Trip to the Outhouse–Blogging, Four Years and Counting . . . and It All Started with Hurricane Ike and Matthew Mitcham

Matthew Mitcham, having fun, before the start of the 2012 London Olympics (photo @matthew_mitcham)

It’s hard to believe that four years have gone by since I first started this blog.  It’s doubtful that I would have put in this much continued effort were it not for two big topics that I blogged about back in 2008, the devastating Hurricane Ike, which passed through southeast Texas, and gay Australian diver, Matthew Mitcham, who was a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics.

There’s not that much evidence of the extensive damage that Hurricane Ike caused, even when you head down to hard-hit Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula.  Galveston, though still trying to recover population numbers, is once again bustling with out-of-state tourists and day-trippers from nearby Houston, who are attracted by the warm water, great restaurants, and new entertainment venues.  If you take the ferry and cross to Bolivar Peninsula, you pass by new sub-divisions of beachhouses, most of which rise high off the ground to protect them from rising water.

When it comes to the second topic, Matthew Mitcham is back, once again competing in olympic diving, this time in London.   After winning his gold medal in the 10 meter platform dive, Mitcham, at age 20, became one of the most–if not the most–well-known out gay athletes in the world.  For some so young, being such a worldwide celebrity might have been a heavy load to carry.  However, Mitcham, as athlete, activist, and product spokesperson, has worn all of his hats well, and once again is back competing in the London 2012 Olympics.

While this blog attracted many readers because of my telling of the events happening to me personally and that of Houston during Hurrican Ike and the days after, thank goodness there has not been another hurricane that has headed our way in these past four years. 

On the other hand, my blogs about Mitcham’s victory in the Beijing 2012 Olympics still bring readers to this site, showing that he’s still–if not even more–popular.   I still admire Matthew Mitcham, not only because he’s such an amazing athlete and role model, but also that in spite of his célébrité, he has been able to keep a good sense of himself and just be a normal early-20s guy.

Check the early posts (2008) for more about Hurricane Ike and Matthew Mitcham on this blog.  Also a good way to keep up with Matthew Mitcham is through Twitter (https://twitter.com/matthew_mitcham), where he posts lots of photos.

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Acer Aspire One Netbook–Let’s See How Well It Does For Writing a Blog Post

The Aspire One netbook makes a good accompaniment for multi-relaxing.

As an excuse for not posting for awhile, I could blame  the 100+ degree heat that seems go on without a reprieve.  I just haven’t been in the mood to do much posting lately.

Another reason might be that I’ve gotten myself a “new toy”–a netbook.  I had been thinking about getting one for a long time.  Aside from my very first computer–a Mac One–if I remember right (back in the day, even before Explorer and other browsers), my computers have all been desktops.  Now, here in the house, I have my computer upstairs, so it doesn’t seem very accessible.

After a bit of thinking and a little looking, I got this little Acer Aspire One (D255E).  The going price is about $250.  The one I bought comes with a battery that charges up to 8 hours, rather than the usual 4-hour battery, so I paid a bit more ($279) at the Micro Center here in Houston.

Do I like it?  So far so good.  I’m never going to be an I-Phone person, so this netbook gets me connected downstairs in front of the TV and is easy to slip into the glove compartment to take with me.  In the two weeks I’ve had it, I’ve found that the netbook is  what I was expecting.  It’s small, for the good, and a bit for the bad.  The smaller keyboard takes a bit of getting used to, and I have found the sensitivity of the mousepad difficult to work with.  Therefore, I got a wireless mouse.  (A CD box makes a nice mousepad when you’re sitting on the sofa.)

So this has been my first attempt at using the Edit Post page here on my WordPress blog.  With the small screen, it’s tedious.  In fact, the page squeezes up and at the right margin, I can’t see all the words I’m typing.  The cursor also jumps from a stopping point when I’m trying to compose.  It’s not really much fun.  (In fact, somehow I lost the last paragraph, so have ended up finishing this post on my reliable desktop.)

I doubt that I try to that much posting from the Aspire One.  I think it will be handy to use for basic internet use and will be good to use on short or long trips; however, for writing blog posts and doing most other composing, I’ll stick with my old standby desktop.

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I Want My Gay TV (and I Want My Damn Computer To Work Right)

The sun came out today.  I’m not sure when because I was tied up inside (not literally, mind you) most of the day, but I felt almost gleeful turning down the visors in the car on my way home this evening.  The rain has been good for the garden, and hopefully, some of it is getting down for some of those deep tree roots that must have been needing it after the long dry spell in the fall.

With the cloudless sky and the days getting just a bit longer, this was the first evening that Annie and I got to make the rounds and back home again before it was completely dark.  Walking a dog when it’s already dark is just that–walking a dog.  But when there’s still some daylight, there a chance to take a look at what’s growing, or not, in people’s yards, and maybe even say “hello” to a neighbor that’s also outside.

Speaking of “gleeful” (I think that word is coming back), Tuesday is my night to watch Glee, so it was a bit disappointing to find out that tonight’s wasn’t a new episode.  Still it was a good re-run, with Kurt’s bully getting kicked out of school and all the underlying weirdness going on because the bully had kissed him.  Then there was Kurt’s dad’s wedding with all the guy-guy dance preparations and actual wedding dancing. 

Last night was 90210 night.  This second rendition seems much lighter on storyline than the previous 90210 of a number of years back.  But Teddy, the rich boy tennis player-slash-surfer, is coming out, and even though we only get a couple minutes of that–if any–per show, we’ve gotten to see him put the lip-lock on cute-boy Ian, who is already out.  And last night’s episode was a new one, with lots of teasing the viewers about who will be involved with whom during the rest of the season.

I don’t want to lament about the past.  But I wouldn’t have minded growing up and being able to watch shows like these.  The best that I could do when I was in high school was The Monkees and Flipper, and you can bet I wasn’t watching that last one just to see the damn dolphin.

I know I paid that bill!

Just as a side note–if it’s even that–my DSL has been so crappy the last couple of days.  It was getting worse than early dial-up.  I was thinking that all the rain had affected some lines somewhere.  Good grief, don’t we just panic when our computer is out-of-whack for even a little bit?  Last night I just gave up; everything was so slow, but tonight I decided to call AT&T.

Well, don’t ya know it.  I had barely started playing with the recorded message man, when he gave me the suggestion that I needed:  disconnect the modem for it to reset.  That and a restart of the computer and voilà!  Here we are, almost like the sunshine after too many wet, cloudy days.

Another Item on the Gay Agenda: Giving the Dog a Bath

The hair on Annie's ears is full of static electricity. She's trying to help me make the bed right after I pulled the sheets out of the dryer. But if she isn't 5 pounds of cute, I don't know what is.

As the year winds to an end and Christmas edges near, I’m taking a few days off from work to get ready.  Today, I had a lot on my agenda–yeah, the gay agenda–this must be what the ‘phobes are always talking about: getting the plants in the beds watered–the ground is really dry again; washing up the bedding and getting it all back on (with a dog trying to help do it); washing up a little dog who’s been trying to act clean so that she doesn’t have to have a bath; and even canning what may be the last two jars of veggies from the garden–Peter Piper or no, I never thought I’d be pickling peppers in December or otherwise.

So it was a good day, one of those productive-feeling days.

Annie's Christmas greetings to all that know her as well as those who don't. She was getting tired of hearing "Sit" by this time.

Even if I haven’t been very productive on this blog as of late, I discovered that the blog is listed as one of  the “100 Best LGBT Blogs” by a surprising site–Guide to Online Schools.  I don’t really know what to make of that, but it’s nice to be listed anyway.  There’s quite a variety of blogs there, and any such listing is a good way to find a blog just in the right niche to fit one’s interests.

I’m waiting to find the gay papillon owners’ blog.  Oops, maybe that’s mine.  Annie will be 5 in March, and now I’m thinking about getting another one.  It’s a big debate in my head because I don’t know if I’m ready to work through puppydom again or how having a second dog would work out.  But the decision is something that is on my gay agenda as well as getting the trees in the front and back yards trimmed.

Want To Track Your IRS Refund? Would You Like To Know the Likelihood of Your House Flooding? Check Out These Great Informational Sites Brought to You by Uncle Sam

unclesam11No matter which side of the political fence you sit on, or even if you just sit on the fence, everyone has something to say about the government.

Politics aside, the government does do some “good stuff” with all those tax dollars that get squeezed out of people, and some of that good can be found right here, by clicking on that keyboard a little more.

One really good site that has a lot of information is at irs.gov. That’s right–the Internal Revenue Service. One thing in particular that might interest you is your tax refund. You can actually track your IRS refund by accessing a link on the main page on the left side. You’ll need to give your Social Security number, your filing status, and an exact refund amount. And it’s free!

There’s also lots of other “good stuff” too, like information about tax breaks on new cars, downloadable forms, and even how to apply for IRS jobs.

Another federal government site, that might interest some of you is that of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency. If you are a homeowner or a prospective one, at fema.gov, you can use your address to find flood plain maps and check where your property sits in relation to the different types of floods (i.e. 500-year, 100-year). Click on “Flood Insurance, Maps and Information” on the right side of the main page. This site also has lots of other information, including how to apply for disaster assistance.

Picnik and FotoFlexer–Cool Photo-Editing Sites; But What’s the Difference?

With Additional FotoFlexer Effects, Text, and Frame

Top: Original Photo; Center: With FotoFlexer Twirl; Bottom: With Additional FotoFlexer Color Effects, Text, and Frame

Soon after I started this, my first blog, I discovered that I would need some kind of photo-editing tools. I stumbled onto Picnik, and until very recently have been using it and like it alot.

Picnik is easy to use, and it works efficiently. Choose a photo, do your editing, and save it back to your own photo files in no time. Mostly I’ve cropped and re-sized photos so that I can get them to fit in the posts here in WordPress, and when it comes to placing photos in the sidebars, they have to be sized (usually smaller) to fit. Sometimes it takes a littlef trial and error just to get the fit that you need, but even so, you can do it quickly.

I also like working with the text option on Picnik. There are lots of different fonts, and after using it just a couple of times, adding text of whatever color and size you want is a no-brainer.

There are some special effects choices as well, but the creative possibilities with these will take you only so far. Using Picnik is a bit like going to a McDonald’s; you’re in and out in no time, and the Big Mac and fries that you order today will be identical to the Big Mac and fries that you ordered the last time you were there.

FotoFlexer, on the other hand, is more like one of those restaurants where they serve wine and you might have to wear a jacket. There are more options when using this photo-editing site, so you have more possibilities of being creative, but with these options, there is more to learn and more to play with.

With some of the twirl and stretch choices, you can almost become an artist. I just have started to work with my photos on Fotoflexer, and I know that I’ll continue to do so. Along with a variety of effects, you can add some nifty animation, which I have done, but haven’t been able to make work after I downloaded the photos with the animation to my files. The animated images are on the photo, they just aren’t animated anymore. (If somebody reads this and knows how to remedy this, I’d appreciate your leaving a comment.)

Also FotoFlexer has some of the correction tools that PhotoShop has so that you can erase, draw, and do that color-dipping with that cute little eye-dropper. You can also reverse the image. This is definitely a fun photo-editing site, but something that will take a bit of learning. In comparison to Picnik, I found working with text and re-sizing somewhat more complicated. However, FotoFlexer allows you to butt photos together, do overlays, and even make montages.

One thing both of these editing sites seems to be missing is the ability to re-size photos into inches or centimeters; there’s only the pixel option. I wanted to re-size some photos for some postcards I’m trying to print on my new HP Photosmart C5580 (my barely-more-than-a-year-old Lexmart died of a paper jam that I wasn’t able to fix, and I reckoned it wasn’t worth trying to get it repaired), but I couldn’t re-size to the size necessary because I could only use the pixel dimensions.

Until recently, most all of the photo-editing I’ve done for my blog has been done with Picnik; however, the banner is one place where I have utilized both FotoFlexer and Picnik. First, I used FotoFlexer to repair some of the blemishes in the old photo and added the sepia coloration; the I cropped the photo, added and colored the text, and re-sized it to fit my banner space with Picnik.

Both of these photo-editing sites are good: Picnik is great for novices and for saving time, while FotoFlexer requires a bit more practice to use but has the capability to advance your creativity.

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See also: Picnik: A Cool Photo-Editing Site

Picnik: A Cool Photo-Editing Site (UPDATE: Read about Picmonkey Below)

If you look at the dates of my blog, you can see that I haven’t been at it very long, or maybe you can tell it for other reasons. I’m not an expert and I know it, but I’m learning and have found lots of other great blogs as well as helpful sites.

One that I really like is Picnik. It’s a photo-editing site. It’s free and you don’t have to download anything to use it. That’s one reason I like it so much. I have a couple other ways to edit photos on my computer, but I think they are more difficult to get to if I’m working on my blog. If you keep the Picnik page open, you can just download one of your pictures, edit it, and–wham–it’s ready to add it to your post.

It’s all pretty intuitive too. I think anyone who works with photos and artwork would like it; probably you scrap-boogers–I mean scrap-bookers (and you know who you are) would like it because it’s really easy to change the sizes of photos and crop them. What I really like is being able to easily–and yes, it’s easy–to overlay text on a photo. There are lots of special effects features as well.

I’ve used it on most of the pics I’ve added in my blog, including all of the flower photos in the blog below. I did my banner at the top with it, from the little picture that’s under it on the left. I started first with the old Dorrance postcard, which you can see in one of my first posts, Fishing on the Flooded Smoky River.

Another good photo-editing site is FotoFlexer.

UPDATE:  Picnik is no longer a functioning photo-editing site.  It is now a part of Google+, and since I don’t use Google+, I tried to find a photo-editor similar to Picnik.  Picmonkey is the best substitute that I have found. 

Picmonkey, for the most part, functions like Picnik did.  I use it mostly for cropping, re-sizing, and framing photos for my blog, and it works well and fast with these functions.  However, I am disappointed with the type fonts, as it doesn’t have nearly as many as Picnik, and many are of the handwriting-style, rather than the more standard fonts.  Also, I’ve experience problems moving back and forth from one function to another.  For example, if I crop and re-size a photo, then frame it, sometimes I can’t go back to the original main functions, so I just have to start all over with the photo.

For the most part, though, Picmonkey satisfies my basic photo-editing needs, and perhaps they will do some upgrading to work out the kinks in the site.