ikea or the Carmax car lot on Sundays. Then, sometime in mid-July we get the bright idea to dust the cob-webs off of our bikes and go for a 25 mile ride around Chicago from midnight to sunrise with approximately 9,000 other people. Oh, it's fun, but it hurts!

Mental notes for next year:
  • Eat before you leave. (I hadn't eaten since dinner and found the first part of the ride the most difficult -after the snack break, I was good to go... well, for the most part.)
  • Bring beverages for the first leg. (We missed the refreshment stand at the starting point, the crowds were nuts!)
  • Use those sports bottle caps on the bottles for said beverages. (I found myself trying to will the traffic lights red so I could get a drink.)
  • Bring your camera again! (Photo op's make great excuses to take a break!)
  • Definitely pick up your packet early so you get into the first wave! (You can go a bit slower and still get back to the fountain at the same time!)
  • Maybe do some conditioning rides first. (Yeah right, who am I kidding...)

Friday, July 13, 2007

An atheist preaching religious tolerance!

To the 83% of Americans out there who call yourselves Christians, I sincerely would like to know how you feel about what happened on the floor of the Senate yesterday:

Click here for a link to a short article about it on CNN.

Now, I know we all live very busy lives and it's hard to keep up with the news and how our government works, so let me point this out -As the article states, the Senate has a Christian Chaplain who performs the opening prayer on MOST days.

So, these obviously deeply religious people couldn't just maybe silently pray to themselves while this Hindu chaplain said his prayer? They couldn't just be happy with having the majority of opening prayers be of their own persuasion?

It may be just a few Christians who want to push their beliefs on others via interrupting someone else's sacred ceremony on the Senate floor (the same right they claim for themselves), as well as wanting to teach their religion's non-scientific version of how the world was created in our science classes, as well as putting up their god's "rules" in our government court buildings, etc BUT THEY ARE DOING IT IN YOUR NAME!

As an atheist I'm disgusted by this display. I would never interrupt or delay a (legal) religious ceremony of any kind. I respect others' beliefs as long as they are not trying to push them on me. Likewise, I don't push my belief on others. Who sounds like a more honest and good person here? Shameful.

Perhaps they see the Hindu prayer being said on the Senate floor as "pushing" or "advocating" the Hindu beliefs? Well, how is Christian prayer on the Senate floor not the same thing? The only reason it's accepted is because of that 83% majority that agrees with you. If you lived in another country, like India, Hinduism is what the majority believes in. There, you'd be in the minority. So, how would you want to be treated if you lived in India?

Religious or not, if you believe in advocating the separation of church and state, consider joining Americans United for the Separation of Church and State at or for fellow atheists, check out the Freedom From Religion Foundation at (As a direct result of what happened on the Senate floor yesterday, I'm joining this organization today.)

Amazon's "Customer Service"

Okay, I think this has some humor value, so I'm gunna share:

On Wednesday I got an email advertisement from Amazon about some sale on a DVD or something that I wasn't interested in. I followed the link at the bottom of the email to change my email preferences. When the page loaded, I checked the box that said I still wanted to be notified of legalese changes as well as the box that said I wanted to be notified when my magazine subscriptions were due to expire, but the rest I UNchecked. Then I clicked "Save" and when the page loaded again, while it said that my changes had been saved, the boxes all came up checked again!?!

So, I went back to check the confirmation email in order to see if my preferences were saved correctly or not. The email said I was UNsubscribed from ALL communication from Amazon! That's definitely not what I wanted!

At this point, I'm thinking maybe it's just a Firefox thing, so I opened my email preferences page on Amazon on my other workstation, in IE6 and the same exact thing happened.

So, I went back to Amazon and found their customer service form, filled it out as specifically as I could, including the information about the 2 different browsers, etc and I hit "Send".

The next day I receive this response:

Hello from

I'm sorry you encountered problems while using our web site to
unsusbscribe from the sales emails.

As a customer, you'll occasionally receive e-mail updates about
important functionality changes to the web site, new
services, and special offers we believe would be beneficial to you.
We hope you'll find these updates interesting and informative.

However, if you'd rather not receive these mailings, please let us
know by visiting this URL:

Click "Customer Communications Preferences." On the next page you
will be able to choose which communications you want to receive from
us, and which ones you don't want to receive.

Please note that it may take several business days to process such
requests, and you may receive one or two additional e-mails before
the unsubscribe process has been completed. We apologize for any
inconvenience this may cause.

Kindly note that, many common problems can be solved by adjusting
your browser settings. We've posted some easy troubleshooting tips
in our Help pages:

If these suggestions fail to solve the problem, please call us when
it's convenient for you. You may either use the "contact us by
phone" button in our Help pages, or call one of the numbers below.
We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at:

US and Canada: 1-800-201-7575
International: 1-206-266-2992

I appreciate your patience in this matter.

Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

If yes, click here:
If not, click here:

Ok, so I click on the Help page link, but all the info on that page is about ordering. There's nothing about changing preferences of any sort. So, all they really gave me was a link to the unsubscribe page that STILL DOESN'T WORK FOR ME!!! (I tried it again to be sure.) So, I click on the link that says that the email did not resolve my question, which takes me to another customer service form. Ok, I'll bite. -I wrote them back pointing out the fact that I wrote them about a problem with their unsubscribe page and I got back a link to the unsubscribe page.

Today I received this:

Hello from

I am sorry for any inconvenience caused with this situation. This
may be happen due to technical error.

I will be sure to pass your message on to the appropriate department
in our company for consideration. Customer feedback like yours is
very important in helping us continue to improve the selection and
service we provide.

However, if you'd rather not receive these mailings, please let us
know by visiting this URL:

Thank you for shopping at

Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

If yes, click here:
If not, click here:

...a second link to the unsubscribe page. I clicked on the "didn't help" link again. I'm not calling customer service about this issue, it's really their problem more than mine. I just wonder if their email is being answered by bots or just people who can't read... Should I keep trying? Nah, I have a "3 strikes and you're out" policy. If I get another link, then I'll finally take the hint and start ordering from smaller stores that actually answer their emails properly. :-P

**UPDATE** A few hours after I posted this I got 8 UNPROMPTED confirmation emails from Amazon saying that I was unsubscribed from the 3 email types I actually WANTED, and subscribed to the other 3 that I didn't(?). The upside, though, is that I was able to change it this time -after hitting "Save" the correct boxes stayed checked and my latest confirmation email is correct. Finally.

Friday, July 06, 2007

New Photography Blog!

I know there are some people out there who watch this blog for my photography stuff, and I wanted to give you all an update. -I've decided to become more serious about blogging about photography, so I've started a new blog just for "photography talk". It's at and I intend to post there at least 3 times a week.

There are 3 articles up already, so go read!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Starting a business...

I've decided to start a business. The business part I get. The part where it interacts with the government I do not. My eyes instantly glaze over when I read tax forms, etc. But, in order to possibly help others or at least for documentation purposes, I plan to outline the process here.

Step 1:
Choose what business type you are going to set up and register the business with your state. In my case, it's Illinois, and you can register it here:

Step 2:
If you've chosen to open your business as a Sole Proprietor, but you want to do business under a name besides your own, register an "Assumed Name" or "Doing Business As" name with your County Clerk (at least, that's how it works in Illinois).

Step 3 (optional for Sole Proprietors):
Register with the IRS for an EIN or Employer Identification Number. If you are going to employ people, this is required, if not, it's optional, but I've read that sometimes other business that you interact with may want it and banks sometimes need it if you want to open a business account. It's free, and if you register for it online you'll get it instantly. Link:

My progress:
I completed steps 1 and 3 on the same day and got confirmation back from the State of Illinois and got my EIN already. The state also sent forms so I could pay my sales taxes online. So, as of July 1st I've started a business.

What remains to be done:
Step 2, and then I also have to find out what needs to be done so I can NOT pay sales tax on purchases that I intend to resell (like frames, matting, etc).

Other usefull info for Photography Businesses:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Getting your passport can be one of the most exciting parts of your trip!

My Passport!

In March my husband and I started planning our semi-annual trip to Canada to visit his mother and I realized that, because we got married last year, I'd have to update my passport to reflect my new last name. I downloaded the form, filled it out, and read on the instructions that it usually takes 6-8 weeks, but could take up to 10 weeks to get a new passport. So, I counted up the days until our trip in May and found that I had 77 days, so I did not expedite my application for the additional $60 charge.

Now, when I applied for my first passport ever it took about a month for me to get it. So, around mid-April I began keeping an eye out for my passport whenever I went to the mailbox to get the mail. But, April came and went, and a couple weeks into May I began to worry. We had over $2,000 in plane tickets and our trip was to begin on the 24th. So, I started looking into checking up on my application.

The first thing I found was that you can check your passport status online, but all it told me was that my application was "in process"... The other option was to call their customer service numbers, but it said they'd only speak with you if your trip date was 14 days away or less. Mine was 3 weeks away, so I marked my calendar and continued to keep an eye on my mailbox.

2 weeks before my trip I still didn't have my passport, so I dialed the passport agency's number. I listened to their loooong messages about how busy they were due to the passport rules change. When it finally got to the part where I'd wait for a customer service representative, it instead hung up on my because there were already too many people in the queue. So, I dialed and dialed until I was able to get into the queue. When they answered, I was promised that it'd be expedited, but told to call again in 2 days to be sure. "Easy for you to say" I replied. But, again I marked my calendar and waited.

The next time I called I learned that pressing "9" after the "I'm sorry, we're busy" message would put you back to the beginning of the recording so you didn't have to re-dial. I also learned that just pressing the buttons for the options you wanted cut off the long recording and got you to the point where you'd get in the queue or get hung up on quicker. So, I went around and around in their phone tree until I got into the queue and got a person on the phone. The rep said it had been expedited, and told me to call back in 2 days to make sure they were working on it.

And so it went, me calling every 2 days and them doing nothing (or little) and asking me to call back again. When it was 6 days before my trip date, I decided that more had to be done. I googled for other things I could be doing to speed the process up. I found several people who claimed that calling their Representative's local office helped them. So, I called.

The interesting thing about calling my Rep's office -no phone tree, no getting hung up on, no waiting in a queue. I got a personal contact, and SHE called ME with updates! I highly recommend calling your Rep if the clock is ticking down on your upcoming trip!

In the end, though, I got my passport less than 24 hours before my trip! It turns out that they are processing passport applications by trip date rather than first-come-first-served and that includes expedited applications. Expediting means very little at this point. It's all based on trip date. More than once I wished I had lied about my departure date. Just by a couple days. They never asked for verification, and I would have slept a lot better in the few days before my trip!

Blah, so my vacation started out quite exciting, but at least I made it. I have a feeling that there are others who aren't as lucky. Or... there soon will be. The passport office needs to step things up. Their rules are creating this backup! If they can't keep up, they should repeal the rules until they can. It's insane that in this "free" country we're unable to travel freely as we did just months ago) to our neighboring countries.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Motivation, improvement, and the making of "You crack me up".

You crack me up.

(click on the photo to view it on my Flickr page where larger sizes are available)

There's a growing number of people subscribing to the thought that having a goal of taking and posting a photo a day to your web gallery can help your photography improve by leaps and bounds. I tend to be a person who drives past photo opportunities because I don't like stopping the car, or I don't pull out the camera because I only have a half hour until I have to do something. So, I thought I needed the little extra motivation that a "photo a day" goal would give me.

So, last night was to be "Day 2", but Ed and I got back from dinner late and we only had an hour before we were supposed to be in bed, so I thought "Great, I failed "photo-a-day" on Day 2"! ...I started getting ready for my shower while thinking of something photo-worthy that I could either get quickly tonight or at least get a photo for tomorrow. Several things crossed my mind, but nothing good until...

While washing my hair, I looked up at the cracking paint on the ceiling of our bathroom. The stupid guys who flipped our house used cheap paint in the bathroom and the steam from the shower has it coming off in sheets. Blah. I hate painting. Seeing it cracking and peeling cheeses me off. Showers used to be my little retreat, a place where I could relax, but that paint and the future work it symbolizes stresses me out every time I take a shower. But this time I smiled...

A few weeks ago I noticed this heart-shaped patch of bare ceiling where the paint was peeled completely off. What was frustrating before, though, had become really interesting now. -I had my photo op! -I quickly finished my shower so I could grab my camera.

I only took about 8 photos because I was running out of space on my memory card and didn't have time to go through and delete stuff. (I'm really militant about getting my 8 hours of sleep!) But, I framed it 4 different ways and exposed it a couple different ways for each to ensure I'd get a good shot. Then, I went to bed.

When I got to work, I downloaded the photos and they were a little "blah". -I couldn't get the balance right between getting the paint a warm white-ish tone, but leaving the ceiling (the inside of the heart) warm like the incandescent lighting made it look. I played and played with it, but in the end I had to make 2 layers in Gimp and use the erase tool where I wanted the warmer color to appear. -It took me about 4 hours in software playing with it before I got a result I was happy enough with to upload.

In the end, I love the photo. The lesson learned is that it doesn't take a lot of time to take a good photo or a magnificent place to find a good opportunity. Just keep your eyes open, and having a goal of a photo a day can be a helpful way of motivating yourself to take more photos, which many suggest will speed up your learning curve by a lot!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I bought a petite blythe!

American Blythe

(Proof that I'm a girl!!!)

I ran into Blythe dolls on Flickr and got hooked on them. The originals go for hundreds to thousands of dollars, and even the new ones (or the Pullip dolls) are $80. Either way, I have enough expensive hobbies, and I'm not about to pay that kind of money for a doll, so finding the "Petite Blythe" dolls (about $25 shipped from Japan or Hong Kong) made me a happy camper.

The problem, once ordered, is finding new clothes for petite blythes. The regular-sized Blythe dolls have many outfits available and they are easier to make clothes for since they are around a foot tall. The petite blythes are 4 inches tall, and their bodies are tiny, so making clothes is difficult. (And for someone like me who has never attempted making clothes at all, doesn't know how to sew, and doesn't own a sewing machine -it just ain't gunna happen.) So, I needed an alternative.

Searching ebay revealed maybe 6 made-for-blythe outfits. I only liked one. It cost about $15. The only other option I found was searching for 1:12 scale doll outfits -there are a few, they're made for doll house dolls, so most are quite old fashioned looking. Again, I found one I liked for around $15.

Not happy with my limited blythe wardrobe, I headed for Toys R Us. It turned out that they had quite a large doll section, so I spent my time looking for dolls and/or clothes that were around the same size (in body) as my blythe. Here's what I bought:

1.) A Holly Hobby doll set, which contained a doll dressed in jeans (I was hoping for jeans!) and a t-shirt as well as a pair of shorts, another t-shirt, and a pair of work boots. There was another pair of shoes, but they looked like clown shoes :-P The rest was junk -stickers, a mirror, a dog, etc. But the set was $10. In the end, the jeans were about 3/4 of an inch too long, but it was easy to cut them and I used superglue on the ends so they wouldn't fray. Whee! Jeans!

2.) Baby Bratz clothes. You know those horrible Bratz dolls, yeah, well, they have cute clothes, but they are too big. Luckily they're now making baby bratz, which are about the right height, but much bigger around. -It didn't matter they had such cute clothes, I bought a little punk outfit as well as a cammo skirt and "Bad Boy" shirt combo. $6 each. So cute, I didn't mind parting with the money for these either!

So, if anyone else out there is looking for clothes for the Petite Blythe, there's a couple options for you!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Butterfly shot

See the full size here:

I got home last night and I've been itching to get out and do some "real" photography, but time hasn't really allowed it, so I grabbed the camera and decided to try to make do with whatever might be available. Our lilac tree is in full bloom, so I headed towards it to see if there might be a new angle or something interesting to catch out there. I didn't find much.

I poked around a pine tree on the other side of the yard that is showing signs of a yellow-bellied sap sucker using it for food, but so far I haven't gotten a glimpse at the bird, just the holes it leaves behind in the tree. :-(

After taking a couple of photos of pine cones, I headed back towards the lilacs, and began playing with angles and light as the sun was getting lower and lower in the sky. All of a sudden, something flittered around my head. I looked up and saw a butterfly. It was so windy, though, that the poor thing couldn't stay on a bunch of lilacs for very long without getting blown off. Whenever he picked a spot that was low enough, I'd start taking pics. Many came out dark because the area was in shadow and the sun was low (it was probably an hour until sunset).

To brighten up the shot, I set the exposure compensation at +1, and chased the butterflies around some more. -There were actually 2, and they were different varieties, but I never got a usable photo of the 2nd one.

Finally the wind died down a bit and this guy was able to stay on a single, low, flower bunch for a little bit. I lined up the shot and found myself shooting into the sun. It was okay, though, I liked the effect, and with the exposure compensation, I figured he'd come out exposed fairly well. -I was right!

I did nothing to the shot in post-processing except a very slight (1/2 the default) unsharp mask in Gimp. No cropping was done, although some people on my photography list have suggested a crop. I like it as-is, though.

After uploading it I noticed that the shutter speed was 1/50, which means it's amazing it came out as sharp as it did since it was taken with a 100mm lens, and the rule is that anything below one over the focal length (1/100th of a second in this case) is too slow to hand-hold, and I hand-held this shot! Oh well, I like breaking the rules...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Colored Smoke "How-to"

This isn't the greatest example ever, see Jameela's Flickr site to see some better smoke photos, but here's how you achieve the effect:

You need:
  • Any camera in any mode (having your flash on is recomended, though)
  • Something non-reflective and black to use as a background
  • Incense (to create the smoke)
  • A light source (I used my Canon 30D's on-camera flash and the darkness of my backyard as my light source and background, and it resulted in a kindof flat photo in comparison to Jameela's which was taken indoors with a light source in addition to her on-camera flash).
What to do:
  • Set up the incense infront of the black background
  • Take tons of photos being careful that autofocus isn't focusing on the background rather than the smoke and that your shutter speed is high enough that the smoke isn't blurry)
  • Download your images to your computer and open one of the "good ones" in an image editing program of your choice.
  • Find the "Invert" option. This will invert the colors, giving you the white background.
  • There are many different ways to create the colored smoke. Gimp has a "Colorize" tool, saturation adjustments can help too, experiment to find what works for you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Don't drink the Apple (TM) juice!

When I first started out in digital photography I found image editing software like Photoshop, Gimp, and even Photoshop Elements really confusing. The multiple windows, and the way the tools worked were all very foreign to me since the only previous experience I had with trying to make art on a computer was Microsoft Paint.

Luckily, I found Paint.NET, which has an intuitive interface that closely resembles Microsoft Paint. It's easy enough for your Mom to use, yet has support for layers, levels, curves, etc. It's a great way to start out in image editing!

Once I figured out layers and started wishing I had a little more control over my image (at that time Paint.NET didn't have user-controlable levels/curves), I moved up to Gimp. Gimp is a free advanced image editing program that, after reviewing Photoshop CS2, I can say is very Photoshop-like. The only downside to Gimp is that it works in 8-bit color while Photoshop has some tools that will work in 16-bit. Those extra bits are important when using tools like curves and levels, an explanation of color depth is available here.

I've recently run into situations where I'd like to stretch a color or brighten/darken a photo a little more than Gimp would allow (the image gets cartoon-y looking if you stretch it too far). Using a program that could work in 16-bit color would allow a little more room, so I posted a description of what I was looking for and the question "do I need Photoshop?" to two different Yahoogroups that I belong to.

The response, overwhelmingly was that yes, I'd need Photoshop. If not now, eventually. But one person suggested I do my levels/curves processing in Canon's Digital Photo Pro (DPP) software (it came free with my Canon 30D) since it works in 16-bit, then do the rest of the editing/minor tweaks in Gimp afterwards. This option saves me $650 (the cost of Photoshop) and I still get the functionality I'm looking for! Which leads me to ask: does anyone NEED photoshop?

I think the majority of people assume that serious photographers will end up buying Photoshop eventually. I mean, the act of tweaking a photo in software is called "Photoshopping"! But, I've also found that many people who own Photoshop never put it to its full use. Before dropping that $650 (or putting yourself at risk by running a "borrowed" copy), try Gimp. -It's free, afterall, so you have nothing to lose. When/if you outgrow Gimp (and know WHY you need to upgrade), THEN buy Photoshop. -The transition between the two is relatively easy (tools may be in a different place, but icons are similar and they retain the same names/do the same things). Heck, in the meantime you may be able to skip a version of Photoshop and save yourself a $300 upgrade...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007

Planning a photo.

When I bought my (first) house about 3 years ago there was a wildflower garden in the middle of the backyard. It looked out of place there, so I dug it all up and planted grass there instead. Year 2, many wildflowers and a whole bunch of tulips sprung up in the middle of the backyard again; so, I sat there digging up bulbs and roots and trying to remove everything that wasn't grass. Year 3 it looks like I got it all. So far there's only grass growing there in the middle of my backyard.

Last fall I decided I was going to plant some flowers specifically to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to my backyard in the spring for more photo opportunities this summer. So, before winter set in, I dug up a little bit of our backyard (against the fence) to use as a flower bed in the spring.

Recently, however, I've begun to give it a bit more thought. What will my background be for these photos? Fence. Doh!

So, I started thinking about putting a flower bed in the middle of the backyard...

Luckily, I've thought of another option, though. I think I'm going to buy a piece of thin plywood at the hardware store, paint it flat black, and attach it to the fence behind the flowerbed. That way, my background will be black, which should make for some striking photos I think.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Outlook 0x8007000E and 0x8004010F errors

In an Exchange 2000 environment, I had one user reporting that she could send emails, but she was not receiving new emails. When a Send/Receive was initiated, the following Outlook 2003 error occurred:

Error message when you send or receive e-mail messages in Outlook: "Sending and Receiving reported error (0x8007000E): Out of memory or system resources"

Taking Outlook out of Cached Exchange mode allowed her to receive emails, but she was still getting the following error in Outlook when a Send/Receive was initiated:

Task 'Microsoft Exchange Server' reported error (0x8004010F): 'The operation failed. An object could not be found.'

...the problem ended up being a corrupt email message. I found it by creating a .pst file on her desktop and attempting to export her entire mailbox to it. I got an error saying the "operation failed". From there, I had to figure out where the corrupt message was, so I re-exported her mailbox one folder at a time. I got lucky, it was in her Deleted Items folder, which was both near the top, and easy to fix. Rather than search through the 386 messages she had in the folder, I simply backed up the folder and then emptied it.

Afterwards I did a Send/Receive and it was successful. I tested it a few more times, it was successful each time (it was failing 100% of the time before), so I declared victory and gave the user back her computer.

This page has some other good suggestions of things to try if you are getting the 0x8004010F error:

Sunday, March 18, 2007

What I did this weekend.

The photo above can also be seen here:

So, Ed and I had a small dinner party yesterday. While I was finishing up the last of the cooking so we could get the meal on the table, Ed's talking to Mike about my new lens. Then, he asks me to go get it and show it to him... So, I stop stirring the rice in the frying pan, and go get my Sigma 50-500mm lens. (It is an impressive looking lens.) ...I took my photo backpack out of the closet, grabbed the "Bigma" out of it, mounted it on my 30D, and handed it to Mike so he could check it out while I continued to stir the rice.

When Mike was ready to unload the 8lb beast, I took it back from him and tried to slip it back into the bag... Oh yeah, this is the one lens that won't fit in the bag while it's mounted to the camera. Grr... Rice burning... I remember the cap for the back of the lens is in the laundry room where I swapped the lens earlier, so I grab the backpack and head towards the laundry room to get everything put away. When I reach the laundry room, I start to swing the backpack up towards the top of the dryer and something flies out...


Oh no. I look on the floor and see my brand new Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 rolling away across the linoleum floor!!! :-( Of course it couldn't be one of my cheap lenses...

No time to check it out, I needed to get back to the rice. The truth -I didn't want to know. I finished up the meal, ate, chatted, then cleaned up after dinner before getting a chance to take a quick peek at it.

I only got a quick glance at it, then put it back in the bag. I was just sickened by it, but I went back to our guests to talk a bit before bringing out dessert. Of course, all I could think of was that lens... Ed bought it for me for Xmas and I've been so excited to put it to use! So far I haven't done much with it since it's been so cold, but we're planning a trip to Arizona (Lake Powell, Sedona, maybe the Grand Canyon, and I was SO happy I'd have this lens for that trip! ...My next widest lens is a 28mm which, on my 30D, because of the crop factor, is actually something like a 42mm lens. In other words, not wide at all. I complained about this all last summer, and after finally getting my 10-20mm lens ...this happens.

When our guests left for the night, I contemplated not telling Ed about what happened. I looked up how much it'd cost to replace, etc while cleaning up the kitchen. In the middle of doing dishes and beating myself up about it, a thought occurred to me. There was a UV filter on the lens wasn't there? Could I have been lucky enough to have dropped this lens 4 feet onto a linoleum floor and have it survive? I tried to keep my excitement at bay as the thought occurred to me. Surely it was wishful thinking, but I went to go see it once more anyway that I had some time to get a better look at it.

...I was right, it had a UV filter and I got lucky -just the filter was cracked. I gingerly removed the filter, blew the glass particles off the lens, and mounted it to my camera. I tested the manual focus and it was fine, Autofocus worked as well. Upon close inspection I see absolutely no damage resulting from the fall. Luck? Good construction from Canon? I don't know, but that was a bit more excitement than I needed.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Studio photography on the cheap

(Click on the photo to see a better version of it. Blogger is re-sizing it poorly, so it looks a little funky here...)

It's cold outside, so lately my creative juices have been flowing towards studio photography. Truth is, I have a real interest in it and I'm looking to start building a portfolio incase I get a chance to do some photos professionally.

So, this means I need practice (and hopefully some good photos). For "proper" studio photography, most people purchase light tents and photography lighting in order to get that soft light that eliminates harsh reflections as well as harsh shadows. -I'll probably buy the proper equipment eventually, but I wanted to demonstrate how I get studio shots without any investment in special equipment.

For those who are not interested in studio photography, note that the goals in studio work are the same as for portraits. It's just that for portraits, the subject's a bit bigger...

So, here's a walkthrough of a successful (in my opinion) studio shot McGyver-style.

Equipment and supplies that I used:
* Camera
* Tripod
* Shutter release cable (a self-timer works if you don't have one)
* 2 pieces of copy paper
* A white plastic garbage bag
* A 5-foot piece of wire, bent
* A paper towel
* A drinking glass and empty boxes for propping stuff up.
* A bright lamp (a halogen desk lamp is perfect)
* At least one other lamp (another desk lamp, a clamp light, or a floor lamp -whatever you have around)

I set up under a halogen spot-light that's in the ceiling above my kitchen counter. (I've also set up in the bathroom successfully -under the lights above my sink.)

I propped the copy paper up against the drinking glass so it was sitting at a 90* angle. This created the white below the bottle and pills in the picture as well as the white in the background without creating a "seam" between the two. (This works well with white poster board as well when you're shooting larger items.)

I then set the bottle on the paper, and arranged the pills around it in a non-centered way so the overall shape of the subject was more interesting -it also gave the pills a more hap-hazard look I think.

Next I needed something to filter the light through to spread it around. This is what the walls of a light tent do, so I looked around for something that'd work similar to that. What I ended up doing is taking a white plastic trash bag and some wire to make a frame to keep it flat. You could just as easily tape the corners of the bag to 4 boxes or something to keep it flat. It doesn't have to be perfect, and you don't need to cut the bag either -double-thickness (at least for the brand I'm using -regular Hefty bags) seems to work just fine. (Of course, if your light is significantly brighter or more dim, this may not be the case.

I propped my trash bag light filter up so it's middle would be over the bottle and under my halogen desk lamp. -I then turned the lamp on and checked how the lighting looked from the perspective I'd be shooting it from.

I ended up with a lot of glare on the label because it's glossy and I also had 2 bright spots on the bottle. This meant that the light was too bright. I placed a paper towel on top of the trash bag and moved it around until the highlights and hot-spots were gone.

The next thing I noticed was that, while my "trash bag light filter" made the shadows fuzzier, the shadows were still more noticeable than I liked. I grabbed a fairly dim floor lamp and propped it at a 45* angle against a chair, and aimed it directly at the bottle (from the front so that it eliminated the shadows in the front where they'd be visible in the photo).

I checked the view through my camera once again and found that this created more hot-spots, so I lowered the floor lamp until it's harshest light was below my subject, leaving it's softer (more diffused light) to fall on my subject and eliminate much of the shadows that I had a problem with earlier.

At this point, the setup was done. I was happy with how the scene looked, and the next thing to think about was exposure. -I had a fairly dark subject on a very light background which is always tricky. I knew the camera's light meter would see all that white and would try to tone it down, which would my my photo darker than it should be. -On top of that, my goal was to over-expose the background so it ended up looking all white! (but not so much that it over-exposed the white label on the bottle.) I decided I'd start with exposing the scene 1 stop above normal or at +1.

Next, I had to decide what setting to use on the camera. For studio shots I tend to go with Aperture Priority so that I can control the depth of field without worrying about the shutter speed because it really doesn't matter much in still-life photos like this one. Generally, an aperture of f/8 to f/16 is the sharpest part of any lens, so I try to keep within that range if I can. -I wanted a fairly shallow depth of field, though, so I decided to try f/8 to start with.

Last, I turned on mirror lockup. -Not all cameras have this option, but if yours does (on my Canon 30D it's Custom Function 12, for other makes and models, check your manual). Mirror lockup can help you get sharper photos when you're using slow shutter speeds and here's how it works: When you take a photo what happens is the mirror that allows you to see the image through the viewfinder flips out of the way so that the image can get through to your film or sensor. When the mirror flips up it causes the camera to vibrate ever so slightly. Mirror lockup creates a delay between when you click the shutter the first time (and the mirror flips up), then you wait and click the shutter a 2nd time to take the picture (after those micro-vibrations have probably stopped). You can get sharp photos either way, so if your camera doesn't have mirror lockup, don't worry about it; but if you do, I think it's worth playing with.

At this point I was ready to take my first shot. From start to finish I arranged the photo 2 different ways and I took about 25 shots total. -I had to play with the exposure compensation and aperture just a little bit each time before I got it to come out how I wanted.

After I was pretty sure I got a "keeper", I connected the camera to my computer, downloaded the photos, and opened it in Gimp. I used the "Levels" tool (Auto) to fix the white balance (I compensated for the warmth of the incandescent lights in the camera, but not quite enough.). After that, I used curves to just slightly adjust the darkest and lightest portions of the photo. Then, I cloned out the dust that was on the bottle. (I'm a dork -I missed the most important part of studio photography -preparing your subject to be photographed!) When I was done cloning, I applied a slight Unsharp Mask, cropped the photo to a square, and saved it.

I'm pretty happy with it as it stands right now except that I think as a result of editing it on my laptop screen, it appears that it looks a little washed out on my work monitor. I may have to go back and fix that...