Visit Sunny Saturn, or at least think about it in the infomercial my son made for his eighth-grade science class. Makes me want to work on The Hermit of Iapetus again. But Doleful Creatures awaits. That's the one I think I can have published in the next few months . . .
I like the idea of encouraging people to learn how to code –
whatever that means. I’ve tried at least one variation of coding – using simple
HTML not only on this blog but in an online class I teach. I built my own
websites in the early 1990s, mimicking the code I saw back then. I haven’t kept
up with it much, I admit.
You know what I like better? Encouraging people to learn how
I listen to a lot of young boys read. I mean a lot of young
boys. And most of them can’t. They stumble over pronouncing words. Simple
words. And if you ask them to explain what it is they just read, the pat answer
is “I don’t know.” And they’re telling the truth, because when they read aloud,
they’re saying the words, but that’s all they’re doing. They’re concentrating
on getting to the end of the passage, everything else is secondary.
I can tell the readers from the non-readers at the first
meeting. They sail through simple and complicated texts – and I hear them read
everything from news stories to their Boy Scout manual to more complicated
texts, like the King James version of the Bible. If they encounter a word they’re
unfamiliar with, they sound it out, and usually get it right. They can guess at
meaning, and usually get it right. And if they’re stuck, they know where to go
to find the answers. They can summarize. They can explain.
The non-readers can’t do any of that. Or at least they don’t
And it’s not just young boys. I also can tell pretty quickly
which of my college students are readers and which are not. I don’t get to hear
them read aloud, but I do get to see them think as they write essays and post
responses in our online classes. Those less interested in reading stand out,
even more so than those for whom English is not their first language – and I
have a lot of students that fit that category too.
These aren’t dumb kids. They have other talents ranging from
excellent math skills, a deeper understanding of emotion and empathy, and
athleticism, among others. Reading isn’t “their thing.”
But it’s fundamental to everything. Including coding.
We haven’t left it up to schools to teach our kids to read.
We read to them. We started early, with picture books, then Dr. Seuss, now
others – right now, I’m reading CS Lewis’ “Prince Caspian” to my two youngest
kids. And we read aloud, nearly every night, from our scriptures. We take turns
reading and explaining what we read – requiring our kids to go over what they
just read and using their own words to explain what’s happening.
And they’re readers. They’re up late at night reading,
getting yelled at to turn off the lights and go to bed. They’re always sneaking
books into the car for trips, sneaking books off the shelves to read at
mealtimes. They’ll read newspapers. And magazines. And comic strips. I’m sure
if I put a book on coding in front of them, they’d read it. And maybe get
But the reading comes first. If it doesn’t, well, we’re
slipping into Snow Crash a lot faster than previously thought. Technological
achievement is highly valued in the Metaverse, but that achievement can be as
shallow as it is stunning.
There is, of course, this argument:
Coding does require a lot of mental discipline, dealing with
the concrete hidden in the abstract. Yes, a lot of what is written is drivel.
But so is a lot of what is on the television. As is much of what is coded.
Coding for the sake of coding, I’m not necessarily in favor of. Coding with a
foundation on the ability to think and reason, well, that sounds a whole lot
Could coding prod a non-reading kid into reading more? I’m
certain it could. But you’re going to get more coding kids if they’re reading
I’m stealing money from schools. From schools. And other important things like state parks. Roads.
And all those ivory-handled back-scratchers they pass out to state legislators.
And my guess is, if you’re an Idaho resident, you’re a
If you buy things online and don’t pay a sales tax – and
there are few ecommerce sites out there that do collect sales tax by state –
you owe the state money. And not by some new-fangled law taxing internet
purchases. No, you owe the state money under a “use tax” law passed in 1965,
well before Jeff Bezos was even thinking about getting bald.
The Idaho Statesman has the poop on this law here.
The math is pretty simple. The state tax commission
estimates Idahoans spent $1.08 billion on online purchases in an average year,
with that number growing. At six percent, that equals about $65 million in
taxes. Most of that is going unpaid. In 2011, only 9,555 Idahoans paid an
average of $56 in use taxes – or only 1.4 percent of those filing tax returns
with the state also paying the use tax.
The Statesman skirts one issue: What happens to you if you
don’t pay that tax? What are the penalties involved? Laws being what they are,
the consequences appear murky, but this statute, requiring that anyone evading
the tax be required to pay that tax once caught seems applicable.
But the situation gets murkier than that.
According to the US Small Business Administration – an
official appendage of the federal government, businesses that conduct ecommerce
are not required to collect sales taxes everywhere. Here’s the deal:
If your business has a physical presence in a state, such as
a store, office, or warehouse, you must collect applicable state and local tax
from your customers. If you do not have a presence in a particular state, you
are not required to collect sales taxes.
Note the murkiness: Online businesses aren’t required to
collect sales taxes. The SBA says nothing about whether or not purchasers area
required to pay such taxes. So it appears we fall back to the state statute.
And the state’s demands that the taxes be paid.
Additionally, if you’re looking to the federal government
for clarification on this, that’s shouting into an empty room. The US Supreme
Court decided this week not to take up a challenge to a New York state law
requiring online retailers to collect state sales taxes, instead saying that
job is one best left to Congress. And we all know how well that organization
The only thing that seems to save us is the bureaucracy. Per
The sole difference between a sales tax and a use tax is the person that
ends up giving the money to the state government. When it is a sales tax, the
retailer is the one handing over the money, while a use tax is handed over
directly by the consumer. However, collecting use taxes on small purchases
often costs more than simply letting the consumer not pay the use tax. Instead,
state tax agencies try to focus more on collecting use taxes for big ticket
items that are purchased online with no sales tax, such as cars and boats. However, there are a number of states that have stepped up their
enforcement of their use tax laws and are now trying to make their state
residents pay the taxes that should be paid. However, these states are still
hampered by limited resources as well as the complexities involved with
tracking down minor purchases and demanding that a use tax be paid.
The young man giving the lesson quietly slipped out a
borrowed tablet, got it ready to play some videos. Two other young men sat in
chairs near the window. Sat is a loose word for Deacons; one sat
conventionally, feet on the floor, the other sat with his legs pulled up onto
the chair, knees tucked under his chin. He had something in his lap – LEGO
figures – he was showing to the other boy.
Two other boys leaned their chairs against the wall. One of
them realized with both the president and the first counselor gone, he, as
second counselor, was in charge. He called the group to order.
I am their Scoutmaster, but in the fuzzy leadership links in
the LDS Church between the Aaronic Priesthood and the Boy Scouts of America, my
role at church is uncertain. Tuesdays are my days to shine and campouts and
merit badge pow-wows are my territory; Sundays belong to the deacons quorum
adviser. Who was not present.
The lesson commenced. The boy giving the lesson resembles my
own: intelligent, obsessive, smug in his abilities and eager to challenge his
cohorts to read a long list of scriptures, to guess the identity of the general
authority speaking – Jeffrey R. Holland – and to repeat several times with joke
that we look under our beds for devils and demons, while devils and demons look
under their bed for Jeffrey R. Holland.
The boys by the window weren’t listening. The LEGO figures
were more compelling.
The boy who took charge appeared to be asleep.
The other boy challenged everything the young man teaching
said, finally blurting “Why does everything have to be a competition?” throwing
the boy teaching off his game. He tried to recover by bringing up the Elder
Holland joke again.A bishopric member poked his head into the classroom, looked
at me. “You alone here?”
“Apparently so,” I replied.
He took a seat. As it was Fast Sunday, he wanted to make
sure the fast offering routes were assigned. They were not. One boy lamented he
wanted to sing with the choir after church and thus couldn’t do fast offerings.
Another said since he’d volunteered to help pass the sacrament at a retirement
community that afternoon, his obligation to fast offering collection was
nullified. Three other boys just stared at the brown leather envelopes in the
Eventually, they decided amongst themselves that they could
do two of the five routes. The leader went to find conscripts from the teachers
and priests quorums for the other three. The lesson recommenced. With the Elder
These are my scouts, I thought. On Tuesdays, they’re
noisier. There are others there who don’t regularly come to church who add
their own individual elements of chaos and decorum, often at the same moment.
As I watched them, Wood Badge training kicked in. This kid
challenging the teacher isn’t one who comes to scouts regularly. But when he
does, I thought, our Scout team will go from norming to storming again – the
team dynamic they’ve figured out (the norming, everything’s working normally) in
his absence due to football practice will be upset and they’ll have to learn
how to work as a team all over again (the storming, as in thunder and
lightning) as he comes in, not knowing where to fit in, not knowing how the
team has worked before, and with the team not knowing what to do as he attempts
to fit in and his attempts are interpreted as disruptions.
I sat there with them, terrified.
Not because of anything that happened in the classroom. This
wasn’t my first experience with this knot of Deacons on a Sunday. The boys
always teach the lessons. That one kid always brings LEGOs and those two always
sit by the window, distracted. The second counselor almost always looks like
he’s asleep. And if the kid questioning everything isn’t there, another kid who
does the same thing is.
But because I’d seen it all before. Somewhere. Deja-vu.
The Scoutmaster Handbook tells us this: “A new Scoutmaster
is likely to approach his troop with self-confidence. He anticipates that his
enthusiasm will excite his young charges to get the most they can out of
I can do self-confidence and enthusiasm. As can just about
anyone any bishopric would call as Scoutmaster, providing he meets the basic
requirements: He appears to be breathing, is likely to pass a background check,
has not been openly heard swearing, and
is also on the bishopric radar after the ward paid for his Wood Badge training.
But the Scoutmaster handbook goes on to say, in the same
breath and with that same self-confidence and enthusiasm: “Learning about the
characteristics of boys, how to motivate them, how to deal with their behavior,
and how to help them with their problems will give the Scoutmaster the insights
necessary to enjoy working with his Scouts.”
Oh woof. This is something respiration and a mild financial
obligation can’t cover.
Wood Badge taught me enough to know that “learning about the
characteristics of boys” goes much beyond pigeonholing them into categories:
Smug, self-confident yet awkward in social situations; At ease in social
situations but prone to sweating and stumbling when called upon to pronounce
words with more than three syllables; Distracted LEGO aficionado; Thrall of the
LEGO aficionado; Avoider of responsibility unless it’s easy; and the inevitable
Scout Camp Slob. Wood badge taught me that learning the boys’ characteristics
meant finding ways for them to learn, to accomplish, to lead, despite the
challenges they face from broken homes, aversion to schoolwork, or fixation
with Danish toys.
Wood Badge taught me it’s okay to let the boys lead and to
let them make mistakes; the Scoutmaster Handbook cautions me against “falling
into the trap of controlling the Scouts’ experiences and doing everything for
them.” Wood Badge taught me it’s better for boys to try and fail and then try
again than never to bother trying because “the Scoutmaster did it for me.”
Wood Badge taught me that old saw from Lord Baden-Powell
himself: “Scouting is a game with a purpose: the game is a fun and exciting
program, and the purpose is to become better adults.”
To become better adults.
Funny, I’ve heard something like that before.
Part of Brigham Young University-Idaho’s mission statement
reads “Prepare students for lifelong learning, for employment, and for their
roles as citizens and parents.”
Different words. But the same thing.
All this time I’ve been concentrating on how the training I
got at Wood Badge could help me be a better online instructor at BYU-Idaho.
Part of me now sees this as a two-way street, as there are elements of our
online teacher training and the experience of teaching diverse groups of online
students will help make me a better Scouter.
As I sat in that Deacons Quorum room, I thought not of
Scouting, but of my students at BYU-Idaho. What am I doing in class to, as the
Scoutmaster Handbook advises, to make my classroom a safe place? To think
ahead? To recognize students as individuals? And then conversely: What am I
doing with my Scouts to encourage them to live gospel principles, to provide a
quality education for Scouts of diverse interests and abilities, and to
maintain a wholesome academic, cultural, social, and spiritual environment?
Should my goal be to squeeze my scouts through the eight
hours of community-based service they need for their Citizenship in the
Community merit badge, or to show them that there are community-based
organizations who need service from every person, including Scouts and Scout leaders,
so those organizations can concentrate on serving the public?
Should I sign my Scouts off on the Personal Fitness merit
badge because they‘ve stumbled through three months’ worth of push-ups and mile
walks and bookwork, or because through example they’re seeing how fitness now
will pay dividends well into the future that for them may as well be a million
years from now?
One hand can learn from the other. My role as an online
instructor at Brigham Young University-Idaho has as much to learn from Wood
Badge as my role as Scoutmaster has to learn from my teaching online English
So I took two of those Deacons – my Scouts – on their fast
offering route, forgetting that when I arrived at church, my first thought was:
My son is home sick; I don’t have to do fast offerings today either. We talked
about the wind, the cold, the coming snow that might make our camping trip the
coming weekend a bit more interesting. I reminded myself that one of those boys
was in charge of planning our upcoming court of honor as he works on his
Communication merit badge; I’d better follow up on that on Tuesday, lest the
court of honor go unplanned and his experience fulfilling those merit badge
requirements goes unfulfilled.
I also noted the need to plan ahead for my Foundations
English students. They’re starting work on their group projects, with some of
them already expressing anxiety over the mistake-makings of their peers. As I
remind them I’m not a fan of group work myself, I also mention, casually –
about half of what I do in my full-time job as a technical writer involves
working with groups. Work doesn’t have to be pleasant to be necessary.
NOTE:So, I'm concerned this ending chapter is a bit too abrupt. Thoughts? (I know it's a challenge, reading this without the rest of the novel in context. Anyway . . . Chapter Seventy-Four:
The Waters Rise
Starlings chased rabbits and moles into their holes. They
grabbed at mice and shrews and voles, carrying some up into the sky to toss
back and forth as they squealed.
Where the Lady slithered, tendrils shot into the ground,
seeking those that burrowed. Where the Lady slithered, tendrils shot into the
air, seeking those that flew. Her color darkened as the fear and panic spread.
And deeper she probed.
She felt the strength lying there, somewhere underground.
The tendrils probed and searched.
She would find it.
This and That cowered in the truck. As it was a human
machine, the Lady and the starlings ignored it. Even when its engine turned
over and the truck began to back out of the clearing.
“That’s a close thing,” That said, jerking at the rods that
turned the steering wheel.
“Where are we going?” This asked from the floor.
“Away, away for now. Perhaps back to the shepherd’s shack.
That would be best, until the Lady is gone.”
“Is she going?” This asked. “For a long time, the box canyon
has been hers. Now she is here.”
“Doomed, doomed,” That whistled to himself.
Father Marmot did not see the truck leave. He was the first
the tendrils took. As he wandered the wood, he nurtured his hatred. Hatred of
Jarrod and Aloysius who had brought the beavers down from the canyon. So
industrious, they were. Already felling trees and packing mud, he saw.
Treacherous creatures. And dangerous, he knew. He remembered from the last
Tendrils stopped up his ears, closed his eyes. Time, he felt,
like molasses on his skin. He imagined the sun rose and set, rose and set, rose
and set. He felt the tendrils caress him, feed his hatred, bring him stores of
rumors and talk and imagined actions to feed the bubbling mudpot of anger
inside his soul.
The Lady gorged on his hatred, and grew. She snared other
marmots, who went into holes to brood and drown as water from the creek poured
into their tunnels. She found others, and others. And grew and grew.
She sensed Jarrod and Aloysius. Not far. Not far. First the
appetizers, she thought. Then the feast.
Her starlings fled.
Her starlings fled.
And the sky grew dark with sparrows.
On the edge of the clearing, the magpie and the badger.
The magpie rode the badger, perched on its low back, claws
digging in as the badger ran. She turned to meet them and slithered through mud
where once there had been dry ground.
The magpie had in its claw, braced on the badger’s back, a
bit of rock.
The badger climbed a tree, the magpie hopping from branch to
branch. They fled the water that carried the flotsam of the forest floor in eddies
and whirlpools inching up the tree trunks, up the sides of the hills.
She splashed through the water and coiled ‘round the tree the
two had climbed.
“Oh, I taste the both of you, both of you through this tree,”
she hissed. The tree shed its leaves. Its branches grew brittle. Aloysius
grabbed a branch and it snapped off in his hand, where moments ago the branch
had been green. “Let me come, and we will sup together.”
From Jarrod: silence.
From Aloysius: the same.
Her tendrils reached them, but hesitated. Where they had
always found channels, or cracks, or breaks or tears or leaks, there was
nothing but feathers. Nothing but fur.
And the sky was full of sparrows.
A hammer blow, they fell. And they too, were silent save the
ruffling of their wings.
The Lady screamed as they pierced her skin with their tiny
claws, jabbed at her with tens of thousands of beaks.
And the waters rose.
This and That abandoned the truck, its engine flooded with
water. They swam through the flood, found a tree, and climbed.
The Lady squeezed the tree, which creaked under the strain.
Then she fell. She fell witha great
splash in the water and lay still. The sparrows swarmed around her, diving in
and out of the water in their speed, wrapping her in a coil of bone and feather.
Silence from Jarrod and Aloysius.
Silence from the sparrows.
A great gust of wind scattered the swirling birds which fled
to the four corners.
Bits of wood and pumice and plant and stuff bobbed in the
Sparrows and the Lady gone.
Aloysius collapsed in tree fork, muttered. He gave Jarrod a
nod. The bird hopped over, landed on the badger’s back, folded its wings and
tucked its head down.
NOTE: A little something I wrote for my BYU-Idaho writing students. I think it's a fair, concise shake at showing what you ought to do in a research proposal. And that it features the Muppets, so much the better. Alan Murray would be so proud.
And how does detecting gorillas
apply to writing your research proposal (due this week)?
Have you presented us with a problem
that needs to be solved? Dr. Bunsen Honeydew has: How many times have you
awakened at night in the dark and said to yourself: Is there a gorilla in here?
So be sure to state the problem
you're addressing. And if the problem you're addressing isn't quite,
word-for-word, what you signed up for, that's fine. Just make sure you're clear
in presenting your problem.
Next, set the stage. Tell us why
this your problem is worthy of solving. Dr. Honeydew does: How many family
vacations have been ruined by undetected gorillas. Who wants a vacation
ruined by gorillas, undetected or not? Clearly, you're at the beach -- I'm
thinking Cannon Beach in Oregon -- and you don't want your playing in the surf
or gazing at Haystack Rock to be marred by a gorilla attack. So you've got my
attention. What's your solution?
Yes, present your solution to that
problem. Dr. Honeydew does: The solid-state gorilla detector.
Now, you're not done. Someone may
object to your solution. It may have its flaws -- the gorilla detector
certainly didn't work as advertised. So explain why your solution is a good'un,
if not the best. Present clear evidence, by once again turning to setting the stage:
Tell and show us why your solution is the best. Do better than Dr. Honeydew,
please . . .
SCHEDULE for the week: Try to have
your rough draft in your writing groups by WEDNESDAY, rather than MONDAY. I
don't think it's fair to dump that on you first thing Monday morning. Please
finish your commenting by midnight FRIDAY, then turn in your proposals by
The Whole Truth: The Watergate Conspiracy, by Sam J. Ervin, Jr. 320 pages.
Read in 2013
3-Minute JRR Tolkien, by Gary Raymond. 160 pages.
Airframe, by Michael Crichton. 431 pages.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Kindle edition), by Lewis Carroll. 100 pages.
Ballymore Bedtime Tales, by Bob Brooks. 100 pages.
Big Russ & Me, by Tim Russert. 336 pages.
Burmese Days, by George Orwell. 263 pages.
Capone, by John Kobler. 416 pages.
City of the Golden Sun, The; by Marylin Peake. 176 pages.
Count of Monte Cristo, The; by Alexandre Dumas. 544 pages.
Design of Everyday Things, The; by Donald A. Norman. 257 pages.
Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. 217 pages.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, by Jeff Kinney. 217 pages.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. 208 pages.
Emerald City of Oz, The; by L. Frank Baum. 320 pages.
Erewhon Revisited, by Samuel Butler. 170 pages.
Fisherman's Son, The; by Marylin Peake. 176 pages.
Frightful's Mountain, by Jean George. 258 pages.
Glinda of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. 232 pages.
Harbors and High Seas, by Dean King and John B. Hattendorf. 220 pages.
Last Continent, The; by Terry Pratchett. 390 pages.
Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis. 354 pages.
Miss Pickerell to the Earthquake Rescue, by Ellen MacGregor and Dora Pantell. 158 pages.
Mr. Bean's Diary, by Mr. Bean and Robin Driscoll. 128 pages.
My Side of the Mountain, by Jean George. 208 pages.
Nixon's Shadow, by David Greenberg. 460 pages.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick. 336 pages.
Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, by Chip Kidd. 336 pages.
Peter Principle, The; by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. 189 pages.
Place Byond the Map, A; by Samuel Thews. 338 pages.
Prayers from the Ark and The Creatures' Choir, by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold; translated by Rumer Godden. 127 pages.
Professor and the Madman, The; by Simon Winchester. 242 pages.
Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett. 253 pages.
Report from Group 17, A; by Robert C. O'Brien. 210 pages.
Road to Oz, The; by L. Frank Baum. 261 pages.
Secrets of Successful Fiction, by Robert Newton Peck. 119 pages.
Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics, by CS Lewis. 87 pages.
Star-Treader, The; and Other Poems, by Clark Ashton Smith. 122 pages.
This Beats Working for A Living: Confessions of A College Professor. By Professor X. 160 pages.
Walking, by Henry David Thoreau, 37 pages.
What Ho, Jeeves? by P.G. Wodehouse. 234 pages.
Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy. 374 pages.
Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The; by L. Frank Baum. 137 pages.
Ze page total: 9,953 pages.
The Best Part
The Best Part, Burmese Days, by George Orwell.
“Here you – what’s your name – Verrall?”
“Have you been kicking our butler?”
Verrall’s sulky blue eye appeared round the corner of The Field, like the eye of a crustacean peering round a rock.
“What?” he repeated shortly.
“I said, have you been kicking our bloody butler?”
“Then what the hell do you mean by it?”
“Beggar gave me his lip. I sent him for a whisky and soda, and he brought it warm. I told him to put ice in it, and he wouldn’t – talked some bloody rot about saving the last piece of ice. So I kicked his bottom. Serve him right.”
Ellis turned quite grey. He was furious. The butler was a piece of Club property and not to be kicked by strangers. But what most angered Ellis was the thought that Verrall quite possibly suspected him of being sorry for the butler – in fact, of disapproving of kicking as such.
“Serve him right? I dare say it bloody well did serve him right. But what in hell’s that got to do with it? Who are you to come kicking our servants?”
“Bosh, my good chap. Needed kicking. You’ve let your servants get out of hand here.”
“You damned, insolent young tick, what’s it got to do with you if he needed kicking? You’re not even a member of this Club. It’s our job to kick the servants, not yours.”
So yeah. How dare he insinuate that he likes the servants, rather than that he doesn't want to see them scratched or dinged.