Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good News Despite Weak Economy

When Areva announced this summer that they would build a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant in Idaho, many in the area celebrated the good news. Then the economy went south, leaving many to wonder if the plant would be built at all. Today's announcement of the filing of building plans, however, is a good sign that the plant will go through, or, at least, has not been scuttled at this point.

There are a lot of nuclear nay-sayers out there. And they have good reason to say nay. We need to find solutions to the waste problems. But that's true with a lot of energy courses out there. So let's keep using nuclear, rather than shuttering it off beccause the solutions seem too difficult to reach. I'm willing to do the same with wind and solar power -- they have their weaknesses, thusfar in being able to produce massive amounts of power on the same size footprint as a nuclear power plant.

Tip No. 1: Don't Get Old

Spent a good portion of the day on my knees, either begging Michelle for forgiveness or laying tile in the bathroom. To relax when the tiling was done (grouting to be done tomorrow) I took the kids sledding. So if I'm feeling a bit tired and beat up tonight, it's justified.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why?

Vacation was starting out so well. Then this week came.

Last night, Michelle idly asked, "So, were you planning on any home improvement projects while you're home this week?" The question caught me off guard, so all I could muster was a mumbled, "Yeah, sure," accompanied by my patent stunned bunny look. So today, we came home with about $500 worth of home improvement project materials -- tile, grout and a new cabinet for the upstairs bathroom. So my next few days are planned out for me.

Tonight, I've managed to get the old linoleum floor up, the toilet hauled out and the old sink and cabinet yanked out. I'm now surveying the expected water damage in a 30-year-old house owned by a series of people who weren't very handy with plumbing. I may just clean things up a bit and do some probing on the subfloor tomorrow just to make sure everything is peachy. Then, if I can manage it, I'll put down the Wonderboard and lay the tile tomorrow, leaving the grouting for Wednesday morning. I certainly hope that's how it works out, though we've already hit one project glitch -- we bought a 21-inch countertop but an 18-inch cabinet. So we've got to exchange the cabinet.

I did manage to accomplish what has become a rite of passage with any home improvement project -- I managed to find part of the debris -- in this case some trim wood -- that I could toss in the fireplace. I figure with the rest of the house watching as part of it goes up in a controlled flame that the house will decide to behave itself.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hi, Dad

Dad would have been 80 years old today, had he not died eight years ago.

There are times I wish he were still here, to see my kids growing up, to sit there in the living room,watching television with Mom, both of them ticking over their cares inside their heads but outwardly calm, serene, and, most importantly, together.

There are times I'm sure he's happier to be where he is now, knowing that we have cares and worries and such, but knowing, above all, that things will be well, pessimists be damned. (Personally, I object, as a pessimist, to attacks on optimism and hope. Those who attack optimism and hope as philosophies doomed to failure may as well just pull the plug now, because without hope, what else is there? Yes, we have to work for what we hope for. We can't dwell in the valley of vain hope. But we must hope, nonetheless.)

So I hope Dad is happy. Last dream I had about him was on the night our dog Moki died. I dreamed that Moki was running around a huge green field under a blue sky dotted with clouds, with hundreds of other dogs, cats, squirrels and other sundry furry critters of nature. Dad was there watching over all of them, just sitting in a chair, drinking a Pepsi. I'm sure the Pepsi wasn't actually in the dream, but I allow myself a little hope to fill in the details.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

itouch Redux and Toidy Duty

Asa is technology's wont, yesterday it wouldn't work, today it does.

The itouch I mean. Last night, after three hours of frustration and searching the Internet reading of others' frustration in getting their itouches to connect to their wifi, I succeeded, but only after lowering the secuirty on my home network to the point folks in Ashton and Guam could use it. And I lost the connection on my laptop. That was a no-go. So up with the security again, fix the laptop, but, alas, no itouch.

Until this morning. On a whim, I tried to connect again with security set at high. It worked without a hitch.

Well, one hitch. The text is soooo small, I can't read much of anything on the itouch screen. And my first itouch blog post turned out to be nothing, as I had no way to type. Still learning, yes.

But on to other things: snow, for example. It snowed another six inches today, and is still, in fact, snowing. Isaac and I did a lot of shoveling today, both at our house and at the house where my niece is staying for the week. I've had to dig out the animatronic deer in the front yard, you know, the ones the teenagers like to place in comical poses. The poor things get so buried the doe looks like she's sniffing a foot deep into a drift and the buck can't make his legs move worth anything.

Must leave now. I have toilets to scrub.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Funny thing, progress. And technology. And progress and technology mixed together.

As I believe I've mentioned here, my in-laws got us an ipod touch (I'm not sure myself where to put the capitals anymore, so I've given up). I've spent the last few hours trying to get it connected to our wifi network. Much frustration, which has not ended yet. Through finagling with the security settings on my router, I've got the itouch connected. But now I've lost connectivity on the laptop. Which is of concern, because my first foray on the Web with the itouch leaves me thinking that the itouch is good for passive activity, but for anything that requires detailed reading or text entry, frankly, I prefer the laptop. I just can't read the text on the itouch, given that the screen is so small. And text entry? Can't call up the keyboard to save my life. I know I've got some learning to do. But right now, well, we'll see.

The Simpsons - Steve Mobs

It's fun to see the skewerer get skewered.

Day After Christmas: Economic Stimulation, at 50 to 75 Percent Off

Message of the day: Christmas is over. Go back to work.

It snowed all day yesterday, while we were diving into that cornucopia. At least four to five inches, with a lot of wind that blew it into places that had forgotten they were there. So this morning, first had to shovel out the front walks and driveway so we could get the garbage out to the curb. That was important because the garbage was just overflowing, and that was with even sending a lot of the debris of the day up the chimney.

Then we went out to stimulate the economy by taking advantage of struggling retailers putting all their Christmas decorations on sale. I make it a point every year to decorate the house with lots of lights. Don't care if it's not so environmentally-friendly. We conserve a lot throughout the year, what with using electricity off-peak, burning wood rather than gas and limiting automobile travel, so I feel we're a little entitled to a little extra fun at Christmastime. So we bought lots of lights. Lots of lights, to make up for the ones I had to throw away last year and didn't replace.

We also got a new Christmas tree, on a fire sale price at Ace Hardware. Got a $280 tree, pre-lit, for for $70. Michelle could have flown home she was so happy with it. So that makes everything right with the world. We gave the Ace guy a pretty good scare though. The tree we bought was a display model that was in no way going to fit back into the box it came in. So we loaded part of the tree up in a cart, and he followed with the rest in a box. I parked the cart by a very small car next to the van so I could clear the kids out of the way, and he thought we were going to try to cram the tree into that tiny car. That gave us all a pretty good laugh.

Except that when we got home we had to clean the snow off the back porch and sidewalks so we could get the new tree out to the shed for storage. Got everything done, even two loads of firewood up to the house, except getting the tree stowed. Will do that tomorrow.

Busy now trying to get the itouch set up. You know, it was a nice gift and all from Michelle's parents, but I was just feeling good that I'd gotten Michelle an ipod, catching up with the rest of the world, now we have this new toy to jigger with. Have been connected to the Internet for the past two hours now, downloading the new software for the itouch. Giving Steve Jobs more money. You know, the genius that Apple fired and then re-hired. You'll have to see the Simpsons video. I'll try to find it on YouTube. But have been too busy trying to get the itouch connected to our wifi. Now I can have three devices connected to the Internet at the same time. Michelle will be rolling her eyes for sure.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Detritus for the Rest of Us

It's now nearly 5:30, and with the washing of our Christmas dishes from an early Christmas dinner, the holiday is officially over. The kids are upstairs surrounded by their Christmas detritus, busily building one the four or five Lego sets they received from relatives and Jolly old Saint Nick. It's snowed all day, so the roads are closed, the world is close, the skies are dark and all seems right with the world. It's quiet outside, except for the idiots up the street rushing about the pasture on their snowmobiles.

The kids let us sleep in this Christmas, but my bladder was not as charitable. It had me up at eight am -- which isn't too shabby, considering we have three young ones in the house. Of course, we haven't wound them up as much about Christmas morning as Michelle and I were wound as children, so that helps.

Michelle, to prove that she understands her husband's basic guyness, got me Apollo 13 and The Great Escape on DVD. One a modern epic, the other, an epic of epics. These will make for great watching. Who could ask for more except some macho-monkey movies to watch over the holiday?

And yes, we received monkeys, too. Sock Monkeys, made by my sister Maaike (who sells them on her blog, by the way. So click away.) One of them rode home from Oma's house on the steering wheel last night. Lexie thinks they look like bandits, with the dark coloring around their eyes.

Michelle likes her camera. At least I think she does. She hasn't thrown it out yet, so that's a good sign.

I got books. Many books. One called Nemesis, by Max Hastings, from Martin in England (thanks, Martin). Another, Die Alone, by David Howarth. A third, Nuclear Terrorism, by Gramah ALlison. All look like excellent reads.

And I'm feeling tired. So tired. Need a nap. May blog later. But right now, too busy. Sleeping.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Daddy's Duties, Christmas Eve Day

'Tis the day before Christmas. I'm home from work and, as are most Dads, engaged in fatherly duties on this most auspicious day. My day, thusfar, has included:
  • Clear the back porch, deck, and sidewalk to the shed of snow.
  • Shovel snow off the woodpile.
  • Stock the wood barrel on the back porch.
  • Cajole kids into cleaning up their toy messes and to make their beds.
  • Upload a bunch of photos to Uncharted. Hey. I'm a guy. Puttering will happen.
  • Wash a lot of dishes. From breakfast, two rounds of pie making, and the construction of a cornbread salad.
  • Thaw a turkey. This year I eschewed the under the armpit method for a thaw in the sink.
  • Bathe the youngest child.
  • Briefly consider combining the last two chores, reasoning that the extra hot water will be cooled by the turkey, so there's no fears that the youngest would be burned. But then reconsider because considering how filthy the kid is, we'd have to toss the turkey out afterward.
  • Shave.
  • Fetch sundry items from the outdoor freezer, including whipped topping, raspberries and a turkey torpedo (unrelated to the 19-lb turkey thawing in the sink).
And it's only 2:14. Who knows what else will be required of me today?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dignity Takes A Holiday

So the New York Post has pictures of Barack Obama shirtless on the beach.

While this is better than the New York Post having pictures of Dick Cheney shirtless on the beach (and I can make fat guy jokes, being of teh fat guy variety myself) one has to wonder, where has the dignity gone? Not that Barack Obama going shirtless is a terrible thing. He's entitled. He's on vacation. He's on the beach. The beach implies, for men at least, that shirtlessness is acceptable. But do we need pictures of the Shirtless One to ogle? Does the Obama-as-God-and-Savior camp need more evidence that their chosen one is not only the soon-to-be leader of the free world, but also close to the Greek ideal of manhood and godliness? I suppose they do.

I feel badly for the Obamas. They have no private life for the next four years.

The Post reporter quotes a Manhattan fitness expert, saying Obama must be eating right. The Post reporter quotes famously-ripped California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backpedaling from his calling Obama a girly-man loser. And I have to wonder, with the financial crisis that California is in, with the financial crisis that the nation is in, do we need reporters bothering people with such stupid questions? What's nest: Mr. Obama, is it boxers or briefs? What's worse than the question being asked (as Berkeley Breathed said when the question was asked of Bill Clinton) is that it's likely to be answered.

Bye-bye, dignity.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Bosom Quota Has Not Been Met

"The language of our culture no longer describes real life and, pretty soon, something's gonna blow."

--Jean Shepherd

So. Not only are so-called progressives upset with President –Elect Barack Obama’s picks for his cabinet positions, now, too, the National Organization for Women is upset that Mr. Obama didn’t regard gender as the sole reason for making his decisions.

From CNN.com:

“When you are looking at a Cabinet and you have such a small number of women in
the room when the big decisions are being made, there need to be a lot more
women's voices in this administration," said Kim Gandy, president of the
National Organization for Women.

No matter than out of 20 positions on the cabinet, five have gone to women. No matter that these numbers are comparable to the number of female cabinet members under the Bush and Clinton administrations. NOW did not get what it wanted, which was more, lots of it, right now Barack because we all voted for you dammit so now ya gotta whore for us all.

And this:

"In this case, we have seen Obama emphasize credentials," said Anne Kornblut of
The Washington Post. "I think they obviously knew they would get a lot of bang
for their buck, so to speak, in appointing Clinton, but at the end of the day,
the numbers really aren't any more impressive than any previous president."

No matter that Obama’s picks might have possibly been based on, oh, something stupid like finding the best person for the job, looking at credentials and credibility over race and gender. The Bosom Quota has not been met.

I applaud efforts to include individuals of different genders and races in government. But I deplore that such choices should be made on race or gender over ability and credibility.

CNN’s article on the matter is also deplorable.

About two-thirds of the way through the article, we get this sentence:

Some progressives, meanwhile, are also disappointed that Obama has tapped
moderates for key positions.

So I anticipate either new ire other than what I’ve written about before on this blog, or new ire over some new choices for “key positions.” Instead, the rest of the article is more liberal whining over Obama asking the Pastor Rick Warren to give a prayer at the inauguration. A prayer. At the inauguration. If this is a key position, then the Civil Service of the United States has gone on a hiring spree in the last few years. Never knew there was a position of Prayer-Offerer in Chief. A key position? Really.

Then there’s this:

People for the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert told CNN that she is
"deeply disappointed" about the choice of Warren and said the powerful platform
at the inauguration should instead have been given to someone who has
"consistent mainstream American values."
Allow me a cruel chuckle, Hiss, because whenever I hear anyone talk about “consistent mainstream American values,” I automatically know it’s code for “consistent mainstream American values with which I or my interest group happen to believe in.” Certain facets of society, mainstream or not, may not agree with Warren and his views on homosexuality (that it’s wrong), but to insist that these certain facets of society have mainstream American values is ludicrous because what is “mainstream,” what is “American” and, indeed, what are “values” changes with the blowing wind and the rushing tide. My mainstream is not your mainstream. And if you want mainstream values, you can’t go to the polls to figure them out. A sample is not going to give you the mainstream, no matter what the folks at Gallup say.

The libs, by the way, especially those of the gay/lesbian variety, look to the coming generations for hope in getting their lfiestyles into the mainstream. That may be well and true. But the norm for the upcoming generation is that they can cheat on tests and plagiarize papers but still consider themselves normal, upstanding, good people. And so it goes. I think Jean Shepherd is right. Something’s gonna blow.

Oh, the Irony . . .

Well all love it when the wisdom of the ancients trumps the foolish trappings of modern life. So when this e-mail began circulating at work earlier today, the guffaws and commentaries on the shrewd ancients were rampant:

Why Arizona does not have Daylight Saving Time:

The state of Arizona listened to the Wise Old Indian...
When told the reason for daylight saving time
the old Indian said,

"Only a white man would believe that you could cut
a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the
bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket."

That old Indian must not have been a Navajo, as the Navajo nation observes Daylight Saving Time while the rest of the state of Arizona does not.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Poetry

On the Inland Sea

Wind drops
Not on water.
On the inland sea.
Wind whips
on the inland sea.
Whiskers waving
heads drooping
dripping green
on the inland sea.
Wind whips
the green ship
green ship plying
on the inland sea.

Poetry Time

NOTE: More stuff I found floating around in that file of really old garbage I wrote years ago. Some of it still appeals. This one, for example, though riddled with cliches, I still like.

Through the Hole

for MHF

though the hole see the sky

past the green see the flat

yellowed field smooth patch and rippled kentucky blue

browned with cold freezer burnt

watch the road white ice black

sunning cat - fence sitting fatly - peering through

peering through swatches green

not be seen, dare reveal

hiding place: juniper canopy at corner house

through the hole see the sky

hop to branch prepare to fly

stretch the wings: small brown and drab but flying still

know the air hello the breeze

wan yellow sun bare leafless trees

winter now, but soon to come the smiling spring

latch to branch whistle song

as the cat pouts below

scan the field across the street for succulents

push the branch let it go

magic arms and fanning tail

no leap of faith as sparrow glides to field below

Friday, December 19, 2008

17-Mile Daddy

Once and a while, one of your kids does something so funny and unexpected it just throws you for a loop. Take today, for example. I've been working on getting stuff posted to Uncharted, and taking lots of notes so I'd know what I had to do. My six-year-old daughter came along when I wasn't in the room, saw my notes and decided to add one of her own (shown above with the red arrows). She's such a cutie.

Pardon Our Dust

We definitely need one of these signs up at Uncharted. The site is live, most things are working, but yet there are still some embarrassments as far as copy editing and functionality. Take, for example, the e-mail message that's sent out when you invite someone to look at a set of photos you've just published at Uncharted. Two words, and two typos: (Photo's invitaion). It's SO embarrassing. So we realize that as we go into the first week of the launch, there are some things like this -- a lot of things like this -- that we need to fix. Please bear with us. Pardon our dust, as the old saying goes.

Other problems -- like the inability to geotag at the moment -- are being worked on, and should be functioning properly again by this evening. At least that's the hope.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite films, Apollo 13 -- particularly the spart just after liftoff when one of the engines shuts down and Tom Hanks' character Jim Lovell says "Well, I think we just had our glitch for this mission." Now, I hope Uncharted doesn't leave anybody stranded in space for three days with little water, electricity, oxygen or other basic necessities of life, but at the same time please understand that we feel your pain. Really. Because what's blocking you from making the site work is also blocking us. So we are working on things. Pardon our dust.

The Selling of Honey

Blogger's Note: Again, I keep finding all this stuff I started writing, and wonder where I was going with it. Like the following item, which I called "The Selling of Honey." Don't remember what that title was all about. But the story seems salvageable. It's a fragment, however. Nothing complete.

A croque-monsieur, an apple juice, a bunch of grapes. Quickly he keyed in his order and drummed his fingers as the automat digested his card and spat it out on the tray along with his food. He found his usual table – facing the plate-glass front where he could glance over his newspaper at the fountains and trees in the park.

At first, last August, he thought he’d never get used to Fifteen Minute Public Lunch this early in the day, but then, he reasoned, maybe someone else was finding it hard to adjust to his own old time, when the view out the window was less sun-lit trees and more starlight and moonbeams glancing off the bits of quartz embedded in the pavement.

He never got tired of watching the leaves fall. Often he’d lower his paper, eyes latched on a tumbling maple leaf as it sailed along on currents of air until its fluttering motion caught the attention of one of the VacuBots that scurry through the park to clean up such rubbish. Some of the bots had quite an aggressive flair about them, plucking the tumbling leaves from the air while a few, like bottom feeders, simply idled at the center of their areas until a ground sensor told them something was waiting for their attention. Then Marko would look at his watch, drain his cup and stuff the grapes and half-eaten croque-monsieur into his coat pocket because he was down to his last thirty seconds.

It never paid to be late. Or early.

On time. Always on time. But then, the Regimen made that easy.

It helped one avoid confusion. You never felt a second of your time was wasted because at the end of the day there was always the strictest of accoutings for each second, and often, for smaller units of time some humans didn’t even know they had at their disposal. The Regimen also made Encounters – the Counters bragged – 99.9999999998 percent impossible.

Murphy’s Law, Marko’s mother feared, would make that tiny chance of an Encounter very likely to strike her more than anyone else. He tried to assure her, as they exchanged messages on the phone and by computer and video, that Regimen Control advertised their number as not being totally foolproof only as a gimmick. “No rational person believes it when another tells him that something is 100 percent assured,” he told her in a voice message sent to her home near Shreveport late one Tuesday morning when he knew she’d be playing video solitaire with her cronies. “It’s an assertion as empty as Eve. Believe it or not, it’s more believable if they even hint that an attempt has been made to mathematically compute their ‘true’ rate of success. Besides, the risk still sells.”

Risk. You and your father and always this risk. Well,” she fussed, “we all know what risk got him, don’t we?”

Yes, mother, it got him you.”

She laughed. “Don’t be smart. You know what I’m talking about. He had an Encounter he’ll never forget. Nor shall we, for that matter. Silly old man, walking through the park all impromptu like that. I’ll still never understand how the Sentries let him pass, but then they were trying out that new sensor technology. I’ve never much trusted all these sensors and robots, but you know that. Liked it better when the Sentries were those nice blind gentlemen who sat in their booths and whistled when it was clear to pass. That is the way they did it back in Pottstown, and that’s the way it should be done today.”

You told me you hated those blind Sentries,” Marko mocked, as his mother fussed with her hat and tried to shush him. “Didn’t one kinda, well, whistle at you special whenever you walked past? Dad kinda thought he wasn’t blind. You said he always whistled funny when you had a skirt on.”

Stop that, impertinent grub,” she laughed. “Your grandfather told that story about your grandmother as well. Curse your father for repeating it to you all those years. Swore I was going to destroy those memory tapes, but then they do belong to you now. I see a smirk forming. An impertinent question looms. May as well have it now, sonny.”

Marko tried to turn the smirk into an innocent smile. “How much longer until Dad gets out?”

Her face clouded. “Well, he’s, probably. . .I think. . .you know we’re really not supposed to talk about such things, Marko! It’s not exactly forbidden, but
. . .

But your uppity upbringing forbids you from talking of family disgraces, except for telling stories about the innumerable times I lost my glasses as a child to your cronies. Really, mother, if I ask it’s not because I’m going to scream the answer your give from the rooftops. I ask because I want to know.”

Still can’t believe you flushed your third pair of glasses down the toilet, son. Now,” she posed innocently, “what was the question? Ah, yes. Your philandering father. He should be getting out of Group in about, what, three and a half weeks. But then he’s on probation – a personal SentryBot for six months; may as well tie a dozen red helium balloons to him with an even larger balloon further up above him with an arrow pointing down at him saying “Watch This Man” – and he’ll be back to his old ways at the soda factory, sweeping floors and humming and whistling and composing those idiot love sonnets in his head to send to me.”

Now mother, I know you keep every one of them."

So, what if I do?”

Right. So what if you do?”

I just hope I can keep him from wandering off again. He is such an idiot dreamer sometimes.”

The SentryBot will take care of that. Besides, I hear Group does a lot for characters like Dad.”

His mother sighed. “Promise me, Marko. Promise me. Cynthia says she’ll never talk to him again, for the embarrassment. She’s always so easily embarrassed, not like you. Promise me you’ll talk to your father. No matter what. He always listens to you, Marko. He’ll listen to you.”

Marko’s mother had always been a worrier. She sent fussy notes to the Tutoring Center, wondering why Marko’s penmanship lagged behind that of his peers. She quailed incessantly with recreation coordinators, scoutmasters and operators of the robot basketball squads about Marko’s inability to overcome his coordination difficulties, which she believed resulted from the day long ago when the robot supervising Marko’s first feeble forays on two feet failed to prevent him from walking to – and cracking his skull on – the stone hearth at his grandfather’s old house. She worried that the cubicle at his office was too small, the walls too thin and too poorly insulated against echoes and whispers, which had always given him nightmares as a child.

One of these days, Mom, you’re going to turn around and find out that there’s nothing to worry about,” Marko teased. “Don’t worry. I’ll always listen to Dad.”

Yes. That’s what worries me.”

They both chuckled. “See what I mean, mother? Ten seconds out of the pen and a new worry already to start the day. ”

Shut up.”

Don’t worry.”

When that happens, I’ll either be dead or worry about my lack of worries, dearie. Now blow a kiss to your mother and let her get back to her solitaire.” Marko blew a kiss at the computer screen. His mother cooed, then waved.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Uncharted Has Launched

After our successful launch of Uncharted Phase II last night, I feel it’s necessary to put a few thoughts down on paper (or at least the ethers) to thank those who’ve been involved in this tremendous project.

To Uma and the other programmers at Nyros – Thanks so much for being patient with us and, in particular, for working with us beyond what you agreed to do in getting our site working to this point. We presented a difficult task for you to accomplish and, by my measurements, you performed well. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with you as we move Uncharted through successive tweaks and iterations.

To Andrew and the rest of the design team – Thanks for making us look good. Thanks for keeping your senses of humor, and for dealing with the rest of us through this project. We put a lot on your shoulders, and you came through for us.

To Sarge and the marketing/communication team – Thanks for working tirelessly with our beta testers and for keeping the faith, despite the roadblocks we kept encountering throughout the testing process. Thanks for prodding the rest of us to talk enthusiastically with our testers, and for reminding us to live the Uncharted lifestyle.

To Scott – Wow. What else can I say? You’ve worked probably the hardest of us all over these past few months. I never heard you complain or waver – and I’m sure you’re the only one on the team I can say that of. Every time I thought of you working those long nights with Nyros, tweaking things, figuring things out, only to hear the rest of us complaining about the things that were not working while rarely recognizing the things that did work, I felt grateful you were there doing what you were doing. We owe you a lot.

To Alan – Thanks for bossing us around and otherwise using your Sith Lord powers to get us off our duffs and getting the work done. You always encouraged us and only yelled at us when we really, really deserved it. Hope you’re not hoarse.

Now – for all of us: We’ve got to live that Uncharted lifestyle. We have a working site now. We need to fill it. I remember that being a concern back at our last retreat in May. It’s still a concern. Each team member needs not only to write stories, take photos and post them to the site, but we’ve also got to continue encouraging everyone we know to do the same. Sarge and the marketing/communication team will do their part, but we’ll do much better if we all become communicators and marketers. If we don’t show others that we’re excited about Uncharted and what we’re doing there, no one else will be.

The easy part is done, folks. Now the long road begins. Live that lifestyle. I know I’ll try harder to do so.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Here We Go

Spent some time today tinkering with the uncharted.net site, which we'll unveil to the world tonight. There are still some frustrating elements to deal with, but for a first iteration, I think we've come light years from what we had a year ago.

All of this makes me feel like Dr. Frankenstein here:

"It . . . Could . . . Work!"

What's best about this is that we're no longer waiting in the box, straining for that pistol shot to begin the race. Starting tonight, we're in the race, competing for Intertubes eyeballs, contributors, social networkers and, yes, what money we can make from the venture. So we'll see what happens. I'm excited.

(By the way, Internet: You'd think someone would have a video clip of Dr. Frankenstein shouting "It . . . could . . . work!" for me to use here. But NOOOOOOO.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Parody Time

Any good journalist, of course, knows that writing to one's audience is the best way to connect and make readers care about what you're writing. And then there are the writers who try to connect to the New York Times audience, where you get stories like this: As the Rich Get Poorer, Teenagers Feel the Crunch.

The kind folks at Slate.com asked readers to submit a parody. Here is mine:

When Angela Frump started her junior year of high school in Scoville, Idaho, this fall, she cut a path at her school with her clothing, shoes and easy way with her spending money.

But in October he father lost his job as foreman at a huge hog rendering plant at Atomic City, then landed one close to home as an itinerant babbler who gesticulates at traffic while waving a “Will Work for Pilates” sign at busy street corners. Angela now steals clothing from the bin behind the Salvation Army Thrift Store rather than wait until the store opens in order to do her shopping. She no longer has used wax paper to stuff in the holes in her shoes and makes due with newspaper. And the $5 weekly allowance she got from ruffling through coat pockets in the cloakroom when everyone else was at church? “Most of the damn pockets are empty these days,” she says with a sigh, knowing the special treat of a hot school lunch once a week is now a thing of the past.

But she’s no slouch. To help her family make ends meet and to buy that hot lunch now every other week, Angela took a job three months ago stocking shelves at Target. “They’ve treated me well,” she says. “Just had my 90-day review and got a 15 cents an hour raise. Can’t beat that these days. I always like to be saving up for something that I have my eye on – a new pair of socks, a toothbrush, a package of gum.” She hopes the temporary holiday position she signed on for turns into a permanent gig, but her manager reminds her constantly there are no guarantees.
“Yeah, I fall asleep in class a lot more often now, but I’m the Cardboard Connection in my neighborhood now,” she boasts. She recently moved her mother and two younger siblings into a shack made of detergent cases her Target manager lets her take home. “They’re a lot sturdier,” she says. “They hold up against the wind, and since, they’re waxed, they keep the rain out. They beat the Heier boxes we moved into in November.” She’s saving up now for pallets she hopes will raise the house off the frozen earth.

It’s impossible, of course, to quantify how many of Scoville’s similarly affluent parents have trimmed expenses in recent months – or how many of their offspring, in turn, have sought either formal employment or Foster care. But interviews with dozens of teenagers, parents or care guardians, parole officers and discount store managers suggest that many youngsters from the area’s well-to-do families have found a new work ethic as their parents or guardians lose their jobs and the jars of loose change they had squirreled away for retirement. That has led, however, to less spending money for toilet paper or binges at Wal-Mart.

In Aberdeen, Idaho, a battered waferboard bulletin board near city hall that connects high school students with nearby job opportunities attracts a huddled mass of sixty or so teens every day since September, up from about ten to 20 last fall, but part of that might be that the bulletin board provides an excellent windbreak from the area’s strong winter gales.

Beau Howard says he stood at the board every afternoon for two weeks until he noticed it had jobs posted on the windward side. He quickly found a job shoveling rotten potatoes out of a nearby cellar. “I didn’t want to bug my parents for extra cash,” he said, resting on the shovel handle and holding his bare right foot out of the muck while the foreman had his back turned. “I figure if I can keep this up for another couple weeks, I’ll have enough money to buy that right boot. That way, I can walk past that ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service’ sign at McDonalds without guilt and join my buddies there every other Saturday night.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Uncharted, Unbound

It’s the moment all Uncharted fans (full-blown to pupative) have been waiting for: The Launch. Or, as the picture here intimates, Uncharted is finally out of prison.

That’s right. We’re launching our new site this Wednesday, sometime in the evening. I presume around 7 pm Mountain Time. I’ve missed a few memos. For the Facebooked, we’ll host an online launch party at the Uncharted Facebook site starting at about 7 pm. I’ll be there, with bells on. And also pants. At least until it’s time to go to that home teaching appointment. But then I’ll be back.

We’re thrilled to have the site finally reach this point – we’ve gone from a rather static interface to a full-blown linear social networking interface in which explorers may collide with others as they engage in virtual hand-to-hand combat as they post stories and photos detailing their adventures, be they in the rugged wilds of Wyoming or the corner park. Remember, if you think your adventure spot, hidey-hole, get-away-from-it-all place is neat, so do we.

Any questions, drop me a line here. Otherwise, we’ll see you at the party Wednesday. Then afterward, visit us at Uncharted.net and join the community. We're nuts. But that means we're like you.

Lesson Learned: One Team, Different Pages

Blogger's Note: What follows is a paper I wrote for a digital media class I recently completed at Utah State, part of my masters program in technical communication (six more credits to go).

As a group of college friends works with a foreign team of programmers to build a new social networking website, they forget that a good plan – including communication and accounting for setbacks – is key to success and company morale.

The inflammatory rhetoric flowed like pyroclastic lava.

“As I see it, we are already being held hostage by the programmers,” one said. “We are at their mercy and we can’t afford that.”

“I hear you, man,” another replied. “It took three months or more for this incompetent programming team to get where we are right now, it will take equal amount of time or longer for [us] to take it to where we want to be, is my opinion.”

It is early September, 2008. Designers for Uncharted.net, a new social website that focuses on citizen journalists sharing their travel adventures with their friends and the world, are fed up with the site's programmers.

Seeking an inexpensive alternative to building the website, which includes searchable databases of stories, photos, and videos; social functions such as member profiles, e-mail, and chat, Uncharted chose Nyros, a software development company in Kakinada, India,for the work. Operating from an arbitrarily-set August 31 deadline, the Uncharted team anticipated the programmers would finish the work in two months, at a cost of about $11,000 – a bargain in programming circles (similar work done in the United States, we discovered, would have cost us between $50,000 to $75,000).

As the programming “dragged on,” however, tempers started to flare. Only an intervention by the company's executive director and an increased focus on clear communication with the programmers pulled the company away from ruining what has now blossomed into an excellent working relationship between Uncharted and Nyros.

In retrospect, we see four things we could have done differently to make this project go more smoothly from the beginning:

● Get a good communicator involved immediately.
● Consider programming styles – and make sure everyone has the same style in mind.
● Use multiple means of communication.
● Assign one or two interested team members to become apprentice programmers.
● Plan for setbacks.

Get a good communicator involved immediately. In our case, Scott Stephenson, Uncharted's business manager, was the best fit to act as communicator between our team in America and our programmers in India. First of all, he is an immensely patient man, willing to recognize that differences in communication and culture would have to be surmounted. He also has a class and work schedule that allowed him to stay up late – often times to two to three in the morning – communicating by chat and e-mail with the programmers in India, who started their day at 9 pm Stephenson’s time.

He found right away that there were some concepts he was familiar with but that his counterpart in India was not. “Perhaps the biggest ‘wake up Scott’ experience was with the modular idea I mentioned” to the programmers, Stephenson said. The Indian programmers were in the habit of building websites from the ground up, with parts that were tightly integrated with each other. For Uncharted, Stephenson wanted them to take a modular approach, developing site functionalities in pieces so they could be more easily updated and repaired. “I remember well the sensation I experienced when it hit me that he didn’t understand what I was talking about. I set everything aside and took about fifteen minutes just to talk about the philosophy. I am absolutely certain that things have gone incredibly more smoothly since then because I took the time to explain it.”

He has an apt metaphor: “All you have to do to see it is walk in someone else’s kitchen and try to put the dishes away,” he says. You discover quickly, he adds, “that in some ways [people] are very alike, but in many things we are as different as night and day.”

As technical communicators, we can take this dish duty metaphor into a discussion on finding innovation. As David Hailey, an associate professor at Utah State University writes in an unpublished manuscript he made available to his digital media class, creativity is not enough to foster innovation. “We think students should be taught how to make innovative decisions – it is not enough to permit students to make the decisions and solve the problems on guesses and unsupported opinions,” Hailey writes.

When working on a new procedure to be used to assess radioactive waste being repackaged at a U.S. Department of Energy site in Idaho, for example, I learned a good lesson on how innovation is the smarter, older brother to the creativity expected of technical communicators.

I worked closely with an expert in nuclear criticality safety and two equipment operators to write the procedure, sitting next to these experts as they worked on the actual equipment in the field. We worked together to find the best possible wording and asked questions of each other. They learned more, as we worked, about the writing process and the standards writers go by, while I learned to understand their processes and science in order to write accurately.

The innovations arrived at through discussion and trial and error were simple ones that relied on trimming the language to take into account the operators' training – which I would not have know about without working with them closely – and by clever application of the company's writing standards in using looped steps and nested routing tables. Because we, as a cross-disciplinary team, had spent so much time working together and writing the document together, an audit of the procedure and process went with only minor bumps – a first in this criticality safety expert’s experience.

Stephenson has taken a similar approach with Nyros, working closely with Uma, a lead programmer at the company, to explain what Uncharted wants and to help troubleshoot when problems arise.

Use multiple means of communication. Even though Uma speaks English, Stephenson learned right off the bat never to assume that his English translated word for word into the English spoken by his Indian counterpart. “Language is one of the things we modify more than any other thing,” Stephenson says. “The phrases we use, even the words we choose to express our thoughts and feeling are a result of our society, even our friends and families. I’d be willing to bed you’d be hard-pressed to find a joke that someone in another country would understand without some sort of explanation to go with it . . . even if they grew up speaking English.”

Stephenson relied, at first, heavily on instant messaging to communicate with the Indian programmers, checking in frequently that he was being clear. “At least until they get fed up with you asking them if you are communicating clearly, assume that they don’t understand what you’re saying,” he said. The same approach, of course, works with native English-speakers in the United States as well, he adds.

Later on, after he built a relationship of trust with Uma, Stephenson switched from relying heavily on instant messaging to relying on written lists, followed up with IM. “The lists allow me to take a bit more time to think through how to say something,” he says.

Giving lists, he found, allowed Uma to delegate tasks to co-workers who don’t speak English. “If I give him a list and give him the opportunity to ask me any questions he has, then go to explain it [to the others], he has the dual experience of learning from me and teaching his co-workers, and understands [what we want] more” than with lists or IM alone.

He also includes as many visuals in his lists as he can, from screen shots to sketches. “If you can find someone that fits your needs that also knows how to sketch, hang on to them, because the sketching talent is worth more than people realize,” he says. “Some things cannot be communicated with words without some kind of visual aids.”

Consider programming styles – and make sure everyone has the same style in mind. Design of the new website proceeded in a classic waterfall pattern, with the design team working in its corner, emerging from time to time like a February groundhog to show us the latest screenshots. We had one team member who excelled at extrapolating what appeared on the static screenshots into functionality, but the rest of us struggled with the concept. That team member left the organization, leaving us with a design-to-functionality gap.

That gap appears to have been shared by the programmers, at least in the early stages of development. The programmers worked very hard to ensure that the site looked exactly like the screenshots they’d been given – but when it came to having the website function as intended, results did not arrive as quickly as the team had anticipated.

It’s clear now that the Uncharted team anticipated Nyros would program in a waterfall pattern, mimicking how the site had been designed – while Nyros followed a spiral pattern, placing emphasis on the first iteration on appearance over functionality, since they interpreted our primary emphasis on the first iteration as design (due to the innumerable number of screenshots we sent them) over functionality.

We could have avoided the confusion – and frustration – felt on the Uncharted side had we been clear that we anticipated a waterfall approach. Nyros, too, could have helped us avoid the confusion by stating that the first iteration was just that – an iteration focusing on design, to be followed by an iteration on functionality. Too many assumptions were made on both sides on what was expected and anticipated.

Part of the difficulty, we realize now, lay in that we were building an entire site from scratch. The next time, we know, it’ll be easier, because we’ll work on the site a piece at a time – and we’ll be sure to communicate with Nyros on what is expected with the first and subsequent iterations.

Assign one or two interested team members in becoming apprentice programmers. If these interested parties choose to learn how to program, the better for them. But, more importantly, these individuals should know enough about programming to be familiar with enough programming “landmarks” to understand how things work. And to have a grasp on how much work is involved in what functionalities the team would like the website to have.

Part of this effort will result in what is known as code switching – using words from different languages in the same communication. This code switching, as Hailey writes, is “intentional and effective, adding an air of friendliness or professionalism” to our conversations.

He points out as well, however, that code switching can be accidental, “demonstrating, for example, that the speaker is struggling with a new language.” I know this feeling well from my efforts to learn French. Even with several years’ worth of language study and after living in France for nearly two years, I still engage in code-switching when I find I don't know the French words or sentence structures for the thoughts I want to speak.

In either case, code switching shows the native speaker that we take our communication engagement seriously. If non-programmers are able to show that programmers that we at least have a rudimentary understanding of their language, we open up chances at better communication.

“A thing some people don't realize is that programming is hard,” says Dave Densley, Uncharted's website project manager. “Some don't know what it takes to make what's been designed function, what it takes to make that button do what it's supposed to, what it takes to make things work.”

Those team members who complained about the pace of programming admit their unfamiliarity with Ruby on Rails, the programming language Nyros is using to build the site. They could use other languages to make a more static, less socially-engaging site, but could not achieve the functionality that Nyros' work is providing, Murry and Stephenson say.

Spurred by our Uncharted experience and a desire to increase my marketability as a technical communicator, I've begun refreshing my memory on the basics of HTML and, once that is solidified in my brain, I will work on understanding the basics of Ruby on Rails. I learned basic HTML just after the Internet's infancy, thanks to policies at the University of Idaho that urged students to use e-mail and build their own web sites, using server space the university provided. Through experimentation, using web browsers' “view source” feature, I learned enough to build several websites. When I left school, however, those skills went to the wayside until recently. Now I'm back to examining how web sites are put together by using tools such as Mozilla Firefox's Firebug, an add-on to the popular web browser that shows HTML, CSS and other web-building code behind the sites I visit.

Plan for Setbacks. Stephenson’s day job is in the aerospace research industry. “This is cutting-edge stuff. Ultra-modern research. And I’m constantly amazed at how, even among people trying new and difficult things, how they rarely plan for setbacks.”

We recognize better preparation could have come through taking a spiral approach to the programming – getting one aspect or module of the overall site working, then moving on to additional aspects or modules – rather than anticipating that once the programming switch was flipped on, things would go smoothly. “As we were going through the [programming] process, we found things that were missing,” Stephenson says. “We had a rather sophisticated design, and we should have anticipated that in this design things would be missed or looked over.” Taking a spiral approach to the programming would have allowed both the Uncharted team and the programmers to identify problems more quickly and get them repaired more quickly.

“One of the problems we have is unrestrained optimism, which is a good problem to have in most respects,” says Alan Murray, Uncharted’s executive director. He’s seen that optimism serve the company well as, for example, the marketing team worked on promotional strategies, the design team worked on website screen shots and the editorial team worked to coordinate content. But when it came to the programming phase, Murray and others saw those optimistic inclinations work to the project’s detriment.

“It seems like we never planned for things to go wrong” with the programming, he says. As one deadline after another fell, Murray saw the optimism quickly exchanged for pessimism, attacks on the programmers and an overall diminution in corporate enthusiasm for what is the company’s flagship – and practically sole – product: the website.

“I think some of us lost the focus, the energy, because of the setbacks,” Murray said. “We'll have to work hard to get that back.” Planning for them, in retrospect, might have helped soften the blows and ease that drain of energy.

Conclusion. “Next time we do programming, it’s going to go a lot more smoothly,” Stephenson says. He believes this for two reasons: First, we have a site to start with, and further programming will be adding to it, rather than starting from scratch. Second, we know that we have to take the extra mile to communicate clearly. Lastly, we know what pitfalls lie in our own creative and innovative processes – pitfalls that glow as brightly as a fresh lava flow.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Don't Know What This Is

Colors fading black and white
snow and rock and sky
merge together, fading grey
love and warmth denied

Valley bowels, firn and ice
melt and drip and crack
cedar saplings stiff with rain
wait and watch the black

Black sky growing, Master Bleak
flows down gullies dim
wrapping flowers, cup and leaf
life cowr's deep within

Within an instant, mountaintop
spark and glow and live
veil lies parted, dark beast chas'd
eyes afire alive

Fire in dimness, coal white-hot
Golden Field alight
promised life everlasting
glows to spite the night

Oak, Pinon, long roots thrusting
ice if not in soil
streams flow clear red wine, bub'ling
ease us from our toils

Leafy trees bear golden fruit
no toil nor labor done
rest and peace, all shades of bears
life's great battle won

Life, no longer fears darkness
love no longer wanes
Dwell in Golden Field, release
relief from life's pains

Toil on earth, meet thy color
fight, or farm, or lead
earn reward, here life after
of love, take ye heed

Dwell alive amid plenty
cave and mate and cub
work no longer Brave Fighter
serve eternal round

Reay for Winter?

winter has finally arrived here in Bedford Falls, in all its snowy glory. The white does serve to cover up the ugliness of the brown lawns, the debris of fall still in the gutters and the bland grey of the roadtop. The trees are clad in their crystals of white, branches heavy with snow where in the summer there were leaves.

And I'm face-up with my greatest dislike of winter: the weekend shuffling of the vehicles.

We're not allowed to park on the streets here during the night when there's snow on the ground, on the grounds that the city might eventually plow the snow. We have no garage, and a driveway that's narrow enough we have to park one vehicle behind the other. On weekends, the truck takes the off-position, as the van is the vehicle of choice. But every Sunday night I have to shuffle the vehicles because, in the wee hours of the morning, it's the truck that gets me to the bus stop. tonight, I had to spend about half an hour scraping windshields, brushing snow off roof and fenders and otherwise cleaning the white glop off the vehicles so I can get them ready for the morning.

I hate the scrape-scrape sound of the ice sraper. The cold of the snow eating through my gloves. And, since it's tradition to wear clogs rather than anything else in which to move the snow, I also hate the cold of the stuff getting into my shoes and soaking my socks. Yes, I could put on real shoes, but freezing my feet off is part of the tradition.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hot Llama

We hear a lot about hot llamas at our house. Now, given that this photograph represents my overall opinion of the attractiveness of llamas, I find it hard to believe that outside of llama circles (except for maybe the occasional alpaca) that anyone would regard llamas in general as hot. But so it is.

The kids talk about hot llamas a lot. They mean hot lava, but since they teach phonetics in school, it comes out hot llama. "Be careful, Dad," they'll shout as they're playing some arcane game. "You just stepped in the hot llama."

Honestly, I don't know what to say. But I did introduce them to the llama song. Maybe it'll finally get "Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer" out of their heads. But I doubt it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Momentous Announcement No. 2 . . .

. . . has been delayed due to technical difficulties. Stay tuned.

Momentous Announcement No. 1

Two momentous annoucements today. First:

Mister Fweem's Blog is officially one year old. Yes, one year ago today you began to be regaled by my boring insights, technical communicator ramblings, thoughts on Second Life, everything and anything to do with Uncharted, politics, squirrel reporting and, now, an Ernest video with an annoying watermark. Everything useless and mundane that you'd ever want to learn from me, all here in a one-stop shopping format. Hope you enjoy it, because I plan on many, many happy years to come. Unless I get hit by a meteor or something.

Personally, I like to think this video sums up the reaction of most people who visit Mr. Fweem's Blog. The crown and fanfare come when I make some grand announcement or post something I think is really nifty. Then Ernest's confused look at the end reflects that of the reader, who is wondering why they bothered to listen to my blather in the first place.

Remember, though. I do this for you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Obama’s Presumed Pick for Energy Sec’y Bodes Well for Energy, Idaho

If President-Elect (my wife hates that phrase, but so it is) Obama follows through in selecting Steven Chu as his Secretary of Energy, the White House will gain a strong advocate for alternative energy that includes a ringing endorsement for nuclear power and nuclear fuel recycling, two bits of information that bode well for eastern Idaho’s nuclear industry.

Chu, a physicist and currently head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, looks to be a good fit for the post, given his background in research into alternative energy, specifically solar and biofuels from waste products rather than food products.

This is what Chu had to say about nuclear power and fuel recycling in 2005 (yes, it’s old, but still heartening; red the entire article here):

Q: Should fission-based nuclear power plants be made a bigger part of the
energy-producing portfolio?

A: Absolutely. Right now about 20 percent of our power comes from
nuclear; there have been no new nuclear plants built since the early '70s. The
real rational fears against nuclear power are about the long-term waste problem
and [nuclear] proliferation. The technology of separating [used fuel from
still-viable fuel] and putting the good stuff back in to the reactor can also be
used to make bomb material.

And then there's the waste problem: with future nuclear power plants,
we've got to recycle the waste. Why? Because if you take all the waste we have
now from our civilian and military nuclear operations, we'd fill up Yucca
Mountain. [Yucca Mountain, which sits on federal land in Nevada , is under
consideration as a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.] So we
need three or four Yucca Mountains. Well, we don't have three or four Yucca
Mountains. The other thing is that storing the fuel at Yucca Mountain is
supposed to be safe for 10,000 years. But the current best estimates - and these
are really estimates, the Lab's in fact - is that the metal casings [containing
the waste] will probably fail on a scale of 5,000 years, plus or minus 2. That's
still a long time, and then after that the idea was that the very dense rock,
very far away from the water table will contain it, so that by the time it
finally leaks down to the water table and gets out the radioactivity will have
mostly decayed.

Suppose instead that we can reduce the lifetime of the
radioactive waste by a factor of 1,000. So it goes from a
couple-hundred-thousand-year problem to a thousand-year problem. At a thousand
years, even though that's still a long time, it's in the realm that we can
monitor - we don't need Yucca Mountain.

I like his dual approach – fuel recycling, which reduces the amount of waste, and then research into cutting down the radioactivity. I believe it can be done, if we can get past the political obstacles. Chu’s interest in nuclear should keep that avenue open in the White House, as long as Obama is willing to listen to those he’s appointed, rather than the chicken littles in the Democratic party who would rather see Ed Begley-inspired alternative energy rather than nuclear. And though Republicans might grumble that Chu is a believer in global warming, I say at this point that global warming deniers in the party need to set those political prejudices aside and figure out that the Drill Baby Drill attitude is, at best, a short-term, short-sighted fix to our energy dependence on other nations. Let’s find out what we can do here to produce the energy we need – and find ways to do so not at the expense of the environment.

Chu’s stance on biofuel research also bodes well for states like Idaho, where there are ample supplies of crop waste products (anything from corn stalks to wheat stalks to grasses) that could be converted into biofuels.

Some in political circles grumble that Chu is politically inexperienced, and that a politically-savvy person, like Colin Powell or (heaven forbid) Arnold Schwarzenegger should be Obama’s pick for Energy Secretary instead. Color me funny, but I think the top nob in Washington concerned with energy ought to be someone who knows about energy. Powell has lots of good going for him politically, but I don’t know that he’s all that knowledgeable on energy. And then there’s Scwarzenegger. Do we really want Ah-nold in the Cabinet? Sure, he’s promoted alternative energy in California, but every time I listen to him talk about it I’m reminded of Ratbert the consultant making up for his lack of knowledge about computers by being exuberant. Could Scwarzenegger do anything than dart about shouting “Alternative energy! Wahoo!” We need someone who understands this stuff, can talk with others who understands this stuff and can leave the politicking to others. We don’t need a cheerleader.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Want A Chair Like This

Every man alive needs a chair like this. And, every once and a while, to take someone literally. Like this.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


(Pictured here are Pete Conrad (left) Buzz Aldrin, Blanch Lovell, Barbara Lovell, Jefferey Lovell, Marilyn Lovell, Susan Lovell and Neil Armstrong (standing in the background). Photo by Bill Eppridge/LIFE Magazine (C) Time Warner.)

It seems, once again, I have been deceived.

Spent some time this week reading Lost Moon, by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, the book on which Ron Howard based his film Apollo 13. One of my favorite aspects of the film -- and one with which I have teased one of my nephews mercilessly with -- has to do with Blanch Lovell, Jim Lovell's mother. You remember her -- she's the dotty old lady who said, famously, in the film "that if they could get a warshing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it," and uttered the immortal "They said he was" when she was told that Jim would not land on the moon due to the accident in space.

If I'm reading Lost Moon correctly, neither of these exchanges ever happened, as they are not mentioned in the book. Now, perhaps, they did indeed happen (as well as Blanch's question to Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong when they arrived to watch the television with her: "Are you boys in the space program too?") but I'm just not confident. Many other lines that William Broyles, Jr., used in his script -- notably Marilyn Lovell's diatribe against the news media -- "And if they don't like that, they can take it up with my husband. He'll be home on Friday" -- are in the book. So is Blanch Lovell's loquacity the truth, or does it represent Broyles' poetic license.

The book makes it clear that Marilyn Lovell never told Blanch that there was any trouble with Apollo 13 -- she didn't want to upset her mother-in-law, who had recently suffered a stroke. Blanch did indeed watch TV reports of the mission with Aldrin and Armstrong, but if such exchanges took place between them and her, or if the "warshing machine" quote had been uttered, I feel confident Lowell and Kluger would have included them in the book, as they are details that any journalist worth his salt, as I assume Kluger is, would include without hesitation. So I must come to the unfortunate conclusion that Blanch Lovell's dottiness is indeed license practiced by Broyles, Howard or someone else connected to the film. Given the other poetic and cinematic licenses taken in converting the book to a film, I have to come to this conclusion. Which is unfortunate. Because Blanch's lines are so memorable. They should have been said. But, alas, all the wishing in the world won't make it so.

This doesn't mean, of course, that I will stop saying "They said he was" in an old lady voice to my nephew Ben every time I can. Sorry, buddy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I'm Famous! On The Internet. Which Means Nothing.

It's entirely juvenile, but I'm proud to say I finally got a submission approved at fark.com. Monday, Dec. 8, will be a day I long remember when I recall the posting of this link to this funny news agglomerator:

"Obama talks, stocks up 300 points." Wait 'til he farts. (In the screen grab here, it's the first one down with the CNN logo.)

I did mention it's juvenile, right? Should I be proud that I've connected with the juvenile Internet meme? Probably not. But for all those people who have tried 60, 70, 100 times without getting a submission accepted, I can go even further down the juvenile path: Neener neener. This was but my fourth submission.

Fark.com for the uninitiated, by the way, is a place where people go to post eye-rolling examples of the "best" in journalism, society, commentary, technology, and whatnot. It's a great place to visit.

Liberal Weiner Whine-Fest Begins

(Photo stolen from unclejayexplains.com.)

Oh, the liberal Democrats are a funny bunch.

So eager are they to be rid of everything Bush – which to them represents the extreme right of the Republican Party – they’re criticizing President-Elect Obama for not immediately swinging the entire country to the extreme left which, in their eyes, is the best thing to do, even though, ahem, it might be a little extreme. They’re so eager for Obama to blunder into extreme politics that they don’t see they’re trying to push him down the same slippery slope they accuse Bush of sliding down gleefully over the past eight years.

I’m getting this reading “Liberals Voice Concerns About Obama” from CBS News this morning. Some of them look at Obama’s cabinet picks – about the biggest thing he’s been able to do since Nov. 4 – and see nothing but doom, gloom, and other words that end in “oom.”

“There don't seem to be any liberals in Obama's cabinet,” writes John
Aravosis, the editor of Americablog.com. “What does all of this mean for Obama's
policies, and just as important, Obama Supreme Court announcements?”

“Actually, it reminds me a bit of the campaign, at least the beginning and
the middle, when the Obama campaign didn't seem particularly interested in
reaching out to progressives,” Aravosis continues. “Once they realized that in
order to win they needed to marshal everyone on their side, the reaching out
began. I hope we're not seeing a similar ‘we can do it alone’ approach in the
transition team.”

I’ve got to say, props to the Obama team, which is trying, coyly, to tell the far liberal wing of the party that what they see as “going it alone” is actually an attempt at finding the right people for the right job, even if they don’t kowtow to that extreme liberal line.
“I think that when you ultimately look at what this advisory board looks like,
you'll say this is a cross-section of opinion that in some ways reinforces
conventional wisdom, in some ways breaks with orthodoxy in all sorts of way,”
Obama recently said in response to questions about his appointments during a
news conference on the economy.

What is even funnier is that they seem shocked, SHOCKED, that Obama is (whisper) a politician. They’re concerned he’s pulled away from promises or statements or hand gestures or whatever he made during the campaign to tell them in so many ways that the instant he was in the Oval Office, the Roto Rooters would follow. It’s as if they think extreme politics from the left is the best answer to extreme politics from the right, rather than trying a more commonsensical approach. But neither the extreme right nor the extreme left are known for their common sense. Both, rather, are known for an uncommon sense of entitlement, selfishness, entitlement and entitlement.

The central premise of the left’s criticism is direct - don’t bite the hand that
feeds, Mr. President-elect. The Internet that helped him so much during the
election is lighting up with irritation and critiques.

So, if I understand correctly, the Internet, which is a haven for pornographers, file-stealers, babbling, know-nothing bloggers (myself included), people who advocate the shaving of public hair on or before Jan. 20 to celebrate the disappearance of George W. Bush from the White House, and (say it in your best Gollum voice) lists, lists, lists, is where Barack Obama should look for continued wisdom, support, validation and the pulse of the coming generation.

If so, save us from the pulse of the coming generation. Don’t trust anyone under 30.

It’s good to see, however, that there is some hand-wringing going on, and that there may be a few on the far left willing to give their new hope a chance to actually get into office before they start complaining that they didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas:

“It's complicated,” said [Johnathan] Tasini [of workinglife.org], who
challenged Clinton for Senate in 2006. “On the one hand, the guy hasn't even
taken office yet so it's a little hasty to be criticizing him. On the other
hand, there is legitimate cause for concern. I think people are still waiting
but there is some edginess about this.”

That’s a view that seems to have kept some progressive leaders holding
their fire. There are signs of a struggle within the left wing of the Democratic
Party about whether it’s just too soon to criticize Obama -- and if there’s
really anything to complain about just yet.

Both the far right and the far left would do good to examine themselves for self-righteousness and, for the sake of the rest of us, learn to tone the bile and gleeful angst down a bit. And, certainly, keep their advocacy for pubic hair shaving in private, where it should be.

Chunking in Reverse

For the past semester, we’ve talked about the good and bad of chunking when it comes to creating digital documents in the digital media class I'm taking at Utah State. We’ve taken the tack that when writing from another medium is used on the Web, one needs to be careful that the text not be chunked wholesale from one medium to the other, because the web media may support different uses, users and such than the former media.

I absolutely agree with that.

I also agree with the opposite – that when texts are taken from the Web and are put into other media, they cannot be chunked wholesale. I’m finding this out as we at Uncharted work to take some of our web content – this is stuff that was originally written for the web – and begin working it into a printed book, a project we need to complete in the next few months to protect our broad copyright interests.

Chunking from Web to print isn’t just a matter of tweaking the text so what hyperlinks are there are omitted and the text augmented to explain what the hyperlinks offered. There are other matters to consider as well, including a lot of editing of the text to make it more palatable to a print audience. We know that the audience that buys books regards printed matter as much more “permanent” than text that exist on the Web, so as we look to move our texts from Web to print, we have to consider factors that affect a text’s permanence. So often in a web text, we refer readers to other websites, saying, “go here for the most current information.” We can’t do that in print. In print, with the audience we’re considering, we have to concentrate more on evocative, storytelling text than we do information on trip planning, because the printed version will be permanent, but static – frozen in time. The web content can be constantly updated at little to no cost. Not so with a book. So it’s been interesting to see how this works out.

In taking Web to print, we also have to consider how much Uncharted context to bring over. With the web site, if people want to know who we are, they can click on the “who we are” link and probably find too much information. We have to economize that kind of information in printed form. The Web site will have the context of many explorers sharing their photos, stories and adventures. The book, given its geologic proximity in Idaho, and the fact that only two authors, not many, are contributing, will paint a different picture of Uncharted if we do not consider how much context to bring over.

Firewood Bailout

Banks got a bailout. Wall Street firms got a bailout. Now the automobile industry wants a bailout.

I think it’s about time I got one.

But I don’t want money. I want firewood.

In years past, we’ve purchased our firewood from a log home manufacturer in Rigby for $15 a cord. We buy the oddball scraps that they’d otherwise pile up in their yard and burn. For years, the system worked well. We hauled about $50 worth of that wood a year home, and what we hauled was usually more than enough to get us through the winter.

Then last winter came. Long. Long. Long. First snows were in early October, and even by June the weather was still cold enough we couldn’t plant the garden. We used every bit of wood we had.

Then the economic downturn came. The log home place in Rigby slowed down on the number of log homes they were building – which meant the scrap wood we usually bought by the trailer load was much harder to come by. We got desperate, even hauling home tree branches they’d tossed onto their pile, and the debris from what looked like an office remodel. Then in August they put up a sign in front of their store: No more firewood until spring. Our wood pile wasn’t even half as big as it was last year. Help.

We did get some help. Because I was willing to manhandle about a cord and a half of firewood out of a basement in Driggs, the wood was ours. But it still makes for a rather pitiable pile next to the tool shed. For next winter, we may push ahead plans to remodel the deck on the back of the house, partly because it’s falling apart and partly because we could use its wood to feed next year’s fires.

Now, we’re not dependent on the wood stove for heat. We do have a gas furnace. But the wood is such an inexpensive fuel (and would be burned anyway by the log home folks) so it might as well get burned where the heat can do me some good.

So I’ll ask the Feds for a firewood bailout. They do own the national forests, after all.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I've been thinking a lot about selfishness this week (trying to figure out, once again, why I'm such a great guy) and came across this rather succinct description of selfishness from Aleksi Remizov's The Clock:

And to make live livable it was necessary to erect a temple for oneself and to believe in its impregnability, and neither to see nor feel anything else.

That's exactly what we do when we believe we're better than others -- when we believe that the others around us are objects, things to be acted upon, rather than people. We build up ourselves until we ans what we think and what we do (and what we think we do) are perfect, unassailable. Then we think of nothing else.

I guess we are pretty far from Edward Bellamy's idealized world, aren't we?

Yes, I've thought a lot about Edward Bellamy these past few weeks. I've often thought it would be a fascinating thing to live in a pre-Vietnam world (that's the era that turned the United States psyche sour, I believe) just to share, even for a little while, that unbridled optimism. Certainly, that was not a perfect world. If we could have had the desegregation movement without Vietnam, this might be a better place to live. But here I am one little man imagining changes in history that are way beyond his comprehension.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thanks, Napoleon

On a whim, I watched Napoleon Dynamite tonight. Made it a double-feature day, paired with Peter Weir's Master and Commander, which I watched earlier. (I know you don't care. Bear with me. But you do have to admit that's probably as mismatched a double feature as you've ever heard of.)

Napoleon Dynamite is just sooooo Eastern Idaho. Laid back nerds with delusions of grandeur. But like Uncle Rico and Kip (and, to a lesser extent, Napoleon) we find our own screwy, misfitted and, above all, local ways to pull ourselves out of the commonality and excel, even if it's only as the best Crapperware salesman in Preston.

I'm sure there are many who might regard living in a city like Preston -- a collection of just a few thousand souls, frankly, out in the middle of nowhere, even for Idaho. But I'd live there. I've lived in similar communities. Rexburg, for one, but i get the feeling that Preston is just a little bit more on the humble side than good ol' Rexburg. Idaho Falls has kind of that Preston vibe, even with it being a bigger city. But Preston. Good ol' Preston. Love driving through there now on the way to and from Logan, just to catch a glimpse of Big J's and the Pop'n'Pins Lanes.

Then there are those landscapes -- rolling hills, fields. Yeah, that's about it. Plus the juniper scrub and the doofy little forests in the folds of those hills, where the north wind can't get to. It just says home to me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bambi II -- the Revenge

I just finished reading one of those books that makes you feel happy and like a total jerk at the same time. It's Helen Hoover's The Gift of the Deer, which Terry Pratchett might describe as one of those "every creature his brother" situations in which Ridcully the Brown would fit as well as a Mormon in Rome.

Hoover's book features three generations of deer who find food, refuge, attacking hens and the dubious benefits of human companionship in the meadows and forests surrounding the remote Minnesota cabin Hoover and her husband Ade lived in during the 1960s. It's not as preachy as other "we can live with nature" books that I've read and, in one glaring way, goes against what I've learned about wild animals -- regularly feeding them near human habitation is not the smartest thing to do, because they become accustomed to humans, not all of whom are the nice "every creature his brother" type. But, I suppose, Hoover's novel does describe the "humans and animals living in peace and felicity" we can read about in other books, such as the Forgotten Door and, strangely enough, Doctrine and Covenants Section 77.

Hoover preaches against those who have injured animals put down for "reasons they call humane" -- yet is the indirect cause of the demise of four of the eight deer who share the meadow and the family's hospitality because they've become accustomed to humans and recognize too late the dangers of humans toting rifles.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading the book, nor would I mind repeating Hoover's experiences, but in an Edward Bellamy world, not necessarily our own.

A Few Christmas-Related Thoughts

Attended the kids’ annual Christmas Extravaganza at the high school last night. Nothing like watching a bunch of first-, second-, and third-graders dance to the Hava Nagaela and the driedl song, followed by Joseph and Mary wandering through the crowd followed by wise men and shepherds walking as if they were miniature grooms: left, together; right, together. And Joseph and Mary had a disco ball in the manger, which cast snowflakes (Snowflakes? In Palestine?) down upon them as the shepherds crowded in and the wise men kept a respectable distance befitting their status as bearers of what looked like ice cream tubs wrapped in shiny paper. A Josh Groban wannabe sang “Mary Did You Know,” a song, I’ve decided, is better sung by someone who takes a more subdued approach to the song. It’s not a song that calls for creschendos and lots of lilt and panache, but one that calls for a more humble approach, said the amateur music critic.

I should not be too negative, simply because I arrived on scene feeling as a negative-vibe merchant. The kids, obviously, worked hard, and our daughter took her role as a sheep very seriously. Our oldest, on the other hand, could have passed the whole evening sitting in the bleachers with Mom and Dad, especially when it came to the barf-inducing stage fright, which I thought was pretty extreme for a kid among a sea of kids who had to go out, beat on a drum with dozens of other drum-beaters, then wave it about as if he were casting some kind of voodoo spell. Not that I blame him. I remember that exact same feeling when I had to participate in similar programs in elementary school. Especially square dancing exhibitions. Same feeling I had today when I had to participate in a safety drill at work. Urghh.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

People as People, not Objects

I read two interesting books these past few weeks, books that really paint a picture of contrasts.

The first is Edward Bellamy's idyllic exploration of an American socialist utopia in Looking Backward, which I wrote about here.

The second is Aleksei Remizov's (pictured above) The Clock, which on one level I suppose you could chalk up as a typical Soviet indictment of western capitalism as the novel focuses on a family's financial and social deterioration after their clock shop falls on hard times. But in reading the novel, I feel Remizov's work trandscends the mundanity of East/West socioeconomic conflict and centerd squarely on the vain wishes and desires anyone might have or express when times are tough. Each character finds, however, that the escape hatches he or she envisions taking or takes represent only temporary respite from life's troubles not faced squarely.

Kostya Klotchkov, for example, decides he can erase the insults brought on by his crooked nose by obliterating time, which he sees as a burdensome taskmaster. In his task of winding the church clock, he sets it back an hour, then another hour, then breaks off part of the clock's big hand, all the time thinking he's become a benefactor to the city by stopping time's march.

Khristina Klotchkov, in another example, searches for that on emystical change, be it love, a purse of gold, the return of her husband from exile he imposed upon himself because of his business failure, as a way to stop the inexcorable closure of the family shop. She seems to do everything but figure out how to keep the shop open.

Then therea re others, Nelidov, who wallows in unrequitted love, Mr. Klotchkov senior, who hides in the simple pleasures of games and chocolates to avoid having to help his son and daughter-in-law save the shop he built, and a myriad of other characters who seek escape to nerw horizons in order to avoid the bitterness of the present.

Looking at the contrast between Bellamy's novel and that of Remizov, however, really cements in my mind the necessity of looking at people as people rather than as objects. Bellamy, in his novel, advocates looking at people as people, people to be loved, cared for, nurtured, employed as they desire and otherwise cared for. Remizov's novel paints people solely as objects -- especially in the minor character of Khristina's infant daughter, who only appears when Khristina is at her lowest, looking for affection and finding it there. Remizov's characters are all inherently selfish, while those of Bellamy are selfless.

Some might choose to paint Remizov as the realist and Bellamy as the dreamer, as the selflessness on a societal level that Bellamy paints in his novel seems out of reach in today's society. I find that attitude intriguing, especially in what purports to be a Christian nation, where the ethos of Christianity points us towards selflessness. Selfishness may indeed be the easiest societal route to take, but it causes us to look too inward for self-satisfaction ans self-righteousness that the Bible's talk of whited sepulchers warns us against. Remizov may be the realist, but I find more and more that realism is extremely cynical and denies that humanity can rise above the troubles of the day to find a nobler path.
Remizov, by the way, is an atypical Russian writer. Though he uses the typical Russian device of eliciting pity for his characters, he's also done some unorthodox writing, notably The Sacrifice -- which I'm trying to locate -- a gothic horror novel in which, according to Wikipedia, "a ghostly double of a father comes to kill his innocent daughter in the mistaken belief that she is a chicken." That's almost British sci-fi satirical, quite a leap for a staid Russian.