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Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas to all!

Merry Christmas to all of you who may read this…especially to my friends, since I didn't get around to sending out Christmas cards this year. May you all have a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year!


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Katamari Damacy: "Clumps of Soul"

First, let me get it out of my system: I LOVE KATAMARI DAMACY! Okay, now I can talk about the game.

I loved the idea the first time I saw it. "I really wish I could play that!", I thought. "That game is so perfect for me!" I read about it time and again, longing to roll up giant whales into my very own "Clump of Soul" (literal translation). Finally, I noticed some magic words: PlayStation 2. My brother and one of my best friends own the PS2! (And I won't admit how long it took me to make the connection.)

By the weekend, I owned Katamari Damacy. That's right, I bought a game–and a memory card–for a system I don't even own. But it's been worth it!

The game is even more addictive than I expected, with great gameplay. Your "katamari" (weird sticky ball you roll around) is controlled a lot like a tank, using the two joysticks. You start out tiny, "rolling up" pushpins and dice, advancing to bigger and bigger items. As you progress, your goals become more challenging, with shorter deadlines. It's a blast!

The storyline is wonderfully absurd. You are the Prince, son of the King of All Cosmos. Your dad got carried away (due to some interesting mushrooms, I suspect) and broke all the stars. Now it's your job to fix it: your dad sends you to earth to create katamaris, which he will turn into stars (or stardust) to restore the sky.

Eggs hatch, chickens cluck, and people squeal or giggle as you collect them all, determined to make your dad proud. If you don't meet your goal, though, be prepared! Let's just say he's not exactly understanding.

A dedicated gamer can beat it fairly quickly, but there's real replay value. You can repeat levels to get faster times, shooting stars, and bigger stars/more complete constellations. If you make a big enough star, you reach "Eternal", removing the time limit for that stage. Then there's the Royal Presents to go back and collect on each stage except the first. The best (and one of the hardest to get) is a camera which allows you to take photos of your katamaris.

Plus, there's two player mode. The "Space Mushroom" is a sort of arena where you and a friend (playing as a Royal Cousin) compete to make the biggest katamari. If you're big enough, you can even roll up the other player! How fun is that?

My advice: if you have a PS2, start rolling. Too bad the game's not available for other platforms.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Confessions of a Female Geek

Hi, my name is Xandria, and I'm a geek. (Hi, Xandria.)

I like science, math, computers, and gadgets. I've spent Friday nights at the observatory, at software launch events, and at gaming marathons. I play D&D, board games, and an MMORPG; I've even played a TCG. I love scifi/fantasy, and am rarely without a book. I can't find my eyeliner or lipstick, but I can keep track of a TiBook, an iPod, a cell phone, a PDA/GPSr, and a GBA (with only a little trouble). I've even done Live Action Role-Playing and attended movies in costume. Like I said, I'm a geek.

Amazingly, I was in denial until two or three years ago. Sure, I was a bit odd, but that hadn't kept me from finding a (really wonderful!) husband; I had friends, too. In truth, though, I'd been a geek since childhood; I had just never realized it.

It started innocently enough. My parents were both big Star Trek fans, so I grew up watching reruns. Then of course there was Star Wars; my sister and I were avid fans. (I was Princess Leia, and I had the Underoos to prove it! And I can't count how many times we saw A New Hope at the drive-in.) Too, my favorite cartoon was Battle of the Planets. Bad sign!

School didn't improve things: my favorite classes were math and science. (They told me girls could be whatever they wanted to be; I believed them.) I became a bookworm, visiting the library almost daily.

High school was worse: I attended a science magnet program in ninth grade. I took BASIC programming and joined marching band (Flag Corps). When I got bored, I read Niven, Asimov, Robert Aspirin, and Harlan Ellison; I carried a book everywhere. I was guaranteed a place with the "outcasts"—who were much more interesting than the popular kids, since they were willing to be themselves!

In college, I found the local Baptist Student Union, where conformity was not demanded! Freed of the last constraints of high school, I followed a path of increased geekiness and vastly improved pool skills... My new boyfriend (now husband) was a true geek, and he leaped at the chance to indoctrinate me, starting with the writings of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and Frank Herbert. His roommates were worse: their contributions included David Eddings, the PlayStation, Nuclear War, and the Illuminati game! (And Paranoia, and AD&D.)

I switched my degree from science to art. (Gee, four quarters of calculus and a semester of quantum mechanics are lovely as electives...) My husband and I did a short stint with live action RPG; then third edition D&D came out, and I was hooked. I also got sucked into MagiNation...and Munchkin, and all the classic "beer and pretzels" games (without the beer).

I realized he was a geek. We began hanging out at the local gaming shop. (No one complained about having an extra female gamer around...even an almost-thirty married chick.)

Oh, did I mention I'm a Mac addict? And I have a gadget problem? (Just a small one—I can still lift my purse...)
With all of this, it became too obvious to ignore: I was a geek. It was hard, at first. But I have embraced my geekness, and wear the label proudly. The geek shall inherit the earth!


Friday, November 25, 2005

The World English Bible

Some people would say there are already enough (or even too many) versions of the Bible. But the World English Bible is an interesting new translation: a totally public domain, modern English translation of the Bible!

I don't want to get involved in the whole "King James vs. New International Version" debate, but I will say that this is a really great project. The idea is excellent, and the translation is based on three public domain texts: the American Standard Version (first written in 1901), the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The primary translation work is done by Michael Paul Johnson, with proofreading by many, many volunteers.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with having copyrighted versions; proceeds from the NIV, for example, help fund further translation of the Bible into new languages. And, of course, the proceeds from all the major modern translations enable scholars to pursue such work as a full-time vocation (which is unbelievably important).

The WEB, on the other hand, is entirely public domain. So authors can quote Scripture extensively in their works; programmers or webmasters can include the entire Bible in a program or website; and individuals or small groups can create their own tracts and literature—all without royalties! It's a great option for small, independent authors and the like, since royalties can be prohibitively expensive for such projects.

The full version of the World English Bible is a work in progress, due out around Christmas, so the verdict is still out. But the motives of the translators are definitely to be praised.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Masala Chai

As I said in my last post, my recipe is based on one from The New Guide to Spices. I have altered their (excellent!) recipe (mainly reducing the cinnamon and increasing the water), so here's my version.

Masala Chai
6 cups cold water
1/2 stick cinnamon
3 green cardamoms, whole
4 cloves, whole
2 tea bags pekoe (black) tea (or 2 tsp loose)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (or half sugar, half Splenda)
milk or half and half, to taste (optional)

Add spices to water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Add tea and return to heat. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove tea bags and sweeten. Add milk or half and half if desired.

I recommend trying it with milk/cream even if you think you won't like it (I was sure I would hate it). If you don't do milk, I've also used Very Vanilla Silk Soy Milk, with surprisingly good results.

I've also experimented with adding a pinch of dried orange peel, or sweetening it with vanilla sugar. Some people use green or oolong tea, or even rooibos ("red tea"). I intend to try all three, as well as black pepper and (maybe) ginger. Go ahead, have fun and experiment.

By the way, a farmer's market or natural foods store will often have spices in bulk packaging. It's much cheaper to purchase them that way! Last time I bought cinnamon sticks, I paid $2 for a good sized container (3.25 oz); McCormick's and other brands usually cost more than that for .75 ounces!


A Chai Primer

This is a very weird entry for my blog, I'll admit, but I get questions about chai every time I make it for someone! So, here we go.

First, a bit of background. "Masala Chai" simply means "spice tea" (so calling Indian tea "chai tea" is redundant; you're saying "tea tea".) In India, it's even more ubiquitous than coffee is here, and just about every household has its own recipe.

Since every hostess has her own recipe, chai is really more of a classification of tea. The main components are tea (traditionally a strong black tea), spice, sweetener (sugar, usually) and a creamer of some sort. (I love half and half; surprisingly, Very Vanilla Silk Soymilk is also good!)

The most common spices in chai are cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and (surprise!) black pepper. Other traditional spices include nutmeg and ginger, but experimenting is fun. I've used dried orange peel with good results.

By the way, I learned to make Masala Chai in 1998. (My recipe is based on one from The New Guide to Spices, but I have altered it a bit.) The funny thing is, now chai is trendy. I was way ahead here!

I'll post my recipe next. (If anyone cares...)


Friday, November 11, 2005

More on Sony's Rootkit

Some people just can't admit when they're wrong, and apparently some corporations can't either. Like Sony. They have released a patch on their website for the infamous rootkit. Do they apologize for their mistake? No! Does their patch remove the rootkit? No! They deny any wrongdoing, and claim they're only providing a patch to "alleviate concerns." Even when the outcry is so strong that they've had to discontinue its use, they won't admit they were wrong. (Though apparently they were quick to modify their EULA.)

According to Sony, the rootkit "is not malicious and does not compromise security..." Um, how does hiding any file starting with "$sys$" not compromise security? Especially since there is already a trojan making the rounds that exploits the rootkit, disabling your firewall! And if they were so well-intentioned with their rootkit, why didn't they provide full disclosure (or any disclosure)?

Sony's little patch (or "Service Update") doesn't remove the rootkit, or even fix its other problems. The only thing it does, by all accounts, is remove the cloaking. Presumably, uninstalling it the hard way would still disable your CD-ROM drive!

What about the Sony brass? Here's what one Sony exec, Thomas Hesse, had to say to NPR: "Most people, I think, don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?"

Why should we care? Because rootkits can be harmful! Just because I don't know what it is does not mean it's okay to hack my computer! Isn't that like saying it's okay to steal, as long as the victims don't know you're stealing from them? Or that it's okay to slip poison into people's food as long as they don't know it's poison? Hello! How about some logic here? At this point, I would be delighted just to see a shred of common sense!

Oh, and the rootkit "phones home." (See the Sysinternal article again, or this summary on Slashdot.) So far it doesn't seem to send data, just look for a banner related to the album being played. And of course, we can trust Sony to remain honest, right?

By the way, Sony, it's probably not a good thing that you have your own category on Slashdot!


Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Bible on an iPod

I just found a great new way to use my iPod: to listen to and read the Bible! A new company called BiblePlayer has found a way to use the "Notes" feature to deliver both an audio and text version of the Bible!

I just downloaded it fifteen minutes ago, but so far I love it! I'm trying out the freeware version first, but I'll probably buy the Deluxe version. Here's how it works: first, upload the audio files onto your iPod. Next, install everything else into the "Notes" folder (just make sure disk mode is enabled). Now disconnect the iPod and navigate to the Notes section. Wait for the notes to load (it takes a while; even the totally free version contains the full Gospels). Then, choose what you want to do: "Read the Bible", "Hear the Bible", "Bible in a Year", "Devotionals", or "Bible Stories".

The totally free version, "BiblePlayer Lite", contains the full Gospels, "Gospel in a Year" (twice through, I believe), Charles Spurgeon's "Faith's Checkbook" devotionals for January, and fifteen or sixteen Bible stories. There are also three sample audio files: Proverbs 5, in King James, World English, and Reina Valera (which I believe is the Spanish New Testament).

The $5 version contains the full text of the Old and New Testament, complete year of Faith's Checkbook, eight more reading plans, over one hundred Bible stories, and a "God's Promises" module. The deluxe version, which is only $20 this month, contains all that, plus full audio files.

I like that each text file has a link to allow you to listen to the audio for it (for the Deluxe version, of course), without going through Playlists. (Though I would assume you can create playlists with the audio files; after all, to iTunes, they're just mp3 files.)

Only downside: the iPod is limited to one thousand notes, so you can install the Old Testament or the New Testament–but not both. To switch, you must uninstall one before installing the other. (Though it should be no problem to install both sets of audio files, disk space permitting...)

Just for reference, I chose the World English Version: I don't already have it, and no one in my Sunday School class ever has it, so it will be useful for version comparisions. I'll research it more before I buy one, of course, but I can always download the KJV for the freeware, if I want. (My study Bible is a New King James, so it's pretty easy to switch over to KJV. But all the "eth" and "est" and "wherefores" can get tiresome, so I doubt I will. Besides, if I already have my Bible, I don't need to use my iPod!)

I'll post again once I've given BiblePlayer a more thorough trial.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Just Say "No!" to Sony!

In case you don't hang around slashdot, let me summarize what's up with Sony: they're scum. That's right, scum. Yes, that Sony!

See, Sony has this wonderful idea for protecting their music from pirates. When you buy one of their "special" digital rights managed (DRM) CDs, they require you to install special player software to access it in a computer. There's an End User License Agreement (EULA), but let's just say it's terribly misleading and leaves out lots of minor details...

Like the fact that it installs some extra special bonus software (it's called a "rootkit") that any hacker would love! And so you're not "bothered" by its presence on your system, it very kindly hides itself. In fact, it hides any file that has a filename starting with "$sys$." Like I said, hackers should love it! (Updated 11-10-2005: there's already at least one trojan making the rounds that exploits this weakness.)

And Sony doesn't see this as a problem, apparently: "The download text claims that the rootkit does not pose any “potential security vulnerabilities,” however it’s obvious that any software that cloaks files, directories and Registry keys beginning with a certain string of characters is a clear security risk." (From a post by Mark at Sysinternals)

And what else does this little bit of software (designed by First 4 Internet, by the way) do? Well, it is quite processor hungry, so it's detrimental to performance. If you are tech savvy enough to decloak all the files and get rid of all its nasty little bits (I wouldn't be, without directions), it disables your CD-ROM drive! (I'm definitely not a good enough geek to figure that one out. Fortunately, there are many people on the web who are.) Oh, and it can lead to a crashed system and data loss-not good.

And uninstalling the disclosed (player) software? (Remember, apparently no mention of the rootkit in the EULA!) It's not at all easy. Mark at Sysinternals (who seems to be the current expert on this piece of garbage) tried to contact Sony about it. They made him jump through hoops and twiddle his thumbs waiting for their response. And the patch? It installed more undisclosed stuff!

By the way, Mac and Linux users appear to be in the clear. Good thing I only listen to music on my PowerBook, not my PC!


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Spirit of...Halloween?

I love Halloween! Mostly it's because of the costumes–I freely admit it–but that's not the whole story. Trick-or-treating is great, too, and not just for the candy. As a kid, I loved the candy, but I never finished it all. And I loved the sheer number of people who got to see–and compliment–my costume every year. (In my family we always had really great costumes, or at least distinctive, and practically always handmade. And we didn't stop visiting houses until every house was dark!)

More than any of that, though, there's just such a great spirit to Halloween. There's a sense of community you rarely see; it's even rarer today than when I was a kid. On Halloween, you actually see your neighbors, and they see you. You might even talk to them. (Imagine that!)

And everyone is so generous! It's practically the only time you see people willing to give little gifts to strange people without a major disaster involved. Yes, we give at Christmas, but that's different. It's mainly just to friends and family, or at least people we have some connection to. And yes, most people make an effort to give something to the less fortunate during the holidays. That's admirable.

But Halloween is different. Our world is a scary place; after dark, we usually regard strangers on our doorstep with apprehension, if not outright suspicion or fear. But at Halloween, a complete stranger can come up to your house, knock on your door, and receive...candy. It's a small thing, true, but's its willingly–enthusiastically–given, even if that stranger really does look strange... (Especially if they look strange!) That has to be worth something.

Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving are far more important holidays, I would say. But maybe Halloween has something to teach us, too. Maybe we need trick-or-treating. Too bad it's dying out.

Happy Halloween!


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Online RPGs as an economy?

I was never really interested in MMORPGs until a friend let me try Guild Wars. It's so much fun! (Check out the screenshots of "Maid Mirawyn". Mirawyn loves yaks, and especially enjoys visiting Yak's Bend.) My husband also got me to try Diablo II (which neither of us ever thought would happen), and it's fun, too. But I still can't understand the EverCrack and WarCrack addictions! (That's "EverQuest" and "World of Warcraft" to the normals. If you ever have an addicted friend, you'll understand the nicknames.)

EverQuest players, in particular, are infamous for the incredible amounts of money they will pay for in-game stuff. High level characters or rare items can go for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. That's real money, mind you, not in-game money! And players have to pay a monthly fee (neither of my games has a fee), as well as buying the game and expansions. (The games require a pretty fast computer with lots of memory, and high speed access, too. I have the computer and broadband anyway, but you get the idea...)

Anyway, one economist-gamer by the name of Edward Castronova wrote a scholarly paper on virtual economies, primarily EverQuest and Ultima Online. He calculated how much a platinum piece is worth in real-world dollars, as well as how much wealth is created every day. By his reckoning, the world of EverQuest is the seventy-seventh richest country in the world, based on the real-world value of its "virtual property." Wow!

If you're looking for a career and are good with video games, there are people who make a living aquiring and selling that virtual property! How do you list that job on a resume?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why I had to defend Middle Eastern Dance

Someone out there is bound to have read my "Defense of Middle Eastern Dance" (posted back in August). Here's the story behind that post, my reason for writing. Sorry it's so long.

Before I post Tezra's letter, understand this: this isn't a "friend-of-a-friend" story; I have known this dancer for a few years. She studies with the same instructor I do, and we have danced together in the past.

If you were to ask around in the Atlanta ME dance community, you would find plenty of people who know Tezra and are familiar with her story. I bet you would find that many of them will not do business with Jenny Pruitt and Associates now. We're a supportive group, as many restaurant and venue owners have discovered. Mistreat a dancer and most other dancers won't have a thing to do with you!

So here's Tezra's story, in her words.

Hi everyone.

It has been a while and I hope you remember me. I am the dancer that faced losing her job over dance. First, I want to say thank you again to everyone who responded. I received literally hundreds of e-mails from dancers around the world. Technology is amazing, but even more amazing is the incredible community of Middle Eastern dancers and musicians we are a part of.

It has taken a long time for the final result, but here is the situation and how it played out:

For those who didn't know, I am a Realtor. My problem came up when I attempted to change offices, leaving my current office and moving to the new office opening near my home. I was very excited to find out my friend (ha ha) Rhonda would be the new broker. It wasn't until I sat down for my interview that she stated she could not interview me because I dance. You see, because I thought she was friend, and before I knew she would be the new broker, I sent her a donation letter for a Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser being planned by a local dancer in Atlanta. I always kept dance and work separate; this was not a company-wide mailing. It only went to a handful of people who I thought were appropriate.

Well, quite simply I was speechless. All I could say was "what?" and "huh?". I just simply couldn't comprehend what she had said! Although I pled my case, Rhonda would hear none of it. She said at that point she could not hire me and would take the matter to our CEO.

Some weeks later our CEO, Jenny, (a compassionate open minded person by all accounts) phoned me and basically took me apart. I have been deemed unacceptable. This is what she said...

"I don't care if you call it Israeli Folk dance, Ethnic dance, Middle Eastern dance or Belly Dance. It is all the same. And although it may be acceptable at other companies, it is completely unacceptable in my company! I will not make Rhonda hire you, but since you have been here almost two years I will not make John (my current broker) fire you. I will leave that up to him. However, in the future, if my company name is ever associated with you and this dance, I will fire at that time!"

Well, I was dumbstruck again! It took me another three weeks to get up the courage to face my broker, John. John knew from the day he hired me that I danced and he had no problem with it. He asked me repeatedly to stay with him. He said the whole thing was ridiculous and that he supported me completely. He also couldn't understand what the issue was.

Unfortunately, after the shock wore off, I came to the realization that, since the money rolls uphill, I could not stay with the company. I would not knowingly or willingly put another dime in Miss Jenny's pocket. Because I am of Sephardic Jewish heritage, some of the dance I participate in is part of my culture, and I am totally insulted that someone would call me unacceptable in this day and age in the U.S. Can you imagine? I was floored.

Meanwhile, I am now ready to give out my ex-company info so you know who not to do business with in the future. I can't tell anyone what to do with this information, but I can tell you there is very minimal diversity within the company.

Some of the e-mails I received in response to my original mailing suggested I may have violated policies at my company which may have prompted this. I was not "moonlighting", dance has been just exercise and love for the past several years. I did not violate any company policies, nor was this stated as reason for this action.

Anyway, thank you all again for your overwhelming support. I will let you know where I land when the dust settles.

Sincerely yours,


Corporate Headquarters
Jenny Pruitt and Associates
990 Hammond Drive, Suite 300
Atlanta, GA 30328
770 394-5400 Main Office
800 552-8608 Toll Free

Johns Creek Office (the broker that caused all this):
Rhonda Haran
Jenny Pruitt and Associates
7350 McGinnis Ferry Road
Suwanee, GA 30024
678 805-5480 Main Office
770 497-2001 Fax

Parent Company:
HomeServices of America, Inc.
A Warren Buffet Company
6800 France Avenue South, Suite 710
Edina, Minnesota 55435
888 485-0018 Phone
952 928-5590 Fax

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lessons from an art & craft fair

Well, I have been very busy the last three weeks. I decided to do my very first arts & crafts fair–with only three weeks to prepare for it! The first week, I made twenty-five little pamphlet stitch booklets, some plain, some embellished. The second, I made twelve Japanese stab bound books. The third week, I made five hardcover, open spine, french braid-bound books and five hardcover accordian fold books, which I dubbed "brag books."

Obviously I didn't sleep much… But it was a really great experience, even though I didn't sell very many books. I did sell enough to cover my costs–but just barely! Mainly, I learned how it all works, and what types of venues not to choose. (I think handmade books were a bit too "gourmet" for my soccer mom audience. Not that I have anything against soccer moms: I am so glad my own mother was an at-home mom! They're just a very "kid-focused" audience. I might have had better luck closer to Christmas.)

Here are my most important lessons:

First, work in an "assembly line," if possible. If I had tried to switch back and forth between book forms, or complete one whole book before starting another, I would have made maybe half that many books.

Second, give potential customers lots of ideas on how they can use your wares! If you can think of some really unusual uses for your "stuff," display some of them or make a sign suggesting them. For instance, I used an accordian book to create a memory book of my days at the Baptist Student Union at my college. I had all my friends sign it and then added rub-ons saying "have fun," "celebrate," and "friends," accompanied by photos.

Third, clearly mark all your prices. You don't have to have an enormous tag or sign, but just make sure that potiental customers can easily find it and read it. (Print out stickers if your handwriting is really bad!) Many people will just keep on going if they can't find a price!

Finally, remember what you are selling: your incredible work…not the display! If you have really beautiful items, keep it simple. You want to showcase the beauty of your work, not eclipse it. Your props, table coverings, even your signs, should never compete with your work! A simple rule of thumb: if you can't justify its presence, dump it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Can't resist cool books...

I have a bad habit of going into stores for a "quick look" and getting sucked in by the gorgeous books! This time, it was the Crane & Co. store at Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta.

I love Crane's, but I simply can't afford their stuff. I go in for ideas, since I can do most of what I like cheaper—if I ever get around to it. Some of them, especially those by Molly West, were quite elegant and beautiful, with gorgeous, luxuriant fabrics and wonderful papers. The tag says these are made by "master bookbinders," in California, I think. They ranged in price from $60 to $120. (How do I get THAT job? I can't imagine being able to sell one of my books for that price!)

A few of the Molly West books had a bit of a twist on the usual bindings. The guest book, for instance, used a thick cord to bind a single thick signature of heavy, creamy paper using a three hole pamphlet stitch. The cord was twined around the stitches on the outside, creating a nice texture and adding visual interest.

There were also some (less expensive) books by Maude Asbury. They were much more contemporary, with more of a "mass appeal." The materials, though, were very appealing and of a nice quality. They are also listed as "handmade," though the term can mean many things in the mass market! They appeared well-made, though not to the same standard as the Molly West books.

Another line of books (the name escapes me) was made of some really beautifal Nepalese paper. The bindings incorporated lots of natural elements, like strips of bamboo. The string tie books used a really cool button: a slice from stick, shaped, smoothed, and carved. And just as important, the paper was fair trade, so the papermakers didn't get exploited (too much!)

I must note that Crane's "standard" (still rather expensive) wedding guest books were quite disappointing. The endsheets were so thin! There was a lot of "show through" from the binding boards, and the cover material was very obvious around the edges inside the covers. NOT impressive—my old book arts professor would be appalled!

I guess the lesson from this is that you never know what you will find in stores, or what they will sell for. (You also never know what kind of shortcuts people will accept!)


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Some beautiful stamp art by Marina Lenzino

Well, Marina Lenzino of Cherry Pie Art Stamps has graciously given me permission to post a couple of her works. Most of her work uses her rubber stamps. I love the Old World flavor! (She is Italian.)

This one is a larger collage, "Homage to Leonardo's Land." Absolutely beautiful! Most of this uses found imagery, but the da Vinci drawing with text is from her Leonard da Vinci rubber stamp plate. The watches are also hers.

I love the background on "Buddha!" It's a great match for the images, which are all from Marina's line of rubber stamps.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Defense of Middle Eastern Dance

This is a bit different from my usual fare, but I wrote this for a fellow dancer. She has been told that her hobby is "inappropriate" and has to do a presentation to the owner of the company to convince her it isn't. This popular view of Middle Eastern dance is one of my pet peeves. Tomorrow I will return to my regularly scheduled programming. ;)

A Defense of Middle Eastern Dance

I first began studying Middle Eastern dance at the age of twenty-one, almost eleven years ago. The impact on my life has been considerable. I have improved my grace, control, flexibility, balance, and strength; I have met many wonderful, interesting people; I have learned a new form of expression.

My first performance was at the Festival of Trees, a venue where my troupe and others performed for several years. Later I performed with several other dancers for a one hundred and tenth birthday celebration, held at the Jewish Nursing Home. I danced at the Decatur Arts Festival at least three years; my troupe has also performed at Stockbridge Days and the Atlanta Folks Dance Festival, as well as many other events. We have even danced as part of the DeKalb International Choir Festival, which was held at a church. All of these events are family-friendly, and I have performed at very few venues where families weren't a significant presence.

Like most dancers, I hold a full-time job and have a college degree. All my coworkers know I dance; at least half have seen me perform, and the owners of the company brought their six-year-old daughter to our recent charity fundraiser. However, only two or three clients know I am a dancer, because it's not relevant to the work I do for them as a graphic designer.

I have been an active member of a Southern Baptist church for longer than I have been dancing. Though I don't run around announcing my hobby, I have never made a secret of it–even though my husband is a church employee. I have myself taught art classes through my church, as well as volunteering in the children's department at all three churches I have attended since I began dancing. Twice I have worn one of my costumes for church productions; I even used my knowledge of Middle Eastern dance to choreograph a number for one of them. Our music ministry directory even lists "Middle Eastern Dance" as one of my interests!

As dancers, we are a varied group. Most of us are college-educated, as I am, some with advanced degrees. Many of us bring our families to events. None of us have found that Middle Eastern dance interferes with our professional lives. Would anyone think twice if a women were a Latin dancer? Yet many of these dances can be quite provocative–and are performed with a male partner. Middle Eastern dance, on the other hand, is performed almost exclusively solo or in all-female troupes.

We are moms and grandmothers, wives and daughters. We are not strippers; we are not prostitutes. We are dancers.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

I'm a Pod person again!

I just got in my long-awaited new iPod! Ever since my first iPod bit the dust about six weeks ago, I've felt lost! No Pod to kill the time on the bus…no Pod to motivate me at the fitness center…and no iPod to save me when stuck in a car with bad pop music!

This comes at a good time, because I just upgraded the drive on my TiBook to 60 gigs last month. Even though my previous Pod held 10 gigs, I could only put about 4.5 gigs of music on it because I ran out of hard drive space for more music. (I had about 200 megs of disk space free–not good for working with PhotoShop!) The old 10 gig drive is now an external drive. With all that disk space, I can really fill up my iPod! (Hmm…I guess I should leave some room on that hard drive for my design work…)

My new Pod is a 30 gig iPod photo, with a case by inCase. (The 30 gig photos can be a good value now, since they are no longer the "latest and greatest." But mine is brand new, and better than a 20 gig "iPod with Color Display.")

I don't have any photos on it, yet, or even my whole music library, but I'm very pleased with sound quality and the color screen. Love my Pod!


Thursday, July 28, 2005

New art goodies

While in Chattanooga, I visited a small stamp & scrap convention. I am so glad I went! I found the most amazing, beautiful product: metallic powder gouache! It can be mixed in with other water-soluble media, especially watercolors, to add a bit of shimmer and sparkle. But it is most amazing when used straight: mixed with water, it creates a lush, creamy metallic paint! (It looks like liquid metal when wet.)

I purchased mine from Cherry Pie Art Stamps. The owner, Marina, is very nice. I'm going to ask if I can post a photo or two of her work with it. Until then, here's the link to a card from her gallery that uses it. (It's the gold border, and the gold speckling.)

I can't wait to play with it myself! Eventually, I'll create something I'm proud of, and then I will upload some scans.

Cherry Pie also has beautiful, mostly Old World-European rubber stamps. Unfortunately, I spent all my money on the paint, some Twinkling H2Os, and a couple of tools, so the stamps will have to wait.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Keeping cool in Chattanooga

I really will be done with Chattanooga soon, I promise. But there's a few things that are just too fun to leave out.

You can't help but notice that Chattanooga is hot and humid–especially this summer. But the city has a great way for you to keep cool: fountains!

Aquarium plaza itself is full of fun water features, including the "Aquarium Plaza Stream." The plaza is nicely designed, with plenty of seating, some shaded areas, and a fountain that looks like it has burst through the pavement. The stream areas are very accessible, and great for those who wish to preserve a bit of dignity (or their clothes) while getting their feet wet.

From the plaza, take the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge across the river to the riverfront, unless you're afraid of heights. It's the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, and gives a great view of the Tennessee River. Be warned–it is high! (If you look at the linked photo, it's the one on the right.) But it's the easiest way to reach my other favorite place…

…Which would be Coolidge Park, which is a great way to cool off if you don't mind throwing your dignity to the winds. With a wide expanse of gorgeous green grass surrounded by trees, it's also a great place for a picnic (or nap). Its main feature is a beautifully restored carousel–which is located in a nice, cool, enclosed pavillion, by the way. My favorite part, though, was the fountain. It's the type that has recently become popular, with the jets recessed to create a wide open flat area you can walk through. But this fountain has a little something extra: eight carousel animal sculptures that shoot water! They are perfect for climbing, too, which just adds to the fun.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

What to eat in Chattanooga...

As promised (notice how I pretend people will read this), here's more on Chattanooga. This time, it's food.

If you like pizza, you have to visit Lupi's. This is probably the best pizza I have ever had. It's just two blocks down Broad Street from Aquarium Plaza, on the left. (The front is painted purple; you'll know it when you see it.) You'll pass a Mellow Mushroom almost immediately–don't stop! Lupi's is way better, and I'm not the only one who thinks so! All the food is of the highest quality, and the crust is as close to perfect as it can possibly get. Their selection of toppings is also impressive.

Lupi's Pizza Pies on Urbanspoon

Obviously Broad and Market Street are heavily travelled by tourists (though Lupi's is quite popular with locals; most tourists seem to choose Mellow Mushroom). A quick trip across the river, however, allows you to escape some of the bustle. The Riverfront district is more residential; it's slower, a little more eclectic, with more "mom and pop" businesses. Several good restaurants face Coolidge Park, which is directly across the river from Aquarium Plaza.

We chose Mudpie Restaurant & Coffeehouse, a family business and a referral from a local. It was definitely the right choice! The menu was much broader than that of the typical coffehouse, with vegetarian options. (My brother is a "veggiesaurus", so I always check.) Again, excellent quality. The burritos are great, and very reasonably priced since they come with a side. My husband had a most unusual grilled cheese sandwich: wheat bread with cheddar, mozzarella, and feta. Very yummy! The coffee was great, too: we had a mocha, made with Ghiradelli dark chocolate (yum) and a single shot of espresso, topped with whipped cream. (You could get it with a double or triple shot, but we aren't that brave!) It was perfect, and huge!

The "Monkey Hips and Rice" is supposed to be popular, but unfortunately none of us ordered it. (I was really hoping someone would, if just for the name!) If anyone tries it, post your opinion! (Note: contains no actual monkey…)

Later I'll talk about other fun stuff in Chattanooga.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

I love the Tennessee Aquarium!

Well,I just came back from a great visit to the Tennessee Aquarium. If you're in the Southeast and have never been, you really should go! The admission is quite reasonable—only $17.95 for an adult—and it's well worth the time and money. (I'll definitely go again, even though we'll soon have our own aquarium in Atlanta.)

Your aquarium ticket covers admission to TWO buildings: River Journey, which traces the Tennessee River from its origins in the mountains all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and Ocean Journey, which has fewer exhibits but two big sharks as the main attraction.

If you can, be in River Journey around 1 pm. That's when they feed the fish in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit (the really, really, big, multi-story tank in the center of the aquarium). That includes the enormous sea turtle, the rays, and the small sharks. It's fun to watch!

My favorite permanent exhibit is the river otters. Unfortunately, one of the two original otters died about four months ago; the remaining otter was sleeping when we visited. Hopefully they will add more otters soon!

One surprise: the seahorse exhibit! When I was there two years ago, the exhibit was due to end soon, but apparently they changed their mind. I took tons of photos of the seahorses and seadragons. The seadragons are proof that dragons DO exist–they're just a bit smaller than we thought, and don't breathe fire!

I'll post my opinions on the rest of Chattanooga later.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

How to ship a hippo...

Some things are so insane that you just have to share them. Do you just happen to have a hippo lying around that you need to ship? Well, here's how you do it.

You don't have a hippo? Well, how about pet rocks or a gorilla? There's help for you, too. Remember, these are the most authoritative directions available, apparently straight from the US Postal Service!

Next time you need to ship your hippo, you'll thank me for this.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My first geocache!

Okay, I didn't get to go cache-hunting this weekend. We have had intermittent storms in Atlanta, so I had to wait. (It's all those tropical storms and hurricanes!)

But yesterday I found my first cache! Yay!

It was every bit as much fun as I expected; I can't wait to go hunting for more. If you have a GPS (or access to one), I highly recommend giving it a try! No matter where you live, there's probably one not too far away.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Eraser Carving Fun

I found a few great sites on eraser carving today. I had practiced on erasers when I took printmaking, but I was just playing with line. Some carvers, though, have created some really impressive stamps.

If you are interested, the Carving Consortium has a really nice gallery of images, though browsing isn't very user friendly.

If you just want to play around with it, Stamp Mania Australia has clear, straightforward instructions to get you started. If you are serious, though, or a perfectionist like me, check out this page by Carolyn Hasenfratz of Lime Green Evolution. It's much more in-depth, and has great diagrams and examples. There's also good advice on choosing images to carve.

Another good site is Tabloid Trash. It's just an archive, now, with cross-links to the Carving Consortium, but there is a good "how to", as well as a nice gallery and the "C.O.W.", or Carving of the Week. Very nice! The instruction page is written by a non-artist, so there are lots of tips on working with copies. The transfer tips could be especially helpful.

The consensus is that pink rubber and art gum erasers aren't worth the effort, and I agree: the best pink or gum eraser won't work as well as an inexpensive white vinyl eraser. (Magic Rubs aren't as good as Staedtler Mars erasers, but you can still get good results with them, and can usually buy them by the dozen at one of the office supply superstores.) Just make sure your eraser doesn't have any raised areas (many Staedtlers do). If it does, it's unlikely your design will allow you to carve all of it away, and it will show up when you stamp. I found this out the hard way-I'm glad it was a quick, easy-to-carve design.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Going on a treasure hunt...

My husband gave me a Garmin iQue last year as a combination graduation (Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art, btw) and birthday gift. I've always loved scavenger hunts, so I was really eager to try geocaching. Well, somehow, I have never gotten around to actually trying it! I can't believe it, considering how much I love parks and day hikes.

I'm going up to Chattanooga to visit the aquarium next weekend, and it just seems like a perfect opportunity to do some caching. But my whole family (mom, sister, brother, husband) is going with me, so I better know what I'm doing.

This weekend, I'm going! I went online at lunch and found out there are dozens of them in my area of suburban Atlanta! In fact, I was able to figure out the general location of three in my area strictly from the description. How can it get any easier?

I hope to get several done this weekend, at least those three. I can't wait!

By the way, if you're interested in geocaching, scavenger hunts, or rubber stamps, check out Letterboxing North America! Letterboxing combines all of these in a really fun, unique way. The cache contains a rubber stamp and notebook; you bring your own stamp, a notebook, and an ink pad. You stamp the logbook, add the date, and then stamp your book with the stamp in the cache.

Most of these hunts don't use GPS, but I have seen letterbox entries at geocaching, too. Now I have a motivation to hurry up and carve the "personal" stamp I've been meaning to create for a year!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Design Help for the Non-Designer

It's horrible to say it, but so much of the desktop publishing I see makes me cringe! I should be easier on the non-designer forced to take on a job for which they were never trained, but it's an instinctive reaction. (After the initial cringe, though, I remember I would do at least as bad if I tried to do their jobs!)

But there is help! At Borders the other day, I spotted a great book for desktop pubishers: The Non-Designer's Design Book, by Robin Williams. (No, not THAT Robin Williams; this one.)

The content is great. It reduces the principles of design to their very basics, making it approachable for someone who just does this stuff because they must. But the principles are sound, so the results are good. True, it won't turn you into a world-renowned designer, but it will make your Publisher and Word documents more professional-looking, easier to read, and more effective. (Wow, I type "Publisher" and "Word" with only the barest cringe...)

If you find yourself having to create stuff all the time, but you're never really happy with the results, head on over to Amazon and click "Look Inside." Theres' some good, useful stuff there.