Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bad tech mojo

This is the final installment in the sorry story of my attempt to purchase a hulking new desktop PC (aka: The Hulk), to help me with my budding photography business.

If you're new to the Ranty Pants world, you may want to check out this post first and then this post, just to get up to date. Or, not. It was bad enough to go through this technology hell, without having to read about it.

Sooo... leading off from waiting for the replacement graphics card; let me make this as painless as possible for you.

It arrived on time.


It made no difference.

(Sorry, Mum. Some things just call for expletives.)

So, I called HP back again. They made the genius assessment that it wasn't the graphics card that was faulty (ahem) and that the PC had to be returned. No kidding. BUT... I bought it from Amazon.com so it was out of their hands.

On to Amazon.com. They have a very nice user interface for establishing eligibility of your order for refund/replacement and to help you instantly request a return. Thanks, Amazon. Used it and got an instant confirmation that they would be picking up the defective desktop the next day. However the email mentioned nothing about the replacement PC.

So onto Amazon Live Chat support. Very nice customer service there, by the way, Amazon scoring 10/10 so far. Lady was very apologetic, said that she couldn't see the replacement order in the system and would place it for me there and then while I waited AND would even have it shipped overnight. Wow. Seriously? Without me asking? Knock me down dead with a feather!

I was a bit worried, however, that there would be a duplicate order. She assured me there would not be. I copied the contents of my chat panel into a Word doc and saved it, trusting soul that I am.

This was yesterday. And so we're at today.

The PC arrived first thing this morning by FedEx. (If it was possible for Amazon to get an 11/10, they would have it.) Kewl beans. Then the UPS truck arrived in the afternoon to pick up the return. More beans. Except... they also had a replacement desktop to deliver. Umm... HELLO!? Am I not psychic? (Alright, maybe the word I was looking for was psychotic.) Of course, I turned that one away, pointing to the newly delivered desktop sitting just feet away. Once you sign for those things, you're responsible for returning them and I don't have time to go through all this again.

I'm hoping (praying) that there will not be another story to tell about how I got charged twice or something for these orders.

Excited, however, I decide to spend my lunch hooking up the *new* new Hulk to the monitor. Big smiles. Lots of expectations. Turn it on and... NOTHING. That's right. Not a sausage. Still no picture. WTF!? Monitor still reads "No Signal" (although, again, having the right inputs and working fine with my laptop.)

At this point I could only conclude that either:

  1. HP REALLY DOES suck and is shipping one dud desktop after another (not likely, no matter how much I hate them right now.)
  2. OR it's the monitor that is somehow not compatible, despite having all the right specs on paper. 
Since the simplest explanation is usually the best, I went with two and immediately moved into action. Obviously, I needed to suck it up and buy a new monitor. Spend $200 to take advantage $800 and all that. (Yeah, I know, GULP.) I had a return for Fry's electronics and decided to bite the bullet that lunchtime, by a new damn monitor and end this whole sorry story then and there.

With purpose and fast feet (because, you know, this is my lunch time and I DO HAVE a job other than being my own tech support department) I waltzed into Fry's and all-but launch myself at the salesman. 

"I need a good quality monitor for under $200; the best specs at that price, no preference on brand, and I need to get out of here as soon as possible," I say. 

I mean, am I NOT the dream customer or what? I have announced my immediate intention to buy, I've shared my goals and my price limit, all the guy has to do is find it and put it in my cart. If I could get prospects like this every day at work, I would HAVE my own tech support department.

Initially the sales guy was helpful, leading me to a wall of monitors of dizzying proportions and immediately up-selling me to an LED LCD from a plain-ole LCD. He recommended one in particular, showed me it in action on my actual desktop, and then set off to grab it from inventory. In the meantime, I found another monitor, same specs, for $20 less. So, when I came back I asked him why I he hadn't recommended the cheaper one. He was apparently grateful for my research because the initial one wasn't in stock. So off he went again to check on the cheaper one. Not in stock. So I agreed to go up $40 in price. Not in stock. Then I went to an inferior brand. Not in stock. Repeat.

Five displayed monitors later and I had single-handedly established that they did not have an LED monitor under $200 in stock. Nuttin' 

Of course, I was now PISSED. And if you've ever seen me really pissed, it's not pretty. It doesn't happen very often, funnily enough - despite being passionate and feisty, I rarely lose my temper - but when it happens it is an unstoppable tornado of wrath and destruction. In this instance, I was dealing with more than a week of technology issues, almost $1,000 spent and more in the works, time out of my day(s), my life, and still no benefit. I just wanted it to be over and I had SO pinned my hopes on grabbing a simple thing like a monitor and heading home to start up my new computer, putting this all behind me.

And so there were choice words to the hapless salesman and a stop by the Manager on the way out to let them know just what kind of establishment they were running. As I walked through the exit, a representative said "Thank you! Have a nice day!" and I stopped in my tracks, turned heel and gave him an icy "YOU MUST BE KIDDING!" stare. If looks could kill, I'd be in jail for second degree murder right now. Ahem.

On the way home, stewing about my lost hour, I saw the Target sign and did an impromptu, quick u-turn. TARGET! Why didn't I think of that!? Target has everything, right? I would stop at Target, find my monitor at a decent price and turn this day around. Yes sireee. Things were looking up.

Again, run into Target with same sense of purpose and determination only to find that.... Target sells precisely 3 different monitor models, none larger than 20" and all of which are inferior brands.

STRIKE 2. (Or at this point, maybe we should just call it game over.)

Now I was forced to abandon my monitor search, since I had to get back to my desk.

Sitting at my desk in my office, however, I happened to look up and see the Dell LCD TV that my mother bought me several years ago. On impulse, I got up and looked behind it to see what kinds of inputs it had. Low and behold it had a DVI socket which meant... you guessed it... it should work with the desktop!

My heart raced. Would THIS WORK? Would this be the answer to my problems?

And then I realized: I don't have a DVI cable. 

FUUUUUUCK! (Again, sorry Mum and to anyone else who is offended. No other word had the gravitas.)

Fortunately, Hubby came to my rescue here, likely because he foresaw some kind of implosion this evening if I couldn't get this whole situation put to bed. He went to Best Buy and brought home the appropriate cable. My little White Knight.

This evening, after we put Daisy to bed, we unhooked the LCD TV from my office, hooked the desktop to it with the new DVI cable and... HEY PRESTO, there was the start-up screen.

Now, if you've been following along from the beginning, a very sad irony may already have occurred to you. If not, let me spell it out for you clearly:
  1. This likely means that the first desktop was not faulty.
  2. So all this time I had another usable "monitor"sitting upstairs in my office...
  3. ... and a perfectly operational new desktop PC sitting idle on my dining room table for a week.
Which means all of this was for nothing. All my time, all the Live Chats, the phone calls, the cable switcheroo, the replacement parts, the returns, the duplicate replacement orders... all unneeded.

I ordered a new monitor anyway, since the LCD TV is only 17" and I like to have it in my office as a TV. 

And how is The Hulk after all this build up? So far meeting expectations. Instantaneous start-up and connection to the internet, fast loading of my two most important programs, and a lovely keyboard that feels good under my fingers.

For now, the drama is behind me. It made good blog posts but that's just about all that was good about it.

Now off to have that third glass of wine.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Google Stats bring out the inner geek in me

I may be creative at heart but I also harbor an inner geek. Which makes me just LOVE looking at surveys and reports. (Not the type with too many numbers, of course. Numbers = STRESS INDUCING = BAD.)

So, aaaaanyway... loving the Blogger Stats feature for my blog, especially since nobody (*hint-hint*) ever comments on my posts any more. (Elena, this does not apply to you. Thanks buddy! Everyone else - SHAME ON YOU!)

Since I am a "featured blogger" on The Skinny Scoop this week, I was interested to see how my stats have changed so far. The short answer is that they haven't (yet?) but then it is only Monday so maybe my expectations are slightly high?

What I did find was this awesome run-down of Google Search terms used that generated hits to my page:

Search Keywords
ms ranty pants
tucker for target
wedding giveaway
buttocks relegated from shallow pants
eilat teens
haggin oaks park
haggin oaks train sacramento
list of things i love
memories by michelle carter mcdaid
miss ranty pants blog
their own bad play, we play together, not pants

Of course, there are the usual suspects but I had to laugh at "tucker for target," "buttocks relegated from shallow pants," and "their own bad play..." All of which get a big HUH!? from yours truly. Totally random. Do I really talk about target and asses that much? Or at all?

In other news, if you've been following my posts about "The Hulk", I should report briefly that:
  1. The replacement graphics card did not fix the issue. Fortunately, it was not the 46,000 step process I feared. 3 screws and a pop-out, pop-in. Still broke.
  2. HP Support still sucks.
  3. Amazon.com rocks - they're sending out "The Hulk v.2." overnight, so I should have it tomorrow and ALL BEFORE they send for a pick-up of "The Hulk v.1" Of course, they do have my credit card number so if I'm telling big fibs and trying to land a second PC for free, they will just charge me again. But it's the service that counts. Overnight! Yay! Maybe my PC luck is changing? (PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Update on the Hulk

For those of you who have been following my harrowing ordeal with The Hulk, I thought I would provide a brief update: THE HULK IS BROKE.

That's right. The damn thing won't display a pinprick on a monitor. $900, out of the box, nothing.

Oh, and HP SUCKS.

I am currently waiting for a *new* (not that the old one was even old) graphics card to arrive. The man in India said it would take 3-5 days, which is just BEYOND frustrating, because that means that, although I paid for the computer and had it rush-shipped to me, it is essentially sitting useless on my dining table for at least a week.

Money gone from my account without any benefit makes me MAD.

Then, when said graphics card arrives, I have to remove the old one myself and put the new one in, which has all kinds of potential for Ranty Pants tantrums. However, if the damn thing works after that, I'm sure I'll forget it pretty fast.


Of course, we don't actually KNOW it's the graphics card because, you know, we can't get the PC to display anything on the screen to even run any diagnostics. For all we know, the whole CPU could be a pile of junk. In which case, I'm told, I have to take it to a HP certified technician for repair.

HOLD ON. I paid $900 for a NEW computer, not a refurbished one. And I paid to have it now. Not 3 weeks from now.

There is going to be one big RantyPanty tantrum if it goes that far because I'm going to want a whole new unit. Even if it means I have to hold Carly Fiorina hostage for her blackberry, just so I can hunt down the decision maker at HP who can make it happen. (Of course, there is an added benefit here - it would get her off the airwaves, so maybe I'd make it drag out a bit.)

Suffice to say, we all praying it's the graphics card.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Things I dislike INTENSELY about the way Americans drive

This post has been coming on for a while. However my frustration is at fever pitch and so it's time to vent on this here bloggie. After all, I AM Ms. RANTY Pants.

  1. Lanes are pick-and-choose. Fast lane? Slow lane? What? Noooo, I'll just poodle along in the fast lane at 10 miles an hour under the speed limit because, ya know, I just like it over here. Need to overtake? Oh, there's supposed to be a specific lane for that? I thought they were ALL up for grabs.
  2. Stopping distance is for Grannies. Really? I need extra space to stop at 70mph? Hmmm... but that would mean I can't read your bumper sticker and I'm awfully bored just driving along here... And why is the guy behind me flashing me and giving me the finger? He was at least twenty feet from the car in front of him when I jumped in between them. Asshole!
  3. Indicating takes too much time. I mean, why would anyone else need to know where I'm going? Once I'm there, they'll know, right? Plus, if I indicate, that just tells the other guy to close up the space I was moving into, just to be a prick.
  4. Each driver is the only one on the road. The problem is I'm looking for this street address and it's really hard to see. So, of course,  I have to slow down enough to read the numbers. WAIT! Break! Is that it? I'll just swerve in a little to see. Nope, wrong one. Swerve back out and continue on for another block. What? Huh? Why is that guy behind me honking his horn? Idiot! He shouldn't drive so close.
  5. Bends in the road are SCARY! Of course I have to slow down to 5mph to turn the wheel, I mean, it's hard with one hand. If I use two hands I have to put down my cell phone. Oh,I'm supposed to use one of those bluetooth thingies? Damn Nanny state, I'll show them!
  6. Consistent speed hurts my ankle. Why is it important that I keep a consistent speed, especially when it means I have to moderate the pressure on the gas pedal? That really tires out my ankle! Then there's the fact that I'm deep in thought here. Sometimes my mind wanders; I'm a busy person, always multi-tasking, you can't ask me to focus on driving exclusively. That's just unfair. Anyway, isn't that what the break pedal is for? If I just go balls-out for a while, break and then repeat, doesn't my speed average-out at the end of the day?
  7. Missing a turn or freeway exit is justification for extreme measures. Hey, I'm sorry that I crossed four lanes in rapid succession and at 80mph, almost causing you to swerve and hit a 26ft truck, but I was about to miss my freeway exit but you can't reasonably expect me to drive to the next one and turn around.
  8. "Have a great day!" does not translate to the road. I may be all kinds of fake-nice to you when I'm behind the counter at Starbucks but that's because they pay me to be. (Plus, hello! FAKE!) But when you go out of your way to let me out of a parking spot, or give way on a busy street so I can pass, I see no need to pretend. Raise my hand in thank-you what? You need a gold star? Man, you need a shrink for that.
Which is not to say I'm a perfect driver - far from it - and I have found myself doing some of these things myself since I moved out here 15 years ago. However, it's a kill or be killed kind of reaction for me. Defensive driving is a must in this country and the only way to mount a good defense is to match the offense head-to-head. If given the opportunity to drive a different, more civilized way, however, I would.

I would also say that America is not alone in having it's share of crazy drivers. I've traveled and I've been in terrible Turkish Taxis, Balls-Out Belizian Buses, and Kill-me-now Kenyan Cars. But the reality is that everyone seems to be playing by the same rules in those countries and they are almost always paying attention. It's the erraticness, cluelessness, selfishness and unpredictability of the average American driver that blows my mind and sends my blood pressure through the roof.

Anyway, done with my soapbox now. Feeling a tad better. Thanks.

The Hulk took up a bulk of my time

As you know (or should, if you've been paying attention), I bought a big ole hulking (ergo "Hulk") desktop PC this past weekend.

I bought it online and was soooooooooooper excited for it to arrive via my free Amazon Prime 2 Day Shipping, yesterday. I had visions of plugging this lightening-fast beast into the monitor, switching it on, installing my software at a rate so fast I would barely have the opportunity to blink, and then be able to get back to editing all those photos I took and that are just sitting dormant right now. (Sorry friends who are waiting!)

Um, yeah, right. NOT!

The Hulk arrived on time (yay for Amazon - never lets me down) and switched on but.... wouldn't connect to my monitor."No Signal" greeted me all evening which basically meant I could do nothing. Of all the steps I expected to send my evening sideways, this was not it.

Checked the computer specs; yup, VGA monitors work with supplied adapter. Started, re-started, unplugged, re-plugged... then moved onto the dreaded customer "support" via online chat.

60 minutes later and Anil from India had offered the mind-bogglingly technical advice of:
  • Switch on and off both computer and monitor
  • Try a different cable
  • Ship a different adapter
Yes, it took a whole hour to get through that. (Please don't ask me why/how, I might just cry.)

In the meantime (as in, while I was waiting for hapless Anil to scroll through his on-screen script), I Googled the different kinds of video connectors and educated myself on HDMI vs. DVI (I-D-A) vs. VGA. (Remember: I've used a laptop exclusively for 7-10 years. Monitors are a mystery to me.)

BTW, poor customer service is exactly why my mind is awash in random information I have self-researched and why I am a jack of all trades and master of none. 

So, in short, I have a DVI graphics card, a HDMI or DVI-I connector on the back of my CPU and a VGA monitor. The DVI to VGA adapter SHOULD make the connection but it's not. It could be the adapter, it could be the VGA cable (wihich is an after-market product.) Hence, I need to buy either a VGA-HDMI or VGA-DVI cable today. And if all that fails, I'm going to throw my hands up in the air and fork out the $250 or so to buy a monitor with a DVI and/or HDMI port.

By the way, I have NOTHING against Indians. Some of my best friends were and are Indians. It really had no bearing on the end result that Anil was Indian, per se. What bothers me is that American companies ship their customer service out to India for cheap labor, provide minimal training, and essentially turn those poor folk into robots who can do nothing more than trouble-shoot via a computerized decision-tree. If Anil was Indian, understood computers, was well trained, and was using his own expertise to solve my problem, I would have liked him just fine.

More later... after I've purchased cables.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How to become a famous blogger

Next week I am going to be a featured blogger on "The Skinny Scoop" a website devoted to helping blogging moms poll other moms about topics from provocative to mundane.

I am suddenly filled with a sense of panic and trepidation. I would love to build my readership and so I feel some pressure to be extra vivacious and interesting this week (I say only "extra" because I already consider myself to be normal amounts of vivacious and interesting... and modest.)

The thing is, I don't want the last five posts my new readers (should there be any) peruse, to be about well... I don't know, what do I usually post here? The mundane details of my life: photography, dieting, motherhood, my aching back (it is aching btw, I think I overdid it this weekend.) Which, I guess is sort of silly because there's no point in selling this here space on the web as being anything other than what it actually is. The old bait-and-swap, if you will, will only result in a short term peak in traffic, followed by a very rapid desertion and that will just hurt my feelings. (No, really! Underneath this rock-hard exterior is a heart.)

However, I am assured by a fellow blogger that this is all it takes to be famous:

Courtesy of Angela England via Roni Noone's blog

Well, there's a relief. All I have to do is be.

A weekend without pictures

ZeGads! That's right. I did not pick up my DSLR once this weekend. In fact, my memory card is still sitting beside my computer in it's reader, having dumped another 300 or so pics on Friday night.

This weekend, I left the pics to a real pro, Penny Silvia. We met her at Ocean Beach in San Francisco for our annual family portrait. I say annual like we've been doing it for years when in fact this is only really year two and year one was full of shoots after welcoming Ms. Daisy into the world. Penny has been taking pics of Missy since she was in my belly. We did maternity, newborn, 6 months, one year, and are now on the annual plan. Since I take an unholy number of pics of my daughter on her own already for photo practice, our goal for our Fall beach shoot was family pics, which we have fewer of for obvious reasons.

Of course, Missy DID NOT get the memo on that.

Daisy took one look at that deserted stretch of sand and took off. And that pretty much sums up the shoot. Us, chasing Daisy up and down the sand. In typical toddler fashion, the only direction she wanted to run was with the wind at her back, which does not work well for photo shoots, especially when your mumma's hair is long. So, there was lots of cajoling and kicking and fitting as we attempted to redirect her, mostly to no avail.

Even Penny, who is a pro at shooting kiddos, was having trouble keeping up with her. She would run ahead of us, look down at her camera to get exposure, and then turn back only to find Daisy blowing by her, arms flailing. I have absolute faith that Penny got some great shots but we made her work for them and I'm sure glad I wasn't shooting us.

Talking of shooting...I had another photo shoot with friends this past Friday. I think I got some great shots but I am presently unable to verify given that my computer has pretty much crapped out on me. It's 6 years old and decided that it wants nothing to do with any program other than Google Chrome. Any attempt to open a photo editing program like Lightroom or Photoshop, results in little gray warning windows popping up all over the place. Basically, my scratch disk is full and despite defragging, compressing, and deleting, I am only able to free up enough space to open a photo, not actually do anything with it. And when I do, it's mind-numbingly slow anyway. (I'm also missing a "Ctrl" key which hints at how often I've done the "Ctrl-Alt-Del")

So, I had to take a deep breath on Friday night and buy a new computer. I knew the day was coming, I was just hoping I could eek this thing out a little longer, maybe make some money on the photography and then put that towards my "ultimate" dream Mac. My hand was forced, however, and I do not have $3k to spend on my dream computer right now. Nor can I devote the time or money toward retooling myself for the Mac world. Therefore, I cringed and bought a desktop PC. Yes, a desktop. Why? Because I can get 8GB of RAM, 1TB of hard drive, a 945MHZ processor, and a great graphics card all for under $1,000. And the RAM is upgradeable to 16GB, which means I'll have some legs on the thing. Am I thrilled about having one of those hulking CPUs on my dining room table? Nope. I haven't had a desktop in probably 10 years. But needs must and this is a need that musted.

Once I have the Hulk up and running, crap cleared off my ailing laptop, I'm going to take it into the Geek Squad or something, to have them tune it up. I still want to have a laptop around for basic stuff, so I can be more mobile when I'm blogging or surfing the internet. Plus, this thing has been through it with me. I bought it for myself as a 30th birthday gift, back when it was Dell's top of the line model, then I took my frustrations out on it a couple of years ago and killed the motherboard and it hasn't really been the same since, bless it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

30 things I love

As you know, unless you're new to this blog or have had your head in the sand, I have just started my own little photography business "on the side".  I'm super excited about this, of course, but also full of gut-wrenching doubt. I know I am just learning right now but I *believe* that I have some raw talent to work with and, since I learn best by doing - trial and lots of error - I've been putting myself out there with friends and family for shoots.

Much of the time I feel good about what I do, given the knowledge and experience I have (as in, not a lot.) The doubt part comes in when I look at what other photographers are doing. Folks like Jinky Art (my photography idol), or Beth Jansen, or locally Jill Carmel, Penny Silvia, and Kira Lauren just take my breath away. Barb from Jinky because what she does with light and color is just dreamy and heart-wrenching. Beth because of her saturated color and quirky set-ups. Jill's bright, creamy skin-tones. The truth and honesty and heart in Penny's images. And Kira's artistic eye. So much to learn. So far to go.

Anyway, I digress... the reason for this post was a dilemma I faced when I was setting up the profile for my Zenfolio page, the online site where I plan to hopefully sell a couple of snaps.

I was thinking about what to write to give my profile personality, a sense of me and who I am other than just a photographer. I decided to start with a list of things I like/love. What amazed me, given I'm a bit of a sarcastic bitch with a tendency for bemoaning my lot in life (thank the British gene for that), is how many things I do actually love.

The result is this unedited list and so I wanted to share it with you.

Ms. Ranty Pant Hearts:
(in absolutely no discernable order whatsoever and by no means exhaustive)

  1. Being a mom. Waaaay more fun than I ever expected. Waaaay more time-consuming and all-engrossing.
  2. Being a wife. I love my husband. He is my best friend, my team-mate, my partner in life. I can't see any me without him.
  3. Dipping my finger in a jar of new peanut butter.
  4. Crazy English food like baked beans on toast, bangers and mash, saveloys, chip butties, sausage rolls, Shepherds Pie, Yorkshire Pudding, Bisto Gravy, fish and chips, my mother's baked potatoes, over-cooked vegetables, and jacket potatoes with tuna salad.
  5. Chocolate Milk (the Nesquik kind)
  6. Sweet, strong coffee first thing in the morning
  7. Driving in the summer (which to me is, ideally, 80 degrees) with the windows down and my favorite tunes blaring on the radio
  8. Fall and Spring
  9. Clothes shopping with my Mum
  10. Big cities. LONDON. Everything about it. Good and bad. My heart beats a little faster, my smile becomes a little wider, my energy peaks... God I miss that place.
  11. Travel. I like all kinds but a special place is reserved in my heart for foreign travel. The different sights, smells, tastes, culture. The feeling of being a little lost and discombobulated, never knowing what lies around the corner.
  12. Cooking my signature winter pot roast or Shepherds Pie on a fall afternoon, glass of wine in hand, and a favorite movie playing in the background. (Haven't done this in a while. See #1)
  13. Smelly candles.
  14. Writing. Blogging.
  15. My friends. I'm an only child and so they are like sisters/brothers to me.
  16. Clothes/fashion. Although, working from home, I don't indulge as much as I used to. Hard to justify the expense when the only person who sees you is you. But I'm getting back on the saddle again. I just bought my first pair of skinny jeans. That's right, thunder thighs in skinny jeans. I'm learning to love this.
  17. Social media. Facebook and twitter help me keep my sanity in my little upstairs home office.
  18. Weight training. I love to feel strong. After my back injury and pregnancy it's been a long road getting back to that place but I'm working on it every day.
  19. Soaps and creams that smell like the tropics - coconut, mangoes, pineapple. Yummy.
  20. Bob Marley on a summer afternoon.
  21. Jamaica. Makes me feel IRIE!
  22. Martinis. Not the dirty kind though. Faves are apple, lemon-drop, peach. (The Georgia Peach martini at Ruby Tuesday is my current treat.)
  23. The little gadget I bought that helps me take off the foil wrap around the top of the wine bottle quickly and efficiently. Changed my life by decreasing time-to-mouth; important these days of diminished time-to-self (see #1).
  24. Throwing parties. Hubby and I love to host... when we have time. (See #1)
  25. Sushi. Specifically anything with soft shell crab and that orgasmic orange sauce stuff. Drooooooooooool.
  26. Girlfriend chatter. 
  27. Home decorating. (Although you'd never know it looking at my house now. See #1.)
  28. Movies. Haven't been to nearly as many as I used to. (See #1) Favorite movies include: Love Actually, Notting Hill, Sliding Doors, Shakespeare in Love, 50 First Dates, all the Bourne Films, all the Oceans films, Twilight Saga, Interview With A Vampire...
  29. Reading out on my swing on a cool, fall afternoon. Favorite books: Eat Pray Love, The Female Nomad, Twilight Saga, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Memoirs of a Geisha... I could go on and on. Favorite book of ALL TIME? The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Hit all my hot buttons: travel, history, religious intrigue, and VAMPIRES!
  30. Vampires. See #28 and #29. Also a big fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries.
So now you know a little bit more about me. What would you put on your list?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Well, not really.

The Great Weight Loss Shame Off is OFF. As in no more. Turns out my opponent, Jess, went and started cooking herself another bun in her very productive oven. Congrats to her, of course. I think she's nuts (she already has 3!) but I can see where, if she keeps this up, she could get a contract from Lifestyle for a reality-based TV show. So, I get it.

I also get the default prize as "winner" of the Shame Off, even though today's weigh-in was poor. 150.8lbs. Seriously!? Can I get a break? PLEASE can I break 150 sometime soon? Please!!!!!!! (Yes, I'm completely ignoring the fact that I went to two birthday parties this weekend and ate lasagna, massive polish hot-dogs, and two lots of cake with oodles of frosting.)

As for that embarassing pic the loser is supposed to post, I'm debating letting Jess off the hook, given her situation. OR badgering her to reveal her belly on her blog. (Not that I'm even sure she'd do the last. Plus, it seems kinda mean. It's not like she really LOST; she kinda dropped out on a technicality.)

Let me see, which hat shall I wear today? Naughty or nice?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Guinea Pigs

No, not the animal kind but the human kind. The great friends that agree to subject themselves to your amateur lens and let you use them as photography practice.

I had three photo shoots this weekend. That's right, official photo shoots. Woot! Three families who threw caution to the wind and trusted me with their fall memories to help me learn and build my portfolio.

I'm still editing the first group from Friday evening (and am REALLY bemoaning the slowness of my computer now) but wanted to give you a brief preview of that first session.

I've set up a separate blog just for previews of pics. I'm sure that blog will evolve into more at a later date - or not - but right now this is the new site: www.memories-by-michelle.blogspot.com. Bookmark it! Now! Go on! No pontificating! Thanks :o)

So, how do I feel after my first three sessions? Excited by the possibilities. Humbled by the complexities of the process. More passionate than ever about *this* being what I want to do with my time. And most of all, thankful to those families (and some others to come) who have helped me learn more in one weekend than I ever could have just taking pictures of my own family or taking a class.

Aside from the photography part itself, what I loved was being outside, with people and moving around. I can definitely tell that continued repetition of my running around, flinging myself on the floor, and squatting up-and-down will be a recipe for weight loss success. That is if I don't go to parties right after and eat lasagna, polish hot dogs, and cup cakes. Ahem.

As always, honest feedback on the pics is welcomed here. I can't emphasize enough that I am learning and these shoots are a part of that process. I hope folks like my pictures but I don't for a second intend to pass myself off as a professional photographer yet.


In closing, one final shout-out to my family - my husband and parents - for jumping in and looking after Daisy so I could jet around taking other families' photos. Thank you! There is absolutely no way I could even think about pursuing my dreams without your help and support. I promise, some day this WILL pay some bills. Love ya!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Constructive Feedback Friday

I follow a number of blogs that provide awesome tips and tutorials on how to take or edit better pictures. Many of them have photography challenges or other types of opportunities for budding photographers to submit their work for critique. Usually, I'm full of great intentions and plan on submitting something to these things but then either forget or run out of time. Today I was determined to get one in for "Constructive Feedback Friday" on I Heart Faces.

The concept is that you post a pic that you would like to get a critique or advice on and then folks who know what they're doing, provide said advice. For free. I mean, HELLO, people pay money for this stuff. How can I NOT participate?

So, here is my submission for Constructive Feedback Friday:

My edited version, in Lightroom (which I am still learning)

EXIF DATA (fancy info for those who get this stuff)
ISO 1600
SS 1/250
(Obviously not working with a lot of light here...)

for blog-007

Unedited file and link to high-res photo:
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What exactly is it that I'm uncertain about in this photo? Well, I like the composition a lot but I just didn't seem to be able to get the "pop" from the edited product that I wanted without skewing the contrast, saturation, and sharpness to a place where it knocked the whole thing off-balance. I obviously like the edited version better - it has more pop - but it's missing something. That "quality" that pro photographers give their images, that makes the eyes dance while the skin stays peaches-and-cream.

However, all that said, all others kinds of advice, recommendations etc... are welcome. I don't know what I don't know, know-what-I-mean?

Looking forward to my critique! Thanks, "I Heart Faces"

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ms. Ranty Pants is crap

Or more specifically, I have now crapped myself. I mean, crap logo'd myself.

Courtesy of the design geniuses at GAP HQ (or whatever hapless ad agency they paid too much money to).

And I thought zit cream on my chin and an inside out shirt was an epic fail. At least the guy at Steve's Place Pizza is the only person who saw my error in judgment. Ahem.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Great Weight Loss Shame Off – Week 3 and 4

Last week I was soooo busy I forgot to post my weight *progress*. Ok, maybe I was busy but didn’t exactly FORGET. It was more like I did not want to admit that I went backwards.

Last time I posted, I was here. This week… I’m in exactly the same place. Still trying to kiss that 150 goodbye.

Although you don’t know it (because I *forgot* to post about it) this actually represents a week-over-week loss. Last week I was actually 151.8lbs. So, yay for me, despite drinking like a fish and eating truffled Mac and Cheese at 1am in the morning last week, I managed to get back to square one.


None of this, however, bodes well for the 15lbs goal me and Jess from Dude & Sweeties set for ourselves a month ago.We’re 4 weeks in to our 8 week plan and I’ve only lost 2.4lbs. The only “good” thing is that I think she’s not doing an awful lot better.

However, with no trips planned in the next week, no relatives in town to take to dinners out, and a busy week ahead, I’m aiming to kiss the 50s goodbye. Last night I got out the ole Lean-Mean-Fat-Reducing-Grilling-Machine and meanly grilled some mango curry chicken, which Daisy and I gobbled up – she with tater tots and peas (yes, my kid eats peas – let the mommy hate begin) and me with just the peas.

Ok, well, maybe I DID eat a tot or two as I was dishing up. You see, this is my problem…

(This and about 30 other things, of course.)

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Summer kind of Fall kind of day

Or, of course, one could call it a fall kind of summer day. Take your pick. The point was, the weather started off as deceptively fall-like, duping us into wearing long pants, socks, and sneakers and then, right as we were out with no shade to be found, the sun blazed beyond the clouds and sent us running for cover. Temperature in the car said 90. That is not Fall folks. Not unless you live in Death Valley. Ok, well, Sacramento is close. It is hellish hot here sometimes… sorry… as usual, I digress…

Home after my liver-wrecking week in Chicago, and, prior to that, hot off the heels of our weekend in San Francisco, Sunday was family day. Hubby and I reveled in the opportunity to do normal stuff together, like shop at Trader Joes and eat a late lunch at La Bou (a local bakery/cafe.)

Then, feeling the pressure to do something tangible to welcome in Fall, our favorite season, we decided to do some early pumpkin patching with Daisy to decorate our doorstep. We’re planning on doing a big family shebang later in the month with Daisy’s cousins and the pumpkins we find there will be the ones we carve.

(I say “we” but, of course, I mean me – Hubby will be selling houses, Daisy will likely be napping, and I will be feverishly trying to carve a masterpiece out of smushy pumpkin flesh with a bendy, 2” plastic knife, before she wakes up and runs around the house holding said knife and smashing wet pumpkin seeds into the carpet. I live in hope that my life will become a Norman Rockwell painting someday but, in the meantime, I have to be realistic.)

So, anyway, again tangerines, I mean tangents, I mean… PUMPKINS!

Big ones, small ones, lumpy ones, gnarly ones…

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Our final selection

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We would have spent longer and had more fun dashing around the almost-empty pumpkin farm however, as I said earlier, our beautifully-breezy first-fall day, rapidly turned into a blazing-sunshine, 90-degree afternoon. Daisy turned beet red in the face, Hubby’s jeans started sticking to his family jewels, and so I pulled out the plastic, paid and quickly put us in the air conditioned car home.

We then decorated the front step with our pumpkins and a few other things we’ve picked up over the years.

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Of course, Daisy’s task was to make it as difficult as possible.

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Then, despite what our new doorstep display might suggest, we conceded it was basically still Summer and head back into the back yard for a BBQ.

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It was just the kind of day I needed after being gone for what felt like forever. Back to life. Back to reality. And thankful for it.


On a completely unrelated note, I found a new way to write, edit, and publish my blog posts. Can’t remember where I learned about it but Windows Live Writer is seriously cool. It makes writing blog posts that include tons of pictures WAAAAY easier than before and it has some cool borders and stuff that you can play with to make your posts more unique.  You can also write, edit, and save your posts offline, meaning that, if your internet connection is suddenly lost, you’re not tearing your hair out wondering what you wrote that has disappeared into cyberspace.

Hope you like what I did with the pics in this one. All feedback and thoughts welcomed, as usual!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Rolling and strolling in Chitown

I have had as much sleep, total, over my two days in Chicago as I normally get in one night.

Last night, after vowing to turn in at a respectable hour, I was peer-pressured (yeah, I know, boo hoo) into downing a shot of something or other and, shortly thereafter, lacked the will-power to say no when cajoled into heading to a club at 1am.

You read that right: I went to a club. And danced. Gawd, it's been a while.

I arrived back in my hotel room at 4:30 this morning which is normally when I wake up on a Friday to go to the gym. Since I had a 10am appointment at my exhibitor table, this meant I only got 4 hours of sleep. Ouch. It's 4:40 in the afternoon as I write this and I am still woozy from lack of sleep. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to slow down on the libations after midnight or today could have been a lot worse.

Yes. It was fun, though.

I made it through this morning's meetings and then attempted to nap but, it wasn't to be. My body just doesn't like naps. I layed there for 45 minutes before resigning myself to feeling like I'd taken an overdose of cold medication all day. There was only one thing left to do: SHOP!

I switched my leather computer case out for a hand bag, threw on my walking shoes, and walked to Chicago's Miracle Mile - the equivalent of New York's 5th Avenue or London's Oxford Street. (Ok, well, it's not as cool as Oxford Street but then I am just a tad bit bias.)

I first went to Nike Town and bought a pair of cross-trainers I've wanted for a while, now that I have begun a more rigorous training regimen with my physical therapist. As luck would have it, the $120 shoes were reduced to $50. Score!

Then I meandered around various women's clothing stores, missing my shopping partner, my mum, and generally marveling at the price of things. It's been so long since I really shopped anywhere but Old Navy, so I had a bad case of sticker shock. Couldn't resist some purchases in "Zara", however. Not for myself but for Daisy and my niece, whose 4th birthday is coming up. Man that store has cute clothes for kids!

Then, as I was walking down N. Michigan towars the water and, evenutally, the hotel, I passed a "Corner Bakery and Cafe" and had to go in for a shopping break. Corner Bakeries have hands-down the best soups, salads, and sandwiches and, when I lived in Southern California, they were all over the place. Not so in Sacraghetto so a pit-stop had to be made for Roasted Tomato-Basil soup with their yummy croutons. Slurp!

Refreshed, I continued my meandering down the street and toward the water, fishing out my point-and-shoot to take pictures along the way. Here are some of them but you can see all by clicking here.

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Below is Trump Tower, Chicago.
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This is The House of Blues. Across the street is my hotel, the Westin, and one of those windows about 11 floors up, is my hotel room.
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