The end of the mouse is in sight.

I’m at the two-weeks-left point of my job, and boy howdy am I ready to be done. I really like the job, don’t get me wrong, but I’m holding off on doing so many things right now. One thing I’ll say, I don’t know if I’ll ever find a cooler job — I’ve listened to so much music that I broke my headphones.

Thank goodness for duct tape.

Thank goodness for duct tape. No point in getting a new pair, since I’ll only be there a short while longer.

One of the things I’m holding off on is coloring my hair. Disney has a set of appearance guidelines called “The Disney Look,” and one of the points is to have hair in a “natural” shade. I miss the crazy colors I used to be able to do! So the day after I no longer work there, I’ll be bleaching, then coloring my hair with this stuff:

MAGENTA!

I’m most likely also going to give myself an undercut, because, why not?

We have our move date set; on September 9th, we’ll be flying ourselves and the cats out to Arizona. Where they apparently don’t have things like this in the grocery stores:

A Wal-Mart in Florida.

I’m looking forward to a time when I find this kind of thing weird and cool again, instead of just looking at it and thinking, Eh, that’s totally normal.

In other news, there are a couple of new bouncing baby books in the Meyer household! Scott’s fourth book, Master of Formalities, came out on July 7th (on Kindle; the paper version and audio book will be released on July 28th). It’s completely different from his other three books, and the quickie descriptions is “Downton Abbey set in the Dune universe.” I loved it, but then again, I’m probably a biased reader.

Scott's books: 4 so far!

You can check out Master of Formalities over at Amazon: USA, UK, Canada. You can also see all of his books at his Amazon author pages on the USA and UK sites. (His Magic 2.0 books are all on sale right now for $2.00 each on the Kindle, so there’s that, too!)

But wait, there’s more! I also had a book come out this month: Unsung Villains, which is the sequel to my first book, We Could Be Villains. Now I have a matched pair! I have some thoughts about the third in the series, but right now I’m thinking about writing something else before I move on to book 3. And of course, all writing is going to wait until after we’ve moved across the country.

Valentine & Hart, Books 1 & 2

Note: These copies are test proofs, so the actual covers aren’t as dark. Pertinent links: Unsung Villains is available on Kindle and paper at Amazon USA, UK, and Canada.

And to celebrate, right now (through July 21st), my first book, We Could Be Villains, is on sale for 99¢ in the US Kindle store, and 99p in the UK Kindle store.

I hope to get back to this blog and write a lot more, once I don’t have a day job anymore. After we move I’ll be putting myself through online school for graphic design, and I’ll probably have a lot of fun projects and things to share. Plus, I’ll have much more available time, since I won’t be away from home for 9 hours every day.

One last snappie before I sign off:

SO CLOSE.

SO. DARNED. CLOSE.

Photodump: 2015 so far, and things to come

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Sorry, any of those who are following the minutiae of my life! Things have been very busy of late, and they’re only going to get busier very soon.

Back in February, we took a trip out to Phoenix, Arizona. We went for a couple of reasons: first, all of my immediate family has migrated there from Seattle, so we were able to visit my parents, as well as my brother and his family.

tiki gods and lemons

My parents have a thriving lemon tree in their backyard, with a few friends keeping it company. The bulk of the landscaping is pale gravel, which I really dig. Lawns are not my thing.

The other reason we went there was to scope the place out. We’ve been here in Florida for over 8 years now, and it still doesn’t feel like home. We have no urge whatsoever to buy a house here and settle down. As soon as we went back west, where the time zones run later and the TV stations all start with the letter K, it felt right again. We went into a Safeway grocery store, and I almost cried with joy.

SO, we’re moving to Phoenix in September. We’ll be able to find a place to live starting about 60 days out, and are currently planning other aspects of the move. (Current plan: ABF U-Pack ReloCube for our stuff, transport company to take the Fiat over, and we’ll fly out nonstop with the cats.)

We’ve started into doing things here for the last time. Scott’s brother came out to visit this month, so we went on our last trip to the Universal parks.

really, Universal?

I went as ready as I thought I could be. They always make you put your purse in a locker, so I wore shorts with deep pockets, put my phone, wallet and keys in those, and even brought safety pins to pin my pockets closed to keep my stuff safe. And YET! Now on a few rides, Universal doesn’t allow you to take any of that stuff on the rides — you have to go through metal detectors, and if you’re carrying any personal belongings, you STILL have to go put them in a locker.

That trip to Universal also taught me that my equilibrium has become so bad with age, I can’t really do the big roller coasters anymore. I’ll stick with Disney-grade rides from now on. (And when we’re in Phoenix, we’ll be a 5-hour drive to Disneyland. Which thrills me more than I can say. It’s still a way better park than any of the ones we have here in Florida.)

Brother-in-law brought my birthday card, which had been mailed a month before, but met with some peril on the way:

birthday card

Ouch. The machine did a near-perfect job of tearing off the name and address, while leaving the envelope sealed. It’s impressive, in a way. Though it looks like someone gave it an F grade.

After Universal, we went to the Magic Kingdom with brother-in-law. Everything there was much more my speed. One nice thing about both Universal and Disney is that they have some decent gluten-free options in the restaurants. At Universal, many of their burgers can be put on a gluten-free bun (they still haven’t quite perfected the texture, but they do the job of holding the fillings in just fine). At Disney, I got the GF chicken strips, which are not only good, but I think they’re better than the regular ones.

Disney gluten-free chicken strips

Let’s see, what else is going on? I’m currently working on the 4th draft of my next book (beta reader feedback is coming in these days, and I’m making edits based on their comments/suggestions/critiques).

The cats are lovely, as always:

Cheddar and Trouble and a box

We have a large cardboard box in our living room, because Cheddar just adores it. Sometimes she’s inside it, but most of the time she lays on top of it. Trouble isn’t as thrilled with the box, but then again, she’s a crotchety old 17-year-old. She’s seen it all, man.

Oh, and we had a great celebrity encounter recently, when our friends Jen and John from Cake Wrecks took us along to see the Mythbusters Live show, where we also got a backstage meet-and-greet with Jamie and Adam.

Mythbusters!

The show was a fascinating thing: a weird hybrid of comedy, science demonstrations, Q&As, and more.

So that’s what’s going on these days! If you’re wondering what I’ll be doing for a job, after we move I’ll be taking a few months to do a few things: I’m going to put myself through an online certificate program for graphic design, since my knowledge is mostly self-taught and mostly at least 5 years old at this point. I’m going to get Scott’s social media sites whipped into shape (we could do so much more with his Facebook and Twitter accounts). And by that point, my 2nd book should be out, and I’ll be able to start on my 3rd. Which I believe will be in a different universe completely.

Photoshop Text Effect Tutorial: Road Stencil

I’ve been learning a ton of new tips and tricks from following Photoshop text tutorials lately. As we were driving to the grocery store the other day, I looked down at the chipped up, grimy, beat-to-hell turn arrow and text on the road and thought, that’d be a cool thing to create in Photoshop! I looked around for a tutorial, but couldn’t find one. So I made one! Note: this is done in Photoshop CS4; things might be in slightly different places in different versions.

sign7-brown

Here are the elements I scouted around for online. Major thanks to everyone who makes these things available!
Font: Boston Traffic
Pattern 1: Seamless Asphalt Texture
Pattern 2: Whitewashed Blue and Beige Grunge Patterns
Brush: Dust Particles Brush Set
Object: Tire Treads
Object: Left Turn Arrow

First, you’ll want to make a pattern out of the asphalt texture. Open that image file and go to Edit > Define Pattern. Done!

Decide how large you want your image to be. For a lot of the tutorials I’ve been following, I’ve been doing them small—around 400×600 pixels. (Then I don’t have to do any resizing to post them here on the ol’ blog.)

Create your base layer and color it in black. Or whatever solid color you like; we’ll be laying a pattern over the top, so you won’t see that color anymore. Go to your layer styles (that little “fx” option at the bottom of your layers window) and choose “Pattern Overlay.” Select your newly-created asphalt pattern, and scale it so that it has a realistic look. I went down to 25% on this 400×600 sample.

sign-1-pattern-overlay

Why not just use the fill bucket to fill that first layer with the pattern? Unscaled, the gravel in the asphalt looks HUGE. It’s like when you see a miniature boat filmed for a movie; the boat looks accurate, but the water underneath it looks wrong. You want to scale the pattern so that whatever you put over the top of it doesn’t look weirdly out of scale.

Next up, type in your text. I found the font Boston Traffic and loved it immediately; it already has jagged, irregular edges, event though we’ll jack those up even more a little bit later. Fiddle with the font size, distance between lines, and distance between letters until you get a look you like. Here are my settings.

sign-2-plain-text

Once you get the type where you want it, rasterize it. (Right-click on that layer and choose “Rasterize Type”.) We’ll be doing some erasing in a moment, and you can’t do that when it’s still type.

Back to the layer styles we go! Here are the settings, applied to the rasterized type layer:

sign-3a

sign-3b

sign-3c

sign-3d

sign-3e

The pattern I used in this part is the blue crème #42 from the webtreats collection, but you could use any pattern that just adds an element of dirty grunginess. Adjust the opacity of that pattern to add as much (or as little) grime as you want. I like it pretty grimy, since I’m also going to dirty things up a lot.

sign4a-layers

Next, let’s erase away some of the text. Not a lot, just enough to show some wear and tear. This is one of the thousands of reasons I love the dust particle brushes from wegraphics: they’re good for a thousand and one uses. Fire up the eraser (at 100% opacity), pick one of the dust brushes you like, scale it to an appropriate size (for this 400×600, I scaled my brushes to around 700 pixels) and just give it one tap.

sign4-pockmarks

Boom! Pitted and aged.

Now, while you’re erasing, you can also take some nibbles away from the sides of the letters, to give them even more wear and age. No need to go overboard—just make some of the straighter edges not so straight.

Now, let’s add in the tire tread. Open up the tire tread image file and select a tread you like. I picked the fourth one from the left, because it has that gross blobby portion in the bottom half. Select whichever tread you want, copy it over into a new layer, then resize and rotate it so that it’s a good proportion to the text. Change the layer’s style to Linear Burn, and bump the opacity down to about 65%. You can also put a little bit of Gaussian Blur on it, to take away some of the sharper edges. (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur; I went with a radius of 0.8 pixels.)

sign5-tread

Now, the pavement itself looks too clean and new. Create a new layer underneath the text, and go to town with those dust particle brushes. Pick a few shades of dark gray and tap the brushes to put down a splattering of grime. Photoshop also comes with a few spatter brushes, so experiment with those. You can play with the layer styles here too; change the style from Normal to Overlay to Linear Burn and see what you like.

sign6-grime

You can also add in some browns, for oil and dirt and dust and coffee spills. I created a new layer for brown and set the layer style to Overlay, then smeared around three or four shades of brown, some stacked on top of each other.

sign7-brown

For some, it’s done. For others, it just wouldn’t be complete with a little gradient around the outside, to give it a kind of hip Instagram-style filtered look. So here’s that, if you want it. It’s a totally optional step. As shown, I created a new layer over the top of all others, filled it with a radial gradient, black to transparent, reversed so that the black is on the outside.

sign8-gradient

I set the layer style to Overlay, and knocked opacity down to 50%. And there you have it, if gradients are your thing! (You could also do that gradient in a dark brown. Or any other color that floats your boat.)

sign9-done

You can also do the exact same thing with objects, instead of text. Here, I took the standard road sign arrow, chopped a piece out of it to give it that stenciled look, and then applied all of the same settings, layers, and whatnot.

sign10-arrow

So there you have it, stenciled road text! Now I’m headed out on the internet to find more tutorials to follow.

Playing with Photoshop Text Effects

I’ve had Photoshop on my computer for years, but I’ve mostly used it for, y’know photos. And doodle-related stuff. If I was using it to put text on something, I might put an outline around the text. Or a drop shadow. That was about the limit of my Photoshop text experience.

Recently, I’ve had my eyes opened that you can do some really cool text effects in Photoshop.

We bought a package of vintage and retro text effects (they were on a hella good sale, which sadly ended a couple of days ago). I took a look, and as is usually the case when seeing something cool and artist, I wondered if I could learn how to do that kind of thing.

Here’s a sample from the package we bought:

Vintage/retro text effects package sample

Vintage/retro text effects package sample

It’s pretty cool. Textured background, textured letters, lots of shading and shadows and groovy crap like that. So since I had nothing better to do with my day off today, I’ve searched around the internet for tutorials and how-to guides for some Photoshop text effects.

There are a ton of sites out there with “50 great text effects” and such. I browsed through those until I found things that looked cool. Here are some of the things I learned to do today:

The letter M. ON FIRE!

The letter M. ON FIRE!

Here’s a flaming letter, from a tutorial over at 10 Steps. You do a bunch of manipulation of the text itself, then you actually put a layer of a photograph of fire over the top, and manipulate that too!

Just call me Ms. Fancy Pants.

Just call me Ms. Fancy Pants.

For a lot of these, I put in text that seemed to fit the style. This is a totally fancy-pants tutorial from Tuts+. (I will confess, I only made it halfway through this one; their final product is way cooler than mine. But I did this one just before lunch, stopped at the mid-way point, then decided to just save it and move on.)

Looks like nail polish to me.

Looks like nail polish to me.

This is a glossy emblem tutorial from Hongkiat — they’re a great source for lots of tutorials. I changed a number of the settings, including the color, and used a different background. But I really like the look of this one; it has a kind of fluid look, like someone filled in the words with wet fingernail polish.

Shiny!

Shiny!

Here’s a really cool light burst effect, thanks to a tutorial from Designer Freelance. I thought it was quite shiny. The shadow of the text stretching along the ground made me extra happy.

I am a mature adult.

I am a mature adult.

Last but not least is my favorite of the lot, this light burst from Photoshop Essentials. And no, it isn’t just my favorite because of the text I used. Although I’m delighted by that, too. What can I say, my inner child is a 13-year-old boy.

I’m excited to try more tutorials, because in each one, I learn about a text effect or filter or other Photoshop trick I’d either never used before, or I’d never used it quite that way. I’m sure I’ll get around to doing more this evening, since there’s nothing else to do today.

So happy Photoshopping friends! Merry Christmas to all, and to all, poopy farts!

Photodump: 2014 So Far, and Introducing Cheddar

It’s only been, what, nine months since I’ve updated over here? It’s because Holiday Doodles has pretty much eaten up the time I used to be able to put into writing blog posts. Someday, when Scott’s books are making a bajillion dollars, I’ll be able to quit working full-time and do more creative works. Until that day, though, the hours outside of the day job are scant and precious.

I never did introduce Cheddar, aka Tillamook Medium Cheddar, our new cat. So I’ll combine that in a photodump that’ll catch up on the last nine months.

Cheddar and Scott at the shelter.

We got Cheddar the day after Thanksgiving. We were ready to go on Thanksgiving, but the shelters were closed.

Commie had passed just a week before, but Trouble was very mopey, and so were we. I looked at the pictures of cats on the shelter’s website, and really liked the looks of this little orange and white girl. But of course, we decided to let a cat pick us, as we always have.

We went into the large room where all of the well-socialized adult cats were (no kittens for me; way too much hassle) and I sat down, and what do you know, the very same orange and white girl jumped immediately into my lap, lay down, and started purring. SOLD! Her former name was “Blonde”, and I’m not sure if that’s pronounced like the hair color or like the cartoon character married to Dagwood. At any rate, it took about a week after bringing her home for her name to appear. (Of course, we have 100 nicknames for her at this point.)

She was 2-1/2 when we got her. She’d been in the shelter just a couple of days shy of SIX MONTHS. Which right there is why we’ll always get adult cats. The kittens fly out the doors, and this sweet and gentle cat had to wait a half year for us to come along.

Moving with Cheddar

The biggest thing of the year so far is that we moved house a couple of months ago. Our old apartment complex had upped the rent significantly for the previous couple of years, and they tore down the greenbelt between the apartment and the turnpike. Then they started construction on the turnpike, which included some awesome pile driving in the middle of the night.

We decided to move much closer to work, so I wouldn’t have to drive on the interstate anymore. That was, and continues to be, one of the big triggers for my anxiety.

Cheddar and toy stacking.

Both cats were incredibly patient throughout the move, and kept their mellow for the most part. Although only Cheddar is mellow enough to let me stack toys on her. (My record so far is seven.)

Cheddar helping Scott.

Scott’s been getting a lot of assistance when he works. His fourth novel is in the draft stage right now, and I think it’s his best so far. Since I last posted, two out of three of the Magic 2.0 trilogy have been published: Off to Be the Wizard came out with its second edition in March, and Spell or High Water came out in June. The third book of the trilogy, An Unwelcome Quest, is currently available for pre-order and comes out in February of 2015.

Trouble and Cheddar and a book!

The girls modeled OtBtW when it came out. As you can see, they’re pretty chill with each other. They don’t cuddle at all, but they spend quite a bit of time near each other. And there’s often some exciting play-chasing around the apartment. Trouble has lost some weight, since she now has a more active cat to frolic with.

The Cheddar is in.

In the new apartment, my inbox is apparently really comfortable. Though sometimes she’ll plop right down on my graphics tablet, or in front of the keyboard.

What have I been working on while Scott writes novels and Basic Instructions? Well, there’s the Holiday Doodles, which just turned two years old in concept (two years ago, I was doing them on a whiteboard at work) and just turned one year old online. There are also other various projects at home.

And as for work, I changed jobs there too! I’m with the same team, but doing different tasks. Now I get to listen to a lot of music and discover a lot of new bands, which is pretty cool. I’ve never been this up on the Billboard Hot 100 in my life, not even when I worked in radio. I’ll have to post some new and exciting music for you all.

Cheddar loves boxes.

Our new apartment has laminate floors, which is a first for us. And I LOVE IT. Carpets are gross. We do still have carpets in the bedrooms, but it’s tolerable. Especially since it’s a newly constructed apartment, so we’re the first people to walk on these particular carpets. This apartment has already taught me that I don’t necessarily want granite countertops when we finally buy a place (we got a whole page on the care and feeding of our granite counters), but I’ll definitely want one of these flat glass cooktops, and a side-by-side fridge with ice and water in the door. Heaven!

So, to sum up the last 9 months: things are busy, but good. And these cats are delightful.

Weird Holidays = Holiday Doodles

A few months back, I posted about the daily doodles I was doing at work. And more than one person said that I should be putting them online somewhere, or make a daily calendar, or something.

The calendar thing would be a challenge, only because at this point, I’d have to start researching and drawing 2015. Because that’s how the calendar business rolls. But I did finally build a site where these will be online!

The daily doodles are now at holidaydoodles.com, and I’ve even bumped from 5 days a week up to 7. So now there’s a doodle for every darned day.

The archives are a work in progress, since I’m now colorizing everything in the computer, and a lot of the old ones were colored in with crayon or pencil. So let me show you how I’m building the archives (and the new holidays are done in a very similar way).

copying the archives

I figured that a light table to trace my old stuff on would be prohibitively expensive. But I was wrong! Yes, the big fancy light tables cost hundreds of dollars. But did you know that the magnificent folks at Crayola make a light-up tracing pad for a mere twenty bucks? It fits an 8.5×11 sheet of paper, runs on three AA batteries, and is plenty bright for my needs.

Tracing pad in hand, I started putting five or six drawings on a sheet of paper. I’d copy them over in pencil, then re-draw with my pen of choice: the classic (and cheap) Paper Mate Flair. (I use these at work, too, in a variety of colors.) Bolder than ball-point, not as fat and runny as Sharpie, the Flair rocks my little socks.

photographing the archives

Next, getting the new drawings into the computer. Yes, we have a scanner. It’s part of the printer/scanner/copier device we have. And like all printers, it chooses not to work correctly approximately 42% of the time. Instead, what I’m doing is taking pictures of the drawings with my phone. As long as I’m connected to wi-fi, they upload immediately to my DropBox space, and they’re automatically available on my computer. Much faster than scanning.

computer tracing the archives

In Adobe Illustrator, I run a process called “Live Trace” over the drawings. It takes them from plain old JPGs and turns them into vector art, which can be sized as small or large as you want without a change in quality. Sometimes it takes some tickling in the Live Trace settings, to get things just how I want them, but it’s pretty quick. By the way, this is the same process that Scott uses on his characters, as I showed in my Basic Instructions: Behind the Scenes exposé.

Finally, I color in the drawings using the plain old paint bucket tool. I only learned this week that Illustrator has a huge bunch of patterns that you can paint bucket with, as well as solid colors. You can probably see some of the patterns I’ve added to my bucket fill library there on the right. Haven’t found a reason to use any of them yet, but now I have them at the ready.

before and after

I save the colorized versions, upload them to the Holiday Doodles site, add in a brief commentary, and set them free.

For upcoming days, I’m doing them seven at a time on the weekend, then scheduling them so they post at 12:01 AM Eastern time every day. And I’m learning my lessons about researching before drawing — I had Tom Cruise Day ready to go for October 5, drawn up and everything, then learned that it’s actually October 6. Or maybe October 10, but I’m rolling with the 6th. I try for a minimum of two holidays per day, but I’m happy when it’s three or more. I have a five-holiday day coming up this week, which delights me.

In Search of the Perfect Hatchback

We’ve been car shopping this last month, Scott and I. Our cars were both the same make and model — Ford Focus 2-door hatchback. Mine was from 2007, and Scott’s was from 2001. The 12-year-old Focus just wasn’t driving that great anymore; it was grumbly and growly and needed some work done again, so we decided to go ahead and trade it in for something new.

Scott thought we should get something new for me, and he’d take over the 2007 Focus, since I drive a lot more than he does. I wasn’t about to complain.

So, we checked out all of the little hatchbacks currently available. We opted for a hatch for a couple of reasons — since we have no kids, and rarely chauffeur anyone else around, we only need two seats. We’re big fans of good gas mileage. And hatches are, for the most part, really cute.

So first off, let’s talk about the models we didn’t bother to test drive:

Mini Cooper

Mini Cooper: I have friends who own Mini Coopers, and seem to like them just fine. But the price point is kind of a shock — they’re a good 5 to 10 thousand dollars more than most of the other hatchbacks out there. And I suspect you’re not getting all that much more car for the money. Also, for me personally, Mini is kind of in the same category as Apple products or Harley-Davidson motorcycles or Vespa scooters — they cost more than other brands, because you’re getting a certain feel of status that you like. But the product itself might not be as great, and may in fact require a lot more repair. (I’m not saying that’s the case with Mini, but it certainly is with Apple and Harley and Vespa, in my experience.)

Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta: We would have loved to test-drive a 2-door Ford. We’ve been very happy with our two Focuses, as well as the old Ford Escort I used to own. But sadly, the Fiesta is Ford’s smallest car in the USA right now. We might have considered it, except for two reasons: one, it looks like the modern-day equivalent of a station wagon (I’m also looking at you, Honda Fit), which is the last thing a non-mom wants; and two, my parents rented a Fiesta when they visited us in Florida, and it felt really cheap. Sad trombone, Ford. Sad trombone.

Smart ForTwo

Smart ForTwo: We didn’t test-drive the Smart this time around because we’d test-driven one a couple of years ago. It was plenty cute, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t stand the transmission. It was a sort of automatic/manual hybrid; you could let the car itself do all of the shifting, but there were also paddles behind the steering wheel with which you could manually shift. But no matter which mode you chose, the car was sluggish to respond. It was as if the gear changed, and the car had to think about things for a second, then it finally realized, “Oh, the gear changed,” then it would accelerate again.

So those are cars we considered, then didn’t consider. Now, onward to the cars I actually drove:

200-yaris

Toyota Yaris: For the last couple of years, we figured that this would be the car we’d get. It’s small, it’s cute, no unnecessary back doors, comes in a huge rainbow of colors. But when I went to the dealership, I found out that most of the unique colors aren’t carried anymore. It was pretty much the standard black, white, silver, and red (none of which I wanted), and a blue that was tolerable.

I test-drove an automatic, because that was all the dealership had on hand. It was decent, but nothing phenomenal. The automatic felt a little sluggish, but I figured a manual might have a little more pep. I asked if they were expecting any to arrive with a manual transmission, and after some searching, the dealer told me that not only were no manual transmission Yarises on the way, but out of the 180 dealerships across the southeast that they could get cars from, there wasn’t a single manual Yaris to be had. Because very few cars are made in manual transmission anymore, they said. For safety, they said. I would have to special-order one from the factory. And, despite me repeating that there was no way I was buying that day, they tried to get me to order a car that day.

Scion IQ

Scion IQ: Also at the Toyota dealership, I drove the Scion IQ. Also an automatic transmission, although when we drove it, I was assured that it could be had in a manual. Turned out that the guy who took me for the test drive was wrong — the Scion IQ only comes with “continuous variable transmission”, some sort of proprietary automatic transmission that makes the car feel slow and sluggish and way heavier than it really is. When the dealer was showing off the features of the car, he proudly showed me that it doesn’t have a glove compartment — instead, there’s a sort of plastic bin/drawer under the passenger seat. Also, it feels as small on the inside as it looks on the outside. Not an impressive car.

The Toyota dealership guys tried to get me to check out several other models, to try and be “flexible” (one of the most grating words a car dealer can ever use with me). They wanted to get me into a Prius (looks like a doorstop, plus it’s really long, I said), a Scion XD (the back makes it look like a hearse, I said), and a Corolla (after I specifically told them I would never consider a 4-door sedan). If I’m ever in the market for a Toyota in the future, I’ll try a different dealership.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500: We had a challenging time finding the dealership in downtown Orlando, because downtown Orlando can be a little confusing, and the main drag was closed for several blocks due to some sort of festival. But we eventually found the showroom, which was more like a motorcycle/scooter dealership than a car dealership, because all of the cars were inside the building. I guess that’s what you can do when all you sell is tiny 2-door hatchbacks.

We were able to test-drive a manual transmission, because a good half of their cars were manual. We drove the base model, called the Pop, which had all of the features we needed and then some (base model Pop comes standard with A/C, power windows, power doors, cruise control, bluetooth, and a bunch of other little bells and whistles). It was a great test drive — the car was peppy and responsive, we actually got to go on the freeway instead of a plodding trip around the neighborhood, and the salesman was really knowledgeable about the cars. I guess that’s what happens when you specialize in one model.

We didn’t get a hard push to buy that day, which was refreshing after the Toyota guys. At that point, the Fiat 500 was the car to beat.

Mazda 2

Mazda 2: It looks like Mazda used to make the 2 in a 2-door version, but it’s all 4 doors now. Still, it was a fairly small car, not much different in size from the Ford Focus, so we gave it a ride. We actually managed to test-drive one with a manual transmission, in this very same cool green color. Sadly, the color was the best part about it. Even with a stick shift, the car was really sluggish.

Our dealership experience was a weird one. The salesman seemed sleepy or something. He strolled us out to the far corner of the lot to look at his Mazda 2 selection, then when we expressed an interest in giving one a test-drive, he sauntered back all the way across the lot to get the keys, then meandered back in a leisurely fashion. Am I expressing well enough how slowly he moved? Let me add that there was very little shade, and it was June in Florida. We were quite sweaty when we finally got a chance to get in the car. So I guess the car suited the salesman, and vice versa.

He sent a follow-up email the next day (I learned after the Toyota guys, only give an email address, not a phone number, because those dudes called the next day and wanted to give another try to getting me one of their special deals on Corollas). The email asked for more detail about what we were looking for, so he could tailor an offer to us. I wrote back that we were really detailed already: small hatchback, manual transmission, and the Mazda 2 was the only model of theirs we’d consider. Yeesh.

Chevrolet Spark

Chevy Spark: Chevy has two smallish cars right now, the Spark and the Sonic, with the Spark being the smallest. And yet, despite its size, it’s still a 4-door. We went to the second-closest Chevy dealership, because according to their website, they had the Spark with a manual transmission. When we got there, however, we found out that they only had automatics on hand. Still, we test-drove the Spark. The car itself was adequate — about on par with the Yaris. Not as peppy as the Fiat, and the color choices were really weird — a pink that was more of a silvery-pink, and a yellow that was more like cream. I don’t even know what you would call this green color. (Chevy calls it “jalapeno”, which is totally wrong; jalapenos are much darker. This is more of a metallic guacamole.)

The worst part of the Chevy Spark was the dealership. From the beginning, we told our salesman that (1) the car was for me, and (2) we weren’t buying that day — we’d be ready to buy in a month. For the rest of the time there, most questions and answers were aimed at Scott, and I felt a bit invisible. Despite the fact that I was the only one driving the car. When I did get a direct answer, such as the one to the question, “You WILL take this giant sticker with the dealership name off of the back, right?” it felt kind of eye-rolly and oh-ladies-want-the-cutest-thingsy. Gross.

Then we asked for a brochure and his business card to take away, because again, we weren’t buying that day. We went into the showroom and the guy immediately snagged a manager, told the manager that “she’s settled on the Spark,” and the manager started into asking what he could do to get us in a car today. We told him we weren’t buying today, we just wanted a brochure and business card. “Hear me out, we have some great deals today,” he said. Scott was awesome, and told the manager, “Look, one of two things can happen here. Either you can get us a brochure and business card, or we’ll just leave.” The manager gave a nice condescending smile and started in with, “Just let me finish, because we have some great deals,” to which Scott and I turned on our heels and left. Behind us, I heard the salesman call out, “See you in a month!”

The best part was his follow-up email the next day. Despite the fact that my first name is in the email address, he addressed it “Dear Scott.” Then it was a form letter about how they hoped we had a great experience, and to let them know if we had any questions. I had a great time responding to that email! Addressing it to someone who isn’t the buyer, treating a woman like she’s invisible, refusing to give us a brochure … it felt quite refreshing.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500 (again): By that point, we were settled on the Fiat. We decided to visit the other dealership in town, to see what their inventory looked like. Unfortunately, they were much more like a standard car dealership than the one downtown. We got a salesperson who was borrowed from the GMC/Dodge dealership across the street, so it was her first time in a Fiat and she couldn’t really answer any questions we had. They didn’t have a color combo I liked (I don’t need white upholstery [seriously, who does] but probably 80% of their cars had it), but we test-drove one anyway, just as a reminder of how peppy and fun it was. The one we drove was this same minty green color in the picture, which I could have settled for, I guess, but it wasn’t my favorite color by far.

After driving, they wanted to (of course) get me to take that minty green one home today. Even after I told them it wasn’t my favorite color, and we weren’t buying that day. And the price they offered us was almost $2000 higher than the prices listed on their website. Sad.

My Fiat 500

So we visited our bank and applied for a car loan, getting a letter from them with a great rate we could take to any dealership, and thus avoid the hassle of dealer financing, and back we went to the downtown Fiat dealership (Fields Fiat in downtown Orlando, for the record).

They took our 2001 Focus in trade, gave us a great deal on the new car, had the exact color combination I wanted in stock, and we even got to have some free gelato while they processed paperwork, filled up the tank, and gave it a quick wash. The license plates from the Focus got moved over to the Fiat, which made licensing fees way cheaper than expected. No hard selling, no pushy attitudes. Our sales guy was delighted that we came back; apparently most people who say they’ll be back never return, because they get so frustrated with the car-buying experience, after 4 or 5 dealerships, they just buy the last thing they look at because they just don’t want to go through the hassle anymore.

The color is “rame”, which I guess is Italian for “copper”. This picture makes it look more on the red side, but it’s actually a pretty solid coppery orange. My first week of commuting in it to work was great — I feel really visible, it’s terribly comfortable, and I’m pretty sure I have the cutest car on the road.

Weird Holidays, aka #weirdholidays

Back in September, I changed desks at work for a couple of months. We all have whiteboards at our cubicles and offices to let people know where we are, and this new desk had an extra-large whiteboard, prominently placed on the outside of the cube. (My current cube has its smaller whiteboard up on a cupboard behind my chair, so it’s not as easy to see.)

I figured I should do something with the whiteboard, so I decided to start doing doodles for all weird, unusual, or just plain cool holidays. For example, this last Saturday, May 25th, was both Geek Pride Day and Towel Day. So sad that I couldn’t do a doodle at work.

After my two months at that desk were up, and I came back to my current desk, the doodles were already popular enough (and I was having enough fun with them) that I knew I’d have to carry on with them. So I got a cool little picture frame (the TOLSBY frame from IKEA, for a whopping 99¢), a package of 4×6 notecards, and some crayons, and carried on with the daily doodles.

Sometime earlier this year I changed from a heavier felt-tip pen to a lighter Flair. And I don’t always color them in; some of the details can be lost if they’re colored in crayon. I’ve kept all of the note cards, and I take a picture of each one. So here are some of my favorites.

The number of holidays I combine depends on how many there are on a given day, and how creative I’m feeling about combining them. So far my record is four holidays in one doodle. It’s kind of surprising how many oddball holidays there are out there. I put my list together from several sources, including BrownieLocks, Holiday Insights, and Days of the Year.

If you’re on the Twitters, I try to post them every work day with the hashtag #weirdholidays. I used to use Instagram to put them up, but since Twitter and Instagram don’t like each other so much anymore, now I use a nice little service called Streamzoo.

In Vino Veritas

I’ve never been a wine drinker. Many times I’ve tried, and many times I’ve failed to enjoy it. But through the years, I’ve made it to the point where I can drink a glass of Champagne (or other non-Frenchy sparkling celebration wine) without trouble.

But still, wine eluded me.

That is, until we went to Texas de Brazil, our favorite churrascaria in the world, with a wine drinker. He ordered a bottle of red wine (I had no idea what variety) and offered me some. I decided, why not, I’ll try a splash.

AND IT WAS GREAT!

(This picture of my trip to the Texas de Brazil salad bar reminds me that Scott still has his birthday coupon for a free dinner. I think it expires in a week and a half. Which means we may have to go have a meat festival in the very near future.)

Maybe it was the combination of red wine with all of those delicious meaty foods. Or maybe it was just the right kind of red wine. Turns out it was an Oregon pinot noir from King Estates. And immediately, I was on the hunt for other (less pricey) red wines that I might enjoy.

I’ve tried a number of things so far, and pinot noir is definitely one of the styles that’s up my alley. I’ve tried bolder wine, but can’t handle the tannins (which has always been my problem in the past) — that sharp bite that makes my tongue want to curl up and die, and makes my mouth suddenly feel dry as a desert.

I visited our local Total Wine superstore, where they also pointed me toward a variety of red wine blends. They’re meant to be lighter, fruitier, “juicier” (as the lady at Total Wine said, which is kind of disturbing), and generally meant for casual drinking without having to pair them with any particular food.

So far, my favorite is from Costco — the MacMurray Ranch Central Coast Pinot Noir, 2010. (That’s MacMurray as in Fred MacMurray, actor from days of yore.) But I also enjoyed Sexy Wine Bomb, one of the red blends. I’m in the middle of Ecco Domani’s pinot noir right now, and have blends from Barefoot and Fancy Pants (as well as a fresh bottle of Fred MacMurray) waiting in the wings. I got the Fancy Pants pretty much for the name, although the description on the back sounds good.

It’s cheaper for me than even cheap beer (and I like the cheap beer) — I can make a $10 bottle last two weeks, because I only have a half-glass or so at a time. And since our room temperature here is usually 76 to 78, and red is apparently meant to be consumed at cellar temperature (more in the 58-65 range), I drop in a couple of those plastic reusable ice cubes and it chills perfectly.

(I still haven’t bought wineglasses, and I doubt I’m going to. I just use our regular glassware (Old Fashioned size) from IKEA. I believe the product name is GODIS.)

So let me know, one and all — any red wines to recommend? Especially if they clock in at under ten bucks.

An epic wad of spam!

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P.S: – This is our marketing strategy that we use the Gmail account. Once you reply us back, the next communication I will do is from my corporate email ID.

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——————————————————————————————
Note:
1: This is a onetime email and you may ask us to “REMOVE”.
2: If you are interested I will send more details on our “corporate identity”, “company profile”, “why you should choose us?”, “Price list”, “money back” etc. in my next mail.

So first off, you’d think this message came in the form of an email. But you would be wrong. This message was left as a comment on one of Scott’s comics. So right off the bat, they’re lying about their “marketing strategy” using email, and I can’t exactly respond with “remove” to a comment left on a blog. Also, they never once mentioned the company name. Nothing scammy about that at all.

Nextly, many years ago I was the webmaster for a store. That store had a small physical location, as well as a larger web presence. A lot of the products they sold were drop-shipped from the manufacturer, so while a lot of things were sold, very few were actually shipped from our location. An intriguing way to run a business, certainly.

When I took over as webmaster, I re-did a lot of the pages with search engine optimization in mind. And soon enough, we were getting good Google results for a lot of our keywords. In fact, there was a brand new product that I somehow managed to SEO well enough that we were the number one search result, and Amazon.com was the number two. Traffic was up, business was up, and then suddenly, we were on the radar of crappy SEO companies like this one.

The boss at that job received come-ons from two different SEO companies, offering the moon and the stars. He asked me which one I thought he should use, and I opted for “neither one”. Because at the time I refused to (and I still refuse to) do business with any company that blindly sent out generic emails asking for my business. Boss disagreed, and hired one of the companies. They promised improved search engine ranking, five new pages of keyword-rich content, and edits to our twenty top pages to make them more search engine friendly.

They were a grind to deal with — nobody ever got back to me in a timely fashion. Then there was the “content” they sent. Basically, lists of keywords, only some of which were vaguely related to our business or products, that they wanted me to include not just in the HTML tags, but also in the actual page content. They didn’t deliver the five new pages, and when we mentioned them, they denied that it was part of the deal until we dug out all of the old emails. (I don’t know that there was even a contract signed; just a huge payment from Boss to the SEO company.) They provided one page, and it was a ghastly piece of word salad. None of it made sense, and it was just a keyword-riddled nightmare. Of course we didn’t use it.

I was finally able to convince Boss that they were scammers. I believe he did a chargeback on his credit card and filed with the BBB (not that complaining to the Better Business Bureau ever did anyone any good, but Boss thought it was a perfect way to “take them down”). They fought it and declared their intent to sue, so then I got to put together a record of their emails and a timeline of missed promises and lies.

So, in conclusion, forgive me if I don’t call you to get your SEO expertise, [Name Redacated].