Monday, July 29, 2013

Questions about Magic

I have just been watching the most beautiful show of clouds and light in the sky. I was being very selfish and didn't take any pictures, but here are a couple of pictures from the other day.

It was while looking at skies like this

 that I realized the colors of Saf's eyes.

Recently, at the end of a magic show, the magician asked if anyone in the audience had any questions about magic. My niece, codename: Phoenix, nearly four, raised her hand, stood, and asked, "How can there be a rainbow with only water and the sun?"

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dragon for Mac: No.

I try not to make my blog Whinge Central, but this information might actually be helpful for some of you out there. So: I'm sure Dragon Dictate's latest version of dictation software for Mac users (by Nuance) is useful to someone with some job, but I'm sorry to say that if you happen to be a writer who works with manuscripts that are a few hundred pages long, it amounts to highly-priced garbage. The program is designed to be simultaneously conscious of every word in your manuscript, so that you can verbally navigate to any point – a feature I have no need for, but that I'm not given the option of turning off – and it's quite limited, apparently, in the number of words it can manage at once. If I have my Dragon Dictate microphone turned on and I click into my current 280-page manuscript, the software flips out, freezes, then takes several minutes to crash.  Every single time. When I called Nuance's (consistently appalling) customer service, I was told to dictate short sections of my manuscript into another document, then copy and paste those sections into the real document. In fact, I've taken to doing this when I'm transcribing large amounts of text, because it seems to be my only option. However, when what I'm doing is revising a currently existing manuscript – changing a few words here, a few words there – this is no solution at all. This software, which is supposed to be the most advanced version of a program I once loved, can't help me at all with one of the most essential parts of my job as a writer.

If it weren't for the fabulous (but very limited) native dictation feature in Apple's latest operating system, I honestly don't know how I would do my job. I expect it would either involve a lot of pain or a lot of money. (If your Mac runs Mountain Lion and you're interested in trying out your own native dictation program, open System Preferences; under the "System" section, click on Dictation & Speech; then turn dictation on. (If you really want it to work, you'll need a good microphone.))

I can't speak to any other versions of Dragon. For all I know, the version for PCs works like a charm in all situations. But the version for Mac users is the buggiest, most frustrating, and most patently useless version of dictation software I have ever owned. I say that as a writer who has depended on dictation software for writing long pieces of prose, and who has used multiple programs on multiple platforms, for almost 10 years.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bulgarian Katsa

My Bulgarian publisher, Emas Publishing, has released Graceling, and their cover is one of my favorites. I particularly like the grim color scheme, only broken up by the subtle colors of Katsa's eyes. The artist is Zlatina Zareva. Thank you, Emas!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Inception Trailer Redubbed in A Cappella

I have many deep and meaningful thoughts to blog, but I've been too busy doing important things like eating a double-decker peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich while sitting in a kayak in the middle of a lake next to some loons. So this will have to do for now: have you seen/heard the a cappella version of the trailer to the (wonderful) movie Inception? On a recent road trip, my companion played the audio for me. I have never laughed so hard while driving through New Hampshire. Here it is:

(And here's the actual trailer for comparison.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Sometimes when my nieces (now aged nearly 4) visit, I leave things within their reach on purpose, just to see what they make treasures of.

In my bedroom closet, in the bottom of this tall boot, I found…

the drain thingie from my bathroom sink...

with a quarter nestled inside.

 I see that on my globe ball…

someone has put a band-aid over Iceland.

  Under one of my orchids,
I found this little monster guy
balanced on top of the black king
from my chess set.

My cloth napkins normally live in this basket in my kitchen…

and my owl bookends normally live on this low bookcase.


Friday, July 12, 2013

I Love It Because It's Trash

One of the things I love about the collaborations between famous musicians and Sesame Street (aside from that it was my first introduction to people like Yo-Yo Ma [click here for the Beethoven Quartet for Two Honkers, Dinger, and Cello] and Itzhak Perlman [click here for a lesson on easy and hard – one of my most vivid Sesame Street memories from childhood] is that the song adaptations are generally extremely silly, but also maintain the correct style for that musician (in a way that makes the whole thing even more silly!).  Like, when Melissa Etheridge sings "Like the Way U Does," she sings with exactly the appropriate level of earnestness and angst :). Today, however, I would particularly like to thank whichever genius at Sesame Street realized that Steven Tyler needed to do a cover of "I Love Trash." Press play below.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Graffiti on Newbury Street in Boston

Monday, July 1, 2013

How to Love a Song

There's a post I want to write about cellos and my revision (as I've mentioned); there's a post I want to write with many, many cello recommendations; but this post is refusing to be either of those posts and insisting on being a post about one song. Thanks to Yo-Yo Ma's Vevo, I can share it with you here.

Below is the track "Here and Heaven," from The Goat Rodeo Sessions, which is a... part bluegrass, part classical?... collaboration by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile. Singer/songwriter Aoife O'Donovan joins those four fellows on this track, too, cowriting and adding her gorgeous vocals.

Really, I don't have a lot to say about it, because the song itself is the point. But I will briefly explain how I listen to this song, in the hopes that this will express somehow the reasons why I love it.

The song contains eight instruments. Two gambas, played by Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer – and I don't really know my gambas, so for the purpose of this post, I'm just going to call them the little gamba (played by Thile) and the big gamba (played by Meyer) ^_^ (these are the instruments that look like big fat violas, or little cellos, but are being plucked like guitars; they're the first two instruments played) (I'm trying to aggravate copyeditors with this sentence, is it working?); Stuart Duncan's banjo; Yo-Yo Ma's cello; the voices of Chris Thile and Aoife O'Donovan; Edgar Meyer's bass; and Stuart Duncan's fiddle. I might listen to this song eight times in a row, focusing on each of the instruments in turn. Then I need to listen again because I'm in love with the way the banjo and the cello, and later, the fiddle and the cello, are working together; then again to focus on the beautiful voices working together; then again to focus on how gorgeous the cello is as it works with the voices. I could just die of those low cello tones. Of course I also listen to it while appreciating everything together – and don't think that just because I haven't mentioned it I'm not appreciating the quietest contributions, both of which come from Edgar Meyer, first on that big gamba, then on his bass. That's another delightful thing to listen for, and you can watch it happen in the video – at just the right moment, Meyer puts the big gamba down and moves to the deeper bass, and the song becomes richer in just the way it should. Moments later, in the middle of a climax of voices, Duncan's banjo fades away, and the next thing you see, there he is plucking his fiddle, then playing it with his bow… Chris Thile becomes a Little Gamba Warrior (remember, the gamba, not Chris Thile, is little)... the soup of sounds grows deeper, more sustained, and more intense. The joy grows. It works because they're all virtuosos at what they do, which includes not only playing their individual instruments, but working together – and also includes songwriting. The melodies of this song are lovely, simple, often repeated, in a manner that allows them to rise to the most gorgeous, pure moments of musical happiness. The lyrics have a rhythm (of sound and content) that make you want to learn them, and sing along.

There are many ways to love a song; this one is mine. :o)