Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Literary Studies: Christmas in Poganuc by Harriet Beecher Stowe

by M. J. Joachim

Harriet Beecher Stowe, PD-US
Dolly is a very young child, more curious than ever about the phenomenon people call Christmas. Back in those days, children went to bed without a second thought, while the adults carried on, knowing the children were fast asleep as they were supposed to be, and completely certain no harm would come to them in such a peaceful state. Dolly, however, had trouble falling asleep with the bells and Christmas music from the nearby church being played so beautifully. She could see the glow in the air from all the Christmas lights, and in her curious, non-compliant sort of way, she made her way downstairs to catch a glimpse of the festivities from the porch. Except she couldn’t see well enough from there, and quite accidentally made her way to the church, without anyone being the wiser.

Thus is the introductory synopsis of Christmas in Poganuc by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a tale destined to take us on an historic Christmas adventure of an inquisitive little girl named Dolly, who was the light and joy in her home, to be sure, but who also managed to get into a bit of mischief, due to her extraordinary and unexpected behavior. Dolly wasn’t a bad child by any stretch of the imagination. Thankfully her parents knew this and couldn’t love her more, despite a few misjudgments she may have had regarding certain decisions she made, with every good intention of heart.

In reading this story, it is difficult not to consider the historical element of it, because throughout its pages, black people were servants and helpers of the more educated and affluent white people. Language and conversations were aptly characteristic of a time when life was so much different, yet not necessarily resented or approached as it is in our current society. There was no debate or concern for politically correct, other than children knowing their place and behaving without a second thought. In fact, much of this story focuses on the expected behavior of children, and the duality of their current behavior at the time the story was written, but even more so today. It’s hard to remember a time when children didn’t take for granted they had the right to question anyone or anything, though I do remember that being a big faux pas with my own parents.

Customary as it was to have black people working for white people, this story is actually a story about all people, as opposed to dividing people by race or creed. Religion is strongly considered, even presented with people who celebrated Christmas and those who didn’t. Faith is deemed primary content as the story unfolds, revealing people who did and did not keep Christmas, people of science, as opposed to people of faith and religion. People were merely elements in the story to make it come alive, while serious topics regarding raising children and accepting people for who they are, regardless of how various debris denoting anything they might be judged about, came into play.

This is a short Christmas story with the potential for a huge impact on anyone who reads it. Historical content aside, this story is intellectually sound, making perfect sense out of reality, without attempting to alter it presumptuously, so as not to offend anyone by its content. That being said, it’s content is not offensive at all if taken with the right attitude, which is why readers and writers will benefit greatly from studying this piece. It is honest, steadfast and pure, the substance of which makes all writing great, and leaves an audience saturated and well pleased.

Honesty truly is the best policy, provided tact is used and silence is still considered golden.

Thank you for spending a few moments of your very busy day with me. I appreciate it more than you know.

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Literary Studies: The Poor Traveler by Charles Dickens

by M. J. Joachim

Dicken's Dream, Robert William Buss (1804-1875) PD-US
According to legend, Dickens shares this story based on six poor travelers, who visited a charity on Christmas Eve, where they were treated to delicious food and goodwill. Toward the end of the evening, each traveler was invited to share a story, and The Poor Traveler was one of the tales told on that special Christmas Eve.

It is a rogue story, about a young man who lost his way and hoped to die, thus joining military forces in a town far away, with the intention of being shot in battle. Providence had other plans, instead causing the budding soldier to impress upon his Captain, a desire to save him from his wretchedness, which was not an easy task at all. As a result, a fast friendship developed, culminating in the youth’s meritorious rising in the ranks, in part for being such a faithful and loyal officer in his regimen, but also due to his continuously developed skill and military expertise throughout his career.

The Poor Traveler proceeds to take us on a journey through the friendship and military careers of both men, climaxing with the death of the Captain, followed by the lengthy grieving of his comrade, a broken man with still many more life lessons to learn, of which his Captain appears to teach him from the grave. Once again Charles Dickens yields the moral compass ever present in his literature, drawing us into a tale of agony, followed by victory, should the correct path triumph in the battle being portrayed within its pages.

An illustrious story is attended, one where readers and writers equally benefit from the subtle transitions and unspoken, yet clearly revealed, mysteries therein. Human honesty is shared within these pages, quite distinct from the story being told. This is one to ponder, reading between the lines, so that it infiltrates the heart, softening the soul and reminding each member of its audience that there is so much more to living than life itself, and each moment of our lives is never ours alone, because as much as we are individuals, we are also one in community with each other, and our actions, indeed our very thoughts and feelings, affect every person who crosses our path.

May our influence be strong, steady and above reproach, and should it be reproachable, may we learn our lessons well, graciously accepting lessons we are better to be taught.

Thank you for visiting Writing Tips today. With every kindness and good will,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 23, 2015

Literary Studies: The Christmas Goblins by Charles Dickens

by M. J. Joachim

Photo credit:  Heinrich Burkel (1802 - 1869) Public Domain
Set in a damp, frosty and very cold graveyard at Christmastime, Gabriel Grubb, the main character in Dickens short story, The Christmas Goblins, is a disheartened old fellow, who’s only joy comes from digging graves in the icy, rock solid ground, lest he contemplate with agitation the joys everyone else is experiencing this time of year. His is a bitter jealousy, long forsaken to cynicism, where the holidays are gloomy, and anyone enjoying them should rightfully be taken down a peg or two, because he resents their happy moods. Dickens wastes no time bringing the goblins into play, as Grubb sets out to dig a grave in the deep, dark night, goblins who mock and accuse Gabriel Grubb of his wrongdoing. He for his part, attempts to refute them to no avail, all too soon coming to recognize the error of his ways, his time with the goblins well spent.

Master storyteller that he is, Dickens words illustrate a certain madness in the world, while entertaining a moralistic higher ground, one that calls us to a fundamental reality in our own hearts, enlightening and inspiring us to raise the bar a bit, and become better human beings. The Christmas Goblins electrifies the true meaning of Christmas, touching on sentiments most of us feel and believe, though too many of us get caught up in the festivities to truly notice, often contemplating our good intentions, while neglecting to do all that we could for those less fortunate. More than that, this story reminds us that true fortune is not to be found in dollars and cents. It is something to be nurtured deep within the heart of every man, woman and child, and when this happens, no one is forsaken or without precious blessings much more valuable than gold.

Because the story is public domain, I’ve included it in its entirety for your reading pleasure.

The Christmas Goblins by Charles Dickens

In an old abbey town, a long, long while ago there officiated as sexton and gravedigger in the churchyard one Gabriel Grubb. He was an ill conditioned cross-grained, surly fellow, who consorted with nobody but himself and an old wicker-bottle which fitted into his large, deep waistcoat pocket.

A little before twilight one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself toward the old churchyard, for he had a grave to finish by next morning, and feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits, perhaps, if he went on with his work at once.

He strode along until he turned into the dark lane which led to the churchyard—a nice, gloomy, mournful place into which the towns-people did not care to go except in broad daylight, consequently he was not a little indignant to hear a young urchin roaring out some jolly song about a Merry Christmas. Gabriel waited until the boy came up, then rapped him over the head with his lantern five or six times to teach him to modulate his voice. And as the boy hurried away, with his hand to his head, Gabriel Grubb chuckled to himself and entered the churchyard, locking the gate behind him.

Photo credit:  Public Domain

He took off his coat, put down his lantern, and getting into an unfinished grave, worked at it for an hour or so with right good will. But the earth was hardened with the frost, and it was no easy matter to break it up and shovel it out. At any other time this would have made Gabriel very miserable, but he was so pleased at having stopped the small boy's singing that he took little heed of the scanty progress he had made when he had finished work for the night, and looked down into the grave with grim satisfaction, murmuring as he gathered up his things:

"Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one,
A few feet of cold earth when life is done."

"Ho! ho!" he laughed, as he set himself down on a flat tombstone, which was a favorite resting-place of his, and drew forth his wicker-bottle. "A coffin at Christmas! A Christmas box. Ho! ho! ho!"

"Ho! ho! ho!" repeated a voice close beside him.

"It was the echoes," said he, raising the bottle to his lips again.

"It was not," said a deep voice.

Gabriel started up and stood rooted to the spot with terror, for his eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold.

Seated on an upright tombstone close to him was a strange, unearthly figure. He was sitting perfectly still, grinning at Gabriel Grubb with such a grin as only a goblin could call up.

"What do you here on Christmas Eve?" said the goblin, sternly.

"I came to dig a grave, sir," stammered Gabriel.

"What man wanders among graves on such a night as this?" cried the goblin.

"Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!" screamed a wild chorus of voices that seemed to fill the churchyard.

"What have you got in that bottle?" said the goblin.

"Hollands, sir," replied the sexton, trembling more than ever, for he had bought it of the smugglers, and he thought his questioner might be in the excise department of the goblins.

"Who drinks Hollands alone, and in a churchyard on such a night as this?"

"Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!" exclaimed the wild voices again.

"And who, then, is our lawful prize?" exclaimed the goblin, raising his voice.

The invisible chorus replied, "Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!"

"Well, Gabriel, what do you say to this?" said the goblin, as he grinned a broader grin than before.

The sexton gasped for breath.

"What do you think of this, Gabriel?"

"It's—it's very curious, sir, very curious, sir, and very pretty," replied the sexton, half-dead with fright. "But I think I'll go back and finish my work, sir, if you please."

"Work!" said the goblin, "what work?"

"The grave, sir."

"Oh! the grave, eh? Who makes graves at a time when other men are merry, and takes a pleasure in it?"

Again the voices replied, "Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!"

"I'm afraid my friends want you, Gabriel," said the goblin.

"Under favor, sir," replied the horror-stricken sexton, "I don't think they can; they don't know me, sir; I don't think the gentlemen have ever seen me."

"Oh! yes, they have. We know the man who struck the boy in the envious malice of his heart because the boy could be merry and he could not."

Here the goblin gave a loud, shrill laugh which the echoes returned twenty-fold.

"I—I am afraid I must leave you, sir," said the sexton, making an effort to move.

"Leave us!" said the goblin; "ho! ho! ho!"

As the goblin laughed he suddenly darted toward Gabriel, laid his hand upon his collar, and sank with him through the earth. And when he had had time to fetch his breath he found himself in what appeared to be a large cavern, surrounded on all sides by goblins ugly and grim.

"And now," said the king of the goblins, seated in the centre of the room on an elevated seat—his friend of the churchyard—"show the man of misery and gloom a few of the pictures from our great storehouses."

As the goblin said this a cloud rolled gradually away and disclosed a small and scantily furnished but neat apartment. Little children were gathered round a bright fire, clinging to their mother's gown, or gamboling round her chair. A frugal meal was spread upon the table and an elbow-chair was placed near the fire. Soon the father entered and the children ran to meet him. As he sat down to his meal the mother sat by his side and all seemed happiness and comfort.

"What do you think of that?" said the goblin.

Gabriel murmured something about its being very pretty.

"Show him some more," said the goblin.

Many a time the cloud went and came, and many a lesson it taught to Gabriel Grubb. He saw that men who worked hard and earned their scanty bread were cheerful and happy. And he came to the conclusion it was a very respectable sort of a world after all. No sooner had he formed it than the cloud closed over the last picture seemed to settle on his senses and lull him to repose. One by one the goblins faded from his sight, and as the last one disappeared he sank to sleep.

The day had broken when he awoke, and found himself lying on the flat gravestone, with the wicker-bottle empty by his side. He got on his feet as well as he could, and brushing the frost off his coat, turned his face toward the town.

But he was an altered man, he had learned lessons of gentleness and good-nature by his strange adventures in the goblin's cavern.

Photo credit:  Public Domain

May we all stop and reflect during this joyous time of year, with peace in our hearts and good will toward everyone.

Thank you so much for visiting my blog today,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved; The Christmas Goblins by Charles Dickens, Public Domain 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Literary Studies: Chapters from My Autobiography by Mark Twain

by M. J. Joachim

Mark Twain - Public Domain
Getting to know Samuel L. Clemens, aka Mark Twain, in this unique manner has been quite the intriguing and satisfactory adventure. He was every bit the character, as much as he was the successful and legendary author. Exhibiting industrious frankness throughout his autobiography, Twain captures the human spirit at its best, at its worst, at its proudest and at its most humbled. He is vulnerable, yet protected, by the mere honesty and candor represented.

Among the saddest points in his life was the loss of his daughter Susy, of which this autobiography pays tribute in rare fashion by sharing excerpts from her biography of him, a work she started when she was merely a little child, ever captured by the personality and fostering only the deepest love for her father and family. Twain left the misspellings in, capturing the essence of youth and encouraging every effort of her writings.

Susy Clemens, Public Domain

His heartbreak over Susy’s death literally oozes onto the pages in fine literary style, expressing a deep and genuine affection, while illustrating the life he lived, not only with Susy, but as a family man who loved his wife dearly and couldn’t be prouder of the life he chose to live with her and their children. Twain was a devoted husband and doting father. His wife in turn, appeared to be the same. Theirs was a rare family, not only by his accounts, but based on all the generous words he so lavishly spilled on their behalf.

Twain was also a writer, immersed in the artistic world of words and their various venues. He traveled the world, became acquainted with a myriad of public figures including presidents and kings and queens from his time, consequently sharing his experiences and the people he came to observe and know in each of the stories he published for us. Details of the real people behind his characters is quite often revealed within the pages of this work, and it is interesting to note the literary license he sometimes took, to bring these characters to life. Not that they weren’t lively enough, by any stretch of the imagination, simply that he liberally exaggerated certain points along the way.

His wife, Olivia, was his primary editor, so he indulged on numerous occasions, knowing she would strike this or that, and he would be laughing all the while, for having given her such a characteristically hard time, as was his nature. Early on in this work, Twain admits to being the problem child for his own mother, while boldly declaring he never outgrew this part of his personality for the duration of his life. He openly admits that he was and always would be full of mischief, because, to be honest, he was unequivocally born that way.

Public Domain

There is a great deal to be learned from this particular piece of literature, because Twain conveys a candor, thoughtfully designed to instruct its readers. He unquestionably teaches authors how to write in this work, stating facts and details, while elaborating on process, without seeming to coach his students at all. It’s in the actual digestion of this work that one feels connected to a sense of story telling, comprehending and perceiving the written word in assorted and unfamiliar ways. 

Twain knew he was an excellent wordsmith; as such, it appears he felt duty bound, almost as if a sense of obligation was eating at his heart. For one cannot receive great gifts without passing on wisdom to those who might follow him. There were annotations throughout his autobiography, many referring to his peers, among them Kipling, Dickens, Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe who was his neighbor. 

Mark Twain's Home - GNU Free Documentation License

His journey, however, was not a list of who’s who, as he poignantly divides his words, occupying his audience with those moments when he was indeed a struggling artist, doing everything he could to care for his wife and family. It seems he went up and down like a yo-yo for a while, until his literary genius caught up with him and made him a renown author in his time. His reflections indicate he had his doubts at times, especially when he visited large cities like San Francisco and was relatively unknown during his stay on occasion.

It was with inspiration and gratitude that I finished reading Mark Twain’s autobiography, completely satisfied that I’ve had this exceptional opportunity to get to know him better. As I renew my childhood memories, rereading Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and various other stories I heard as a child, new appreciation and understanding will be mine. Twain was a prolific author, so I’m eager to read some of his works I’ve not had the pleasure of reading yet too. It is with a steadfast encouragement that I recommend Mr. Twain’s autobiography to you. Whether you read it before or after you read his stories, it will easily enlighten you about the man behind the work, as well as the work itself.

May we all be bold enough to be ourselves, and brave enough to know when do so quietly,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Movie Review: August: Osage County

by M. J. Joachim

The story, based on drama playing out in a typically dysfunctional American family, is almost a bit too easy to relate to in this 2013 drama, where everyone comes together after many years being apart, for the funeral of the patriarch. The matriarch, played by Meryl Streep, is an absolute mess. Her husband introduces himself in the beginning of the film, prior to his death, setting the scene for complete and irrefutable chaos. Yet, there’s an endearing quality for each of these poor, pathetic individuals, people in so much pain, too often self-medicating to numb their very lives.

Addiction is a primary theme in the movie, along with the consequences on everyone from its fallout. This movie reminds me a little bit of Ordinary People from the 80’s. Families all have their own dynamics, oftentimes resulting in things few outsiders could ever imagine, yet everybody knows. It’s just not talked about, but there’s gossip out there. No one is exempt from the secret lives of those families, where individuals numb their very existence with booze and/or drugs, prescription or otherwise.

You sense the brokenness, and the longing to come together, in this film. You feel a sadness, yet also a bitter-sweet victory. It’s like being a fly on the wall in someone else’s home, except you know it is commonplace in way too many homes in America. It’s easier to numb the pain and hope for the best. After a while, it’s a normal role for someone to be the loud mouth, slurring her words inappropriately at the family function, calling everyone out for no other reason than because she can.

Meryl Streep was good, and Julia Roberts who played her daughter, she kicked some butt taking on Streep and trying to maintain some sort of irregular normalcy, as per her role in the film. Meanwhile, her own life was falling apart, but she stepped up and did what had to be done anyway. She never let anybody down, even if no one noticed or cared. I think she hated that about herself. Her character was so strong, yet she was so broken, and she’s one of the ones who didn’t numb the pain into oblivion.

Psychologically speaking, this would be a great film to study in a psychology class, or perhaps one dealing with family dynamics, substance abuse and the effects of alcoholism on children. It would also be a good film to watch to learn about suicide and the denial and acceptance of it in families. You find out early on that the father killed himself, though the family played dodge ball and danced around the subject effectively enough to survive the idea. It’s at the end of the film that Dad’s death takes an intriguing, if not curious turn, when you discover so much that led up to it, and how he finally determined this was his only alternative.

I don’t want to give it all away, so I’ll stop now and encourage you to watch the movie. Personally, I got a lot out of it, and will continue to mull over some of the more subtle messages in days to come. I believe there’s a pretty good chance most people will connect with some small part of this film, and it might make a little bit of difference for them in some way, shape or form. It’s a good movie, and the acting is impressive.

Family is what family does, and personally, I think it deserves so much better than this. Wishing you all quality relationships with each of your family members,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Poetry: Broken Walls

by M. J. Joachim

I am not a prisoner
That’s too easy a fate
For anyone who’s strong
Like me, escaping what’s escaped
You may look and wonder
You’d do it anyway
I am just a person
Edges slightly frayed
Shock and wonder scare you
Do not look too close
You might see someone smiling
The past is but a ghost
Take the journey with me
Lest I take it all alone
Love is not a mystery
It’s feeling safe at home

©2015 M. J. Joachim, All Rights Reserved  Photo credit:  CCO Public Domain

Poetry: Battle Cry

by M. J. Joachim

Do not weep for me
For I am not alone
Cowering in a corner
Never safe at home
The life I lead is tragic
The journey unforeseen
The pain endured, dramatic
But oh, the things I’ve learned

To trust is not an option
Sleeping comes in waves
Fear is not withstanding
Lest we make it to our graves
Don’t cry for me and wonder
How to save me from my plight
Hidden in your deepest recesses
You know, you know what’s right
Talking all about it
As if that helps at all
Letting bullies bully
Making others feel so small

Hitting where it hurts the most
Depriving what’s assured
Until you’ve walked in these shoes
You never have endured
Says the woman shielding children
Says the child all alone
Says the soldier in the battle
Never feeling safe at home

©2015 M. J. Joachim, All Rights Reserved Photo credit: CCO Public Domain

Poetry: Abuse Victim’s Howl

by M. J. Joachim

Broken hearts mend
A sure thing untrue
For abuse to withstand
There’s hardly a cure
Nightmares attend
Followed by tears
From those beaten badly
For too many years

Discarded and deemed
Unworthy of love
Rejected, forgotten
Bruises heal
As do words
Denial of love
Beyond too absurd
Killing the soul
For no reason at all
Irreparable wounds
Meant to make victims fall

Broken hearts muster strength
Releasing the loss
Of unfathomable pain
Feeling too high a cost
Hidden far far away
Torment never allowed
To infiltrate today
Or become victim’s shroud

For all abuse victims and survivors, 

M. J.

©2015 M. J. Joachim, All Rights Reserved Photo credit: John Hain, CCO Public Domain

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

App Review: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware

by M. J. Joachim

Sometimes you get what you pay for…

This app is free and I’ve had the worst time with it. It doesn’t load readily when I want to scan my device. Messages about sending reports constantly appear when I’m trying to run a scan, and it crashes frequently in the middle of scans, so I have the hardest time trying to perform a full anti-virus scan on my device, and never truly feel confident that my device is free of viruses and malware.

Obviously, this prompted me to download other anti-malware apps, which seem to work much better. A couple of them even indicated this app is creating problems, causing me to remove this one from my device. All things considered, that was a good idea, because my device is working much more smoothly now.

I looked at quite a few other reviews for this product, and they appear to be mixed. Like me, many people are having trouble with this app on their smart phones and tablets. However, a lot of people like it for their desktops. After trying it on my tablet, there’s no way I would download it on my computer. I have other security software that works really well, and I definitely don’t want to mess with it. On that note, save yourself some time and trouble. I don’t recommend using this app at all.

Thank you so much for stopping by and spending time with me. Please feel free to share this post with others, especially if you think it might be useful for them.

All the best to you and yours,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

App Review: Politico

by M. J. Joachim

Politico is the perfect app for anyone who wants to keep up with American politics. It is quite simply the perfect political news app, for those who want to know what’s going on in Washington and stay current with information pertaining to the 2016 Election. Stories are full screen, updated regularly and easy to navigate and share on social networks or email to family and friends. You can also save articles to read or refer to them later.

This is a niche market news app that specifically caters to political news. It’s a good app to learn about politics, study politicians and understand political and world affairs. It’s also a good app for social studies students to study current events, relating how some of these things affect and change the world around them.

We live in a world dominated by politics these days, so staying informed will help us make wise decisions about who our leaders are and who we should vote into office. It will also help us understand many of the things happening in the world around us. This is an important app on so many levels, so I hope you will take the time to download and use it regularly.

In the interest of staying informed and making wise decisions,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

App Review: NASA

by M. J. Joachim

Yes, there’s an app for that! And it’s really cool too! This is one of the most interesting and educational apps for science, astronomy and space exploration. You can’t even imagine how exciting it is to read so many amazing articles, interact with so many features, stay informed and up to date with just about everything you can imagine that might be happening at NASA these days. It truly is a phenomenal app that engages its visitors and helps them understand so many things about the universe.

The photo galleries are magnificent, the videos are educational and entertaining. There’s a section on tweets, television and radio, so you can retweet or watch and listen to anything related to NASA. Another section is devoted to NASA Centers, where you can learn the roles of each center and how they act independently of each other, as well as how they act in relation to one another as a group.

NASA app is updated frequently, so visitors can stay abreast of everything from current events to future missions, as well as things in the news. This app is great for science teachers, and would be very helpful for many school projects, including providing ideas for science fair projects. It would be fun for parents and their children to explore together, as they learn and discuss what’s happening in outer space, or maybe foster dreams to become an astronaut.

I personally enjoy visiting this app often, because it has so many neat features, and I always learn something new when I visit. If you like space, or are simply curious about NASA and everything that goes on there, this app is definitely one you need to download and add to your stash.

Because when things are out of this world, you simply shouldn’t pass them up, this is M. J. thanking you for stopping by, and wishing you a wonderful Tuesday evening.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Viruses and Malware Prevention Methods for Your Blog

by M. J. Joachim

The most obvious point of entry for a virus is through links, something we’ve all been warned about on numerous occasions. Never open a suspicious link, especially if you don’t know the sender, and even if you do, ask yourself how well you know him, because it could be a scammer trying to cause some serious trouble for you. Scammers make a point to act like friends, grooming you so they can win your trust, thereby making it easier for them to perform their misdeeds.

Viruses and malware insert themselves in unsuspecting ways, links being one of their easy ones. They can also infiltrate blog templates, widgets, gadgets and text boxes. Your goal is to minimize this effort by keeping your template clean and up to date. You should also update your widgets, gadgets and text boxes regularly. It’s a simple enough task to uninstall a widget or gadget, and then reinstall it with updated information. You may find your text boxes can be updated with more current information, and it’s always good to provide the most current, useful information for your visitors.

I was updating all the background stuff on my blog today, partly because I was truly bothered by something. My most popular posts on the front of my blog didn’t update, even though they had changed in my dashboard behind the scenes. In fact, all those post were stagnant for a few days, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I uninstalled the gadget, and reinstalled a new one. All of my most popular posts changed accordingly and were finally accurate, showing the same information I was seeing behind the scenes.

As you can see, I also updated my template design, opting to go more simple and easy to read, plus finding a background that relates much better to the theme of this blog. Funny thing is, when I did that, everything started loading a few seconds faster, probably because our blogs are dynamic and need to be updated and changed, not just by adding new posts, but also by updating every aspect of them regularly, because leaving things stagnant on a blog tends to bog it down. It’s also an easy mark for virus infection to insert itself and spread.

Consider a little scratch or tiny cut on your finger. You think nothing of it and leave it alone, continuing to do everything you normally do. Our hands and digits get very busy and dirty during the day, and if we never wash them, that little scratch, and all the germs it gets exposed to, can create a lot of problems, especially if it gets infected. We all know how bad a fingernail trimmed too short can hurt. Imagine a scratch sending viruses into your blood stream.

This is what can happen when we fail to update and clean up our blogs regularly. They can have the tiniest vulnerability, which can then become infected, only to spread to every part of our blogs, leaving a nightmare and lots of pain in its wake. That’s why it’s so necessary to update all aspects of our blogs, changing things out, deleting old comments, removing broken links, changing out pictures, checking old links and updating posts with current information.

If you’re like me, reading html code and trying to find a problem after the fact, is one of the things that scares you most about blogging. In my research for this article, I read a lot of articles that displayed long lists of code, highlighting one specific line, stating, “This is the line you want to remove, the one that’s causing all the problems for your blog.” These same articles suggested checking templates, widgets, gadgets and everything I’ve mentioned here, clearly stating that we need to switch to html mode, search for specific code that may or may not go undetected in scans, and manually remove it.

In the interest of prevention, I’m not waiting for any problems to occur. I’d much rather update everything regularly, delete old gadgets and replace them with new ones, change out my template and give my blog a nice new and updated look. It sure beats waiting for a problem to happen, because from what I’ve read, fixing a problem like that isn’t easy, takes a lot of time, can put your blog in quarantine or even cause you to lose your blog altogether. It’s simply not worth the risk, when all you have to do if change things out now and then, keep things dynamic and take the time to make sure everything remains up to date on your blog. 

None of this is meant to give anyone a false sense of security. Hackers are out there, and their job is to infiltrate the Internet. Even the healthiest people get sick sometimes. This article is for information purposes only, and is intended to help you maintain the healthiest blog possible, without making any guarantees you won't get hacked or be infected by a virus or malware. As much as I'd like to give you a guarantee, it's simply beyond my capabilities.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Please feel free to share this article with anyone you think might be interested. Thanks so much for stopping by today. Until next time, I wish you well.

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: CCO Public Domain

App Review: All Newspapers of the USA

by M. J. Joachim

On the surface, this app seems to be based on a really cool idea, providing every newspaper available in the United States for free to those who download it. Opening the front page of the app, I was impressed. Digging a little deeper, I was completely bombarded by ads, and I’m referring to the kind you can’t turn off without exiting the app. Then I decided to view one particular newspaper I can’t view online, because they block content unless you buy this local paper, though you can watch their local channel and see most of what they’re talking about in the paper anyway. The lines were blocked out, because you need a subscription to purchase the paper, even though you’re bombarded by ads in the app.

I clicked around as much as I could, but spending 30 seconds watching ads, every time I attempted to switch screens and browse, was more than a little too much. There has to be a better way, and since I’ve discovered quite a few quality news apps lately, many that don’t inundate the user with inescapable ads, I’m more than content to use those. This one is hitting the round file on my device, and unless you have a lot of time on your hands to browse these papers, I don’t recommend adding it to yours.

News happens every day. It’s free if you know where to look, and it’s easy enough to find quickly, if you don’t have time to watch a bunch of ads. Here’s hoping you personally have a slow news day, and that all your news is good news.

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 16, 2015

App Review: BBC News

by M. J. Joachim

This app is a bit disappointing for a number of reasons. The formatting is difficult to see on the page, so even though you can sort of guess the headlines, to see if you want to view the articles, you truly are guessing, and once you get to the article, it might not be what you were hoping to find. Another thing that bothered me about this app were all the typos. I’m not referring to British vs. American spelling either. I’m talking about some very poorly edited articles, the kind that make me squint my eyes and cringe, because I can’t imagine any owner allowing pieces to impair user experience in this way on their app.

There are lots of different categories, topics and articles to choose from, but considering the initial experience with the app, one has to wonder if they are credible, because where editing is lacking, it’s likely more difficult tasks like research, are less than reliable too. Since it doesn’t appear they show any of their sources for information, other than saying something like, “…as found by BBC Monitoring,” it makes me wonder whether any of their news items are based on fact, fiction or a combination of the two, because I can’t help but wonder if the authors did their homework, or merely slapped together an article to increase pages on the app.

All things being considered, I wouldn’t download this app, because I don’t think it truly contains valid news from reliable resources. There are several other news apps that will provide well-founded, accurate information, apps that will deliver quality news without being sloppy in their writing of it.

Readers and writers should always do their homework and depend on reliable sources,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Deleting Comments and Removing Links to Eliminate Spam

by M. J. Joachim

It’s the strangest thing. I’ve spent days cleaning up comments on my blogs, because like you, I don’t want any spam to interfere with the work I’m doing on them. The weird part is that as much as I’ve gone through them to remove spam comments, each time I take another look, it seems like I’ve missed a couple of spam ones that suddenly appear. Now I know, this sounds crazy, and believe me, I feel like I’ve lost a marble or two on this one, but it happened again this afternoon, even after I’d removed published spam comments just this morning.

I’ve checked my blogs and they’re all clean, but somehow the spam continues to get through, so I’ve gone the extra mile and removed very old comments, so that I’m only leaving six months or so on blogs I’m regularly working on. This way, if there is some weird link thing going on, it pretty much can’t cause a problem on my blog, because I no longer have the comment there to cause the problem. In a way, I feel like I’m being a bit anti-social, but in another way, I’ve learned a few things over the years, and nothing about this is anti-social at all.

When I was admin in a very large blog hop a couple of years ago, we had so many issues with bogus comments, and the worst part was that you couldn’t tell the good comments from the bad ones. I noticed that same hosting blog has actually deleted one of the pages where we had the most problems, because that page (from my rough estimation) was the reason people had trouble posting comments on the main blog. It got so bogged down with spam, that it prevented people from commenting on the blog at all.

I no longer participate in blog hops, because I’m not a fan of link swapping at all anymore. If your content doesn’t get them to your site, maybe you need to produce different content. If you visiting and commenting on their sites, doesn’t invite them and encourage them to return the favor, maybe they’re too busy, or maybe it’s not about comments and commenting for them. Either way, blogging is a one person show, where the blogger produces the post content and takes care of their individual site, so if that same blogger decides to visit a lot of other blogs, or only one or two, it shouldn’t be an issue for anyone.

That’s not to say linking is a bad thing at all. There’s linking and then there’s linking. Linking to share valuable information or make it easier for visitors to find something useful is linking. Linking to spazz out all over the web, as in blog hops and links in comments, has the ability to create an entangled mess that is difficult to wade through at best, and messes with people’s platforms and computers at worst. So yes, I still link when it’s appropriate. This is the Internet after all, and linking is part of the territory. What I don’t do is link and become part of the downside of linking, where very few people, if anyone, benefits from the hurried mess of spreading links around, for no other reason than to visit a bunch of blogs and hope to get a bunch of visitors in return.

On that note, if your past comments on this or any of my other blogs are gone, please don’t take personal offense. I’m going to great lengths to make this site one of the best ones you can visit on the web, and sometimes that means going to extreme measures, for the sake of everyone’s Internet security, and my own sanity, as I really hate it when I know I’ve removed spam, and suddenly find a little bit more, time and time again.

Wishing you all a wonderful Monday,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: CCO Public Domain

Cyberthreats: Botnets and Zombie Armies

by M. J. Joachim

Botnets, aka zombie armies, hijack Internet transmissions without the owner’s knowledge. They are malicious software intended to control pc’s and devices, enabling them to send spam, scan computer environments, insert worms, Trojan horses, malware, spyware and more, all from a remote location, without the computer owner’s knowledge or approval. According to Imperva Incapsula, “Occasionally referred to as a “zombie army,” a botnet is a group of hijacked Internet-connected devices, each injected with malware used to control it from a remote location without the knowledge of the device’s rightful owner. From the point of view of hackers, these botnet devices are computing resources that can be used for any type of malicious purposes—most commonly for spam or DDoS attacks.”

Spam is unwanted and intrusive advertising. DDoS is a Denial of Service attack, which is capable of paralyzing computers, making a machine or network unavailable for its intended users. This can include site redirects, where hackers forward or send your site to a different location than its intended target. It can also extend to identity theft, because if someone else is controlling your computer, they have access to your personal files and information.

Infections from botnets happen when unsuspecting owners click on unsafe links containing malware, which then inserts the worm or Trojan, releasing the zombies to overtake their intended target. Files with malicious links, attachments in emails and/or clicking on unsafe sites are all ways people can infect their computers with botnets. Botnets multiply like bunnies - once they are activated, they set to work multiply and infecting everything in their vicinity, which on the web can be quite a large and expansive territory. According to Norton by Symantec, “Some botnets might have a few hundred or a couple thousand computers, but others have tens and even hundreds of thousands of zombies at their disposal. Many of these computers are infected without their owners knowledge.”

Signs of Botnet Invasion

1. Your computer is slow and unresponsive. It takes forever to access the Internet, sign into regularly used sites, browse for purchases or to do research, shut down or turn on your computer.

2. You have unexpected or recurring computer crashes. Your computer shuts down unexpectedly, blinks or burps suddenly and often, glitches as if performing another task when you haven’t done anything to it.

3. You receive error message increases and/or are blocked from security websites, or you get strange messages you’ve never seen before. Pop ups might also become more prevalent.

4. Your hard drive and storage has less space, even when you know you didn’t add anything to it, or change it in any way.

5. Your firewall and antivirus don’t work effectively, meaning you start getting a lot of pop up ads and other intrusions you never got before, indicating your computer might be compromised.

Preventing Botnet Invasions

  • First and foremost, protect your computer! Install excellent security antivirus and malware protection, and keep it up to date. 

  • Check your browser and make sure you have maximized its security.

  • Protect yourself by limiting user access to your work. Yes, this means monitoring comments and not clicking on links, even when you think they are safe. Cyber criminals want you to think they won’t harm you, and they work very hard to gain your trust, so they can infect you with their botnets. 

  • Delete all communication that even remotely seems suspicious. Follow your gut on this one. But also clean out your email and all old documents, downloads, photos, anything with a link or message that might be suspicious in the least. Check your blog for spam comments or comments with links in them too, and delete these if you suspect they might be infected. Then run a scan or your antivirus software, to make sure there are no problems with your security.

  • Scan your computer regularly, and stay abreast of any unsuspected changes related to storage use, downloads and any suspicious behavior that might indicate there’s been a breach in security.

  • Protect all your devices in unison, since most of them are connected to each other these days. Where one is unprotected, all are at risk, so be diligent and protect all your devices simultaneously.

Check to see if you are infected with botnets. Kaspersky offers this free IP check, so you can determine if you’ve been infected. According to Stop, Think, Connect (.org), “What you do online has the potential to affect everyone – at home, at work and around the world. Practicing good online habits benefits the global digital community.” Be diligent and stay safe, because cyber criminals are out there, and they like easy and unsuspecting targets. It’s up to us to make their lives difficult, so they don’t wreak havoc in ours.

We’re all in this together, so we might as well do our part to be as safe and secure as possible. Thanks so much for stopping by and visiting today.

M. J. 

©2015 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: CCO Public Domain

App Review: Vocabulary Mastery

by M. J. Joachim

Word scramble meets the dictionary in this app, that is designed to help people learning English as their second language. Despite the fact that English is my native language, I have a lot of fun playing it just the same. The dictionary aspect relays the part of speech and defines a given word with blanks below it. Below that are a bunch of scrambled letters that will spell the answer, when they are arranged correctly. I have to admit, some of these word jumbles can be a little bit challenging at times.

Another neat feature of this app is the spelling component. Turn on the sound, press the microphone icon and spell the word you hear. Mixed up letters are below, so you’re not working blind. This part of the app helps with pronunciation and clarity, so people can easily recognize words by sight or sound, when using this app.

The primary focus of this app is to help students prepare for English as a second language tests like TOEFL, so they can enter college. According to the product description, “Best way for learning vocabulary with TOEFL Words. There are 400 must have words for the TOEFL test that you have to master it.” I personally think designers should make this a full fledged vocabulary app, including thousands of words, so everyone can play, test their vocabulary, learn new words and have a blast increasing their language skills.

It’s a fun app, but since English is my native language, I will likely get bored practicing so many common words I’m already familiar with, though I do enjoy playing word scrambles, and the added element of solving them based on definitions is quite intriguing.

May we always be word wise, and not tangled up in the absence of understanding,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

App Review: Clean Master Phone Boost

by M. J. Joachim

Let me preface by clarifying that I use this app on my tablet, so it is not connected to my phone. In reading past reviews of this product, and when I say past, I mean a couple of years ago, I noticed a few complaints about how this app works on phones. I can’t help but think many of the bugs have been worked out since then, due to necessary upgrades and the like, but since I’m not using it on my phone, I can’t test these features to be sure.

Clean Master has made my life so much easier, as I’m almost always using my tablet in some capacity or other. The app completes a multitude of behind the scenes services, helping me save memory and battery life, as well as performing antivirus functions, warning me when apps could cost me money and boosting speeds on my device, so it runs more smoothly and efficiently. It even lets me know when my system is getting too warm, and has a feature to let me cool it down.

The app manager is one of my favorite features, because when you review as many apps as I do, you like to keep track of them, and easily discard the ones you don’t like, thus saving memory and space on your device. I’ve discarded a few already reviewed apps, because I know I won’t be using them again, so there’s no need to let them take up space or sit idle in the background. Another cool feature is that this device lets me turn off any apps that might be running in the background, and it helps me organize and track all the apps I’m downloading, using and intend to test for future reviews. If any app is causing problems, I have options that are clear and easy to decipher.

Software almost always includes a few junk files, and Clean Master helps me trash these, making my tablet run without all the added gunk that might bog it down. Another nice thing is that it lets me know how much storage and ram I’m using in its entirety, as well as for just about everything on my device - some things I never thought to check, because they are behind the scenes, and when things are out of sight, they are easy to forget.

The settings on this app allow me to scan for memory, low space, obsolete items, big files and more. It provides real time protection and safe browsing - so far I haven’t noticed any interference from any of these components, other than letting me know I might need to boost something, because it bogs down my device, making it run slower than it should. There are so many positives about using this free app, so I urge you to give it a try and see if it doesn’t make your life a little easier and your device a little more secure too.

In the interest of pressing the easy button to make technology work better for us, this is M. J. wishing you a wonderful Monday :)

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Google Contributor Facts and Information

by M. J. Joachim

“Contribute a few dollars each month. See fewer ads. It’s that simple. The money you contribute helps fund the sites you visit,” states Google Contributor’s about page. It’s about advertising and sharing the love, with the ultimate potential of making Google’s web experience more user-friendly, and in virtual effect, less spammy.

Ads are there for a reason. Very few people can work for free, and even fewer people have the luxury of not marketing themselves at all, so Google has provided an option for consumers and producers, by letting consumers buy ad space, in return for seeing fewer ads. Producers benefit, because when someone contributes to their site, they get a small share of the profits.

Bloggers, writers, artisans, designers and lots of other creative people spend thousands of hours, collectively maintaining and adding to their sites, so visitors can benefit from their knowledge on millions of sites throughout Google’s Contributor network. Many of these same site owners include Adsense or Double Click for Publishers on various Google sites people visit every day. Web surfers now have the option of buying their very own ad space, decreasing the amount of ads they see.

How to Become a Contributor
Site visitors can choose how much they want to contribute to the sites they’d like to subscribe to through Contributor.

  • $2 reduces ads by 5 - 15%, 
  • $5 reduces ads by 15 - 25% 
  • $10 reduces ads by 25 - 50%

Once you set up a Contributor account, you control how much you donate to the sites you’ve added as subscriptions therein. According to Droidlife, “Once you decide on an amount, you setup a payment through Google Wallet. Then, you are ready to start browsing the web and experiencing less ads, as long as you are signed into your Google account.” After you’ve set up your contributor account, you’ll find a Contributor dashboard, where you can manage your settings, add sites, adjust your contributions and see the effects of your donations to reduce ads on the sites you’ve chosen. You can use Google Contributor on millions of websites, or on sites you specifically list in your dashboard, spreading out your donation to all sites, or specifically directing it to certain sites.

Once you’ve removed the ads, Google gives you the option of replacing the ads with pictures of your choice. They also might include a small “Thank you” in place of the ads you’re not seeing, to fill in the space not being used by advertisers. Regardless of the filler, by opting to subscribe to Contributor, and choosing to support your favorite sites and the sites you visit frequently, you get to see a lot less ads on the sites you donate to and enjoy visiting.

How to Include Contributor on Your Site
First and foremost, you need to have some type of Google Ad account set up, so the ads can be replaced with Contributor. This way, when visitors opt in, and include your site with the ones they prefer to see less ads on, they have a way to do so. If they’re not seeing ads on your site, they wouldn’t need to minimize or block them. After that, it’s all about letting people know you’re participating in the program. There are three main ways to do this.

1.  Include a Contributor Badge on your site, by adding the code and specifying the variables. You can adjust the badge according to your site. My advice is to keep it visible, near the top of the page, on the right side, since a lot of people will notice it there. If you’re using blogger, add a gadget text box, using the html option, and adjust the badge to your liking, so that it is noticeable and easy to click on. The badge has the code you need, to let Google know you’re a publisher using Contributor on your site.

2.  Another option is to set up in house ads on your site. This is Google’s Contributor ad, which allows you to join forces with Google by incorporating their Contributor ad on your site. Publishers use Google code along with their publisher id, which promotes Contributor to visitors on their site.

3.  A third possibility is publishing a blog post or page announcing and sharing Google Contributor with your audience. Simply let people know you are now participating in Google’s Contributor network and would love to have your visitors contribute, by adding your site to the list of sites they already include in their contributions. You might also include some basic information about the program in your post.

Google Contributor is an easy, effective way to improve user experience, while continuing to fund those who host our favorite websites. It’s an option giving web users and site owners more choices over the quality of what’s on the web, because the more that gets contributed to any particular sites, the more likely those same sites will rise in the ranks.

This site participates in Contributor and my badge is in the top right hand corner. I sincerely hope you will add it to your list of favorites and contribute to the work being done here. 

Here’s to quality web browsing and site hosting, thanks so much for stopping by,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Book Review: The Survival of Thomas Ford by John A. A. Logan

by M. J. Joachim

Talk about a thriller! The Survival of Thomas Ford is a page turner you definitely won’t want to put down. I did, only because I was reading it so late at night, and knew I wouldn’t sleep unless I read something a bit more edifying before I turned out the lights and went to sleep. It’s a quirk of mine, but I still had to take extra cautions to prevent myself from having nightmares. This book had me double checking the doors and windows to make sure everything was locked up tight.

It’s good. There’s no question about that, and I will be adding it to my Recommended Reading list. There are so many twists, turns and unexpected, sometimes excruciating details, things that make the rest of the story come alive, which is probably why I had to take it easy on my psyche a bit, delicate soul that I tend to be at times.

Thomas Ford is quite the character, but his bird faced counterpart, the villain along with his father, are some of the strangest, most vile people you’d ever want to meet. And meet them you do, as they filter into every crevice of your brain, creeping you out with their evil, mental illness, their psychotic, impulsive behavior and their repulsively disconnected inhumane treatment of others. You want to hate them, though the tiniest part of you wants to help them too, only in so far as it will make you feel better, because these guys are some of the worst cases of lawbreaking offenders anyone could ever imagine.

Thomas Ford, on the other hand, is a guy who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, a guy who paid much too high of a price, for driving on a country road. The events that followed, the accident, death of his wife, lapses of time and encountering of new people in his life, all because he crossed paths with one crazy dirtbag, who’s father was worse than he was, were mere circumstances that drove the story forward. It was like being caught in a dream at times, except, along with Thomas Ford, you want to wake up from the nightmare, so you keep turning pages, making every attempt to do just that.

If I didn’t have so many books to read, I’d more than likely read this one again. It’s that good, although I did run into a couple of typos, and I know there’s parts of it where I didn’t get the full gist of what was happening. So yes, I recommend this book to you and hope you’ll pick up a copy and read it for yourself. If you do, I’d love for you to come back to this post and share your views on it, comparing them with mine. If you don’t want to do that, feel free to send me an email and let me know what you think. I’d be more than a little excited to compare notes with you on this one.

May all your nightmares be safe, with no monsters hiding under the bed,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Contributor Badge Helps Visitors See Fewer Ads

by M. J. Joachim

Google seems to have read my mind with their new Contributor feature this week, which makes it possible for my audience to see fewer ads, when they’d rather spend time focusing on my oh, so stellar content, without being bombarded by the ads I’ve strategically placed in the margins. Contributor is straightforward and easy to use. Participants choose a monthly amount to contribute to my site, which in essence purchases some of the space otherwise occupied by ads. This allows visitors to see fewer ads, enhancing their experience when they visit me and read my articles.

I placed my Contributor badge right there in the top right hand corner, and I would be only too happy if you would click on it and make your contribution today. It’s a win-win, because I earn my keep, providing I continue to impress you with high quality, excellent content, and you get to see considerably fewer ads at the same time.

According to Google, “Contributor works on lots of sites; when users sign up, they’ll get the Contributor experience on your site and all other compatible sites.” Contributor works across the Google network, meaning it’s another of Google’s wonderfully innovative ideas that only promises to get better with time. Google also states, “Contributor only works on Google ads, and is subject to the same auction mechanics as any other advertiser. So we don’t guarantee users a 100% ad-free experience, even on sites that only run Google ads.” This makes perfect sense, because Google obviously can’t interfere with ads that aren’t its own, nor should they compete with advertisers who outbid everyone else.

I’d like to encourage and invite you sign up and contribute here on this writing tips blog, because while I can’t personally guarantee a completely ad free experience, I can give you the option of seeing fewer ads, while I continue to make every effort to impress you with the exceptional content I strive to provide here. It is with this in mind that I ask you to please click on the button in the right hand margin above my followers list, and contribute to excellence in writing here on M. J. Joachim’s Writing Tips, Reviews & More.

Thank you so much for contributing to my writing and all the work I do here. I appreciate it more than you know.

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

App Review: NPR News

by M. J. Joachim

There are times when I can easily be a bit of a news junkie. I like my news to be factual, without all the editorializing that takes place on too many of my local tv stations. Unfortunately, when one relies on local television news, they get whatever is delivered, without the option to do anything but take what they get. There’s an app for that, and I found it - several apps, actually, but NPR (National Public Radio) is really good.

Supported by its audience, this news app delivers in-depth, detailed stories in as many categories as one can consider. Reporters are thorough, providing authentic information, researching every aspect, writing and editing their articles to perfection. Medium is no obstacle to them, and their reporters are in nooks and crannies across the globe, as they broadcast news accounts in written, video or audible formats.

There are a number of cool features to this app: top stories, a variety of topics and local radio stations to explore, plus some very intriguing regularly broadcast programs to discover. Each has a full list of programs to choose from, so you can view and listen at your leisure. Perhaps the best part of this app is that it is supported by the public, so they count on us for their ratings, thereby tailoring their stories to the ebbs and flows of our likes and dislikes, and they keep things varied, rather than covering the “big” story constantly, without tossing in some other news that we might want, because the “big” story is heartbreaking, depressing or too much to absorb all at once. Granted, the platform of being able to search for other news on this app makes that a more viable option, but still.

Regardless, NPR News is an intellectually sound news app that delivers news for free, and provides quality information, without all the unnecessary bells, whistles and editorials, so people can stay abreast of what’s going on in the world, without being told how to feel about it.

Here’s to staying informed and making intelligent decisions because we have the facts and information we need to do so,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

App Review: The Weather Channel

by M. J. Joachim

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing weather forecasters dramatize the weather. Using the tone and inflection of their voice, they send shivers up my spine, as the hair on the back of my neck begins to stand on end, my eyes start to glaze over, my throat goes dry and my nails dig into the unsuspecting dog or couch. “There goes the weekend,” I grumble as I listen to tales of catastrophic winds, bone chilling temperatures and high percentages of rain, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades, which quite possibly might shatter the records prior to records ever being kept. By the end of the weekend it’s clear - drama makes for good weather, even if there’s nothing to be dramatic about. But I still want and depend on an accurate forecast for my weather report, something I know I’m not likely to get from my local forecasters.

Not surprisingly, I searched for weather apps so I could alleviate this problem, assuring myself of some reasonable weather predictions, without scaring the daylights out of me, because all I really want to know is what to wear, whether it’s good gardening or hiking weather, and if I should plan that day trip up to the mountains. Plus, it’s nice to know my relatives and friends across the country are safe and minimally affected by whatever Mother Nature sends their way.

Looking at a general forecast, reading radar maps - hey, green means rain, right? Getting an approximate idea of the temperatures and reading more in-depth stories if I’m so inclined is exactly what I need to receive from my weather news, which is why The Weather Channel is the perfect app for me. Gone are the days when a shrill meteorologist will dictate my fear of the forecast for days. High temps are expected in summer, and snow should be anticipated in winter. El Nino’s warmer waters in the Pacific Ocean causes more rainfall, so some flooding should be expected. As for turning all of these things into front page, non-stop talking points, that’s another story and it isn’t going to plague me anymore.

The Weather Channel has local weather, radar, current temperatures, forecasts, plus videos and news of weather happening and affecting things around the globe. One of the best features of this app is that I’m in control of what I want to view, read or listen to, and I can decide which weather stories are of primary importance to me, allowing me to use weather as an informative tool to help me make educated decisions, instead of considering it just another dramatic news story that may or may not get too much coverage, depending on how each individual station wants to share it with the public. I’m a fan of The Weather Channel, because when it comes to dramatic forecasts and weather, I’ll be the judge of that.

May all your days be weather perfect and filled with the delights perfect weather brings,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 13, 2015

Literary Studies: The Chimes by Charles Dickens

by M. J. Joachim

Set in a distinct time period, during the 1840’s when the Great Potato Famine was looming large in Europe, Charles Dickens addresses the considerable elements of suffering in his time. The Chimes was published after A Christmas Carol, and though it speaks of ghosts delineating necessary changes in society at the time, it also shares a vision of modifying social classes, that all may contemplate the needs of each other, as opposed to staying in their social classes, where higher social classes look down with disdain on those of lower stature.

Rather than focusing on Christmas in The Chimes, Dickens makes a point to set his piece in the New Year, declaring boldly, “Out with the old; in with the new,” throughout his manuscript. Many such characters make a point to illustrate their desire to shed the pains and suffering of the present year, in favor of the welcome promises the new year might bring. The Chimes is the second Christmas book in a series of five Christmas books Dickens penned, the first being A Christmas Carol. Both have a ghostly theme, however The Chimes theme focuses more on a dream brought on by the ringing of the bells, the ringing in the soul of Trotty Veck, a struggling lower middle class citizen, who delivers papers and parcels for a living.

His was the tale of hardship, dueling with tormented winter weather, raising a daughter on his own, because her mother had passed on, and settling with the upper class, of whom he served. None-the-less, he adheres to his task to support his daughter, taking every effort to provide as best he can for her. His only solace is the ringing of the bells, as he hears them plainly speaking to him, delivering personal messages, providing him with great peace and happiness. Until his dream, that is, when things seem to disturb him greatly.

Trotty doesn’t care much for his fellow man, having seen the worst of some of them in his occupation. He’s not thrilled at all with many of their conversations he overhears, nor their demeanor to him and anyone they seem to think beneath them. A prodigious political statement begins to reveal itself, as Dickens challenges the status quo, daring them to take notice of the poor and care for them as they would their very own, through the various characters developed in this story.

Veck is a kind soul, but he is fairly discouraged as the new year approaches, which sends him into the dream state, where ghosts appear to him within the realms of the chimes, some of which have the audacity to speak with him, even going so far as to accuse him of his depression. Upon waking from his dream, Trotty Veck realizes it was only a dream and is thoroughly happy with the joyous occasion to celebrate the new year with his daughter, neighbors and friends.

There’s so much more to this story. According to the Victorian Web, “Dickens directs readers' sympathies by making the working-class characters three-dimensional and central to the narrative whereas the middle- and upper-class characters remain flat or undeveloped. His characterization is perfectly consistent with his intention to use the second Christmas Book to strike a blow for the poor.” It’s undeniably true that one can’t help sympathize and be inclined to respond more charitably toward the poor after reading this story, which is why it is a perfect story to read prior to the Christmas season, when so many living without, could easily benefit from the generosity of those who have more than enough to share.

In the spirit of Christmas and with every kind blessing, I wish you and yours well on this delightful Friday evening,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Trotty Veck by Kid (Joseph Clayton Clarke) Public Domain