Personal Thursday: Why I Can’t Write About Me

Sep 25

I’ve kept an online blog since 2002. When I was younger I’d occasionally try keeping a diary, but I’d always forget about it after a page or two. Something was missing. Then, as an overcaffeinated undergrad in my early 20s, I discovered that LiveJournal had the missing element: an audience.

LJ has the setup that most social networks have now. You have a place to post your own updates and a feed of updates from people you’re following. So even my most boring, inane blog posts — and there were many — were still read by my friends. I had an audience, and it was easy for them to comment on my posts to give me feedback. I had someone to aim my words at.

Today LJ is a quiet place. I haven’t posted there since November 2013. Instead of my LiveJournal I now have this blog, hosted on my own domain and prettied up with WordPress. When I first set it up I made a few posts about mundane personal things like my Thanksgiving preparations. But since then it’s been strictly “business” — and by business* I mean coffee.

Why is that? Several times I’ve decided to go back to posting personal stuff, but each time I’ve run into a wall made up of two questions:

  • What should I write about?
  • Why should anyone care?

The answer, of course, is that it’s my blog. I can write about whatever I want, and it doesn’t matter if anyone cares.

But even after telling myself that, I hesitate. And I think it’s because I’m back to that missing element: audience. Without the social networking of a service like LiveJournal, and with RSS feeds apparently going the way of the dodo, I can’t shake the feeling that anything I write is just vanishing into the void.

It’s not so much a need for validation (though of course I crave that like anyone else), it’s that without an audience I have trouble finding a voice. I don’t need to write for myself, I know all my mundane personal crap.

That’s why I’ve been able to keep doing coffee posts. There’s a clear goal, obvious content, and I can just look at my Google hits to see what works and what doesn’t. The trick is getting the same sort of feel for my non-coffee stuff.

Well, I won’t learn that trick if I don’t write. I’ve been doing okay for the most part managing a coffee post at least once a week, usually on Fridays. So my goal is to do the same for non-coffee, on what I’m gonna call Personal Thursdays because I like the internal rhyme. Keep an eye on my Twitter for links to new posts, and hopefully I’ll find my voice.

 

*I use the term business loosely, since I make zero money off it.

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Misadventures in phone purchasing

May 26

I have unusual cell phone buying habits for an American. I prefer to buy phones up front, unbranded, from third-party retailers for minimal pre-installed crap. No contract obligations, no “pay it off over your next several bills”, I just get a phone, slap a SIM card in it, and I’m good.

This is partly because my last few phones have been what I call “obscure hipster phones” — little-known models you can’t generally get at your local carrier store. If you go to the Nokia Live theater, they have a display of Nokia phones throughout the years … and not a single one of the Nokias I’ve owned are in the list*.

But as much as I love Nokias, it gets a little tiresome having obscure phones. And since Nokia threw the N9 under the bus in favor of the Windows Lumias, I was faced with a choice between sticking with Nokia and submitting to their hasty change to Windows, or getting an even more obscure hipster phone called Jolla. After much research, I decided to go for option C: get a phone with a widely-supported OS that hasn’t been abandoned by the manufacturer. Namely, the Nexus 4.

I knew T-mobile was selling the Nexus 4, so I called my local store to see if they had some in stock — they did. As soon as I walked in, the customer service guy asked me if I was the person who’d called, and went to grab a 16GB phone from the back. I asked if it was branded and filled with pre-loaded crap. “Nope, this is straight from Google.” Awesome. Then I asked the price. “It’s $49 up front, plus $17 off your next –” No no, how much if I pay for the whole thing right now? “$457”. Does that include tax and fees and whatnot? “Nope.”

… wat. $457? When pretty much everyone who wants a Nexus knows you can get it from Google for a hundred bucks less??

Now, I was willing to pay a markup for the convenience of having the phone right now, instead of having it shipped. And I like giving my money to local shops so at least a little of the money might stay in my community. But I am not paying a whole extra hundred bucks on a $350 phone for no reason.

And just like that, T-mobile lost the easiest sale they would’ve had all month. I knew what I wanted, I was ready to pay for the whole thing right there, they didn’t have to sell me on it or anything. But instead of getting their markup, they got $0**. Good job, beancounters.

Happened to be at Fry’s a little later, and checked their phone racks. If I read their crappy signage right (and let’s face it, at Fry’s that’s a big if) they were selling it for $550. Two hundred dollars over Google’s widely-advertised price. Even Newegg has a $100 markup on it. The cheapest price I found was some random retailer on Amazon — and if I’m looking at Amazon, I might as well buy from Google anyway since I’m not gonna save shipping time.

So in the end, Google got my money. I know situations like mine are rare, and most Americans have no idea of the real cost of their smartphones. But really? Nobody’s even gonna come close to Google’s price? There’s gotta be some weird kind of reseller agreement or something going on, because that’s just straight up weird.

And just for a little icing on the nerd cake, when trying to purchase the phone I found a bug in the Google Play store’s Wallet integration. Because when you do QA for a living, bugs come out of the woodwork at a moment’s notice. I’m like the pied piper of crappy code.

* The E71, N900, and N9.
** Well, besides the money they get from me every month anyway.

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How Blinkie completely lost her groove

Nov 23

One thing has become abundantly clear to me as I’ve spent time staring at a blinking cursor over the past couple of months — my writing flow is pretty much gone.

I’ve been making sure to update this blog a couple times a week, but each entry just seems to be a bunch of disorganized thoughts haphazardly blathered into the text editor. There’s no hook, there’s no logical progression, there’s no flow to anything. My non-Starbucks stuff pretty much only gets traffic via pityclicks from friends, but that’s no excuse for being boring. Plus, I’m not exactly gonna get any new readers with these yawnfests.

Likewise I’ve got a monthly podcast stalled out mid-script, because I just can’t get any momentum on it. I’ve got ideas, but I just can’t get them into words on the screen. And I find myself spending much more time going “I need to write something” than actually writing.

The usual recommended cure for this sort of thing is more writing, which for obvious reasons is easier said than done. Or maybe I need to spend more time planning things out, so that when I do start making words they’re in a logical order.

Or maybe there’s just something missing somewhere that’s throwing me off. All I know is, it’s taken me forever just to write a blog entry about how I can’t write these days.

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The Bland Rolls of Blandness

Nov 22

In my last post, I mentioned that my Thanksgiving menu included Pumpkin Pull-Apart Rolls. This is one of my favorite recipes — they’re easy to make and they come out perfect and delicious.

Basically you mix all the ingredients, let the dough rise for an hour, make them into balls and stick them in pans, let it rise for another 40 minutes, then bake. Having mapped out my cooking down to the minute for today, I noted the two easiest options for baking — do everything the night before, or do the mixing the night before, stick the pans in the fridge to slow the rise, then throw them in the oven while the turkey is resting (it’s tired, poor thing). For simplicity’s sake, I decided on making them last night.

So there I was, balling up the dough and putting it into the pans. As I pulled out the canola oil to brush the tops, I thought to myself “Hmm, why wasn’t this out already? I thought there was oil in the dough …”

Realization dawned. I looked at the recipe, and yup. I had gotten so spaced out watching my Kitchen-Aid dough hook do all the wrist-breaking work for me that I had completely forgotten to put half the ingredients into the dough. Salt, sugar, and oil.

They rose perfectly fine, or I would have realized earlier. There was no way I could just mix those in at that late stage. So I decided to put them in the oven anyway and just see how they came out.

Result: Pretty much the blandest rolls ever. Texture is fine, they’re not dry or burned, they just … don’t taste like anything.

Lucky for me, I had enough materials to make a second batch. So I got up early this morning to get that rolling, and the first batch is going into the stuffing, where it can steal the flavor from butter, onions, and spices.

There was also the matter of a late-night turkey advice phone call to my mom (“How do I get the doojobbies out of the middle if it’s still mostly frozen?? What’s this big fleshy thing under the drumsticks? How do I get the wire thing off?”) but hey, it’s only my second Thanksgiving.

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Eat all the eats!

Nov 20

For most of my life, Thanksgiving dinner has been lovingly cooked by my mom, for my immediate family plus whatever strays we happened to pick up. Last year, sometime during the summer, my dad tactfully observed that they hosted a fair number of family dinners and barbecues, and wouldn’t it be nice if someone else hosted something for a change.

One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was volunteering to host Thanksgiving at my place. And despite small emergencies like the cat coughing up Lovecraftian horrors the night before, I managed not to eff it up completely. That may have been a tactical error, because now I’m pretty much on the hook for Thanksgiving until the end of time.

This year I started pondering the menu partway through October. By the beginning of November I had a menu planned out. Two weeks in advance I got the turkey and a bunch of the ingredients. Once my brining plans were finalized I got the rest and mapped out my time with military precision. I’ve got one oven, two slow cookers (one on loan), a five-burner stove and a fridge so big I keep feeling like I should attempt no landings on Europa.

On the pretense that you care, here’s what’s on the menu this year:

And while everyone is watching me fret around the house flailing over food, we’ll enjoy some crockpot Maple Pumpkin Spice Lattes, made with my self-concocted pumpkin pie spice.

And the best thing? The turkey carcass goes home with my parents. No weeks of leftovers for me!

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Maybe I was bitten by a radioactive trivet.

Nov 15

As some of y’all are aware, I have an unusually high resistance to heat. I enjoy 100 degree weather. I never notice getting sunburned until I’m in lobster territory. Touching hot things only rarely leaves a mark.

I call it a superpower for a reason.

You may scoff at my hyperbole, so let me tell you a little story that happened to me today: I was making chicken for lunch. Used a potholder to take a pan out of a 400 degree oven. Upon inspection, it was clear the chicken wasn’t done so I’d need to move the pan out of the way and finish it in a skillet.

I actively thought to myself, That pan is still hot from the oven. I need a potholder.” And lo, I put a potholder on my hand and moved the pan safely like a motherfucking adult.

Not five goddamn seconds later I thought “I’d better move it over a little more” and sure enough, I grabbed the pan with my bare hand — potholder still on my other hand! — and moved it.

End result of grabbing a 400 degree pan? A brief pain and not a single mark on my hand.

Doesn’t sound like a superpower? Consider the fact that I do stupidass things like that all the time, and I still have full mobility of all ten fingers. I’ve grabbed a hot pan hard enough to hear my skin actually sizzle — didn’t even have a mark to show for it afterward. That ain’t normal, man.

My mother thinks it’s because I was born (as she loves to recount over and over) right before a historic heat wave. I’m not discounting gamma rays or ancient curses, though. Maybe an alternate universe is involved?

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