Friday, September 30, 2016

The $80 book and the elephant in the room

I had one of my higher sales this morning - $80 (I am not a high-end deader like the Daddy of All Dealers so $80 is at my high end) - thereby making my five-hour total shlep to the rust belt in August worthwhile. I had bought that book there as well as a few others I have already sold.

I feel pretty relieved about it because the number of sales have dropped by about one-third compared to last year - for many booksellers, apparently. So these higher sales help me catch up money-wise. It's worrisome, though, because I was counting on growing sales over the next eighteen months, not merely maintaining them.

The indexing course is going slowly because of the software (still not totally solved yet and frustrating. But it's going. I'm not depressed about not being back in a school job but I know that this extended sort of time-off can't last forever. I have had trouble focusing the past couple of weeks on anything, I feel like I'm more on brain freeze than not. Uncharacteristically, I have had bad headaches lately. But I keep plugging away. The election has me at in a high dander of anxiety (did I say that right?) partly because of tight polls and, admittedly, partly because of what is described in this. article. I wish there were some kind of pill [legal!] to turn it off but nothing has worked so far and I'm tired of battling over insurance coverage for this and that.

As is not unusual, the sale of that book - an old book on graphic design and business signage - got me thinking again about the utter economic depression I have seen on my two visits to the region where I bought it (See earlier post). Recalling that region, along what my pro-Trump friend said the other day in a FB argument, gave me a smidgin of understanding of why so many people support him. The reality is is that both parties have failed regions like this one terribly. Statistically Trump's claims that the economy is worse are false and his own practices are responsible for job losses. But one can't deny that the Democrats have not figured out how to replace the lost jobs and professions with new ones. They can spout "clean energy" 'til the cows come home but until they provide real recovery, it doesn't mean anything to someone who has to feed his or her family. My pro-Trump friend and I can probably agree on one thing - Obama wasn't great on priorities. The similarity ends there, though, because I always thought Clinton was better and would have preferred her, while to her Clinton is the devil incarnate.

I asked a local Clinton campaigner last week why so many people like Trump. He said they don't - they are just angry at a system that failed them and they want to up-end it and they don't care how they do it. That was a bit of an eye-opener to me. I always saw that kind of thinking in far-left anarchists, not the far-right. And then my friend said that she likes him because he says "what we are all thinking," and that the country was going in the wrong direction. It was kind of the same thing. And it's true. Not all of what Trump supporters are thinking is bad, even if their solution is. It's what many of us are thinking across the board.

Salaries are down for the moderately or highly educated. The jobs for those who are not, are gone. You don't have to go the rust belt to see this or know this. Trump brings racism and simple and untenable solutions when he talks about immigration and Muslims and Latinos, but I can squarely say that I also worry about Islamic terrorism. I have mixed feelings on the undocumented immigrant issue. And you are not allowed to say so in the Democratic narrative. That silence fuels Trump supporters even more.

I worked for almost ten years in a school of mainly children of undocumented Latino immigrants. Naturally, most of me loved them and did everything possible to give them an education that would raise their status as Americans. But part of me was resentful that their undocumented parents got benefits, via their American-born children, that my daughter and I don't even as my salary was being cut (by a GOP governor albeit).  I remember my kids - that is, my students - getting free braces when, even with insurance, I had to shell out $7,000 for my own child. And then there are my friends in technology who have seen their salaries drop while their companies bring in cheaper engineers and programmers on H-1 visas.

And then, as a Jew and the daughter of an Israeli, I fear - and name - terrorism that like or not is drawn from particular strains of Islam. I'm just as troubled by the open anti-Semitism and violence that comes from the huge Muslim populations in France and Belgium as I am by the rise of fascism in Orban's Hungary. My friends in Budapest were bringing food and blankets to refugees in Keleti Station last year. By nature I would have joined them.  And yet, I myself would not want to see thousands and thousands those young men of fighting age settling in my area. The riots against Jews in France and the many assault reports of women bears that out. It's not a matter of banning refugees -  absurd as well as un-American. The U.S. screens refugees in a way that Western Europe does not. The idea of banning a group based on ethnicity or religion is indefensible.

My Judaism is a big slice of my identity pie, but I live, I choose to live, in a world -- socially and professionally - with Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and atheists. Democrats and Republicans and in between. Educated and not educated. American and not American. This is my existence, my daughter's existence. And it is different from the much more insular existence of, say, my Hasidic cousins, some of whom likely support Trump. But a lot of my liberal friends and the President don't acknowledge the very real fears of Islamic terrorism, any more than the right acknowledges Trump's affinity for neo-Nazis and for ideas that resemble them. Neither party has addressed these issues sensibly - so Trump was able to take people's worst inclinations on a very real issue and fill a vacuum. I get that because sometimes I feel it.

No, as I have said many times, I don't make excuses for people supporting the racism, sexism, autocratic statements, dishonesty, economics proven wrong, and general boorishness that come from him. We're adults here - we make our choices. And I very much feel that we have fallen into the very mental state we fought against in the 1930s and taken on a view of women that is frighteningly retrograde. But on thing is the same: That rust-belt feeling among all of us. Selling an eighty-dollar book once in a blue moon is not enough.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Have you ever tried learning three kinds of software, that serve the same function, at the same time?

I haven't until this week. That's why my weekly Wednesday post is appearing today, Friday.

There are three main brands of Indexing software: Cindex, Macrex and Sky (yes, it sounds like a science-fiction law firm). Indexing training courses require that you learn all three. My course actually requires the three only for the first project, which can seem very inconvenient at first glance, but now that I have been exposed to all three I see the value in trying each one out and knowing how to use more than one. It is remarkable, at least to me, that these software which results in the same product in the same format--an index--are so very, very different in layout and method.

I approach software from the perspective of someone who a) is bad at online tutorials--I'm better at trying it out in with an expert at hand--in other words a classroom or tech center of sorts--to help until I get it right and b) as someone who has used Macs and WYSIWIG since 1990 and is allergic to anything involving command lines and DOS interface (not a good mentality because it has kept me from learning HTML). I bought a Mac in 1990, brought it to Hungary when I worked on a newspaper, bought my first Mac laptop in Vienna around 1994. Back in the U.S. in 1997, I stupidly was talked into saving money with a Mac knockoff desktop and a Dell Inspiron laptop, but by late 2000 I was back on Mac at work at home. Grad school had mostly Macs, my longtime school didn't, but my most recent school did. I have an Iphone and just got my daughter one as reward for doing well in school last year. Over the past decade PCs caught up, at least, with WYSIWIG so I can handle both but you are not likely to see me off Mac again.

Which brings me back to the three Indexing softwear programs. Naturally, I approach them from that spoiled Mac perspective. At the same time, I want the flexibility to work on any platform that is required of me. At least two these programs were developed in the DOS days and you can tell. I first tried Cindex at the request of the indexer I corresponded with in August. Cindex has the most boring interface I have ever seen. But it is very, very simple to do basics with and there aren't a ton of commands to remember. So I'm fine with it. And--unlike the other two programs--there is a Mac version. So for financial and operational reasons, I was already favoring it before I even started the course.

At the beginning of the week I got started with the other two and my first exercises and projects. Just upgrading my system to meet their requirements took a day of false starts and frustration, but it got done. Macrex and Sky CAN operate on a Mac, but you need a program called Parallels to do it. Parallels enables you to create a Windows platform that can be run simultaneously with your Mac platform (sorry if I'm using the wrong terminology here but I'm not a techie). So I paid for a year subscription to Parallels and downloaded it. I thought I would have to buy Windows, but Parallels provides you with Windows 10. I don't know if it's a demo version, but it was all I needed. I downloaded the other two programs and got started.

The Macrex phone rep/trainer who is familiar with my course requirements is enormously helpful. She got me going on both programs by using Citrix (the screen-sharing program). When I first viewed the Macrex interface, though, I sucked my breath in in horror because the interface liked as DOS-sy as anything I had seen on my college newspaper computers in the mid-1980s. And it was all about using the top-key commands, control, option, alt and top-key F1-12 commands, and that is not my thing.

Why does Macrex rely on all of these instead of menus and mice? I asked her. Her reply made sense--using key commands keeps your fingers on the keyboard and therefore gives you more speed ---and the faster you can create indices the more money you can make. Okay, that makes sense. I do use key commands, just not exclusively. It's hard for me to remember number / key combinations. But she says eventually you do get finger memory of it. It's worth the attempt, I guess. She also said Macrex has functions for doing embedded, electronic indexes that the other two don't--that reason alone is enough for me to keep at it.

So yesterday, I did my exercises on Cindex and Macrex. Next I tried Sky. I was already prejudiced against it because I already had used Cindex several times successfully, and I liked the Macrex trainer's reasoning for using her program.

This time I was also shocked at first glance at Sky, but not in a bad way like with the first glance at Macrex. Why? Because the Sky interface looks pretty much like Microsoft Word which if one is not familiar with in this day and age one should not even be working on a computer. Self-teaching was much easier. I did the exercise on it, but then got confused with all of the Windows file management stuff and managed to lose both the program and the file. So I'm going to redo that right now :).

What it boils down to is the very reasoning behind the course requirement of trying all three--they ARE very different, each with different advantages and disadvantages. It's too early for me to choose but I don't have to for quite a while. Financially and computer-wise, Cindex makes more sense--I won't have to pay for Parallels, but Parallels is not so costly that it would be a decisor. Whichever one I end up with, I want to know all three, anyway.