Windows 7

I just bought a new computer with the Windows 7 operating system pre-installed.  I like it so far.  As many critics have pointed out, Windows 7 is a much better OS than Windows Vista.  Windows 7 runs faster than Vista and has some improved GUI features that enhance the user experience.  The little touches count, and the layman can tell that Microsoft spent considerable time, effort, and money to make Windows more user-friendly.  Gone is the bootup DOS screen, and instead of using ALT-Tab to scroll through open screens, Windows 7’s taskbar has a dynamic feature that allows you to see the Windows when the mouse pointer passes over icons.  I do wish that Microsoft would consider replacing CTRL-ALT-DELETE in a future OS with some other easier to use method of bringing up the intro screen and make it easier to find certain settings it changed from previous OS such as the “Show Desktop” feature on the taskbar (now hidden to the far right).  Despite these mild critiques, I’m impressed.  As my contacts at Microsoft know, that’s not easy to do.  Microsoft will be happy to know that at least one user prefers its latest operating system to Apple’s Snow Leopard OS, which left me feeling as if I were driving on the wrong side of the road.

Waiting and Waiting

One of the joys and frustrations of overseas life is waiting for mail to arrive.  Receiving mail, especially packages, is usually a pleasant experience.  It symbolizes a physical link to one’s home country and often contains items you’ve been waiting to receive.  It can seem like Christmas at any given moment receiving that box or envelope you’ve waited for with great expectation.  At the same time, the anticipation can be difficult.  If you’re waiting for something you ordered awhile ago, you may experience frustration waiting a month or more for it to arrive.  The moment it’s in your hands you might feel a rush of excitement, but the waiting is a grind. 

Living overseas, experiencing the haphazard nature of the mail service, makes one appreciate the convenience and reliability of the U.S. Postal Service (or domestic postal service in many other countries, for that matter).  While not perfect, it’s easy to forget how good it really is.  When you’re overseas, unless you’re lucky to have access to a U.S. military post office (APO), you’re usually subjected to the following inconveniences:

  • Mail that never arrives or arrives months after mailing via the local postal service;
  • Mail that is pilfered and plundered;
  • Mail that arrives broken, battered, or damp; and
  • Mail that costs a fortune to send.

It’s a constant reminder that although living overseas may seem exciting and exotic, it also has its fair share of challenges that are particularly noticeable in little ways such as the mail.

Playing Games

Many expats living in places without extensive entertainment options love playing games for fun.  Poker and other card games are especially popular, as well as trivia nights at public places, board game nights hosted at expats’ homes, golf outings, and video game marathons.  They’re fun diversions from the norm, particularly when “fun” activities such as the theater, sporting events, or (jazz/disco) clubs are few and far between.

Game nights are a great way to get together with your friends and colleagues and socialize in a competitive atmosphere.  Still, I’m a contrarian when it comes to competitive game playing.  I would rather channel my competitive energy and enthusiasm into something more financially lucrative.  While I enjoy socializing and joining acquaintances at an occasional get together, I’ve never really had much of an interest in playing games on a recurring basis.  I often prefer to take the money and time I would have spent on the activity and invest or donate it.  I once suggested starting an investment club with someone who enjoyed playing poker.  They liked the idea but opted to put down $40 a night on a chance to rake in $200 or lose it all.  Personally, I would rather spend the four hours and $40 I would have spent gambling and invest it in the stock market.  The odds of success are better, and the returns tend to outperform those of game nights.

Although I do enjoy socializing and occasionally participating in a game night, I usually weigh the cost and benefit and then decide whether I want to spend an evening’s worth of precious time playing games.  Other activities often take priority and have a much higher return.

Choose Your Own Adventure

I spent some time this weekend updating an old Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book I wrote when I was younger.  Over two decades ago I entered the book manuscript entitled “The Two Sides of Africa” in a CYOA publishing contest.  Although my manuscript wasn’t selected, I received a personalized letter from the publisher, Bantam Books, Inc. letting me know that my story was a serious contender.  After the contest ended, I shelved the manuscript and didn’t touch it again for another two decades.  This weekend I pulled it off the shelf, dusted it off (literally) and started updating it.  It’s a great story that needed some grammar and stylistic updates.

I loved the CYOA series as a kid and bought the first 75 books (I still have them).  Back then, Bantam Books published the books almost monthly for $1.99.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that one of the original CYOA authors, R. A. Montgomery, bought the rights to the series from Bantam in the early 2000’s and revived it.  Montgomery founded a company called Chooseco to publish and market the series.  He also reissued some of his old CYOA books and published a few new ones.  I noticed that the price per book has gone up considerably since the 1980’s – they now cost $6.99 a book.  That’s probably because Chooseco has higher overhead than a mega-publisher like Bantam (now owned by Random House).

CYOA books were the first ones to employ rudimentary hyperlinks, a common feature on today’s web pages, to carry the story.  The books feature several different stories and endings and force the reader to choose between two or three divergent story options as it progresses.  The series spawned several knock-offs and was quite popular in the 1980’s.  It faded as a genre after the Internet took off in the mid-1990’s.  That’s a shame, because the books are tailor made for the Internet.  While Chooseco has helped revived the genre, it’s unlikely that it will make a significant comeback unless they become popular on Amazon’s Kindle or another electronic book reader.

I learned about Chooseco after I started updating my manuscript (now called “Adventures in Africa”).  Although the company states that it does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, I’m planning to contact them after I update the story and tell them about my story.  Perhaps nostalgia will persuade them to take a second look at my manuscript…two decades later.

Happy New Year

I wish you a happy and prosperous 2010.  I hope 2009 treated you well and that the new year will be even better.  What do you have planned for the new year? 

I’m one of those people who believe in making and achieving goals, and I consider New Year’s resolutions worthwhile.  Resolutions help one think about what needs to change and how to change it.  Unfortunately, it’s very easy to break resolutions because they usually focus on aspects of our lives that we continually struggle to improve.  Hence, “resolve” is a key aspect of resolutions, and one must have the resolve to achieve the resolutions they make. 

I’m as guilty as anyone in making and breaking my resolutions for the new year, so I have made three personal commitments this year that I hope will help me achieve my resolutions for 2010.  One, I chose goals that I am already pursuing and have already made some progress in achieving.  Two, I chose incremental targets for my goals rather than “pie-in-the-sky” aims that I know I will never achieve.  Third, I pledged to prioritize these goals, focus more on achieving them, and balance them with other responsibilities so they’re not superseded by life’s daily demands.  With these three commitments I hope to accomplish these resolutions by year’s end. 

Here are my personal goals for 2010:

  1. Make a major life change
  2. Lose weight (10 percent)
  3. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
  4. Run (not walk) a 10-kilometer race
  5. Read half the Bible
  6. Stop one bad habit
  7. Write or update 25 short stories
  8. Go golfing three times
  9. Read ten books
  10. Increase our net worth by ten percent

If you haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, I encourage you to try making some and make the commitment to follow through with them.  If you achieve even one, you increase your chances that you’ll end this year happier than you started it.