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Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

Huh?

Well, I tried!

I have a small (tiny) business doing freelance writing, something to bring in a little extra money in retirement. Things started to pick up in 2021, so I thought it a good idea to pay quarterly taxes on the earnings to avoid any problems down the line.

Seriously, I tried.

Three times today I tried to use the IRS’ online payment system (they use third-party vendors), and three times my credit card was declined. The first two times I called VISA — no problem with my account. They did say, however, I had entered the CVV number wrong. Weird, since I use a password manager and form filler that’s had no problem in the past. So, I tried a second time and double-checked the information.

Declined again.

I called VISA and, this time, they said the expiration date was wrong: I had input 01 for the month instead of 10. Except… That’s also filled by the password manager. So, I tried a third time.

Declined again.

This time I noticed something that gave me a possible explanation: for the month, they use month names – January, &c. So, my form filler correctly chose “October.” But, I have some experience with databases, and I wonder if the lookup table that stores the date information has October miscoded as “01,” a typo in the coding, that it then feeds to VISA, triggering an error.

I bet that’s what it is. It figures that the same government that hired the people who designed the Obamacare web site would would hire people who would miscode dates, too.

Regardless, three times is enough. After checking VISA to make sure no charges went through, I filled out a paper form and mailed a check.

But I did want those Amazon points, danggit.

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So, after a little less than three years, I recently finished the Portuguese course on Duolingo. Yes, even the dreaded subjunctive tenses. I started because I had studied it in college and wanted to knock the rust off. How would I evaluate the results?

Reading: Pretty good. I can work my way through newspaper articles and short stories without being stumped too often. A dictionary is required, however. Buying Portuguese-language Kindle books has been a great help.

Writing: Good, but not great. Prepositions are tricky (in any language), and my vocabulary is still small. But, practice will help.

Speaking: BWAHAHAHAHA… (takes breath)… BWAHAHAHAHA!!! Duolingo is not a site for speaking or listening comprehension; their electronic voices are awful. My pronunciation is okay, because I learned from guy from Rio, but I plan to take online lessons from a tutor in a small-group setting. That should help.

So, would I recommend Duolingo? Well, yes and no. If you’re willing to put the work in (an hour a day online, maybe doing some extracurricular research), you’ll get to an intermediate level. Its main advantage is that it’s free. Its main disadvantage is that you have to be very self-motivated and willing to put up with some frustration*.

Still, I think it was worth it.

*(I’ve referred only partially in jest to their pedagogical methods being “learning through frustration.” The answers database can be sloppy, not containing answers moderators say are acceptable, or even having flat-out errors. This would be fine if they were fixed promptly, but some have gone unrectified for years. They also have a bad habit of giving you sample sentences to translate that contain grammar or syntax you haven’t been taught yet, which means you have no chance to get it right. Since their system is set up to reward getting as much right as possible, that can be… “annoying,” let’s say.)

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Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 3 of 5 stars




Lois McMaster’s “Penric and Desdemona” series of novellas represents the kind of fantasy I most enjoy: “small” adventures rather than yet another Grand Quest To Save The World(tm). A mostly ordinary person caught in unusual circumstances faces a problem – now, how does he solve it?

In this series, the main characters are Penric, a minor noble who shares his mind-space with a demon that is itself host to the personalities of all the beings it “co-habited” before. It’s name is “Desdemona.” To learn to deal with his condition, Penric became a sorcerer-priest of “The Bastard,” one of the five gods of Bujold’s setting. Together, Penric and Desdemona’s adventures (so far), involve solving murder mysteries in a fantasy medieval setting. In that, they are a fantasy version of the well-known detective team trope.

The fifth book in the series, but third in the setting’s internal chronology, “Penric’s Fox” wasn’t as satisfying, but still enjoyable. The actual mystery itself wasn’t hard to figure out, the clues being rather “on the nose.” It felt almost as if the purpose was less the mystery than to see familiar characters develop a bit and to set the stage for later stories.

Still the writing is good, the characters enjoyable, and the setting interesting. Recommended for fantasy fans looking for a good, quick read.



View all my reviews

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Merry Christmas!

I hope Santa brought all that you could desire. 🙂

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So far, retirement is boring

So, I retired from UCLA last June 29th. I have to say that, so far, it’s been pretty damn boring.

Financially, it made absolute sense to retire. With the changes to my deductions after I entered the UC Retirement system, my net pay went up a little more than twenty percent, even though my gross pay went down about two percent — and that will catch up next year. So, while I’m not a millionaire, money is not a worry.

But… well… there’s not much to do. Between pandemics and riots and lockdowns, the little things I’d planned to do to add some variety to life -try new restaurants, take short trips to new places, tour the Los Angeles area, join organizations to meet new people, etc.- have all been placed on indefinite hold. And, since I live alone, things are pretty quiet around here.

Too quiet.

(Except for my upstairs neighbor stomping around and playing her music too loud.)

And that’s the problem: very often there’s no one to talk to. I have hobbies, but part of the fun of hobbies, for me at least, is sharing them with others. Online message boards and Zoom get-togethers just don’t cut it. I could write, I’m a very good writer, but the lack of interaction and intellectual stimulus kills any sense of creativity or energy.

I suppose boredom is like that.

It doesn’t help that not only are places that might be destinations largely closed, but the neighborhood has gone downhill, too. Not just with business closures, but an increased population of mentally-ill, drug and alcohol-addicted homeless wandering the streets and a rising crime rate makes it less and less safe to just go wandering about.

And that adds to the stuck-at-homeness and the sense of ennui that comes from it.

Not that I regret retiring. In the last few months before I left UCLA, we had already shut down most operations and were working from home. Busy work. Useless time-filling tasks to justify our salaries. From what I’ve seen of my former coworkers, things haven’t gotten much better, and they’re all miserable. In at least that regard, I can say I picked the right time to leave.

Nevertheless, it’s clear I need to make a major change.

The question is “What?”

(Comments closed, since this is really just me mulling things over.)

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I hope you had a helluva party last night and that you have a helluva good year to come. 😀

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Calendar oddities

calendar

Today is December 13th, 2014. That is, 12/13/14. And that is the last time most of us will see a sequential date until 1/2/03 — January 1st, 2103.

That is, the 22nd century.

Maybe we’ll finally have those flying cars they’ve been promising us since the 20th century. 🙂

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Me, after this weekend

Me, after this weekend

 

Of course, I’ve had worse stretches of days, but this has been among the worst in a good while.

The plan had been to take last Wednesday and Thursday off to…

a) Get my boss to stop nagging me to take time off (we can only accumulate so much);
b) Take advantage of the quiet intersession period at UCLA and the Friday state holiday;
c) And just to do things that I’d like to do, instead of what I have to do, and enjoy a five-day weekend.

Silly me.

Instead, what happened was:

I got sick for the first three days with a miserable cold. Only started getting better yesterday.

Got turned down for an apartment I wanted because I don’t make enough money, even though it’s less expensive than where I live. As you can imagine, I enjoy being told that, at age 55, I’m too poor to live in a distinctly average apartment, and I want to thank my employers, the UCLA Library System. While you hire more and more upper management, staff aren’t paid enough to live on their own in decent surroundings. Love you, too.

That rejection, of course, happened after I paid $635 for a deposit and credit check fee. I’ve been promised the $600 deposit back, but the credit check fee is “iffier.” If they had already started the check, then I’m S.O.L. Considering only less than an hour went by between my application and learning I’m too much of a peasant for them, I had better be refunded that, too.

Oh, and —yay me!!— I lost my Kindle Fire. (Pause. Heavy sigh.) Yes, you read that right. Sometime Saturday, while shopping at either Costco or the Albertson’s next door, I must have become distracted and left it in the cart or on the counter. Called them, but neither lost and found had it. If the apartment failure was embarrassing, this one is heartbreaking. That was a gift from a friend, and anyone who knows me knows how attached I was to it. It literally went almost everywhere with me. And now I’ve stupidly lost it. I’ve de-registered it, so no one can buy stuff on my account, but I really hadn’t planned on the expense of buying a new one — oh, and a new over-priced case, too.

(Secretly, I blame the late, lamented Notespark synched notepad applet and Apple computers. If Notespark hadn’t gone out of business, I could still have used it for my shopping lists, instead of Evernote. And if Apple hadn’t made my iPod Touch obsolete with its iOS upgrades, then I could have used Evernote on my iPod Touch, which can be slipped into my shirt pocket, instead of my Kindle Fire, which has to be placed in the basket while shopping. And then forgotten. See? It’s not my fault.)

Like I told a friend, if this keeps up, I may start to get cranky.

As it is, the weekend has a few hours to go. I wonder what else can happen?

I’d better not ask.

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I love stuff like this. I don’t think many people realize the US has a wealth of accents, thanks to the standardizing effect of TV and radio, beyond the stereotypical “Southern” and “Bronx,” for example. This article from the Washington Post provides a couple of category schemes. Here’s the map from one:

US dialect map

Naturally, having lived all over California my whole life, my accent and dialect is some blend of Southwestern and Pacific Southwest. But, I can perhaps hear traces in my own speech and my memories of my parents of “North Midland,” probably reflecting my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’s roots in Missouri and Ohio, with a trace of Pennsylvania German (Delaney’s “Region 12”); one of my mother’s German ancestors was a brewer there.

I recall from grade school seeing a movie about accents that showed a specialist deducing what small region of Manhattan a speaker came from by his accent and word choice. And I’ve heard that Southerners can tell which state in the old Confederacy someone comes from by his accent. (French Louisiana would be obvious, I guess.) I should look to see if there’s a detailed study of that, somewhen.

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 10 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Anthony/Barliman adds:

I don’t post here nearly as often as I should; I spend most of my time writing about politics and other un-fun stuff elsewhere. This blog is for more fun stuff. One resolution for 2013 (among many sure to be broken) is to post here more often about writing, TV, and the weird, odd, and amusing** things one runs across in daily life.

That should make it all the way to January 2nd.

**(And I have to say that a post about marijuana and Jeff Spicoli being the most-hit post kind of amuses me.)

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Somehow, when adding a link for the neato cooking site Crepes of Wrath to the sidebar, I managed to instead link a news item about Iran.

I blame global warming. Yeah, that’s it.

Anyway, it’s now fixed. Sorry, Sydney. 🙂

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Lego ultra-violence. Love it!

Via Allahpundit.

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You want to jaywalk, buddy? Well, the city has a message for you:

Or maybe Nature was having a bit of a joke. 😀

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Pointy, I am

I am an eight-sided die:

I am a d8

From the description:

You are a d8: You are the true adventurer! Dragons rescued, princesses slayed, and all that business while O Fortuna plays in the background. Your social calender is crammed with heroic deeds, and you’ve personally saved the world from ultimate destruction at least twice. You are reliable, perhaps a bit predictable, but overall a shining example of what happens when courage meets determination.

So true, so true. 🙂

Take the quiz at dicepool.com

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Somehow I think this Aussie would be very much at home in America:

I believe the NRA has found its new spokesman.

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Noodling around on Google Maps, I searched the Casitas Pass and saw a link to the Albertson’s in Carpinteria. Look at the picture below, and tell me if you can spot something a bit off about it….

Google Oops

I know people are fleeing California, but I didn’t know a whole town had relocated.  Tongue

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The UK’s Telegraph newspaper has a neat slideshow on unusual treehouses from around the world. Oh, yes, I wants one, I do.

pumpkin-2_1455976i

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Presenting the world’s ugliest animals.

I don’t agree with all the choices, but many do have faces that could break a mirror.

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Melancholia

To paraphrase Kierkegaard,

“There is nothing so bleak as the memories of futures that will never be.”

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While there’s plenty here to make one’s skin crawl, I think my favorite is the skull-saw.

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