The Greatest Tool for Bloggers EVER

July 14, 2010 at 6:06 pm (Cool Tools, Creativity)

It’s a big claim, I know. But I mean it.

Keeping up with the latest information on your blog topic is critical if you want to publish engaging content. This means watching the news, following key people involved in your topic and, for me at least, stalking the blogosphere for the latest and greatest posts relating to your blog. But let’s be honest, it takes time to be a blog stalker.

Luckily, I stumbled across NetVibes, an awesome dashboard generator. All you do is type in your interest area (presumably what you blog about), and it creates a central dashboard for the topic. The dashboard is organized into customizable tabs, with the defaults being news, videos, Google searches and conversations about your topic. You can also add as many customized tabs as you want. Just click on the green “Add Content” button to fill the tabs up with your favorite widgets and blog feeds and you’re in business.

As a tabaholic and compulsive categorizer, this interface is thrilling. I set my dashboard up with multiple tabs that fall into “Creativity + Culture” – music, art, marketing, entertainment, media and culture. Every day, I can check out the latest posts from my favorite bloggers on each of these subtopics to give me fresh, relevant ideas about what to write about. Genius!

Here's a screenshot of my NetVibes dashboard for Creativity + Culture

What blogging tools have rocked your world lately? Have you found a different use for NetVibes? Where do you get ideas for blog posts? What blogs do you follow?

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Creativity: Photo published!

April 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm (Creativity, Photography)

My apologies for the shameless self promotion, but I got my first photo published last week in CSU’s Honors magazine and wanted to share!

Photography is a passion of mine and a skill I’m hoping to improve for the rest of my life. So, I’ve put together a short list of how to improve your photography skills if you share the same interest.

Top 3 Easy Ways to Improve Your Photography:

  1. Pack some heat – if you bring your camera everywhere you go, you’re more likely take interesting shots of things you see while you’re out and about
  2. Learn how to use your camera – this can be a daunting task if you have a nice camera, but in the end it’s definitely worth it
  3. Take advantage of free photography info and resources! Check out: Digital Photography School for tutorials and basic information, Aviary for free photo editing software, and Flickr or istockphoto.com for inspiration.

Good luck! Here’s a better version of my photo – special thanks to my gorgeous (inside and out) friend Rachel.

Do you have any great photography tips or resources? (Or better yet, camera recommendations?) Send me a comment!

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Creativity + Content

April 26, 2010 at 5:20 pm (Culture, Journalism)

Oh blog, here you sit…once again neglected. You’ve proclaimed my Beatles-related raves and traveled with me all the way to Costa Rica. And yet I’ve left you in the depths of cyberspace without any TLC for a year and a half now. And I’m sorry about that.

However, dear blog, I’ve decided to bring you back – with a makeover no less. The theme is one that I find compelling, fascinating and endlessly entertaining: Creativity + Culture.

Today I’ve got some Culture for you. My dear roommate in Costa Rica once recommended that I should work for Current News.

If you haven’t heard of the organization, it targets 20- to 30-somethings interested in “in-depth investigation and exploration of the world’s most important, interesting, and entertaining stories.” (From Current News’s website.) The company is interesting because it runs on a mix of original and user-generated content, which keeps the content right on par with the target audience. And, Current News is all over multi-platform content distribution with a multiple T.V. shows and an always-buzzing website. As a soon-to-be journalism grad, I especially love Vanguard. The show sics journalists on the “stories no one else is telling,” from China’s Wild West to Africa’s Gay Death Penalty.

Check it out at http://current.com/shows/vanguard/.

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Reflexiones

August 2, 2008 at 11:10 pm (Uncategorized)

I spent a good part of Friday in downtown San Jose with a few friends. Here are my reflexiones.

It was really cool to spend some time in the city, it made me feel a lot more comfortable with it. I appreciate it a lot more now, the bustling, the people just everywhere. The smells, the sodas, kids with their moms, old ladies, Ticos just reeking of cologne. Just being comfortable in a city setting.

I like the feeling of walking down these streets, chin up, a rough idea of where I’m going, and a sense of calm. Perhaps its not even a sense of calm, its just the lack of a sense of panic.

That’s one thing I’ve come to love about being here – maybe it’s even my favorite thing. The complete and utter absence of that acidic, black-slimeball-in-my-stomach feeling. That feeling of being perpetually on edge, just waiting for things to go wrong, just worrying – they don’t do that here.

It’s almost unimaginable – to live without worry. Vivir sin preocuparse. Until you let yourself go, really just surrender to it, you just can’t understand it.

But once that reality takes over your heart, something inside you changes forever. It is a beautiful change.

And I just don’t want it to slip away when I get back, so this has been my weak attempt to catch it carefully, to tie it down with words that can never truly describe it.

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Leap of Faith

July 23, 2008 at 3:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Like many that have bungee jumped, I feel there are truly no words to express the experience. However, for the sake of this blog, I’m going to try.

The whole thing started, actually, as a trade-off. I promised my friend Max that I’d jump if he came out dancing with us. Of course, I was pretty sure I’d find a way to back out at the last second as heights give my knees the shakes. However, the more I thought about it, the more I knew I’d be disappointed if I didn’t do it. This was how I justified it to myself as I signed the receipt, although I felt more like I was signing my life away.

Fast forward. We get out of the van that drove us to the bridge. The canyon is sprawling open before us, carpeted in tropical plants. A river which I’m sure is massive up close snakes down the middle of the valley, looking almost small from 300 feet up. I pull myself back, and my stomach sinks a little bit. I hate heights.

We sign waivers. The man with long wavy black hair divides us into two groups and starts suiting us up. Max is first. He insists.  He is nervous, I can tell. He gets up to the platform, looks out, and the man begins the countdown. Without even waiting for 1, Max leaps off. We ran to the edge, watching him fall like a rock. I couldn’t believe how fast he was moving, inhumanely fast, like a ragdoll. Like a corpse almost, just limp.

But then! Miraculously, the cord tightens and he recoils back. We hear a man-screech echo through the canyon. But he is fine, he is spinning and on the way back up, he is smiling. The bungee madess begins.  Five more people in our little group proceed to jump off a bridge because their friends told them to. Each one came back grinning, saying it was “unreal,” cliche, cliche, cliche. I hope to come back up with my feet still firmly attached to my ankles, and un-wetted pants.

Then, it is my turn. Hair man suits me up. I watch his handiwork intently. Very intently. I was less terrified after watching everyone else so far survive, but the second my feet touched the platform, erm, the plank, if you will, my heart was in my throat. I clutched the metal pole and looked back at Max, who was filming, in complete terror. I lowered the cord between my feet as instructed and there it was. The ground, swimming millions of miles below me. A swirling sea of trees and the river. My heart was pounding, I needed a minute but they started the countdown. 5-4-3-2-1. Shit! “Pura Vida!,” I shouted and blew a kiss, just to buy half a second more. And then I jumped. I jumped belly down, arms out, the same way I will when I get home and see my own bed.

And I fell. I fell fast. I remember thinking, in exactly this sequence: “SHIT. I didn’t not just do that. There is no way I actually just did that. Oh HOLY SH-” The cord. It snapped me back up into the air, sending the world further into a spin of blurring, zooming, green foliage. It was only then, in that split second much like swinging too high on the playground, that I noticed the heinous screeching echoing through the canyon. It was coming from me.

I bounced yet again, this time with less of a recoil, and went spinning spinning spinning. Green everywhere, I’d taken out my contacts (for fear of getting them suctioned to my eyeballs), but somehow, I could make out each tropical leaf swirling below me. I opened my arms wide and breathed deep. I surrendered. The spinning was slowing, and I heard the river rushing by. The leaves, everywhere green. And out of nowhere, as I’m hanging upside down, arms wide open, offering my pounding heart, my soul perhaps, to the universe, a song fills my ears. It is ‘Three Little Birds,’ Bob Marley, of all things.  And he’s singing “every little thing/ is gonna be alright.” And suddenly, this feeling of calm, of pura tranquila, seeps through me, as if released in that moment from my heart directly into my arteries. I breathe. The air is beautiful to me. It is the calm, the quieting of the restlessness that urged me to get on a plane to Costa Rica, on a 265 foot bridge, for that matter. Another breath. I am full of relief. It is not relief of having survived the jump. It is the relief of the calm I found in proving to myself I could do it.

I laughed my ass off as they pulled me back up. I was hanging from a giant rubber band in the middle of Central America, 2400 miles away from anything familiar, completely alone in this lush green universe.

And it didn’t bother me at all.

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La Pura Vida: Dia 5

July 10, 2008 at 4:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Hola todos!

How is everyone? Un minuto…my brian is still thinking in Spanish after, no joke, 7 and a half hours of class today. I thought I’d do an entry about la vida aqui, because we have a field trip starting tomorrow and ending late Sunday night, I don’t plan on bringing my laptop.

So I’m living in La Residencia, basically a dorm that looks like the real world house. Maria y Maru clean the house and cook us breakfast during the week. (The empanadas I had for breakfast today were tuanis – slang for too good.) We have wireless (obviously), a hammock and a patio, 2 sitting rooms, 4 bathrooms, a kitchen, and a dining room. The only downside is that it is nearly impossible to get a hot shower. Also, the electricity is sketchy sometimes because it is run on hydropower.

The food here is amazing. Tons of fruit, mangoes, limes, oranges, pineapples, bananas, avocados, all fresh. And great coffee too. Everything is fresh, it’s all local, and nothing is processed. There’s this great little place that we’ve been eating at, D’Mary, and it’s just this lady, Mary, in basically a kitchen with a countertop and a bunch of tables. She makes Costa Rican homemade dinner as well as like hamburguesas y sandwiches. The food here is similar to Mexican, but much better. There’s a lot of rice and beans, they mix black beans with rice and spices, or they have white rice with spices and veggies and red beans in sauce on the side. Then you have the meat, fresh chicken or pork or steak asado, like grilled. And to drink, it’s always always juice. Pineapple, orange, melon, blackberry, watermelon, maracuyo, mora…delicious. And dessert is platanos, like bananas that are fried with cinnamon I think. I’m trying to learn all the recipes and befriend Mary with my wicked Spanish skills so she’ll teach me. I’ve heard that when people go back to the states from CR, their stomachs can’t handle American food any more because they are so used to pure food without all the additives.

Today I went to a plantation, una finca, of coffee, as it is one of the biggest exports of Costa Rica (Starbucks buys their beans from the finca I was at today). They grow a bunch of other fruit crops there, but they don’t harvest any of it. They let it fall on the ground and become fertilizer for the coffee. Apparently, it takes four years to go from a seed to a legitimate coffee plant. They have white flowers, but only for a few days. When the beans are red, they harvest them. The workers are immigrants from Nicaragua and surrounding countries, because the Costa Ricans don’t want to do such hard labor. They get about $1.50 US per basket of beans picked. It takes about an hour to fill a 25 lb basket. We got to see a whole tour of each step in the process, and try the coffee, which was deliciousa.

So this weekend is our excursion to Puerto Viejo. We are going to do some snorkeling and traveling by boat. I have been told that there is a strong Rasta influence, and Puerto Viejo is basically as close as you can get to Jamaica without actually going to Jamaica.

Tonight Veritas, the University, is hosting a dance in the courtyard. Seeing as it is monsoon-esque rain right now, I’m not sure that will happen. However, I do need to take a cold shower and get ready, because I’m sure we’ll end up doing something.

Hope everyone is happy and doing well!

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La Pura Vida: Day 1

July 6, 2008 at 9:30 pm (Uncategorized)

My flight arrived in San Jose at 5:25 a.m. It had been a long night, ridiculously uncomfortable as we all tried to contort ourselves into somewhat recognizable sleeping positions within the confines of stiff airplane seats. My thoughts drifted through the night, slipping in and out of a light doze. One moment, I’d see myself on the ramp at DIA with the last person to see me off, Francisco. Ironically, we’d met in Spanish class my junior year of high school, and now he handles bags at the airport. My last hour in the States was spent catching up, swapping stories and admiring pictures of his new baby girl. My mind would flow into the next thought, an image of myself in Costa Rica, perhaps learning to surf or strolling through the capitol. Suddenly, a jolt and my head rolls forward – the asshole behind me, I am sure of it, had to be throwing punches at the back of my seat.

Eventually, after a few cycles of the aforementioned process, the flight attendants snapped the lights on and passed out customs paperwork with nauseating cheeriness. We exited the plane and trotted through the most illogically-designed airport I’ve ever encountered. It had to have been 14 miles of fast food and duty-free shops before finally reaching customs round 1, followed by baggage claim, then customs round 2. I shamelessly followed the two girls that sat by me on the plane; their badass nose piercings and plans to backpack through the country “for a few months or whatever” seemed like authority enough to me.

Finally I made my way to Luis, the driver taking me to my residencia. We chatted en espanol the entire way back as I watched the waves of mist covering the town retreat back to the mountains. I’ve never seen such lushness – green everywhere. Eden. I tell Luis about my family, my college, my job as a lifeguard. He gets a kick out of the last one, “La salvavida, eh? Como Baywatch.” I explain that without an ocean, lifeguarding is much less Baywatch-esque. He prefers to chuckle at some awful image of Pamela Anderson’s body with my head stuck on it.

After getting 2 hours of sleep, I go on a tour of the city of San Jose. I repeatedly find myself at the back of the pack running to catch up after standing too long staring at a building or beautiful tree or sculpture. I take as many pictures as I can at high speed, hoping maybe the magic of a photo-editing program will be able to salvage the picturesque scenes I am trotting through.

The day is long. We finally take a bus out to a hacienda and are fed a heaping plateful of native cuisine, including arroz con frijoles, pollo, carne y tortillas, bananas fritas, and sticky sweet raspberry juice. We wandered the grounds for a bit, then had an orientation at the Univerisity, Veritas. I still hadn’t unpacked.

My roommate and I managed to order a pizza later in the evening – we enjoyed our accomplishment the way a caveman would have enjoyed felling a beast.

And finally, at the end of the day, as many in the residencia head out to the bars, she and I type away at our computers, preparing for the very important oral interview we face tomorrow.

La Vista del Centro:

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The Adventure Begins

July 5, 2008 at 12:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Before I left school this last spring, my adviser instructed me to make my trip to Costa Rica “journalistic.” So, for that purpose, (and to appease my family), thisblackbird is coming back to life.

The adventure begins with speeding, swearing, and a missed flight. But we’ll get to that later.

For now, enjoy the sights of San Jose, my home for the next five weeks, courtesy of our friends at google images.

The National Theater

The National Theater

Hotel Presidente

Hotel Presidente

Birds In Flight Near San Jose

Birds In Flight Near San Jose

Market

Market

The Rainforest

The Rainforest

Ah, I’m so excited!!

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Blackbird

May 2, 2008 at 1:57 pm (Uncategorized)

As I mentioned in earlier posts, “Blackbird” is my all-time favorite Beatles song. So for this post, I did a little research on it.

The song was written by Paul McCartney in 1968. It is supposedly a reaction to racial tensions in the United States during the spring of that year. McCartney wrote it in Scotland. The song is fairly simple in instrumentation, consisting only of the guitar, McCartney’s voice, a dubbed-in blackbird singing and his foot tapping like a metronome. The guitar composition is based on Beethoven’s “Bouree in E Minor” – a song McCartney and George Harrison learned as kids to impress others.

The song is featured on the White Album, which was released on November 22, 1968. It was a tense time for the band, which was on the brink of breaking up. Their manager, Brian Epstein had just died the summer before. They were very involved in the psychadelic drug scene, and the presence of Yoko Ono in the studio only added to the tension. The album is interesting because it is more like a co-recording of four individual artists than one enified band.

Here’s a youtube video with the song if you’ve never heard it.

Research sources: http://www.iamthebeatles.com/article1011.html

                             http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackbird_%28song%29

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This Idea I Had

April 24, 2008 at 2:05 pm (Uncategorized)

OK, so I took a creative writing class my junior year of high school. One of our projects was to spend a class period cutting up newspapers and magazines and taking words from them, and stuffing them in an envelope. The next day, we combined all of our words into a ‘found poem.’ It was a bit choppy, but that’s just the style.

What’s the point? It occured to me that I was feeling a bit creative, so what you’re about to witness is a found poem consisting entirely of Beatles song titles…(we’ll see how it goes).

“Words Of Love”

You’ve really got a hold on me

Oh! darling.

I want to hold your hand,

I call your name, like dreamers do.

Don’t let me down, hold me tight!

I’ve got a feeling I’m only sleeping.

“Everyone wants to be my baby,” she said she said.

Devil in her heart, honey don’t!

Help!

Let it be while my guitar gently weeps.

Cry for a shadow.

I’m so tired.

Golden slumbers eight days a week.

I’ll cry instead for no one.

Revolution!

Mr. Moonlight – I’ll follow the sun, and your bird can sing.

Tomorrow never knows.

Here comes the sun! Come together!

Lucy in the sky with diamonds,

Martha My Dear, Penny Lane,

Elanor Rigby,

Lovely Rita,

Lady Madonna,

Dear Prudence:

All You Need Is Love.

 

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