Friday, May 15, 2009

At Last! Comfortable Shoes!

For the past few years I have been wearing LL Bean Comfort Mocs. These are inexpensive, but quite comfortable, slip on shoes. Unfortunately this past year not only did LL Bean redesign their Comfort Mocs, but they also got rid of my favorite color - Purple Night. I held out for as long as I could, but my pair was wearing out so I finally broke down and bought a pair of the redesigned Mocs, in Coffee. I bought size 7.5, which is the size that I wore in the original Comfort Mocs. They fit okay in the heel, but were too tight in the toe box. Sigh. So I bought a pair in size 8. They were too loose in the heel, but still did not have enough room in the toe box - I don't like the feel of the shoe pressing down on my toe nail. Sigh. Two returns to LL Bean. The search continued. The search was complicated by the fact that I really wanted purple shoes.

In my quest I found a cute pair of purple suede Mary Janes at Lands End. They were in the girls section but I bought them anyway. They are cute, and pretty comfy, but not much arch support, and they definitely look like girl shoes. I also picked up several pairs of boiled wool Mary Janes at LL Bean (which they don't seem to be carrying anymore). Although not great for wearing all day long, they are pretty comfy and I figure I can wear them with my dresses and skirts. I tried a pair of purple Klogs that I found at Amazon but decided that they must have been designed for aliens because the contours of the shoes did not resemble the contours of my feet. I tried a pair of purple Hush Puppies that fit, but just didn't feel right on my feet. More returns.

The search continued and I finally abandoned the idea of finding purple shoes and just concentrated on finding comfy shoes. I don't know if it is my practical nature winning out over my vanity but I am of an age now where I prefer comfort to fashion and where I now find practical, well-made things more attractive than things that just look cool.

At last, it seems, the search is over. Last week I found The Walking Company. I discovered this place through the Concurring Opinions blog (a great blog on legal issues). It was just a throw away line in a blog written by a woman who seemed to have reached the same place that I had, at least with regard to shoes. I clicked on the link and started browsing their site. The first thing I liked was that you could browse not only by shoe type and brand, but by comfort level. I went for the ultimate comfort. The prices gave me a bit of a start but I told myself that if the quality and comfort match the price tag it is worth it. I finally settled on a pair of Dansko Calista shoes in Chestnut. They came this week. The only modification they required was a piece of moleskin in each heel. I have narrow and boney heels and unless there is enough padding in the heel of the shoe I will rub my foot raw.

Today is the first day that I have worn them to work and I am happy to say that they are living up to expectations. I like them so much that I ordered a pair of Dansko Suri in Cordovan.

Ah, happy feet!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In the Bag

Before I bought all this cool technology my typical load out for work consisted of my Baggallini bag (in purple), my lunch cooler and my knitting bag (a small custom color boat and tote from LL Bean.

When I got the Kindle I tucked it into my knitting bag. No big deal. The Kindle is small and light and didn’t take up much room. When I got the Dell Mini I tucked that (and the charging cord) in the knitting bag as well. That made it a wee bit heavier, and combined with the Kindle was starting to eat into the knitting project space. What to do.

Well, once again, my techie friend Terry came to my rescue. He pointed me to the Waterfield Designs web site where all manner of bags can be had for your cool techie toys.

First I bought a sleeve case and Vertigo bag for the Fujitsu Sytlistic. I haven’t used it much, yet, mostly because I haven’t had the occasion to. The Sytlistic lives under my coffee table or in my lap.

When I got the Dell Mini I purchased a sleeve case for that as well. At the same time I picked up a slip case and bag for the Kindle. I haven’t used the Kindle bag yet either, other than to store accessories in, but I am keeping the Kindle in the slip case rather than the cover that came with it. I like the Kindle cover that comes with it, but when I’m reading the Kindle I found that the cover got in the way, so I got the slip case instead.

Unfortunately, while these bags were great for toting the technology, none of these fine bags could replace my purse and knitting bag. The search continued. First I looked at knitting bags. They all featured lots of pockets, but none of them seemed to have a mesh pocket for my water bottle, an absolute must. I tried a Baggallini messenger bag. It had lots of pockets and it even had a mesh pocket, inside the main compartment, that I could just fit my water bottle into. It required a bit of surgery before I used it – they had magnetic clasps and I didn’t want those near my credit cards. I used it for a week or so and it worked…okay. But I really wanted something that was just a wee bit deeper front to back and not quite so long side to side (between the shoulder strap ends).

I was feeling pretty frustrated and discouraged. I dug through the closet stash of old bags from my college days, but nothing would work. Then I came across an old LL Bean bag from my grad school days. It was called the Traveler. It had some distinct possibilities but was somewhat the worse for wear. So I went back to the LL Bean site and found the Travel Touring Bag. It has sturdy construction, an ample mesh pocket on the outside for my water bottle; a front pocket with flap that can hold the stuff from my purse; an inside zipper pocket that holds the Dell Mini with its charging cord; adequate room in the main compartment for my knitting; and a pocket on the back that holds my Kindle and iPod.

It still is not a perfect solution. Now I have the problem of what to do when I just need a purse. Sometimes I pull out the old Baggallini purse and stuff what I need in it, sometimes I just grab my wallet and cell phone and stuff it into one of my LL Bean custom boat and totes that I use as knitting bags. But really, some kind of modular system would be ideal, where I could detach the purse portion, or the technology portion or the knitting portion but I have yet to see that kind of design approach being applied to bags. We tend to approach bags from the single use perspective. Hmm, I know a woman who used to design bags for a living, and she usually comes to Bead and Button, maybe I’ll have a little chat with her this year…

Another Computer ?!?

The last bit of technology that I've acquired recently is a Dell Mini. Yes, I know, in a previous post I said I didn't really like it, and I didn't like it as a design computer. The Fujitsu Stylistic is far superior for that use. But the Dell Mini does have a place - in my bag.

The main reason I bought it was to have a small portable computer that would be easier to lug around than your typical laptop, especially when I go to the Bead and Button show in Milwaukee. You see, for the last couple of years I have been lugging an older Dell laptop to Bead and Button so my sister Virginia would have a way of staying on top of the email to the bead store. But after seeing the Dell Mini and then looking at the old laptop, well, who can blame me for wanting the smaller package that could still do everything, and in fact do a whole lot more.

I went to my techie friend Terry for help picking one out. We went to the Outlet page at Dell and started looking through the list of available models. He convinced me that I should get one that had the expansion slot for the air card so I could use a cellular network if there was no WiFi or Ethernet connection available (it didn't really take much convincing on his part). It didn't take us long to find what we were looking for. A Dell Mini 9 (Terry said that the screen on the 9 is superior to the one on the 10) with Windows XP, the air card expansion slot (he had a card he could sell me) and BlueTooth. No built-in camera, but I don't care. A 16 gig hard drive. Only 1 gig of RAM, but he advised me to upgrade that to 2, which was easy enough.

I've had the Dell Mini for a little over a month now, and I've been pretty happy with it. I use the air card a lot, every day at work, in fact. I even used it in the car one time when we were going into town to make sure that the local Lowes would have what we needed. I like the size and the fact that the drive is solid state. The screen size doesn't bother me and the resolution and color are great, but the key board does take some getting used to, especially the location of the single quote/double quote key. On a normal size keyboard that key is just to the left of the Enter key. Yeah, I keep hitting enter when I use contractions. I guess I could stop using contractions...

The sim card that I use to connect to the cellular network pops out from its little slot easily and I can put it in the USB connecter that it came with and use it on my Fujitsu as well. We'll see how my sister likes it in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

To Boldly Go...


Yesterday Bruce and I went to see the new Star Trek movie. It's been a long time since we've been to the movies but we're both Trek fans and the review in the NY Times was favorable, so we went. I'm happy to say that we enjoyed the film.

First, the casting was superb. Chris Pine captures the brashness of Kirk while Zachary Quinto captures Spock's conflicted nature. Their initial confrontations form a nice foundation for their future deep friendship. Karl Urban does a splendid job as a young McCoy - I've liked him ever since I saw him on Hercules and Xena. Zoe Saldana as a super-sexy super-smart Uhuru and Simon Pegg as the irreverent Scotty round out the main crew. John Cho does a nice job as Sulu and Anton Yelchin is fine as Chechov, although he seemed awfully young and why was he so smart?

I wasn't too crazy about the Romulans, but they were renegades so I could overlook the tattoos. I still don't know what to make of their ship.Yeah, it was big and scary and kind of cool but it really didn't make sense to me as a functioning spaceship. It was a mining ship, which I guess would account for the drill. But Red Matter? Seriously? Couldn't they have come up with something better?

I liked Leonard Nimoy showing up as Spock from the future and his ship was very cool. It reminded me of the Vulcan ship from Enterprise. The time travel angle creating an alternate future was a clever idea. It allowed the writers to pay homage to the original series without becoming locked in by the existing canon. I am not, however, a big fan of this technique as a plot device.

Ben Cross does a nice turn as Spock's father Sarek. I especially liked the scene between Sarek and the young Spock when Sarek explains that Vulcans are actually deeply emotional, but that they cultivate logic so that they are not ruled by their emotions. This was something I had twigged to when I was watching the original show, leading me to use Spock as one of my early role models.

Unfortunately Winona Ryder was not very memorable as Spock's mother Amanda. And what was the deal on the costumes for the female Vulcans?

But these criticisms are really just quibbles. Overall, a very good movie, and a worthy addition to the franchise. It might even give it a new lease on life. I especially liked the way the movie ended - with on updated version of the opening of the original show complete with a big E beauty pass and soaring original sound track, but with Leonard Nimoy doing the voice-over narration.

Sharp-eyed viewers will spot Paul McGillion (Dr. Carson Beckett of Stargate: Atlantis) in the scene where everyone is getting ship assignments.

My only other WTF moments: building a starship on Earth? Spock and Uhuru? A green Orion girl in Star Fleet?

And what about Nurse Chapel? Of course Majel was the computer voice. What will they do now that she is gone?

Oh, yeah, and where was Yoeman Rand?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Live Performances, Over Amplification, and Hearing Loss

This past St. Patrick's Day, Bruce and I went to see Celtic Woman up in Baltimore. Other live performances that we have seen lately are Cats, in Charlottesville, and Cirque du Soleil, also in Charlottesville. Before that, we had been going to the Opera in Philadelphia.

In our minds, one of the reasons to go to a live performance is to hear the artists without the mediation of electronics. As any audiophile can tell you, there is a loss in sound quality when you convert between analog and digital. Unfortunately, except for the Opera, too many performers are relying upon electronics in their performances. The primary form of this electronic assistance is amplification. This amplification generally leads to two basic problems - the performance is too loud, and the different instruments (including voice) are not well-balanced. So at Cats, for example, the accompaniment tended to overpower the singing. At Celtic Woman they had both problems. The performance was too loud for the space (the Hippodrome) and the different instruments were not always well-balanced.

This is a very disappointing situation to encounter. Why don't they have competent sound engineers help them set up the sound system for the space? And why do they think that cranking up the volume is going to give us a better experience? Don't they realize that too much amplification just results in distortion? Here you have performers with lovely voices, but we can't appreciate them because they are over-amplified. This is a disservice to both the performers and the audience. It makes me not want to go to live performances, which is a shame.

I just wish that the people responsible for setting up the sound systems would actually go sit in the theater and listen and tailor the sound to the space. I'm not even sure how much amplification you need in these theaters. They were designed, after all, to amplify the acoustic energy naturally.

Sound systems cranked up too loud are also why I don't like going to movie theaters anymore (well, that and the sticky floors). I've also noticed a tendency for the soundtrack to overwhelm the dialogue, another balance issue. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, when you were watching a movie on DVD, you could control the sound track separately from the dialogue?

And while we are on the topic of noise, why do some restaurants play their sound systems so loud? Before the show we had dinner at Oliver's up in Baltimore, a recently opened Brew Pub. It was a nice place, good food, reasonable prices, and great beer, but it was too noisy. They had the stereo cranked up so loud that you couldn't hear each other talk unless you shouted. How does that make your dinner an enjoyable occasion? It's also hard on the wait-staff, because they have a hard time hearing us and we have a hard time hearing them. So, not only is the pub making their jobs harder, but it is also probably causing permanent hearing damage.

It just doesn't make sense to me.

A Computer You Can Curl Up With

The next bit of new technology that I have acquired is a Fujitsu Stylistic Tablet PC. This acquisition was paid for by my Federal Tax Refund - hey just doing my part to stimulate the global economy. What I was looking for was a design computer that I could load my sewing, knitting and weaving design software on that was portable and that I could curl up on the daybed with. I tried a Dell Mini, compliments of Terry, but didn't like the keyboard, or the small size. I just couldn't curl up with it. So then Terry loaned me his old Fujitsu Stylistic and I was hooked.

It's like a heavy clipboard. It's about an inch thick, weighs about 4 pounds, and the display is not quite the size of a sheet of paper. You can use it in portrait or landscape mode and it has a special pen for input. It has a little keyboard screen that slides off side when you're not using it. There are three modes of entry. You can hunt and peck on a miniature keyboard - tedious and slow; you can write in little boxes a letter at a time - perfect for the Times crossword; or you can write on a line as if you were writing on a piece of paper. As you fill up the line, more magically appear. This latter method proved to be a lot faster than I expected, and the hand-writing recognition rocks.

It comes with every connection device you can imagine: BlueTooth, WiFi, Ethernet, even a lowly phone modem and two USB ports. It doesn't have an internal CD/DVD drive, but you can plug one in easily enough to load software, which is what I did. I also transferred over all of the pdf files that I have collected of knitting and beading patterns, and the weaving articles that I have found.

Now when I come home, I curl up with my Fujitsu on the daybed. It has become the computer that I use the most when I'm at home. I leave it on all the time and it sits under the coffee table on a magazine box, always close at hand. I find that I spend a lot more time on the computer now reading my email, the blogs that I've subscribed to, and cruising Facebook and Ravelry. I haven't spent much time with my design software, but I am getting myself more organized. This past weekend I started cataloging my bead stash - so much easier to do now that I can take the computer to the beads rather than bringing the beads to the computer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

iPod Touches Me

Many years ago I bought an Apple Newton. This was another technology turn-on from my techie friend Terry. I even had a Newton holster. I wore it low-slung on my hip. I took notes on it and kept a calendar on it. At some point I abandoned it.

Last fall my techie friend Terry introduced me to the iPod Touch. It fit my hand so well, it was so intuitive to use, the touch screen was wonderful, there were all those cool apps, and it had built in WiFi. Oh, be still my techie heart! I thought about it for a while, and then bought one for myself for Christmas. It goes with me everywhere.

When I first got it I resisted the urge to over-indulge in apps. I picked up a few essentials, the Amazon app (free), the Wikiamo app (free), GroceryIQ, Spore (just couldn't resist), Solitaire. Mostly I used it to check my email without having to turn on my big computer and to look up things on imdb when we were watching movies and wanted to know who that actor was.

Well, since then, my app count has risen considerably. I have a number of apps for learning Japanese - we get Japanese customers in the booth at Bead & Button. I have apps for learning French. I have a few more games. I have an HP 42C app. I have knitting apps. I have a table of elements app, a conversions app, an app that will calculate how many grams/mole of a substance, a map of the moon app that shows all the Apollo landings. I have an app that keeps track of all the books that I might like to read one day (Next Read). I have the Facebook app and now I have the Kindle app.

I resisted getting any kind of e-reader for the iPod because I already had the Kindle, and the screen is just so small, but when the Kindle app came out I had to give it a try. It is very cool. The other night we were going out to dinner, so I downloaded one of my Kindle books to the iPod and tucked the iPod into my coat pocket. While we were waiting for our table I pulled out the iPod and started reading. Of course the screen is great. Color! And the page turn is an intuitive finger swipe. When I picked the Kindle up the next day and opened up the same book it synced to the spot I was reading on the iPod. Very nice.

Recently, one of my nieces posted a note on Facebook telling her friends to shuffle the songs on their iPods and then write out the first line from each of the next 20 or 30 songs. I had to chuckle at that note, you can put music on these? Wow, what a concept, and here I was thinking it was just a really cool little computer. I have actually bought a couple of albums for my iPod, but I'm still warming up to that aspect of the technology. Partly it is because I really don't like listening to music with headphones or ear buds, and partly it is because you don't get the liner notes if you don't buy the CD. I have recently invested in a high end small speaker for my iPod (a Soundwave), although it hasn't gotten much use yet.

I am going to be taking a trip in a couple of weeks that involves four days of driving. In the past I've taken a box of CDs, but maybe this time I'll just load some stuff on my iPod.