Saturday, October 31, 2009

Uncharted Heads to Columbia

It’s a place with an impressive pedigree. It’s a home to Nobel laureates Theodore Roosevelt, Milton Freedman and Enrico Fermi; admitted spies Whittaker Chambers and Harry Dexter White; the moguls Warren Buffet and David O. Selznick. It brought us Isaac Asimov, author of I, Robot, and Paul Gallico, author of The Poseidon Adventure. It brought us the likes of Upton Sinclair and Art Garfunkel, William “The Princess Bride” Goldman and Benjamin “Not that Spock” Spock. And, in 1984, it brought the world a shushing, ghostly librarian and Drs. Egon Spangler, Ray Stantz and Peter Venkman, who has PhDs in psychology and parapsychology.

It’s New York City’s storied Columbia University. And this Monday, Uncharted’s own Alan Murray, our benevolent founder and despot, will walk the same granite stairways and gaze upon the same verdant greenswards as these famous folk.

He is, despite his eastern upbringing – he’s a Pennsylvania native – a little flummoxed. “I’m hoping they all think I'm the CEO of Uncharted the video game,” he says. “That way, maybe more than 30 people will show up, only to be disappointed to find out I am a bum.”

The “they” of whom he speaks are high school students and their advisors; the “what” is the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s annual fall conference where, this year, presenters representing the fields of digital media, media law, newspaper and magazine journalism, photography, social media and Internet production and others will offer 98 presentations to students hoping to improve their skills in communication and make their high school and private school publications the envy of the universe.

Alan is one of those to whom the students will flock to partake of wisdom. On Monday, Nov. 2, he’ll present on “Geo-Social Media for an Uncharted Era.” He’ll focus on how students (and business) can communicate more effectively and work as teams to save money and time producing web publications. A full description of Alan’s presentation is available here.

“I’m really excited to be teaching this fall,” Alan says. “I spent most of my high school years attending conferences like this one. These events aren't possible without the many qualified professionals who donate their talent and time to make the event a success. It's nice to be able to do what others did for me when I was a student.”

The conference is among the most venerable student journalism conferences held in the United States. It’s sponsored by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, which was founded in 1925 and formed to “unite student editors and faculty advisers working with them to produce student newspapers, magazines, yearbooks and online media,” according to the association’s Web site. (The online stuff, obviously, came a bit later than 1925.) Students form all over the United States and from overseas attend the conference as part of the education in communications, journalism, web production, photography, and writing.

Other presenters this year will teach students how to write effective editorials, take prize-winning photos, produce video for Internet delivery, explore the ins and outs of how social media can help them strengthen their publications and, from Alan, learn how to use inexpensive or free digital tools to enhance their publicaton’s presence on the web.

We at Uncharted, obviously, wish Alan the best of luck. And Alan, if you see any ghosts, be sure to follow Dr. Stantz’ advice:

Attention World: FIX THIS STUFF NOW!


In honor of Alice "Blammy K. Blammo" Otterloop and her endearing self-centeredness, I, too will declare what in this world annoys me, the center of it all:
  1. Vampires, both sexpotty and weepingly abstinent.
  2. Zombies, fast or slow.
  3. Warts.
  4. This ginormous pile of "to be read" books on my desk.
  5. Crowds.
  6. Big crowds.
  7. Carpet stains.
  8. Pop music, because not even that can save us now from the vampires that arrive in a parcel, in the kitchen, via hate mail.
  9. KLCE.
  10. All those damn laaa dee daaah I'm a free spirit songs they play on KLCE.
  11. Did I mention pop music?
  12. Sci-fi movies with happy endings. I want more 70s sci-fi, where men fought their own inner demons with cigars and cynicism; or fought apes, and always lost.
  13. Sentences that make me go back and have to punctuate and augment with verbs in order for them to make sense. Because I almost had men fighting their own inner demons with cigars, cynicism, AND apes.
  14. My shed. It's time to clean it out again. Anyone have some dynamite?
  15. The number fifteen. It's so namby-pamby. There is NO ROOM for middle ground between ten and twenty. Choose or perish.
  16. And number sixteen isn't much better.
  17. That overwhelming desire to head to Deseret Industries to buy more books even though we have so many books at home already it's likely to explode at any minute.
  18. Unclear antecedents.
  19. The short phone cord at work that almost always makes the phone fall off the desk when I'm sitting back in my chair talking on the phone and twirling around so as to increase my concentration.
  20. Lists that go past twenty items without any logical reason.
  21. The disparity between how good I sound singing along to the songs on my iPod and how bad I sound singing songs without iPoddy assistance.
  22. That someone has engaged in symmetrical CD stacking on my desk. No human being stacks CDs like this.
  23. Interviews the movie stars or singers in which they stray from movie stardom or singing and offer me their "philosophy of life." If I thought what your philosophy of life were interesting, I'd be stalking you.
  24. Children who have to be dragged out of bed with grappling hooks attached to a squadron of Pulling Hippos to get out of bed for school, but who awake their parents with demands for breakfast or fights over toys starting at 7 am on Saturday.
  25. My compulsion to cling to paper. I still have copies of phone bills we paid in 1996.
  26. Lists that end on a milestone number, like 25.
To offer evidence that I'm not just a selfish bastard, I should point this out: I spent a few hours yesterday building a dog house, complete with waterproof roof, for a stray dog living in our alley. He slept in it last night.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Casey Jones

Marcel Proust had his moment with a spoonful of tea and a madeline cake. I had my moment today with this whistling wolf:



and the Christy Minstrels singing "Casey Jones."

I loved these cartoons as a kid. We'd walk around the house, slouching a bit, hands in pockets, whistling that happy little tune, not knowing at all what the music was from. Now I know. And I feel the Earth is a richer place. It doesn't take much to get me happy, you see. Just whistling this silly little tune is enough to keep me happy for days.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Oh, Mr. Sta-Puft



What better way to celebrate the entry of fall into Idaho than with a spring story from Uncharted. And, argh, yes, that is a play on words, because not only were these photos of Cress Creek taken in spring, but Cress Creek itself is a spring. I am prepared to be pumelled for the play on words. Go ahead. Do your worst.

But read the story. Cress Creek is such a fun place to take your kids on a hike especially, if they're like mine, they're hyperactive, a bit overstimulated at school and determined that this hike will be completed on schedule. Race up the trail, hesitate only a nanosecond at the crossroads, then race up the hill, over the bridges, down the hills, over the flatlands and to the precipice where they gawk at the Snake River below. Odd thing is if I want them to walk through a Home Depot for fifteen minutes, they're all tired.

I never get tired of going to Cress Creek. It's kind of fun to wander into this little Eden on the Snake River Canyon, parched in summer except for this little green gully where geothermically-heated spring water keeps things green. And then there are the remnants of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, resplendent on one of the rocks overshadowing the trail. The goo is actually ash and pumice spewed out by the Menan Buttes 18 miles to the northwest, but  . .  . why am I telling you this? Go read the story. Now.

Ares



When i was in the third grade, I came in second place in the regional Young Authors' Contest with a story I titled "Rocket in Space." I was -- and remain -- a space geek, my geekery fueled by Carl Sagan's Cosmos and a lot of books borrowed repeatedly from the Idaho Falls Public Library and books I could sneak out of the library at school. Alas, my flailing in higher math (with the exception of geometry) led me to conclude that a career as an astronomer would be doomed to failure, or at least constant mathematical mockery by my peers and superiors.

But space still captivates. I say a jaunty (well, occasionally jaunty, it is typically at 4:45 am) hello to Orion when I see him every morning in winter as I'm heading to the bus. And when NASA launched its new Ares rocket this week, I was spellbound. I loved seeing that graceful, yet gourdly-bulging spacecraft lift off and soar into the blue sky. I wanted to be on it. I wanted it to be more than a mere test flight, but to be a flight to the Moon, to Mars. Stop spending money on bombs and wars and give more to the Rocket Men, I say.

I know the Apollo Program took place during a time of unprecedented civil unrest, and that, then as now, a lot of people were critical of spending all that money putting a man on the Moon. But what fun. To be up there on the Moon, dancing around on that grey regolith, plodding up the wall of a crater. Or to be on Mars and walking among the red dust and tumbled rocks, angled by the sandblasting winds. Sometimes, I confess, when I'm on walks at work -- I work in Idaho's Lost River Desert, where there's plenty of open space, dusty soil and lava rock -- I pretent I'm on the Moon, or on Mars. Mentally I erase all of the fauna and imagine trudging toward that red horizon, watching as the sun dips and turns the sky blue. I'd love to be on Mars right now, rather than sitting in this little cubicle in the desert.

Phantom Dog

Ever been in one of those relationshps where you're not quite sure how everything fits together? That's how we're feeling about our dog right now.

Technically, he's not our dog. Technically, he might not even be a he, though Michelle says she has looked as the dog -- medium sized, some kind of collie mix, black and white -- darts away from her as she approaches.

The dog appeared in the alley behind our house, oh, sometime in early summer, June perhaps. At first, we never saw hijm, we just knew that an awful lot of pet dishes were showing up in the alley, licked clean and looking slightly chewed. We gathered them up and took them around the neighborhood, finding homes for some of them. But they'd soon be back.

Then we saw the dog. Fleetingly. If it saw us first, it hid, and if we approached its hiding place, it took off.

We're getting closer to it now. It's to the point if it's lying in its favorite spot in a makeshift shelter Michelle made for it out of grass clippings and a pile of scrap lumber and it sees us coming, it doesn't run. it does look at us, with its glowing eyes. Michelle's been trying to coax it closer to the house with food and water, inching the bowl closer and closer to the house each night. We'd like to see what's on its collar, because we're quite certain someone is missing this dog.

Mic helle's niece's dog -- a similar farm-type dog to the one in the alley -- was stolen a few months ago, along with a few other farm dogs in Swan Valley. The dog turned up in Lewiston, Idaho, of all places -- a spot about 10 hours away, so there's little chance the dog walked there. So we're wondering if the dog in our alley is a similarly lost abductee. Once we can actually get close enough to him to look at his collar, we'll see.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saving American Journalism in the Digial Age, with 19th-Century Solutions



I just finished my first reading of the Columbia Journalism Review’s “Reconstruction of American Journalism” report by Leonard Downie, Jr., and Michaeal Schudson.


It is a curious document. For the most part, they offer little hope or solace to traditional “national” media, ranging from widely-distributed newspapers such as the LA Times, the New York Times, and others, to papers owned by national chains to broadcast media including radio and television, at least in their current configuration. Instead, they pin the hopes of saving journalism – not one particular communication medium – on a mixture of local, regional and national news organizations funded by private and public foundations, universities (which would provide not money, but in-kind donations of labor) individuals, public, and private enterprises more willing to collaborate than compete, and a new governmental bureaucracy meant to distribute funds generated from taxes on telecom companies and internet service providers to fund local news projects.

For Uncharted’s purposes, the report outlines a few things we might try, a few things we are already doing but, frankly, for us and for most others like us seeking answers to our funding questions, leaves the big question – where will the money come from – unanswered.

I’ll hit some of the highlights from their recommendations, the go on to discuss a few things that might impact Uncharted or are already impacting the way we’re doing business.

“To support diverse sourced of independent news reporting,” they write, “we specifically recommend:”

• Authorization from the IRS or Congress to allow news organizations devoted to public affairs to be created or converted into non-profit organizations, funded by foundations and any other source of income they may find.

• Philanthropists and foundations should increase their support of news organizations, specifically towards those who are active in public affairs and accountability reporting.

• Public radio and television should be encouraged to produce more local news, through reform of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and increased public funding for CPB.

• Universities should become coursed of local, state and specialized news as part of their educational missions, through operating their own news organizations, hosting platforms for non-profit news organizations and providing faculty positions for active journalists. They should become labs for digital innovation in news sharing and gathering.

• The Federal Communications Commission should establish a Fund for Local News, from taxes (existing or new) imposed on telecom users, TV and radio broadcast licensees and/or internet service providers, with the funds distributed via competition through state Fund for Local News Councils.

What is interesting with their recommendations is that most of the fingers are pointing to different ways to get money, rather than, as reported in the narrative sections of the report itself, finding different ways to get professionals, the audience, and those with the money to cooperate on forging a new business model that incorporates the three guiding influences Clay Shirky believes are affecting how the news media – specifically newspapers – are being impacted by the Internet; those being a broken business model, offering intellectual bundles of content rather than economic bundles of content, and the rise of more and more individuals who want to participate in journalism.

The recommendations may be admirable long-term goals, but it’s clear the industry needs changes that can be implemented more quickly and more in terms of taking advantage of what Josh Marshall of the talking Points Memo says in the report: “Marshall described TPM as ‘narrating with reporting and aggregation’ – including the involvement of ‘an audience with high interest and expertise. We have a consistent, iterative relationship with our audience – people telling us where to look,’ Marshall said. ‘But all that information, stories, and sources are checked professionally by our journalists.’” That sounds kind a familiar, as this is pretty much the blueprint Uncharted is using for our professional/amateur approach.

First of all, the recommendations do offer changes in the generic news business model of depending on subscription and advertising revenue to pay the bills. But buried in the proposals is the fact that such revenue streams will still be part of a news organization’s bottom line, though a smaller part. No resolution is offered to counter the capricious winds that affect how philanthropists and foundations parcel out their funds year to year, nor to the opposition that reallocated or new taxes on telecom services, licensees or internet service providers will face. I worked at Qwest for a year (our regional Baby Bell) and can tell you that one of the things people complained about the most on their bills were the state and federal taxes, few of which they understood. I’m not sure a new tax to support local news foundations would go over all that well, no matter how well-intentioned the end use of that tax money might be.

It’s interesting to note that two of the five recommendations include increased government funding for news through reorganized government bureaus, from the Federal Communications Commission to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While it’s clear that nationally-funded entities such as the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio could do more local reporting, it’s an odd contradiction, especially when the report states “Most Americans have a deep distrust of direct government involvement or political influence in independent news reporting, a sentiment we share. But this should not preclude government support for news reporting any more than it has for the arts, the humanities, and sciences, all of which receive some government support.” Given current White House marginalization of Fox News, the most-popular of the cable news networks, due to what some critics call overt or covert influence from the Republican Party in newsgathering, it’s hard to see how government money, even flowing to locally-controlled news bureaus, could avoid such criticism from not only the “most Americans” mentioned in the report, but from news organizations who might see such local news bureaus as competition, rather than collaborators. Oddly enough, the report quotes Scott Lewis, publishers of a recently-launched local online news agency, the Voice of San Diego, as saying: “We don’t count on mass traffic, but rather a level of loyalty. We’re seeking loyal people like those who give to the opera, museums, or the orchestra because they believe they should be sustained.” Which audience would we rather have: The disaffected audience who mistrusts our content because they had to pay for it through some governmental intervention whether they wanted our content or not, or the audience that willingly pays and, because of such loyalty, willingly participates in adding to what content we have? The solutions offered here heavily lean towards the first kind of audience, the mass audience that Alan Mutter over at the Newsosaur blog says just doesn’t exist for newspapers any more.

So it’s clear on a grand scale – as the authors of the repot admit – that there are no good solutions at present. They do agree on four points:

• Financial fragility is the common thread among all organizations seeking to find a new news business model.

• Startup staffs are small, underpaid or volunteer, with their growth and impact still to be determined.

• The free market will determine what experiments are successful.

• News organization managers “are best positioned to shape and test responses to [experiments]"

Basically, I think for mainstream news organizations, this report is insightful, but offers solutions that are untested and politically questionable. But what is oddest to me is that while the narrative section of the report emphasizes collaboration and experimentation, the solutions offered offer old-school solutions that place emphasis not on collaboration or experimentation, but on offering those already in charge of news gathering and dissemination survival strategies that don’t take collaboration or experimentation into account, and certainly doesn’t look at solutions that could take advantage of how the audience is seeking, consuming, and participating in the news-gathering and dissemination processes.

Tom Grubishich at the Online Journlalism Review says it best:
Perhaps it's unfair to hammer the Downie-Schudson report too hard. It's symptomatic of what passes for analysis of the crisis in American journalism. We get too much rhetoric. The rhetoric is often well phrased – after all, it's usually written by journalists – but we don't need more rhetoric, however polished it may be. What we need is more case-method and other critical examination.
So forget the solutions offered. Instead, let’s look at what we can glean from the narrative section to help us with Uncharted, by way of new experiments or affirmation of current experimentation:

Reporting is becoming more participatory and collaborative, Downie and Schudson say. We know this. Let’s build on that:

The report credits some news organizations for charging for online content. “Although they have not attracted many paid Web-only subscribers, their publishers say they have so far protected much of their print circulation and advertising,” the report says. The significant word there is “protect.” If we want to charge for something, we have to look at charging as a way to protect an asset, not as a way to raise revenue. We can charge for unlimited uploads, as Flickr does, not to earn money, but to avoid or at least subsidize huge bills for server space. We can’t hope to pay all of our bills through such payments, but we can, with a token payment of, say, $25 a year, protect ourselves from excess server charges.

The report credits collaborations, ranging from exploring opportunities with Google searches to forming partnerships with people with pockets deeper than ours to pay the bills. Could Uncharted not, for example, and for a fee, offer state and regional tourism bureaus a window to our readers through a “commercial” profile on Uncharted, featuring content produced by the bureaus, for mass consumption. They might pay for access to our audience, especially if we allow commercial access for a fee and are on the lookout for individuals using the site for commercial gain.

More importantly, we need to build audiences on loyalty, as the Lewis from the Voice of San Diego mentions.

The report celebrates organizations experimenting with professional/amateur journalism. We’re doing this, but could do more.

Alas . . .

Slate announced today the winner (and runners up) in the significant objects competition withy co-hosted (or whatever) with significantobjects.com.

I did not win.

That's okay.

But I entered. That counts for something.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Weird Out Your Kids (Idea No. 4,319)

When carving a jack o' lantern, do the following:
  • Cut out a triangle jack o' lantern nose.
  • Once you pop that triangle of pumpkin out, trim off the stringy bit then take a big ol' bit of the now stringless pumpkin.
  • Chew away happily, regaling yourself with the shreiks, squeals and other Why did You Do That noises.
  • Repeat as necessary for best effect.
I did this with my kids Sunday evening. I still think the youngest is shivering . . .

Yet Another Strong Argument Against Free



Money.

In this capitalistic society, that’s what it comes down to. Yes, there’s room for altruism. Charity. Benevolence. And the ever-present Internet handout. But until web hosting services offer their products for free, programmers program for free, and my home mortgage lender calls me to say, hey, you’re such a great guy and all, you know that money you owe us, forget it; money is still something we need.

Even on the Internet.

Especially on the Internet.

I confess to being a freeloader. I’ve enjoyed, for example, catching “King of the Hill,” “The Goode Family,” and “Cosmos” over at hulu.com for the past several years. I don’t pay for cable television and the reception from our rabbit ears is so fuzzy on our local channels we didn’t even bother getting one of those nifty conversion boxes when they were all the rage. So watching television on the Internet is just about the only way I get it, barring the occasional random visit to my in-laws, who pay for cable.

Now it looks like hulu is going to start charging for content.

And that’s a relief.

Because I, too, am in the Internet business, over at uncharted.net, where I have the opportunity to write and take photographs, two things I enjoy doing. I’d be most happy to be paid to do so, but right now Uncharted isn’t making any money, so the checks aren’t coming.

Chadwick Maltin makes a good case against “free” Internet over at The Big Money (link here):

The Internet has grown far too mature for us to continue to expect handouts. It’s time we grow up and understand we’re going to have to pay for things we really love once they become successful. We’re getting too old to expect to crash on our friends’ couches without paying rent. If we leave a tip, maybe they’ll even take the product placement off the cushions.
A lot of noise is made that the business model for music, for the newspaper industry, is broken, and that the business models for other industries is on the shakes. The Internet model isn’t all that great either. You need massive numbers of eyeballs to make advertising do anything more than occasionally shoot you over a $100 check ever six months or so. And the only other business model I see in the sites I visit include swag stores, but you know you can only own so many t-shirts and coffee mugs before that market is saturated as well.

Maybe Rupert Murdoch (and our local Post Register newspaper) are right: Why not make people pay for the stuff they used to pay for before the Internet gave them everything for free?

We’re having this discussion – in a baby-stepping way – at Uncharted. Not even a year out of the box and we’re having server space issues, and no money coming in to pay for it. Do we go the Flickr route, allowing minimal content uploads a month unless folks want to pay a minimal fee for more space? The more I think about it, the more it appeals to me. It doesn’t have to be a massive amount of money. Flickr charges $25 a year for unlimited photo uploads. That’s just over $2 a month. Maybe that does weed out the individuals who don’t want to shell out money to upload more than eight or ten photos a month (the limit on Flickr’s free accounts). But doesn’t that appeal to the photographer who really wants to share stuff, who looks at Flickr as a digital, cloud-computing database where he or she can store and access photos anywhere. Would I pay $25 a year to back up all of the photos I’ve taken of Oregon, the Idaho deserts, my children, and such? Not yet. But maybe, in the future, I’ll be convinced to do so.

So why not Uncharted users? Working at what you do with a passion that would drive you to do thing for free is great, but it’s even greater if you can do what you do passionately and get paid for it as well.

Maltin includes an interesting caveat in his statement: “once they become successful.” Obviously, charging up front for what Uncharted offers now would be counterproductive. We’ve got to develop and cultivate our audience, then go for their pocketbooks and billfolds.

But it’s a careful balancing act. We have to be sure we’re providing what the readers want, not only in content, but in the social networking experience we’re trying to build. Alan Mutter, over at the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, has this to say about failed attempts by journalists to turn passion into online profitability (the blog is at newsosaur.blogspot.com, look for the Oct. 6 entry, no direct link):

The content has to match the medium. The journalists for the most part luxuriated in writing the kinds of articles on their websites that they luxuriated in writing for the newspaper. Neither of the sites leveraged the power of the web to weave social networks, enable users to personalize content or do any of the other things that consumers commonly expect from a modern interactive experience.

The first business of a business is business. Like so many entrepreneurs, the journalists started their websites so they could do the work they wanted to do. But a business, especially a start-up, requires far more than passion for the work. It requires close attention to the nuts and bolts of raising money, making sales and controlling expenses. Above all else, it requires the discipline of living within your means until the business grows healthy enough to fund your aspirations.

The start-up news sites failed for fundamentally the same reasons the Rocky [Mountain News] did. People felt the universe would reward them for doing what they wanted to do, instead of doing what they needed to do to earn the patronage of readers and advertisers.
So we have to listen to our audience. Intently. And realize that for the one person we get communicating with us, there are 20 lurkers. That’s scary, because who knows what they want?

We also have to figure out what people would pay for. I do that a lot. Facebook? If the price were right. I kind of like the one-stop shopping option for keeping up with family and casual acquaintances. Twitter? Maybe not; if I want to keep abreast with my friends, it’s Facebook, and with multi-level-marketers, all I have to do is open the front door and shout “Can someone sell me some shampoo!” and they all come a-running. YouTube? For some of it. For Last of the Summer Wine, Keeping Up Appearances and other such shows, probably. For LOL Cats and the Fail Blog? Not so much. Some stuff on the Internet, obviously, deserves to be free.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Time is What We Make of It


Time, I'm convinced, only exists when necessary. Time exists on Sunday nights, after the kids have gone to bed but before it's time to head to bed yourself so you have enough sleep to get to work in the morning. Time exists when you have a lot to accomplish.

Other times, it does not exist at all. Friday afternoons, Saturday mornings, late at night with nothing pressing in the morning. Time goes away and leaves us blissful, doing what we care to do without worrying how long the doing is taking us. So I had to laugh a bit as I read today two pieces dealing with time and how one uses it.

The first is at Slate.com, here, by Daniel Gross, who calls pick-your-own apple orchards as a waste and a scam, thusly:

And, just as people who visit wineries end up walking away with a case instead of a bottle, it's a given that people leave pick-your-own orchards with a surfeit of apples. We left with two almost-full small bags, about 20 pounds, or between 60 and 70 apples. In a good week at home, we'll go through a dozen. Pickers tell themselves they'll put the farm-fresh apples to good use: making homemade apple sauce, or whipping up an apple pie. But most people don't have the time. Besides, pick-your-own orchards sell the processed versions right there, in the irresistible form of apple cider and apple-cider donuts.

Most people have the time, but it's time spent doing something else they regard as more important. True, those who are just deluding themselves shouldn't be buying those apples, but for those of us who do whip up that applesauce, pick-your-owns, and the time out of doors it provides with our families, are well worth the investment in apples and time. The applesauce is just a side benefit. (Of course, read about the 70 quarts of applesauce we made yesterday here.) So you bought the apples. Make time. Do like we did -- the whole family pitched in. That'll make the applesauce that much better.

Then there's this guy, David Ulin, book critic at the LA Times. He's got probably one of the best jobs on the planet: He's paid to read. Of course, if the stuff he's paid to read is reflected in the books he drop-mentions in his article, maybe it's not such a good job. Or maybe he's just picking the wrong books. He despairs that he occasionally can't find the gumption, not necessarily the time, to read:

I am too susceptible, it turns out, to the tumult of the culture, the sound and fury signifying nothing. For many years, I have read, like E.I. Lonoff in Philip Roth's "The Ghost Writer," primarily at night -- a few hours every evening once my wife and kids have gone to bed. These days, however, after spending hours reading e-mails and fielding phone calls in the office, tracking stories across countless websites, I find it difficult to quiet down. I pick up a book and read a paragraph; then my mind wanders and I check my e-mail, drift onto the Internet, pace the house before returning to the page. Or I want to do these things but don't. I force myself to remain still, to follow whatever I'm reading until the inevitable moment I give myself over to the flow. Eventually I get there, but some nights it takes 20 pages to settle down. What I'm struggling with is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there is something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it's mostly just a series of disconnected riffs and fragments that add up to the anxiety of the age.

Really? Get rid of the distractions. I rarely read in the same room with a computer, or a television. And the time I have for reading has increased since my iPod Touch went through the clothes washer in July. Or get a little willpower. I admit I occasionally succumb to such distractions as well, but there's always time to read. Maybe my job isn't as dreamy as his, but I do have a block of about an hour and a half in which I can sit on the bus and read every afternoon, four days a week. I sink so deeply into books some times I'll glance up and only by chance note that the next stop is mine; my brain seems to have one little portion charged at remarking when the stop is close. The rest is deeply in that book.

Time is what we make of it. We can take advantage of the interesting thing life throws at us, whether they be an apple orchard or a good book, if we so choose. It's what we decide to do with our time, and how we seize those opportunities, that help us decide whether time exists or not.

Bottle Crazy

Those who do not have a good concept of the infinite need to come to our house during canning season which, at last count, has lasted about 2,048 years. I'm actually looking forward to 2012 and for the end of the world because it'll also mean the end of putting applesauce and carrots by as well.

Canning (more properly, bottling, since there are no cans involved) is an odd, anachronistic thing to do in this day and age. There's a farm museum just south of Ashton, Idaho, that has, as one of its outbuildings, a canning kitchen where all the canning took place. And that's a good thing, since canning is an exhausting, filthy and time-consuming job that you shouldn't let take over.

Back to infinity. On Saturday, we prepared 70 bottles of applesauce. The apples were free, taken mostly from our neighbor's tree. His deal is this: We give him all the raspberries he wants, we take all the apples we want, and as a bonus we clean up all of the apples that have fallen out of the tree into his yard. It works out well for us, because though we have tow apple trees of our own, they hardly produce the bumper crop we need to make applesauce. We'll get enough from one of our trees to make apple pie filling.

Back to infinity. We bottles those 70 bottles and didn't make a dent in our apple supply. Started out with ten huge boxes and now have six huge boxes and no more room in the storage room for produce, given that we've already this year bottled carrots, peaches, tomatoes, tomato soup, salsa, and green beans, most of which came from our garden (with the exception of the beans, which came from Michelle's sister.) So on the sustainability/carbon friendliness of our food supply, it's aces. All but the peaches are local -- the peaches came from Utah. You do not grow peaches in our part of Idaho if you don't want peaches that resemble raisins.

And yes, the whole family gets involved. Lexie helped us run the apple squisher while Isaac washed nearly all of the apples we used. (It is so weird, by the way, if I want to include two pictures in a post how Blogger makes my cursor disappear so I have to guess where it ended up.) I'm in charge of cutting up the apples, boiling them to a mush and then feeding them to the squisher people. I also put the lids on and run the hot water bather. Yes, in this photo I know I look thrilled. We'd been at it for four hours, with another six to go.

Here's some useless trivia for those wanting to get into bottling these days: There are only two brands of bottles made today, all made by the same company. For a long time, there were two companies, Kerr and Ball (the same company that, in a bequest, established Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana). They merged because, well, nobody bottles any more.

We got some old bottles from a neighbor, and she has quite a collection. She has the standard Ball and Kerr variety, but she also has a few from the Atlas Bottle Company, which conjures up images when in every city, one could find an independent bottle manufacturer, helping hausfraus put food by for future consumption. Alas, the only thing we have that resembles this today might be social networking websites. Everybody's got one.

Boring Story

"Then, on Thursday, the Prince drank a glass of water." Oh Petey, go read your Boring Story to Bert. He'll appreciate it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

This is Not a Blog Post

I don't know what they're called, but there seem to be a lot of them around these days. And I'm sure if I went back in time, I'd find a lot of them at any time I elected to stop at. It's a good thing that time doesn't exist, except within our own heads.

What I'm talking about are people who are convinced, beyond any reasoning, that the times in which they live, the country in which they live, or the people with whom they are forced to live, are the stupidest times, countries or people who have ever existed since a) That bolt of lightning struck that little pool of hydrocarbons, thus instigating the chemical and electric chain reactions that brought life to this planet, or b) God said that it was bad for Man to be alone on the Earth.

And, as whenever I get to thinking about these people, I also begin thinking of Rene Magritte. I happen to like most of his work, certainly that which does not involve naked ladies. The Son of Man, depicted here, is my favorite, because of the obvious incongruities -- and the not-so-obvious ones, certainly his left arm bending backwards rather than forwards, as if it were attached backward, is amusing and a bit disconcerting at the same time.

So how do I tire these negative-vibe merchants in with Magritte?

It's all in the perception.

It's really easy to say that, for example, we have the stupidest politicians of any era today. That's certainly been said of George W. Bush. While I agree that some of the decisions he made were not correct, I have a hard time with those who insist ours is the true Era of Stupid. I am, of course, referring to the book I'm reading at the moment, The Making of the President 1968, which details the acrimonious events that led to Richard Nixon being elected in that year. No one back then had a corner on smarts, and there was plenty of stupidity flying around as well.

What goes on is this: Folks are attuned to current stupidity, and tend to look at the past through rose-colored glasses, recalling only the highs, not the lows. John F. Kennedy was a great president who did, well, he did a lot of great things. He started us on track to the Moon! He started the Peace Corps! Vietnam? That was Nixon. Wasn't it? (Nixon, of course, is the exception. Everyone remembers Watergate. Few remember the Kitchen Debate, China, Egypt, what have you.) Obama, currently, is having the opposite effect. He can do no wrong. Which if, of course, a fallacy. Obama at the moment seems intent on creating a Nixonesque Enemies List which, while being human, is not presidential.

In other words, we've all got that surrealistic apple floating in front of our faces, blocking our vision to everything except what they eye can catch beyond the apple, and that's not all that much. And at the same time, our left arm is on backwards and WE DON'T NOTICE AT ALL.

There is a scriptural reference to that, of course, which is bound to get somebody out there upset:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
(That's Matthew 7: 3-5.)

I confess to being a hypocrite at times. Some times I see the bad rather than the good, not realizing what that says of me and my perception of the world. This is one of the reasons I try to read a lot, because I know, at the foundation of all things, I'm pretty ignorant.

The Internet, in many ways, aids this perception, as people of all stripes are more easily capable of finding other like-minded people and excluding other perceptions of reality. The apples in front of our faces are getting bigger.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Delays, Delays . . .

Some of you may remember this blog entry, in which I brag up my entry in Slate.com's "Significant Objects" contest. Well, what was supposed to be announced today will now come "early next week," even though they've narrowed things down to the final 12, or so they say.

I think it's a clever ploy to get people to come back to the Significant Objects website. It's dastardly enough it just might work.

As with all of my writing, I look back on my submission now and think, "What a stinkeroo." And it's true. I can see its many flaws. That's part of writing, I suppose.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

SOLD!

I'm probably being a little premature -- and immature -- about this, but THE VAN IS SOLD! I don't even know who is buying it (my wife does) but I'm thrilled. Not that it's a terrible vehicle' as a matter of fact, it's been a great one. But we don't need three vehicles (its replacement is already here, see).

Premature, I say, because we don't have the money yet. They'll come with the boodle Tuesday night, 8:30 sharp, after pack meeting. That's good for us.

For the curious: We put the van in two newspapers and on Craigslist, locally. The newspaper ads cost us about $70. Craigslist was free. We sold it to a lady who spotted it parked at the spot where I catch the bus for work. So my advice: Get some window chalk and paint away, if you're trying to sell a vehicle. Don't bother with papers. Oh, we had people call who had read our ad, but no serious inquiries. And from Craigslist, I got one spam message from someone who said she understood that in these tough economic times we might have to sell our vehicle in order to make our house payment, but she just happened to be connected with some kind of Internet fortune-maker, and one phone call from a guy who said he'd sell our van for us, for a fee. So poo on Craigslist as well.

Political Revolution

A while back, I wrote this blog entry concerning a three-pronged breakup of the newspaper industry, as posited by Clay Shirky. To summarize, Shirky believes that the newspaper industry is in trouble due to three principal factors:

1) The business model is flawed
2) The economic bundle of news, sports, comics, crosswords, et cetera, has been replaced by an intellectual model, in which people don’t want such a mix of content
3) The “shock of inclusion” – that ordinary people can be involved in a process heretofore reserved o the elites – is wearing the industry down.

He mentioned that he thought the industry was the first to suffer from these impacts. It’s obvious, of course, that the music industry is suffering from the same effects and, to a lesser extent, so is the movie industry.

I think politics – particularly political parties – may be feeling the first evolutions of these effects.

I have to confess that this thought is being driven primarily by a book I’m reading at the moment, The Making of the President 1968, by Theodore White. White presents a fascinating analysis of the pressures that were driving politics, politicians, the parties, the news media, and the voters in the 1968 election, which saw a strong Democratic Party crumble and a Republican Party that had been written off as broken emerge victorious, with Richard Nixon entering the White House.

But I’m looking at it this way. Back then, White says, student voters were fed up with Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War. So much so they went to great efforts to find an alternative candidate and did so in Eugene McCarthy. These student organizations, organized on the national level (White says it’s hard to call them organized, but they were at least working together for the same common goal) worked to get McCarthy elected. World and national events were so different, so shocking – Vietnam, civil rights, the generation gap, the “credibility gap” Johnson suffered in saying one thing and consistently delivering another – were as upsetting to the Democratic political landscape as the Internet is to newspapers today.

We may be seeing the effects of the Internet and easy communication in politics today, however emerging much more slowly and much less explosively than the analog effects did in 1968.

The political parties are flawed. Even back in 1968, the parties were held together by coalitions of differing interest, brought together under the big tent of either the Democrat or Republican party. From these differing interests came the party platform which, in the course of politics, had to be modified – and sometimes modified away – to “get things done.”

This leads me into the second: This economic bundle of like but competing interests is no longer working – as evidenced by the increasing number of voters who either identify themselves as independents or with no party affiliation whatsoever. We’re tired of the economic bundle and want a more intellectual bundle that more closely ties our more narrow interests with politicians and parties who not only believe what we do but are trustworthy enough to fight for those beliefs. (This doesn’t mean, of course, that there isn’t room for compromise, but that the room for compromise is narrower by default of the parties being more narrow.) We’ve seen movements form around the likes of Ron Paul, H. Ross Perot – much as the nation saw movements around the likes of Bobby Kennedy and George Wallace in 1968.

Then there’s the shock of inclusion. Go on the Internet and you can find people who think just like you do, who are doing things, organizing things in a way that defies traditional Democrat/Republican party lines in trying to get things done. They’re mostly failing, of course, because the traditional party model still has deep, deep pockets. But I firmly believe as the Internet revolution continues, the ability of third-party candidates, and even fourth- and fifth-party candidates to be considered seriously, will grow, because both the traditional parties and traditional media, which are generally disdainful of third parties, will see their power diminish.

I’ve babbled enough. Back to reading.

Mysterious Nyuks

I think I’m going nuts. Or I really did just hear the first eights of the "nyuk nyuk nyuk nyuk" The Three Stooges are wont to make. Why would someone in the trailer issue such an abortive nyuk? Why are my ears so attuned that I can hear an eighth of a nyuk4 at a hundred paces? Yes, I have some Three Stooges DVDs at home, but I can’t remember the last time I watched one of them. And I didn’t watch a lot of them as a kid, either. Oh, a few, but not enough that you think my brain would have a nyuk on an E-Z recall memory circuit linked acutely to my peripheral hearing. Maybe it was just a weird noise, and my brain, seeking to classify that weird noise, went through my Inner Box of Weirdness and came up with a nyuk as a possible explanation.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Joyeux Anniversaire

My kids pull the books out and occasionally mutter, "I can't read the words." But I notice this: They don't put them back. They stretch out on the floor, sometimes under my desk where the books are kept, and look. They turn the pages, giggling at some of the drawings. And every week or so, I catch one of them in there, reading Asterix. In French.

I have them in French not because I'm a snob, but because I was introduced to Asterix while serving a mission in France and I thought it would be fun to have a few of the books in their original tongue. Michelle has bought me a few in English, and when the kids find those, they really get excited. They read. And read. And read. Once and a while, they'll pull one of the French books out and convince me to read it to them. Sometimes I read them in French, which makes them cranky. Most of the time I translate, which isn't as easy as you'd think.

So to think that Asterix, Obelix and crew will celebrate their 50th birthday on Oct. 29 makes me happy. It's a great comfort to me to think that this village of unconquerable Gauls has been entertaining folks since 1959.

I love, by the way, how the toes are drawn in these books. They're so real. So human. So bony and hairy and unattractive, just as they should be.

Happy Birthday, Asterix and Obelix.

Grammar Nazi to Make Idol Threats

Ugh. This one just hurts.

It's phonics, of course, mixed with mispronunciation.

For those of you who are link averse, I'll sum up: A local news outlet, quoting a local sheriff, advises other locals prone to such nuttiness to refrain from making "idol threats." Yeah, I don't know, either. Maybe like what Satipo says to Indy as they're trying to get out of the temple before Edgar K. Montrose shows up: "Give me the whip, I give you the idol," followed up by "Adios, Senor," followed up by Satipo meeting that light-activated stabby-wall, another thing we have failed to reproduce from the ancient world.

The sheriff, of course -- I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, because it's the news people who have the onus of getting the right word in the quote -- meant "idle threats."

We have, actually, two worlds colliding here. First, the phonetic slip that lets our lazy tongues pronounce "idle" as "idol." Where I live, there is no discernable difference between how the two words are said; the dictionary tells us to pronounce them "eye-dll" and "eye-duhl," respectively.

Second, we have Newsspeak, or the language journalists and public officials tend to drop into when they speak to each other. The sheriff, in this case, could have just said "threats," and left it at that. A threat is a threat, whether it's carried out or not, whether it's idle or not. But we love that adjective, so it gets tacked on there.

Another Newsspeak word that pops up in this story is "gentleman," as in "there was another gentleman involved in a fight." Now, gentlemen don't fight. But saying the duellers are gentlemen is an easy way to introduce a bit of respect into the situation, to take the sting off any accusation, implicit or implied. So you see that word used a lot in officialdom.

My advice: Echo Mark Twain, who says "If you see an adjective, kill it." Also, watch out for Newsspeak.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Bus, no Wookiees

Rode one of the new white buses to work today -- that's a first since they joined the fleet oh, about a year and a half ago. I've got this to say: When it pulled up at the bus stop, I was impressed for a few seconds. “Wow. A new bus,” I thought. Then I remembered: Much like the Imperial shuttle, I’m not certain the Empire had humans, let alone wookiees, in mind when they designed her. Don't plan on taking a nap to or from work, as there's no place for tall people to put their heads. My SCALP kept falling to sleep.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fantastic, Mr. Fox


I should start off by saying I'm not a fan of Fox News.

Nor, really, of CNN, MSNBC, or any of the other 24-hour news networks. Nor talk radio of any stripe.

Oh, I read lots of news. Mostly on the Internet, and from all sorts of sources, big and little, smart and dumb, useful and useless. Some news I get through newspapers and magazines though, pound for pound, the best news sources are the guys on the INL buses, who are our local, teetotaler equivalent of the guy you meet in the corner of a pub.

I just don't like that news today isn't reported, it's manufactured. We're given doses of daily angst, anger, feel-goodery, sucking it all down like YouTube's Nom-Nom Bird:






So I understand why the White House declared Fox News talking-headus non grata over the weekend. And yet I don't understand. Doesn't that play right into the hands of the Obama-haters, ignoring en entire network (and the most-watched news network)? That seems to put yourself at peril, not at the advantage of controlling the message. And maybe that's the point. Despite widespread accusations that the mainstream media the White House smiles on is just as capable of "pushing a particular point of view," not really being "a real news network," being "opinion journalism masquerading as news," and of promoting programming that is "tilted toward accentuating those profits," the powers taht be think this is a good idea.

Sure, they're morons at Fox. Republican morons. And because they're not toeing the line like the Democratic morons at the other cable news spoutlets, they're to be avoided?

The Republicans will LOVE that. Christmas is coming early for Fox News and the people who really, really, really love their opinion-as-news, as opposed to the opinion-as-news they get at the likes of CNN or MSNBC. Ya'll are making their dreams come true.

And cry about Fox making money off the news? Please. The networks and the other big cable news outlets aren't in this business for charitable purposes. They're making money hand over fist as well. Come up with a new argument. Unless you wanted to sound socialistic to the socialist-fear-mongering Republican poopheads at Fox.

Then we get to lsiten to the other news outlets revel in Fox being put out into the cold. It's like being back in elementary school, listening to the nerds saying Neener-Neener to the bully as he's being hauled into the principal's office. Sure, you like to see justice being done, but you do realize the bully's going to come back out of the principal's office and make your life even more miserable, don't you?

Film Critic Pauline Kael famously said of Richard Nixon's victory in the 1972 presidential election: "Nixon can't possibly have won. I don't know a single person who voted for him." THis in a year when Nixon won 520 electoral votes to challenger George McGovern's 17, when Nixon took the popular vote by 23.2 percent, or nearly 18 million votes more than McGovern, giving Nixon the widest margin of victory in any US presidential election. Kael's quote became a whipping post for out-of-touch liberal elitists.

And sure, libs aren't the only elitists out of touch. But to have the White House, of all places, behaving like this, seems childish and unpresidential. A democracy means having to listen to unpopular voices -- a lesson both the White House and Fox news ought to be learning together.

Things like this just help stack up that ammunition. Fox has got to be thanking you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oh, Balloon Boy . . .


I feel badly for Balloon Boy.

What kind of parents want to make their kids the center of this kind of drama: Faking his departure in a homemade helium balloon, attracting the world's attention as they worried (okay, most of us were worried, there were some Ridnitzes out there who were hoping the kid would die) about this kid, only to find (no surprise there) that the kid was hiding in the attic above the garage, ignoring the calls of his parents and other searchers as they looked for him.

They're trying to teach this kid to lie, now that they've admitted the stunt was a publicity hoax they hoped would put them back in the limelight for, well, I'm not really sure. CNN doesn't say.

Fortunately for Falcone Heene, the little kid couldn't tell a lie.

"You said it was for the show," the kid said on Larry King Live, as Wolf Blitzer, living up to his blitzy beard, pursued the father when his little kid said that live. When I heard this drama Thursday, when I heard that the balloon was empty when it landed, I knew they'd find the kid at home. And I suspected highly that the whole thing was a stunt. A family that chases storms, gets on reality shows and otherwise draws attention to themselves isn't one that would be beyond setting up this kind of stupid stunt.

So I'm glad Falcon, in his innocence, couldn't tell a lie. I hope he's not the only one in the family who learns something from this.

His parents should have known better. There are certain children, at a certain age -- and Falcon Heene certainly fits in this category -- that are innocent and guileless. They're not going to lie because they don't see the point, they don't know what a lie is. My five-year-old is like this. There's no point in asking my kid to keep a secret because the truth always comes out. Not that it's malicious -- it's just the opposite. They simply see no sense in telling something contrary to the truth, rather than anything else. And it's the truth -- not what someone tells them is the truth. How many times have I said or implied that, yes, we did do this or we did not do that so he'd tell his mother what I wanted him to tell him; to tell him my version of "the truth." And it never works. He tells the real, honest-to-God truth. And I get in trouble for it. Which is right. I hope he keeps it up.

So the Heene family is getting the publicity they deserve, though, perhaps, not the kind of publicity they wanted.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Liam's Big Movie



I introduced Liam today to the wonderful magic that is Windows MovieMaker. He had a ball, and his school project for next month's Solar System Expo is done.

Friday, October 16, 2009

. . . Evangelists . . .

It's been an odd week, one that has led to a lot of thinking about evangelical religion, of all things. Part of me is of the opinion that we just might need more of it.

Start it off with this; a speech delivered by Dallin H. Oaks this Tuesday at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg:



But actually, it starts with this: Jeffrey R. Holland's cracking testimony of the Book of Mormon, one of the most animated speeches I've heard delivered at conference in a very long time. (Sorry, no direct link or embed; go to the Sunday morning session and click on Holland's speech).

So, am I babbling? No, because there's this third thing: The book God's Smuggler, by "Brother Andrew," John Sherrill and Elizabeth Sherrill. Brother Andrew is an evangelical member of the Protestant Church in Holland, born in 1928 (same year as my father, by the way), who spent his life carrying Bibles and the Gospel behind the Iron Curtain, no matter where he found it.

Part of what made reading this book fascinating ties in with current debates about the separation of church and state. Here in this country, we tend to get all riled up about this bit from the Constitution when it comes to replicas of the Ten Commandments on the property of a federal court, or a cross used as a memorial on public property. One side argues that there ought not to be any displays of religion in public. The other side argues -- I believe correctly -- that the Constitution forbids governmental interference in the religious life of its citizens. Reading Brother Andrew's book, you get a glimpse of what state control of religion was like under Communist rule, and shows both sides of the argument here in the US that maybe they ought to be a little more understanding one of the other.

A few excerpts:
As time passed, I came to feel this fear myself. There were police everywhere. They stood at the bridges, at factory entrances, at public buildings -- stopping people at random, searching briefcases, shopping bags, pocketbooks. And no one complained at this arbitrary treatment. No one protested. The lack of protest was part of the dreadful silence that hung over the city [Berlin] like a poison-filled smog.

In sharp contrast to the silence of the people was the loud voice of the government. It was everywhere. On the radio, on loudspeakers, on billboards. Slogans were painted on walls, rooftops, telephone poles; there were posters in the kiosks, in stores, hotels, railway stations. Propaganda everywhere.

I was astonished at the baldness of the line. East Germany was just then going through a devsatating food shortage. The enterprising German farmer had not taken at all kindly to the collective idea' he had quit the land in such large numbers that that fall there had been no one to harvest the crops. The government had pressed production on mechanical harvesters, accompanied by a massive propaganda campaign. There was going to be plenty of bread because socialism was superior to the enterprise of individual farmers.

There was only one trouble. To be harvested by machine, the wheat had to be dry; a coupe of days more sunshine were required than for hand reaping. And of course that year it rained. It rained every day, right at the time of the harvest.

And then suddenly all over the country, posters appeared carrying this little verse:

Gohne Gott and Sonnes schein
Hole Wir Die Ernte ein

Without God and without sun
We will get the harvest done

I could see that this slogan had really shaken the people. It was a brazen duel between the new regime and God himself. The rains continued, and the harvest did not get in. Overnight as suddenly as they had appeared, the posters vanished -- all except for the sodden few that you could still see clinging to lampposts.
Sure, we can look at this both ways. Maybe those who don't believe feel they're having religion thrust in their faces if they have to see a cross on public property. But it's hardly to the point that the state is officially denying God's existence, or that there are sanctioned battle lines drawn by the state in ther pro- or anti-religious stances. People put up a cross in the Mojave Desert, for instance, to honor those who died during World War I. Only later was that property declared public. That the cross remains is hardly state sponsorship of religion -- but that some want it removed isn't evidence that the state ought to sponsor atheism, either.

This brings me to the subject of this post: Evangelism. We've seen a lot of it all of a sudden, in a religion that says it believes in evangelists but typically leaves it to the missionary corps. So it's good to hear the testimonies of Elders Oaks and Holland, because if we don't speak out, this happens (again from God's Smuggler:
The churches' defense against this clever attack (substituting rites such as baptism, marriage, et cetera) with state-sponsored ceremonies) had been to retreat and withdraw, Wilhelm told me. Instead of going out on the aggressive, they were pulling further and further into an attitude of private piety and isolation.
That is something we simply cannot do.

Tapeworms


When I read this piece at New Scientist this morning, I immediately thought: Tapeworms. TAPEWORMS! They are HERE among us, and there's NOTHING we can do to stop them.

Here's what the brouhaha is all about:

New Scientist is all aflutter about a new camera that hangs on a lanyard around your neck. It's programmed to take one photo every thirty seconds, unless the light meter notices a change in light, then it takes another picture, or unless the heat sensor notices you might be standing close to someone, and then it takes another picture. There's enough memory on this thing to store 30,000 images. This will be a great boon to "lifeloggers," or, as the article describes, people who want to record nearly every aspect of their lives, in entirety. Here's an excerpt:
Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell has made his life an experiment in lifelogging, recording everything from phone calls to TV viewing, and uses a SenseCam wherever he goes.

"What's great about these kinds of memory technologies is that they can be very usable for ordinary people," says Henry Kautz, a computer scientist at the University of Rochester, New York, who works on technology to assist cognition.

"Once you have that mass market, that brings the prices down." Eventually, he says, a SenseCam-like device could be part of an artificial memory used by ordinary people, just as they use notebooks and planners as memory aids today.
Do we really need such an artificial memory? Do we really need to know about our phone calls, our TV viewing, our random walks through the city streets, colliding with poles (unless you're in Britain where they've started padding the poles) because you're too busy with your electronic devices to watch where the heck you're going? Not me. I'm sane enough to realize that my life is mundane enough I don't need to record my every waking moment, even if it's recorded at 30-second intervals.

But back to the tapeworms: Arthur C. Clarke, way back in 1976, anticipated such people, in his novel Imperial Earth. An excerpt:

"I must ask you, he said, "to hand over all watches, radios, and communication devices. You won't need them until you get home."

He held up an admonitory hand at the chorus of protests.

There's a good reason for this -- and for any other peculiar requests I may make. Remember, this whole program has been worked out for your benefit. If you won't cooperate, you're only cheating yourselves. Cameras and recorders -- yes, of course. Use them as much as you like."

There was a general sigh of relief at this. Duncan had noticed that most of his companions were festooned with equipment designed to capture every aspect of their experience. A couple were obviously "tapeworms," those peculiar addicts who went through life accompanied by voice-actuated recorders, sot hat nothing they said -- or heard -- was ever lost. Unless they could do this, Duncan had been told, they did not believe that they had really and truly lived.

Such backward-looking obsession was typically Terran. Duncan could not imagine anyone on his world trying to encapsulate his whole life so that whenever he wished he could recall any moment of the past. On Titan, it was the future that mattered.
Yes, I blog. I also keep a personal journal. I take a lot of photos, and it's quite likely we'll be getting a digital video camera this Christmas. But I'm far from obsessing about every tiny little aspect of my life, and in recording things in minute detail. I'm okay with the highlights, and even if I miss a few of those, life is still worth living. It is the future that matters.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No Stretchy Pants, but This is for Fun

Here's my entry in Slate.com's Significant Object contest. Yeah, it's not very good, but at least I tried.

Dad likes to play John Phillip Sousa’s “Washington Post March,” imaging how incensed Richard Nixon would be hearing the tune. Some nights he sits in the dark of the living room, his pharmacy reading glasses folded atop the stack of World War II books on the table, listening to the music. Mom sat there in the dark, too, quietly directing Sousa’s band with her freckled fingers.

Other nights, with the television tuned to public broadcasting, Dad, hair silver, walking stick leaning against the bookshelf, laughs at “the old guys” in Last of the Summer Wine. Wants to visit England to see the greenery, to share eastern wisdom with Mr. Entwhistle. Dad comes from a village near Amsterdam, further east than Hull.

Sometimes he looks out the window and recounts the dream of cutting a hole in the window of the house across the street to steal a piece of wedding cake. “Varlene sat at the table and slapped my hand as I reached in,” Dad said. He laughs silently, tears pouring down his cheeks.

Shelves in the living room are filled with knick-knacks. The ship bell bought at a flea market in Alkmaar; the bell no one rings because it’s brassy and loud. The trumpet from Enkhuizen that only his trombone-playing son can get a note out of. The glass bottle bought in Hayward, California; the one we tease him about, saying it’s a bong.

Dad haunts the antique stores and flea markets, intent on finding riches. Mom haunts the thrift stores and brings home tattered copies of the books she used to read to her children.

More relics outside, ghosts of relics. A 1948 Ford truck, green paint with orange hubs. A 1947 Willys jeep, army green. Buckets of bolts, bits of ironmongery. Stacks of cinder blocks, piles of wood. In the shed, a pile of coal, next to a small stack of firewood. In front, at least half a ton of landscape rock hauled out of the mountains. We joke Dad’s idea of increasing property value is increasing its weight.

With a shaving brush dipped into a pot of soap – a barbecue-sauce urn and brush rescued from the thrift store – Mom lathers Dad’s face. She shaves him, careful to avoid cuts, as the Coumadin in his blood makes it thin. His skin is a yellowed parchment, peppered with tiny hemorrhages.

At the hospital, Dad wants a Heineken. He hasn’t had a beer in thirty-six years. He gets one and sips it. “It doesn’t taste as good as I thought it would,” he said. He asks for the nearly-full bottle to be hidden.
He dreamed once he was walking with God, and God showed him a green field filled with trucks, cars, planes, tractors, tanks. “Jakob,” God said, “all these need to be fixed. They’re all yours.” Heaven is diesel fumes, greasy rags, a Creeper rolling in green grass.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hiroshima and Repentance

John Hersey's Hiroshima made waves in the Atomic Age when it was published in The New Yorker in 1946. I read it in a gulp on the way home from work tonight, and can certainly attest that it's a riveting, significant piece of journalism from the finest traditions of the trade.

It's also a harrowing account of real humans involved in an extraordinarily nasty event, and makes for an interesting juxtapositional reading as I read this bit from CNN on an "unrepentant" individual who tried and failed to assassinate Margaret Thatcher in Brighton years ago.

Patrick Magee, who tried to kill Thatcher, has this to say about the concept of repentance:

"I wish there had been another way. ... If there were other options open, I would have jumped at them," he said.

Pressed by lawmakers on whether he had repented, Magee said, "I don't understand repentance. I think it has a religious meaning. I can regret."

"I did what I did in full consciousness," he said. "I did what I felt needed to be done. Why do I need to ask forgiveness for that? But I can feel regret."

Also from the article:

To his critics Magee appears to be unrepentant, and headlines over the years, such as 'Brighton Bomber: I would do it again,' paint a picture of a man at best deluded and at worst dangerous," Marina Cantacuzino of the Forgiveness Project wrote.

"Magee has a problem with this premise," she said, quoting him: "It's perfectly possible to regret something deeply, every day of your life, and yet still stand over your actions," he says. "At the end of the day it's about legitimacy and who is allowed to use force. If everything is examined through the prism of legitimacy you can break it down to different gradations. Why should it just be the prerogative of those in power?"

These two pieces made for interesting reading especially as I monitored my reactions to them. To the story of Magee, my first reaction was, I have to admit, revulsion. Thou Shalt Not Kill doesn't seem to have a lot of wiggle room, even in you couch it in terms of gradations or legitimacy.

Then I read Hersey's powerful report of the bombing of Hiroshima and Cantacuzino's statement came immediately to mind:

At the end of the day it's about legitimacy and who is allowed to use force. If everything is examined through the prism of legitimacy you can break it down to different gradations. Why should it just be the prerogative of those in power?

Thou Shalt Not Kill ought to apply to countries, right? So I can't be revulsed at Magee's unrepentant attitude and defend America's actions in dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, can I? It's difficult to build a theory of the world, a philosopy of life, if you keep finding exceptions to how behaviors are acceptable in one instance, not in another. I begin to understand the Quaker conscientious objectors during World War II, who looked into the Bible's do-not-kill commandment and said, yeah, that applies to me, even if my country has been attacked, even if it is at war.

But can we use such thoughts to justify a killing, couch it in regret, but say, in all probability, I might do that same act again? Just because a nation takes that stance, should an individual, a moral, ethical individual, take a similar stance? Doesn't an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leave us, at the end, blind and toothless? This takes us down the slippery slope to relativism, demeaning the moral and ethical guidelines that ought to be the rule of law. "Wrong is wrong even if it helps ya," as Popeye says in that delightful movie.

Finding Your Own Mute Grammar Nitch

I know the phonetic faux-pas of substituting "nitch" for "niche" is a common occurrence, but the Grammar Nazi sometimes feels like this is an error committed with increased frequency where he lives. Especially by local newscasters, as witnessed here.

We get into trouble because we don't pronounce it correctly. And by "we," I mean Americans in general, not my fellow hobnobbers here. We get niche from the French, who prounounce the "I" as a slightly long "E." They get the word in turn from Latin nidus, meanng "nest." Here in America we give the "I" a short "I" sound. But herein lies the problem. Some of us add a "T" sound after the I, because it makes the word easier to pronounce. So we read niche, we say nitch. That's well and good until we go to spell it, then we screw it all up.

At least, however, this isn't as bad as a truly local linguistic anomaly, namely the insistence that the word "moot," as in "You make a moot point" is pronounced mute, as in, "Forgive me my son, I didn't realize you're a mute." This misconception -- and mispronunciation -- seems particularly heavy in the Rexburg/St. Anthony area of eastern Idaho, where I live. It drives me absolutely buggy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Moron Babbling More On Babbling




What's Next for News: A Conversation About the Future of Journalism (Part 1) from J-Source on Vimeo.


Yes, I am going to babble about journalism and Clay Shirky here for a bit. Pardon me for thinking this is interesting stuff. Like Charlie Brown, I have long borne an interest in failure, though my interest here is not in the failure of journalism but primarily in my failure at journalism. I do enjoy reading waht Shirky has to say on the subject, because he's just about the only one out there saying that the problem has only been identified tenuously and that the solutions aren't yet on the horizon. I tend to buy into that philosophy.

So watch the video, skipping about the first seven minutes (and then going on to the other four parts). The first seven minutes are a long introduction to the topic and of the speakers, and can be skipped if you're already familiar with Shirky.

I should note I'm only about halfway through the lecture, so I'll likely add to this post as I go along. So far, however, he's brought up some interesting points.

First among them is that there isn't one single, clear cause for the economic struggles journalism is going through. I call this an economic struggle because, for the most part, the news part of journalism is doing bearably well. Shirky points out three principal causes:

1. Business plan is collapsing. The idea that advertising and subscriptions can pay for journalism isn't working any more. That's nothing new, of course.

2. The way content is being bundled is changing, fron an economic bundle to an intellectual bundle. This is perhaps the most intriguing of Shirky's points. He offered this example: After a crossword fanatic has completed a crossword puzzle in the paper, what's the next thing he or she should be offered? His answer: Another crossword puzzle, and not an Associated Press story on the coup in Honduras. That's how newspapers work these days -- they offer a lot of disparate bits of content in one package. The Internet is allowing content providers and individuals to package their own content as they want to see it. This is a grat advantage, but also a great worry, as we move from the Daily What's Going on in the World to the Daily Me -- which encourages, in some, a bit more selfishness and flatness than in the economic bundle (so called because with a paper, it's economical to bundle all of that different stuff together). Yes, people have always skipped through the paper and read only what they want to read, but at least the information was there. Same situation on the Internet, except is't much easier to compartmentalize.

3. The Shock of Inclusion. This is also a significant cause. Because individuals can aggregate and compartmentalize what they choose to consume, and because they can interact with news organizations on a much more intimate level than in the past, the traditional newspaper indsutry is being shocked by the level of interaction and at how much people want to be included in the news, from commenting, berating, or suggesting. Of course, any editor can tell you that people who want to scream at a newspaper reporter or offer a raft of story ideas aren't shy about picking up the phone and making their wants and wishes known, but the advent of social media is making that task much simpler than pikcing up the telephone -- and it helps avoid that pesky face-to-face interaction that causes troublesome things like compromise and reason to enter into the conversation (as you can tell, I'm not a real fan of the way the Internet has made commentary so easy and so one-sided and so anonymous).

What's interesting is that Shirky says journalism is the first industry to see such upheavals in its ecosystem. To my view, it's the second. The music industry has seen these three effects, and are struggling with the economic realities of dealing with them, just as much as the newspaper business is. The intellectual bundle versus economic bundle cause is certainly evident, as people are tired of buying the bundle of a few good songs from a band coupled with other bad songs from the same band and are instead buying individual songs, or stealing them outright. There's your shock of inclusion -- the music industry has struggled with piracy, and are experimenting with DRM and such, with comical results, some of which are leading the fringes to challenge the concept of intellectual property rights. I don't like that path at all.

I don't buy into the notion that with ecosystem upheaval that the moral and ethical underpinnings of our society have to change. Thou Shalt Not Steal still sounds pretty good to me, because THou Shalt Not Steal Except in a Digital Age is a bit Orwellian.

But some of the experiments have been comical. DRM effectively limited how an individual could share music with a friend. Nothing stops us from loaning a physica CD to a buddy, why should the same be said of digital copies? Amazon currently allows only a certain, limited number of devices to hold the same purchased e-book, though there are no limitations on the number of times a physical copy of a book can be passed around. No author or artist is getting money from used book or CD sales, either. So the experiments continue. As Shirky says, "In times of disruption, experimentation beats planning by a long shot."

Of course, as with many things, there are limits to experimentation. Behold:


So, no pee-powered cars. Yet.

Linkee: Ars Technica has an interesting story on the arguments "Big Content" has brought up against things from player pianos to the Internet. A fun read.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Will NOT Do This

Yes, I blog about my family. I hope, however, that I'm not as embarrassing a parental (and spousal) blogger as this. I share the occasional funny story, a family trip, but I try not to go overboard. This is the Daily Me, after all, not the Daily Way Too Much of Me.

This kind of reminds me of a poetry-writing class I took at university (I know; taking a poetry class in such an atmosphere just begs for misbegot souls). There were plenty of the misbegot there. One fellow wrote incessantly, in free verse, about his visits to his psychiatrist. Of course, I never knew if they were real visits or imaginary visits, I just know we all got to a saturation point about his inner workings and gleeful angst pretty quickly. Maybe it was theraputic for him to write all of his inner thoughts out. That's fine. I do the same thing. I just don't share them in a public forum where my real or imaginary troubles can bore others.