Monday, July 30, 2007

Confessions of a Junkie ...

Psst!  C'mere ... I gotta tellya somethin', and I don' wan' everbody and their uncle ta hear.


I've become hooked, and hooked deep.  It's really, really bad.

It's quite true; I'm addicted to blogging.

Okay ... so maybe not just to blogging.  I love writing, and I do it every chance I get, whether I'm supposed to be doing it or not.   Kinda like right now, for instance.

It's not that I don't love blogging -- believe me, I do.  But there are so many other, better bloggers out there to read and enjoy, I just don't think of myself as one of them.  But, my Lord, I do love to write.  Fiction, mostly, but I can prattle on uselessly about anything.  Sometimes I like to put up a journal entry.  This particular piece of literary gold you're enjoying now would loosely fall under that category, although I've been more revealing and intimate with information before.  This is just a ... well, it's kind of just an excuse to write ... as if I need one.

Maybe it's because I just like the sound of my own voice in my head, chattering away endlessly about anything that floats through the soggy gray matter.  Maybe it's because I have a big mouth and can talk a blue streak, and writing is just another verbose expression outlet.  Maybe it's because I have so much wonderful information to share with the world that I can't just let it sit between my ears and rot ... okay, that last one's not likely, but you get the general idea.  In the final analysis, I think the answer probably is just that I love writing, I fancy myself fairly capable of it, and I do it every chance I get.

The other thing that I'm addicted to is software that helps me do it.  I'm willing to bet that a fairly large percentage of bloggers just blog in their blog site's interface, or maybe use a word processor for the more powerful spelling- and grammar-checking capabilities, and then copy and paste into as many blogs as they need to.  Uh-uh, not me.  That was not even close to good enough.  I wanted a blogging client, one that would make the posting process easy and effective and let me post to multiple blogs from a single piece of software without having to involve the computer's virtual clipboard even once.

That turned out to be easier than I imagined.  As a Johnny-come-lately to blogging -- at least in any serious way -- I didn't know that such animals had been around for some time.  But once I did find out, boy, I was all over all of them I could get my hands on.

Some of them were web-based; some were browser-extensions.  Some where based on ad insertion capabilities, so that you could "generate income" from your blog.  And some of them weren't free (most were, though).  I downloaded and tried them all.

Since I'm still using, for the moment, a PC powered by Windows (or "Windoze" or "Windhose" or whatever else the Linux/Unix crowd wants to call it), I had to limit myself to the several varieties that were available for that platform.  In addition, I didn't really care for the feel of the browser extensions.  I wanted the capability of doing my work offline, saving it as a draft, and posting when I have the time and inclination.  So, I could eliminate a few more possibilities that way.

By now, the field was getting pretty narrow.  I had to find one that worked with all my various blog sites (WordPress, the new Atom-powered Blogger, LiveJournal and finally a MS Live Spaces site, too) and post to all of them with relative ease.  I also wanted a WYSIWYG editor.  I know, I know ... technical people should lean towards better markup than that.  But I'm interested in writing, not scripting code, so I wanted it to be fast and easy to make things look good on my blog.

I'm a stickler for control over my white space and since a lot of what I write is fiction, I want to use that space to assist with control over my readers' pacing.  I do that with line breaks and punctuation, and I didn't want to have to experiment with my (very) rusty HTML to learn to do it.  Or worse yet, have to learn an as-yet alien markup system like XML or XHTML to do it.  I didn't want a new language skill, I wanted to write.  The interface, therefore, had to be efficient, intuitive and understandable.  Don't jargon me.

Another aspect of my search was ease of configuration.  I'm a technical support guy, but I don't have a lot of experience with networking, particularly as it concerns the web.  So I don't know the terminology, I don't know what things out there do what, and I don't know how to communicate with my blog site's servers and their addresses.  I just know that I go to the site, I click on "New Post" or something like that, and I start typing.  I check spelling and post.  I wanted that same simplicity from my blogging client, so it couldn't be a science experiment to get it configured to use with my blogs.

With all of that in mind, the final piece was that I wanted it to be portable.  That is, if the application can be run from a USB flash drive, I'm in hog heaven.  It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it's a deal-maker for sure, if it's there.

That left me with a few options, but I was heart-broken to find that my favorite client wasn't portable-capable.

Okay, so, the clients I tried were:

  • Qumana
  • Post2Blog
  • BlogDesk (v. 2.6.600 and 2.7)
  • ScribeFire (extension for FireFox)
  • Bleezer (Java-based client)

There were a couple of others, too, but nothing that jumps out at me.  Some of them were a problem to install; some of them didn't work with the very first blog I tried to set up, and I don't have time (or desire) to figure out why.  ScribeFire was a browser extension for FireFox, and I just didn't like that.  It would be nice, probably, if I were blogging about something right from the web, but I never do that.  And even if I do, it's not a problem (and is probably a habit) for me to have the other site open in a tab and just jump back and forth.  Not efficient, I know, but I'm being honest here.  If I want to direct refer the reader to the site, I'll create a link to it and they can check it out for themselves.  I really just never got used to working with a half-browser window for blogging.  It just ... didn't work for me.

Bleezer wouldn't work right no matter how much I tried.  In all honesty, I haven't tried installing it on the computer's local drive; I've only tried putting it on the USB flash drive I carry with me everywhere.  I couldn't get it to run that way, for some reason.

BlogDesk installed easily and ran fine.  It absolutely would not connect to any of my blogs, though.  At least, not after installing on the flash drive.  It gave me several errors while trying to connect to the blog sites, even after I'd gone through their wizard repeatedly and tried to contact my blogs.  None of them -- including the ones they listed as compatible (like WordPress, for example) -- worked.  I couldn't post anything.  In addition, it didn't seem to support any of the other blogs I have, like LiveJournal and the MS Live Space I have (but can't figure out why).  While the MSLS didn't surprise me, the Blogger and WordPress portion did.  Almost all clients support those formats, and without those connections, I wasn't interested in using the tool.  Besides, one requirement was that I be able to use it for ALL of my blogs, so BlogDesk would have been eliminated anyway.  I just like playing with software.

Qumana seemed to work effectively, but I didn't want to insert ads into my blogs.  I like them clean.  So I didn't use that one too much.  I also couldn't get it to run portably, so I figured, eh, why bother?

I was going to give Ecto a try -- I'd heard about it on the web and it was supposed to be cross-platform -- but it's not freeware.  It's a paltry $17.95, but if you've got a bunch of options that are free, why would you pay?  It didn't have any features that I couldn't get somewhere else for free.  So I can't comment on that particular client ... I never used it.

Post2Blog worked.  It worked pretty well, actually.  But for some reason, it screwed up my formatting royally in LiveJournal and in another blog (but I can't remember which one right now to save my soul).  I was having to go in, edit the HTML code (because editing the WYSIWYG didn't do diddly-squat) on those couple of blog sites and re-publish.  Double the effort for half of my blogs didn't sound like the right solution to me, so I dropped and uninstalled it.  It did, however, work portably on the USB drive, and loaded quite well when launched (that is to say, it didn't take forever to launch).

My favorite, and the one I use more than anything else (and I guess I'm stuck with it until I have to bail on Windows), is none other than Windows Live Writer.  That's right, Microsoft's product beat all these other freeware products and beat them soundly.  It has a brilliant design, a very simple and easy to understand setup and configuration routine (all I needed was my blog site's web address), and it even simulates the blog's style sheet in its interface so you can see what your post will look like against the style you've got set up on your blog.  It's amazing.  It sends a temporary post to your site, gets the style information, configures itself and removes the test post as if it weren't ever there.  Nice.

It took a bit of searching around, but I finally found WLW in a portable version, made by a guy on  He's pretty clever, and he solved his own dilemma of love for WLW and not being able to take it with him by creating a portable launcher for it.  Now I have it tucked snugly into my 8GB flash drive with a launcher on my PortableAppsMenu listing; I can use it at any computer, anywhere, and it leaves only the tiniest little footprint behind.  I have a tendency to clean up after myself, but if you don't, it need not be a problem, I don't think.  Just leave it be.  When you're finished using it, the program moves everything back to your flash drive so you don't lose or miss anything, although that process can take upwards of five minutes to complete.

So, it's not a stealthy app, and it's not a fast one either, as far as the copying process goes, but remember that the developers did not intend for this to be a portable app; only the resourcefulness of the one programmer made that possible.  I don't belly-ache about it; I'm just happy to use it.

The interface is top-notch and very intuitive, if repetitive.  Every command on the menu is redundantly on the toolbar, so you really don't need both; I leave them there for aesthetics.  I just like 'em.  The configuration of blogs was really slick and very, very simple, as I've already stated.  And to change from blog to blog, all I have to do is click a selection on a drop-down list.  I even have the option of viewing the blog in a browser window when I've published.

It's totally, completely, and inarguably sweet.  What is isn't, though, is cross-platform.  So, if you're a blogger and you're using a Mac or any Linux distro, this ain't happenin' for you.  You gotta go score somethin' else, dude(tte)s.  But, make sure you know what you want from it and make sure it's going to work for you before you kill drive space and bloat your system (bogging it down) with trial versions and apps that don't perform.  Keep it clean, keep it simple and make sure you're getting what you want out of the deal.

For Windows bloggers -- even if you're very anti-Microsoft, please do yourself a favor and try this client.  It's incredible, it's easy, and unlike most anything else with Microsoft's name associated with it -- it's completely free.  You can download it here.

Happy blogging, y'all.


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Bill vs. the Wetter

When my brother Ryan was 5 or 6, and still relatively normal, he had a friend named Timmy who lived across the street from the cul-de-sac where our house was before we moved to Georgia.  Timmy's family was a nice one; he had a baby sister, his dad drove a big Lincoln Mark IV and his mom was a nice, blond lady named Nancy who stayed home just like our mother did.  Nancy and my mom became fast friends, and that's how Timmy and Ryan got to be best friends too.

So, when my best friend Bill came for his summer visit with us that year, he not only had to put up with Ryan's pestering parasitic presence, but he had to deal with Timmy tagging along from time to time too.

The neighborhood was relatively new and more and more houses were crowding around our pie-piece shaped tract lot.  Saplings were desperately struggling to take root and neighbors desperate to keep up with the Joneses were dropping in sod and sprinkler systems every weekend it seemed.  We lost access to a lot of the places we used to play as those open areas transformed into frames for houses and fences began springing up like ragweed on the sides of the rolling hills surrounding the sun-baked suburb.  We had to go farther away from home to find open areas to play in, and my parents were in an ugly battle with a Frenchman who bought the house behind them over the fence that needed to go up and the property line.

That summer Bill brought his bike with him, so we could take bike rides and get away from Ryan and Timmy from time to time.  Other times my mother left us "in charge" to watch Ryan while she was shopping or getting drunk.  We'd stay in the cool of the central air conditioning and play inside when she was busy, and the most fun game we had was torture Ryan.

We got back from my grandmother's house late the night before, so the next day was the first day that Bill and I were able to start enjoying his stay.  We had long, hot days to enjoy and it was always okay for us to stay up late when Bill was there.  We had to be quiet, of course, but we could stay up late.  So it was going to be fun.

First on the agenda was a trip to a tiny little candy shop positioned behind the Stop-N-Go just a short bike ride from the new development.  It was in one of the older parts of town, but the roads had been extended and wound up the steep hill to where our new houses were, so there was a line on the street where the old pavement stopped and the new pavement had been added just a couple of years before.  The old streets were pock-marked and pot-holed with years of abuse and disrepair, and the tinier houses from the past era were swarmed by large, mature trees that shaded the yards and made the sidewalks buckle from beneath as the roots pushed under them.  The steep hills that led down to Railroad Avenue from the side streets were a fun bike trip and we'd peddle down as fast as we could through the quiet neighborhood, whooping and yelling and being kids.

We'd be given an allowance for Bill's visit.  It was generally five dollars, which in the middle '70s was a lot of money for two kids under 12.  Naturally, we'd blow it all on candy, but it wasn't as easy to do then as it is now.  The miniature grocery store nestled in the bottom of an ancient two-storey stucco building had one of the best candy selections in town.  We bought a lunch-bag full of stuff and had spent less than a dollar.  Bill took those opportunities to tell me about all the new candy brands and types he'd tried since he last came, and pointed and said "Those are great, get some o' those," or "Aw, these are so damned good!"  It was always so cool when Bill swore.  I have no idea why.

So, the next trick was getting ourselves back to the house -- it was uphill all the way -- with our booty in hand.  Boys didn't have baskets on their bikes, of course.  And, to make it worse, the bike my parents had purchased for me had shock absorbers on the front and a dense, heavy metal frame.  It weighed about 10,000 pounds and scrawny, geeky-assed me had to peddle that son of a gun up hill for what felt like 10 miles.

By the time we got back home, I was exhausted, hot and sweaty.  We walked into my room and were greeted by Ryan and Timmy.

I knew by the look on Ryan's face that this was going to be his chance to show off in front of Timmy.  He had that little brother sneer that tells you right away he's going to try and push buttons and say things to tick you off, so that when you retaliate the scream for mom could be sounded.  And my mother, overly protective of Ryan since he'd been run over by a truck at two years old, would rush in and get in the faces of the older kids to leave him and his friend alone.  It never mattered who started it; it only mattered who was loudest.  That was Ryan every time, all the time, bar none.

"Hey, who's this?" Bill said, thrusting his chin at Timmy in greeting.  Timmy shied away, and Bill got a quizzical look on his face, looking to me for cues.

"It's Ryan's friend Timmy," I intoned heavily.  "He lives across the street.  What are you guys doing here, Ryan?"

"I live here too, JD!" Ryan said, his voice dripping with contempt.

"Yeah, not my choice.  Bill, let's get out of here," I said quickly.

"Why?" Bill said casually, dropping onto my bed and bouncing.  Ryan and I shared a room, and always had to my memory.  But when Bill came to stay, he and I would stay out in the living room in sleeping bags.  My mother always left the "spare" room for "guests" that never came.  She never once considered separating Ryan and me, and when Bill came, he didn't want to sleep there by himself.

Ryan was on his bed with Timmy standing next to him.  Timmy was a nerdy little kid at five or so; he had what seemed like a big head, with his platinum blond locks and ice blue eyes peering out of his milky white skin.  He had a mealy-mouse little voice that almost always whined, and a mono-toned laugh that was more squeal than giggle.  He was pretty well-spoken and a hell of a lot quieter than Ryan, but he had a pants-wetting problem that his mother was trying to figure out and solve.

"Because we don't want to be around these turkeys," I said, staring right at Ryan, knowing what he was up to.  "Turkey" was vernacular for jerk at the time, and Ryan was still sneering at me.

"Nah, they're cool," Bill said.  "Want some candy?"  He held out his open bag to Ryan and Timmy, and they hesitated only a second before diving in.

"Hey, just one!" he snapped, trying to close the bag as they tore into his stash like vultures.

"Mom says you have to share," Ryan snapped, getting snippy.  Here it comes, I thought.  Not even 24 hours and it's starting already.  I knew the shout for my mother wasn't far away now.

"I did share, you little prick," Bill snapped back, and I instinctively blushed at his foul language in front of Timmy.  I still thought it was cool, though.  It made Bill seem more "bad" when he swore, and his use of words forbidden from our own vocabulary always attracted me.

"Mom --" Ryan started.

Bill stood up quickly, menacing Ryan with one fist clenched over his candy sack.  "Shut up you little ass!  I did share with you, butterball."

Timmy was cowering between Bill and Ryan, who were squared off  between the beds in the room.  Mine was against one wall, with the foot of the bed pointing toward the door, and Ryan's was against the opposite wall, on the other side of the room with a window between them and the closet at the foot of his.  There were two nightstands between them and the ventilation register set into the floor. Other than that, the only thing separating the two was Timmy.

"I'm gonna tell my mom if you don't get out of here and give me some candy," Ryan threatened, sitting forward on the bed in defiance of Bill.  I don't think Bill was used to being defied by little kids, or even kids his own age.  Bill was used to getting what he wanted when he threatened other kids, and when he didn't, he followed through on his threats.  He'd grown up in a much more urban setting, in a much larger town, full of very different, city-smart and street-toughened kids.  White-bread suburbia was different for him, and Ryan was a spoiled little snot with a mouth like a foghorn who knew that his mother was going to intervene every time he mouthed off and got into trouble.

"I did give you some, you little shit," Bill spat, getting angry now.  "You didn't even say 'thank you' either, butterball."  He always called portly Ryan butterball.  He said he looked like one of those Thanksgiving turkeys you get at the store with his waddling girth and double-chin.

"I don't have to say 'thank you' -- my mom says you have to share, so you have to give it to me."

"Oh, I'll give it to you all right, you fat little punk -- right up your ass I'll give it to you!"

Bill had lost his temper, and he moved forward and gave Ryan a firm stiff-arm shove to the shoulder, sending him backwards onto the bed.

Unfortunately, timid Timmy didn't have the brains to get out of the way, and Bill's body pushed the twiggy little whelp aside and down onto his butt, hard on the floor.

"Oh, sorry, kid," Bill started, but it was too late.  Timmy wailed and tears gushed down his cheeks as he made the loudest sounds I'd ever heard him make.

Bill's face drained of color as he reached for Timmy's hand, but Timmy was sitting square on the floor with his head hung and his eyes closed, with that siren sound vibrating our eardrums and bouncing off the walls, rattling the window in its frame.

"Hey!" Bill yelled, trying to be heard, "Hey, it's okay!  You're okay, it's no big deal!  Calm down!"

"Here, Timmy, have some candy!" I shouted, holding out my open candy bag and trying to see down the hall, looking for that inevitable shadow of my mother rushing to murder us for making a child cry.

"Stop!  Stop crying!  It's okay!" Bill said, then looked at me helplessly.  "Is this guy some kind of sissy or something?" he asked.

"Well ... yeah, but ..." I stammered.

Bill had an idea.  He dropped his bag on my bed and picked Timmy up quickly and put him over his shoulders behind his neck.

Timmy was startled into silence.  "How about a ride in a helicopter, Timmy?" Bill said happily, trying to inject lightness in his tone to brighten Timmy more.

"Hey, put me down!" Timmy laughed, starting to giggle.

I started to warn him, "Bill, you don't want to do that, he has a prob--"

Too late.  Bill started spinning, with Timmy extended and stiff out on either side of his head, spinning like a helicopter's propeller.

"Here we go, getting ready for take off!" Bill said, and he spun a bit faster.  Timmy was laughing uncontrollably, loudly, and Bill started making what he imagined were helicopter sounds.

"Bill, I don't think you should --"

"Okay, let's get up some speed and really move now!" Bill continued, and Ryan was laughing and squealing loudly along with Timmy, who was absolutely shrieking and turning red with mirth.

"Bill, I really think this isn't a good idea, he's --"

"Look out, JD!" Bill said, "here it comes for a landing!"

I closed my eyes and shook my head, brushing my long, unruly hair out of my eyes and sat on the foot of my bed, trying to stay out of the way.  Gradually, slowly, Bill slowed the momentum of the boy and began to wind to a stop.  Then he bent down and flipped Timmy over his shoulders to set the little tow head down on his feet between the beds again.

"There!" he beamed proudly, "wasn't that more fun than ..."

He stopped mid-sentence, looking at me.  I had my hand on my forehead, a pained expression clearly stamped on my face, not looking at Timmy.

Bill's face sank out of his broad smile, and he turned to look at Timmy.

There was a large, dark wet spot between Timmy's legs, spread in almost a perfect circle out from the crotch.  In the exact spot where Bill had him perched on his shoulders.

Bill's eyes widened in horror.  "Oh my God!" he whispered.  "You pissed?? You pissed on me??"  He was completely incredulous.

Timmy looked calmly at Bill.

"Well, you were spinning me and spinning me and ..."  Then he shrugged with his hands outstretched as though there were nothing more to say, no more explanation than that needed.

Silently, jaw slightly agape, Bill strode out of the room and past the linen closet just outside our bedroom door, into the bathroom beyond.  The door closed and the lock clicked.

I looked over at  Ryan and Timmy.  They stood and moved quickly.

"Timmy's gotta go home and change now," Ryan said hurriedly.  "Tell mom I went to his house."

They raced down the hall and I watched behind them as they vanished into the foyer.  Directly down the hall, I could see my mother through the sliding glass door of the dining nook, puttering in the garden.  She'd never heard any of it.

A second later, the front door slammed shut.  An instant after that, I heard the shower running in the bathroom.


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