Saturday, August 30, 2008

Embarrassing Photo

As promised, an embarrassing photo from my childhood:

My oldest son holds his feet like I do in this picture. This is me, of course, sitting in the drivers seat of the first big rig Dad bought when I was a kid. He worked as a bricklayer, but thought it might be more fun to be a truck driver. After a few years, he went back to bricklaying. Yes, I am in my underwear, a common practice of mine at the time.

She Cops Out?!

Well that just wraps it up neat with a cute little bow on it, right? Yuck.

Sorry. My bets are that Grampa is dead. But since he didn't officially die -- though I suppose he could in Johnston's "retooling" of the strip -- I guess I"ll have to post that embarrassing photo from my childhood. That'll make a good Sunday post.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Good On Ya, McCain

John McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice-president is a shrewd one, for more reason than one.

First, the obvious: She's a woman. His choice shatters a glass ceiling in the Republican Party. She'll help get the campaign face-time from a journalistic world overrun by a need to see diversity in every corner of the globe. Maybe the cynic will say that his choice was made on her solely because she's a woman. I don't think McCain thinks that way.

Second: She's a contrast to McCain. He's the shrewd Washington political insider. She's a consummate outsider, in charge of a state far from the political spotlight. Perhaps some might consider that voting for the devil you know is the best thing to do, but then again, those who think like that aren't contrarian like I am.

Third: She's a complement to McCain. Both are regarded as political mavericks (more aobut her background in this Time article, willing to cross party lines to get good things done. That distinction helps set them apart from not only the Bush White House, but also the Democratically-controlled Congress which, if I remember correctly, has lower approval ratings than the most-hated Bush. Folks like me are tired of politics as usual. I like what McCain said about Palin: She can help him fight "me and politics as usual" in Washington -- meaning he recognizes that a contrasting view on politics and policy from someone like Palin will help him open his mind and keep himself thinking. Obama and Biden seem too much like peas in a pod to make that happen. I get the feeling that a McCain-Palin ticket will be better for bipartisanship than an Obama-Biden ticket.

Fourth: I like that her last name seems almost dwarfish.

Fifth: She was a journalism major at the University of Idaho, my alma mater. And, obviously, she, too, left journalism. That right there is enough to tell me she's smarter than the average bear.

I note in the CNN story that the Obama campaign was quick to pan Palin's lack of foreign policy experience. Pardon the pun, but for that to come from the Obama campaign, well, Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

Maudlining . . .

This is starting to feel like the death scene in a French movie. I still have four days, though, right?

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I buy a lot of used books. One of the pleasures, over the years, has been finding objects that people use as bookmarks in their books. More often than not, people read a book, then forget and leave their bookmark in it. The book sits on a shelf, then is whisked away and taken to the used book stores, where I buy them. I often try to figure out what kind of person would use a particular bookmark in a particular book. This one, however, has me baffled.

Here's the bookmark I found inside my copy of The Federalist Papers:

Perhaps someone is trying to make a comment on how the three authors of the Federalist Papers tried to lay bare the Constitution. The world may never know.

How I Write

Ah, class has begun. Today, a soliloquy on how I write. Since it's written in the way I write, it makes no sense at all.

Last year, I read “The Trial,” a novel by Franz Kafka. Though it’s called a novel, it is in fact incomplete. Kafka completed part of the novel before he died, but left behind as well many fragments that, for years, scholars have argued over, trying to determine where they might fit into Kafka’s narrative. In the edition I read, the editor collected these fragments as well as the completed portion of the novel, and arranged them as most scholars believe they were intended to be ordered by the original author. As I read the novel and the fragments, I saw a writer who approaches fiction writing pretty much the same way I approach it – starting with an idea, an image, a quote, a situation, and then building out from that seed until a section or a chapter of the novel is finished. Like Prof. Hailey, I’m exploring. I think of it as a penicillin mold growing from several spots of varying sizes on a Petri dish – they don’t necessarily come together uniformly, but they come together in a manner that connects each spot and, on the whole, creates an interesting pattern of randomness and order.

I’ve also used this approach to create some multimedia texts for the Uncharted website – dabbling in creating web videos to tell the same kind of story I’m trying to tell with text alone.

I ramble (obviously). I rarely outline. I’m currently working on a fiction novel, and the most outlining I’ve done is to plan, five chapters ahead, what each chapter will focus on. I tend to let my fiction writing grow organically, like penicillin. I stew over it. At the same time I’m a rapid prototyper – I like to bang out a piece of writing, then re-write, re-write and re-write until it works. I set it aside, then re-read it and re-write it. Some portions are perfect, in my view. Others need help. So I keep stewing.

Most of my professional career has been spent in journalism, where such “penicillin writing” as discussed earlier works in some cases (where narrative or storytelling is called for), but not in all. For most of what I wrote for the papers, I used another metaphor – the inverted pyramid, a style which commands journalists to structure their stories in a way that presents the most important information first, with importance diminishing as the story gets longer. But again, these stories were rarely written in a linear fashion. I tend to start at the beginning, but if the last bit I write is in the middle, that’s okay. Things eventually fit together like a puzzle. Sometimes the prototype goes through a few iterations. Sometimes, depending on deadline, it does not. I have noticed that the quality of writing does not necessarily increase as the number of iterations increases. Some things I bang out, I think, work fairly well with only minor tinkering. Other things, however, call for the bone saws.

Now I write procedures used to process and package radioactive waste, using linear and looped approaches to make sure every little piece fits together in a way that makes logical sense. Still, portions of the procedure grow and are then merged with other portions, in ways that make for a randomly-patterned whole that works perfectly for its intent. But since there can’t be any gaps in logic, these are more tightly-structured than a penicillin piece. These are more like Lego bricks, perfectly interlocking so that no holes are left. I admit to some outlining here, because there are certain tasks that have to be achieved and in a certain order. But again, the outline is sparse, not detailed. The procedure I’m the most proud of is one that I wrote as I worked with operators on the equipment, as they figured out how best to use it.

Prof. Hailey writes that “Different genres call for different metaphors.” I have found, however, that different genres don’t necessarily make me write differently, sometimes to my detriment, but mostly in ways that are successful.

Going . . .

It's red herring time . . . with a touch of foreshadowing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Grampa Death Watch

Going . . .

By the way, Liam, our eight-year-old, caught his first fish last night, fishing with the Cub Scouts at the Rexburg Nature Park. He was ecstatic. And Dad, being the quick-witted individual that he is, FORGOT to get out the camera to take a picture of said event. So I have failed and will obviously be returned to the Daddy Store as damaged goods. I was pleased, however, that Liam kept hollering "catch and release," just like Ernest does in "Ernest Rides Again," so some of his Daddy has rubbed off on him.

Speaking of fishing, it seems Lexie has the same patience for it that Dad does: None whatsoever. My fishing philosophy revolves around that of comedian Stephen Wright's: "There's a fine line between fishing and standing on the shreo looking like an idiot." I typically fall into the idiot category.

Oh Asterix, He Called Me Fatty

So. Which one do you feel like today?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is Grampa Dead?

You "For Better or for Worse" fans out there might have some speculation here. Is grampa going to die soon, or is he already dead? Here's today's strip:

Personally, I'm thinking Elizabeth gets one last visit with grampa, then he's gone. Why not wrap the poignancy of the Anthony/Elizabeth wedding with the bitterness of death? Now I know how those fans of soap operas feel when somebody they know is about to buy the farm.

If I am wrong, I will personally post here an embarassing photo from my childhood. I give him a week at the most, in comic strip time. Stay tuned.

From One Olympiad to Another

One of the things I enjoy most about being a technical writer is that it means I’m no longer a newspaper writer. Being a technical writer means I’m part of a club of writers who fidget and fussbudget about getting things right without necessarily marrying ourselves to the rightness of what we produce. Fact is fact. Argument, even, must be supported by fact. The facts we deal with are rarely nebulous. In journalism, however, while we occasionally juggle such non-nebulous facts, we’re more often called on to wrestle with the nebulous “facts” that are, in fact, opinions of those who hold them to be facts. As I look back on the failings of my journalism career, I can see that it was juggling these various areas of “truthiness” that burned me out. I wasn’t the journalist I wanted to be, and realized that what I wanted to be I didn’t want to be any more. So I got out.

That brings me to this: Jon Stewart’s skewering of the media as a minor warm-up act to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

What he says, I have to agree with. Too many reporters are on that gerbil wheel when it comes to news coverage, any coverage at all. I know. I used to be on that wheel, inuring myself to the squeak-squeak of the wheel’s wire fittings. This is not to say, however, that there aren’t fabulous journalists out there who are far from the wheel as possible, but are rather scooting through the tubes and tunnels of the Greater Gerbil Playland. I am saying I’m not one of those journalists. I am saying there are plenty of journalists like the journalist I was, just stuck on that wheel, either unwilling or unable to recognize that they’re on that wheel, running, running.

I’m also saying this – too many (like the reporter here at CNN) believes he or she is not that type of journalist. It’s the “other” journalists that are on that wheel. Not me. The others. THE OTHERS. I can stand aside with Jon, wryly observing their futile journeys, while I am off in those tubes, scurrying about, doing better things. (There is another journalist specie I should touch on here: The ex-journalist, happy to be out of the industry and self-righeous about his or her exit. I mention this for obvious reasons.)

Mr. Stewart knows where he is, vis-à-vis the candidates’ use of his show: “Even as Stewart shredded reporters for, in his estimation, getting too cozy with and used by political candidates, he readily admitted that candidates flock to his show to attract his much sought after younger audience. ‘It's just one part of their sales pitch,’ he said.” But the smug journalists (I was one of them, I know) say, “See! Even Jon gets used! He’s on the wheel! Sqeeek squeek squeek!” Not so, folks.

Bah. I think they say it best in Fiorello!: “Politics and poker, politics and poker! Deal out the cards and find the joker!” (This may not be an actual quote, but it in harmony with the son’g message. Finding a quote on the Internet has proven difficult; obviously they don’t want the lyrics to fall into enemy hands. Anyone with a correct quote is welcome to help me out here.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Olympian Fatigue

I, for one, am glad the 2008 Olympics are over.

Not that I watched them much. Not that I watched them at all. I knew enough of them from randomly-gathered news bits to know that Michael Phelps is a phenomenal swimmer, footage of the opening ceremony was augmented in spots, a Jamaican named Bolt broke the record in the 100-meter dash and various teams and individual athletes got chided either for posing in “slant-eye” pictures of for wearing masks.

I’m still glad they’re over. That means I don’t have to hear incessant rabbiting about one other thing: How the USA counts medals as compared to how the rest of the world counts medals. I don’t care that China won more gold medals. I don’t care that, overall, the USA won more medals of any metallic form. I don’t care that people got arrested or detained in China for protesting this or that, or that many people were rolling their eyes at the protesters – specifically the American ones – because protest or not, practically everything we buy is made in China. I’m just glad the Olympics are over.

The Olympics: International sport only thinly veneered over international jingoism. True, there are those athletes who can rise above the politics and simply excel at the sports they love. But everyone at home (and it doesn’t matter if that home is in the US, Britain, China, Australia or wherever) gets the Olympics only through that veneer, no matter how schmaltzy the coverage might get in bragging about heroes, moms, dreams and apple pie.

Truth be told, I expect there to be scandal at the Olympic Games. I look back at 2002, when the Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is so squeaky-clean in the eyes of many that no one could believe the organizers were involved in that old game of bribery and glad-handing and general monkey-shining. When you’re talking about money and sports and national prestige, there will come the flies to the ointment.

So the US media gets all self-righteous about the overall medal count. So the British media gets all self-righteous about the self-righteous Americans. The birds still sing, the brooks still babble, and the King is still a fink.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

Oh, Have We Got A Video?

am a nerd and created another video. Another tomorrow, because I'm that kind of guy.

The story that relates to this video is here.

The "Egouts de Paris" video is still going strong in Brazil. Don't know what they see in it, but it's getting some traffic our way. That's good.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Going Viral

My wife, of course, is flattered. And we at Uncharted now welcome our new Brazilian overlords.

Several weeks ago, I created a video for Uncharted, showing off a tour my wife and I took of the Paris Sewers (you can read about it here). We also posted the video on YouTube, in Uncharted’s channel. It languished there for a long time, trailing in popularity behind an Uncharted fishing video.

No longer. Something called the Weshow picked up the video and it’s now a minor hit in Brazil, of all places. On the 19th alone, more than 240 people watched it. That’s not a lot of eyeballs, but it’s the most eyeballs on an Uncharted video to date. Now I wish the site were updated so people in Brazil could start submitting. I also wish there hadn’t been a glaring typo in one of the captions. But wish in one hand and spit in the other, is what Grandpa Speirs always used to say.

So we’ll keep track of the video over the next few days. Hopefully, it remains popular. You never know.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Life, or: How I Learned to Live With Absurdity, and the Consequences of Such

Just finished reading Fail-Safe, a rather interesting book by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. It’s a Cold War-era book in which an accidental nuclear strike on Moscow results in the American President ordering nuclear bombs be dropped on New York City. A move based on the film was produced at about the same time as Dr. Strangelove, so I’ve had a hard time not imagining President Merkin Muffley in the lead role in this book. Peter Sellers did such a wonderful job, portraying the calm and level-headedness of the president in Strangelove. The more I think about it, his role as Muffley is actually more impressive than his role as Strangelove, though it’s Strangelove that everyone remembers.

It’s odd to think about Fail-Safe, though. Apparently, it was written by writers who were also political consultants (in many ways, resembling the Groteschele character in Fail-Safe). That being said, the book really isn’t filled with flights of literary fancy; the matador dream of Col. Black is probably the closes the authors get. They still write a tight, gripping tale, though, where the only clunkiness comes when the story is interrupted for exposition on the characters’ backgrounds. Again, given the authors’ background in consultancy, that approach is understandable; it’s also an approach taken by many authors of various veins, some are just able to make the exposition be less obtrusive than others. (The ultimate here is probably Tolkein, but that again may be cheating since he used an entire book, The Silmarillion, as exposition for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. A better alternative may be C.S. Lewis and others of his ilk, who look at exposition as more of a how-do-you-do handshake, rather than an excuse to pound out page after page of expository prose.)

There are some parallels between the underlying distrust-of-machines philosophy in this book as in Metropolis. The authors of Fail-Safe don’t necessarily hate machines (or, in this case, electronics) but they certainly emphasize that an overreliance on technology that is believed to be infallible and foolproof is foolhardy. Both books emphasize that the pace of technological advance may be outstripping humanity’s moral and ethical ability to handle how technology is used, and that some technology is pursued and adopted into our lives and industries merely for the sake of the technology itself, with the perceived benefits to humanity often outweighing the effects such advance can have on our moral and ethical beings.

Then comes the debate: Are morals and ethics absolutes, or are they debatable? Is the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” or is it “Thou Shalt Not Kill Without Cause?” I know where I stand on this one.

I do like how Burdick and Wheeler put it (from page 72):

“The more speculative of the missilemen, the eggheads among them, had also discovered an unofficial poet laureate: Albert Camus. Camus, who had understood fully the futility and the antic and the senselessness of much of modern life, had also, in a perverse way, found the principle and the will which allowed him to live through the awful stresses of the French underground during World War II. Like Camus, the missilemen had learned to live seriously in a world which was absurd.”

Sometimes that ability to live in an absurd world is of great benefit to those who possess it. In other instances, however, the ability dulls the natural human instincts and the ability to see reason. Burdick and Wheeler pick up on this ability to live normally in absurd situations throughout the novel, concentrating on how military training persuaded those who got the “go” code for the attack on Moscow to live normally, even though they received a direct voice communication from the president to abort their mission. They live normally when they become irradiated by the last defensive attempts of the Soviets to knock their planes out of the air, claiming to be the walking dead. They carry out their mission amidst absurdity, bringing to pass the ultimate attempt to live normally in an absurd world of politics, when both the president and the Soviet premier agree that destroying New York is the only way to react to the destruction of Moscow, though, both admit, neither know how their countrymen will react.

I think all of us live lives that accept a certain amount of absurdity. I think we do ourselves good when we examine how we live, to ensure that the way we live isn’t allowing greater and greater absurdity to be acceptable.

Note: The photo at the top of this post shows Larry Hagman as Buck, the president's translator, and Henry Fonda as the president, from the 1964 film based on the book.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Uncharted Again! Until School Starts, of Course

Sneaking up on Old Faithful

Spend extra time exploring the fascinating landscape around this venerable Yellowstone monument, and your time at Old Faithful will be more meaningful.

As my family waited in line for ice cream, I sat next to The Grump.

“I’d much rather be in New Mexico, Arizona, or Utah,” he said to the woman next to him. She flapped open her copy of USA Today, read earnestly. “I’ve been here three times,” he added. “Don’t know that anyone could ever talk me into coming back here again.” The woman muttered behind her paper. “Just look around,” he said. “Nothing to see here. I’m never coming back.”

I sat in my chair next to The Grump, contemplating the last few hours. Yes, we were sitting in chairs in front of a snack bar and souvenir shop, amidst a sea of automobiles and herds of slightly cranky humanity. Yes, there are more impressive vistas aside from the low, rolling hills to the northeast, the only vista unobscured by lodgepole pines and row after row of rented recreational vehicles. The place, I had to agree, felt more like a shopping mall than a national park.

But we’d just seen Old Faithful spew its quota of boiling water, only four minutes off schedule. We’d shared lunch with a curious, courageous finish which descended to our picnic table to filch cheese puffs. We’d exchanged e-mail addresses with a couple from Long Island whose digital camera battery petered out minutes before Old Faithful blew, so we could send them pictures we took as we sat next to them.

And, on my umpteenth visit to the Old Faithful area, I saw things I’d never seen before.

My wife and kids arrived with the ice cream, our youngest already sporting a chocolate goatee. I left The Grump with his baggage and reading companion on the rocking chairs in front of the snack bar. We enjoyed our ice cream. And, on the way out of the parking lot, we saw a coyote. Another first.

Folks like The Grump are common as crows at Old Faithful, the most visited spot in the most visited national park in the nation. They’re the ones you hear, from the back of the crowd, saying things like “Is that all the higher it goes” as Old Faithful blows. They refuse to take pictures because “the water was a lot higher the last time I was here.”
Then, Old Faithful finished, they stomp off to their vehicles, apparently anxious to keep their vacations on schedule.

They’re missing a lot.

There’s a lot more to Old Faithful than Old Faithful – and, cynicism aside, I’m still impressed every time I see Old Faithful go off, knowing that the natural mechanics beneath my feet have kept this geyser chugging nearly on schedule for who knows how long. Taking just a few steps away from the photo-snapping masses on the plastic boardwalk to the south of Old Faithful will give this venerable stop on any Yellowstone trip a different flavor.

The Trail: For our visit in 2008, we took the 0.7-mile loop trail that goes to the north of Old Faithful. First time for me. I never knew the Firehole River ran so close to Old Faithful. Our six-year-old daughter spent a lot of time observing a boiling pool right at the foot of the boardwalk, its waters steaming and flowing into the river below. “Is that all hot water,” she asked, staring wide-eyed at the river. Dozens of questions ensued, ranging from why the rocks are white where the water doesn’t flow, but orange where rivulets from the geysers and hot pools trickle to the river. Weeks later, we’re still finding answers for her. She’s anxious to go back. So am I. The trail offers views of Old Faithful just as spectacular as the boardwalk to the south, but with far fewer people crowding the edge for views and pictures. The trail is also an excellent place to pass the time waiting for Old Faithful to blow, especially if you’ve got kids with you. The kids can look at all the other features along the trail until Old Faithful is ready to do its thing.

The Inn: The Old Faithful Inn is as ubiquitous as Old Faithful itself, but fewer people visit it than the geyser. That’s a shame. This delightful building – the largest single log-built structure in the world – is marvelous. Natural light streams into the lobby from windows four, five stories up, illuminating the naturally-twisted and sculpted pine logs that make up the building’s staircases, railings and other folderol. Our kids raced up the stairs, forgetting that on the walk to the inn from the loop trail, they were all bone-weary, ready to be carried. For the first time, I went out onto the inn’s second-floor balcony, which offers a view of Old Faithful, but through a sea of heads of other observers.

Next Time: For our family, there’s always a next time for Yellowstone. True, we live only three hours southwest of the park, so it’s an easy day trip for us. Next time, we plan to make the 2.1-mile hike to Observation Point, a 250-ft hill overlooking Old Faithful, to watch the eruption from there (our eight-year-old desperately wanted to make the hike this time, but his tired four-year-old brother just couldn’t do the journey). The time after that, we plan to bring our bicycles and make a grand tour of the dozens of major geysers and pools in the Old Faithful area (Seeing them all would take some time indeed; there are more than 200 of them). And the time after that, we’ll find something else to do. There’s enough to keep us finding new things for years to come.

Take that, Grumpy.

What to bring: Time. Lots of time. If you’re fortunate enough to live close enough to the park to make frequent visits a reality, it’s best to savor one area of the Old Faithful basin at a time. For those who have traveled a far distance to come to the park, plan on at least a day at Old Faithful, and then again, only an hour at the geyser itself. With at least two dozen major geysers and springs within two miles of Old Faithful, there’s plenty to see. These National Park Service interactive maps will help you explore what the Old Faithful/Biscuit Basin area has to offer.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Uncharted Shilling Like You've Never Seen Before

Wyoming’s Jenny Lake is Picture-Perfect for Ponderers

Of all the novels I’ve started writing but haven’t finished, I like the one that ends at Jenny Lake the best.

In this story, a man ravaged by the trials of life has lost his regular vision and is forced to see the world as though through flames of sticky, watery, fire that coalesce and distort the objects and people he most wants to see. At the end of the story, as he despairs whether he will be able to see normally again, he visits the shores of Jenny Lake with his family, a dying wish, for at the lake, once his family has gone to bed that night, he plans to kill himself. But as he watches his young son wade in the waters of the lake, leaping onto boulders and chasing minnows in the shallows over the coarse sand, an oval of his vision around his son begins to clear. As he concentrates on watching his son play – watching him enjoy the present, with no thoughts for the future or the past – his vision clears completely, and for the first time in years, he is able to see.

The book may never be written. The story may not even be good. But Wyoming’s Jenny Lake is still a favorite place of mine to contemplate, imagine, and, yes, watch my children frolic in the clear, cool waters of the present.

Jenny Lake lies on the east of the Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. Since glaciers carved this lake, two miles wide, about a mile long and about 260 feet deep at its deepest point, its shores and bottom are not muddy. Especially on the east, the lake shore is a pleasant mix of coarse sand, gravel and tumbled rock. Some of the larger rocks lie above or just at the water’s surface, providing stepping stones for a pleasant game of leapfrog to waders. When the weather’s hot – eighty degrees or so – the cool waters of the lake feel just fine.

More pleasant is to sit on one of the rocks, feet on the sandy bottom, as you watch the lake’s innumerable minnows swim in the water, darting over your submerged feet, sharing the same few cubic inches of water.

The lake is rimmed with forest, mostly of pine and quaken aspen, though a few cottonwoods thrive closest to the shore. The trees are filled with birds who trill and chirrup as we splash in the water. Bold finches and ravens aren’t bothered by our presence, perching on branches or waddling or hopping up paths as we swim or wander. One of the cottonwoods, however, appears to belong to a rather feisty chipmunk, who screeched and twitched his tail at us for a good fifteen minutes after we arrived.

The Tetons rise practically from the lake itself on the west, making for early sunsets as the bulk of the mountain elevates the horizon high into the sky. Even from the east side of the lake, it’s easy to see forests, boulder fields, snow fields and other features on the mountains. Inviting as well is Cascade Valley, a significant dip between two mountains at the lake’s midpoint. A tw-mile hike around the western shore of the lake brings you to that valley and two points of interest: Hidden falls, an 80-foot waterfall, and Inspiration Point, which offers views of the lake.

On past hikes on that trail, I’ve seen deer and been within minutes of a bear that ambled across the trail. Be aware this is wild country where animals are the owners. We humans are visitors, invited back to nature to see what we’ve forgotten.

History: Jenny Lake is named for Jenny Leigh, a Shoshoni Indian wife of Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh, a Englishman who built himself a reputation as a skilled guide and mountain man on both the Idaho and Wyoming sides of the Tetons. The couple acted as a guide to a Federal government survey of the Yellowstone and Teton areas in 1872, shortly before then-President Theodore Roosevelt declared Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park. Lake Leigh to the north of Jenny Lake is named for Richard Leigh himself.

What to bring: Sturdy hiking shoes, binoculars, a picnic lunch, sound recorder and camera, swimming suits, sandals, towels, sunscreen and a lot of time. There’s enough at Jenny Lake to keep even the most antsy busy, and enough quiet there to keep the thoughtful thinking.

(You're in luck, folks -- What a day trip we had this weekend. With some minor picture difficulty, which I should have sorted out this evening.)

Update: The picture plague problem appears to be fixed.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Only a Tech Writer (or English Major) Would Notice. . .

As I was shaving this morning, I noticed the following instructions on my Barbasol Ultra Gel shaving cream:

Directions: Wash face with warm water. Leave wet. Hold upright and press top to release gel.

I'm unclear on the antecedent. The only time I've had gel come out of my face when I held it upright and pressed its top was when I had sudden relief from a severe sinus blockage. I'm not sure I'd use that gel to shave my face.

The following, by the way, was tacked on after the "directions," because, by the looks of things, they didn't want to use a larger font to help their existing, comical text fill the space available:

High tech, his touch Barbasol (R) Ultra may cause a severe increase in attention, compliments and confidence.

Let's take those nouns one by one:

Attention. The only time I get attention in relation to my shaving gel is when I haven't used it for a few days.

Compliments. They're usually in the form of "Don't you feel better not looking like a Sasquatch?"

Confidence. Usually counterbalanced by the blob of foam I leave near my ear, where the foam dries out makes me look as if I've got a boil.

The advertising copy, I suppose, I can forgive. But please don't make me shake my head to produce my own shaving gel.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Of all the things I saw in France but didn't get to bring home with me, this is the one I regret the most: A venerable Citroen 2CV. I spotted this one at an apartment complex in Perigueux, sometime in late 1990. Just looking at most of the examples I saw, I could tell people had great pride in these little machines. Almost every one I saw was immaculately clean, painted and polished. I really wanted to bring one home, but being penniless, the closes I could come was this picture. (Had the photographer been paying attention, I would have had two 2CVs in the picture; as it is, I get 1 1/2.)

Bitter disappointment: I never got to ride in one. I was nearly run over by one. Maybe that qualifies.

Now the 2CV is celebrating its 60th anniversary, according to the BBC. Wish I were back in France for the party.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

QWERTY Keyboard Fun

Virtue. Virtue. Virtue virtue vurtue. That word is FUN to type. Now I know why the Republicans bandy it about all the time. What other words are fun? Climax. Because of the X, obviously. Obviously is not fun. It takes a lot of typing to pound out an obviously. The best name to type is Fred. Fred. Fred. Fred. All four letters just right there in a cute little cube on the keyboard. Frederick, almost as fun, and almost as quick. Jeffrey. In the same league, but not with the ease of Fred, or even Frederick. Acetylsalicyclic acid. A long word, and almost fun, except for that far-away, orphaned L. Smoke. Or the Bill Cosby derivative, smoboke. Smoboke is easier to type, because of that bridging B. Smoke, well, it’s all right.

Now some phrases.

“The extremely decent Miss Malone.” Not so much fun.
“Visions of werewolves dancin’ in my noggin.” Again, not so much fun.
“Rats live on no evil star.” As Lenny from “The Simpsons” would say, “Gettin’ better.”
“Well, come on in, Simpson. Perhaps I can find something to scald you with.” Not easy at all on the fingers, C. Montgomery Burns.
“Now it’s over, I’m dead and I haven’t done anything that I want, or I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do.” Urrgh. No way in heaven, TMBG.

I’ll have to keep working on phrases. They’re not as compact as words. (The preceding sentence brought to you by the Well Duh! Institute of Sugar City, Idaho.)

Yay! More Uncharted!

Visiting Idaho’s Hidden Falls

Here’s the deal: Finding Fall Creek Falls in Bonneville County, Idaho, isn’t the easiest thing to do if you’ve never been there. But once you find them, once you feel the mist floating through the ordinarily dry air and see the Snake River winding through that shag carpet of greenery sixty feet below your feet, you’ll never forget where the falls fall.

I drove right past the falls the first time through and had to do the ultimate in Guy Humiliation – stop and ask directions. But heading back was worth it. Going from east to west, you can see the falls – ribbons of water tumbling down to the river – through the pine and quaken aspen boughs; they’re just not visible going west to east.

The falls are often called Idaho’s hidden falls – they’re not readily visible, as I mentioned, from the east and are, in fact, even a bit hard to see even when you’re practically standing on top of them. They’re not visible at all from the other side of the river – the river here is at least a half-mile wide, interrupted by islands populated with rather tall cottonwoods. The falls are most often seen from the river, and then only from the two channels closest to the falls.

They’re worth finding. From one small creek that rushes out of a sloping valley that hangs practically on the river’s edge, the falls divide into ribbons of white water, splashing over formations of travertine rock to tumble onto travertine-coated basalt a the bottom, sixty feet below. The falls have one major fall, decorated on both sides by a multitude of smaller ribbons.

The travertine rock may look a little dirty and nondescript (indeed, I thought it was simply carefully-layered mud until I hit my head on an outcropping) but considering it’s the same type of stone that the architects of the Taj Mahal at Agra, India, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris, and the rock formations at Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, beauty lies in what is not on the surface. The rock is formed from calcium that precipitates out of the water. Big hunks of the cliff have fallen as the falls and river erode the rock below. The fallen rock has exposed cavities in the rock, which swallows and other local birds use as nests. As we sat on the cliff edge, watching the water, the birds darted into and out of their holes behind and below us, amazing our kids with their stunt flying. At times, it looked like they were going to crash, as the holes they were aiming for were visible only to them.

The jagged cliffs make for easy climbing – the only way to get to the base of the falls if you haven’t arrived by boat.

And plenty of people do arrive by boat. During the hour we climbed the cliffs and watched the falls, about half a dozen boats and rafts came and went. We never did spot the family we could hear hooting and hollering from the rocks below, as the falls spread over about thirty feet of cliff, including part we couldn’t get to through the thick brush that lines the creek’s northern edge.

If you get tired of looking at the falls, look at the river. It meanders through the valley in both directions, dominating the landscape. Its shores and islands are dotted with cottonwood trees, forming one of the largest cottonwood forests in the world.

Getting there: From Idaho Falls (or Jackson, Wyoming, if you’re coming from the other direction) travel on U.S. Highway 26. Either way, you’re looking for the bridge that crosses the Snake River just a few miles from where the highway descends into the Conant Valley from the west. On the south side of the river, just before the highway crosses on the bridge, there’s a gravel road that squeezes between the river and the cliffs, heading east. Take that road for about a mile or so, until the road crosses a small creek. Immediately after crossing the creek, pull into the pullout on your left. Walk up one of the trails from the pullout to the cliff’s edge, and you’ll see Fall Creek Falls.

What to bring: Lunch; this is a good spot for a picnic. Binoculars; the area around the falls is a popular fishing spot with the local birds of prey. Sturdy shoes and a swimsuit; The falls are popular with bathers, but the only way down to the falls from the top is to clamber down a travertine cliff. We did the first leg with three small children and a wiener dog quite easily. Once at the bottom, enjoy splashing in the pools that form at the falls’ base, or in the river itself, which eddies into a small cove at the falls’ feet. You can also stand under the falls themselves. Be careful of the river channel itself, especially in springtime. The Snake is notorious for undercurrents and fast water that can take even an experienced swimmer by surprise.

Trivia: When you stand at the top of the falls, you’re standing at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level – exactly one mile.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Metropolis, or 222 Pages of "Huh?"

Once and a while, when I’m poking around at Deseret Industries looking for new used books to read, I stumble across one that’s considered, in some ways, to be a classic. As I try to expand my reading repertoire, I try to read these classics just to add to the base of useless cultural knowledge my brain possesses.

This time around, it was Metropolis, by Thea Von Harbou. I’m familiar with the movie on which this book was based (People try to tell me it’s the other way around, but as I understand it, the genesis is like this: The book is based on the film screenplay, which was produced before the book came out. So it’s kind of like 2001, with the chicken coming after the egg). I’ve seen parts of the movie and, frankly, was pretty bored by it. I think people get off on it because it’s a “first” – the first major science fiction movie. Fine. But that doesn’t stop the film from being dull. The story is dull. The book is dull. Yes, there are themes – oddly, that men seem to be driven to overthrowing oppressive tyrannies not by the glimpse of the poor guttersnipes who live in the subterranean worlds below or through experiencing the bone-wearyingness of the workaday Joe in the blue linens and sockless hard shoes, but by chance encounters with beautiful women. A romantic notion, that, but hardly convincing. (There’s also the theme of running back to Mommy for approval or approbation, as we see in the character of Joh Fredersen; kind of reminds me of the Iron Hans myth, but, oddly, in reverse.) Also, the theme of the hands and the brain needing a moderator, the heart. I get it. But I'm a little fuzzy as to how Freder is going to act as the heart/moderator, as he and Maria insist he will act. You don't act as a moderator simply because you're a rebel to the system. Josaphat and Georgi were also rebels, but no one asked them to moderate. Von Harbou fails to explain, in my opinion, what makes Freder all that special, other than that he's one of the Sons, and that his Daddy created the city and orders it destroyed so Freder can pursue the woman he loves. Love is a strong motivator, but tell that to Stalin or Hitler and watch them turn over the keys to the country . . .

I do appreciate that Rotwang is the prototype mad scientist, living in seclusion, ignoring or ignorant of the consequences of the machines and devices he has created, because he seems a prototype of the 20th century’s worst tyrants, including Stalin and Hitler (the latter, I understand, was a big fan of the film Metropolis). But throughout the book, the characterizations are so flat, it’s hard to see what motivates them to action, outside of the love (platonic) of a woman, be it robot, real, or Mama.

The writing is also odd. The style is cluttered, with some incomplete sentences flying into the text, leaving me to read them several times over and not getting much sense out of them. Von Harbou also tends to repeat herself, word-for-word, in description and metaphor, which, in some instances, is a good literary trick, but in this case it resembles only the boilerplates of the machines the comically-marching workers loathe (except for Grot, though, he being the only character who showed any three-dimensionality, even though, like the text, he’s repetitive). The back-cover blurb compares Von Harbou’s writing style to that of Ray Bradbury. Hardly. Bradbury is light years ahead of Von Harbou in knowing the rules and, more importantly, knowing how and when to break them for best effect. I think I’m particularly struck by the absence of good description of this metropolis where the story takes place; throughout the book, I had a hard time trying to create a mental picture of the city, and the individual places Von Harbou describes. I appreciate it when authors aren’t riveters, leaving some information to be filled in by the reader, but some, as in this case, take that too the extreme, leaving the description too much to the imagination. Even Rotwang’s house is difficult for me to describe; that may be remedied by another few readings, but I doubt it.

What makes the biggest difference, however, is that for me, sometimes great characterization can help me overcome other shortcomings, because I can concentrate on the character, which in many cases helps me more strongly elicit setting. But if both setting and characterization are weak, it’s harder for me to form a picture. This is good stuff for me to keep in mind as I work on my own writing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Batching It, Part II

I mentioned in an earlier post that I spent a fair part of this last weekend on my own, watching my kids while Michelle was away at a three-day Scout campout/training seminar. We had a lot of fun, the kids and I. Needless to say, with the entertainment left up to me, some interesting things took place. Including this YouTube video.

Needless to say, the kids (who found this video on their own after I let them watch the Lego version of Weird Al's "White and Nerdy" video) think this video is a laugh riot. Needless to say even more than that is that this video played highly in their Lego play afterward, including WHEN THEIR MOTHER WAS HOME. So even more needless to say, I'm in trouble, and am having to spend a lot of time explaining to the kids why this video is not funny, and am having about as much success at that as Harvey Korman had staying in character when Tim Conway was in the mood to cut up on the old Carol Burnett Show.

I am a guy. What can I say?

Elementary School Memories, Now that I Have Kids in Elementary School

This fall, a weird thing is going to happen – all three of our children will be in school. Sure, Isaac will only be in pre-school three days a week, but he’ll still be in school. Michelle will have actual free time at home without any children bothering her, unless I stay home from work.

The family is growing up, and the time has sure gone by fast. Won’t be much longer and we’ll have teenagers in the house. I thought I was gobsmacked when Liam became a Cub Scout, so I know there’s no way I’m ready for the teenager thing.

Speaking of Cubs, Liam is close to achieving something I didn’t do at his age: Earning his Wolf Badge. Admittedly, we’ve pushed him along, something I wish my folks had done at that age, to urge me to achieve more. It’s not like earning the badge is a difficult thing, it just takes a little cajoling, conversation and some good record-keeping. Sine my most vivid Cub Scout memory revolved around getting nailed in the head with a 3-wood at the Joos’ house during a Scout activity, perhaps I can be forgiven in that my enthusiasm for Scouting was at a low ebb then. That was also the era of the Forced Piano Lessons (which Liam and Lexie are also doing, but with much more cheer and aplomb than I ever exhibited). They may indeed turn into the teens I see at church who sheepishly agree to play hymns. Or they may go totally Goth on us and want to paint their bedrooms black. Not likely for Lexie. Black doesn’t have enough pink or purple in it, nor is the color really conducive to ballet dancing.

But back to the school thing. Liam will be a mighty third-grader; Lexie will be in first grade. I’m not old enough to have kids in these grades. I still remember when I was this old:

First Grade, the northwest corner of the auxiliary building at Lincoln Elementary. Teacher was Mrs. King whom, as I recall, wore lots of polyester. Most vivid memories: The day Joyce dropped her crayon box, scattering crayons and pencils all over the classroom, as we were filing out to leave for the day; the day one of my friends pushed open the bathroom stall so everyone could watch me pee (and the day he was no longer my friend).

Third Grade, the same classroom. Teacher was Mrs. Barrett. Most vivid memories: Getting caught cheating on a multiplication test – to this day, can’t multiply by seven and not recall the feeling of burning shame; Sitting next to the classroom bookshelf where I could pull out a book whenever I wanted to, as long as I didn’t get caught.

Other random memories which apply pretty much to the five years I spent at Lincoln include watching the field behind the school flood with snowmelt every year, feeling really rebellious and cool on those few occasions when I wandered over to the “other” side of the school, between the school and the church where we were not supposed to go, and the one glorious year (Second Grade) I spent in the main building, a 1911-era behemoth with creaky stairs and rattly windows. I really miss that building. Being asked to avoid the church was weird, because on Sundays, that was where I went to church, so it was like being told not to go home after school. (On Tuesdays, I was supposed to follow my sister over to the church after school for Primary classes, but I almost always avoided going, except on those days when the bus driver (who also attended our church) forced me out the door of the bus and sent me over to the church, bless her.

This is what the main building looks like now. You'll notice the top portion uses a different color of brick. As I recall, the building had an old, mansard-style roof on it, including a little cupola/bell tower over the pop-out on the front, but that was all removed during a remodel of the building during the years I was there. Now it looks like a big tissue box. Sigh.

My kids will be bringing home memories like this, but theirs will come from a rather squat, 1950s-style box that just doesn’t have that old-timey charm. Oh well. Can’t exactly pick schools for their décor, now can we?

One of these days, I’d like to visit ol’ Stinkin’ Lincoln, to get back into that particular classroom (I also spent the Fifth Grade there). I’m sure it’s changed quite a bit – the school is now an alternative high school.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

War is Indeed Hell

Wow. Anyone who professes to be a student of World War II had better read Armageddon, the Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, by Max Hastings. This is an author who has vividly captured the cliche: "War is Hell." He holds no punches in praising -- or blaming -- those involved in heroic acts or acts of cowardice or malice.

What I found interesting about Hastings' view of the American philosophy going into the war -- that for the leaders (Roosevelt and Eisenhower) the goals were strictly military, not political, and that there was a lot of naivete, turning a blind eye and complicity in allowing Russian dominance of Eastern Europe. Hastings believes that Roosevelt acted naively in thinking that Stalin and the Russians would live up to their Yalta agreements, which they did not. I thought most fitting the closing words of Hastings' book:

The battle for Germany began as the largest single military event of the twentieth century, and ended as its greatest human tragedy. More than half a century later, we may be profoundly grateful that its worst consequences have been undone without another war. The men who fought and died for the freedom of Europe received their final reward with the collapse of the Soviet tyranny, two generations after the destruction of its Nazi counterpart.
Added into the mix is Hastings' conclusion -- drawn after much research, and from what I know, I believe he's right -- that the Allies (the British and Americans -- went into the war with military objectives and did not do much planning on what would take place in Europe, notably Germany, after the fighting was over. There were efforts like the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Western Europe, but those were plans that were drawn up after the fighting was over. I think it's telling that there were no carefully-laid plans for what to do after the war was over. Sounds like Iraq, does it not, where the aim was to oust Saddam, but damned if anyone knows what do do afterward.

The biggest eye-opener for me in this book however -- as was Hastings' intention -- was to outline the atrocities committed by the Russians, particularly when they arrived on German soil. Absolutely nasty things that I won't repeat here. Suffice it to say that though the British and Americans may have made their political mistakes during the war, they pale to the absolute mess the Russians made of things. Absolutely awful.

Anyway, I recommend the book. Well-told, with plenty of new material that will rattle even the most astute World War II investigator.

Friday, August 8, 2008

More Uncharted Shilling

Heise Hot Springs Magic

As I climbed the sodden cedar stairs, I felt, oddly, tall. The worn banisters and handrails felt stubby and short. Miniature. Near the top, they're worn. Grooved. Carved with scratches; deep, rounded, long, crosswise and with the grain, as if tiny glaciers once flowed higgledy-piggledy down the rails.

Two little boys, arms strung like Ys from rail to rail, finger the grooves. “Maybe somebody made these with their fingers,” one said to the other. “I wonder who made them,” the other said.

Then I remembered.

I did.

Without the aid of limeflower tea and a petite madeline, memories flooded back as I stood there on the stairs, behind the little boys waiting for their turn to go down the water slide at Heise Hot Springs. Like Marcel Proust in his famous novel A la Recherce du Temps Perdu, I rediscovered those long-lost memories. As Proust wrote, “the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory . . .”

Okay, so the vicissitudes weren't exactly rendered inocuous. But at least rendered more vivid.

There were Heise disasters:

As a little boy, emerging from the dressing room after a swim with my rear end rubbing against the inside of my coveralls, because someone stole my underwear from the dressing room.

There were Heise jingles, played incessantly on the radio Mom listened to while we waited for the bus:

“The Heise Hot Springs Magic will cast a spell on you (ching!)” The ching was some kind of chime, fitting with the records of Captain and Tenille and the Carpenters that old Bob Zeil played on KID – AM radio.

And Heise parents:

Dad sitting in the pool's snack bar, watching us through the windows, swimming. He got our attention. He thought he was telling us it was time to go. We thought he was telling us he'd buy us more tickets for the water slide. Merry moments of miscommunication ensued.

And Heise flowers:

Hollyhocks. Hundreds of hollyhocks, gathered like spears jutting out of the ground, abuzz with bees. Just like the hollyhocks at Grandma Spiers' house on Second Street, lining the rickety wooden fence on the alley.

As we swam at this hot pool, squeezed between the Snake River and cliffs of the river canyon in the panhandle of Jefferson County, Idaho, I wondered what memories my wife and I were creating for our children. As we drove home, they poured out:

Sunburn, first and foremost. The itchy, hurty kind that hurts if you scratch it but drives you nuts if you don’t. Also, the camp host paraded through the RV campground with a dead skunk on the end of a pitchfork. Not sure if he was just taking the shortest route to the trash pile or parading the skunk and odor through the entire camp as a share the wealth gesture. Liam eating the water slide up, going down again and again, then demanding to be taken out to the diving board so he could jump off. Sometimes we call him our chicken heart. But in many ways, he’s quite brave. Our route to the pool was entirely a Bat Route, all back roads, only a few miles on a state highway.

And those carved rails. Standing there in line behind the little boys, with Liam beside me, I remembered how we carved them. From my ankle I took the elastic bearing the metal disc, stamped with the number matching that of the canvas bag we put our clothes and towels in at the dressing room. I wrapped the elastic around my fingers, grabbed the disc, and rubbed it in one of the grooves.

It fit perfectly. I scraped the disc through the groove, and a little sawdust collected on its edge. The little boys watched. They took their elastics off their ankles, carved with their discs. “Cool!” the older yelled.

I smiled. I'd passed on a memory.

Getting there:

The boring way: From Idaho Falls, travel east towards Wyoming on U.S. Highway 26 for about 20 miles. Just past the community of Ririe, watch for signs pointing off to the left for Heise. From the highway, follow additional signs to the hot pool complex, nestled in one of the largest cottonwood tree forests in the world.

The Bat Route way: From Rexburg, travel south on the Old Yellowstone Highway out of towm to the Archer Highway – watch for signs pointing to Heise and Archer. Once on the Archer Highway, simply follow this winding farm-to-market road through the community of Archer – past Big Jud's restaurant – and Madison County's Twin Bridges campground on an island in the Snake River. Shortly after passing the campground, another sign will direct you to the left (east). (Note: Continuing south on this road will take you into Ririe, a community of less than a thousand, which is worth visiting just to get a feel for isolated, small-town America). Again, follow the winding road through farmland, across the river again and then down to Heise.

What it's about:

Heise Hot Springs features two small hot pools, one large pool, a 350-foot water slide, campgrounds that border on the Snake River and a pizza parlor. More information and rates are available at

In the area:

Cress Creek hiking trail, a popular nature trail that takes hikers on a two-mile jaunt up the hillside to the north of the Snake River, for views of the eponymous creek and, from the top, the Snake River Canyon below.

NOTE: I do apologize this is kind of a repeat of a previous post. But it's now been Unchartedized and, I think is a bit more coherent. Or stupid.Just visit us at In a few weeks, that is. We're still tinkering.

Batching It

For the past few days, I've had full charge of the household, as Michelle is off to Krupp Scout Hollow for some training in relation to her calling as Cub master. The household entails three children under eight, one wiener dog and three goldfish. So far, the goldfish win on the easy maintenance part, and that even takes into consideration that I had to clean their bowl yesterday.

So what have we done with our Freedom from Mommy?
  • Collected two loads of firewood.
  • Visited the Rexburg Water Park.
  • Bought some used books at the DI.
  • Picked a bowl of raspberries.
  • Watched Nim's Island.
  • Went to McDonald's.
  • Survived a thunderstorm with torrential rains. That was one whopper of a storm.
  • Talked on the phone with Alan on the subject of Uncharted. For a very long time.
  • Wrote an Uncharted story that'll be posted here shortly.
  • Washed dishes.
  • Did two loads of laundry.
  • Helped the boys clean their room.
That's about it. Obviously, I've forgotten what it means to be a bachelor.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A La Recherche du Piscine Perdu

We took the kids to Heise Hot Springs for the weekend. It’s been donkeys years since I’ve been there, but roaming around the pools and such really brought back some vague childhood memories of being there as a very young kid.

Memory No. 1: Emerging from the dressing room after a swim with my penis rubbing against the inside of my coveralls, because someone stole my underwear from the dressing room.

Memory No. 2: Climbing the long cedar staircase to the water slide and wondering who carved the deep gouges in the wooden railing. (Gouges are still there; I determined this time that they’re from the little metal discs we’re issued to reclaim the canvas bags we deposit our clothing in while we swim. I remembered rubbing the gouges with my fingers, wondering where they came from. This time, rubbed them again, wondering why my brain had stored that memory – and so vividly – for all these years. Marcel Proust probably knows what I’m talking about.

Memory No. 3: Trying to communicate with Dad through the glass window of the observation deck. Randy and I swam. He watched. He wanted to go home. We thought he was signaling that he was going to buy us tickets for the waterslide. Much merry miscommunication ensued.

Memory No. 4: This is more vague, but I remember, I think, losing a shoe in the parking lot on the way out to the car to go home. Even more merry miscommunication ensuing. On the way out this time, noted a single yellow clog in the parking lot. Wondered what poor little girl was missing her shoe.

Memory No. 5: The rails leading up the slide staircase were much taller when I was a kid. Adult butts were much closer, in that young point of view, especially when the staircase was crowded.

Memory No. 6: The Heise Hot Springs 70s hippie jingle, which they played on their local radio and TV commercials when I was a kid: “The Heise Hot Springs Magic will cast a spell on you (ching!)”

Memories from this time: Sunburn, first and foremost. The itchy, hurty kind that hurts if you scratch it but drives you nuts if you don’t. Also, the camp host paraded through the RV campground with a dead skunk on the end of a pitchfork. Not sure if he was just taking the shortest route to the trash pile or parading the skunk and odor through the entire camp as a share the wealth gesture. And the ubiquitous, fun ones: Liam eating the water slide up, going down again and again, then demanding to be taken out to the diving board so he could jump off. Sometimes we call him our chicken heart. But in many ways, he’s quite brave. Lexie and Isaac went down the slide once, and opted not to go again. I went down many times, a few times emerging out of the end of the tube much more rapidly than I’d hoped. On the last trip, my butt scraped the bottom of the pool and, as I struggled to slow myself, down, I snagged something out of the water. At first I thought it was a twig, but as I surfaced and felt the shape in my fingers, I realized twigs don’t sink, nor do they come in the shape of an X. I had two hair clasps in my hand. They were rusty. Probably had been in the bottom of that pool for a long time. Also, our route to the pool was entirely a Bat Route, no state highways involved. How long has it been since I took a trip like that? We’re able, thanks to Madison and Jefferson counties, to make the trip from Sugar City to Heise entirely – well, almost entirely; part of the route through Rexburg is on State Highway 33 – on county roads, which weave through little communities like Archer and Ririe on roads that follow the old farm-to-market plan, sweeping curves at random corners to the trucks don’t have to struggle through ninety degree turns.

And, finally, hollyhocks. Someone at Heise has a thing for hollyhocks, because the flowers are all over the place. They reminded me of my Grandma Speirs, who had them planted at her home on Second Street. That’s why I can’t get rid of those at home in Sugar, even if they’re a nuisance because they attract bees and fall over into the carrots.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More Windy News

In as many days, the Bingham County Commission has approved another wind turbine project, this time for Western Energy, a local company that has plans to build 66 turbines on a 5,000-acre ranch in the Shelley area. Kudos to the county and the ranchers for working to make this happen. I have a lot more faith in this kind of action than I do any federal action, where there are a lot more power brokers in play.

Earlier this week, the commission approved Idaho’s largest wind farm project, a 150-turbine project that will be spread over 20,212 acres in the Wolverine Canyon area of Bingham County, southeast of Shelley.

When both of these projects are complete, the area will be home to 259 wind turbines. Ridgeline built a 43-turbine project southeast of Idaho Falls in 2005, then sold it to Invenergy LLC. This is the project you can see – faintly – on the foothills east of town as you’re driving into town from the desert.

These companies are in the business, of course, to make a buck. But if they can make a buck off a renewable resource that increases our electrical production without increasing greenhouse gases or dependence on foreign oil, more power to them. Pun intended. Both of these projects could be ready in 2009.

Together, these projects will generate about 713 megawatts – enough to power 463, 450 homes (one megawatt has enough juice to power about 650 homes). That’s enough electricity to power eastern Idaho.

PacifiCorp buys Invenergy’s power, and will be the likely customer for the electricity produced by these two new projects.

These plants – plus a 3.3 megawatt hydroelectric plant on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, proposed by Rigby, Idaho-based Symbiotics, Inc – continue to add to the area’s alternative energy cap. The hydro plant recently won local approval, and must now go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval, possibly also in 2009.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Layoff Day . . .

Well, once again I survived. Layoff Day again arrives at the RWMC, and again, I emerge (thusfar; but it’s 2:30 pm, and the Norm Petersons of the company have likely already struck) unscathed and with a job. Not that I would have been surprised to get laid off this time. Not that I don’t think my every move here is being watched and, like the invisible antagonists of C. Monty Burns, there are gremlins waiting to spot a weakness and then descend with a bash to the head. But I prattle on. I still have a job. Many do not. But we’re not hearing as much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth this time around, for some reason. We just may be simply out of the loop in our little corner of the RWMC.

Sounds like we got off pretty light. Of 67 laid off, only six at RWMC. That means some other project, likely at INTEC, got it in the gut. Sorry, guys and gals.

I survived something even more fundamental: A mistake. It’s turned into the eye-rolling type of mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. Two documents I worked on way earlier this year lacked some reviews, so I’m having to do them over again, and in only four days. Not that it won’t be manageable, but it’s just a headache. I spent a good portion of the weekend silently fretting about it all, only to come in today and feel competent and on top of things as the new reviews are going smoothly. Anticipation of events is the real bugaboo in my life, I suppose, combined with a tendency to overreact and get all moody.

The eye-rolling comes because the documents aren’t really related to the work the auditors were looking at, but because the auditors always have to find something, this is what was found this round, and it just happened to be something I had my fingers in way back in January. I’m not complaining about the situation; I’m simply being asked to fix my mistake, and I’m doing so cheerfully. I hope that goes a ways in showing that I can fess up to the things I do wrong and get them corrected. But you never know how people will react to this kind of situation. DOE is populated with strong-willed yeller types. But cooler heads are prevailing, recognizing that it’s just best to get the work done. Besides, I have the personality type (noted in my post on puppy-dog eyes) that means once I’m swatted with a newspaper, I tend to remember it. At least for a while.

A Wolverine County Win -- and an Eye-Roller from Obama

Hats off to the county commissioners in Bingham County. Our neighbors to the south have paved the way for a pretty significant wind power project in the Wolverine Canyon area, or so says one of our local news stations.

The county has weighed this decision pretty much all summer, and had to play against some pretty heavy hitters, including Frank VanderSloot, local political agitator and deep-pocket mogul. He has every right to use his money how he sees fit, to express his opinion and try to sway public opinion. In this case, however, I'm grateful the county commissioners didn't let power get in the way of their decision. No pun intended.

I've written here about how I support efforts for renewable energy, particularly T. Boone Pickens' effort to invest billions in wind power to help wean us off imported oil (more power from wind, he reasons, means less power from domestically-produced natural gas, which could, in turn, be used to power vehicles, rather than gasoline made from imported oil). I'm also pleased to see smaller efforts, like that of Ridgeline Energy, to put into place smaller-scale wind power plants. IF we're to wean ourselves from foreign oil, we're going to have to accept more things liek this -- and the occasional aesthetic affront they may bring. Personally, I've visited Wolverine Canyon, and am here to tell that I was much more disturbed by all the cowpies I encountered than I might be by the presence of the occasional wind turbine perched on a ridge. Besides, I think the plants are aesthetically-pleasing myself. I like driving in to Idaho Falls from the west to see the wind turbine project on the hills east of town. Their presence doesn't bother me at all. I think the opponents to the Wolverine Canyon project will find they're in the same boat, after they get used to the turbines being there. And they can say they're doing their part to wean us from foreign oil.

On other energy fonts: An eye-roller. Barack Obama wants to tax oil company profits in order to give people who are struggling with high energy bills a $1,000 rebate. That's going to solve our energy crisi how, I wonder? I suppose I could put it in the bank and hope, in a few years, to get into a wind power project on a very local scale: I've looked into getting a smaller wind turbine to plant in our back yard, but the least expensive ones I can find run about $12,000. I'd love to do it. Maybe in a few years, after we've saved up enough cash. And we can convince the city to let us do so. But I can't say the idea of taxing the oil giants is a way to do that, especially since most of that rebate money, in the hands of the average recipient, won't go towards energy efficiency. The tax-and-rebate is just a dumb, election-year parlor trick.

To Obama's credit, he's thinking bigger than just a rebate -- He wants to undertake an effort to wean the U.S. from foreign oil (or at least oil from Venezuela and the Middle East) in ten years. That's laudable. He wants the U.S. to invest $150 billion in alternative energy projects, including getting a million hybrid cars on the road. He wants to see private investment in alternative energy be a part of that program. But I just wish he'd drop the windfall-for-rebate idea. It's a dumb one. Now, if he wanted to do the windfall for alternative energy investment, I'm all for that. That's long-term thinking, not political pandering. But since political pandering is the monnaie courant to get into office these days, well then, guess which idea will hold wind.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Little 'Maricin Fark

Rexburg, Idaho, has long been called Little Provo. Due to the presence of BYU-Idaho here (and I just love to refer to BYU-Utah just to watch folks from Happy Valley get their pants in a knot) Rexburg's nickname is, perhaps, well deserved.

But I stumbled across evidence today that a more appropriate nickname might be Little American Fork.

Listen to the in-house ad (hopefully it's still there when you get to the site) for the Rexburg Standard-Journal, a little rag I used to work for. I swear the first woman who speaks says something like, "Oh, Sarah, that mill was wonderful . . ." That mill. THAT MILL. I thought only people in American Fork talked about Rill Mill Dills when they're going to the Dairy Queen, but apparently the accent is migrating north along with all the Utahns who think it's nifty (or are forced) to attend BYU-Utah's sister university in the sticks up north. You be the judge. (And on a journalistic note: If the thing that sets you apart from the competition is your recipe selection, it might be time to look at that corporate mission statement again. Just more evidence, ladies and gentlemen, that I'm happy to be out of the newspaper business.)

But I am hearing things like mill a lot more here. More evidence that Rexburg culture -- such as it is -- is being eroded. Things just started going downhill when McDonalds stopped providing fry sauce.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I Am A Lobster

Went swimming with the kids yesterday. Forgot sunscreen. My back is now the color of boiled lobster. Hurts to sit. Hurts to lie down. Hurts to breathe. Humanity may not survive this.