Bad Apple 8.1

I hate updates. Nine times out of ten they’re a pain in the ass the way they make us relearn how to navigate everything when the old way was just fine, thank you. OK, I get that sometimes software people come up with new ideas for new things. I get it, I do. But leave the old things alone! And, for goddess sake, don’t make the update so big it takes hours to install. Smaller bits, please.

I updated my iPad to 8.1 last week and it’s been pure crazy hell  ever since. Like just now. I’m in the middle of reading a story from “Maybe This Time” by Austrian writer Alois Hotschnig and it’s got me by the throat when……  Black Out! The screen goes blank. In the middle of a sentence. This is happening way, way too much and it’s only one of a number of problems I’m having, including:

Clipboard only works after about six taps.  This is wreaking havoc with my Pinterest shares and adding new sites to Feedly. I use both a lot so I’m getting pissed a lot.

Links work slowly, if at all. Links on search engines don’t work at all. I mean never. Links from Gmail rarely work.

Screen freezes and/or completely blacks out. A lot.

Does not remember logins and passwords. No auto-population.

And it’s S-L-O-W…………………….

At least Netflix, Vimeo, YouTube, etc. are still working OK (Shhhhhhhhh, don’t say it too loud.)

I googled up some Apple forums and I see lots of bitching about the upgrade on iPhone and I found some bitching about iPad so I know I’m not alone. My question is, WHEN IS THE FIX? Cause I’m getting close to apoplectic here. Any tips or info from you out there are much appreciated. A tech geek I am not.

Meanwhile, I’ll be using my PC more and my iPad less.


CONtraflow: New Orleans’ Own Taste of the Geek Life by Anna Harris

IMG_1807-0If someone had told me a few months ago that I’d get some of the best writing advice of my life at a hotel out by the airport, I’d have been suitably skeptical. It’s just that when one imagines a scene filled with award-winning authors, aspiring wordsmiths, and a sizeable contingent of steampunks and Chewbacchanalians, the Hilton on Airline Highway is probably not going to be the first place she thinks of. Not that the Hilton isn’t a great hotel, of course – just that it’s not that high in the list of wretched hives of scum and villainy. That fact notwithstanding, it turns out that the organizers couldn’t have picked a better spot to house the odd and amazing convergence known as CONtraflow.

Now in its fourth year, CONtraflow is a fan-organized, volunteer-run convention that focuses on science fiction and fantasy in literature and art. It’s a small convention (for right now, at least), but a robust one. This year the gathering boasted 100+ educational panels, parties, and concerts, featuring over 55 well-known names in the sci-fi and fantasy community. The gathering attracts writers, artists, vendors and fans (and everything in between), who mingle and bond over a shared love of geekdom.

At 32, until very recently it was a necessity to keep my geeky interests a secret, lest I be branded a weirdo. Even though pop culture has thoroughly embraced gaming, comic book heroes, and various sci-fi franchises over the last decade, if you’re my age (and especially if you’re female) you probably remember a time when it was just not possible to admit that you read fantasy novels and knew a smattering of Klingon without being ostracized. It’s only within the last couple of years that I started meeting geeks who were proud to share their interests with others, and started to realize that it was OK to be geeky. Meanwhile though, old habits die hard, and I’m still getting used to not being ashamed to buy comic books or profess my love for Settlers of Catan.

So while a large contingent of my comic book-loving, RPG-playing, sci-fi movie quoting friends regularly attend huge and hallowed conventions like Dragoncon and San Diego Comic-Con International, the bulk of my con experience begins and ends with Star Trek conventions with my mother, circa 1990. As you can imagine, I hadn’t revealed my secret to any of my friends – how embarrassing to basically be a con virgin! I was hoping that CONtraflow would give me a decent taste of what it’s like to go to a convention, without the huge crowds and overstimulation. I figured I could work my way up to the crazy stuff if the basics seemed interesting enough.

Luckily, my expectations were right on the money. From the moment the Hilton’s automatic doors sluiced open, enveloping me in brightly printed carpet and the sweet, sweet caress of over-conditioned air, I knew I was home. Two steampunk pirate wenches and an excellent Maleficent walked in with me from the parking lot, and I followed them through the hotel to the registration desk.

I had hoped to attend all three days, but as it turned out, Sunday was my only opening to check out the panels. I explained this to the lovely volunteer at registration, and she gamely recommended the best panels that day, based on my interests. While we were talking, I explained that I was new to this whole “being vocal about being a geek” thing. Without missing a beat, she reassured me that there’s nothing like going to a con – in fact, she’d met her husband at one! I made a mental note to keep my eyes peeled, just in case Destiny happened to be cosplaying that day.

The first panel on my list was “How to Write a Great First Line”, with author and radio talk show host M. B. Weston. Weston’s specialties are fantasy, YA, steampunk and paranormal fiction, and her enthusiasm for her craft was immediately evident as the panel got underway. “Punch, and punch hard!” was the message of the day. During the hour-long open Q&A, Weston shared her experience in crafting first lines made to immediately reel a reader in, and keep them hungry for more. The author explained that first lines were a kind of bait, or a drug, if you will. Keep adjusting the formula as you get to know your readers more. Introducing sensory details, inciting curiosity, and creating a sense of urgency are all ways to get the reader hooked. Most importantly, don’t get caught up on the first line. Keep writing, and let that perfect introduction come to you as you build the rest of the story. You can always go back and edit.

Weston’s talk was so engaging that I found myself staying put through the break to chat with other members of the crowd who’d stuck around to talk about first lines. Before I knew it, the next panel was getting under way. During “How to Promote Yourself & Your Writing”, independent author Ben Herr and author/actor/publisher Allan Gilbreath encouraged the writers in the crowd to start thinking of themselves as brands, and to start getting their messaging out to the right target market. Herr, creator of YA fantasy series Alynia Sky, is a fascinating example of how to be your own best brand ambassador. He shared valuable lessons on what’s worked – and what hasn’t – for him as he’s made it his mission to see his stories travel the globe. Gilbreath’s advice was even more interesting, as he’s had the opportunity to view the process from the writer’s chair as well as from the publisher’s point of view. His tips on how to succeed (and avoid screwing up) were useful and frequently hilarious, including the best thing I heard all day: “Interns are an invaluable resource – and they compost well!”

Despite the great advice had in the first two panels, the next panel I attended was definitely my favorite. Authors J. L. Mulvihill, Rob Cerio, and Kimberly Daniels led a very engaged crowd through an active discussion on “Writing Good Villains”. Between the three panelists, they covered a diverse set of genres, including YA, steampunk, fantasy, sci-fi, and comedy, but also were able to reference villains and plot points from TV, movies, comic books, classic fiction and even non-fiction sources. This created a rich and very accepting conversation, where the crowd felt encouraged to bring up ideas and share their struggles and successes with writing villainous characters. We even talked about how societal norms change our concept of villainy, and how to build a story where the villain is the landscape, or the society, or even the protagonist. Best of all, during the panel, I felt a light bulb switch on in my mind, as a story character I’d been writing and rewriting for a couple of years now suddenly completely made sense.

Afterward the day of awesome panels, I realized that it was pointless to try avoiding the siren song of geeky baubles any longer. As I wound my way through the serpentine field of merch tables, exploring my options, I could almost hear my bank account groaning. Bags laden with new books, I wandered back out to the parking lot, mentally signing myself up for next year’s CONtraflow. Wonder if the Hilton takes Vulcans?
Anna Harris is a New Orleans-based marketing consultant and blogger. You can find her online at Compass & Quill and The Camino Plan.

Operation Loki: Google Glass in NOLA

lokiGoogle recently announced some crazy new technology, a wearable computer called Google Glass. 8,000 people have been chosen to test drive a pre-final version of the technology. I have had the good luck to be one of the ones picked here in the New Orleans area. (For more about Glass including a video fo the interface in action check out my column for SixEstate, Exploring with Google Glass.)

I’ve been a pro blogger since 2006, as well as the founder of HumidCity back in the pre-K days. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to work in the social media and online content field since the days when Facebook was limited to Harvard students.

I want to use Glass primarily to share aspects of our unique culture here in New Orleans. Too many times have we seen ourselves in the fun house mirror of bad movies and poor reporting. As a native whose early years were split between the Garden District and the Bywater I have a foot in each end of the urban core, a background that should help me present a more organic view of the Crescent City.

Some of the groups I intend to work with and document include:  Skinz ‘n Bonez,  Krewe du Who, the Noisician Coalition, Chef Eric Mars of Louisiana Bistro, NOLA Wenches, WWOZ, WTUL, The New Orleans Musician’s Clinic, and  a wide variety of local bloggers (including the wonderful NOLA Femmes who asked me to do this guest post) and bands.

The rough part, and the reason why I am writing this today, is the cost. While I have been accepted as one of the 8,000 participating requires an outlay of $1,500 plus tax for the hardware and a run up the coast to New York city to pick it up (probably in the $400-$800 range depending on how far in advance Google gives us the dates). Like many New Orleanians right now I just don’t have the resources. That is where crowdfunding comes in.

I’ve launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the money. While I hate to sit here holding my hand out I also refuse to pass up this chance without a fight. So here is the skinny.

This fundraiser is to help me sponsor those costs:

  • Google Glasses will cost me $1500 Dollars + Tax (est $105)
  • Travel costs to NY are between $500-$800
  • IndieGoGo’s fees  Approximately $175 (determined by level of fulfillment)

No amount is too small or too large, if a lot of you readers donated a single dollar that would take me over the top. Any surplus funds raised will be split evenly and donated to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the New Orleans Musican’s Clinic. This will also be the fate of the funds if I do not raise enough funds to actually participate in the Glass program.

As to the trip, I have already arranged to stay with friends in NYC up so the only travel expense you would be helping cover with is airfare/trainfare. I won’t be buying expensive Manhattan cappuchinos or drinking till dawn with your generous donation.

So, what do you say? Feel like supporting a New Orleans blogger in reaching for the cutting edge? If so stop by my IndieGoGo campaign. Every dollar helps (and I’ve got some pretty decent perks for donating as well)!!

Thanks for reading!

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Teen Tech Day: Bringing Resources to New Orleans Teens

Something close to my heart has always been teens and resources. Many teens are working hard and just do not have the resources to accomplish the goals they set for their selves as well as not knowing anyone or having no clue where to go for resources to aid them in their success.

I’ve always been blessed to have extremely involved parents and high school (Warren Easton) and a resource obsessed mind, but many around me growing up didn’t  So as a teen, I always took it upon myself to try and find resources such as scholarships, schools, summer opportunities, etc. for myself and friends.


As I got older it became more important to me and friends to share our resources to help teens as much as possible to not be left behind. We believe our youth are talented; they just aren’t giving a chance to experience their full potential. So instead of being afraid of our youth in the city it’s important to see the child in them just looking for a chance as well as not to punish the children who are trying to do right. There are so many ways to get involved through mentoring, offerings resources or just supporting programs working to better the teen population of Greater New Orleans.

My friend Chris Boudy and I have a love for technology. Three years ago we decided to create a technology conference to start giving teens with interest in technology more resources and teens who never considered technology industry more options to consider. Through this idea came Teen Tech Day.

TTD is a one-day interactive conference exposing Greater New Orleans youth to technologies such as video game design, robotics, programming, graphic design and more. Technology offers opportunities to explore math, science, as well as engineering in which Teen Tech works to open the door of possibilities. Each year’s students between the ages of 13 through 18 years old are provided a positive outlet to explore opportunities and get excited about technology. As the future calls for more technological based careers Teen Tech Day decided to aid in building the local technology industry of the future. Our third annual Teen Tech Day takes place on March 23rd at Delgado Community College.

If you know teens interested in technology, sign them up.
Want to donate? $5 or more can make a difference
Help make TTD a success! Volunteer to help out.

DIRECTV’s digital age blimp returns to New Orleans’ skies for Super Bowl XLVII

Photo 1

The crew and mechanics preparing for the morning’s flight.

When New Orleans hosted the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game, the DIRECTV blimp sailed above our city for several days’ time, floating above the French Quarter, CBD, and Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a lazy circular orbit. Its digital display was visually engaging, mesmerizing and colorful, drawing eyes and attention easily.

Photo 2

Aloft in the skies above the 2012 BCS Championship. (Photo by DIRECTV Blimp.)

I soon learned of the @dtvblimp Twitter account and was delighted by the photos tweeted by its crew, especially those that presented a view of the city not often witnessed by those of us who spend most of our time traveling our city’s streets and sidewalks. I followed the account and found myself looking forward to pictures posted in other cities from other events. Upon discovering that the blimp was again en route to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII, I requested the opportunity to interview the crew about the adventure of taking the blimp from city to city and to learn more about its operation.

Photo 2a

Approaching to board!

Launched in October 2007 at the Major League Baseball World Series in Boston, the blimp is operated by the Van Wagner Airship Group and contracted to DIRECTV as a client. It measures 178′ in length and its material components weigh 10,000 pounds.

The blimp itself is constructed of layers of high-density ripstop nylon enhanced with Teflon® and Kevlar® coatings, and is entirely flexible, without structural framework components. (Unlike the Hindenburg airship or zeppelins, there is no rigid or semi-rigid frame.) A helium-filled lighter-than-air craft, it is both powered and steerable (unlike a free-floating balloon). Its external components include twin propeller engines, rudders, cables, and the undercarriage gondola. Its fuel capacity is 220 gallons and and its burn rate averages 10 gallons of gasoline per hour of flight time.

Photo 2b

The DIRECTV blimp and its support vehicle entourage. (Photo by DIRECTV Blimp.)

The lightsign digital display measures 70′ by 30′, 35 panels wide and 15 panels deep, and weighs 900 pounds. Featuring 33,600 pixels and 235,200 LEDs, the lightsign can be viewed with clarity from the ground day or night. (Due to this additional weight on the blimp’s port side, the airship almost always lists slightly.)

The lightsign is what makes the DIRECTV blimp one-of-a-kind and what makes this airship the most popular blimp in the country. The panels are similar to those used for digital billboards and on the sides of buildings. However, unlike structural light displays, the blimp’s surface is flexible — much like skin. It is capable of displaying live video, concerts, and scoreboard statistics, but has also played a part in marriage proposals and birthday announcements.

Photo 3

The sparse instrument panel from the pilot’s perspective; I’m riding shotgun!

The DIRECTV lightship is usually featured at a minimum of two events each week and is constantly in motion; when traveling between the East and West coasts, it typically follows the Interstate 10 corridor. While it typically flies at an altitude of 1,500 feet, its maximum altitude is approximately 10,000 feet. Although the Van Wagner Airship Group is based in Orlando, FL, the blimp and its crew function as an entirely mobile unit — everything required for its operation and maintenance travels from one location to next for each flight event. As the blimp travels at a speed averaging 35 miles per hour, typically making 200-mile hops each day between destinations, the majority of its crew travel in trucks and trailers below.

Photo 5

The ground crew’s pre-flight wrangling!

The full crew includes a chief pilot, a line pilot, a crew chief, an assistant crew chief, two mechanics, a lightsign operator, a camera operator, a clerk and 10 crew/ground support personnel. While the blimp was tethered to its mast, I noticed that its crew members were relaxed and personable; it was immediately clear that this team works well together. Many of the crew members describe themselves as gypsies and were genuinely enthusiastic about the perpetual travel. While the newest member of the team has been on board for one year’s time, some members of the Van Wagner Airship group have been with the company for 20 years.

Photo 4

Adjusting the blimp’s positioning for take off…

The in-flight crew typically consists of one or two pilots (depending on the duration of flight time), and a camera operator and/or a lightsign programming operator (depending on the purpose of the flight). Seating is limited in the approximately 12′ x 5′ gondola; while there is some space for equipment as needed, it’s compact, utilitarian, and sparse by design.

The blimp remains grounded if there are poor weather conditions — stormy weather, electrical activity, or winds greater than 18 miles per hour. Due to its traveling speed limitations, high winds significantly limit its ability to travel.

Photo 6

Confirmation that the DIRECTV blimp is now completely under the pilot’s control — lift off!

Unlike other forms of travel, a blimp isn’t simply flown — it is constantly wrangled, both by the ground crew and its pilot. Even when tethered to its mast, It’s almost never fully grounded and seems to be always slightly in motion. During flight, it seemed that Chief Pilot Jeff Capek was constantly moving, piloting the craft and adjusting its rudders in response to wind conditions. Unlike the rudders for other kinds of aircraft, manipulating the blimp’s rudders can require 50 pounds of force… imagine driving a car while being actively engaged in an active stair-stepper workout!

Photo 7

Ascending to cruising altitude…

Unlike traveling by car, boat, or helicopter, even for passengers the ride is a uniquely physical experience. The blimp’s taking off and ascent are very different; it feels more like being released than being launched, and the acceleration is much more subtle. One doesn’t really ride in a blimp — one rides on it, strapped by cables to a lumbering and sometimes restless craft that’s continuously responding to the wind’s changing currents.

Photo 9

Glimpsing New Orleans on the horizon. Most aerial photos are shared by ground crew members; I shared this one while in-fight!

During take-off, the previously relaxed ground crew shifts gears dramatically, become active and wholly-focused, their actions appearing almost choreographed. Upon landing, the physical challenge of anchoring the blimp to its mast was also evident — the crew was literally pulling the blimp down, holding it in position — and their engagement was equally precise.

When the craft was aloft and cruising, I found that my body was actively compensating for the slight bobbling sensation resulting from the craft’s interaction with the surrounding atmosphere. Although I would guess that those who fly the blimp regularly become accustomed to these sensations, I enjoyed how it felt — it engaged my senses more fully and actively. I can’t imagine not considering each flight to be its own adventure.

Photo 9a

Steering the blimp lakeside in preparation for returning from flight.

I asked Chief Pilot Capek about any particularly adventurous flights and he chuckled, replying that the adventures usually happened while the crew was on the ground in the different cities they visit. He noted that flights are usually routine, and that he frequently listens to talk radio or sometimes music while flying, as many of us do while working at desks in offices.

The ground crew, preparing for the return landing wrangling and once again tethering the blimp to its mast.

As I remembered watching the blimp in flight last year, I’d jokingly asked if those aboard were ever tempted to stray from the route and go on a renegade joyride? One crew member replied that it’s always interesting to see the crowds of people attending an event, the stadiums filled to capacity, and the tailgating parties forming a living kaleidoscope below. In urban environments, with the ebb and flow of the city below and the changing sky, it’s never the same flight twice — even when the blimp is traveling in a repetitive route.

Unless the DIRECTV lightship is flying above an urban environment, Chief Pilot Capek noted that most of the terrain is typically fields or forests with few distinguishing features. He described his favorite time aloft as being when he’s on an “exposure flight” (brief flights with the lightsign display active) over the waters of South Florida’s coast, enjoying calm conditions; it was my impression that these excursions qualify as his personal version of a “joyride.”

Photo 13

New Orleans glittering below the blimp during the 2012 BCS Championship. (Photo by DIRECTV Blimp.)

Returning to the city from the airport, I again watched as the blimp sailed above me on its return trip to the city to shoot scenic footage for various Super Bowl related broadcasts. Driving brought me back to ground immediately… I was more acutely aware of each stop sign and traffic light. And I smiled, amused that the blimp had arrived before me.

Watch for the scenic footage shot last Friday by the DIRECTV blimp on ESPN’s Dan Patrick show 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM. The blimp will also provide live coverage of the Dan Patrick show and the Artie Lang show on DIRECTV’s Audience network (Channel 239) throughout the week.

Everyone’s also invited to attend the 7th Annual DIRECTV Celebrity Beach Bowl at Mardi Gras World, 1380 Port of New Orleans Place on Saturday, February 2, 2013 beginning at 9:00 AM! This event is open to the public and it’s free! However, space is limited — so please arrive early to join the fun!

(My sincere thanks to Gus Fernandez, Chief Pilot Jeff Capek, and the exceptional crew of the DIRECTV blimp for their time and this amazing experience!)

Photo 12

Living the dream! (Photo by DIRECTV Blimp.)

When it was possible to fall in love while waiting to buy concert tickets

Today I purchased tickets online for a couple of touring acts soon to be appearing at the House of Blues. For me, this is still an infrequent life event… When I was younger, concert tickets were somehow simultaneously a true splurge and something that I would budget carefully for; now it’s a question of whether or not I’ll have the time to go to the show or if I’m able to make plans that far in advance (life’s just more complicated). And these days I tend to go to see local bands playing in bars or nightclubs instead of going to see big shows — it’s the more flexible option, especially when one lives in New Orleans.

It surprised me that today’s transaction was oddly anti-climactic and distinctly lacking. It made me think about how things change over time and how, occasionally, experiences can be short-changed in favor of efficiency.

I realized that I actually sort of miss the ritual of days past, when one would stand in line at dawn at Tower Records or wherever on a Saturday morning, waiting for the tickets to go on sale. It was never boring! (I can’t say the same about how we purchase tickets now, obsessively refreshing the browser’s window repeatedly as we wait.)

For me, buying tickets in the days before the Internet meant getting up way-too-early, dressing for comfort and the weather, buying a large cup of convenience store coffee, visit the cash machine, then going to wait in line and making friends with the people ahead of and behind me as needed — sometimes I’d even be lucky enough to be the first person in line!

(Frequently I’d get an extra cup of coffee so that I could make an “instant friend” to hold my place for a few minutes’ time during the hours of waiting if needed. Or I’d take coffee orders and make a run to the nearest open place as more people arrived.)

More often than not, whoever was in front of me would agree to purchase an extra ticket for me (that’s why having cash mattered), running our two requests as one transaction (which could be crucial when a much-anticipated show could sell out in mere minutes), or I’d do the same for the people behind me if I was first in line — we’d help each other on the spot. The camaraderie and courtesy became infectious.

(Best spontaneous line party experience? Waiting to get tickets for any Cheap Trick show — singing, fun, and laughter were guaranteed!)

Purchasing tickets was also a more democratic experience in those days. There weren’t pre-sale codes only available to a select few or special access early-bird opportunities for “preferred customers.” Your success in procuring a ticket to the desired event was based solely on either showing up early enough to get a good spot in line or being lucky to get through to Ticketmaster if you opted to order by phone instead. The only advantage one could exercise depended upon cooperation — not which flavor of credit card happened to be in one’s wallet or if one had access to an iThing-only app.

(And if I’d chosen instead to buy my tickets today at the venue’s window? I would’ve had to wait an additional two hours after the time when tickets went on sale online for that opportunity — there’d have been no one working the window until noon.)

All of that said, it’s not the process I miss as much as the experience of interacting with the other people who were there because they also enjoyed the same band/artist: the low-level humming excitement, the concert stories shared, how people would smile as they walked away from the ticket window, and sometimes how a few of us would converge upon a diner for breakfast after as new friendships were formed.

Now it’s automated, isolated, solitary, and perfunctory… a chore instead of an adventure. Check that off of today’s “Things To Do” list and move on.

(Even if we still had to queue up, it’d probably not be the same kind of experience — because everyone would likely be paying more attention to their smartphones or stay resolutely plugged into their iPods instead of noticing and conversing with the people around them. Until someone needed to go find a restroom… there’s still no app for that!)

One of my best days ever started with my waiting in line to buy a ticket for a show at the same just-opened House of Blues in New Orleans almost 20 years ago. I’d bounced out of bed and dressed expressly for comfort — yoga pants, a long-sleeved cropped waffle shirt, sandals. My hair was morning-disheveled in a good way and I was fresh-faced, having paused only long enough to wash the sleep from my eyes and brush my teeth before rocketing out of the house. I was passing the time reading a Tom Robbins novel and drinking my coffee, chatting with the people around me intermittently. I was happy, still slightly sleepy, un-self-conscious, and cheerfully excited.

A guy I’d seen around the French Quarter every now and again for a couple of years had been hired as part of the security staff for the venue — he was there that morning to keep the line orderly. We didn’t have many friends in common, nor did we frequent the same bars or hangouts; I’d admired him in passing and mostly from a distance (although we had, in fact, spoken briefly a few times). It seemed to be a one-sided interest and I was okay with that. But that morning, while we were in the same place for a few hours at the same time and for the same reason, he noticed me.

I’d been reading and, for whatever reason, I glanced up and saw him looking at me. I smiled reflexively. He looked startled as if he’d been physically shocked for a second or two, sort of jumped back a bit as if he’d been hit by something, dropped his walkie-talkie and picked it up, and finally grinned sheepishly. Then he walked over and introduced himself, said “hello,” and showed me the new crack in the walkie-talkie’s display screen.

I remember thinking, “What took you so long?”

(Although I was very much involved with someone else at that time, it was the beginning of a friendship that I still appreciate and a stolen moment in my life that I’ll never forget. In an alternate universe, I’ve no doubt that it would have been the start of one hell of a love affair.)

I strongly suspect that there’s zero chance of something similar ever happening while purchasing tickets via the ether and pixels — this convenience robs us of such opportunities to connect with each other. I have yet to hear of anyone having a shot at falling in love, if only just a little bit, while hitting refresh and waiting to complete a transaction.

There’s a world of difference between the magic of the Internet and that of making simple human connections. I’m grateful for the memories of what I experienced during those hours spent waiting with strangers who shared a common interest — it was never “lost time.”

2012 and the Minimalist Lifestyle

Minimalism and it’s growing social trend fascinates and appeals to me. I’m not talking art, I’m talking simple living. 2011 was a year of purging and decluttering for me and, in doing so, I became interested in reading about others who felt the need to purge and declutter and what about their life made them desire downsizing. I found out I’ve pretty much always been a minimalist  – I just didn’t know it – and here’s why:

  • I still live in the first house I bought in 1980. When my peers “traded up” from their first homes, I stayed in mine because I liked the neighborhood and I didn’t need or want a bigger home. I like the sense of place I feel by living in the same home for so long. My mortgage was paid off years ago which has given me peace of mind in knowing I will always have a roof over my head as long as I can pay the taxes.
  • Much of the furniture in my house is the same I bought initially.
  • I rarely eat out and never buy from fast food places – we (my husband and I) cook real food and look at it as fueling our bodies and souls as well as honing a skill. Eating out is for special occasions and the best restaurants.
  • I don’t have much in the way of tech gadgets. We don’t have a Wii or whatever the equivalent of video games are right now, we do have satellite TV but only the basic package.
  • We have dumb cell phones which we use sparingly. I tried a smartphone but sent it back after three weeks because I found it added no value to my life.
  • We don’t belong to gyms; we walk for exercise.
  • We really don’t spend a lot of money on entertainment because we really aren’t night people and prefer a picnic in the park over fighting the jostling crowds. That’s not to say we don’t go to events; we do.  We’re fortunate to live in New Orleans where there are so many free and low cost events and those are the ones we enjoy.
  • I buy clothes when I need them or if I need something for a special occasion. I don’t shop for pleasure or entertainment because I don’t usually find it pleasurable or entertaining.
  • We have two cars but could easily get along with one and we have in the past. The car I now have is only the fourth car I’ve owned in 31 years.
  • I use things (household items, electronics, handbags, etc,etc) until they wear out instead of robotically buying the “new thing”.

I realize our lifestyle isn’t for everyone but it’s perfect for us. We’ve always been this way, not just since we became older.  I just don’t need to be entertained by something or someone every minute of the day – I can entertain myself. I don’t need huge amounts of stuff in my house that only creates clutter and is a background stress plus has to be dusted and cleaned. I’d rather be doing something else than cleaning or paying someone else to clean my stuff. One of the greatest benefits of a simpler way of life is the decrease of overwhelm in your life.

I haven’t always been the perfect minimalist, I can’t lie. Over the span of a 30+ year marriage I’ve accumulated lots of stuff by not purging while accumulating and through shopping binges that I thought would make me happy but didn’t. Last year I began a quest to declutter my house which I’ve written a little bit about on my personal blog. This decluttering has dramatically decreased the background stress I was feeling and has made my  place a more tranquil refuge from the world.

Q: Why be a minimalist?

A: “It’s a way to escape the excesses of the world around us — the excesses of consumerism, material possessions, clutter, having too much to do, too much debt, too many distractions, too much noise. But too little meaning. Minimalism is a way of eschewing the non-essential in order to focus on what’s truly important, what gives our lives meaning, what gives us joy and value.” ~ Leo Babauta

As I said, in the past year I’ve discovered a growing movement toward minimalism and simple living. I can only imagine it’s the result of the economy, the rampant trend of foreclosure and the high unemployment rate among other things. Many appear to be scaling down their spending and making do with less. Some people look at “making do” as a negative instead of looking at it creatively and giving the minimalist lifestyle a chance. There are a few websites and newsletters I read by the pioneers (relatively speaking) of the new minimalist movement who mostly appear to be in their 20’s and 30’s. Although much of what they write about are ideas and habits I already use, I like communicating with others who think like I do and I do find that I’ve learned things I didn’t know by reading their work. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept and want to explore the minimalist lifestyle, read this and check out the websites of the minimalists that I follow below. (Be sure to peruse the archives for specific topics.)

Zen Habits
The Minimalists
Rowdy Kittens

Checking out these sites doesn’t mean you have to drink the kool-aid,  it just means you’re mind is open. And that’s a good thing.

Daisy Pignetti: Blogging the Unfinished Story in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Daisy Pignetti* is participating on a panel at the Oxford Internet Institute symposium at Oxford University in England and is presenting her paper “Blogging the Unfinished Story in post-Katrina New Orleans” on Friday. Her paper features my writing from my personal blog, TravelingMermaid,  in the months after the storm and up to 2009. I am honored that Daisy felt my frustrated scribbles was worthy to include in her paper so I wanted to share this news with y’all.

Daisy contacted the “NOLA Bloggers”, a group of people who blogged and networked after the storm, through Think NOLA in 2006 asking for volunteers to talk about their blogging experiences for a research project. I think it’s important to note that Think NOLA, the New Orleans Wiki (both now defunct) and Alan Gutierrez were instrumental in organizing the Nola blogosphere into a cohesive group and deserves a lot of credit for doing so.

The abstract from Daisy’s paper reads as follows:

“With the growing familiarity of the blog genre, much has been published about the use of information and communication technologies for grassroots and community endeavors, but there is still research to be done, particularly of placeblogs that coincide with sites of natural and/or national disaster. Unlike other scholarly Internet inquiries where issues of identity might influence the structures and processes of the research, the population discussed here stands out in its transparent use of blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies.

The New Orleans blogger community proves to be one built upon the shared experience of Hurricane Katrina and is thereby focused on reporting the facts surrounding and actions needed for recovery to take place. While their individual blog audiences may be small, their disclosing details about their lives ‘after the levees broke’ allows these ‘NOLA Bloggers’ to be in control of their storm stories and potentially receive feedback within minutes of sharing, which is fundamental during times of crisis.

After a brief overview of my autoethnographic research methods, I present a profile of a blogger whose writing presents readers with a truer understanding of what life is like in post-Katrina New Orleans. Since the hurricane hit in 2005, Charlotte’s writing has progressed from emotional outpourings of survivor’s guilt to reflective posts illustrating the way web 2.0 technologies have empowered her local identity since the storm. “

Several bloggers and/or blogs from the NOLA blogosphere who were posting immediately after the storm are mentioned in the paper, including:

Humid City
NOLA Slate (Sam recently guest posted for NOLAFemmes – you may read her post here.)
Wetbank Guide
Maitri’s Vatulblog
Think NOLA

Also mentioned is the list of New Orleans Bloggers and the Rising Tide Conference.

After the success of last year’s 5th anniversary project on this blog, I had hoped to publish a series for the 6th anniversary featuring some of the NOLA bloggers that I personally read after the storm, people who came to mean so much to me, but personal issues prevented me from seeing that project through. Maybe next year.

There’s really nothing more I can add except, read this paper. Scroll down the programme to Friday and click on Daisy Pignetti’s name after which you can download the paper. It’s fascinating reading and gratifying to realize that all our ranting and kvetching about life post-Katrina was heard and really is a little piece of history.


*Daisy Pignetti is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. A proud New Orleans native, her research into the rebuilding of New Orleans through new media endeavors can be read in scholarly journals such as Computers and Composition Online and Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy as well as on prominent blog sites such as the Open Society Institute’s Katrina: An UnNatural Disaster and the Harvard University hosted Publius Project. She credits these publications and opportunities to the wonderful group of Internet researchers, faculty, and staff she met during the 2007 Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Programme.

The Too Much Information Age

OK. I admit it. I am of the age now (sigh) that I receive the AARP magazine. Which I did not ask for and which goes straight from the mailbox to the recycle pile every month. And, yeah, I freely admit it’s an ego thang.

This month’s issue, though, grabbed my attention because Valerie Bertinelli is on the cover. There she is, over there to the left looking fabulous. (Maybe I’ll rethink my AARP predjudice – George Cluny’s in it too.) I’ve always liked her beginning in the ’70’s when One Day At A Time was one of my favorite TV shows. Then she married Eddie Van Halen. EDDIE VAN HALEN!  How freaken cool was that? Anyway, blah, blah, blah…..time moved on and I just always liked her. So I opened the magazine and read the very nice story written about her.

But that’s not what this post is about.

No, this post is about The Too Much Information Age of which I have been pondering for a couple of weeks now. Obviously, the cosmos is in tune with my thoughts because it keeps throwing related information (ahem!) into my galaxy, forcing me to read and ponder and think to myself that I really need to do something about all this mental stuff going around in circles inside my head. So as I’m browsing through this magazine I come to an article entitled May I Have My Attention, Please?

“Welcome to the Attention Crisis—also known as the “culture of distraction,” information-fatigue syndrome,” or simply “modern life.” It’s what happens when technology’s flashing, beeping, dun-dun-daaahhhing stimuli scramble your focus, shred your nerves, and squander your productivity.”

Scrambled focus, shredded nerves, squandered productivity? Umm, yeah, sounds like the black hole I’m in.

It all started so innocently about 5 years ago with my discovery of blogs. Fastforward to the present and it’s extended to a healthy (unhealthy?) list on Google Reader of 123 subscriptions (recently culled down), 4 blogs of my own,  2 Twitter accounts, 4 emails and Facebook. I’m not even mentioning other social sites I’ve joined & neglected or just forgotten about. Facebook alone has been a tremendously voracious eater of my time. And I don’t own a Smartphone, Iphone or anything even remotely akin to them and I don’t want one. The same day I read the AARP article I watched a story on NBC Nightly News about how Tweeting and internet surfing on Blackberries, etc is taking time & attention away from the kids of their tech-addicted parents. Several people actually admitted to it and expressed dismay but didn’t seem willing to change their behavior.

I have to my admit my addiction as well, though. I don’t have kids but I do have a husband who constantly complains I’m on the computer too much…..and he’s right. I haven’t been willing to give up my blogs, the reading, the tweeting, the status updates, etc, etc, etc until recently. But I think I have finally maxed myself out and I blame it on the oilspill.

Like most everyone here, I have been reading everything I could get my hands on about the oilspill – even having a Google Alert set up to catch every piece of news that mentions “Deepwater Horizon”. For the past month or more I’ve scanned every item coming over, reading about half (and that’s a lot) and either tweeting or posting on Facebook much of it. I’ve clicked other people’s links to oilspill stories. I have immersed myself into the oilspill to the point that I feel like I’m drowning in information. It’s just too much and it’s affecting my mood – not for the better.

Focusing on one thing to the near-exclusion of everything else in life is not good mental health. So I’ve stopped checking my email as soon as I get up in the morning and try not to turn on the computer until after 3:00pm. I’ve stopped updating my Facebook status everyday and limit the links I post. I’ve cut waaaay back on Twitter and on my own blog posts. This is what I’ve done so far but more (rather, less) is coming. Every day I tell myself that I don’t have to know everything that’s going on in the world every minute of the day. Really. I don’t.

Already my days seem longer…I’m spending more time outside, more time with the dogs and husband and more time reading actual books. More importantly, I feel like I’m on more of an even keel emotionally. And it’s feeling really, really good!