Riding the Rails, and Happy iVersary

So, its been a little while since I last wrote in here, mostly because I’ve been in my own head trying to figure stuff out. Have I made much progress? Hmmm, maybe not. I thought I knew what I was going to do next but am now quite unsure. The only thing I know is that some kind of change is needed, and soon.

So last Friday was my birthday. The unlucky Friday the thirteenth, of course. On the whole though, I would have to say it turned out to be a great, much needed day in which I felt connected to others, and as if I mattered. I took what is probably my last day off for the year and bounced around Chapel Hill, enjoying the nice weather and fraternizing with those known and not yet known.

Then when I got home, I was pleasantly surprised by my fun neighbors who had decided to buy me some delicious cake and a fun birthday card, the audio of which I may record when I get back home. It says

Don’t just stand there,

And when you open it, it plays a snippet of Celebrate Good Times.

And finally for that weekend, I got to spend some time with my cousin. He and his wife came up to attend a wedding in Durham, and also took me to Texas Roadhouse where I consumed some great country fried chicken and mashed potatoes, both smothered in cream gravy. Man, I’m making myself hungry writing that. I wanna go back there for more!

At this moment, I’m headed to my hometown of Charlotte for another birthday dinner, made I think by my aunt and for me and my uncle whose September birthdays are relatively close. I don’t know what’s on the menu just yet, but look forward to it nonetheless.

I’m on a crowded Amtrak, where I can hear someone’s blaring music. I was about to say walkman, but then my 90s flashback ended. No wonder we all aren’t able to hear anymore!

I, on the other hand, am typing on my iPhone using the Fleksy app. I’ve had this thing, or at least some version of it, for a year as of tomorrow. Ice said repeatedly that it has changed my life, and that continues to be true.

In acknowledgement of that, I thought I’d quickly highlight twelve of my favorite iPhone apps, one for each month.

There of course is Fleksy. Admittedly, I haven’t used it much since April or so, but that’s primarily because I do my longform typing on the PC these days. It is great though, as I can just sling my fingers all over the screen in an approximation of the keyboard, and rapidly produce words and sentences.

My second favorite these days is a gaming app called Dice World. Is has helped kill many an idle hour at the workplace. Dice games of Farkle, Pig, yatzy, and a fourth whose spelling I’m not entirely certain of.

The third app is Amazon’s Kindle. My latest book reviews of up and coming authors attests to that.

Fourth would be the first I ever downloaded, Serotek’s iBlink Radio. I enjoy this one, because it gives me access to so much information in and about the blindness community.

The fifth, well sort of, is Facebook. I don’t know if I like so much what they’re doing to the side itself, and especially posting so many status updates in the notifications section, but I do appreciate that they now have an accessibility team that tries to make the app and associated experiences better for us.

Twitter is now doing similar, but I still prefer using the Twitterrific app, my sixth listing. They have a grey team who will respond if users report that they are having issues or wish to learn more about a function.

Speaking of responsiveness, I also sometimes enjoy using Earl, an accessible app that allows you to hear the news read by a dedicated electronic voice. The audio is pretty high quality, and one can control story selection simply by speaking to the device. It aggregates news from several major sources, and allows gathering of other sites as well.

My eighth, although I must admit I don’t entirely understand what I’m doing and why, is Solara. This is a game where you fulfill quests by using an ever expanding group of heroes to fight bad guys, and increasing the size and strength of your castle fortress. If anything, it too is a great time waster.

Because I’m tired and feel like it, my last four apps will be sports related. MLB At Bat and college football radio make for great audio of games, and are relatively accessible. NFL Mobile now works too, though I’m hoping they will make getting to the game fees less cumbersome soon.

For score checker apps, I use Sports Alerts, and another that I really like called Team Stream which pushes notifications whenever news becomes available on any of your chosen favorite teams.

If any of these interest you, they should easily be found in the App store. If not, let me know and I’ll find the link. More soon.

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September Sleep

In the most recent Weekend Edition Sunday (NPR), host Rachel Martin did a number of stories about sleep. Do we get enough of it? Why do we need it. What is the purpose of dreaming?

I never really do get enough, but find it somewhat odd that September seems to be the most difficult month in which to grab shut-eye, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. Take a look at Twitter on any given night during this fine month, and you’re likely to see half of your timeline still awake after 2 AM, bemoaning the fact that work the next day will be difficult to impossible.

I know at this time last year, I had some nights that were so devoid of sleep that I actually worried I might have some sort of medical difficulties. I am of course very happy that none of that came to pass, and that my challenge now is to simply maintain enough hours to stay within this early work schedule. I can’t help but to wonder if its lacking contributes to the too-high unemployment rate among many blind folks?

I wrote a piece back in 2010 that explored the how’s and why’s of sleep and its lacking particularly among this group. I kind of wanted to participate in the study that major drug company was conducting, but was afraid I’d find it hard to keep up the fairly strict regimen that was demanded of participants. I also worry about becoming dependent on a pill in that way, although it could be that feeling so tired during the day is making it harder for me to remain as productive as I should be. This last is why I’ve picked up the, perhaps bad, habit of going for a cup of coffee after I get off, not every day but fairly regularly.

While most aspects of sleep drive me a bit crazy and I wish it could be removed with my still being able to function, I do enjoy dreams. I think someone on that Weekend Edition program said that it’s like having a director, film-writer, and actors all in your head, and I very much agree. It’s a movie!

I’ve sometimes dreamt of another verse to a song I and my cousins were in the process of writing, during our o-so-fun days as a singing group. I need to write up another post about those days though, as my last got swallowed in the death of my previous blog. Anyway, I’d wake up and have to pound on the keys so hard and fast my fingers hurt, before those words slipped away.

I’ve also had an NLS (National Library Service for the Blind) narrator read an entire chapter of a book that didn’t exist. On waking, I tried to figure out how I could tap into that creativity.

Sleep is something I think about, struggle with, and just learn to do the best I can on a daily basis. To what extent would you say you get enough, or don’t? How do you cope with the demands of work and school when sleep fails you? I need effective strategies.

Book Review: Water’s Blood, by Elaine Calloway

Again, the Amazon Kindle app on my iPhone allows me to support and enjoy the work of a newly published author and relatively long-time Twitter friend. She writes under the name Elaine Calloway, and the first title of her Elemental Clans series is Water’s Blood.

The four essentially nonhuman characters represent the natural elements: water, wind, earth, and fire. They have assumed human form, and their primary job is to protect humans from the Minare, or Fallen Angels. These fallen angels, not surprisingly, work under the guidance of Lucifer. The elementals are commanded by a force referred to as “universe”.

In Water’s Blood, Brooke, the water elemental, creates major challenges when she meets, falls in love, and ultimately mates with a New Orleans police officer named Alex. She thus gives birth to a half-human, half-elemental child named Ella, over whom the Fallen Angels immediately go into motion to try and claim. Their big prize? Ella’s soul.

Brooke and Alex are forbade from remaining coupled up, as Universe requires that elementals not let their powers be known to the masses for fear that these powers might be misinterpreted. They are thus forced to live under a maddening, especially to Alex, set of rules that allow Brooke only to see Ella occasionally and in a detached way that avoids revealing the fact that Brooke is actually her mother.

Set against the already magical, mysterious backdrop of New Orleans, Water’s Blood is filled with moments of amazement, amusement, sadness, and nerve-racking intensity.

We cringe as Brooke is forced to reign herself in during bar interactions, as she works serving drinks and is sometimes accosted by fallen angel hinchmen.

We also are given vivid descriptions of New Orleans scenery, including a fun dog show on the levy and jugglers on unicycles in another part of that frenetic city.

The story is told in the third person, with most of the emphasis being placed on Alex and Brooke’s perspectives. We do ride along though as Ella makes her first, unknowing, encounters with the bad guys who vow to subvert her and thereby seriously undermine the work done by Brooke and her colleagues.

I like that all of the elementals have names that reference their element of power. Phoenix represents fire, and Tempest is powered by wind, for example.

The second book in this series entitled Raging Fire, was just very recently published. It takes up Phoenix’s story and the things he primarily had to deal with. I plan to read it next. They certainly make for good reads during public transit commutes, as they call on one to be more aware of the interesting mix of people and perhaps odd, or just misperceived things that might be going on around one.

If you’d like to kind of get your feet wet before diving all the way in, I’d advise reading the prequel first. It’s free, on SmashWords, and entitled Droplet. Only 5 pages or so, it does help lead you into the story with a little more understanding of how things will unfold.

As usual for me, I’ve not actually finished reading this first book yet. I like to review it about a third of the way in, both so that I hopefully have enough of an understanding of plot and don’t end up giving too much away. But I can safely say I’d recommend it, if for the wide variety of emotions experienced while perusing its pages.

Goin’ to Carolina in My Mind

Nothing can be finer,… than sitting in a jam-packed coffee shop near the UNC campus.

This time of new beginnings, of delving back into academic studies (I can reach my hand to the right or to the left on this giant bar and feel books, papers and laptops strewn everywhere) cause me to ache with nostalgia.

I’ve gotten into a comfortable habit of coming here at least a couple times per week, after a long day of mostly twiddling my thumbs on the day job, to be re-awakened. Many studies have proven that being in such creative environments can in fact be stimulating.

What I’m finding a little less stimulating though is that so many of my friends are leaving my fair state! It seems that California, with her promise of less humidity and perhaps greater employment, is re-claiming her former residents. I don’t know if living out there would be for me though, as the cost of living is pretty high and I’m not so sure about earthquakes. But then I guess we all have some sort of natural disasters to deal with.

I know that it’s pretty likely I’ll leave this state for whatever comes next, unless something unforeseen happens. But if I do, I’ll be happy that I got to experience life in three fairly different regions: Moore County and the Sand Hills, (country, country, country!) the Triangle, (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) basically the intellectual heart of NC, and the Charlotte area, which some derisively call the Great State of Mecklenburg.

Ah, my hometown of Charlotte. Right now, much of our national representation is due to the somewhat hapless Carolina Panthers (NFL). You know, I’m half tired of watching this team so often start the season in the same way. Facing the Seattle Seahawks, we managed to drop one late yesterday 12-7 when DeAngelo Williams, one of our star running backs lost the ball on the Seattle 7 yard line as we were going in to score. This happened, as do so many of our disasters, in the fourth quarter. But I should try and be a devoted fan and keep watching, hoping that maybe on the tenth anniversary of what will probably always be the best season in Panthers history, we’ll manage to recapture a bit of that magic somehow. Remember the infamous Super Bowl with Janet Jackson showing off a bit more than she should have? Yep, we were there!

And these are some of the things I’ve been pondering during my long hours at the table, thinking about all of the things that make our state unique. Wherever I end up going, I hope to settle back here once I’m fully in my career, and I hope that particularly our urban centers can become a bit more interesting so that we don’t keep bleeding off good, talented people. Until next time, from the Tar Heel State.

On #31WriteNow and Catch-Up

So, I clearly didn’t win or even come close to winning the #31WriteNow challenge. I suppose getting 20 posts down in the month of August, some of which I think were pretty good, was an achievement in and of itself.

I knew that going to DC would likely knock me off of my game, but it was more than that. I just couldn’t bring myself to post when I didn’t have anything particularly exciting to talk about.

I do think it was worth the attempt, though. I managed to find a few excellent bloggers whose work I now enjoy reading every day. If I am ever to improve, it will be by reading the thoughts and words of people who are skilled at crafting them and putting them onto real or virtual paper.

I have entered a tumultuous period in my life, where job opportunities became available but I couldn’t nail down certainty of direction quickly to secure them. I am also of course continuing to work on learning HTML in this online course, and feeling a bit overwhelmed and not quite up to speed with the rest of the class. I understand that this is in all likelihood just in my head though, and that the best thing I can do is to keep powering through my doubts and frustrations. Hopefully I’ll manage to get everything figured out in due time.

On the bright site, my birthday month has begun! It signifies the end of summer, sure, but celebration of one’s birthday is one of the few things that we get to bring with us from childhood. At the moment, it seems I might get to see my cousin for at least a little bit that weekend, on September 14 to be exact, and if that happens it would be nice. The actual day is Friday the 13th though, so I might stay locked inside in order to avoid whatever bad luck might befall me. Yeah right, like that ever happens. I’ve had a few Friday the 13th birthdays, and nothing particularly interesting has happened to me therein.

Speaking of nothing happening, I’ve spent the entire Labor Day weekend reading and listening to lots of sports. I finally have my ideal sports set-up, with the iPhone sitting across the room and playing games as I tweet and write on the PC. Much of the day was hot with a heavy smell of rain, with thunderstorms sweeping in as it wrapped up. Kind of made me glad I hadn’t been able to execute my plans to hang out with someone earlier. I would like to find something to do tomorrow, as it might well be my last day off for a long time.

And that’s all for this stream of consciousness post. Hopefully something fun will pop up in my life, preferably another trip to someplace. This’ll be only the second summer since 04 that I’ve not flown anywhere, largely as a reflection of rising airfares. Ah well, the Megabus was plenty fun. More later.