Friday, October 10, 2008

The Quilt Files, Episode 4

The big quilt is still in being displayed, but I have something totally cool and more appropriate for the season to talk about instead. As you'll remember, last time I wrote about my first applique project. It was fairly simple; a few large pieces, mostly symmetrical, so it was easy to fudge any flubs. My next applique project was a bit more complex, and it's hanging up in my entryway all this month:

I made this over the course of a couple of Septembers. The first one I spent piecing the background; relatively easy, because it was only a few squares with some borders in between. Then I looked at all the pieces that had to be appliqued onto the background and went, ulp! Back it went into my projects box until another September, when I had a little more confidence and a goal of getting it ready for Halloween. I tried not to think about the number of pieces to be appliqued (over 60, I think); instead, I just did a few at a time. I managed not to get any pieces cut out the wrong way, and got all the satin stitching done with the help of a ton of stabilizer. Then came the fun part!

It's hard to see on the big picture up above, but all the eyes on this wall hanging are made from buttons. Finally, something to do with the spare buttons in my button box! (I don't think I've ever made a shirt where the number of buttons I needed and the number of buttons I could purchase matched exactly, which is why I have a button box.) So some spare turquoise buttons came out for the cat; some gold buttons with crystal centers were given to the owl; I bought some iridescent purple buttons for the ghosts; and clear gold ones for the bat and this friendly spider here.

So now I have a Halloween hanging, to go with my regularly-scheduled rainbow round-the-world and the Christmas poinsettia my grandmother made for me. Someday, I hope to have a separate wall hanging for each month of the year, but that's going to take me a while. For now, I just have fun with this one every October.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

You can't go home again...

Okay, so occasionally I like to get paid for my writing. Money is nice, and even better is the sense that someone thinks what I produce is worth something. (Can you tell I've had a few rejections in the past month? Serendipity is so hard to achieve.) Anyway, I'd finished a couple of short biographies for my most regular employer and thought I'd get back to my novel, but I got an e-mail from a former co-worker. They'd turned up short-staffed for a project, and were looking for reliable freelancers to fill in, and would I be interested? It would be writing entries for a project I used to manage. Easy peasy! I used to turn those out in my sleep, practically, so I said lay some of those entries on me.

Well. Things have changed a bit since I first starting working in publishing, some 20 years ago. (20 years! Ack! I can't be that old!) My first year, we compiled entries by cutting and pasting the old ones on a blue sheet of paper and marking them up with updates. Occasionally we used the computer, but there were only three computers for more than 20 people, so we were big on typewriters and proofreaders' marks.

After a couple of years, we all got computers. As we got scanners, we phased out the blue sheets and compiled entries completely on the computer. Great! It's much easier to write an essay on a computer than on a typewriter, even with corrective tape. At first, we'd print out the entries and send them to the typesetter; then we discovered we could save money by sending them electronic files. We used a few codes to indicate italics and subheads, and it was easy to insert them using a find-and-replace program.

Now, by the time I left the company 10 years ago, they had discovered the joys of "leveraging data"—ie, reusing and repackaging it in various products. That meant getting stuff into a database. That meant standardizing formats between products, and giving every single bit of information a coded tag, so we knew what was a birthdate, what was an address, what was a career title, what was a book titles, and so on and so on and so on. When I left, I had actually moved out of the editorial side of the company into technical training, helping editors make the adjustment into using new programs and database structures.

Fun. So what does this have to do with me now? Well, 10 years ago we had freelancers compile the data, but the company did most of the coding. Today, the freelancers (ie, Me), do the coding, too. So in making a list of books, what used to be as simple as:

With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed, Hamish Hamilton, 1994.
Tennyson's Gift, Hamish Hamilton, 1996.

Going Loco, Review, 1999.

now looks like this:

[bibcitation][bibcit.composed][title][emphasis n="1"]With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed,[/emphasis][/title] Hamish Hamilton (London, England), [pubdate][year year="1994"][/pubdate].[/bibcit.composed][/bibcitation]
[bibcitation][bibcit.composed][title][emphasis n="1"]Tennyson's Gift,[/emphasis][/title] Hamish Hamilton (London, England), [pubdate][year year="1996"][/pubdate].[/bibcit.composed][/bibcitation]
[bibcitation][bibcit.composed][title][emphasis n="1"]Going Loco,[/emphasis][/title] Review (London, England), [pubdate][year year="1999"][/pubdate].[/bibcit.composed][/bibcitation]

So much for doing these in my sleep, unless it's a state of unconsciousness brought about by continually banging my head on my desk. It might be a while before I get back to my novel.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Word Nerd Sez: D is for ...


Okay, I know this isn't really a weird word. And no, I'm not inspired by enduring a whole month of short sleep, which does leave me feeling a bit blurry in the morning. No, I picked "disoriented" because I feel like ranting. Maybe it's the nonstop political ads, which make me feel like shouting at the TV. Or it could be the aforementioned short sleep, which makes me grumpy. (I started writing this before 8:30, and I've already been awake for over two hours. That's just not right.)

Anyway: ranting about disoriented. Or rather, ranting about the variant that drives me crazy: disorientated. It may be in Webster's, and it may be the preferred variant in Britain, but to me it sounds pretentious, sticking an extra syllable in there to make the word sound longer and thus fancier. Really now, five syllables wasn't enough for you? You think six will make you sound more intellectual? That must mean "societal" is a smarter word than "social," because it has two more syllables. (Never mind that if you look up "societal" in Webster's, its definition is "social.") There are those people who think that adding extra syllables to words makes them sound smarter. Politicians are particularly guilty of this*, bulking up their words in order to sound more knowledgeable (or to hide their meaning). Our esteemed president is one such example, which is how he ends up with ten pages of results when you Google "Bush malaprop."

I believe people who use extra syllables to try to sound smarter are taking the wrong approach. If you refer to that essential classic on writing, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, you'll see one of their rules is "omit needless words." This doesn't mean sentences have to be short, the authors argue, only that "every word should tell." Extra words obscure meaning; so can extra syllables, I would suggest.

So please, D is for "disoriented," not "disorientated" or "disorientationed" or any such nonsense.

*One exception: someone please please please give Sarah Palin a "g" to stick on the end of her gerunds. I haven't heard someone drop so many "g"s since the last time I heard John Madden call a football game, with all its runnin' and passin' and tacklin'.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Photo of the Week--9/29/08

Seriously, how could you look at this picture and not want to visit Scotland? Okay, maybe the picture is a little misleading, because it's not raining. Still, Scotland is such a beautiful place: just as green as Ireland, but a little more windy and hilly. And the ruins! These were umpteenth set we visited, of Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders (ie, the southeast part, near the English border). Many British abbeys were scavenged after Henry VIII began dissolving monasteries in the mid-16th century, leaving picturesque ruins like this one. It's quite something to behold, the beauty of the countryside showing through the faded grandeur of mere human construction.