Photoshopping All Weekend

All weekend, I sat glued to the chair in front of my computer, and no, I wasn’t doing my technical training OR writing.

I was learning how to work with Photoshop.

Photoshop is a full, rich, difficult program to use. It can do anything. You can paint with it, for Pete’s sake. It can do some really incredible things in the hands of a capable artist, and I am not he.

I’m always looking for new ways to dress up my book covers. I felt my first efforts were disasters. I don’t have the resources to pay for them. What can I do? Well, one thing I can do is try making the visions I have for them come alive myself, but that requires a better handle on the tools to make it happen. Photoshop is the tool. Now…what do I do with it?

I’ve been learning a great deal about text effects. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you likely know I used to make new headers for my site every couple of weeks. I had quite the bevy of them until my computer crashed finally and completely, and I lost them all. I haven’t had the time to make new ones since I’ve had the new computer, but Sunday, I decided I wanted to create a new cover for an upcoming story I’m working on. I wanted my cover to be as high quality as I could make it. So I sat in front of YouTube and a lot of other PS tutorial sites and just…learned.

I’ve done this before. I come away feeling anything is possible, and I have a headful of ideas swimming around. Then I get busy or distracted and don’t get to it until the next weekend. When I do, I’ve forgotten what I learned and can’t get the things I do remember to work right. It’s been that way for years.

I really liked some of what I did this time, though, and I think my designs hold their own against “professional” ones, for the most part. I still have a lot to learn, and can’t always get it right, but I’m a lot happier with what I’ve done recently than I have been in a long time.

With that in mind, I found a new theme on WordPress I put up on my fiction blog. And I like it so much, I’m thinking about using it here, too. And if I do, I’ll have nice, big banners I can make. (The one I did over there is a quick-‘n’-dirty one so I didn’t have to use the default pic WP provides, but there will be better ones soon.)

It’s going to give me a lot of practice doing something I love, and have a purpose for doing. I never even realized how they dovetailed until just now. The blog banners have been practice for making the book covers.

Ain’t God awesome?

So anyway, I’m going to put together something called a photomanipulation with my daughter next weekend. And when it’s finished – it might take more time than I have to spare – I’ll post it here and get your feedback. Should be fun!

Anyone out there have good Photoshop experience? good design principles for making eBook covers? suggestions? Bryce, you do some good ones with GIMP – what about you?

Sound off and let me know.

-jdt-

Friday Freefall

Well, yesterday vomited snow to the tune of six or eight inches all over us, just before my evening commute started. I left the office about an hour early to beat the rush. What a laugh. Travel normally in the 35-40 minute range took me about 90 minutes.

But I did make it home safe and sound, despite the incredible tsunami of stupidity. When it rains here, people drive safely, normally, as if life mattered. When it snows? Not so much.

But I’ve been doing some heavy duty computer programming this past week or two. Unfortunately none of it is related to the major projects I have on my plate. I have a mid-year performance evaluation from my boss coming soon. I’m a little nervous, so I’m going to start praying about that now. Long and hard.

I’m working my butt off to get up to speed on these things, to resolve the issues this website has. Unfortunately, the amount of knowledge required to do that seems continuously to escape me.

What I’m doing this week is macros for MS Excel. They’re very important. It’s critical we find out why our division and the manufacturing divisions don’t have orders which align. We keep missing shipment dates, the customers start counting what we call On Time Delivery (or OTD) on a quality score card they use to measure us, and if we’re sufficiently behind in our ability to meet their demands, they will go elsewhere. Sometimes they go directly to the manufacturing division. I think I told all of you how last year we lost one of our major customers to division direct. It was $12MM dollars. Not funny. Not good. We don’t want that to happen again, so we’re working to resolve the differences between our dates and divisional dates.

See, the problem seems to be the customer gives us a date on which they require the material. Whether they require it be shipped that day or whether they require it on their dock that day is up for grabs, and varies by customer. But one thing’s for sure – somewhere between us and the division. something’s going extremely wrong.

Here’s how it works:

We enter the customer’s required date in our system. Our system also requires we provide a promise date – which is the date the part is promised by. That would normally be provided by the division, but we have to put something in or the order won’t work, so we enter the same date for the required date and promise date.

The order transmits to the division and is consumed, somehow, by use of gremlins, gnomes and probably a few trolls and squirrels, by the division’s system. The order has then successfully transmitted via Electronic Data Interface (EDI) to the division’s system…which is probably not the same as ours, for many reasons I won’t get into here.

The division receives the order, provides what they call a promise date; that’s the day they promise they can provide the part. They examine the order and, if necessary, make the translation between their part number(s) and ours. Then, the division sends us an acknowledgment on the order, also via EDI, and provides us with their sales order number (which is different than ours), the promise date (affectionately known as a “PromDate”), and a lot of other information about the order on their side.

We only care about a couple of things, though. We want their sales order number, we want to know what they think we ordered, and we want to know if – and if not, why – they can make our required date. If they can’t, the Customer Service Representative will contact the customer and see if they can accept the division’s promise date. If they can’t, the CSR goes back to the division to see what they can do to get the part expedited. Yada.

So, what we think might be happening is, sometimes the CSR chokes. The division tells us somehow they can’t make the required date but the CSR forgets to update the sales order in our system. Or the division enters the dates incorrectly, if they have to manually address them (a few do). Or there’s some other hiccup in the system, since we’re migrating from our old standard mainframe system to a new, shiny, point-and-click system.

But we feel the biggest culprit might be the divisions are changing the dates without saying anything to our people. They’re free to change the PromDate. They’re free to tell us they can’t meet the required date. But they absolutely, positively cannot CHANGE the required date. Doing so means they are altering the customer’s requirements to attempt to make their division look better on OTD statistics. It means we are never going to get correct and acceptable OTD from the customer’s perspective. And it means the entire company, not just the divisions involved, look bad in the eyes of the customer and they don’t want to continue to do business with us.

Sure, our department can point to the manufacturing division and say “Their fault! They’re to blame!” But how does that look to a customer? If you go to Walmart and get a lot of finger pointing and excuses and blame put on other Walmart departments and employees, how do you react as a customer? It doesn’t do anything to address your needs, and it only makes the one pointing and shrieking look foolish and petty.

So we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. To solve that issue, we have a set of spreadsheets with the division’s order book and one with our order book And we compare them through a process which makes sure we have everything exactly the same. If there’s not a match, it’s for two possible reasons – either the order doesn’t exist in one of the systems and a match can’t be made, or the orders DO exist in both systems but something’s wrong. We can then sort the orders and highlight the orders due in the next two weeks to make sure THOSE pending problems aren’t issues. In this way, we should align the orders eventually.

So, I’ve been asked to do that work. And it’s getting there. I have one more to do. Our three biggest divisions will be done once a week. The CSRs get the spreadsheets with the mismatched orders highlighted, go through at least the urgent ones (due in the next two weeks), and then explain why the orders which are legitimately issues are such.

Two down, one to go. It’s sort of weird. VBA – the programming language integrated into Microsoft Office programs – is similar to ASP classic, the language upon which our intranet site is built. The one for which I have to create Appmageddon and have the other projects pending. So you’d think, because I’m facile with VBA, I’d be facile with VB or VBScript (variants of the same language, based on Visual Basic version 6 or prior). But it’s not so. There’s enough differences I can’t make the programs work right, and there’s no testing ability in ASP pages. I have to just…run the page and hope. Or hope I get something more helpful than a generic and cryptic IIS error message (IIS is the web server, FYI).

Tomorrow’s another day. Here’s hoping I can finish everything I’ve got to do and get back on track with the projects I’m now sure I’ll miss in terms of deadlines. *Sigh*

Prayers appreciated, and hope you all have a GREAT weekend. I’m going to the bank on Saturday to pick a new checking account because our bank is imposing them on all customers. Isn’t that charming?

No, it’s not.

See you Monday.

-JDT-

My Daughter, Fitty Scent

Not the rapper. My daughter.

I’m going to take to calling her Fitty Scent. I can always smell a FIT coming on, and it’s never far away. We’ve had to instruct her not to get “fitty” under threat of punishment in recent months. Seems the older she gets, the worse it becomes.

Now, the fits don’t last. They fizzle out pretty quick, and that’s a good thing. But she’s having them so regularly, so often, not a day goes by when I don’t have to either hear about one I missed while at work, or deal with one when I’m home. It’s a bit exhausting after a while.

I know it’s a phase she’s going through. I keep telling myself that. But sometimes it’s trying to deal with, and sometimes I just haven’t got the patience and kindness to work her out of it. Most days I can. Most days I can get her to smile and put aside whatever’s bugging her. But on those occasions when her fits intersect with my weariness, it’s a problem.

Some day I’ll look back on this time and lament it’s passing. I’ll wonder how I ever let it get away from me. How did I let those moments slip by without recognizing how precious they are? But now, in the lean hours and in the clenched teeth and taut neck, it’s hard. So hard.

So, she’s Fitty Scent for now. And when I finally don’t catch that scent any more, I’ll be a happy camper.

And will weep that day, too.

-jdt-

Thursday

Today is the first day of my vacation. I’ve got the next 12 days off, and I won’t see the inside of my ridiculous and infuriating cubicle until 2013. Neither will I have to deal with the childish angst of office gossip and rumor mills, and the back-biting, grammar-school popular-kid clique-ish attitudes. No, I will not miss them.

But I will continue on with my training video. I will also continue to think about and noodle with Appmageddon, because that sonuvab!tch is eating me alive. I have made some progress, but not enough to be impressive to anyone but me.

I’m going to try and get something published to Kindle, too. Probably just a rehash of one of my longer stories, but it’s what I got. I’ve let a lot of time pass without doing much in that regard. Now that I have a few days to myself, maybe I can get something done.

So, my posts will be spottier (if that’s possible) over the holidays. I’ve got a lot to do, and regrettably, the blog tends to take a hit when I get busy like this. Hope you’ll all understand. Besides, my traffic has tanked for some reason. I guess Google adjusted their sandwich algorithm and threw the switch away from me. Ah, well; nothing lasts forever.

Have a good weekend, and if I don’t see you beforehand, have a Merry Christmas (yes, with the CHRIST in it) and a Happy New Year.

-jdt-

Bitten

On Friday I sat beside my seven year-old daughter and watched a movie some ten years older than she is. Maybe you’d seen it flop on its way to the cheap DVD bin in Walmart – it was called Bad Moon and starred Michael Pare and Mariel Hemingway. Remember them? Yeah, almost nobody does.

So, I perused the likes of Netflix and Vudu for movies to watch. I’ve been hankering for a good movie of the horror variety and decided I was willing to pay for it. So I went through and spent a lot of hours on both services to come out with a handful of movies. I chose this one because, well…I really like werewolves, and I really don’t like zombies or vampires anymore. That’s a post for a different day, but for now, zombies and vampires are tired and hackneyed.

So I popped in a werewolf movie and watched my daughter’s face to make sure she wasn’t too frightened by it.

I find it intriguing that I reach for werewolf movies first. They’re my favorite horror/monster movies. And there’s no logical explanation for that on Earth. I shouldn’t like them at all.

As a boy, and I mean a small child now, I used to watch monster movies with my father. I spent countless Saturday afternoons with him watching corny Creature Feature movies on some independent or UHF-band TV station. (If you’re too young to know what those things mean, sorry; I’m not going into those explanations right now). He usually nodded off while I watched. But as a very small boy, I couldn’t get through one type of horror movie.

Werewolf movies.

Somehow, seeing Lon Chaney tiptoe around on canine feet with fur all over his face and those wiry-haired hands sent me into weeping terror. I cried, I cowered, I sought the solace of my parents to tuck myself beneath them. For some reason, the music seemed to trigger it for me. I could watch a movie if my mother held her hand over my ear while I laid in her lap. Maybe it was just laying in my mother’s lap with her hand over me that made me feel safe, I don’t know.

Once, I came home from school in horror and frightened, depressed. When my mom queried about it, I pulled up my sleeve to show her the newly-discovered arm hairs which surely meant I was bound to turn when the moon rose. She of course dispelled my fears with reminders of the length, weight and amount of hair on my father’s arms, and he wasn’t a wolfman, so I had nothing to fear. It worked. I was greatly relieved, and my mother still fondly tries to embarrass me with this story (even though I was only five or so at the time, and it’s really not embarrassing).

I had an aunt who’s only about 6 years older than me. She, of course, got me to sit in the dark and watch Rod Serling’s Night Gallery at my grandmother’s house. And then she’d sneak away while I was held in thrall by the show and would startle me or leave me calling into the long, terrible, dark hallway of my grandmother’s narrow, long house. Hiding behind either my grandmother’s recliner or behind one of the separating walls was a favorite tactic of hers. I remember shaking with butterflies flopping in my stomach, heart palpitating rabbit-quick in my chest, anticipating the start, but couldn’t stop from jumping and crying out when she did. Then the choruses of “Sissy!” and “Oh, don’t be such a baby!” would follow and I had to fight for a scrap of dignity.

But for werewolf movies, I couldn’t hold up. I just… couldn’t. I buckled under the weight of the adrenaline and horror, unable to rip my eyes away and yet covering my face with my hands to prevent myself from having to watch. Or I’d cover my ears to shut out the horrible sound effects and blood-chilling music. And then my aunt, seeing me that way, would slip away to startle me. Again.

I don’t know when that changed, but somewhere along the way, I began to have a real love affair with werewolves. By the time I saw classics (for my generation) like The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, and the misleading Wolfen, which I hated, I loved werewolves. Couldn’t get enough of ‘em. Still can’t. I sit in anticipation and tingle and get a giddy excitement when I think I’ve found a winner.

There were lots of them through the 90s, too, not the least of which is big-ticket Wolf, starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. And, among those peeking through in the 90s, came Bad Moon. And of course, I saw it. Not in theaters, naturally – I’ve not been a fan of that experience because of the a$$holitude of people for many years – but when they rolled around on cable and On Demand services. Or I’d rent them at places like Blockbuster and those Mom-‘n’-Pop video rental shops. Remember those?

One of my favorite movies of the genre stars Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenburg as siblings who turn. It’s called Cursed, from back in 2005. It started me on the road of respect for Christina Ricci as an actress, who showed me she’s much more than Wednesday Addams. And later, I saw Ginger Snaps 2 and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (though I still haven’t seen the original, which I’d not heard of even though it’s a cult favorite from 2000). I sat through jokes like Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman during his brief stint as an action hero, and of course beautiful Kate Beckinsdale’s Underworld. I waited with glee for Benicio del Toro’s The Wolfman, with Anthony Hopkins, which stank by the way, and have seen a few others as well. But nothing set my heart hammering and my adrenaline racing, which always puts a smile on my face.

I guess you really can’t go back.

In the end, I guess it might have been werewolf movies which made it possible for me to do away with the ability to suspend disbelief and sit captured by the imaginative world of a movie. I have people like my aunt to thank, who taught me how unwise it is to trust myself to a movie’s world and story too far. After all, it’s hard to slip fully back into reality and not jump when someone pounces from around a corner with a shout and hooked-claw fingers.

But I’ll always love werewolves, I think.

Maybe I’ll write a story of my own.

-jdt-