software

Cranky Consumer Report

When I run into a really good piece of software, I post about it here. For example: Scrivener is really working well for me, and so is Curio (if you’re really interested you can look for my original posts on these two). When I’m writing (which I will be doing as soon as I finish this post) I have only these two applications open, and they work very well together. I recommend them highly. If you are visually oriented (as I am) you will really like Curio.

Cliphanger Black Small
In the same spirit of sharing information, I have a complaint. Have you heard of the Cliphanger? It’s a system for keeping cell phones, pdas, ipods, etc easily within reach. You put the removable hanger on the back of the phone, put the hook on the wall or the dashboard, and voila.

Simple ideas are often the best. I’ve been struggling for years to find a good way to stow the phone while I’m driving — so I can see the caller ID, and hit the speakerphone if I need to. So I ordered the Cliphanger — which is not cheap, we’re talking here about mass produced plastic parts and small bits of adhesive, after all — with some extra hooks.

At first all went well. Hanger attached to cell phone, no problem. Clips onto purse strap, no problem. Hook attached to study wall. I let it sit 24 hours, as recommended, no problem. So I was very cheery when I went to put the hook on the dashboard of my car. In fact I was going to put on two hooks, one for the phone, one for the ipod. I had hopes of never again hearing that sickening crunch of stepping on a very expensive piece of plastic and metal.

I get the first hook ready, I prepare the surface, I study the dashboard for the perfect spot. I apply the hook.

The hook falls off. I pick it up. Maybe I did it wrong? But no, the hooks on the office wall went on without a problem, exactly the same way. I try again.

The hook falls off and rolls underneath the seat to a place unreachable by grasping human fingers. So maybe it was a one-time defective hook. I get the other one ready, very carefully. I place it on the dashboard firmly, hold it there for thirty seconds.

It falls off immediately, bounces on the open door and flies off into the grass beside the driveway.

So I did what any reasonable consumer does: I went back to the website, found the email address for assistance, and I wrote. Two days later I wrote again. Nothing.

Today I decided to file a claim. I filled out the online form, explained (again) the situation, and hit the send button. Now this is what I got:

We have received your submission. Please reference the above RMA # and return all available broken Cliphanger pieces to the address below. For most returns, a small padded envelope and a first class stamp via the USPS are sufficient. Replacement parts will be sent when we have received your return.

Cliphanger, LLC
695 North Kays Drive Suite #9
Kaysville, UT 84037

Email any questions or comments to: questions@cliphanger.com. Remember to include the RMA # above in all correspondence for best service.

Cliphangerredcross
A suspicious person could postulate that this company has programmed those little buggers to go skittering off to remote spots, so there’s nothing to return and you’re just out $5.99 for a pack of three. Worse, you’ve got a hanger on the phone but nothing to hang it on. Worserer: nobody from customer service gets back to you.

Time, money, effort: wasted.

So fie upon Cliphangers. Fie.

secret weapon revealed

photocollagesix-tm.jpg
In my usual superstitious way I have kept Curio to myself for quite a while now, but Jenny has been gushing and so I’ll fess up. At this time I have two applications open when I’m writing. Scrivener, where I do all the actual writing and keep text-type notes; and Curio. Curio is a way to organize material for any given project, but it’s more than a filing system. It lets you organize visual cues and mix them with text, add in maps and scribble over it all if you need too. This is great for me, as I am so visually oriented. Here are two exported idea spaces, as they are called.

Paradise(49BA2C4B)-tm.jpg


I can add to and edit these as necessary. When I find a good image I just drop it into the library and then I can find it easily when it occurs to me, at three in the morning, that Elizabeth is now wearing reading spectacles.

Miss Lack, Noam Chomsky, autopsies

Preface: Noam Chomsky is not in need of a post mortem. He’s alive and well and will live (I hope) for many more productive years.

Yesterday at a short meeting, I ran into someone I know through the Girlchild. She mentioned to me that she was reading Homestead and really liking it, which of course is always lovely to hear. Then she said that she had come across a sentence that she couldn’t diagram.

My first reaction: sheer panic. Please, I said, tell me you’re not hoping I’ll remember the sentence.

Luckily that wasn’t what she was trying to get at. She meant that she thought the sentence worked, but didn’t understand its structure.

Pause here for a flashback to my fourth grade classroom, Miss Lack with her beehive hairdo, and the blackboard where we learned to diagram sentences the old fashioned way. I liked taking sentences apart to see how they work, and I was good at it. In fact, Miss Lack was the first teacher to give me the idea that I was good at writerly things.

Now forward in time to graduate school and Chomskyan syntax, where taking a scalpel to a sentence had a different purpose — and was interesting for more complex reasons.

And back again to the here and now.

When I’m writing a story, I never, ever diagram a sentence. I just don’t think that way. Storytelling glides along on another plane, and wants nothing to do with dissecting noun phrases and subordinate clauses. Thus: I would have been happy to let this conversation drift away to be forgotten, but then this friend did email the sentence in question.

Now I feel obliged to reply (Catholic schoolgirl automatic response no. 23). So I looked at it, the sentence in isolation. That is, here is the sentence, taken out of the warm nest of the story and pinned to the electronic autopsy table:

When she looked at the available men in Rosenau, Wainwright’s Katharina could see no promise in any of them but of children and farm work, things that interested her not in the least.

Against my better judgment, ignoring the voice in my head screaming PROCRASTINATION, I looked at this sentence, which really is composed of three sentences draped over and around each other in cozy comaraderie. For a moment I considered trying to locate the old software that allowed me to produce a classic tree diagram ala transformational grammar, but that way lies madness. Or at least OS X 9, a place I never go these days.

So instead, a completely ad hoc approach that would satisfy neither Miss Lack nor Professor Chomsky. The three sentences:

1. She ||looked || (at the available men) (in Rosenau).
(transform into a relative wh-clause)
2. WK || could see || no promise (in any ((of them)))
|| [promise of] (children*) (farm work*)
3. Things* interested her {negation strategy}.
(transform into subordinate clause)

After this I’ll I have to spend some time putting the poor thing back together and tucking it back into the story.

mathematical gymnastics and book hooky

Things here at Casa Crisis have begun to settle down a little. Some good progress is being made in those areas which were most worrisome. Long way to go, but we have a solid and promising start.

So the Mathematician went skiing. Right now he’s at Whistler in British Columbia, where he goes every year for a long weekend with a group of friends. In the evenings they play poker and eat and drink a lot of beer, and in the day they ski. He hesitated about going; I tried not to push him out the door too roughly.

I like having the house to myself now and then. Okay, I like it a lot. What would a writer be without a lot of conflicts in her nature? Love the family, glad to be alone.

However. I am just alone enough to feel overwhelmed by the long list of things waiting to be done. A backlog of things, most of them not especially fun. Like: getting the tax stuff ready to send to the accountant. Not only our personal tax stuff, but the Saralaughs corporate tax stuff. This always makes me nervous. You know if you look in your rearview mirror and there’s a cop following you, you get a flush of adrenaline? Thinking: shit. Thinking: what did I do? Did I cut that light too short? Are my tags out of date? Where’s my insurance card? What’s the speed limit here? Are my brake lights working? Did I pay that parking ticket? I can work myself into a sweat in a situation like this, and then the cop pulls out and passes me and I collapse into a twitching lump of adrenaline-saturated self mockery. That’s how I feel about doing the corporate taxes. I am very scrupulous about making sure that business expenses are really business expenses, that I can justify and document everything, that I’m well within the letter and the spirit of the law. Every year I say the same thing to the accountant: no numerical gymnastics, no loopholes. I want to pay what I owe.

All of this so that if dear old Saralaughs ever does get audited, I don’t faint dead away. So I can walk, angst-riddled, into the audit knowing that I am in the clear with at least a chance of not having a full blown panic attack.

What can I say? I was brought up Catholic.

Have I ever mentioned that the Mathematician collects graduate degrees? He’s got an undergraduate degree and a Master’s from Trinity Cambridge, a Master’s degree and a Doctorate from Princeton, and then for fun he went and got an MBA at the University of Michigan while I was on the faculty there.

He’s the Mathematician with an MBA, and I’m doing the taxes. And you know why? Because we’ll end up divorced if he does them. A typical exchange would go like this:

Him: Wait. Wait. We’re paying how much for server space?
Me: We’re not paying anything. Sara is paying. Saralaughs is paying.
Him: With our money.
Me: With her money.
Him: Debatable.
Me: You promised not to use that word.
Him: I have told you before, I could set up a server of our own, right here from the house–
Me: Can we move to the next item?
Him: It’s ridiculous what they charge.
Me: Granted. Can we move on to the next item?
Him: Wait. Wait. We’re paying how much for software updates?

You see that it’s easier, in the long run, to do it myself.

So the taxes need to be sorted out, and various animals need to go to the vet, and I have to call the attorney about something really irritating but necessary, and there are three boxes of things I need to pack and take to the post office, letters to write, email to answer, the forum to check, and I have a doctor’s appointment and oh by the way, this book that is stuck in my craw. More than one book.

I have such an urge to play book hooky. Not work on the book I have to work on, but on the book that appeals to me most at the moment. The one I don’t have a contract for. The fun one.

So that is where I am at this moment. You know what? I’ve been up two and a half hours, and I feel the need to take a nap.