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I had to do something productive, or I would've died of boredom.

Deck the Chairs at Jacksonville Beach

Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
‘Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.

Well, Jacksonville Beach has replaced hall with ‘beach chairs’ and the result is delightful.

The event:

Deck The Chairs, a holiday contest – where participants design beach chairs for Christmas – is held at Jacksonville Beach, every year. The iconic, tall and bright red beach chairs belong to the  The American Red Cross Life Saving Corps and the contest raises money for the charity. (I’ve seen the volunteer lifeguards sit on them to monitor and warn beach visitors.)

I attended this year’s lighted sculptural exhibition on Jacksonville Beach and absolutely loved it. There were about 40 participating entries sponsored by and representing various institutions including the Jacksonville Public Library, businesses, schools and charities. Visitors get to vote for three favorites.

The theme:

The theme of the event was ‘Uniquely Beaches,’ and artists had to reflect a coastal theme. I loved the Gingerbread House, Reindeer Sleigh and Sea Horse. The Car Wash theme appeared to be particularly challenging and was well-executed.

The venue and dates:

If you live in or near Jacksonville Beach city, you totally must visit the exhibit. The free display will be open for visitors throughout the month of December. The venue is the Seawalk Pavilion which is adjacent to Latham Plaza between First Street North and Jax beach.

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Mainstays bakeware: cake pan, loaf pan = HORRIBLE

I usually don’t post too many rants on my blog and leave that for Twitter but I am really upset. I recently bought Walmart’s Mainstays bakeware because I really wanted to bake some goodies for my family and friends. I purchased one cake and loaf pan and they rusted in one use. Ridiculous. They have a 3-year warranty but they want me to send 2 dollars along with the product to Ohio. Really? Do they really think I have the time, effort and money to spend on doing that? I’d rather just warn everyone. Doing this post so that people do not get fooled by the cheap price and buy it cause it is not worth a single penny!

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The Internet’s generators make life easy

We all know it, the Internet has made life easier. And perhaps, made us lazier.

I, for one, refuse to
– Do simple calculations – even the most basic addition, multiplication, division is outsourced to Google.
– Store info to recall later – rarely do I make an effort to memorize information anymore. I simply store it in the form of digital notes, or conveniently forget because I can always Google the information when I need it again.

And then, for many other tasks that require even minimal use of my brain, I depend on Internet Generators, that can do the tasks for me, within seconds.

Online Generators? Yes, that’s what they are called. Machines that use permutations, combinations and a set of algorithms to calculate and generate things for you. Things? Yup. They will generate slogans, abuses, stories, codes, songs, statuses, memes, poems, passwords, insults, fake news… the list is endless, which is why I decided to create a laundry list of generators I found online. Because? Because the Internet is awesome and we must never forget to celebrate it.

Warning: Some of the results may be formulaic and hackneyed.

ABUSE and COMPLIMENT GENERATORS
I thought thinking of abuses was rather instantaneous and something everyone aced at but apparently there are generators for this too.
Shakespeare insulter  This generator will create an insult, Shakespearean style and also tell you which literary work it was sourced from.
For example: [Thou] hath more hair than wit, and more faults than hairs, and more wealth than faults. Taken from: The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Elizabethan Curse Generator Created by Trevor Stone, this generator is similar to the one above. It uses Shakespearean language but doesn’t produce direct quotes from his literature.
And for those who want to be nice, there is the Surrealist Compliment Generator for perspicuous words of praise.
For example: The glow of your teeth exudes the courage of raw liver.


FAKE NEWS GENERATORS
Fake news is in the news! And fake news generators can help you create spoof news articles that you can share with your friends for a good laugh.

Break Your Own News  Created by Jonathan Cresswell, this site lets you create a screenshot of a TV news story with a headline and ticker. You can choose your own image too. The result is a news shot with your photo, headline and ticker along with a LIVE in red. Worth sharing. For example:

download
The result: Fake news generator

Free Newspaper Generator This site lets you create your own spoof newspaper articles with headline, text, a photo. You can also name your newspaper and add your own author. The result is a .pdf file you can share with your friends.


ACADEMIC TOOLS: CITATION, TITLE CASE, PLOT GENERATORS
Some more tools, useful for lazy academicians.
Citation generator Generate citations in MLA, APA & Chicago formats for your bibliography
Plot Generator I absolutely love this tool. It lets you fill in key details like – title, opening, conflict, resolution – and generates a story for you. This tool could also be useful for students of language learning how to compose their own stories.
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Pun Generator: Created by Tom Benner, this generator helps you have pun creating puns!
And there is a Poem generator and Song Lyrics Generator too!
Another tool I used very often while I was in college is the Title Capitalization tool which automatically capitalizes a title for you depending on the style you choose – AP style/Chicago Manual of Style.

JARGON GENERATORS
Tools to impress your colleagues, boss and friends with professional jargon.
Corpspeak Created by Chris Pirazzi, this tool is a corporate jargon generator, best used for internal communication emails and press releases. Corporate Bullshit Generator, Marketing Bullshit Generator, Business Buzzword Generator are a few more examples that do similar tasks for you.
Edu babble This tool is meant to assist in the writing of reports, grant applications, and other documents related to public schools. It helps creating academic jargon.
Political Rhetoric Generator Created by Luke Rissacher, this site claims to generate American political rhetoric and promises to replace your speechwriters to win some elections.

IMAGE and ANIMATION GENERATORS

Making collages, word clouds, lead photos, Facebook covers, Twitter backgrounds have been made easy thanks to a bunch of image editing and generating tools online.
My favourite is Adobe Spark which I used to generate the Featured Image of this post.
For posts that need a word cloud, there is Wordle, an old tool that generates word clouds from words you enter. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.
There are several comic strip creators online, two of my favourites are: StripGenerator and StripCreator.
Name in lights: This site lets you create an animation of your name in lights. There are various options (with or without sound, with or without an intro) to choose from and the end result is HTML code that you can insert in your blog or website.
GIF maker, GIPHY is well-known but needed a mention here and if you love traditional memes, here’s a site that lets you easily generate them and of course it is called the Meme Generator. The site has the option to allow users to choose from a bunch of very popular meme characters too.

meme-generator-meme-characters
There are several logo generators too. I tried this Online Logo Generator to create a logo for my blog (pictured below). It’s quick and easy. You choose an icon, text, a border and your logo is ready.
logo.png

If you need a custom avatar for your social media or chat DPs (display pictures), you can try avatar generators. There is Avatar Maker for a basic avatar and South Park Avatar creator for South Park fans.

SLOGAN GENERATORS
If you need some inspiration or you are just looking for the easy way out, slogan generators are great to get you started.
http://slogangenerator.co/  
Created by Ramesh Jha, this generator’s website says it is a simple tool for creating advertising slogans and taglines. Users have to enter a word and it creates a custom slogan based on a random template from its database. Another similar tool: http://www.slogangenerator.org/

MISCELLANEOUS USEFUL GENERATORS
QR code generator
: There are several QR code generating websites and apps available online.
Puzzle creator: I used online puzzle creators to create customised word search and crossword puzzles a lot! These are really useful for teachers and parents. The list of puzzles you can make includes cryptograms, mazes, number blocks, math squares, hidden message, fallen phrases and crisscross.
Sound and music generators: Try Computoser that generates compositions with combinations of tones, rhythms and instruments selected by users. There is also myNoise that lets you generate noises and alter them according to your taste.
Receipt Maker: This generator lets you create free custom receipts for your customers. It lets you choose your payment method, enter your company name, store address, return policy. You can even add details like your company slogan, website address, a “Follow us on Facebook” line, or a tax registration number. Taxes and total payment due are calculated automatically and the transaction ID for each receipt is unique and can be used to record your sales or verify returns.
Strong Password generator is a useful tool for people struggling to think of a unique password that includes all the recommendations for creating a strong password.
Airline Ticket Maker Enter your Surname, Name, City of Origin and Destination, Boarding Time, Flight Date and Airline and this generator will create a realistic first-class airline ticket for you. Great for spoofing around.

Airline ticket generator
Airline ticket generator

Best video to watch before giving your DMV driving test

I will be giving my driving test next week after practising for months. Nervous and excited too. Here’s a video I came across that exhaustively lists the most crucial points to remember before doing the practical driving test.

I absolutely loved it! Must watch.

Rangemaster training for BB and archery: I just got certified!

Right now, I am desperately looking for interesting things to do and keep myself occupied while I study to become a teacher or get a gig as a digital journalist in Jacksonville.

So, I recently signed up to be an adult volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America. Why? Well, I get to do two of things I love. Camp, hike outdoors and spend my time with children.

Last week, I even trained to be a BB gun (where BB stands for ball-bearing) and archery range master. A rangemaster is a trained adult who oversees child participants at a shooting or archery range. The training session was held by the St John’s River in the 80-acres large, lush green campus of the St John’s River Base at Camp Echockotee. The camping site, which is owned by the Boy Scouts of America, is equipped with a BB gun and archery range, a swimming pool and a rock climbing wall. It is on the banks of the St John’s River, giving the visitors access to a waterfront with aquatic sports like sailing, canoeing, kayaking and motor boating.

Check out this view of the river side
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Who were the participants?
We were a group of adult volunteers from various packs across North Florida, training to guide cub scouts, at large overnight camping events like the cuboree. Our trainers, Carrie Kurtz and David Mound from the Boy Scouts of America, North Florida Council were excellent teachers. They made the session very informative, and even added lots of humor, keeping us attentive through the five-hour long theory and practical training. We were told how both, archery and BB gun shooting, need lots of safety instructions and cannot be undertaken without adult supervision.

Here’s a summary of some of the important things we learnt:

BB GUN TRAINING

A ball bearing gun is one of those rifles we used to shoot balloons with at the local fair.

Here’s a photo of the rifles used. The blue one is used only for demonstration

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The gun is however dangerous and can cause blindness if the ball bearings hurt your eyes. Therefore, the number one safety rule is to wear googles that cover your eyes on all sides before you enter the range area. There were some goggles made available to us thankfully but the trainers suggested we get our own since the ones handed out are sometimes scratched due to multiple uses by boy scouts.

Here’s me with my protective eye gear.

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The main rules to takeaway from the training:

Three ALWAYS rules to follow:
ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. And the only safe direction is towards the target or into the ground.
ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready for use.

We were also told strictly not to reuse the BBs or even use ones that had fallen on the ground while trying to fill the gun.

It was very interesting to learn how to place the target sheet and send it towards the target area from the firing area without stepping onto the shooting area. We used a kind of pulley system to do that.
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We were demonstrated common mistakes and safety violations on the range and asked to indentify them. For example, a shooter aiming the gun towards a person while he is distracted talking to a friend. In such cases, the rangemaster has to shout ‘ceasefire’ and everyone is expected to stop in their positions and place their guns to the floor.

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ARCHERY TRAINING

Next up was archery training. This was the first time I was using a bow. I was first given a compound bow but my weak arms just couldn’t stretech it so I was then demoted to a simple, traditional bow. I quite enjoyed using it.

Here’s a photo of the compound bow I just could not use. Also note the positioning on the red marked line which is the shooting line. Archers straddle the shooting line with one foot on each side.

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We were also given socks to wear on our arms as arm guards to protect bruises that may occur while releasing the arrow from the bow.

The arrows that we used were made of fibreglass and cost about $2.50 and so were told to be careful with them and not lose any. Wooden arrows are more cost-effective but tend to break faster as compared to these.

We used PVC pipes (pictured above) as quivers to store them.

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I liked the use of socks and PVC pipes. Both are inexpensive alternatives to use.

I took some time to learn how to nock the arrows in the bow and aim but it was worth it.

The rangemaster’s instructions at the archery range are a little different from the BB range. In the archery range, the rangemaster uses whistle blows to give instructions.

For example:

2 whistle blasts indicates: Get Bow
1 whistle blast indicates: Shoot
3 whistle blasts indicate: Retrieve Arrows
5 or more whistle blasts indicate: Emergency. A ceasefire where everyone has to stop and place the bows back to the rack and arrows in the quiver.

Some of the safety rules we learnt:

Always keep your arrows pointed down or toward the target.
Only release an arrow when you can see its full clear path to the target.
Shoot only at the target in front of you.
Keep the arrows in the quiver until everyone is on or behind the shooting line and the rangemaster has indicated that you may begin shooting.

Here’s a photo of my first targets. Good eh?

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I think I enjoyed archery more than using the BB gun.

After completing training, I was awarded this by the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America’s Shooting Sports Committee! So happy to be a qualified cub scout rangemaster for BB and Archery!

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My failed attempt – attending an Obama rally

I really wanted to do it. Listen to Obama speak, not on TV, but in real! So I signed up for a political event organised by ‘Hillary for America’ where he was going to speak. It was close by, at the University of North Florida. He was to speak at 1.45 pm and we were told that the gates would open by 12pm.

An email cofirmation also informed us that:

Please be aware that your RSVP is sufficient enter the event, but neither your RSVP nor a physical ticket will guarantee admission. The event will fill up on a first come first serve basis, so please plan to arrive early.

So we figured we should be there by 11 am. But alas, we were so wrong. By the time we reached the campus, we saw a long, long queue and later realized it was not just one but three long, serpentine queues of people waiting to get it in. The capacity of the arena was about 8000 people so we did not give up and decided to walk a mile to reach the end of the general queue.

Before we did that, we were cluelessly standing in a VIP queue only to later realize after overhearing someone’s conversation that we did not have the blue or red VIP passes, and therefore had to be part of the general queue. How I wish that that had been made clear by the organisers.

After three hours of finally waiting in the general queue, we were informed that the arena was packed to full capacity. So we departed. Disappointed. But luckily, we got to see the President’s all black motorcade.

Here’s a photo essay from our visit. (which I dedicatedly live-tweeted from the scene)

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Parking info to greet us. The original parking was full so we drove to another location from where we really had to walk to reach the queue.
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At first, we stood in the wrong queue – this one was only for VIPs. Wish there was a board or something that gave this info to visitors.
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VIP queue members had special red and blue tickets – some were volunteers, some said their senators gave it to them.
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The front half of the mile-long general queue
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We walked, and walked. There were several senior citizens too. I did not see any separate queue for them.

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There was a group rallying another cause at the site.
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This was their cause.

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Our place in the queue
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Smiling cause we finally made it.
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Nasty Woman tees being sold
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Some Madam President tees and badges
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Those who couldn’t stand decided to sit.
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Obama bags being sold in a cart
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My selfie after waiting for over an hour and a lot of walking. We were told the arena was full by now and there was another viewing place that was being filled.
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Garbage collection. All this was produced by the long queue
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The final wait before we were told to disperse. There were hundreds of people before and after me.
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UNF police telling us thank you for showing up
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Trump supporters passing by.

I just found this video on YouTube that clearly shows how early I should have been camping at the UNF to see Obama – 7.30am!

My first Halloween

October 31, 2016 was my first ever Halloween. Never before had I played host to trick or treaters and I was almost clueless about what to expect. I had no idea how many kids would come and so I bought a packet of 150 ‘fun-sized’ chocolates. Soon I was overwhelmed with Internet research and started believing even 150 would not be enough. Someone on Reddit suggested I keep 500 candy ready. So I spent my day googling how many chocolates to give each visitor. Aggggh!!! (I even found a ‘highly-scientific’ Halloween candy formula! What it does: Tells you how much candy to buy based on your location)

After it was all over, I ended up having extras cause I was stingy with the first few guests assuming that I would need some for the late comers. But this was a learning experience for next year. Here is what I learned, overall.

– For one: You must decorate your house. Lights, ghosts, pumpkins, anything that signifies that you are welcoming trick-or-treaters. I left my front porch light on which was good enough but next year I intend to do up the house. It just makes it more exciting for the children and clearly indicates that we are participating.

Check out my neighbor’s house!

Here are pictures from Publix and The Home Depot of things you can buy to decorate your house and lawn.

Ideas for decor include:

-Pumpkins
-Scarecrows
-Spiders
-Ghosts
-Gingerbread houses
-Reapers
-Tombstones
-Mummies
-Witches
-Skulls and skeletons

Here’s me with some more fancy, large-sized animated puppets. Guess these are for hotels and shops to decorate their windows.
The first one is man-made monster Frankenstein with wrist manacles, large plastic shoes, a cotton suit coat, LED eyes. The second fellow is a butler who mumbles something and can serve your guests candy in his metal plate.

Walmart started stocking these pretty early. August! They had various types and sizes of decorations and welcome messages.

– Secondly, I now know that only about 30 kids/guests will come. So I can divide my chocolates better. It’s nice to give about four or five. Stocking the correct approximate amount of candy is important so that you do not run out fast.

You get large packets of chocolates. You can also give out pretzels if you want to be different. This is what they were selling at Sam’s Club.

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Savory treats instead of the usual sweet candy – Pretzels and Cheese Balls at Sam’s Club

– Thirdly, the host must dress up too! I was unprepared so I wore my giant goggles for a while to welcome passersby but no one looked interested. haha. Next year, I will dress up as a Florida alligator or maybe Morticia Adams (she is easy to imitate)

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My last-minute costume. Big goggles and an inviting smile.

Here are photos of my visitors this year! They were so sweet. Some knocked at the door, some rang the bell and a few made creepy sounds for special effects.

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Clark Kent – Superman. He loves M&M’s
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Disney Princess Belle in a pretty golden gown.
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Woof, woof, woof with a lightsaber
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Mr Shark and Ms Elephant
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The desi gang. The girl with the dollar tie said she was a ‘gangsta’🙂
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She was dressed as a baby, had a pacifier
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Adi had dressed up as a dinosaur, his favorite animal

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