Thursday, July 31, 2008

Here, Fishy Fishy . . .

Wednesday, I came home from work and was greeted by my six-year-old daughter shouting “Daddy! Come look! We have fish!” Indeed, swimming around in a bowl on the kitchen counter, were three goldfish. Now, if ever any other kind of pet were to enter the house, I figured it would be me the guilty party with the sheepish look on my face. But since it was Michelle who relented and let the kids bring these fish (Moby Dick, Ariel and Pongo) home from the credit union picnic, I was absolutely gobsmacked. The only way I would have been more surprised would be if they’d brought home a cat on their mother’s watch. (We’ve had two cats, Michelle and I. She and the cats did not get along. At all. Well, nobody really got on with Willy. He was a cat abandoned by its owners and rather freaked out by it. He would only emerge from hiding during the wee hours of the morning. We think he escaped from the house when we were packing for a camping trip.)

Fish are a new experience for our kids, especially for our daughter, who tries to pet them while they’re in their bowl. (She’s used to dogs, you see.)

I want through a fish phase as a kid. As with most kids, it didn’t end well for the fish. The only thing worse than the Dead Fish in the Fishbowl Incident at our hose growing up was when one of my older brothers’ turtles escaped from his pen and wandered off in the house. He was found a few weeks after his disappearance in one of my older sister’s shoes. When he was extricated, his head and legs fell off. Needless to say, the shoes were never worn again.

I have hopes that our kids will be more responsible for their fishy friends. Time will tell, of course. As parents, we’re already planning interventions.

Feeling Even Stupider

I thought that yesterday I achieved the pinnacle of stupidity. Then came today. I don’t plan on talking about it here. Suffice it to say, I’ve lived two Dilbert cartoons today:

-One-

PHB: Alice, see me at the end of business today.

ALICE: (To herself) Ohmygosh ohmygosh, what corpse floated up from the ocean floor? I can’t wait seven hours! Gah!

(Seven hours later)
ALICE: WHAT?! WHAT?! WHAT?!

PHB: Can you come back tomorrow?

-Two-

DILBERT: I significantly increased my visibility at work today, Dogbert. Yesterday, I was invisible to my management. But today I am known by all.

DOGBERT: You screwed up, huh?

DILBERT: Ooh yeah. Big time.

I can’t say what I did was a major sin, but it still makes me feel stupid when I make a mistake. I guess this is when it pays to have those puppy dog eyes and overall demeanor, since no one’s come a-yellin’ over what’s happened. Maybe it’s not a yellable offense. So I curse the darkness and my own stupidity, yet take comfort in the fact that my puppy-dog demeanor may have saved me from a bawling out. That kind of demeanor won’t get me promotions, but I suppose it’ll keep me employed.

Today, I embody the Peter Principle, in that I have reached the level of my own incompetence. I am, however, one of those of whom Laurence Peter describes as having recognized the fact, having learned to live with it and accept it and, in some perverse ways, take it to my advantage. I knew working at the last paper I worked for that, the longer I stayed there, the more incompetent I got. I think Peter talks about that in a sliding scale of the Peter Principle, in that over time, people who were once competent in a job slip into incompetence.

I joke here that I’ve seen the boss’ job and I don’t want it. Truth be told, I’d existentially pass my level of incompetence and emerge on the other side if I were ever offered the boss’ job. So I’m content to stay where I am, doing my incompetent best, and hoping that a combination of skill and puppy-dog eyes will keep me employed. I think it’s a credit, however, that I can at least recognize my position and seek out ways of making improvements, or at least make compensatory measures to ensure that my overall incompetence doesn’t force others to a breaking point.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Feeling Stupid

There are days I feel pretty stupid. And then there are days like today, where feeling pretty stupid would make a vast improvement in my overall self-esteem. Another of the jobs I applied for went to someone else. I suppose I shouldn’t be worried about it, since I have this job. But it still makes me feel as useful as something really useless, like sunglasses for cinnamon bears. Yuck. I hate cinnamon bears. I think it’s time for a little break from work. Michelle is going off on her Akela’s Trail campout for her Cub Scout calling next week starting Wednesday. I may decide to take both days off, just to get a little time away from work, to see if there’s something I can do to recharge the batteries. I just feel tired. The weeks here are fast, but the days sure are long. Whaa whaa listen to the well-paid weenie boy cry. I ought to slap myself back into reality. But who wants reality? I’m not sure I want that. I probably told them too much. They ask that question I hate: What’s one of your weaknesses? And I always answer it honestly: When the workload is low, I tend to coast. I back that up by saying I always look for other things I can do, talk with people I might help. Maybe my answer to that question dings me. Maybe it’s something else entirely. But since the only feedback most of us tend to get back on interviews is silence, I’ll never know what the deciding factor was. Hiring and getting hired, I’m growing to know, depends on whims more than reason: I was hired for the job I have now because the guy who hired me was a former newspaperman and liked that I had newspaper experience. He’s now moved on, so if I were applying for the same job now, that experience wouldn’t mean jack – or, at least, a lot less – to the current boss. (Not bad-mouthing the boss. Just expressing an opinion that it was Art’s presence in the drivers’ seat that helped me get my job due to a whim of chance, and that this whim would have been lessened or non-existent had Danny been in the driver’s seat. Just trying to figure out the play of politics and chance in this whole job-scurrying thing. It’s something for me to keep in mind next time I find myself unemployed in Greenland.)

I don’t really know what’s eating me lately. What I’m afraid of is that it’s the same kind of gleeful angst that got me tired of newspaper reporting. Mercifully, as I work here at RWMC, I don’t feel tired of the work. I feel a bit tired of all the running about trying to get signatures, but that’s about it. I like the people I work with. I like the people I work for, and that’s going a lot further than I ever felt at the papers I've worked for, at the end. (I think I’ve written about this, but the last paper I worked for recently closed its Rexburg office. They’re also contemplating quitting their Monday paper. Also, my ESOP stock tanked to the tune of nearly $6,000 last year, or about 35 percent. So I don’t think they’re doing all that well financially. Glad I’m not there any more.)

Maybe I’m just feeling mediocre. I don’t know why that should bother me, as I am mediocre. But it still irks, I suppose. Maybe it’s a point in my favor, to at least acknowledge my mediocrity so I can some way overcome it. Or learn to live with it, at least. I know a lot of it is that it’s just slow at work, which leaves time for listening to heavy German music and lots of idle introspection, which gets the brain to thinking about stupid stuff like this. Mister Mediocre. Ah, listen to the spoiled American. I’m caught up in what George Orwell describes in his book “Coming Up for Air,” viz:

I had the street pretty much to myself. The men had bunked to catch the 8.21 and the women were fiddling with the gas-stoves. When you've time to look about you, and when you happen to be in the right mood, it's a thing that makes you laugh inside to walk down these streets in the inner-outer suburbs and to think of the lives that go on there. Because, after all, what IS a road like Ellesmere Road? Just a prison with the cells all in a row. A line of semidetached torture-chambers where the poor little five-to-ten-pound-a-weekers quake and shiver, every one of them with the boss twisting his tail and his wife riding him like the nightmare and the kids sucking his blood like leeches. There's a lot of rot talked about the sufferings of the working class. I'm not so sorry for the proles myself. Did you ever know a navvy who lay awake thinking about the sack? The prole suffers physically, but he's a free man when he isn't working. But in every one of those little stucco boxes there's some poor bastard who's NEVER free except when he's fast asleep and dreaming that he's got the boss down the bottom of a well and is bunging lumps of coal at him.

Of course, the basic trouble with people like us, I said to myself, is that we all imagine we've got something to lose. To begin with, nine-tenths of the people in Ellesmere Road are under the impression that they own their houses. Ellesmere Road, and the whole quarter surrounding it, until you get to the High Street, is part of a huge racket called the Hesperides Estate, the property of the Cheerful Credit Building Society. Building societies are probably the cleverest racket of modern times. My own line, insurance, is a swindle, I admit, but it's an open swindle with the cards on the table. But the beauty of the building society swindles is that your victims think you're doing them a kindness. You wallop them, and they lick your hand. I sometimes think I'd like to have the Hesperides Estate surmounted by an enormous statue to the god of building societies. It would be a queer sort of god. Among other things it would be bisexual. The top half would be a managing director and the bottom half would be a wife in the family way. In one hand it would carry an enormous key--the key of the workhouse, of course--and in the other--what do they call those things like French horns with presents coming out of them?--a cornucopia, out of which would be pouring portable radios, life-insurance policies, false teeth, aspirins, French letters, and concrete garden rollers.

Not that I’m at this may as well slit my wrists and plunge them into saltwater stage, but there is some of that angst brooding about. Brooding angst. Brooding angst. I like it when the German in this language comes out. (And, yes, the anal retentive inside me made me verify that these words are indeed of German origin. Certain on the angst. Certain enough on the German in brood to let it slide. I said I’m anal retentive, not OCD.)

Ben is now home, and up to those common just-returned-missionary tricks, namely running off in all directions trying to regain the life he set aside two years ago. Al and Serena – we saw them at the Iona Community Days celebration on Saturday – say he’s doing well enough, which is good for him. He’ll start school in Rexburg in September, which seems weird. We’ve let him know he’s welcome to come to our house to watch TV or whatever, but we’re not holding our breath on him actually showing up. Uncles and aunts can be so embarrassing.

I think I have a hole in my head. Or I think I want one. Ready to go home, am I. And speaking like Yoda. Speaking of which, we’re going to have to watch “Return of the Jedi” sometime soon, because the kids keep asking about it. They’re just as anxious to see what happens to Han Solo as we were back in 1979, when Empire came out and we had to wait four years until we got to see Jedi. They’ve not even waited a week. Next on their list, I know, is the Indiana Jones trilogy. That’ll be put off for a while longer, because, frankly, it’s all a bit scarier than Star Wars is, at least in my warped opinion.

Back to the angst: I guess part of my feelings of inadequacy stem from the fact that a lot of people around me are leaving and getting better, more stable jobs (engineers, mostly). It puzzles me as to why I can’t accomplish the same thing, but then again, tech writers are a dime a dozen and engineers are much harder to come by. Maybe I should have been an engineer. Of course, maybe I should have flapped my arms and flown to the moon as well, since both are just as likely. I don’t like math enough to be an engineer. I’m not as precise as an engineer needs to be. I’m like Bob Newhart, whose accounting motto was “Oh, that’s close enough.” Which is, of course, why he got into advertising and then stand-up comedy. I need to write that novel. I know I’ve got a good start on a good story. I just need to punch it up and bring in more sensuality (His pulse exploded as he ripped off her babushka, to steal a line from B.C.). OK, not more sensuality. More absurdity. Just more of what I’ve got, because what I’ve got is just a start and nowhere near being completed. I mean, if idiots like Max Barry and Neal Stephenson can write crappy novels, why can’t I? Certainly they don’t corner the market on crappiness.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Scott Adams' Influence on the Masses . . . Young Masses

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, probably has no idea how much his work has influenced my little family. No probably about it; he has no idea. The probability here circles around: Does he care how much. And again, the probability is slimmer than, well, something very slim. But our oldest, all of eight years old, has pawed through my Dilbert collection a lot this summer. A few nights ago, he asked if I worked in a cubicle. I told him I do. He then asked if I would ever come home as a damp rag wearing glasses, as happens to Dilbert in the comic because, as I recall, his boss demotivated him and others enough they turned into damp rags wearing glasses and ties, or pantsuits in the case of the women. I told him it hadn’t happened yet, but added I could not rule out the possibility of it happening in the future.

His favorite new game is “Quality Zombie,” in which I chase him chanting “quality, quality, quality” with my hands out like a zombie, as if someone had shoved a “We Are Quality” notepad in my face once too often. He’s also fascinated with interns, though gratefully not in a Bill Clinton way. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he mentions the Fist of Death and the pointy-haired boss. I’ll have to tell him my boss doesn’t have pointy hair, because he shaves his head. Then I’ll introduce him to the CEO of Dilbert’s company, who also has a chrome dome. Not that my boss is anything like that; but our CEO is a crazed, double-doctorated Greek who apparently has a fetish for safety rails, safety vests and hard hats.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Horseshoe Lake: Where Uncharted is Shilled

Tired of Uncharted.net shilling yet? I'm not. Behold:

Horseshoe Lake, where Frogs and Elk are King


The road twists through the woods, thick with pine and quaken aspen. Sometimes the road is only wide enough to let our little Toyota pickup pass, dragging our camper behind it. Sometimes the road isn’t even that wide, and the needles and leaves hanging from the roadside trees brush and scrape against the fenders, pop through open windows, stirring air fragrant with pine sap, road dust and yarrow. Over the low rumble of the tires on the rutted dirt road, we hear the calls of telephone birds, the warning chirps of robins. And always, below the din, the ribbit of frogs.

Through the trees, we see the first patch of blue, bright sky blue lower than the lowest branches of the trees. One more twist in the road, over boulders, we descend to Horseshoe Lake.

Horseshoe Lake is one of the many puddles splashed over the landscape within a hundred miles of Wyoming's Yellowstone Lake. This lake lies in Idaho, about eight miles south of Yellowstone National Park's southwestern border. Unimproved campsites – read, no outhouses anywhere – ring the lake's shores and are open to campers. A state campground on the lake's southern shore is used intermittently by individuals in the state's juvenile detention program, and is not open to casual campers. The campsites are divided, by Nature, into two areas: Those mostly on the west shore of the lake are in heavily-wooded areas and are best used by tent campers. Those on the north shore of the lake are in a gentle meadow and are best used by those brave enough to bring campers up the rough road.

Not being fishermen, we like the lake for its swimmability – it's rather shallow and warm , if a bit clouded with organic material – for the scenery: Wyoming's Grand Teton Mountain range can be seen poking above the forest canopy to the southeast, and for the flora: starting in mid-summer and extending long into the fall, vast patches of the lake are covered with floating lilies, with their dinner plate leaves and yellow and white blossoms providing landing pads for the lake's innumerable dragonflies. We like to canoe out into the patches and sit, soaking in the quiet as the dragonflies buzz the pads around us. We never saw any frogs, but we certainly heard them. Throughout the day, we heard random croaks, but as the sun set and for hours afterward, the little kickers chirrupped and bugarrumphed loudly.

But after the sun goes down is when the show really begins.

The lake, far from man-made light, reflects stars and a faint band of the Milky Way as the sun sets and nature's nightlights come out. This tiny lake, calm as a mirror at night, looks like a hole in the earth to an alternate universe of stars.

Then, too, in the fall, after the sun sets, the woods surrounding the lake are filled with bugling elk, who offer their eerie wails and yelps to nights so black and calm that even the campers are quiet as they listen to nature's symphonies. Sometimes the elk will bellow all night. They're loud enough, at times, they wake me up – and I'm a sound sleeper. But I don't mind. I just lay back and listen. They sing be back to sleep.

Getting there:

From Ashton, Idaho, follow Idaho Highway 27 east through Marysville for about twelve to fifteen miles. Shortly after the highway curves to the north but before it begins its ascent up the Ashton Hills, watch for signs pointing to the right for Cave Falls. The road is paved for the first few miles, but then turns into a rather good two-lane gravel road. Travel along the road for a good eight miles or so after the pavement ends, and watch for signs pointing to the left for a girl scout camp. The road for the scout camp angles off to the northwest. Don't take that road, but use it as a landmark. The road you're on will cut through a meadow. The road to Horseshoe Lake lies just past the meadow, off to the left. The Forest Service tries to maintain a sign pointing the way to Horseshoe Lake, but more often than not the sign has been knocked to the ground, so don't depend on it.

A few cautions:

The road in to the lake is 4 ½ miles of one lane dirt road, and is rather rough. I recommend not taking cars down the road unless you don't have a particular attachment to your undercarriage. The last 100 yards of the road is especially rocky and rilled with water tracks, so descend to the lake at your peril.

As this is a lake, there are mosquitoes. At times, clouds – no, thunderheads – of them. Bring repellent and pray for hot weather, which keeps the mosquitoes down. The later in the year you stay at Horseshoe lake, the fewer bugs there are.

The woods around the lake are wild and, at times, rather swampy, especially to the east of the lake. Just be wary where you walk.

What to bring:

Aside from your regular camping gear, bring bug repellent, swimming suits, a canoe or raft, fishing poles (and licenses, as the Sneeds patrol the area) and firewood. Though the campground is in a wooded setting, there's little deadfall for campfires. Also, check on local fire conditions by calling the Ashton Ranger Station at 652-7442, as extreme conditions means an automatic ban on campfires.

Also in the area:

Cave Falls, another ten miles up the road. This National Park Service campground (it's just inside Yellowstone) provides access to Cave Falls which, as the name implies, is a shallow cave right at the cusp of a modest waterfall on a tributary of the Snake River. The area is also a springboard for back country hikes into the park itself.



Friday, July 25, 2008

Crickets

In the other places I've lived -- many parts of Idaho and France, an odd combination, that -- I never took the crickets for granted.

Then we moved to Sugar City. For the first summer we lived here, the wind blew daily. That was eight years ago. And for the first time, this summer, we have crickets.

I grew up with crickets. That wild backyard Dad planted, with more than a hundred trees crammed onto less than a quarter of an acre, populated with chickens, dogs and cats, birds, was cricket heaven. For a few years, I slept in a room attached to the garage, where the bugs entered nightly. I never chased the crickets out. I love the noise they make, and lay awake many a night, wondering how they made that noise, rubbing their legs together. I wondered at the creations of God, who created birds to sing, and crickets to sing, I think, with joy.

Seven cricketless years in Sugar City were off kilter in that small way. Many nights I'd sit on the front porch, listening to the meadowlarks, the robins sing, but never the crickets. They just weren't there. Where were they, I wondered. Had Sugar City committed some gross sin against God and Nature to chase these magnificent creatures from the verges of our flower beds and from the cracks in our foundations?

Their return this summer brought me back to that back yard, simpler times, that room where the crickets sang me to sleep.

Thanks, God.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama Wants to Be A Jelly Doughnut

It is extremely premature to say that, twenty years from now, anyone will remember what Barack Obama said today in Berlin, or, indeed, that anyone will remember that he spoke today in Berlin at all.

What counts – and what makes exceptional rhetoric last beyond the echoes it makes as it rebounds – is what happens because of or despite of the rhetoric offered. To put it another way, Abraham Lincoln (in his Gettysburg Address) said: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.” (Nicolay transcript) Lincoln’s statement is ironic in that his speech is one of the most memorable ever delivered in American politics. But it’s the context of the speech – dedication of a graveyard where were interred soldiers who fought in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War (not to forget the Civil War itself) is what makes the speech memorable.

To take another example:

“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev -- Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Had the Berlin Wall not fallen two years after Ronald Reagan gave this speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in 1987, Reagan’s speech would have been just another speech, a footnote in history, forgotten because it did not have context with the events surrounding it, despite its rhetorical ring.

To take another example:

“Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades. All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”

Kennedy’s Berlin speech is also a remarkable example of powerful rhetoric. But again, taken in context – delivered in a city, in a nation, only recently divided by a physical barrier and in a world that would see extraordinary tension rise becasue of these physical and political barriers – his speech is, and remains, meaningful.

Let us consider the context of Obama’s speech: The United States has increasingly alienated itself from Europe, indeed, some say, from much of the world. Obama’s rhetoric is full of hope, to use an overused word. He said today:

“People of the world, look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one. The fall of the Berlin Wall brought new hope. But that very closeness has given rise to new dangers, dangers that cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean. We cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats or escape responsibility in meeting them.”

But for this speech to be remembered twenty years from now, the context of world events will have to catch up with it.

Those keen on the beatification of Barack Obama will have to wait for history (and, indeed, the results of the November election) before they can chalk up his speech as one for the history books. His rhetoric and ideals are admirable; they hark back to the themes and memes of unity and freedom that Reagan, and John F. Kennedy before him, uttered at the Brandenburg Gate. But until events catch up with the rhetoric, Obama’s speech will remain historically unremarkable.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Puppy Dog Eyes

If Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show ever comes to my corner of the world, I’m going to look into their house of mirrors just to find out why I still harbor the puppy-dog eyes of my youth.


I want to know, specifically, what people see in me that makes many of them treat me as if I were an oft-kicked puppy, forlorn in the eyes and countenance, who must be treated with kid gloves, no matter the circumstances. I’ve studied myself many times in the mirror, and I don’t know what it is that other people see. Including my wife. We were just talking on the phone, and midway through the conversation, she paused, asked, “Are you all right?” So now I have to listen to my voice as well.

Was I that badly treated? Probably no more than any other fat kid growing up in Idaho. I know I was rather sensitive as a kid, but by the time junior high rolled around, I was just about in control as any other kid. But there are vestiges, I’m sure, of some hidden hurt, that occasionally pop out. Not occasionally. They gallop. Because there are many who treat me as if I’m going to burst into tears or something if they so much as fart in my general direction.

I don’t feel like I’m exceptionally gloomy, or sensitive. I take criticism well. Very well, in fact, since I know that I don’t know everything and that there is much in this world that I can learn. But deep inside, I suppose, people must still see some kind of a wimp.

I don’t let it bother me overmuch. Just think about it from time to time, that’s all. I don’t lose sleep over my hidden puppy dog eyes, or whatever it is that others see. I do good work. I’m open to learning. Just once and a while, however, I’d like to find this thing that’s in me and fix it, just a little, so the gloves come off and the pats on the shoulder cease.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pretend Money

I suppose it's good that I look at part of our investment portfolio as pretend money, because it doesn't hurt as much when we lose a lot.

The pretend money I'm talking about comes from shares I won in a newspaper I used to work for. It's all done through an ESOP, so I haven't put a dime into the fund. Which is a good thing, since it lost 35 percent of its value last year. Now I know newspapers are tanking nationwide. I had high hopes that this paper, however, would continue to grow. Last year, we actually got about $1,000 in dividents from our ESOP shares. This year, we lost nearly $6,000. Thankfully that's not out of pocket. But it does hurt to see our retirement funds dissolving away. Worst news is that I can't cash out of this sink hole for another three years, given that I have to be vested for seven before I can bail out. Hopefully, there's some value still there when I can cash out.

It seems it's a good thing I'm no longer at the paper. They closed their Rexburg office earlier this summer -- that was the one I helped to open back in 2000. I didn't get to read the article when they announced the closure, so I don't know all the circumstances. But the yearly report from the ESOP shares paints part of the picture -- profits are down, and they were looking to cut costs. So it's a fair bet that I'd be out of a job right now anyway.

I don't miss newspaper journalism. The more I look back on that career, the happier I am that I'm not in it any more. Even the stuff I do for Uncharted, on occasion, brings back some pretty unpleasant memories that I don't care to relive, and that's even stemming from the kind of writing I enjoyed the most at the paper, the stuff that was actually fun to research and write.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Internet Suburbia

Readers here know that I’m associated with Uncharted.net, which we’re selling as a mashup between Facebook and National Geographic. I believe in the site. I believe we can do good things. But part of me also believes, deep down, that we’re just adding noise to an otherwise already noisy Internet. Part of me wonders, as I peruse the Internet myself (and make useless contributions to it on this blog) whether we’d be doing a better service by buying up web sites just to shut them down.

Does that happen? Do sites get shut down, or do they just get buried? Buried, most likely. Now, way back in my computer infancy, I ran several websites, hogging space on the University of Idaho servers. I had one on the Secret of NIMH. I had one on Watership Down. I had others showing off my own writing, and even one on sage brush. All shut down. All down the drain. And good riddance, says the author of that dreck. But here I am again, spewing a mighty fireball of nothing onto the nothing that is the vast Internet suburbia of sites that maybe friends or family visit, plus a random collection of national and international strangers who, if Feedjit is right, want information on Second Life. And why they’d want that, I have no idea, since my experience with Second Life boils down to anime characters chatting about prims. Whee.

But that’s okay, isn’t it? We’re all getting our kicks trolling the Internet, thinking, somehow, we, too, can make a contribution that involves tricky sentences with lots of words stacked between commas. But we’re still in the burbs, squatting in some isolated cul de sac that nobody but family and the garbage men ever visit. Most of us are better off where we are, because what we want to contribute isn’t all that great to begin with. So we stay, once and a while replacing the burned out bulbs on the porch because, hey, we want to make sure all the lights are on and working when we get that fifteen minutes of fame. But do we get it? More like fifteen seconds these days, because there are so many in the burbs now, staring at the distant lights of the big, bright city, knowing that we can’t afford the gas to get us there. And nobody in the city’s coming to us, no matter how much we fool ourselves.

So shut them down. Shut them all down.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Martin's Ready for Some Campaignin'

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Something Fundamental Here

Last night, for the first time, I let my kids (ages eight, six and nearly four) watch Star Wars. They were wide-eyed and full of questions, but because of the SW computer game they have, they stayed through the entire show. Their reactions were pretty much the same to the movie: First, they want to watch the others now, and, second, they identified with the good characters over the bad. I'm glad of that.

"I liked the part where the princess was saved," says Isaac, our three-year-old. "But I didn't like the part where Ben Kenobi died."

"It was kind of fun and it didn't give me bad dreams," reports Lexie, our six-year-old. "Darth Vader is so mean. I didn't like him in the movie. But Ben Kenobi could still talk, because he was a spirit."

Then I tune in to CNN and watch their little iReporters babble on about the new Batman movie, and most of them are all dressed up in makeup to make them look like the Joker, the bad guy. Too many people now identify with the bad guys in the movies, or at least those people who may be bad or, at best, morally ambiguous or morally opportunistic, or, at worst, entertaining, without factoring their goodness or badness into the equation at all. There's something terribly wrong in all that. Part of it, I think, comes from the expectation now that there are no good guys, given that many of the real "good guys" of today are just as ambiguous and opportunistic as the bad guys. Part of it, also, I believe, comes from the realm of political correctness, where we're not allowed to judge on the basis of good and bad any more, but must instead treat badness and goodness on equal footing. On both arguments, I tend to think they're hooey. Good, said C.S. Lewis, is becoming better, and evil is becoming worse. The time for fence-sitting, he added, is at an end. I agree with that. We can't use the argument that good is hard to find in order to embrace the ambiguity of a neutral position, because the neutral ground between good and evil -- and they both exist, my friends, they both exist -- resembles the no-man land between World War I trenches.

I believe there are good guys today. If you can't find them, you're not looking hard enough. You're probably not doing enough good yourself, in fact.

I tend to read a lot of books that focus on that old-fashioned view of good versus evil. Just this week I finished reading Fighting Auschwitz, by Jozef Garlinski, which tells of the struggle between good and evil in the German death camp. The lines between good and evil here are clearly drawn. What is telling is that these prisoners, from many nationalities and political stripes that typically regarded each other as good and evil, put those differences aside as they battled something supernally evil. They came to realize that the politically correct divisions that kept them apart before the war were superficial, in the face of pure, raw evil, which did not care about political correctness and just wanted to proceed with the evils of torture and extermination.

Then there's Guantanamo Bay. Probably not as evil as Auschwitz, but certainly too far along the scale of evil than I'd like to think the United States would sink. But thus it is.

And do we have a presidential candidate who is ready to put aside political considerations and call evil evil and good good? I don't know that we do? McCain, on things military, probably not. Obama, he keeps falling into that ambiguous camp. So I'm not sure we can look with a perfect brightness of hope to them. What can we do? Certainly, more than write a blog entry.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Oh, the Irony

Today, I received an e-mail message from my current employer, suggesting I submit my resume in the pool for a technical writing job. It's at the same place that rejected me earlier this week. I think what happened is this: The folks at MFC had a subcontractor working for them. They fill their staff position with the subcontractor. But they still need the extra body, so they ask the subcontractor to provide another body. NPS is that subcontractor. So, essentially, I'm applying again for the job I didn't get. How weird is that?

Oh Look! Cows!

I wonder.

Should I be worried that some days I have the attention span of a TV channel changer?

Probably. But I'm on to other things now.

By the way, one of those other things I'm on to includes Armageddon, by Max Hastings. Good friend Martin in England evidently thought I was lacking in reading material, so he sends me this book on the last year of World War II. It looks like a fascinating read. I've promised myself, however, that I've got three other books in the queue to read before I can get to this one.

Thanks, Martin.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Uncharted Sneak Peek

Another sneak peek at what will begin appearing at Uncharted.net in about another month. I'm particularly proud of the video. Enjoy.

video

Les Egouts: When visiting Paris, don't forget the sewer tour

Paris is supposed to be romantic.

Strolls on the Champs Elysees.

Rides in a bateau mouche on the Seine.

A climb of the stairs of Montmartre, the Sacre-Coeur, the Eiffel Tower.

But on the left bank of the Seine, near the Pont de l’Alma, my wife and I found another place to wander where, in this fabled city, strolls are scented with musty odors of mildew and night soil; where strollers see not the city’s trademark trees, trimmed as a form of abstract natural art bathed in Parisian twilight, but stuffed rats as big as housecats, grinning from the gloom, black eyes reflecting light that falls from the bulbs embedded in the ceiling above.

We toured the sewers of Paris. Before we toured the Louvre.

We’d do it again. In that order.

Truthfully, visiting the sewers was not high on our priority list when we arrived in Paris. When I idly asked my wife the question, “So, do you want to tour the sewers,” as I chuckled after seeing the museum’s sign, I expected her reaction to be no, as she won’t even clean the toilets at home because the job makes her stomach turn.

I forgot she was a Les Miserables buff. We had two tickets and were descending the stairs more quickly than the characters from Victor Hugo’s famous novel could build a barricade.

For the unfamiliar, the sewers of Paris play a role in Hugo’s novel when Jean Valjean, Hugo’s hero, carries Marius, wounded in a fight at the barricades in the political upheaval that followed the Napoleonic Wars. Valjean – and Hugo – found the sewers to be quite intriguing, foreboding – and expressive:
The light from the air-hole died out ten or twelve paces from the point at which
Jean Valjean stood, an scarcely produced a pallid whiteness over a few yards of
the damp wall of the sewer. Beyond, the opaqueness was massive; to penetrate it
appeared horrible, and to enter it seemed like being engulfed. He could,
however, force his way into that wall of mist, and he must do it. He must even
hasten. He had laid Marius upon the ground, he gathered him up, this is again
the right word, replaced him upon his shoulders, and began his journey. He
resolutely entered that obscurity.

We entered the obscurity as well, though our illumination was more frequent and provided not by air holes but by incandescent bulbs. Walking into “Le Musee des Egouts de Paris,” (the Paris Sewer Museum) from a 42-step staircase near the Pont de l’Alma, visitors descend into that eerie world made familiar by Hugo’s work.

And it is creepy, with that musty smell, lime oozing out of the older walls on this 500-yard tour. Stuffed rats – more than a few – add to the ambience, as do mannequins sporting the latest uniforms used by sewer workers. There’s an interesting mix of history – Hugo’s Les Miserables features prominently in the museum’s displays – and men at work, including a trip on a grate above a stream of treated wastewater that still carries that particular night soil pong. (A secret, we’re told, is if you want to really experience the smells as well as the sights, visit the museum on a rainy day. We opted to visit with the sun shining above; it was smelly enough for us.)

Most fascinating are the giant, hollow steel balls that stand at least six or seven feet high, that sewer workers used to manually roll through the system’s largest collection pipes to clean night soil and other debris out, in order to keep the sewers flowing. I’ve worked some pretty nasty jobs, including hod carrying and windshield replacement, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to push and Indiana Jones-size ball through a smelly sewer just to keep the pipes from backing up. But we do what we do to have the money to take trips halfway across the world to wander around a sewer, right?

The museum reminds visitors that the sewers – all 1,300 miles of them in Paris – work triple and quadruple duty, providing access not only to wastewater and drinking water systems, but also for telecommunications and electricity – all reasons why you never see a power pole in the French capital.

I love this museum. Frankly, it was more fun than the Louvre, even discounting watching the hordes of people taking flash photos of the Mona Lisa, including, in their picture, a sign banning the taking of flash photos. The Louvre may have more art and it may not smell as funky, but Le Musee des Egouts de Paris certainly recalls the quirkiness and subtle humor I came to appreciate after living in France for two years. Forget Winged Victory or the Code of Hammurabi. Give me a stuffed rat and enormous sewer-cleaning bowling balls every time.

The museum also a coy reminder that, in Paris, if you’re interested in something – even sewers – chances are, there’s something to interest you. Even if it’s not necessarily romantic.

Getting there: The entrance to the museum is opposite 93, quai d’Orsay, near the Pont de l’Alma, in the park between the street and the riverbank. It’s hard to miss, with it’s enormous (for Paris) “Egouts de Paris” sign hanging above it. The museum is open Saturdays through Wednesdays from 11 am to 5 pm between May 1 and September 30 (for a full schedule of hours, consult the museum’s web page through the Paris Web Portal at http://www.paris.fr/.)

Cost: 4,20 euros ($6.70) for adults, 3,40 euros ($5.40) for children ages 6-16; children under six get in free.

Strike One

Good morning.

Just got a message regarding one of the three jobs I interviewed for in June. The news is not good. I still hold out hope, but it's fading, on the others. This job was No. 2 on my wish list. I'd just like to understand why they didn't pick me, to see if there's something I can work on or correct to increase my chances. Chances are they had a lot of qualified people apply for the job, and I just didn't make the final cut. But am I always to be the bridesmaid and never the bride? That's not really an apt metaphor, but I'll stick with it.

It's just frustrating. Add to that the fact that my computer won't talk with my thumb drive this morning, and today's really turned into a bummer.

I won't wail about this not being fair. Fairness has nothing to do with it. I know, going into these applications, that there is competition, and, frankly, I'm used to coming in second or third or fourth. Besides, the job I have here seems to be somewhat more secure, what with two writers taking the early buyout. That buys me maybe another three months before the next round of layoff hits just before Christmas. Hope that one doesn't ring my bell. I need to look at it this way: I have prayed the last few weeks for an answer. I got one today. Not the answer I wanted, but an answer nonetheless. I've been promised that I'll be able to support my family, so that's what I need to concentrate on, not the fairness or unfairness of the world, because, frankly, I'm in a good position now. Back in 2005 when I was still looking for good employment, this would have hurt a lot worse than it does now. Maybe I'll be in that unemployment boat again soon; no one can tell for sure. But I'll make the best of what I've got now. I do good work, people are happy with the work I do, so I ought to be content with that.

I also need to realize that work is not the be-all and end-all. Oh, it makes life much more pleasant, having money and such. But there are other ways in which I can find fulfillment. I need to get back to working on my novel. Uncharted, too, after a little bump, is becoming more entertaining, because I'm getting back into the writing and creativity end of the whole thing, rather than the running of the business and the wiping of the noses end of the whole thing, which is better.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Scott Joplin from a Fossil

Part of what I like about having a big CD collection is that once and a while, I can pull out a gem that I haven't heard in ages and let it scroll. Right now, it's Scott Joplin playing. Ragtime. America's Schubert. I love it. It's music for music's sake, much like what J.S. Bach composed.

It gets the kids curious. They come to listen (admittedly, rarely for long) but when Dad gets out one of the old CDs, they come arunning.

I know a lot of people were introduced to Joplin's music thanks to The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. I suppose something good had to come out of that movie, and if love of ragtime is the one thing, that's great. Because the movie was a stinker otherwise. The script was awful, and the acting was, frankly, just as bad. I know a lot of people were hoping for that Redford/Newman chemistry to come from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but you can't have the chemistry if the script is bad. And it was baaaaaaaad. They played it with cardboard emotion, which is unfortunate. I've seen the film a few times, and each time I see it, the dialogue gets more and more wooden. When Redford's character is talking about getting the guy who "croaked Luther," I cringe. He sounds like he's ordering fries or something. Of course, trying to write better screenplays than William Goldman is a tall order. He doesn't waste his time thinking, okay, I've got to put in some exposition, some character development. Because it all comes naturally to him. He just puts it in where it makes the most sense, without having to put up road construction signs in the script saying, "Hey, this is really important."

But back to the music. I love playing this and have people -- young ones, mostly -- complain about the oldies I'm playing. Then I say, hey, this was the rock music in 1890s, the 1900s. You owe a lot of what you listen to today to guys like this. They don't believe me, because I am a fossil. It's still fun to say, though.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Oh, THAT nutjob!

We have friends in England who, at times, shake their heads at the American political system. There ought to be room, they argue, for more than just two political parties. European politics, in general, often see three, four, five parties win seats in various parliaments. Why not try the same thing here?

Well, it's the quality of candidates chosen, for one. The American Green Party, for instance, has chosen Cynthia McKinney as their nominee (see this story: http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/12/mckinney.green.party/index.html). I knew I recognized her name -- she's the nutter from Georgia, a former U.S. Representative, who through an absolute tizzy fit because a guard at the U.S. Capitol didn't recognize her as she breezed through a security checkpoint. You'd think that a duly elected representative might consider, given the times, that it might be a wise thing to at least SLOW DOWN while passing through a security checkpoint. She didn't and, of course, alleged racial profiling and discrimination and whatnot. She got voted out of office. Now she wants to be president under the Green Party? Honestly, they couldn't pick anyone better for their nominee than some nutjob best known nationally for being a moron at a security checkpoint? Now, maybe I'm being unfair. We've had actor presidents. We've had general presidents. We even had a peanut farmer president who once claimed (this was after the election, mind you) that he'd been attacked by a large swimming rabbit while bobbing in a lake in Georgia. So maybe the gene pool is wide and shallow when it comes to picking presidential contenders.

Ralph Nader ran the most successful third-party run for president (as a Green) ever in 2004, and he got a whopping 3 percent of the vote. One of those votes was mine. He may have the personality of undercarpet mold, but at least he'd done useful things in his life, most notably warn us all that every Ford Pinto ever built was going to EXPLODE and KILL us all, so he's got that going for him. I just can't see myself voting for McKinney. Sorry, Greens. Try better next time.

Is it shallow to reject a candidate based on one incident in her life? Perhaps. But hotheads like her rub a rough spot with me. I don't know that we need someone that confrontational and so prone to umbrage and outrage in the Oval Office. We've had plenty of those already. We need a president like Merkin Muffley (of Dr. Strangelove fame) who was unperturbed even by a Soviet Premier who was drunk on the hotline and when the soviet ambassador and Gen. Turgidson where fighting in the War Room.

So here's a question to the parties in general: Is it too much to ask that y'all rise above the politic slop and actually tell us what you're going to do for the country? Obama, stop leaning to the right. McCain, fix that weenie voice of yours. I'm ready for another Reagan or (F.D.) Roosevelt, just to get some dynamism where it counts.

Come to Find Out, I'M One of Those Bastards

Boy is my face red.

Been reviewing the quarterly statements for our investments, and, for the past two quarters, they've not been pretty. First quarter this year, we lost about $4,000, which is like having a three-year-old body-slam you in the groin. For the second quarter, losses were much less than I'd anticipated. One of our funds actually made money, and I was feeling pretty good about it until something stored in the back of my head about our investment mix made me actually look at the statement this time. Seems the only reason we made money this quarter in this fund is because we're invested in an energy fund. Meaning oil. Meaning I'm one of those scabs I'm angry at for making money on the increase in fuel prices.

But, as this investment has made me more money than the proposed gas tax holidays would save me, part of me feels pretty good about it. It's kinda weird, being on this side of the scab fence for once.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I'm Not Just With Stupid, I AM Stupid

Don't you hate it when your catch yourself on the short end of the stupid stick? I did that earlier today, when one of my professors pointed out that I'd failed to turn in a draft of an assignment because I'd posted it in a discussion thread in our class web site, rather than in the assignment thread. I've taken the Humble Route with the situation, hoping that the prof will take pity on my stupidity. But there's this damn recurring thought throughout our coursework for this master's program, that being that we're responsible adults who are supposed to be bright enough to know where to put our homework.

So, I remain stupid.

Redeemed, however, when I found a copy of "I Am Not Spock" at Deseret Industries. Alibris sells this book for $10, Powells wants $25 for its copy. I got this for fifty cents. It's an entertaining read thusfar, and quite existential. Leonard Nimoy doesn't deny that he enjoyed the Spock role, nor is he distancing himself from the character. He just writes a lot about how difficult he finds it to separate himself from the character, because it's the character, not himself, that people are most interested in meeting. That's got to be a frustrating thing for an actor to struggle with. Of course, it's something we all struggle with from time to time. Back when I was writing for the paper, people wanted to meet the reporter, not who I really was. We don't necessarily have personas as distinct as Nimoy/Spock, but we have our private and public faces, and, occasionally, people want to meet the public face in private, or the private face in public. Myself, I'm quite shy in person, but not really all that shy at all at writing to an anonymous audience on the web, in a newspaper, or in classes.

Speaking of weird, take a look at this: It's the bookmark that came with "I Am Not Spock." I've long collected weird objects that come in the used books I buy. I've found a wide variety of bookmarks, postcards (including old ones from Disneyland and a postcard featuring the likeness of Lyndon Baines Johnson). But the most interesting finds are always the personal notes that get tossed in. One Farley Mowat book I've got has a letter in it from a stewardess from an Icelandic airline in it, complete with business card. She'd found the book left on a flight, and mailed it back to the owner, who happens to be the former owner of one of our local television stations. On the letter he contemplated sending the stewardess a card. I wonder if he ever did. And Geoff Thomas of Idaho Falls -- whom I think is the same as the superintendent of the Madison School District -- I have your copy of "Fail Safe," by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. (Incidentally, it's the book on which the contemporary rival to Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" is based. I'm so full of useless information. It's one of my defining characteristics, according to my mother-in-law, who laughs at it in a good-natured way and buys me books filled with trivia.)

Speaking of not-so-trivial things, I'm also reading "Fighting Auschwitz" by Jozef Garlinski. It's pretty disturbing in a way that gets me to thinking about our contemporary society. America right now has its own concentration camp of sorts at Guantanamo Bay. I wish they'd shut the place down. It's not nearly as bad as Auschwitz, or at least I think it's not, but it's still a place where nasty things happen. As Samuel the Lamanite says in Chapter 13 of Helaman, we are to the point where our land is cursed because we're not listening to God's messengers: "O that wa had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose the; for behold, our riches are gone from us (verse 33)."

This is kind of a hodge-podge entry. Please excuse.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another Uncharted Video

Survival of the Loudest

There's something uncannily Darwinian about the Internet, but I'm not sure it can be described as survival of the fittest. Maybe it's best described as Survival of the Loudest.

Take Digg, for example. Many moons ago -- well, we're talking months here, not years, since evolution on the Internet is highly contracted, making the growth of old media look like the growth of old forests. Anyway. Back on topic. Take Digg, for example. Many moons ago it was revolutionizing that budding thing called social media. People could go into Digg with a recommended story, and, huzzah, share it with the world. Why does social media sound like the peanut galleries I used to be a member of in college, the kind that made the professors mad and actually got me kicked out of one class? But now, Digg is the old, established media, and there is growing disgruntlement. Digg is getting too corporate, too censorial, too prone to allowing others to curry favor. Just like old media. So the even newer new media is popping up to try to supplant and usurp evil empires such as Digg. Given a few months, these new entities, too, will be regarded as old hat, charismatically evil, and such. The new one will always win because, on the Internet, we're all first adopters, crazily searching out the new, big thing and scratching at the doors to be let in so we can be the first to soil the carpets.

This is bloviation at its best, by the way. And I don't mean to single out Digg. It's just a site that popped to mind, but the same can be said of so many other sites.

You hear a lot of criticism about old media on the web. The criticism most bandied out is the "presumed guilty" attitude many in old media take. But isn't that pretty much the stance of most of new media as well? Controversey is what draws those eyeballs, isn't it? Doesn't seem to matter if the eyeballs are drawn to TV screens, dead editions or computer monitors. And for new media to scold old media for that kind of reprehensible behavior is very hypocritical.

Symbolic Gestures

Earlier this year, I wrote a whine here about John McCain proposing to offer Americans a summer-long “tax holiday” from the federal taxes on gasoline (http://misterfweem.blogspot.com/2008/04/john-mcwho.html). I panned the idea as a mere symbolic gesture, figuring that the holiday would, at most, save my family about $30 over the course of the summer.

Since then, a lot of other politicians (including Barack Obama, showing that empty symbolism is a tool of the left as well as the right) and pundits have jumped onto this and similar bandwagons, insisting that things like tax holidays and national speed limits are going to help us.

Hooey.

We need bigger thinkers, like T. Boone Pickens, who this week announced plans to invest billions in wind power plants and push Congress to make changes in the nation’s energy policy. His ideas sound pricey – spending $1 trillion to build wind power plants from North Dakota to Texas and another $200 billion to build transmission lines to send that power to the national grid – but, as he says on his web site pickensplan.com, the nation is already spending $700 billion a year on imported oil. He envisions wind power supplying 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs when this plan is carried out. That’s not too shabby.

Another things I like about this plan is that it doesn’t discount our reliance on fossil fuels for vehicles. We’re not going to get away from them any time soon. What his plan does is free up domestic natural gas – which is used for electricity production – to fuel our vehicles. We already have vehicles capable of running on natural gas, a fuel which produces far less pollution than gasoline or diesel. I think it makes sense, and I like that this private entrepreneur is getting in on it and making more than mere symbolic gestures.

But that brings us to a conundrum – we have to be willing to put up with these wind plants. Earlier this year, folks in Bingham County, Idaho (near where I live) successfully lobbied the county commission to deny plans to build a wind farm in the Wolverine Canyon area, because they were afraid the mills would mar the landscape. No matter that the mills would be spaced so far apart that you’d have to stretch hard to see one from the other, this was a no go – because some local idiot with money bandied around and got people riled up about it. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too. If we want less dependence on foreign oil, we’re going to have to allow more things like this in our own back yard.

Now, I’m an advocate of nuclear power. I work at a nuclear research facility that is powered by hydro and natural gas generated power, when we could get our needs from nuclear. Why we don’t have nuclear power in this region boggles my mind, given that we live in the center of nuclear reactor research for the nation. Do we not have any backbone?




Waste is definitely a problem. I work at a landfill where we’re digging up waste buried since the 1950s, and it’s nasty stuff. But there’s way to deal with waste, including reprocessing “spent” fuel to extract the “unspent” portion. And considering that France, where 56 nuclear power plants are online, has never had a meltdown, considering that the U.S. Navy, which pioneered nuclear propulsion for its ships and subs in the Idaho desert since the 1950s has never had a meltdown, I pooh-pooh those who scream like Chicken Littles about the safety of nuclear power. Airplanes, you know, they crash. They kill people. So do cars. And cigarettes. And hamburgers. So let’s not use them, either. That’s the logic we get from those who don’t want nuclear power. Too many people get that knee-jerk reaction and cite Chernobyl (a terrible accident caused by human arrogance and a faulty reactor design) as reasons to avoid nuclear power. They seem to think every nuclear power plant or nuclear power plant proponent is some acolyte of Monty Burns. Then you’ve got to ask how many people have died in accidents at petrochemical plants, refineries, or who suffer daily because oil profits in countries like Nigeria don’t trickle down to the common man, and they can’t tell you a damn thing.

I’ll stop frothing at the mouth now.

And just so you know, I’m not above making symbolic gestures myself – I ride the bus to work, rather than commute the 178 mile round-trip to work every day. We make our trips in our vehicles count and don’t use them needlessly. We live in a small town where we can walk to the store, church, the post office, the school. So we do. We take advantage of off-peak hours to run our clothes dryer, washer, dishwasher. We’re using compact fluorescent bulbs, we use breezes to cool the house, we don’t eat out, we don’t have cable, and we’re still getting squeezed as gas and food prices go up. I feel like we’re making a lot more symbolic gestures than our politicians are willing to offer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Warts

I sit here this evening, contemplating the warts on my left thumb. A few months ago, I began working to get rid of them, using one of those salicyclic acid-based wart removers. I hd three warts, and after a long struggle, they went away. A few weeks passed. They came back, and brought a friend. So I've started attacking them again, adding this time a day's soak in a heavily-chlorinated swimming pool. I think I'm winning the battle again, but I can't be sure they'll ever go away. That the three came back with another worries me that I'm going to end up like that guy in Thailand, who is slowly turning into a tree because of all the warts he has.

On the One Hand . . .

On the one hand, I can look at it as getting practice on job interviews. On the other hand, I'm getting a little tired of interviewers who thank me politely then say, "We'll get back to you." What does that mean, exactly, aside from the obvious: "You are pond scum," is what I'd like to know.

Yes, I interviewed with Utah State University yesterday, interrupting the interview briefly as I had to flee a sprinkler that suddenly started shooting water at me as I was taking the call behind the bus depot at Central. I think it went well, though the job -- offering a minimum of $35,000 -- probably won't pan out. My luck, it's the one I'll get offered, at a lowball salary that I can't take because we're not making ends meet on the $43,000 I'm making a year now. At least I'm not working for a stupid newspaper any more. Alan e-mailed yesterday with the announcement that the city editor position was open at the paper he works at. Just the thought of it turned my stomach.

I e-mailed my contact at BEA today, hoping to hear back on the other two jobs I've interviewed for. Nothing back. That's both good and bad, good in that I didn't get a flat-out rejection, bad in that in all likelihood she just wansn't in her office to get the e-mail so she could give me the bad news. That's what I'm preparing for. Good thing is that my spirits here have jumped a bit, what with the EAR revisions going much better than expected, so there's still lights on and a party going as far as this job is concerned. And given that even though all doesn't mean all, at least it means more than expected, so it's likely the work here will continue, depending on if they decide to continue with layoffs to the point they only have one guy left to turn the lights off once everybody else has flown the coop. But of course by then the coop will have either been demolished or turned over to AMWTP -- I have no idea how long their mission will be going. So who knows what'll happen?

My gosh. I think the guy in the corner cubicle here just coughed up his giblets.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I am Such A Genius


Wile E. Coyote, Soooper Genius. You know, I like the way that sounds. Wile E. Coyote, Soooooper Geenyusss!

That's me, at least tonight. I successfully installed an additional gig of memory in my wife's computer. Coming form a guy whose technological prowess comes from knowing where the on button is on most computers, this is quite a feat. Now she can run InDesign and all the goodies that come with it. She'll be so happy.

And it only cost $23, after rebates, from newegg.com, whom I highly recommend. Happy, happy I am.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Things Getting A Bit Clearer

Ah. Had a short but rather illuminating meeting with one of our higher ups, partly in regard to the waste agreement the state and DOE reached last week (see http://misterfweem.blogspot.com/2008/07/unanswered-questions.html).

To sum up, I'll try to reproduce a quote that came from the meetings: "All doesn't mean all, but it means a lot more than it used to." I feel better about my understanding of the situation now. Prior to the agreement, the plan was to dig up 2.8 acres of waste here. The new agreement calls for a minimum of 5.7 acres, with the possibility of 7.4 acres, depending on what's found there.

Longetivity-wise, it does add some stability to the project. The current contract, which expires in 2012, will likely see the 2.8 acres dug up. Further contracts (or extensions) will see the rest get dug up, so it's likley at least another seven years (my number) will be added to the project before it's all buttoned up. That'll see me into my mid-40s, should I elect to stay here. So we'll see.

It's not what the pure environmentalists want -- they wanted Judge Lodge's interpretation of "All is all" to stick, and to see all the waste leave. It is, I think, a pretty good compromise, however, as it gets the nastiest stuff out of the state, and calls for continued vacuum treatment of VOCs indefinitely, as far as I can tell.

Yes, call me selfish for looking at it from an employemnt prospect first. I am one of the bungholes on this mile-long green monster with a bunghole every three feet that lives in the desert here, after all.

Bloviation and WALL-E

Because the Internet isn't boring enough:



On other fronts:
  • No news yet on the jobs I've interviewed for. Upper lip losing its stiffness. Have another interview tomorrow. Not feeling optimistic.
  • They're still holding Elvis Presley's brain hostage on Planet Zort. Ted Koppel doesn't care.

Our Fourth of July festivities were fun, though according to our oldest, not nearly involved enough. Yesterday he came to me, a mite disappointed, complaining that all we'd done for the Fourth was the parade, the fair, the fireworks and the movie, omitting the air show and car show, even though he and his siblings had a ball playing in the pool, with the toys and exploring this classic '60s mazey house we stayed in with Michelle's niece. It was a grandma house, definitely -- shiny wallpaper, shag carpeting throughout even in the bathrooms, dark cabinets, Day-Glo orange bathroom countertops, oversized keys hanging on the walls and, in nearly every room, a speaker with which you could communicate with people who'd rung your doorbell. Sooooo modern, oh, 50 years ago. Oh yeah: Red brick. That ubiquitous red, scored-face brick that EVERYONE used back in the 60s.

We saw WALL-E over the weekend. Frankly, Pixar has done better. Oh, I have no qualms about the "message" of the film, which has brought out great umbrage among conservative bloviators and much self-righteousness among bloviators from the left. I think the message is apt -- If we sit idly by, absorbed in our own lives and self-entertainment, we're bound to take for granted the beauties we have around us. I acknowledge that the overt message is that such human carelesness rendered the planet inhospitable. But you must also acknowledge the more subverted message (shown on the Axiom among the two humans who are broken out of their technological coccoons to begin enjoying life as human beings, rather than as consumers) that as we depend too much on technology for not only entertainment and education, but also social interaction, we're destroying the human environment -- face-to-face communication, interaction and play on levels that don't involve cameras, pixels or computers. (WALL-E, EVE; I assume it's EVE, it's hard to tell as WALL-E pronounces it EVA) and the ship's captain also pick up on this message, and it's nice to see it infused in the rest of the group after they make it back to Earth to begin salvaging what they can.)

But back to my original point: Pixar has done better. It's not in character development -- though the number of developed characters in this film is very small. The message, as I've said, is just fine with me. It just feels like the story was treated lightly, almost mechanically, when the action gets to the Axiom. Now, WALL-E's loneliness and the hopelessness of his task on Earth is beautifully portrayed. Who wouldn't pick up a bunch of odd objects and cling to them in that kind of environment? On the Axiom, however, the action was a bit too pat and repetetive. I don't know. It's easy to overanalyze these things.

UPDATE: Something else just struck me as I pondered other things. There has been some commentary on the Internet that Disney/Pixar are bing hypocritical in mass-producing watches and other plastick swag to promote this movie preaching against overconsumption. I would tend to agree -- but this comes from the generation that seems to insist that every web site or business or blog have swag of its own to distribute, mostly in the form of t-shirts and keychain trinkets. Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Note To Single People

Even after ten years of marriage and countless apologies, I still do not understand women.

That is all. Breckenridge.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Unanswered Questions

Our state and local media have given much trumpet to the agreement announced July 1 between the Department of Energy and the state regarding cleanup of waste at the Idaho National Laboratory (where I work). The reports – and the information provided to reporters – however, leaves some questions unanswered.

I’ve been trying to figure things out for the past few days. What I write here has the potential to be totally wrong, so do not take this as gospel. Also, don’t look here for background information, as that is available elsewhere, including at www.idahocleanupproject.com, so it won’t be repeated here.

As near as I can figure out, the agreement goes above and beyond the department’s preferred cleanup alternative, which would have called for 4.8 acres of buried waste to be dug up, sorted, repackaged and then shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. The agreement announced July 1 identifies 5.7 to 7.4 acres of waste that will be removed from the state. The waste of concern is waste (ranging from sludges to contaminated filters, tools, clothing and dirt) contaminated with plutonium and other transuranic elements, plus organic compounds, primarily carbon tetrachloride, buried at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex here in Idaho since the early 1950s. There has been some local whining that simply repackaging and storing this waste elsewhere just adds “our problem” to someone else’s back yard. They would be well advised to consider that most of the waste in question was generated at the Rocky Flats plant in Colorado, outside Denver, so this is not all necessarily locally-produced waste.

The agreement appears to be a compromise between DOE’s preferred alternative and Judge Edward Lodge’s “all means all” ruling in 2006, and will extend cleanup activities at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex well past the 2018 end date DOE identifies in its preferred alternative (more information on that alternative is available at the website I indicate above). The press materials mention the Lodge ruling, but seem to skirt the “all means all” language which brought this litigation in the first place. Call that semantics, I guess. Given that those were key words throughout this process, however, you’d think they’d want to mention them as a landmark when this agreement was reached.

What is not being said or reported at this point (and to be fair, I have not read the Post Register’s reports on the matter; they may well have reported these things, but as I don’t subscribe, I can’t say for myself) is what this will specifically do to timelines for cleanup, nor what costs will be incurred. DOE’s preferred alternative, for example, called for waste exhumation and repackaging to go on through 2018, with the remaining waste topped by a cap by 2027. Digging up more waste will obviously cost more in time and money. Former Gov. Cecil Andrus touched on this at the press conference, addressing the state’s Congressional delegation when he asked that funds be made available for the cleanup, but, again, no timelines were discussed.

Getting a better feel for the costs and timing – and how they could impact ongoing layoffs at the cleanup project – could go a long way in increasing worker morale here and stemming the flow of workers who are leaving the project for other jobs before the proverbial axe falls.

Speaking of rats leaving the ship, I have an interview for a third job on Tuesday, this time with the Information Technology Department at Utah State University. Of the three jobs I've interviewed for in the past few weeks, this'll be lowest on my wish list, as they pay is marginal. But it does feel good to think that I'm at least making the cut on these jobs. Or at least the first cut. I'd written this one off, because I'd applied for it waaaay back in May, then had to re-apply for it becasue the position had turned up as "withdrawn," then re-posted,when I checked in early June. So to hear from them this week was a surprise. We'll see what comes of it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Folks at the Rex keep digging that hole

Now, we here in the Reddest County in the Reddest State of the Union ® usually don’t cotton to protests, that being the hallmark of the hippie-leftists-commies in Idaho Falls and Boise. But if the owners of The Rex theater keep on asking for (or keep on getting) waivers on their property taxes, I may be ready to lead a protest.

First, a little background: The Rex is a four-screen theater built in Rexburg, Idaho, a few years ago by a small Wyoming company that has built a handful of other similar complexes in small towns in the area. They also have a restaurant that serves rubbery pasta, a bowling alley and a game room.

Last year, they asked for – and received – a waiver of their $80,000 county property tax bill because, I don’t know, popcorn sales were off or something. Now, we don’t have many theaters in town. Carmike shut down its two theaters, leaving The Rex and a locally-owned discount theater (which expanded into one of Carmikes’ abandoned properties) as the only theaters in town.

Back when they got their waiver, I wondered – why didn’t the local theater also get a waiver, if we’re so pro-business chest-thumping Republican up here, firm believers in equal treatment under the la – oh yeah. We’re not. It’s the ol’ buddy system, in which you only get what you ask for. The Rex asked. The locals didn’t.

Now they’re saying they’re going to ask again – after they whined about how much the county pegged their property’s value at (see story here: http://www.rexburgstandardjournal.com/articles/2008/07/01/news/doc486a579a37c99785312376.txt) The first waiver got our county commissioners in lukewarm water at the primaries; one of two incumbents lost over the tax flap. Now we’ll see how this next flap unfolds.

We’ve already stayed away from the Rex, at first for practical reasons – our best babysitters (and, frankly, the better high-end theater) are in Idaho Falls. But when The Rex got their property taxes waived, that was another reason not to go there. Listening to them complaining again makes me think staying away is the right decision.

It’s doubtful they’ll get the waiver for a second time – but if they do, I’ll protest. I’ll ask for a waiver of my home property taxes. Something to put me on equal grou – oh yea, it doesn’t work that way here.

These are supposed to be businessmen. If you can’t make enough money to cover your property taxes, it’s time to get out of the business. I’m sure they had dollar signs instead of eyes when they eyed Rexburg for their newest theater, what with student population at the local university exploding. But there still seem to be lots of crowds making the journey to Idaho Falls, for movies and many other things.

Least Influential American?

First, watch the video:

Time Releases Annual List Of Least Influential Americans

Now, try to figure out where you'd land on the list.

Given the criteria The Onion sets forth in this video, it's clear that anyone who has a dog or delivers sweet rolls will rank higher than Jim Stutts of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who hit at -- what was it -- 9,604 on the list. Here's what his wife had to say about his ranking: "He's finally getting recognition just for not having an effect on anyone." Strong, supportive words, to be sure.

Since I have a dog, clearly I'm more influential than this man, since my dog listens to me all the time, except when I tell her to stop barking at random oxygen molecules bounding about in the front yard. Other facets of my life that will put me lower on this list:
  • I have three children and a wife who occasionally listen to me.
  • I have co-workers who occasionally stop by my cubicle on the way out to the bus to chat so it doesn't appear that they're leaving too early.
  • The neighbor's cat Charity acknowledges my presence.
  • I'm enrolled in online classes that force fellow students and instructors to acknowledge my presence.
  • I blog. [Insert pause for laughter]

Of course, my influence in these activities varies greatly from day to day. Mentioning Second Life in a blog post, for instance, certainly increases traffic here, but that can't be done on a daily basis because, frankly, people who do that look very stupid, unless, of course, they've got interesting things to say. Which I do not.

Maybe it's egomaniacal, but I'm tempted to say that I probably rank somewhere in the middle tier of the least influential of my fellow 299,999,900 least influential Americans. Certainly, I have more influence than most children and non-dog owners, but less than used car salesmen and your average state legislator. (Being listened to is one thing, being effective is another.) It's amusing to think about, that's for sure.