Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Should You Post Photos of Your Kids?

This isn't a topic that is particularly relevant to me right now, but I've seen other people discussing it lately so I thought I'd share an article that appeared in our local newspaper:

Just one more thing to be concerned about in today's world, I guess. And, like so many things, something that can be taken to extremes. I feel sorry for the person quoted at the end of the article: If I ever have a child I certainly hope I won't be so paranoid as to not want to bring a camera to take pictures of my child in a school play.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Last night I finished my last paper for the semester and turned it in. All 7,000 words of it. 41 minutes before it was due. For a professor whose wife was about to go into labor (if she hadn't already). I am completely wiped out.

Thanks to all of you who commented on my last post about the cell phone dilemma. Even with my small, couldn't-possibly-apply-to-a-larger-population sample size, it's interesting that none of you really do the smartphone thing. I had lunch with a friend this week and asked her about it, too; turns out she lives in the '90's as far as cell phones are concerned, too, just like me. I even made it to a mall this week (first time I've been to one in months, I think), and I went to a Verizon Wireless store and looked at the phones and asked about the whole pricing thing. The salesperson was very helpful and answered my questions without pushing me at all (I was really impressed with that, by the way), but the bottom line is we've decided not to change our cell phone situation at this time. I just can't justify the monthly price and I'm not "plugged into" things enough to really make it worthwhile, I think. So we'll stick to our basic plan and our phones that we use just for calling people (and frankly I hardly even use mine much for that). Maybe we'll revisit the issue again in another year.

I'll try to post more updates over the next few days, but given that Christmas is only a week away and I haven't had time to do much about it yet I'm expecting to be kind of busy for the next week. (When I'm not sleeping, which I may be doing a lot of due to being totally exhausted.) For example, you know that wonderful Christmas tree we got over a week ago? It still isn't decorated. Writing papers took precedent and hubby was out-of-town for a few days so we've just had a pine tree living in our house. It's pretty sad. The plan is to finally get it decorated tonight.

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Monday, December 14, 2009

To Phone or Not to Phone

Lately I've been thinking about getting a new cell phone. This one looks nice:
Droid Eris

I've never had a smartphone and I keep debating whether it's really worth it. After all, one of the reasons to have a mobile phone is because you're mobile, and I'm definitely not; these days when I'm not in class I'm usually at home (working on homework, of course). We still have a landline (yes, totally 80's or 90's or whatever, I know) so that's another factor: If we start paying for a fancy phone plan (that whole data thing I haven't entirely figured out yet) I wouldn't want to keep paying for a landline, too, especially since we hardly use it, anyway. I know a phone like the iPhone or the Motorola Droid is so much more than just a phone, but having never had more than "just a phone" I'm not really sure what I would do with it. I know whatever I got would have all those cool apps... But do I really need them? It's hard to know if something I've never had will make my life better or just be yet another thing to waste my time and money on (neither of which I have very much of these days as a full-time graduate student, of course).

So the debate in my head (and discussion with my husband) continues. I'd love to hear from those of you who have smartphones and find them useful: What do you use them for? What features do you like the most? Have they simplified your life in some way? How do you justify the cost of the monthly plan?

Maybe someday I'll join the 21st century when it comes to phones. Until then, to phone or not to phone—that is the question. [Yes, that was totally cheesy. My apologies to Shakespeare. I've been writing way too many papers for school lately and I really need a break.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

O Christmas Tree

Last night hubby and I finally got our Christmas tree. Our dog was very interested and wanted to help hubby put it up.

Finally, he got it up (without the dog's help).

The next step will be to actually decorate it... Maybe tonight.

While we were out I also got a small Poinsettia; it was the last one and looked kind of sickly.

I asked if they would give me a discount since it was looking kind of scraggly and they did, then it turned out it was already on sale (since it was the last one, probably), so I ended up getting it for about a quarter of the original price. Definitely worth it. I re-potted it and I'm going to see if I can bring it back to life. I seem to have a special place in my heart for sickly looking plants as this isn't the first time I've gotten a discount on one and brought it home. It's kind of ironic since I've managed to kill some very healthy plants in my time, including cacti and Sago Palms, which make very nice house plants and are theoretically nearly impossible to kill. (Several died in my house in California.) So we'll see how it goes with the Poinsettia. If it ends up doing well I'll try to remember to post another picture in a few weeks of my success.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Presentation: Enabling User Interactivity

I'm happy to report my presentation on enabling user interactivity with documentation went well. I had only 15 minutes to get through 34 slides so I had to go a little faster than I wanted but my professor said he was still able to follow along. Now onto the next step: Writing the paper to go along with the presentation.

For those who would like to see the presentation slides I've embedded them below. (If you pause the slideshow you can then use the arrow controls to click through each slide one by one.) If you have any questions about anything feel free to leave a comment. I think incorporating user-generated content into documentation is the wave of the future. Technical communicators can help make that happen.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


My Thanksgiving tradition

When I was around 7-years-old my mother asked me what I wanted for Thanksgiving dinner. Without batting an eye I said, "Chocolate cream pie." She said, "That's not a Thanksgiving dish!" I told her she'd asked and that's what I wanted. We've had chocolate cream pie at Thanksgiving every year since then and it's always a favorite. Now I make the pie myself. I've even introduced my in-laws to it; I don't think they've embraced it as a new tradition yet but it was definitely a hit, including the all-important associated tradition of having leftover pie for breakfast the next morning.

What's your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Presentation Day

I'm giving my presentation on user interactivity with documentation to my class this evening. Students will be doing their presentations over the next two weeks. I volunteered to go today—the first day—ostensibly to get it over with; in reality I have so much else to do that taking longer to do it wouldn't have helped me, it's just a matter of what I juggle when at this point. Going today also means I'm not expected to have my associated paper together at this point so that helps me. I think a lot of people in the class are working on their papers and presentations simultaneously; normally that's how I'd do it, too, but it just wasn't an option this time. The presentation is due today so I focused on that; the paper isn't due until December 17th. I have a lot more due between now and then so the paper will have to wait.

I ended up framing my presentation around the following questions:
  • What is user interactivity?
  • Why is it important?
  • What are some issues?
  • What are companies doing it?
  • How is it redefining documentation?
  • What are some implications for technical communicators?
I have quotes from technical communicators throughout my presentation to support my positions. Several are from Twitter: Some of the things I'm talking about are definitely hot topics right now. I think the screenshots I have of tweets are a nice touch. Hopefully the class (and professor) will think so, too!

The presentation is supposed to be 15 minutes long and I have 34 slides... Several are title slides but I'm still hoping I can get through them all fast enough without it looking like I'm rushing. And on that note, off to practice!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Three More Weeks!

Hard to believe I only have three weeks left of the semester...Well, sort of. Three more weeks of classes, that is. After that comes final exam weeks; I don't have any exams, thankfully, but I do have several final projects, two of which are due during the final exam period. So in reality only one of my classes will be done in three weeks; for that one the final project is due on the last day of class. I guess the professor doesn't want to draw things out.

In addition to finishing up projects for this semester I'm also still working on coming up with an idea for the capstone project I'll be doing next semester. Proposals are indeed due the Tuesday before Thanksgiving—at least that's what the e-mail from the professor teaching the class said. I replied and "suggested" making the due date the Tuesday after Thanksgiving might be better than the Tuesday before. He agreed that was reasonable so I, at least, will be doing my proposal over the Thanksgiving break. (Ok, what I really told him was if I had to do anything more before Thanksgiving it would be the straw that breaks this camel's back. At any rate I got an extension for this particular assignment for a class that hasn't actually started yet...) I'm still looking around and waiting for that epiphany of a project that will be really interesting and exciting to do over the semester. Next week I'm going to look at previous projects in the hope that will give me some ideas. (They're stored in a particular bookcase in my department, behind a locked door that not everyone has a key to, I've discovered. I've now talked to a professor who has a key who will make sure the door is unlocked when I plan to be there next week... And to think this is the easy part!)

For those of you who read my post on my user interactivity project I'm happy to report that it's coming along. I'll be giving my presentation to the class on Thursday. I talked to my professor about my concerns and he agreed that my revised focus is a good one. That means I'm looking at how companies implement user interactivity but I'm not trying to assess how well companies incorporate user content into official documentation or how effective their efforts are, since I would need inside knowledge to determine both of those. I also talked to someone in my field about the project: Sarah O'Keefe is a leader in the technical communications industry and just happens to live and work in my area. (I initially contacted her via Twitter, believe it or not.) I met with her at her office and got valuable insight into how she views user interactivity with documentation and what companies need to do to embrace it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

God Bless Our Troops

I confess I've never been that close to war. I've never had a close friend or relative serve—let alone die—in a military conflict. I lived 3,000 miles away from 9/11 events and didn't know anyone personally involved. While I hope I never have to experience war or terrorism firsthand, though, I hope I can still have compassion for those who have: Those who serve and those who have lost loved ones, or even had to live without them while they're away serving our country. God bless their sacrifice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is It Worth It?

Soon it will be one year since I went back to school to get my M.S. in Technical Communication. While I'm enjoying the academic environment and definitely learning a lot, I wonder everyday if it's worth it. Of course my answer is, "I sure hope so!"

I went back to school because the opportunity presented itself and it's something I'd been thinking about for a while. Quite a while, actually: I remember in 2003 after the Columbia space shuttle tragedy being struck with the thought that those people died doing what they loved. At the time I didn't love what I was doing (far from it, actually) and I wished I could figure out what I wanted to do and pursue it. The realities of modern life made staying in my comfort zone more appealing, though, so I stayed in my job and did what I could with it until circumstances gave me the chance to change.

I can't say that becoming a technical communicator is my lifelong dream, as becoming an astronaut was for some of the Columbia flight crew. I was a technical writer early in my career and I enjoyed it, and I think I'll enjoy it even more now as the ways documentation is created and presented have progressed in the digital age. Do I need a master's degree to excel in the field? No. I don't know the statistics but I'd guess less than half of the people who call themselves technical communicators have a master's degree in technical communication. However, times and the economy have changed since I was a technical writer so I'm hoping the degree in addition to my experience will give me that "edge" with employers, bringing my resume to the top of the stack and putting me on that short list for an interview. Since I'll be graduating in December, 2010, I'll probably be looking for that perfect job at this time next year. Hopefully I'll find out then that it was all worth it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Enabling Interactivity with Users

I imagine to most of my readers today's title doesn't make much sense. I've decided I'm going to talk about some struggles I'm having with the hope that it will clear my mind. No, not personal struggles, I'm talking about struggles I'm having with a particular project for school. My struggles range from figuring out how to frame the project in the first place to determining how to go about actually doing it.

The project involves looking at how companies enable interactivity with users when it comes to documentation. (Thus this post's title.) I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to figure out how something works I often can't find the answer in the online help. (I haven't seen a printed manual in a while now so we won't even go there.) So where do I turn? To Google, of course, to search the plethora of information known as the Internet for the answer. More often than not I'm successful (though depending on the complexity of the problem it may take a few hours of searching), eventually finding the answer I need on some obscure Web page where someone somewhere had a similar problem and thankfully shared it in a public post. But what if companies—or more specifically technical communicators—harnessed the vast amount of user knowledge out there and integrated it into the official documentation for products in some way, providing users with a more central place than the untamed Internet to find the answers they need? Just think of how much better this would make users' experiences with products, knowing there was a single place they could go to solve their problems!

This may sound like Utopia but some companies are using social media tools today to engage users and interact with them. This is primarily being done in the realm of marketing and public relations but it's also spilling over to customer and technical support forums. What I'm not so sure about is whether that knowledge is being captured effectively and integrated in a manner where people with the same problem can easily find it. I don't really have the means to investigate that aspect of things with this particular project so I think I need to stop at the point of determining how companies interact with users and look at its potential value. I'd really like to close that loop (as I see it, anyway) of evaluating whether any of the user-generated knowledge is incorporated back into the documentation, but without insider knowledge I just don't know how I'm going to do that.

So that's where things stand. As I've been working on this post I've been looking on the Web and reading some articles, trying to put some structure around whatever I'm going to do. I'm also waiting to hear back from my professor regarding an e-mail I sent him yesterday on all of this. The bottom line is in two weeks (yes, two weeks) I need to have a 15-minute presentation put together that answers my questions and describes what I found. And, as with all projects I do, I'm determined to do it well. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Confused Kitty

I have a lot of reading to do this semester and my favorite place to read is sitting on the downstairs couch. The light is best there and it's pretty comfortable, but more importantly my dog and cat often join me, one on each side of the couch.

Today while I was eating lunch the dog got up on the cat's side of the couch. We have a towel there for the cat to sit on and the dog decided to sit on the towel. It wasn't a problem until I sat down to finish my reading for class today. As usual, the cat came over to sit on the couch with me—and she noticed the dog in her "spot." Twice she jumped up on her usual side and kept finding the dog there. So she tried to find another spot—the other side of the couch, the top—eventually settling on the arm for a little while, where she sometimes sits. In the meantime the dog stretched herself over my lap, making it very difficult to read. (Of course I didn't move her; she was all settled and snuggled in, after all.)

Thankfully the dog and cat have had some experience living in close quarters together and neither is too fazed anymore when the other one gets too close. When we moved from California to North Carolina they spent five-and-a-half days together in my car: The dog stayed in her seatbelt in the back and the cat roamed around. (The cat used to travel between Oregon and California with me so she's an old hand at long car rides.) I think the uniqueness of that event changed their dynamic; the dog still teases the cat once in a while but not nearly as much as she used to. (Age may have something to do with that, too, since they're both older now, but I'm gonna stick with the drive-across-the-country theory myself.)

I'm happy to report that today's couch story does have a happy ending for the cat. Eventually the dog got tired of balancing on my lap and rolled off the couch to go lie on the floor. (I think she heard a squirrel outside, too; she had to go to the window to check it out.) As soon as the dog left the cat promptly came over (seriously, it took less than a minute), settled in her spot on the towel, purred and went to sleep while I finished my reading. My cat's world had been restored.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Change in Plans

Another Friday, another post—anyone besides me sensing a pattern here? I really think I'm lulled into a false sense of security on Fridays about how much I need to do... especially right after a Thursday when I've had something important due (which probably means I stayed up late Wednesday working on it and still rushed to finish before the deadline on Thursday) and I feel like I need a rest. Since I never have anything actually due on Fridays I seem to think I can "relax" and not be as productive as I should be. Assignments for my online class are usually due on Sunday so I do have that to contend with, but since Saturday comes before Sunday it seems to provide a buffer for Friday.

This week I registered for spring semester. When I started my program last January I wasn't sure how long the program would take; eventually I decided on 2.5 years, so graduating in spring 2011. If you go full-time it's designed to be a two-year program, but starting in the spring throws things off because of when the required classes are offered. In particular, a course called "capstone project" is offered only in the spring, and it's designed to be the last class you take before you graduate. (The capstone project is in place of a master's thesis; as the name implies it's really just a semester-long project, not a real thesis.) It's also recommended that you take the capstone project course alone if you possibly can since it requires a lot of work. I'd be done with the majority of my classes in spring 2010 so I decided I'd start looking for a job starting in summer 2010, then just take the two classes I had left (one class in fall 2010 and the capstone project in spring 2011) while working full-time. They're both evening classes and plenty of people do the program while working so that was my plan.

Until about a week ago. While thinking about what courses I need to take next semester my plan of waiting until May 2011 to graduate started sounding a lot less appealing than doing the program in two years and graduating in fall 2010 (Dec. 2010). The only way for spring starters like me to do that, though, is to take the capstone project course the semester before you graduate—so you still have at least one course to take afterward (the required class only offered in the fall) and possibly other courses, too, depending on how much you've done up until then. To make a long story short (or maybe it's too late for that—oh well) I've decided to do it that way and take the capstone project course next semester in order to graduate in Dec. 2010 instead of May 2011. It means I'll put off my job search for six months longer than I'd planned but that's a relatively minor detail for us at this point. (When I went into this we expected I'd be out of the workforce for two full years.) It also means I won't be taking the capstone project course on its own and will be taking another required class with it, but since it'll only be two classes instead of the three I'm taking this semester that still sounds like a huge relief to me right now. I'll need to take two classes instead of just one in fall 2010 but that's ok, too, since I won't be trying to work at a full-time job then.

I'm not the first person in the program to take the capstone project early and I won't be the last; plenty of people do it so there's definitely a precedence. Now I have to come up with a project a year earlier than I thought I would—YIKES! I talked to my advisor yesterday and found out I'm going to have to turn in a short proposal for my project this semester, probably by Thanksgiving—DOUBLE YIKES! I've had some vague ideas of possibilities for a while but having to think about them concretely now is an entirely different matter. I'd really like to do something Web-related if I can. Redesigning a Web site is a common project; anyone out there have a Web site they'd like created or redesigned? I did one as a semester project for a class last semester (the class was on Web design) that probably would have been a good candidate for a capstone project; that was then, this is now. Apparently my project doesn't have to be "real" (related to an organization that actually needs whatever I do) and I can make it up out of thin air, but I'd really like it to be something real (related to an organization somewhere) if I possibly can. So I'll be giving it some thought. And hoping for a revelation, which is welcome to come any time now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Hubby!

Today is my husband's birthday. Happy Birthday, hubby!

I promised I'd make him a pecan pie for his birthday. Ta da...

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Forcing of the Twitter

I joined Twitter this week. I'd been thinking about doing it for a while; not for personal reasons but because one of these days I'm going to need to look for a job again and I know employers sometimes use it to communicate with applicants. I've also heard of social media-related jobs only being posted on Twitter and Facebook (or posted in those places first) and I figure that could potentially be useful. However, that's not why I signed up right now. My reason was much simpler: I had to for an assignment for my social media class. There you have it.

So I'm on Twitter now and I have to say I'm really not sure what all the hubbub is about. I'm "following" (as it's called) a few people that I knew had Twitter accounts and I'll be following some organizations for the class assignment, but honestly when I think about going out and finding lots of people to follow and trying to get people to follow me I'm really not all that inspired. First, I live in the dark ages when it comes to cell phones (I don't have a smartphone, Internet access, or use texting) so I won't be doing the mobile thing with Twitter and that makes it just another Web site to check. I have no desire to know what any celebrity is doing at any particular moment; in fact I can't really think of ANY individual that I'd like to know what they're doing ALL the time. I tried to think of some organizations I'd like to follow outside of the class assignment but so far even there I've come up empty. One organization I thought of was K-LOVE, the radio station I listen to; I think they do more with Facebook than Twitter but still, they're there. I looked at their Twitter page but while I like listening to the station and hearing their stories on the radio I'm really not into following artists and all that so I'm not sure what following them on Twitter would accomplish.

Maybe in the future I'll find more use for Twitter as a communication tool. For now it seems like a lot of people use it just to toot their own horn... I already use this blog for that!

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Day Off

I took yesterday afternoon off from schoolwork. Here's what I did instead:
  • Two loads of laundry
  • Swept and washed the bathroom floors
  • Vacuumed the house
  • Vacuumed the stairs (a separate task from vacuuming the house as far as I'm concerned)
  • Took out the trash
  • Washed my car, including washing all the windows inside and out (first time I'd washed it since April—it was time)
If none of that sounds like a very good day off you won't get any arguments from me.

I could really use a real day off. Unfortunately, I feel like I'm barely keeping up as it is and if I take a whole day off—really take it off—I'm afraid I'll fall behind so fast it would make your head spin. (Or make mine spin, which is probably more important in this case.) This Thursday and Friday are fall break at NC State which, as far as I can tell, won't mean a whole lot to me. It means the two classes I have on Thursday evening won't meet so I'll get a break from that. I'm planning on using the time to do some group work I need to do for one class, though, so I'll be going to school for that instead. (So I won't even save a trip to school this week.) One of the classes isn't meeting on Tuesday evening, either, since the professor is out-of-state this week presenting at a conference. So I get a slight break due to that, too. I'll still have to go to campus on Tuesday for the other class, though, so I'll still be making that trip to school. No rest for the weary.

Hopefully with the break in those two classes this week—and actually not having anything due during the week (until next Sunday for my online class, that is)—I'll FINALLY have a chance to catch up on some things and maybe even get a little ahead. (If I do it'll be short-lived, I'm sure, but every little bit helps.) Getting some things done around the house would help a lot, too; as much as I hate cleaning and doing it yesterday was hardly relaxing it was a good start. Hubby said he'd vacuum my car this week, too; I'm pretty sure it hasn't been vacuumed since we moved to North Carolina over two years ago so having that done will be really nice.

The reality is I probably won't have a real day off until the semester is done in December. So I have a question for all of you: What do you do for fun on a real day off? Maybe you'll inspire me—or at least give me some ideas for December!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Hubby and I were married 5 years ago today. Happy Anniversary, hubby!

Hubby replaced the wallpaper on my computer with this picture so it greeted me when I turned on the computer this morning. We had calla lilies at our wedding.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random Citings

I've been collecting some random musings lately so I thought I'd share.
  1. Whenever I do laundry I inevitably forget about it and end up leaving it in the washer (or dryer) for several hours.
  2. I only buy chocolate chips in 72 oz. bags. Anything less is hardly worth it. (Have I mentioned chocolate chip cookies are a staple in my house?)
  3. Sometimes I like to be domestic—cooking, baking, that sort of thing. Unfortunately my desire to be domestic never extends to wanting to clean the house.
  4. I like blueberry-chocolate chip pancakes, as in both of them in there together. It occurred to me once that I liked blueberry pancakes and I liked chocolate chip pancakes, so why not try them all in one? Yum.
  5. It takes two people to give our dog a bath. At least. She's a squirmy thing! (But oh so clean and fluffy afterwards.)
  6. I have lots of freckles. Probably has to do with my reddish hair, which I think was even more reddish when I was a child. (Never carrot-red, though.)
  7. I make an awesome dog nurse. (I nursed my dog back to health and got her to eat again when she was sick over the summer.)
  8. My hubby and I met online, on a Christian dating site. Maybe I'll tell that story someday...

  9. And last but not least:

  10. The professors in my department have a conspiracy to have everything due on the same day. Really. I asked one of them about it last night, why major projects in different classes are always due on the same day. He said it's a conspiracy.
Back to the books!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Problem with Fridays

Fridays are a problem for me. You see, by the time Friday rolls around I feel like I need a break after going through the week and before heading into the weekend (which is really just an extension of the week when you're a full-time graduate student). Unfortunately I really don't have time to take a day off—at least that's what my head tells me. My body is pretty persistent, though, and I'm pretty sure after I finish typing here it's going to take me downstairs to make cookies. (I consider chocolate chip cookies a staple in my house and I've been out for several days now. I hate it when that happens.)

The reason I can't really afford to take Fridays "off" is because I have three classes this semester (what's considered a full-time load) and they all require a lot of work. No exams, but lots of readings and periodic assignments and projects due during the semester. Two of the classes are in the classroom and one is online (the social media class I've mentioned in previous posts). I do my best to keep up with the two classroom ones but I always feel like I'm playing catch up with the online class at the end of the week. I suppose this actually makes sense since the two classroom classes have their things due during the week (when they meet) but everything for the online class is always due on Sundays. So I end up spending the week doing the classroom stuff and once that's done I have to hurry and get the online class stuff done before Sunday rolls around. I try to do the reading and watch the lectures earlier in the week if I can but it doesn't always happen, particularly when I end up with assignments for both classroom classes due on the same day. That's really painful. (It'll be happening again next week, too!)

So it comes down to I wish I could spend more time on the social media class, or at least balance it better with the others. Last week I mentioned the latest photosharing assignment I have; I managed to take the pictures for it last Sunday but then Monday rolled around so they've just been sitting. The assignment is due on Sunday so it's time for me to actually do it—yep, starting on Friday. I don't think it'll be too difficult. I just have to upload the photos to Flickr and create catchy captions and tags for them. Ok, depending on how creative I'm feeling that may or may not be difficult. I've never used Flickr before but I created my account and it seems straightforward enough. I particularly like that Flickr is part of Yahoo! now and uses Yahoo! login information so I didn't have to create a new username and password for that. As much as I want to try and keep track of usernames and passwords for every single Web site out there that needs one... (I realize some of you don't know me too well yet so I'll just let you know: I'm being totally sarcastic there. I do not want to have accounts on every Web site known to man.)

Enough about school, it's time to go make those cookies. Then I'll be nice and rested and ready to dive into my homework, right? Yeah, right.

I'll just leave you with this lovely picture of doggie and hubby I took yesterday:

Ahhhhhh, it's a good life.

Have a good one!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Staying Home

It's official: I'm sick and staying home from school today. No fever thank goodness so it's still just a cold, but enough of one that I need to keep my germs to myself if I can. When I wrote to my professors they both agreed I should stay home: One mentioned school policy (staying home for 3-5 days if you have cold or flu symptoms) and the other thanked me for considering my classmates (which I thought was really cute). I probably won't miss anything major in either class but just in case I've let some friends know I won't be there so they'll let me know if I miss anything important.

Since I won't be going to class tonight that's about 4.5 hours I'll have to work on things that I wouldn't have otherwise—I should probably use it wisely and be productive, don't ya think? Not watch TV or anything like that...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Doing Things Right

I like to do things right. I always try to do my best at school, whether it's doing the best I can on assignments or actually reading everything assigned and trying to understand it to the best of my ability. (Not always an easy task with some of the reading assignments I have this semester.) When I work I'm always thorough and do the best I can on my projects. My doing things right also extends to when I get sick: When I get sick I "do it right."

I have a cold. I'm pretty sure it's just a cold; I don't have a fever so I don't think I have the flu (H1N1 or otherwise). I'm pretty sure hubby gave it to me, too (bless his heart). He started feeling congested toward the end of last week; he was stuffed up over the weekend but said he didn't feel too bad and today he said he felt fine. Of course I hoped I wouldn't get it... No luck there. I have never met a germ that didn't like me. (At this time last year I had strep throat, which turned into a respiratory infection before it was through.) I started feeling a little stuffed up on Saturday; by Sunday I was more stuffed up and my throat hurt a little, and by Sunday night I definitely had a cold. I took cold medicine last night which helped me sleep but it didn't do much for me today. I've been sneezing and feeling "blah" all day; luckily I don't have class on Mondays so I didn't have to leave the house. Hubby didn't have to go to work until noon so this morning he went to the store and got me my "sick juice" (Ocean Spray cran-raspberry) so I've been drinking that today.

Deadlines wait for no one and I've been trying to get some of my exorbitant amount of reading done today; not an easy task in my current condition. It'll be interesting to see how much of what I've read today I actually retain.

On that note back to reading. ACHOO!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Little Victories

I kept thinking that one of these days I'd put together a philosophical post about some things I've been thinking about recently, how I don't want to just do "good enough" and skim through graduate school (or skim through all the reading I have to do), how I went back to school to really learn and not just get letters by my name. I thought I'd try to throw in some Bible verses about what God wants from us and how this is all part of His plan. Yep, that's what I thought I'd do when I had time. Now back to reality: I will NEVER have time.

Since I really want to get an update done before the three people who read this blog think I've died I'm going to talk about some lighter subjects instead. Recently I lost a barrette. I don't lose things very often so it's always a little annoying when I do. It was a cheap plastic one, though, so I figured I'm not perfect and I didn't give it that much thought. I also don't wear my hair in a barrette very often so again, not a huge deal. This morning I decided to put my hair back in a barrette, though, and I remembered a silver one I have that I used to wear a lot; when I went in the drawer to get it I discovered it wasn't there. Now, you're probably thinking my first thought was, "Oh no, I've lost another barrette"—nope, that's not what I thought. The silver barrette is a nice one and I knew I wouldn't have lost it. My first thought was, "Ok, those two barrettes are together somewhere, probably in this house." From there it was a quick matter of deduction: Since I don't wear barrettes very often the only time I have them together outside the drawer where they live is when I travel. When I travel I put whichever ones I bring in a cosmetic bag, so I went and looked in the cosmetic bags I usually bring on trips. I looked inside and they were all empty, but then I noticed a zipper pocket that was open in one of them. I put my hand in—and pulled out the two barrettes. I hate losing things so finding both of them easily this morning made my day. Given my ridiculously busy, always tired graduate school life I seem to be living right now it's the little victories that keep me sane.

This reminds me of when we moved to North Carolina. Everyone knows when you move you always lose things, right? After unpacking everything and finding several things we thought we'd lost it finally came down to one thing I just couldn't find: The cyclometer that goes on my bike. I figured maybe I forgot to take it off the bike and pack it elsewhere so maybe it fell off the bike in the truck and we somehow never noticed. I didn't like losing it but kind of like the plastic barrette it wasn't a huge deal and wasn't worth getting that upset over. Last May we went to California to visit family. I took out a carry-on bag that I don't use very often but I'd decided I wanted to bring on this particular trip. I was taking some extra straps out of it and put my hand in one of the outside pockets—and pulled out the cyclometer. I must have taken it off the bike and in my packing haste thrown it somewhere it would be safe. I'm sure I had other things packed in that bag when we moved so I must have just missed it. Apparently I don't unpack bags very well!

And one more: My latest assignment for my social media class is to put together a photosharing site for an organization. I'm doing it on the state park where my husband is a Park Ranger since I have an "inside track." This afternoon I went there to take some pictures. On my way home I decided I needed some ice cream (I really like ice cream); unfortunately there's no ice cream place between our house and the park and the closest ice cream place isn't all that close to us. I didn't have any great plans for dinner tonight, though, and ruining my dinner with a Baskin Robbins chocolate peanut butter shake sounded like a fine idea. So I went out of my way to get it. I figure I probably drove 8-10 extra miles and paid way too much for it, and now I feel royally sick from drinking the whole thing. And you know what? Totally worth it. :-)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Critter Returns

Our resident flying squirrel returned to the feeders the other night.

We've named the little guy Zippy. Shortly after hubby took this picture Zippy climbed to the top of the feeder tree, opened his arms, and sailed off to a nearby tree. Hubby wants to get a picture of him flying sometime—that would be cool!

Caught Up

I caught up with my homework today! — For last week. Assignments for my social media class are due at 5:00PM on Sundays each week and I finished my last blog post for the class at 4:48PM so that counts. (It's an online class so weekly deadlines are somewhat arbitrary since one day is as good as any other. Sundays work for me.) Now I can rest for about five minutes before I need to get started on the next round... Time's up.

Last week was a particularly hard week. I had two papers and an oral presentation due in two classes on Thursday; each assignment by itself was doable but having them both due the same day was tough. Being a graduate student is all about juggling (or having priorities, some might say, though it's more like juggling to me) and having things equally important due the same day makes it VERY hard to figure out what to juggle when. I managed to put a brief PowerPoint presentation together in 20 minutes (the only thing I've ever done quickly) and I finished the second paper 30 minutes before I needed to leave for class which is a little too close for comfort for me. Of course while I was focusing on the papers for those two classes I totally ignored my third class (that'd be the social media class) which wasn't good since I had my first assignment due for that class on Sunday (in addition to the weekly readings and blog posts). At least Sunday comes a few days after Thursday! I managed to get that project done on Saturday, which is why the weekly blog posts didn't get done until 10 minutes before they were due on Sunday. It's hard enough to keep track of everything, let alone keep up.

One nice thing about my program is it's relatively small so you get to know the people in it and you share a lot of the same classes—or in other words we suffer together. There are six of us that have the same two classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights. At least we could commiserate when we were all falling asleep on Thursday from having both papers due on the same day. That helped some.

I did get to take a break from the rat race Saturday afternoon to meet Dr. Wifey and her hubby—that was fun! We had a nice stroll in a park with our hubbies and my dog; the precious pooch LOVES outings and meeting new people so it was a pretty exciting day for her. And for me, getting to meet a bloggy buddy. I hope we'll be able to get together again soon.

This week I'm taking advantage of my student status (something I'm always told I should do while I can) and going to a conference in my field that just so happens is being held at my school. It's on a topic that I'd like to learn more about. The director of my program sent a message to all the M.S. students about it last Wednesday and said if anyone wanted to go to let him know and he could probably get some free passes. I finally looked at the e-mail on Friday (I didn't look at much of anything on Thursday other than those two papers that were due) and realized I really should take advantage of the opportunity and try to go. I thought it might be too late since it was around noon on Friday when I e-mailed my professor but that evening he sent me a message that I was on the list and all set for both days. The conference is on Monday and Tuesday. It's been a while since I've been to something like this and I think it will be a good experience for me.

On that note... Have a good week, everyone!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

Thought I'd take a moment out from laboring and wish everyone a Happy Labor Day—especially all you laborers for whom today is actually a holiday. (My hubby doesn't have it off, unfortunately, and as a graduate student I don't consider any day a day off.) I hope those of you who have it off are taking some time out to relax and enjoy the day with your family and friends. If you're having a cookout flip a burger for me! :-)

Friday, September 4, 2009


We had corn-on-the-cob for dinner the other night. I asked hubby to clean it so he went outside on the deck to do it. Our dog helped.

I can help! I can help!

Finished that piece, now on to the next one...

Now I'm ready for some corn. Yum!

Our dog is a "corndog." Yes, corny, I know. You can thank hubby for coming up with that one!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

California Fires

Perhaps some of you have seen in the news about the Station Fire burning near Los Angeles. My husband and I moved to North Carolina from that area two years ago, which is where I'm from. The Station Fire isn't burning directly near where we used to live or where my parents live, though they've smelled smoke at their house, they've said. A friend of mine who lives in one of the threatened areas went to stay with friends over the weekend due to smoke; she said there's smoke and ash everywhere, similar to a fire we had several years ago while I was there. (I remember ash all around my house—it's weird.)

The saddest thing about reading about the fire is I recognize a lot of the places they mention. The San Gabriel Mountains were my home; I always call them "my mountains" whenever I see them on TV. (You'll see them, too, if you ever watch the Rose Bowl or Rose Parade on January 1st.) I've been hiking in many of the areas that are now burning. I've seen plenty of blackened hillsides in my life but it will be strange to see the extent of this fire next time I'm there (whenever that may be). I've also been to Mt. Wilson and seen the telescopes at the Mt. Wilson Observatory there. (I think I even remember going there for a school field trip, probably in elementary school...) Mt. Wilson has a Webcam; it usually updates every few minutes and is very popular with those who know of its existence. I checked it a couple days ago and could see the plume of smoke in the distance. When I checked it today, however, I found it was down: Apparently a backfire burned through cables supplying all telephone and Internet service to the Observatory. If you look at the Webcam today you'll see a static picture from yesterday (located on another server)—the last update the camera had before going down. It's a smoke-filled sight.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Blogging Update

Thanks, folks, for your comments on how you keep up with the social media world—I don't know how you do it! (Though I do know what you mean about needing something to do at work... been there, done that. And yes, I definitely know better than to respond directly to the prolific poster on a class blog, but venting about it just a little on my own blog did help me put it into perspective.)

So, an update on the class blog. First, I discovered I was wrong about the number of people in the class. Turns out there are two sections to the class: One for graduate and one for undergraduate. There are 12 (or now 11—I guess someone dropped) graduate students in the class. When I looked at the undergraduate section, though, I discovered there are 33 people registered there, so with 44 people in the class that explains a little more about why the posts seemed to be ballooning last week as much (and at times as quickly) as they did.

I'm also starting to get a handle on keeping up. Like I said I did the RSS thing, but even with that I'm learning to ignore it so I can get other work done. I'll look at everything from the RSS feeds all at once when I'm ready to do that, skim most and respond to a limited number where I feel like I have something intelligent to say. That tactic should help me keep things down to a dull roar.

Finally, I wrote to the professor today and asked him something related to how he was grading our blog posts and what he expected. He sent me back a very thoughtful response saying I'm doing just fine with the blog and he doesn't expect everyone to spend as much time on the blog as he does, he's just looking for a good "classroom" dialogue about the topics we're covering in the course. I can handle that, particularly since that's how I was approaching it already: Do my posts after I've listened to the week's lectures, read the material, and put together my thoughts about it. So I think I'll do ok.

So that's the status of one class. Maybe next time I'll talk about another class (I have three of them). And on that note, time to turn the computer off to keep me from being distracted while I do some reading for another!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Keeping Up

I've now completed my first full week of fall semester (the week before when classes actually started was only a partial week)—only 14 to go. Apparently a semester is 16 weeks long; whadya know. I think it's safe to say I'm drowning. Well, ok, technically I'm not behind on anything (yet) but I find it easier to just feel like I'm drowning all the time. That way when I really am (which I think is going to be pretty often this semester, anyway) I'm already in the right "mode" for working on stuff. If that makes any sense.

Actually, I am drowning in one place: Blogging. In my last post I mentioned that I have several blogs I have to post to this semester, and by "have to" I mean I'm getting graded on it, both quality and quantity. One of those blogs is for the "Social Media and Public Relations" class I mentioned. I've now taught myself about RSS (ok, I knew what it was, I just didn't bother to use it until now) and that's helping a little, but keeping up with everyone's posts in addition to having to do my own is already getting WAY out of hand. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about here: The way this particular blog forum works is the instructor makes initial posts and then it's our job to post comments, both to his posts directly and to comments other students have made. So you end up with multiple "threads" (multi-level comments) within a single original post by the instructor. It makes it hard to follow, particularly since the RSS feeds only include the title of the original post by the instructor so without going to the blog to see the context you don't know if a particular student's post is replying to the original post or someone else's post. (If that all sounds confusing, you're right—welcome to my world.)

On top of the less-than-usable interface the quantity of posts is pretty astounding. As of this particular moment (and it'll probably change by the time I actually publish this post), in the four original posts that the instructor has put up for this week there are a total of 131 comments. I should mention that according to the course enrollment—which I just checked—there are a total of 12 people enrolled in this class. Yes, 12. And 131 comments (and rising) in less than a week. Maybe the other people in the class are only taking this one class so can focus on it wholeheartedly, but with three classes I can't. It's my nature to want to keep up with everything for my classes but I know if I don't start ignoring some of the posts soon I'm going to go crazy. I know I need to just do my posts, comment on a few other peoples', then turn it off until the next week's assignment. It's just hard when I can't get all the reading and listening to the lectures (two per week each over an hour long) done immediately so I see the RSS folders fill with posts from people who apparently have. (Either that or they're posting to the blog before they do the required reading and watch the lectures, which could be happening, I don't know.)

So, after all this I have a question for y'all (if you knew me in person you'd know I could never pull off that word in speaking): How do you keep up with the social media world? I've only talked about blogging here (and one blog in particular) but there's the whole Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else world out there, too. Everyone says how time consuming it is yet they continue to do it; since there's only so much time in the day that means other things have to suffer, right? How do you manage it all? And not just with friends: My class is on how organizations use social media to reach their publics, so that means their publics—that's you and me—have to be spending time with those social media tools in order to see the organizations' messages. I don't know how anyone has time for it all and can still be a student, an employee, a wife, a husband, a person who has a relationship with anything other than their computer all day long...

* * * *

As I've been writing this I've been monitoring the RSS feed and going back and forth to the blog I mentioned; one person has now posted 12 comments in the past hour. His most recent post is responding to someone who speculated that too much from an organization—too many tweets, Facebook updates, whatever—may be too much for some people. The prolific commenter agreed and asked when do you say, "Enough is enough." I am SOOOOOOOOO tempted to reply to his post and say, "12 comments in an hour—enough is enough!!!!!" But I'm restraining myself and won't. :-)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back to School

Fall semester started last week at NC State. I don't know what it is about school but just the thought of it makes me feel overwhelmed—let alone the actuality of it. So, even though I've only had one day of classes (for my two on-campus classes; I also have an online class that isn't starting real work until next week) I am officially overwhelmed.

On the bright side I think it will be a fun semester. When I started the program last spring a lot of classes were full by the time I was able to register so my options were somewhat limited in what I could take. When registering for fall, however, I was able to register with all the seniority that being a graduate student brings and I had no trouble getting my first choices. All three of my courses are in my field, relevant, and include interesting readings and assignments. Now that I'm not a new student anymore I also know many of the people in my two on-campus classes already. I'm particularly excited about my online course, a communications seminar called "Social Media and Public Relations." I'm finally going to learn about all the social media I've been avoiding! And I'll be dealing with it from the perspective of how organizations can use it to enhance their businesses, not from a personal standpoint, which is what I was avoiding. Sounds like the best of both worlds to me.

One thing being back in school will mean, of course, is that I'll undoubtedly have less time for this blog. I'm still going to try to post to it once a week; we'll see how well I do with that. As part of my schoolwork and other responsibilities this semester I've actually got three other blogs I'll be posting to on a regular basis so that will keep me busy with blogging, I'm sure. But, the more practice the better, right?

* * * *

I realized I haven't posted an update on our precious pooch lately—I'm sure inquiring minds want to know! I'm happy to report that she's doing MUCH better: She's finishing up her antibiotic this weekend and I'm taking her to our regular vet for a follow-up blood test on Monday. She isn't having any of the symptoms she was anymore and is definitely brighter and more energetic than she was for most of the summer.

She's still a little on the thin side and getting her to eat is still a daily ordeal; I doubt it'll ever be a matter of just putting her food in front of her and having her eat it again. But we've got a routine (and an understanding) now and she does pretty well. She always comes and eats at least a few bites of breakfast now; for a while she wouldn't even entertain the idea of breakfast. Her favorite time to eat seems to be after her evening walk when she often cleans her bowl. Today was an exciting day: She cleaned her bowl at breakfast, lunch, AND dinner! So even though I still have to stand over her while she eats and remind her to eat periodically (she's an easily distracted pooch) at least she's getting used to eating regularly again. She's also been sleeping through the night for the past several weeks—a true blessing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Comments on Commenting

First of all, thanks to those of you who commented on my last post—it's nice to hear how other people navigate the blog world as I work on defining my own response to it. I've got some ideas on why my attitude might be what it is about some things; more on that in a minute.

First, some comments on comments:

Allison - I agree about the time management aspect of things! I don't know how people keep up with dozens of personal blogs on a daily basis.

Dr. Wifey - Thanks for the tip to the SITS site. That's a good idea—for people who must have a LOT of time on their hands! I can tell just from looking at it that I'd be overwhelmed by it pretty quickly.

K Storm - I'm always happy to hear what you have to say! I use the blog roll to see which blogs are updated, too, though I've noticed my blog roll doesn't always reflect things correctly: Sometimes it'll say a blog hasn't been updated for 5 days but when I check the blog there's a new post from that day. So maybe the blog roll just has a delay in its update times. I'm never sure what time zone it's working with, anyway...

Jen - I read a few blogs that are for information, too (related to the field of technical communications, in my case); if I ever do comment on them (which I haven't yet) I definitely wouldn't expect any comments on my personal blog in return. And I know what you mean about commenting sometimes keeping you up late at night—I've occasionally done the same!

Now, some thoughts about my attitude toward blogs and commenting. There are definitely different categories of blogs: Ones I consider professional or informational, which I read for the same reason I read articles on something like CNN; blogs of friends I know outside the blogging world, where I may or may not comment since we communicate in other ways; and blogs of people who I only know through their blogs. As I've been searching for blog friends I find blogs that look like they're written by nice people but I'm not necessarily looking at the content specifically. If I comment on several posts and don't get any response, though, then the content starts to matter more since that's all I have to go on. It's similar to if I try to befriend someone in person: If I'm doing all the talking and it seems like the person really doesn't want to relate to me then I'm probably not going to continue that "friendship" (which really isn't a friendship but more of a one-sided monologue) for very long. In the blog world—or any other online-only discipline—that two-way interaction is even more "removed" (the best way I can think to describe it) than face-to-face interaction. The truth of the matter is if I'm reading a blog about a family, for instance, then the kids may be very cute and they may do fun things, but since I don't have a connection to that family it isn't very real to me. Reciprocal comments on each other's blogs make people—and their families—much more real to me and establish that connection. When I look for blog friends I'm looking for that blog-level connection.

I'm also finding that quality is much better than quantity (back to that how do people keep up thing!) so I'm not complaining, just analyzing why I (and others, I imagine) might act the way I do.

On that note I'm off to class to learn about usability studies and technical communication theory. Happy blogging, everyone!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Awards and Blog Etiquette

Ok, it's time to deal with some bloggy things.

I'm the first to admit I'm no expert on blogs and I don't know all the comings and goings about them; I'm learning as I go and hoping I don't say anything wrong or offend anyone along the way. For example, I'm still working on making blog friends. I'm told the best way is to comment on lots of blogs and then see who comments back on yours. I have made a few blog friends that way (including one who I'm going to meet in person next month!) and I have to say I've had fun getting to know them through commenting on each other's blogs. I wouldn't say I've commented on a huge number of blogs but I have commented on a few who have never returned comments on mine. I'm not sure what to think about this... Should I continue commenting in the hope that the blog owner will eventually acknowledge my existence (and my blog)? Should I just read the blog if I like it but not worry about commenting? Should I stop reading the blog? (I confess I've done that in a few cases...) I'm curious what other folks out there do with this dilemma.

Another area I'm not quite sure about is awards. Or maybe I should say "awards" since I don't think these are official blog awards; as best I can tell they're a game of some sort where people pass these "awards" around from one blog to another. (They kind of remind me of chain letters from way back when, or chain e-mails in the digital age.) A friend of mine gave me my first "award" back in July; I figured out the code to put it on my blog but I guess I've been lax in my award duties. So, to make up for lost time here are the rules for the first award I received from my friend, Sarah:
love ya award

This award is bestowed on to blogs that are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to six bloggers who must choose six more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.

I'll pass this award onto my new blog friends. Congratulations! (I think...)
  1. Dr. Wifey
  3. Allison
  4. In the Dog House
  5. Sarah (yep, you get it back)
(I know that's only five, not six. Like I said, I'm still working on making blog friends!)

Now Sarah went and gave me another award:

over the top award

This one looks kind of fun so I'll run with it. The goal is to answer each question with only one word. Here it goes:
  1. Where is your cell phone? dresser
  2. Your hair? messy
  3. Your mother? librarian
  4. Your father? engineer
  5. Your favorite food? chocolate
  6. Your dream last night? forgotten
  7. Your favorite drink? strong [Not really, that just sounded too good to pass up.]
  8. Your dream/goal? job
  9. What room are you in? bonus
  10. Your hobby? blogging!
  11. Your fear? job
  12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? working
  13. Where were you last night? sleeping
  14. Something that you aren’t? programmer
  15. Muffins? yes!
  16. Wish list item? job
  17. Where did you grow up? California
  18. Last thing you did? breakfast
  19. What are you wearing? headband
  20. Your TV? big
  21. Your pets? sleeping
  22. Friends? close
  23. Your life? blessed
  24. Your mood? anticipating
  25. Missing someone? no
  26. Vehicle? 1991
  27. Something you’re not wearing? socks
  28. Your favorite store? Trader Joe's (should count as one word!)
  29. Your favorite color? green
  30. When was the last time you laughed? yesterday
  31. Last time you cried? Thursday
  32. Your best friend? husband
  33. One place that I go to over and over? school
  34. One person who emails me regularly? mom
  35. Favorite place to eat? restaurant
I'll pass this one on to the people listed above, or anyone else who'd like to put it on their blog and try it. Have fun!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Goin' Toading

My computer connected normally today (vs. yesterday)—yeah! Now I can get to work.

One of my husband's and my favorite activities here in North Carolina is what we call "goin' toading." On summer evenings the toads come out (they're Fowler's toads, my naturalist husband tells me) and when we take our dog for walks we look for them. We've even made up a song for our outings (sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell"):

A-toading we will go,
A-toading we will go,
High-ho the merry-o,
A-toading we will go.

In our travels around the neighborhood we've identified three categories of toads. We call them mini-toads, mid-toads, and mega-toads. Descriptive, huh? My favorites are the mini-toads. They're the hoppiest and hardest to catch sometimes but they're the ones I usually go for. I'll also pick up mid-toads but I let my husband pick up the mega-toads if he's so inclined. Our dog just likes to try and pounce on whatever she sees. (I'm happy to report she has pretty awful pouncing aim and has never actually caught a toad that I know of.) Most of the toads we see are mini or mid; we've only seen a few mega-toads this summer. We also occasionally see nano-toads; they're really tiny and pretty much impossible to catch. When we catch a toad we just say hello to it, then we put it back where we found it so it can get back to catching its dinner.

Here's a picture of a mini-toad we found by our house one evening:

Isn't he cute?

Here's a picture of a mid-toad—this one has more stripes than others but he's still a Fowler's toad.

Last but not least, here's our resident mega-toad:


This particular mega-toad is a real character. He (or it could be she) is always out in front of the same house at the same time almost every night. We've named him Megs (short for mega-toad; yep, original, I know). It took several tries to get a picture of him; I'd see him when I took the dog for her walk then my husband and I would go look for him to take his picture after he got home from work. When we got there after 10 PM, though, Megs would be gone. We finally figured out that I usually see him before 9:30 and he must go to bed (i.e. retire to the bushes) by 10:00. One evening when my husband was off and could come with me for our walk we went out at 9:00 to look for him and there he was, right in his regular spot. My husband even got an action shot of him hunting down a bug:

Right after hubby took the picture Megs caught the bug and ate it. Unfortunately, that happened too quickly to capture on film (or digital camera, in this case).

Happy Toading!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Computer Problems


I was planning on having such a productive day today: Updating this blog, posting to another one, cleaning up the rest of my e-mail, maybe even doing some vacuuming and ironing for once. Instead, I dealt with computer problems for the majority of the day.

Yesterday I spent nine hours logged into a virtual private network (VPN), downloading files from one server to another. (I'll talk about why I did that in another post someday.) Everything seemed to go fine; the application I was using to download the files crashed every so often and I had to keep restarting it but the person I was working with said that was to be expected. The VPN was stable and never dropped, though, which was a huge plus. The download still hadn't finished by 11:00 at night so I figured I'd let it run some more today and hopefully it would finish then. (Unfortunately the download is blind for me: I can see how much is downloaded to the target server but I can't see how much of the total it's done or how much it has to go. The application is definitely lacking in the feedback area, if you ask me!)

This morning I went to the vet to pick up a refill of some medicine for my cat, then I came home and thought I'd get some work done on the computer. I turned on my laptop that I use for everything these days, it booted normally, and I waited for the network to connect for Internet access... but it never did. I figured our Internet provider may have reset things on their server as they sometimes do so I reboot the modem and the router, then reboot the computer; still no connection. We also have a desktop computer so I turned that on to see if the Internet worked there; it did so that proved it wasn't a problem with the ISP. I attempted to connect the laptop directly to the modem (bypassing the router); still no connection. After trying a few other things I narrowed it down to being a problem somewhere in the laptop itself: It was as if there was some switch in there telling the network adapters (wireless and LAN) not to turn on. I'm no system administrator (and don't want to be!) but whenever these things happen I learn more about the inner workings of computers than I ever wanted to know. Using the working Internet on the desktop here are some of the rabbit trails I followed today:
  • tunnel adapters
  • TCP/IPv6
  • ipconfig
  • netsh
  • BIOS
(I'm guessing most of you reading this don't know what most if not all of those things are. If so don't worry, count your blessings and hope you never need to know.)

After SEVEN HOURS of failing to fix the problem (and becoming pretty frustrated and agitated with the thought of having to take my computer to a repair place and leave it for a few days) I finally read a post in a forum that happened to talk about a setting in the BIOS... Once I found the BIOS in my Windows Vista computer I found the setting, which was indeed turned off (disabled). I turned it on (enabled) and to my total surprise the network connected and I had Internet access—just as I was about to give up and take it to the repair place. So what was that setting in the BIOS? "Internal Network Adapter Boot" (or something like that). Apparently Windows Vista (which is on my laptop) has a BIOS setting that has to be enabled for the network adapters to "turn on" during the boot process; if that setting is disabled the computer boots up without them and the network can't connect. The fact that Windows still recognized the adapters and said they were enabled didn't help things during my problem-solving endeavor.

I have no idea how that setting got turned off but given the variables I'm working with I suspect it has something to do with the VPN and the process surrounding downloading those files. (Which I'm continuing to do as I write this, in fact, and it still isn't finished... It's V E R Y slow over the VPN.) And I'm still having problems: After we got back from dinner (I decided I needed to go out to dinner after all this) I turned on the laptop and the network connected but not the Internet. Thankfully rebooting the modem and router worked this time and it connected again.

At this point I'm afraid to see what tomorrow might bring. Maybe I should rethink my career path and become a system administrator after all!

Friday, August 7, 2009

More Critters

The other night we found a new critter on the suet feeder:

Who, me?

We always suspected there were flying squirrels around but hadn't seen any yet. This one was amazingly unskittish: When my husband went outside to get better pictures the critter jumped off the feeder onto the tree but then he just hung there, letting us get pretty close to get a good look at him.

I blend in pretty well, don't I?

Coming home from a walk one evening we found this little critter on our front porch:

Here I am posing on a leaf...

He stuck around (literally) for quite a while, too.

Last but not least, one more critter picture I can't resist:

Our dog pulling stuffing out of her latest chew toy, in this case a teddy bear we got for her at a thrift store. She makes a hole, pulls out the stuffing, spits it out, then goes back in for more. Do all dogs act like this? I'm not sure if her behavior here is normal or yet another of her lovely quirks.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


On Monday I took my final exam for the summer course I've been taking—I am SOOOOOOO glad to be done with that course. Suffice it to say it wasn't my favorite class. Thankfully it was only a 5-week summer course (a semester's worth of work in that time, though); if it had been any longer I seriously would have considered dropping it rather than just sticking it out. I didn't waste any time and made a special trip to the school bookstore yesterday to sell back the book. I got back about half of what I paid for it, which I figure is that much more than if I kept the book and used it as a paperweight (which is about all it would have been good for as far as I'm concerned). I don't know my final grade in the class yet but as long as I didn't completely bomb the final exam I think I did OK. The important thing is it's done.

Now I have about two weeks until fall semester starts and I'm hoping to make the most of it. I really need to clean the house from top to bottom; that should be first on my list. I'm not even going to pretend it is, though, just that I'll hopefully be motivated enough to get it done before classes start. I also want to get through e-mail I've been letting sit and catch up on blogging. I know it's hard to believe but I actually do have a few more topics in mind than just my dog's health. (Though I admit that's been pretty consuming as of late.) Last but not least I'd like to do some cooking and baking while I have time. While I'm in school I try to make things with lots of leftovers so they're easy to warm up in the microwave when I get home late. It'll be nice to eat some non-leftovers for a change.

A quick note about the dog for those of you following along with her. She's still not completely well and getting her to eat is still a daily struggle; sometimes it's more of a game and other times it's more of a battle. For the past couple of days it seems like she's been drinking more again (she had been drinking a little less) and she didn't want to eat even when she saw me put her "special" food in her dish. Last night I resorted to chicken again; when I put that in her dish she gobbled it and her dog food right up so she was definitely hungry. She picked the chicken out of her dish at breakfast this morning so I'll try again at lunchtime. This afternoon she has an appointment with our regular vet for her annual shots so I'll see what they say about all this then. She's still on the antibiotic so it should be doing its thing. Leptospirosis may just be a very persistent disease.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Diagnosis

Our doggie's doctor from the vet school called this week to let us know they got the results back from the blood tests and they had a confirmed diagnosis: Our dog has leptospirosis! I mentioned before that they were testing for the disease just to rule it out so they were VERY surprised when the results came back positive for it. Apparently there are multiple strains of the disease (similar to the flu) and she tested positive for two of them, one of which was pretty high in her system. There is a vaccine for leptospirosis but it's not routinely given to dogs that I'm aware of, and like the flu it's hit or miss for the particular strains out there.

The treatment for leptospirosis is antibiotics. Since she was being tested for the disease they'd already put her on the appropriate antibiotic as a precaution (part of their protocol at the vet hospital) so that explains why she's been doing better this week—her body has started responding to the antibiotic.

Thanks to the positive diagnosis we didn't end up having to use the eye drops that I talked about before. That's a huge relief; we gave her the first few doses before they said we didn't need to anymore and let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've tried to give a dog eye drops twice a day. She takes her pills with cheese and thinks that's just fine, but eye drops, well, that's another story.

We're definitely relieved to have a diagnosis and the doctor felt very confident that that's what was causing her kidney problems and other symptoms (including not eating, according to what I've read about the disease). Now I'm just continuing to work on getting her to eat regularly again; my purpose in life these days seems to be getting the dog to eat. It's pretty ridiculous. Getting her to eat is all about marketing: She won't eat unless she has some of her "special food" (the gourmet stuff) in her dish with her regular food, but luckily it only takes a tiny bit of the special stuff so that's not too bad. However, she has to see me put it in her dish: If I just put her dish down she comes over to check it out, sniffs it and walks away. If I have her watch me put her food in the dish, though, then she'll sniff it, take a bite, and usually realize she's hungry after all and eat some. Like I said, it's ridiculous and all about marketing with this dog. I'm not sure who is being more manipulated at this point, me or her. And I KNOW she knows perfectly well what I'm saying when I show her the dish and say, "Eat!"

Monday, July 27, 2009

She Ate!

Of course I'm talking about our dog. As anyone who's been following along knows for the past several weeks we've been dealing with our sick pooch, culminating in our taking her to the NC State Veterinary Teaching Hospital last week. The best guess is it's something related to her kidneys, probably either an infection or hormone-related, and for nearly a month now she hasn't wanted to eat. I made her chicken and rice and did everything I could to get some nutrition in her but she still lost 7 pounds over a month. She'd been carrying a few extra pounds (she wasn't overweight—yet—but we didn't want her to gain anymore) so losing a few was ok, but she now has a perfect shape (according to the vet) and she shouldn't lose anymore.

Now I have some good news: She finally seems to be getting better. She's definitely drinking and going less so we're hoping the trend continues. She's a walking animal pharmacy now so that may have something to do with it; maybe the antibiotics and thyroid medicine she's on are making a difference!

Over the weekend I took our local vet's advice and got some different types of canned dog food to try and find something she might like. Most dogs like routine and don't mind eating the same thing everyday; our dog apparently likes variety. I started giving her small amounts of the canned food, then mixed it with some of her dry food, and she's been eating it; she still isn't eating what I'd call a full meal but it's a HUGE improvement compared to her not eating anything at all. Her favorite is the expensive gourmet stuff I got, of course, but so far if I mix a small amount of that with other food it's enough and she'll eat what's in her dish. Up until she got sick she ate 2 meals a day; now I've been giving her small amounts 3 or 4 times a day and that seems to be working. I'm pretty sure her digestive system shut down while she wasn't eating so eating small meals multiple times a day will help with that.

As silly as it sounds I'm also fairly sure our dog has to be retrained to eat. She's always been a creature of habit and routine (as most dogs are, I think) and when she doesn't do something for a while she tends to forget how to do it and has to relearn. Like sleeping through the night: In this case her going out every night was due to being sick but in the past she's sometimes gotten up for a few nights and then "forgotten" how to sleep through the night. We've then "reminded her" (usually by putting her in her crate) how it's done. Now when she didn't eat for so long I think she got used to not eating and lost interest; she wasn't even interested in treats or her bedtime biscuits (as we call them) that she gets every night. For the past 2 days she's been interested in her treats and biscuits again. Not having so much water in her system anymore is also probably helping get her appetite back. Last night we could definitely see a difference in her energy level now that she had some food in her stomach: She was playing with her toys (and my husband) much more energetically than she had recently. I'd already taken her for a walk before he got home so pooch was pretty pooped; after playing with him she excused herself and promptly fell asleep on the couch.

Today our precious pooch has managed to eat some breakfast and lunch, so when I get home from class tonight we'll shoot for some dinner. And tomorrow I'll be going back to the store to get some more of that gourmet dog food... If a little of that is all it takes to get her eating again then I'm all for it!