18 May 2006

the big E

(written by hand over the past couple of weeks)

I had a friend who often referred to a power known as the Big E—E for Equaliser. She didn’t see this power as god in the traditional sense, but more of a necessary super-thwack to keep you from getting too full of yourself. I believe in a vaguely Newtonian karmic balance, but I have never really believed that things happen according to some divine plan, nor do I attach any meaning to the convenient coincidences we call luck. Looking closely at the events of the past few months, I am beginning to wonder if I should rethink my position.

About a year ago, a change in personal health forced me to give up my day job. This has been tougher psychologically than I ever imagined. Every writer dreams of the day he or she will have the time to concentrate more fully on their craft, but the winter hit me hard and I found it almost impossible to string two words together during that time. As the days started to get longer I felt a bit better, but this ruddy big E seemed to block my path at every turn.

A Trojan had its way with my main computer, wiping out my master boot record. After much work, I managed to get it put back together using a separate 20 gigabyte drive as a boot disk. The final copy of the Winter Solstice issue of Bonfire went to edit in pdf format just after the Vernal Equinox—and just before a second (different) virus reared its ugly head with a time bomb set to go off at 3 April, wreaking havoc on my system. When I started to input the revisions on the Bonfire master document, I discovered that the original document had been corrupted beyond help. I found an older copy on my laptop, but it was missing the entire editorial content and many other changes I had made along the way. I converted the pdf back to Word, but the page formatting (margins, headers, footers, fonts, etc.) was lost.

I unplugged my main computer from the broadband modem and stopped answering emails. A thorough check of my laptop uncovered no signs of infection. I was able to read incoming emails with web mail but I was hesitant to reply, fearing that to do so might inadvertently infect someone else’s computer. I had no way to capture the sent emails, so would have no record of the correspondence.

I decided the best course of action would be to discontinue using the fandango email address. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put a notice on the website because my ftp program was on the quarantined computer. Moving files that might be corrupt seemed unwise, so I downloaded and installed a fresh copy of my ftp program on the laptop. I created a new email address to use for replies from the laptop and started revising the archive copies of the fandango web page files to reflect the new information. On Thursday evening (4 May) I shut down all of the computers to enjoy a quiet birthday celebration for my husband, Jimmy. This was to be more fortunate than I realised. Jimmy spent most of the evening at the window as an electrical storm grew more and more intense. He was transfixed by the amount of forked lightning, apparently quite a rare experience in this part of the world. As he stood watching, a huge bolt struck the power cable outside the house. Everything in the house crackled and went black briefly. The sound of the crack followed then most of the electrical things came back. The outage didn’t last long enough to kill any of the time displays, but I had to change a couple of light bulbs and reset some breakers. It wasn’t until the next day that I discovered that my water heater and the ac adaptor for my laptop were both fried. I had used the laptop again after the storm settled, not realising that I was on battery. By Friday morning, the battery was well and truly dead. We couldn’t get a connection on any of the computers and Jimmy called from work to say that ntl had initiated a planned national outage that would last for several days. We have been without an internet connection for a week now. The service rep assured me our area would be back up by 9 am on the 11th. Right. I can’t believe how much I have come to depend on the internet. I use it to pay my bills, check my bank balance, order grocery deliveries, in fact to buy just about everything.

I need to get a new ac adaptor for my laptop, but I have to order it online. Priceless.

Update: 18 May 06

I spent much of Saturday on the phone with ntl tech types trying to work out which components were defective, but we were eventually able to get a connection using a usb cable on Jimmy’s computer. We still don’t know whether the problem is in the cable modem’s ethernet port, the router, any or all of the cables or the network cards inside the computers. One of the ntl guys told me it was definitely not the cable modem but another said he had written it down as a possible problem. It will take me a few days to get things sorted.

I got a new mains adaptor from eBay and now have my laptop fully charged. It is a tremendous relief to be able to work on my own machine again.

25 April 2006

computer hell

Nothing is more frustrating to me than sorting out computer problems. In the eighties and nineties I was considered to be something of a computer hardware and software guru, but my skills have long ago become obsolete. I suppose it is no different than what’s happening in the rest of my life.

This morning I woke reluctantly from a dream and while I tried to open my eyes, I could see a desktop clearly laid out in my mind. It was a bit chaotic, but there was obviously some functioning order to it. I need to get these external systems coaxed into some kind of synergy with my biological hardware.

We currently have five separate boxes that could be classed as computers. These include two units running on Windows 2000, two on Windows XP and one palmtop running with Windows CE. Neither of the two Windows 2000 systems is working properly and their software disks seem to be corrupt. One of these machines (my main computer for the past few years) fell prey to a couple of separate virus attacks. It is currently virus free, but many files have become damaged along with the master boot record. Most of my important work is on this system. I have not identified all of the problem files yet, but I find one or two daily. The other Windows 2000 machine is not working at all. We intend to keep it to run legacy programs and house the hardware which is no longer compatible with the newer machines (zip and floppy drives). I may have to install Windows 98 on it to get it working. I have reformatted the hard drive, but I can’t get the Windows installation to complete. Maybe I’ll feel more like working on it when the weather is warmer.

I am writing this on a laptop I bought in the States a little over a year ago. It is a pretty clean machine running Windows XP. Its major problem is that it came with a US keyboard and I am working with documents that were created on the other machine with a UK keyboard. I installed Microsoft Office for 2000 and it doesn’t seem to be that compatible with XP. When I was working, I used Office XP on Windows XP and it seemed quite different.

I miss having experts in the other room I can talk to.

27 March 2006

cooking with Karma

When my daughter was a young girl, she was always picking up unique little dishes in glass, porcelain, metal and wood. Karma said she was saving them for when she had her own cooking show. I have never been able to look at a tiny dish without considering whether Karma might like to have it. As a working mom, Karma doesn’t have as much time for cooking shows, or even cooking for that matter. Fortunately her husband is a dab hand in the kitchen and they are able to share some of the fun of that process together.

In recent years with both of us working, Jimmy and I shared the load (I cooked, he did the washing up) and we found ourselves going for easily cooked simple but tasty menus. Concern for health meant meals were based around boneless, skinless cuts of poultry and fish with the occasional bit of lean beef. These added flavour and texture to our rotating schedule of pasta, rice and potatoes cooked in their skins and lots of fresh fruit and veg. It has been ten months since I have been able to work. At first I didn’t feel well enough to be creative in the kitchen, but when my sick leave finally ran out, I had to reconsider food purchases in light of my hugely reduced budget. Last year we had to replace our rusted out cooker (with no working oven or grill) with a ceramic topped halogen stove. This meant replacing old pots and pans and learning to cook in new ways. Formerly depending heavily on a wok, two saucepans and a microwave steamer, now I was beginning to find uses for baking sheets, Pyrex casseroles and a better array of pots and pans.

Karma and Greg recently sent us a new food processor—a terrific addition to the kitchen and what a saver of personal energy! I have been enjoying the process of re-engineering recipes to make most effective use of the food processor. My latest accomplishment was a shortcrust pastry for an apple pie. I measured all of the ingredients by weight right into the main container of my food processor after zeroing out its own weight on my kitchen scale. In just a few pulses the fat was thoroughly cut in without melting. I added the ice water drop by drop until I had a perfectly blended ball of pie dough with nothing left on the sides or blades. This can be wrapped in cling film and stored in the refrigerator.

This crust ended up as four individual lattice crust pies filled with sliced bramley apples sautéed in a bit of butter, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, a handful of golden brown sugar and a couple of spoonfuls of honey. I hardly ever use recipes unless proportions are critical. Yum.

13 March 2006

c:\echo on

The name of this blog is a subtle reference to my involvement with computers. Echo is a DOS command that defines whether or not the actions defined will be displayed onscreen as they are executed. Use of the ‘on’ parameter will result in each separate instruction showing on screen. If echo is used with the ‘off’ parameter, then the commands will be executed without being displayed to the user. C:\ represents my mind’s boot directory and echo on means that readers will get a glimpse at the process, even if they may never understand the reason for the journey.

I love learning things almost as much as I hate forgetting things. How well I feel has a definite correlation to the ratio of things learned to things forgotten. Things forgotten can more accurately described as things stored away in places I have forgotten. Now and then I stumble upon one of these dust-covered stores and am amazed at the volume of things that no longer have a useful place in this world/my mind. These discoveries are often nostalgic, sometimes sad, sometimes inspiring. In my physical space I am occasionally forced to rearrange things and engage in a clear out, an activity that will bring equal quantities of catharsis and frustration (you never know when a new use for these obsolete things will present itself).

Here is an interesting word: backronym

10 March 2006


I can't believe I have been so stupid. I just figured out that I haven't had my wlan button turned on which is why I haven't been able to access a wi-fi network. I have been using this laptop for a over a year now, mostly unconnected, using a memory stick to transfer data back and forth between my pc and laptop. I was looking at the manual for something else. Oh, well. Better late than never.

06 March 2006

Heil Hercule!

This is my cockatiel, B.B. (Birdy Birdy) Poirot, who is quite the vocalist. I sometimes tape his songs on a handheld recorder then transfer them to the computer while he and my husband share boy time in his office. If I try to do this when Jim isn’t around to distract him, Birdy sings back to his recorded voice and messes up the session. Last night, Jim decided to bring Poirot into my office while I was transferring the sounds. (Up until recently he wouldn’t come into my office unless he was in his cage. I must admit it can be a scary place at the best of times.) Surprisingly, Birdy was silent while the tape played out. He sat on the arm of my copyholder and looked all around the room for the other bird. I gathered from his posture, he felt he was still top bird since the other wasn’t showing himself.

28 February 2006

bone yard

When Jimmy kissed me goodbye this morning, he whispered that we’d had snow. The temptation to peek was strong enough to get me out of my bed and the sight of him making footprints on the dawn snow was worth getting up for. I went straight back to bed, dozing off after a moment considering possible Dulux names: moonglow, coconut parfait, royal icing, marshmallow, faerie dust. When I finally got up for real, most of the neighbours’ cars had disappeared leaving a bone yard of tarmac dominoes. Almost enough to inspire poetry, but the mixed metaphors gave me heartburn.

27 February 2006

to blog or not to blog

In what amounts to another lifetime (mid-nineties), I regularly posted entries from my journal to my website. It was a passionate and far too personal outpouring but I doubt whether it had many readers. The tedium of daily ftp uploads became oppressive and I eventually put it aside. Current blog programs are much more user friendly. When I was working I didn’t have time for a blog but health issues forced me to give up the day job, so time is no longer the main issue. I will still be publishing the Fandango newsletter but this blog will allow me to go off on personal tangents that have little or nothing to do with Fandango’s publishing concerns. I can share my thoughts in one place so I don’t have to worry which friend to whom I have blathered on about the minutiae of my existence.

If I talk about writing, it will be personal observations and opinions from the perspective of my own writing and editing experience. I will certainly be sharing the exploits of my cockatiel, Poirot. I may talk about my dreams, share cooking recipes, report on various hobbies and rant about a few things that get on my wick.

I will be adding links to the blogs of my friends and other blogs I find interesting for one reason or another. Feel free to link this one and let me know if you want yours listed here.

23 February 2006

it's about time

It's about time,
It's about space

This is a test.