5 Things I Love – Nov 29

image for weekly list of five things I'm currently loving in life, music, art, etc.

1. MP3 Sales

I’ll admit it. I kind of forgot that the Black Friday sales extended into real life on Friday. I know, craziness right? All I can think is that being in the office all day kept me separate from the insanity. The one thing – outside of a trip to JoAnn’s which I really just went in for buttons – that I did to participate in the sales was the purchase of mp3 albums. Amazon has been running some pretty awesome sales and for about $8 I got 4 new albums to enjoy (Sara Bareilles, The Band Perry, Train and the Tangled soundtrack).

2. Tangled

Our family Thanksgiving gathering was not until late afternoon on Thursday, so I decided to take myself to see the noon show of ‘Tangled’ beforehand. I enjoyed it personally and I’ll admit that the end caught me by surprise (even with the hint at the beginning). My one complaint was that I would have liked to hear more of the hero’s singing.

3. Holiday Dinners

Not only are holiday dinners a lot o great food, but it is also a great time to catch up with family. Our gathering was rather small this year, but it was a great time in spite of the horrid drive home afterward.

4. Thrift store shopping

As I mentioned in last week’s 5 Things I Love, I have become a bit addicted to Grosgrain’s blog (New Dress a Day is pretty inspiring as well). Reading this blog has gotten me thrift store hunting again. I had kind of gotten out of the habit since I haven’t costumed anything lately. Not only have I gotten a few lovely projects out of these trips but several non-project pieces as well.

5. New catalog time

Okay, so I won’t actually get the new lia sophia catalog (starting Feb 1, 2011) for a few more weeks, but the drop list from the Fall/Winter catalog came out today (I’ve posted it here) which always ups the anticipation for the new catalog even further once we’re past the shocked phone calls my mum and I always do back and forth upon its appearance. There is also a new Partylite catalog coming out but I will save that for another post ;)

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NaNoWriMo: Going for the finish

Three more days. Wow. This month has just flown past. At least it has for me.

Entering into these last few days the pressure is on to get those last words in before midnight on the 30th, but perhaps the inspiration just is not there.

Sometimes our characters reveal some facet that gets the creative juices flowing. My MC (main character) just revealed that he is, in fact, a spymaster in training. As the fourth son of a king it is not as if he is actually expected to ever take the throne. This one fact gives me a whole patch of raw material I can dip my fingers into, no, grasp whole-handedly to help make up my word count gap.

This is not always the case though, so here are a few other ideas of great things that can help your word count. Most of them can even provide you with helpful insights into your characters.

Describe an important place or character.

We have all read one of those stories where the writer just got a bit too caught up in their adjectives and descriptions. I am always reminded of The Scarlet Letter and that entire chapter devoted to a parade. That in mind, these descriptions may not make draft two or three, but the information is still good to have for reference so go ahead and give those characters and places some fine descriptive text.

Write a flashback.

Again, this may or may not end up staying in, but choose an important point in your characters life previous to your storyline and have them remember it. Maybe it is the death of parents like Bruce Wayne’s memories in Batman or a first love or even the first time the character ever had dark chocolate. Sometimes those little moments can be life altering.

Flesh out a conversation.

I do not know about you, but when I write out a conversation a lot of times I do a good bit of dialog and only put in the most important actions and emotions of my characters because I am more concerned with the flow of conversation then the rest at that moment. Putting the rest of it in there is not only helpful to getting the full feeling of the conversation but it also can add a nice bit to your word count.

Daydream.

If flashbacks help to see where your characters are coming from, daydreams help to show where they wish to go. Both are important.

The steamy scene.

This is something of a running joke in our region. Need words? Follow in the footsteps of a lot of those well known romance authors. One of our writers told me a few weeks ago that in a previous NaNo she got 5,000 words that way. Another told me she had done it but would never be able to show it to her mother and it was going away in her first revision. With as much as we joke about it I could not help but put in it the list.

Any other hot tips for word counts? Feel free to share them below.

World Usability Day 2010 – Part One

World Usability Day logo

It has a taken a couple of weeks to get to writing this, but back on Nov. 11th @caitlinpotts and I had the opportunity to head out to Lansing for the day and soak in some mobile devices information at World Usability Day (#wud2010). I’ve realized in pulling together my notes that this would be awfully long as one post, so this’ll be a two parter.

We started off our day with a quick stop at Panera bread for breakfast and coffee before heading over to the Kellogg Center on Michigan State’s campus. Once there we met up with our friend Mike (@UXmikebeasley) and settled in for the day.

On to the presentations…

Talking Points

While our first speaker’s topic had absolutely nothing to do with the mobile apps we’re currently considering at work, Mark Newman of the University of Michigan gave a fascinating presentation.

‘I can get where I need to be and if I get lost I can find my way out.”
-Talking Points Test Participant

Talking Points is a research project they’re working on to use smartphone technology with gesture-based interactions to help visually impaired people learn about their surroundings.

Basically, the project uses GPS outside and, eventually, wi-fi tri-lateration inside to provide visually impaired people with information on their surroundings with community gathered GPS/wi-fi tags. These tags would be for paths, areas, points of interest, path intersections/decision points and functional elements like entrances or restrooms.

The goal of this project is to not only foster spatial awareness in navigation, but also comfort, security, exploration, improvisation and the discovery of new resources (aka independence). You can find out more information on the project at http://talking-points.org/.

The Art of Mobile User Experience Research

The second presentation was by Kris Mihalic (@suikris) from Nokia. He started out talking about the division in understanding humans that occurs in the technological workplace between market research and UX research.

Market research tends to focus on opinions and quantitative data gathered from focus groups, surveys and ideation sessions while UX research is usually more interested in behaviors and qualitative analyzing behaviors and anthropological studies for insights into why people do what they do. UX is also usually closer to product & design than market research.

There are three pillars that Mihalic focused on for Mobile UX – speed, flexibility and context.

Speed refers to all of the things involved in having a high speed of execution including fast prototyping, recruiting and delivering results, which includes involving stakeholders early.

One quick prototyping method that I’ve not used but sounded fun was sharpie movies, which is sketching in sharpie then compiling it into a movie. Being imbedded with a development team, his suggestion to become BFFs with the developers to gain their investment in prototyping was amusing. Cookies are generally a great form of bribery ;)

Flexibility referred in large part to platforms (focus on the important ones), interaction and hardware. He specifically mentioned being prepared and informed about the situation you’re working in and making sure that your stakeholders understand the constraints of what you are and are not able to do.

The last pillar of context stressed the timing within the development cycle, use vs. research, support/vendors and being contextually aware of your team, business, users and research partners. One suggestion he made was using video diaries from testers which put the device into a real life context and also powerful with stakeholders.

Milahic’s last point was that the greatest return on investment (ROI) of UX research is to take the information gathered and optimize your product’s ‘sweet spot’. You can’t do everything, but optimize that which you do well.

Building Mobile Experiences

The next presentation was by Frank Bentley of Motorola Mobility. He had some great visual examples that I unfortunately do not have to share with you, but there are some great points event without them.

The first and very important point is that while there is a good bit of similarity phones and computers, especially smartphones, but they are used very differently.

This point is so important because it goes back to the context that Mihalic mentioned and that testing in a lab alone won’t give you the whole story. You get the basic data from lab tests, but it doesn’t answer the question of how it’s really used and misses all of the creative ways that people use their devices in real life.

Because of the shortfalls of lab testing, their goal is to have a functional prototype that they can put out for field evaluations with beta testers in 1-2 weeks.

With these prototypes he emphasized building only what you need (!!!!!), focus on the experience instead of the technology and make sure that your prototype is sturdy enough to survive testing

He also emphasized the importance of recruiting according to your goals for testing and that the device needs to be their primary device to truly understand the context and how they are used. With the recruiting, it is best to recruit a diverse testing population so that similarities are less likely to be coincidental.

Lastly, the first prototype doesn’t need to be complete or fancy. The faster that a prototype exists – even if it doesn’t have all the polish – the sooner you can get real feedback to see if the project is going in the right direction.

That’s it for World Usability Day – Part One. Keep watch for Part Two. I promise it won’t take as long to get out as this first one did. I failed at that one… but Part Two is now up!

Luck and Laughter

picture of the deposit slip IOU for $30

A Vignette of Tonight

Today was our monthly lia sophia group meeting and my mum, who also sells lia sophia, was working registration. So I walked in the doors of the Doubletree where we have our meetings and the first thing she asks me after hello is if I have my checkbook because she’s forgotten hers.

Now, I do not usually carry a checkbook because I am definitely of the plastic generation, but we have this big leadership event coming up in January and I intended to register at the meeting. Therefore, on Monday night I intentionally pulled my checkbook out and put it in my workbag to bring with me to said meeting. So I tell her yes and pull out the checkbook to buy some raffle tickets as well as write a check on her behalf.

One problem there are no checks in the checkbook.

That’s right. At the beginning of the month when I wrote my rent check I used the last one in the book and never replaced it, so all I had was a plastic bi-fold full of used duplicates and deposit slips.

I couldn’t believe it. Here I had had the forethought to actually pack it ahead and there were no checks inside. Not only that, but there’s no ATM at the hotel. I asked.

Chagrined at myself, I double check that I can mail my registration in for the leadership event and resign myself to no raffle tickets. Life, after all, goes on.

The meeting progresses and I still can’t believe I’ve done this hair-brained thing. We get to the point in the evening of discussing the event and, more as a joke than serious, I tell my mom that I can write them a deposit slip for my registration. She encourages me to do so with an IOU message on it.

I decide to go for it. At least then they have my registration and know a check is coming. I hand in my form, we get a laugh out of it and I return to my seat.

The meeting ends and I’m talking with some of the girls when Carol, our Zone Manager, walks over holding my registration in her hand. At first I thought maybe she wanted to let me know she had gotten the IOU. Instead, she pulls the stapled deposit slip from my form, and tells me I don’t owe her because my IOU’d form had been drawn to get to attend for free!

In the words of Dr. Horrible, what a crazy random happenstance.

So I’ve decided that I’m taking this a good sign for the coming year. In fact, I’m going to hang that deposit slip on my wall next to my to do list and Will Rogers quote as a reminder of good things on days that aren’t quite so blessed lucky.

I also have a feeling that the story is going to continue to cause a chuckle for all of us that were there in the future as well ;)

In addition to this my good luck was further evidenced in that I did not hit or get hit by any of the 7 deer and 2 cats who decided they should share the two lane highway with me during the last 10 miles of my drive home. There may have been a conspiracy to see what kind of record they could get on my wild critter sightings in that period of time.

5 Things I Love – Nov 22

image for weekly list of five things I'm currently loving in life, music, art, etc.

1. Bolthouse Farms Juices

I don’t buy these often because (a) they’re a bit on the expensive side and (b) I don’t generally keep juice in my fridge. When I do splurge on specialty juices, though, I love these. Green Goodness is a particular favorite, but what caught my attention this past week was their 50/50 Berry Juice because it has a whole variety of berries (which I also love) without strawberries (which don’t love me).

2. Mario Bottlecap Pendants

This may be considered shameless self-promotion, but I made these Mario mushroom bottlecap pendants for Indigo Dreams Design (my other blog/brand) and they really do just make me happy. All I have to do is look at them and I feel a smile spreading across my face. They’re really too cute and, yes, totally nerdy for words :)

3. Grosgrain Blog

This blog is like catnip for sewing addicts. Every time I read it it makes me want to throw aside whatever else I am doing and drown myself in glorious sewing projects. It has added a whole new perspective to my trips to Goodwill and Salvation Army, though. I’ve actually got a partially refashioned sweater on my dress form as I type.

4. Unusual Cookie Cutters

I don’t have a huge number of these yet, but several weeks back I got a cookie cutter/mixing bowl special at World Market and it has this great maple leaf that I got to play with this weekend. The same day, I got an awesome butterfly cookie cutter and, of course, I would love to get Williams-Sonoma’s Star Wars cookie cutter set. Then, my co-worker introduced me to Off the Beaten Path. Dangerous. That’s all I have to say on it.

5. Motrin Tension Headache

It may seem like an odd thing to include on this list, but it is my OTC drug of choice for headaches. One word of warning – it does contain caffeine so do not take it if you’re planning on sleeping in the next few hours.

NaNoWriMo: Filling in the Gaps

NaNoWriMo Web Badge

We’ve sailed past the halfway mark now and landed at just about every point along the writing path. Some have already hit their goal for this month, some are behind and some are just where they planned on being.

Good job to all you Wrimos still going for the goal (or having already surpassed it)! No matter where you end up at the end of the month in word count you’re a winner as long as you don’t give up. Life happens to us all. I know it certainly has happened for me this month.

On to tips for week three.

Hopefully at this point you’ve got an idea of where your plot is headed. If not, stop reading this post and take care of that. For everyone else, there’s a good chance that unless you are a strictly chronological writer you’ve done a bit of skipping around. Not necessarily massive leaps across the storyline, but smaller scenes that add to the overall story without being major plot points have been left in the dust of your writing.

Now is the time to revisit those and, no, I don’t mean edit them. Instead I am talking about those conversations that are all dialog and no context or the battle that is all clanging swords and no emotion. Be aware of your pacing in these places – don’t bog it down – but don’t leave them as bare bones either.

Other gaps may be between major scenes. Your MCs (main characters) rushed off from one major mess into another. Is there room for a quiet night in the journey to contrast the rushing with something a little different? Contrast is as important in writing as it is in any other art. Without the dark, would we know what light is? If everything is full of sorrow, how can we know that happiness is even possible? Of course, the reverse of all of those is true as well.

So, if you’re in need of a little inspiration, take a few minutes and review – not edit! – your story thus far to find the unfinished gems you may have missed in the initial writing rush.

Previous NaNoWriMo posts

Character Chaos
NaNoWriMo: Week One – Don’t Panic
NaNoWriMo: Preparation
NaNoWriMo: 5 Reasons I Choose to NaNo
NaNoWriMo: It’s not as crazy as you think

5 Things I Love – Nov 15

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1. French Press Coffee

Ever since changing jobs I have developed a bit of a coffee addiction. One cup a day and I’m good, but without it… well, it becomes very obvious that my brain doesn’t wake up until 10am. I blame this addiction in part on my office and in part on being my first ‘desk’ job. I’m still not used to this being in one place all day thing. Anyway, a few weeks ago we got a french press and not only does the coffee taste better, but when it comes time to make a new pot there is a certain joy in the simple ceremony of bringing it together.

2. YSL’s Dark Olive Muse Two Bag

So it’s way out of my price range, but I can still drool, right?

3. World Usability Day

Really, I love any opportunity to meet up with my UX/ID friends IRL. The actual sessions that day were pretty awesome as well. Be on the lookout for a re-cap post later this week.

4. Old Family Photos

A personal project that I am currently working on necessitated my going through five boxes of photos at my parent’s house yesterday and it ended up being a very fun journey through our family history. There’s no real order to the boxes so I’d open one sleeve of pictures to find photos from our Wales in trip in ’01 and then the next sleeve would be full of baby pictures. I told my mom she needs to scan some more of them in for a truly entertaining family photo album on Facebook.

5. Sporks

Sporks came up specifically because TechSmith was giving away titanium sporks as a part of the promotion for their new Snagit for Mac, but really sporks are just amusing. While we have no sporks here to give away, they have worked their way into our office shenanigans (see the vampire spork incident) and I expect that given time they will pop up again.

NaNoWriMo: Character Chaos

NaNoWriMo web badge

“There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write.”
W M Thackeray (1811-1863) Novelist (via @Quotes4Writers)

I completely agree with Thackeray. There are a thousand thoughts lying around we’re not aware of until the pen hits the… well,  the fingers hit the keyboard. In fact, some of them you aren’t even aware of until they’ve already poured out onto the page. Which brings us to the issue of recalcitrant characters.

Any NaNo author will confirm that once you get past that first week or so of writing your characters start to truly become themselves – even if its not the self you had in mind. They fall in love with the wrong person. They murder. They die. They decide to be a mystery instead of a romance (or vice versa). They start quests that never had anything to do with the plot points that you set out for them.

When this occurs you really only have two options:

1. Put them in their place.

You are the author. If you don’t like where the characters are taking you then rein them in and make them go the way you want them to. Mark that rebellious bit in red so that you know to come back and ax it later. They’ll learn their place soon enough.

2. Roll with it.

While some characters just have delusions of grandeur, others will open you up to whole new awesome and amazing plot lines that you never even conceived of before they showed up on your page. These you keep.

It really comes down to whether those character changes are going to enrich your story or detract from it.

P.S. If people start looking at your funny because you talk about your characters like they have minds of their own it’s okay. There’s no 12-step program for it, but your local write-in is a great place to find support for it.

5 Things I Love – Nov 8

image for weekly list of five things I'm currently loving in life, music, art, etc.

1. lia sophia

I was going to say working for lia sophia or my customer/hostesses/friends in lia sophia, but really it just comes down to an overall love. In this past week I have felt such support from my lia sophia peeps all around from the very nice woman I spoke to at Corporate last Friday to the lovely women who enjoy wearing lia sophia jewelry as much as I do.

2. Connecting with old friends

Between all of the lia sophia things going on this last week and random happenstance, I’ve had the opportunity to get in contact with a number of people I just don’t encounter normally and it is a great thing to catch up with old friends again.

3. @NaNoLansing Write-Ins

I’ll admit it, I talk. A lot. Very quickly (or so I’m told). It has been wonderful to catch up with my writers again – see #2 – and meet the whole host of new people joining our region this year. We have had great turn-outs to our write-ins and, in spite of my personal word count, this is shaping up to be a great year for the NaNoRhinos of Lansing.

4. Desktop Tower Defense

I’ll admit it. I have a slight addiction to this game. I will from time to time manage to ignore said addiction before getting sucked back in. I’ve been attempting to mastermind level 23 all of this past week. Perhaps if I just beat the thing my word count would improve. I could also give it up for a few weeks, but let’s be realistic here.

5. Falling back

It may get dark an hour earlier now, but that extra hour of sleep was still amazing last Sunday and because of it everyone on Praise Team actually got there on time for practice :)

Special 2.5 Day Sale!

Empress set - necklace, earrings, ring cobalt faceted cabachons set in matte gold

That’s right – I’m sweetening the jewelry pot just in time for Holiday shopping. Why? I’ve got a goal to reach this weekend and I know some of you have some shopping you’ve been wanting to do. You’re just waiting for the right deal, so check out this special 2.5 Day Sale:

Buy: 1 Piece of Jewelry

Get @ 1/2 Price: 1 necklace +1 other piece of jewelry (more expensive than the one at regular price)

Repeat as needed.

AND

Free Shipping on orders placed by 8pm EST, Nov. 5th

With a $65 order: Get an additional item at Hostess Bonus Pricing

With a $100 order or $100 in orders: Get $5 off of your Hostess Bonus item.

The $100 can be reached by collecting and either communicating the orders to me personally or by notifying me of online orders placed by friends that came from you.
After $100 each $50 in orders gets you another $5 off. So $150 in orders = $10 off. $200 in orders = $15 off (which is free if the piece retails at under $100)

An Example:

Crystal Palette Earrings$19
Blossom Necklace$29 (Retail Value $58)
Sequin Pendant Slide$21 (Retail Value $42)

Sub-total: $69 – $50 saved

Plus – the Party Favor Bracelet$20 (Retail Value $130)

Total: $89

Total Savings : $160

This sale concludes on Saturday, November 6th at 2pm. Orders can be placed from anywhere in the United States and will be shipped to you.

Orders placed online will not reflect these savings initially. I will adjust them upon receipt of the order through our advisor system. No orders are completed online without my first seeing them. To order online go to http://www.liasophia.com/sites/barbkraus/catalog-intro and use ‘Alaina Kraus’ as the hostess name.

You can also order by contacting me at alainarkraus (at) gmail . com

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