Saturday, February 28, 2009

For the Want of A "U" . . .

First of all, my new bugaboo: gauge. This word has given me hell for years. I never seem to remember where the "u" is supposed to go. Sometimes it comes out guage, or even gague, and I don't know why. So here we go:

gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge gauge.

That might work. But I can tell gauge is going to take a lot longer to nail down than antenna. I'll keep at it.

Now, speaking of "U," here's something I stumbled across perusing the web earlier this evening (emphasis added by me):

"Harvey was indicted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and in 1992 received the Paul White Award, the highest honor presented by the Radio-Television News Directors Association."

Now, the name Paul Harvey and the idea of an indictment are not something I ever expected to hear in the same sentence, so this one startled me.

What the author means, of course, is that Harvey was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, not indicted. The words are very similar -- only one vowel different -- but the meanings are utterly distant from each other:

indicted: To be charged with a crime.

inducted: To install in an office, benefice, position, et cetera, especially with formal ceremonies.

While a person may be inducted into Sing-Sing due to being convicted after an indictment, it's hard to believe that the National Radio Hall of Fame is indicting its inductees unless, of course, the hall of fame now has judicial powers and the state of radio has declined to the point that icons like Harvey are misbehaving.

Many is the time that someone hears a twenty-five cent word, likes the sound of it, and imagines that he or she knows what it means and how to use it. Unfortunately, many of the twenty-five cent words in the English language have cousins that are phonetically similar but definitionally dissimilar. Get the wrong word in the head and, well, you get indicted by the Grammar Nazi.

Nerd Alert

Okay. I must confess to being an absolute nerd.

A few moments ago, I was on CNN.com and stumbled across this story, headlined "Sibelius to be White House HHS chief."

I immediately thought of this guy:


Jean Sibeluis, probably the most famous composer ever to come out of Finalnd. (Not to be confused with El Guapo, who is the biggest actor ever to come out of Mexico.) Listen to some of his music here and here. Side note: Sibelius, in his later years, looked surprisingly like Marlon Brando:


But it's not Jean Sibelius, Finnish composer, whom Obama has tapped to be HHS Secretary, but this gal here, whom I've never heard of. Still, it's fun to think a Finnish composer could rise so high in American civil service.

Ashton Dog Derby Story is Up


I'm so thrilled. And, in a way, relieved that it's over. Uncharted has covered a second great Idaho event, and, I believe, covered it well. You can read the story here. I've also written about our experiences getting the story on the Uncharted blog here.

It's odd. I've covered the American Dog Derby for local papers in the past, but this time around, I actually felt like I had fun doing it. I'm not sure that it was the absence of deadline pressure that did it -- because we had to get this one turned around in a week. Part of it may be that I was allowed to write until the story was done, rather than writing a measly ten or twelve inches and having to leave it at that because that's all the room we had. Not that short writing is bad, but there are some times you want to tell a more expansive story than ten or twelve column inches will allow. So I got to be verbose. I hope it's good.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Phantom Limb

First of all, I must confess I stole the title for this post from my brother-in-law's blog. When I saw he'd written a post entitled "Phantom Limb," I'll admit the subject brought to mind something completely different than what he wrote.

So here's my take on the subject of Phantom Limbs:

I'm about to confess to something that, on the surface, sounds weird. It sounds weird even after you've thought about it for a bit-- that is, if you think about it as I do.

Once and a while, I feel like my head has been put on my body sideways.

It's the oddest feeling, as you can well imagine. I don't know if it has to do with how I sleep, or if I've got some strange degenerative nerve disorder that one day is going to cause my head to spin to the left or right 90 degrees or more and remain there.

The only way I can rid myself of this sensation is to take a walk, all the while canting my head in the opposite direction from whence it feels it's being pulled. Thus, if I suddenly become aware that my head feels like it's spun 90 degrees to the left, I have to take a walk, all the while turning my head to the right. Usually, ten or fifteen minutes' walking (with the occasional bump or stumble because I'm not really looking where I"m going) the phenomenon goes away.

I've experienced this odd feeling often, and have had since as long as I can remember. Probably some chiropractor out there would tell me it's something to do with how my neck bones and tendons and muscles are aligned. I just hope it's not aliens or something.

And if you think that's weird, I won't even go into the times I've felt it might be easier to sleep if I could take my arms off.

Fortunately, no less than Charles M. Schulz understands exactly what I mean:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women

Now everybody sing! Cigareetes and WHISkey and WILD, wild WOMEN!

I Blame Lucy

For the past few months, we've had an extra family member. Nevermind that English comedian Spike Milligan died on Feb. 27, 2002. He plays a very big part in the lives of the three Davidson children, only one of whom was alive when Spike was.

Mr. Milligan made an appearance on "The Muppet Show," which, I hope, needs no introduction for the culturally literate who read this blog. During the episode, Spike drops his pants to show boxer shorts modeled first after the English flag, then after the American one. He also abuses the Muppet newscaster, cutting his tie and making him pop out of his chair like a piece of toast. He then goes on to sing a rather comedic rendition of Disney's "It's A Small World After All," punctuated by spitting a ping-pong ball out of his mouth.

This is, by far, our kids' most favorite Muppets episode, though Isaac did take a shining to Peter Sellers (must be something to do with British comedians) singing "Cigarettes, and Whiskey, and Wild, Wild Women," a song he chose to sing SEVERAL times at church during the reverent moments when the sacrament was being passed. I'm sure we'll be in ward folklore for generations over that one.

I blame Lucy. If Lucille Ball hadn't video taped her shows rather than airing them live, we might not be in this mess. Of course, someone else would have come along and invented the re-run. Oh well.

One Switch Later . . .

We have the van back, and in complete working order. I've probably just jinxed us by typing that.

Trouble with the window was a burned-out switch, which, for some reason Detroit is still trying to puzzle out, was simple to replace and did not involve tearing the door apart, removing the wheels or otherwise involve insane amounts of labor to replace a $50 (still, $50!) part. (As for the cost of the USED part, I have to wonder. I can buy switches at Radio Shack for a couple of dollars. What makes the power window switch so special?)

Obviously, it could have been worse. It could have been the window motor which, according to our mechanic, would have required a trip to the (cue evil music here) the dealership. We know what that means. Last time we took our van to the dealership they found, in addition to a broken $45 sensor, that there were about $3,000 worth of repairs that URGENTLY needed to be done so they could make their boat payment for the month.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Scriptural Arguments Against the Death Penalty

Blogger's Note: I wrote the following in response to letters to the editor of the local university's paper, in which the authors attempt to scripturally decry a paper columnist's arguments against the death penalty.

It is startlingly distressing to consider that two authors of recent letters to the editor share a fundamental misunderstanding of the doctrines and mission of Jesus Christ.

To insist that there are doctrinal and scriptural foundations that justify the death penalty flies in the face of the doctrines of forgiveness that are a cornerstone of the gospel of Christ.

In Doctrine and Covenants verses 8-10, God admonishes the Saints:

“My disciples in days of old sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

There is no parsing of language here; there is no room to wiggle and say, well, certain sins ought not be forgiven. Of us, it is required to forgive all men.

Additionally, God admonishes us not to be quick to judgement. In Matthew chapter seven, verses 1-5, we read:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in they 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.”

In Romans chapter 12, verses 17-21, Paul admonishes the Saints:

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will replay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Here we see that judgement and vengeance are God’s, not man’s. God admonishes us to mind our own hose to ensure that we do not sin, realizing that it is God, and not us, that will judge men for their sins. God also reminds us to treat everyone, even our enemies, with kindness. If this is naive and foolish in the sight of men, then I, for one, choose naivete and foolishness.

If that is not clear enough, consider Mosiah chapter 13 verse 21: “Thou shalt not kill.” If you wander into something akin to “Thou shalt not kill without cause,” you’ve wandered from the gospel of Christ and into the “Animal Farm” realm of George Orwell.

Nephi did murder Laban. But Nephi was used by God as a tool of judgement and vengeance upon Laban to protect the future of a branch of the house of Israel. To justify the death penalty in any sense but the preservation of a righteous branch of the house of Israel through use of this scriptural example of murder demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s application of justice.

And as for the writer who says there is no mention of Christ pardoning a murderer, he would do well to read Luke chapter 23:34, in which Christ forgives the Roman soldiers who crucify him.

I Just Can't Any More

Antenna, antenna, antenna, antenna, antenna.

This mantra thing is working. I don't believe I'll have to stop and look up "antenna" in the dictionary any more. I've got it down.

Others, however, are making me short of breath.

Breath and breathe. Two very similar words. The first is a noun. The second is the verb. One cannot, I repeat cannot, take the place of the other.

I see them mixed up all the time, however. One of our local TV news stations is notorious for this. Their major story today: "Eastern Idaho brewers can breath easier now, because the state has decided against increasing taxes on beer and wine."

Of course they mean breathe. Breath may come easier, but breath is never, never a verb. Breathe is. Please get it right.

Automobile Leprosy

You remember our van, of the failed tensioner, belt and battery fame. Well, this past weekend, the drivers' side window decided it would roll down, but not roll up. Fortunately, I recognized the problem before I slid the glass entirely into the door. Driving with a window open a crack of about two inches is one thing in east Idaho's winter weather. Driving with it all the way down just isn't done.

So today, it went to the mechanic. Again. This time, a faulty switch. So about $80 later, we've got it working again.

I'm just tired of the automotive leprosy we've been dealing with this year. All I can think of is: "What next?"

Thoughs on Obama's Speech

Interesting, interesting.

I did not watch Obama's speech last night, as the Boy Scout Blue and Gold Banquet took precedent. But I promised myself I'd read it this morning. And since I had to call in sick to work, I had the time to read it.

I voted for Obama. I believe he has the support and the drive to accomplish what he wants to, for our mutual benefit. And I appreciate that he's giving us ways we can help out (more on that later). But I also want to cut through the fancy talk and get to the bones of what he's proposing, because like many other politicians, the flowery rhetoric flows thickly.

So, he says 90 percent of the 3.5 million jobs he wants to "create or save" will be in the private sector. That's well and good. So far, the jobs I've seen saved are to private-sector firms working for governmental agencies (see my recent post on the stimulus helping the Idaho Cleanup Project, where I work). Obama also mentions police and teaching jobs. Public sector jobs. These are easier to "save" because they're already there. The jobs he hopes to create in constructing roads, bridges, electricity infrastructure, renewable energey plants (which, disappointingly, do not include nuclear, at least according to his punchlist) will be harder to create.

He wants us to go back to school. I agree with that. I've been doing that for the past 2 1/2 years and hope to finish a masters degree in July. But i've been lucky in that I could afford to pay for this schooling out of my own pocket, and that I'm in a job secure enough to let me consider this a long-term investment. Others, in more precarious job positions and with less disposable income, will find this harder to accomplish. He seeks to remedy this by working with credit markets to make getting loans -- including student loans -- eaiser to get. And while I believe it's an acceptable thing to accept debt to get an education, I'm at a loss to see how this is going to help those who need the retraining the most. I look at my degree as gravy. I can't see it helping me at all in my current job, except for the ability to add a few more initials after my name when I use the experience I've got to get a better job. I'm able to do my coursework entirely online, in time I can find in which to do it. Others won't be so lucky, because others won't have an exclusively online environment in which to get their additional education.

That comes to the tone of sacrifice that Obama injects into his speech. He's also asking parents to get more involved with their children, read to them, turn off the video games and such. He's preaching to the choir in our house, ladies and gentlemen.

Obama lays out a good plan, form health care to clean energy. What worries me is that this is nothign we haven't heard before. Bill Clinton made a huge amount of noise about healthcare reform early on in his eight-year presidency. It failed. What bothers me is that Clinton never tried again in any major way. Obama recognizes that the fight will be difficult. I'm exccited to see what plan he and other come up with. I'm more excited to see the drive that'll take the plan, the comporomise plan, the re-compromised plan and such from the planning stage to actuality. U.S. politicians are great when it comes to planning things. The follow-through stinks. I look at the efforts in clean energy and healthcare on par with important projects like the Manhattan Project and the Apollo moon landings. To coin an old World War II phrase, "We did it before; we'll do it again." And I hope that happens. I'll do what I can.

But for this to happen will take true bipartisanship. Allow me a cruel, cynical chuckle here. And I don't mean here that it'll be the Republicans doing all the stalling. The Democrats have enough idiot stubbornness in their own party that obstruction won't be cornered by the Republicans. To get the Manhattan Project and the Apollo moon landings to where they accomplished their goals didn't mean that one side of the argument go their way the entire time. There was a lot of discussion, a lot of compromise. The success of alternate energy and healthcare reform will hinge on how well both sides of the aisle can learn to work together. Given their track record, I'm not holding my breath.

Another thought comes to me: Obama is asking the little guy to be responsible. Get out of debt. Go back to school. Get more involved with our children. Volunteer in communities and schools to get easier access to education money and to pay it back. What is he asking the big guy to do? It's hard to tell. So far, all the big guys have been asked to do is to drive to Washington, rather than fly, to get their bailout money. Sure, he wants oversight in the form of Joe Biden wandering around slapping the wrists of state and city officials. Sure he wants hybrid vehicles built here in the United States. But it appears the big guys are going to be doing all this with federal money. I still feel like there's a gap here, a disconnect. The little guy is being asked to do a lot. The big guys keep getting the handouts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I AM the Uh-Oh Baby

I had the following conversation with myself today:

So, Mr. Grumpy-Pants. What do you want to do with your life?

I have an easy, if frightening answer to that question: Not much. I love to be lazy.

But then the guilt kicks in and I keep going to work, keep up with Uncharted, keep up with school and keep thinking about that novel I’m writing. Or not writing, as the case is, since I haven’t clicked a keyboard on that mother in a serious way since, oh, I was in my first year at RWMC. I’m now approaching the end of year three, with no end in sight. Which is good, since I need the money. (Speaking of which, I’m sure not doing any more freelance work with FranklinCovey this year. They changed how they reported the income to the IRS, so I had to pay self-employment tax this year. Not that it was out of pocket, but just reduced our refund. It took some of the fun out of refund, I tell you.)


Fortunately, this Dilbert comic strip is not me. I have been cursed with the curse of Puppy-Dog Eyes, which makes it harder for others to discipline me, especially when I make wee-wee on the floor. But competence? Not hardly. The older I get, the more I feel like the Pat McManus character who was dumb as a rock, but put on an air of extreme intelligence merely by staring at a problem while he tamped tobacco into his pipe. You will not find me high on the Motivation Meter is what I’m telling you. Albert once and a while asks me if I want to take flying lessons. I laugh. But inside I’m thinking YIKES something else to be incompetent at. At least right now my incompetencies do not stray into the realm of where I could cause harm to myself and others, outside of my incompetency at driving a motor vehicle. Adding a third dimension to my motoring skills is not going to improve them by a third, is my way of thinking.

I could be a rather competent Uh-Oh Baby, though. Striking fear into the hearts of people like Alice and Beni might be kind of fun. Especially if they thought I’d migrated south for the winter. Which I might do next year.

I have people tell me that individuals who sense their own incompetence are intelligent enough to do so, so there must be come modicum of intelligence there. Or does it just mean that one of my biggest competencies is knowing whan I am incompetent? I think Virginia Woolf works this way.

Sure Sign of Spring

Walked out of the office earlier today and got caught by surprise. It rained pretty much all night, and the storms brought with them warmer air and a bit of wind. Thanks to the rain, the sage brush that surrounds RWMC was wet. Thanks to the wind, the smell of that wet sage brush came to me, standing there.

There is hope for Earth, after all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Third Life

Ah, but to be mocked is to be loved . . .

Is Second Life Dying Out?

The folks at Valleywag/Gawker (whatever they call their shrinking blogosphere empire these days) have an interesting article on what they call the “deathwatch” for Second Life, the online virtual world that most people have read so much but remember so very little about because, frankly, it is as VW/Gawker says: Overhyped and kinda boring.

I spent a semester in Second Life as part of a class for the masters in technical writing degree I’m working on. I created and customized an avatar, made virtual clothing and spent a lot of time wandering the PG-rated ins and outs of Second Life’s world. My most vivid memories:

1) Getting stuck inside a Jetsonmobile. I could get in. I could not get out. I had to teleport out, rather than exit the more traditional way.

2) Chatting with other members of my class about an “in-world” project (it sounded so exciting and important at the time) we were working on. As I think back on the experience now, Second Life served as little more than an IM system, albeit one that had sorta-cool places one could wander while one chatted, if the others in the group could keep up with your comically fast Second Life strut.

3) Watching my avatar sit in the lotus position while lilty sitar music playe din the background. I checked in on good ol' Jacob Rabinowicz a few times whiel I was in the real world, doing other stuff. Every time I came back, he was still sitting there in that lotus position, looking totally blissed out. He still looked that wasy after I watched the entirety of Apollo 13. Good for him.

Sorta cool. I think that’s the telling part of my Second Life experience. I sort of enjoyed wandering through NASA’s “island” in Second Life. But wandering through their island felt as satisfying as driving by the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall without bothering to go inside.

VW/Gawker mentions that Reuters’ presence in Second Life is now gone. That does not surprise me. I spent some time wandering around Reuters’ rather impressive pavilion there. Met nary a soul, nor find anything interesting to do there except wonder if I could find a can of virtual spray paint so I could write “Frodo Lives!” on one of their rather sterile walls. That, at least, would have given subsequent visitors to Reuters something to look at.

The rub is this, and it goes down to basic tenets of good web design. If the information/experience that the searcher is looking for is there on your site, you are providing a valuable service. The more I wandered Second Life, the more I realized that what I want is not there. There’s a lot of “there” there, but the feeling I got from wandering this virtual world is that damned few people have figured out the “why.” Most of the people I met were like me – wandering souls with little to do in Second Life than wander and gawk and, I believe, wonder why they were there in the first place.

Part of our objective in taking a class that centered on Second Life was to determine how such virtual worlds could be used in the workplace. Virtual reality does have its place in the unvierse. in fact, the higher-ups where I work (a nuclear waste dump) had toyed for years with using an iteration of virtual reality to allow heavy equipment operators control their machines remotely, rather than having to suit up and enter that radioactive world. But that idea came to naught. And aside from obvious educational and entertainment applications, even after a semester of poking and prodding at Second Life failed to convince me that such worlds have application in the workplace, or at least the workplaces I'm familiar with.

Same goes for the stranger workplaces I'm involved in. A side project has me collaborating on a web project with team members scattered across the United States and India. This might seem an obvious application for econd Life -- but there are far simpler tools out there (IM, e-mail, video conferencing, text-based virtual offices, et cetera and ad nauseum) that are easier to use than Second Life. Second Life certainly pushes the envelope on bringing international teams together, but one has to wonder why that envelope has to be pushed when stuff that's already in the mailbox works just as well, and is much less time-consuming to begin with.

After said semester ended, I pretended to enjoy spending my after the kids are in bed hours in Second Life. But the sad tale is I soon found that the time I had to dedicate to Second Life was better spent in first life, accomplishing tasks that held my interest as well as the virtual world did: doing dishes, collecting firewood, reading books. And I didn’t need a custom-made avatar to accomplish those tasks. I have a custom-made body for that.

That’s not to say Second Life doesn’t have something for somebody. Many have lamented the absence of gambling in-world. Gambling was a Second Life staple until Linden Labs banned it, under pressure from the Feds. Then again, there is (or so I’ve heard; I never saw evidence of it) opportunity for rather randy experiences in Second Life that I won’t describe on this blog. So. Gambling and pr0n. Whee.

Second Life advocates now are touting the virtual world’s educational opportunities, outside of the two realms just mentioned. That day may come. In the meantime, there are other online educational services that function just as well – or better – than Second Life. I’m nearly done with my masters degree, a feat I’ve accomplished entirely online. I may not even attend graduation in December because the trip, in the physical universe, seems superfluous to the point of the entire exercise, which is getting the degree.

My last contact with Second Life? It came in a rather snarkily-worded e-mail from New Citizens, Inc., which informed me I’d been ejected from the group. Probably due to lassitude on my part, as I had not been online in Second Life for more than six months. And I don’t miss it a bit.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Not Quite the Electric Yarmulke


We're developing another kind of junk drawer at our house that I suspect is just as ubiquitous as the original.

This new junk drawer is filled with strictly electronic flotsam: Cell phone and video camera chargers, an old portable CD player, a digital camera that saves its pictures on 3 1/2 inch floppy discs and, our latest addition, a Palm IIIc complete with charger and computer connection cable. We used to have two very old cell phones in there, but they've disappeared. I vaguely recall giving them away to some cell phone recycling outfit, but it's more likely than not that they were simply transported to Deseret Industries, with some of our other outmoded detritus.

Now, we've been diligent in keeping our electronic refuse to a minimum. Older computers have been passed on to family members. We have a complete computer system, including scanner, printer and LCD monitor, in storage, just in case something we've got goes south. At about this time last year, I replaced the battery door on our old digital camera, rather than simply tossing the camera. (I say old camera because we did get a new one at Christmas, but we'll keep the old one as a backup.) So I can feel fairly confident that the stuff we've outgrown isn't contributing to pollution and illness among scavengers in Nigeria or China.

Stimulus, Sweet Stimulus

It looks like President Obama's stimulus package might have direct benefits for yours truly. Here's the official poop from our company:

Great news for [the Idaho Cleanup Project]. We’re hearing we will receive about $400 million from the President’s stimulus package. The dollars, coming to us over the next three years, will create or save several hundred jobs. Those who were previously laid off are some of the first folks we’ll be talking to.

This is a good thing, not only for the local and regional economy but for the State of Idaho since we’re actually accelerating cleanup of the site.

This news has had immediate effect. The company was planning layoffs at the end of March; those have now been postponed. (Postponing them isn't as good news as calling them off completely would be, but it's still better news than we were expecting.) Writer/editors weren't targeted as part of the layoff this time around, and we've lost a few to retirement since the last layoff, so we weren't anticipating any surprises. But we've been surprised before -- in fact, a year ago at this time the only thing that saved my skin is that I was not the lowest guy on the totem pole. I'm in that same position this year, but you never know how things will work out.

Still, it's interesting to see how this stimulus is stimulating government jobs, not necessarily those in the private sector. Of course they talk about the ripple effect -- one saved government job might save others, et cetera, et cetera, but I do understand why there's a lot of animosity out there when it appears that the government is helping their own, rather than the ordinary citizen. I recognize that, longside all the folks on the desert who decry "encroaching socialism" that we're already on the government payroll. Pot calling the kettle black and all that. That's us.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ashton -- and Uncharted -- in Action


You learn things about people when you hang out in the bitter cold with them. Alan, for example, has learned to temper his photographers' adrenaline, knowing that it's best to save your energy for a good variety of shots than to exhaust yourself by taking every single photo opportunity and ending up with a lot more shots that look exactly the same. Then there's John, who carries his civil engineering love of animal waste digesters into many other areas of his life -- including a stop at the American Dog Derby in Ashton, Idaho, where he gleefully took photos of defecating dogs, presumably to add to his collection. (Sorry, John, it's just too funny not to mention it; if you want revenge, please post the photo you have of me clutching my frozen chin with a look of agony on my face.)

Yes, we survived the derby, which you'll be reading about on Uncharted soon enough. But here's just a sneak peek. First of all, the leading picture here is of Klondike Barbie, being pulled by a very enthusiastic chihuahua at the dog derby's mutt races.

For the uninitiated, the American Dog Derby is one of the largest sled dog races in the United States. More information on the race's origins and history may be found here.


The event, of course, is all about the dogs. Dogs abound. There are hundreds of dogs at the derby. Shy ones like this. Boastful basset hounds. Before the races started at 8:30 am, the air in Ashton was rich with the yelps, whines, growls and barks of these dogs. Very surreal.


Here we see Frank Caccavo, fifth-place finisher in the 60-mile race, bringing his dog team into Ashton.


And here, a closeup. I truly aspire to this Sourdough look.


And finally, here are John and Alan, frozen, sunburned, and totally happy to have been in Ashton for the day.

I apologize for this lackluster entry. I'm a bit tired. The story, I promise, will be better than this. Of course, the quality can only go up from here.

Heading to the Cliffs of Insantiy

It's six above zero outside. The sun is just barely thinking of peeking over the horizon. In ten minutes or so, we're heading out to Ashton for our first early-morning foray into the world of dog sled racing. This is for Uncharted, of course. No other reason would get me out of bed this early for such insanity. We (Alan, John and I) look forward to a Main Street filled with barking dogs, colorful dog owners, dog doots, streaks and streaks of dog pee and the other local and imported crazies that such events bring out in droves. Chest hairs will curl and grow and sprout anew as we adjust (we hope) to the cold. Updates to follow.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You Know the Drill . . .

The mantra, first of all:

antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna

Then an aside: I may have to pick a new word. I no longer balk or panic or resort to the dictionary when I have to spell antenna. But I'll have to wait until I actually have to spell antenna in the wild, rather than in this controlled environment, before I declare victory.

Now, to the rub: It'ls loath, folks. Loath. Meaning reluctant. As in, "I am loath to repeat what was just said." It's not loathe. Loathe is a word, but it's completely different than loath.

First of all, they're prononunced differently. Loath has the soft th sound, as in theoretical or thrombosis. Loathe has the heavy th sound as in thee, these and the second th in thither.

Second of all, they don't mean the same thing. Loath means, as I mentioned earlier, to be reluctant. Loathe means to hate or despise.

Unreality

This economy, apparently, is shaking everybody's fillings loose. Especially those accustomed to getting an annual bonus. Witness here a New York Times article outlining the down-and-outs of people accustomed to large bonuses (I'm talking high five-figures to low six-figures here) who are now getting smaller bonuses this year. One fellow laments his expected $24,000 bonus this year, less than half of what he got last year. He says he uses the bonus for day-to-day living, not "frivolities." Considering my bonus for 2008 was a $25 Wal-Mart gift card ad a square of fudge made and packaged in China, I'm not so sure I feel all that badly for Mister Day-to-Day. True, he may live in an area where the cost of living is higher than where I live. That is his choice. But considering his lamentations over a reduced bonus that is about half my yearly salary, pardon me if I don't weep too much.

Have we become a society of entitlement? Apparently so.

iPod Touch Heaven

If you're like me and new to the iPod Touch, you're probably wondering, so, what do I do with this thing now that I've got it? So far, I will confess, I have used mine to watch episodes of "Last of the Summer Wine" after the kids have gone to bed, playing games like whack-a-mole and solitare, and posting a few items to this blog.

Tony Vincent, over at Learning in Hand, is going to show me a bit more of what I can do.

I'm interested, first of all, in podcasting. Right now I'm more interested in voice podcasting rather than video, simple because there's a big one-two punch involved when you combine my John McCain-ish, weenie man voice with my ugly mug. Right now, I believe, voice would be sufficient -- though I will confess I'm much more interested in simply using the Touch as a sound recorder, not necessarily a Weenie Man recorder. I may have the technology to do this. So I'll give it a shot. Results, of course, will be posted here. Or not.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Snow-Shovelers' Lassitude

It's usually about this time of year that I notice it: I no longer care if the sidewalks, driveway and other anicllary walking or driving surfaces on my personal property are cleared of snow or not.

Now the first snow, it's a thrill. You bundle up. You run out to the shed, pull the shovel out of mothballs and you push and you scrape and you work to get every flake of snow off your driveway and sidewalks. Heaven forbid someone drives or walks on unshoveled snow -- there is a circle in Hell, you're sure, devoted to them.

The first big snow, yes, is also exciting. You bundle up. You pull the shovel from its reverential perch atop the ice melt bucket on the front porch and you shovel heartily, chest-thumping with the follow next door who is also shoveling, emitting potent rays of self-satisfaction at the lout across the street who uses a snow-blower. You are a purist. And, again, you scrape and push to make sure every bit of snow is gone. You could eat off those sidewalks, they're so clean.

Then the next big snow comes, with wind, that blows Seusslike drifts onto your paths. You bundle up. You scrape and push and move that snow -- even while it's still snowing -- because you don't want anyone to tread on that new-fallen stuff and (gasp!) make it permanent.

The snow comes and comes. Finally, it comes on a day when you're not there to shovel. It gets walked on. Driven on. Compacted. No matter. You shovel the fresh stuff off, then use your special steel-bladed shovel to scrape and push back down to the bare concrete.

It snows more. You shovel. It snows more. You shovel. Sometimes you get it before it's compacted, sometimes you don't.

Then you notice it.

You have to walk on the snow one morning because your shovel isn't in its appointed spot -- it's where you left it at the far end of the sidewalk the last time you shoveled the miserable stuff.

You notice when you go out to shovel -- again -- but you don't bundle up. You're wearing a thin jacket. You're clad in shorts. You're wearing the clogs with the open heel and holes at the toe, for heaven's sake. You shovel quickly, getting a path through, but you don't clean the edges.

The next morning, the wind blows. You're in a hurry. You just walk out. Compacting the snow on top of the already compacted stuff, which is turning into glacial ice. More snow falls. It is perfunctorily shoveled, because now you're not even wearing the jacket. You just want to get rids of the stuff so the kids stop tracking so much snow into the house that your socks are soaked when you're standing at the landing putting on your clogs so you can go outside and shovel some more damned snow.

Occasionally, you get religion. You scrape all the way down to the most compacted ice, then sprinkle on that ice melt. You move the cars out of the driveway and get out the axe, bashing away at the six inches of compacted mess covering your cracked and splintered concrete. You get the sidewalks back down to the bare concrete. They're clean. Until the next storm hits, and you're too busy to shovel and don't care that the neighbor's cat is out there, compacting, compacting, compacting.

Mother Nature doesn't help. She thaws. She freezes. She thaws. She freezes. She thaws. And freezes again. More snow comes at irregular intervals.

You no longer want to shovel.

You no longer care.

Now you clean the steps, pushing the snow away, hoping the ice melt will do the rest. You're no longer speaking to the driveway. Your kids slip on the ice and actually disappear underneath the mini van, because they're walking on an ice shelf that rivals those of the Antarctic and the van has compacted its tracks and sheltered the concrete with its underbelly, turning the no-man's land underneath into a fairyland of clear concrete and those coal-black icicles your van likes to collect.

Snow-Shovelers' Lassitude. It will happen to you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Guy Who Can Get Things Done

I think I know how Phil Connors felt in “Groundhog Day” when he realized his winter was never going to end. And how the bowling alley guy felt when he said “That pretty much sums it up for me” when Phil Connors asked how he’d feel if nothing he did ever mattered, and that every day seemed the same. So I need to seize the day, I suppose, learn to play the piano or walk around looking for people to help. Or learn to make love like sea otters. Scratch that. Forget I ever wrote it.

Speaking of Bill Murray, just learned today that Mitt Romney has a house on Lake Winnepesaukie in New Hampshire. I’m about ready to head up there and indulge in some Death Therapy. I hear it’s a guaranteed cure.

I take this all as evidence of past Bill Murray experiences intruding on present time. I wouldn’t rule out ESP or clairvoyant activity either. No. That’s wrong. Gotta look it up.

Ah, and thanks to the Internet, I have it here:

VENKMAN
Generally, you don't see that kind of behavior in a major appliance. What do you think, Egon?
SPENGLER
(checking the polygraph)
She's telling the truth -- or at least she thinks she is.
DANA
(defensive)
Why would anyone make up a thing like that?
VENKMAN
Some people like the attention. Some people are just crazy.
STANTZ
(muses)
You know, Peter, this could be a past life experience intruding on the present.
SPENGLER
Or even a race memory, stored in the collective unconscious. And I wouldn't rule out clairvoyance or telepathic contact either.

So what am I getting at here? Well, my days here at work are starting to blend together a bit more than they used to. We’re between projects at the moment so things are a bit slow. But it’s more than that. There’s some kind of weird circadian rhythm in me that causes me to have a lull this time of year. I won’t say intellectual lull lest I invite many snide and rude comments about how I can tell I’m in a lull. February and early March is just a terrible time for me. Winter seems like it will never go away, I feel cooped up at home and I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, so the only time I get any real sunshine is when I walk outside. I have been walking – try to do at least a half hour a day, and that’s good for the sanity. But by golly I wish the days didn’t blend together here so much.

Opps, I Did It Again

First off, my mantra:

antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna

Now, on with the rant:

It's "oops," folks. O-O-P-S. Oh-Oh-Pee-Ess. Not "opps." Definitely not "opps." So stop typing "opps" when you mean "oops," or I will write a very stern letter to your parents.

Warping the Children

Sunday night, while I was doing the dishes, I decided I didn't want to listen to Casey Kasem do his countdown on the radio. so I put a John Denver CD in the player and let it spin. As they do when they're bored, the kids followed me. Not because they wanted to help with the dishes in any way, but because they heard the music and are attracted to loud music, movies, whatever, like moths to a flame. Next thing I knew they were tarryhootin -- that's the only word that can describe it, tarryhootin -- through the kitchen, clapping and shrieking and laughing as John Denver sang about how glad he is to be a country boy.

They played the song again. And again. And again. And again. They tried to clap with the music. Liam got there, but the other two never did arrive. (More evidence of Dave Barry's theory that Repbulicans are musically impaired.)

Then when I got home last night, they were playing the song AGAIN. Still dancing and tarryhootin. And clapping in that cute little off manner. Should I be concerned that I'm warping my children in this way? Or should I be more concerned that the warping is coming from them, and that I'm getting bent in their odd little gravitational pulls?

Oh well. I suppose there are worse things I could warp them with than John Denver.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chunk Emulation Begins . . . NOW

Because February is a month in which you need a sliver of hope to cling to, lest the drear of winter penetrate the deepest cavities of your brain and cause permanent damage, I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about the vacation we're planning for later this year at Cannon Beach, Oregon. (Note the inspirational art here, of Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, which has all the things I yearn for: Rocks, caves, water, drippy places to hide, possibly sand and starfish.) I just can't wait to go. I've wanted to vacation there for several years, but we kept utting it off, thinking the kids were too young to enjoy it. Now they're not. So we're going.

I'm planning a lot of side trips. Clatsop County is, fromwhat I hear, slightly more on the picturesque side than other places I've visited. Plus there's Astoria nearby, where I can engage in a Goonies remembrance tour and possibly engage in the Truffle Shuffle in front of Mikey's house. Will bring the video camera -- and a Hawaiian shirt and loud pants -- for that one.

And, yes, there will come a few Uncharted stories out of the whole mess. That's a side benefit. The real reason we're going: We did not take a vacation last year because we just couldn't afford it. This year, we're going.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

We Got the Microwave Back!

It's official. After three weeks without a microwave, Michelle and I both agree that we'd much rather live without TV service in the house (which we've done for the past 11 years) than without a microwave. Fortunately, we got ours back today. Now we owe Robert (our friendly neighborhood repairman) batches and batches of butterscotch chip cookies until the end of time. Well worth it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The BIG Burger

I'm particularly proud of this Uncharted homepage update for two reasons. First, that big goofy-faced guy in the picture is me. I really wanted the title to read "Give the burger to the fat guy!" but that didn't wash. Anyway, second reason for the pride: Michelle wrote the story, focusing on Big Juds in Archer and all the food that goes into this restaurant, that goes along with this picture.

Again, looking at the picture. It's true that I do not have eyes. Then why do I wear glasses?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love From Popeye and Olive

Note: Originally, i simply embedded these two videos into my blog. But because the pirate who uploaded these clips to YouTube has forbidden embedding, the best I can do is provide links. I hope Disney/Paramount tracks this bum down and slaps 'im with a lawsuit.

But in the meantime, enjoy.

Here's my Valentine's Day message to Michelle.

And her response.

We're so romantic.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Only a Nerd Will Understand

It's odd. I haven't typed on my old TRS Color Computer III keyboard in, what, nearly 20 years, but, on occasion, I still carry an odd typing tic I picked up from that keyboard. Once and a while when I want a double quotation mark, I do the old SHIFT+2 combination, which, as you can see in this picture, gets you the double quote mark on that keyboard -- the "@" symbol is all off by itself, next to the P. Which is what I get when I do the SHIFT+2 combo on modern keyboards.

I told you only a nerd would understand.

Mommy, I Want to Start A Meme of My Own

The only things more ubiquitous than being tagged to produce a "25 Random Things About Me" list in Facebook are ads for teeth whiteners and bloggers, pundits and other bloviators carping about the "25 Random Things About Me" phenomenon on Facebook.

The Washington Post's, available here, was the most comical, in my view, as the author laments not only the stupididy of such lists, but their inescapable draw even to those who roll their eyes as soon as they receive the request.

Slate.com's take, available here, is the most scientific I read. Most appealing is the writer's prescription for promulgating a similar Intertubes viral phenomenon: "introduce a wide variety of schemes into the wild and pray like hell that one of them evolves into a virulent meme." It's a good lesson on finding popularity on the Web, and also a cautionary tale that on the Web, as in nature, slow growth is probably the best thing to hope for, because fast growth tends to burn itself out, much like a virus --though I have had viruses that clung on for weeks.

All this gets me to thinking, of course, about Uncharted. Last night we finally, FINALLY unveiled a story submission module that works. I feel like I've been freed from prison. The old module was so balky that I had been able to submit only one new story between Christmas Break and yesterday. Now we've been freed from our Internet prison, free to pass on our drivel to the unsuspecting populace.

And, yes, I did complete a list. And now that I've mentioned it, it doesn't seem fair not to repeat it here:

1) My secret hero is Wally from the Dilbert comic strips.
2) I don't care if I'm seen wearing the same shirt twice in the same week. Like this week.
3) I often go out into the snow for brief excursions without shoes or socks.
4) I have dreams about tracting and always wake up from them upset.
5) When I become old, I'm going to have wild, crazy grey hair and walk up to random people and ask "Are you related to Crazy Jake?"
6) My favorite advice to give: Beware Bald Men.
7) I have a collection of rocks that resemble pigs' noses.
8) My wife hates it when I pick up a rock, hold it up to my face and say "Hey look! It's a pig nose!"
9) I secretly enjoy the orange shag carpeting in the study downstairs.
10) I'd like to get a cat. But my wife hates cats. So no cats.
11) I'm looking forward to spring so I can clean out the toolshed.
12) My idea of a wild night is watching the LOTR trilogy back-to-back-to-back.
13) I'd like to go back to France -- preferably Perigueux -- and wander through the town late at night doing my own theme song like "Kronk" from "The Emperor's New Groove."
14) Sometimes I still wish I'd become an astronomer. But I stink at math.
15) I'm thinking about forming "The International Association of W Lovers" on Facebook as a joke. And if you think this is about Dubya, you're wrong. Think Sesame Street.
16) I'd like to open up "Yellowstone Bare World, Idaho's Premier Nudist Colony," right next to Yellowstone Bear World on Highway 20.
17) If furniture stores are ever targets of terrorist attacks, it's probably me.
18) When I was a kid I fully expected to be living on the moon at 37 years of age.
19) I like to go to the campus of BYU-Idaho to show off my manly beard stubble.
20) If I ever go to Albuquerque, I'm taking that left toin.
21) Part of me wishes I'd become a hermit.
22) Part of me is glad the rest of me doesn't listen to the part of me that wishes I'd become a hermit.
23) I used to be grossed out by parents who fed their kids off their own plates. Now I have three kids. There are sooo many more things to be grossed out about.
24) My fingernails are getting more brittle with age. I think I have cancer or something.
25) If I had $5 right now, I'd spend it all on comic books.

And since I'm babbling, here's a rather entertaining article I read about blogging, or specifically blogging for money. Which I don't do here. This is solely for entertainment purposes only. And at that, it's only mildly entertaining.

Blimp Attack!

And we all thought Mr. Burns was foolish to want to prepare his nuclear plant workers for a blimp attack.

Ah, blimps. Hearkens me back to a bygone era (fitfully and briefly revived in the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) where mankind actually built things and looked forward to the future with optimism, not some kind of vague apprehension or, at minimum, blind indifference. I suppose part of it is that we've seen what technology can do for us, and it's not all good; mankind's ills can't be cured by gyroscopic stabilizers, an awful lot of hydraulics and bank after bank of vacuum tubes, transistors, microprocessors or those little nano-machines that are all the rage with the brainy types now.

But we could use some of that optimism these days. Nowadays all we get is the head of NASA saying it's better to send robots, rather than man, to Mars because they cn accomplish what we need done at a lesser expense.

We need less of that. We need more of things like this: Greetings from the Navy Blimps:


The blimps, I understand, evolved into rather effective submarine-hunters for the Navy. I still like the idea of military blimps, if not for the only reason of showing those Goodyear showoffs a thing or two.

I'd also thrill to ride in a blimp. I've come close, by riding in a hot air balloon at the Grand Teton Hot Air Balloon Festival at Driggs, Idaho, but sitting in a wicker basket while a bunch of cows on the ground moo and come a runnin' our direction isn't the same as the kind of quiet elegance and adventure I'd feel in a little cabin slung under the belly of one of these silver-skinned whales of the air. Damn. I waxed poetic. Now I gotta get the cleanser.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along?

"Frank, I swear I'm going to put in your record that you do not play well with others." (Col. Henry Blake)
Blogger's Note: More on Effective Publications Management, by Cathy Connor Lips. Thoughts on Chs. 6 and 7, regarding planning and personnel issues.

First impression: Help! I’m drowning in lists!

Second impression: Getting everyone in sync when you’re working on a publication is a maddening experience – but it can happen, depending on how critical the publication is to getting work done.

Bottlenecks change: If you’d talked to us six months ago, our entire writing group at my day job would have said that the worst bottleneck in our publication process was getting reviews out of the Unreviewed Safety Question group. These are the guys who look at our work and compare it to requirements in our safety basis documents. We have to have their signatures on about 95 percent of our documents for them to be approved. The USQ group used to be a terrible bottleneck, where work from multiple groups went to languish or die.

Ask us now, and we’ll tell you – USQ, while still overburdened, is not the bottleneck problem. We’ve worked on improving our communication with the group, letting them know where the priorities lie within our group and within the Operations group, which ordinarily is pushing for document approvals.

Ironically, now it’s the Operations group that is the bottleneck. If it’s urgent to them to have a document approved, they can turn things around rather quickly. If, however, a document we’d like to finish doesn’t excite their interests, it languishes, even though their input is required. Part of the problem here lies with a shift in management focus that has made the operations group much busier than they were in the past, so they have less time for document reviews. Naturally, they let slip what isn’t critically important to them.

Managing yourself: It’s interesting that Lips mentions this almost in passing. She’s shown throughout this chapter that her idea of publications management is a complex thing, with lots of items and variable to juggle, and in this section only mentions that we will want to find a way of tracking all this, “depending on [our] style.” I’d like to see some examples. She mentions calendars, wall charts, excel, a source mentions a FTP site, yes. But how? Because I’ve tried calendars, wall charts, Excel, FTP sites and other management items, from Basecamp to notes scrawled on paper, and I’ve yet to find something that everyone can agree on – because this isn’t something a good project manager is going to keep to himself or herself. Everyone involved ought to be able to see, at a glance, how things overall are working.

For example, I like that Lips emphasizes that the designer should be able to read the copy in order to understand what message to bring across in the design. Conversely, I think it’s important for the writer to be cognizant of what’s going on in design in order to help out with things like bulleted lists, pull quotes, and any other textual information that might translate better as an emphasized design element, rather than as mere copy.

Building the Team: I used to think that an individual’s talent should come first when it comes to deciding whether or not you want to work with them. Experiences – both happy and sad – over the past few years have proved to me that talent is No. 2, right after a good answer to the question “Can you work and play well with others?” This ability comes in degrees. I’ve noticed that the most friction comes from people who insist that it’s their way or the highway. Some people, like me, are able to moderate that feeling, by sticking to our guns on the things we regard as critical, but never ruling out compromise when it’s obvious that compromise is the only way to move forward. Others don’t have that moderating influence, and that leads to trouble in a hurry. Uncharted, for example, has lost two volunteers over the past few years, partly due to uncompromising natures, both in those who left and in those who have remained.

We’ve noted it’s important to be aware of any conflicts that may arise and to have a plan in place to nip those conflicts as quickly as possible. That process is core to Lips’ book: An emphasis on constant and clear communication, in forms that satisfy the varying preferences of individual team members. (For example, I would much rather exchange e-mails or IM than chat on the phone, because being on the phone limits my ability to multitask.) Others, however, prefer phone calls to other forms of communication. Again, the best team members are those who are willing to work past their own limitations and inhibitions to play with the team vibe. Those who can’t adapt are most likely those who will have conflicts.

“A lot of creative talents have strong egos and might exercise them more than most,” Lips says (p. 99-100) It can be difficult for anyone to hear criticism or handle rejection or work he’s created.” Though she writes this about writers, this certainly applies for any creative person you’ll want to include on your team. I find my ego rising and my inability to hear criticism rise when Uncharted’s copy editor is commenting on my copy – and Uncharted’s copy editor is my wife, herself no slouch as a writer, but infinitely more patient and open to constructive criticism than her hot-head husband. Thankfully, I’m learning to moderate my reactions. It’s one thing to get the copy editor mad at you. But when it’s your wife, that’s much more serious.

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

I read a review of the Adobe Dreamweaver software and came to this passage:

“The fun of producing a simple website in Dreamweaver is gone. The upgrades have not made it easier, they have made it much more demanding, and the never particularly good online help has become even worse. On the other hand, it is much more powerful. In effect, it has moved from an application most people can use to an application designed strictly for professionals.”

At first, I felt pretty sorry for myself as a technical communicator. As I have mentioned, I have limited experience in HTML, and my experiences with XML, CSS and other such alphabet soup boils down to tinkering I did on the web nearly 12 years ago to frustrating WYSIWYG editors to Dave’s class last semester, in which we learned to read the signposts but not converse fluently in the language. It’s not fair, I whined, that technology is changing things in my field so rapidly, leaving me behind even as I try to keep up with it all. As far as HTML, XML and CSS go, I’m still firmly in the “most people” category, and far from the “strictly for professionals” wing of the party.

So, how will this impact me? I’ve got to keep learning. Learning to tag in these languages is an important thing. Learning to work with people who know how to tag, in order to ensure that quality writing – my specialty – comes through in whatever form the future demands is more important.

Oddly enough, I’m taking some inspiration from a biography of Walt Disney by Leonard Mosley. In his book, Mosely details how, in 1933, Disney announced to his animators that many of the shortcuts thy relied on to produce their cartoons were going to be outlawed, and that teams of new animators were going to be brought in to the studio to learn techniques that would make Disney’s characters less rubber-limbed and jerky, turning them into characters viewers could believe were real. “To an increasingly apprehensive audience,” Mosley writes, “Walt warned that much of the expertise they had acquired at the studios over the years was now unnecessary, out of date, and would have to be unlearned.” Many animators were afraid they were going to lose their jobs because they didn’t have the skills he was looking for. But some of them adapted. They attended classes Disney set up for the new animators. In those classes, Disney then challenged the way things had been done, demanding, for example, that the models his animators were sketching move about and, indeed, sometimes leave the room after going through a range of fluid movements, hoping his artists could reproduce the movements from memory – thus getting away from the static drawing that made his earlier cartoons jerky.

We’re not the first to have new challenges and new technology impact our jobs. Like some of Disney’s animators, we can learn this new stuff too. But we’ll have to be willing to consider that some of the old ways we’re used to doing things are outdated.

That being said, the question arose somewhere this week on what will happen to quality writing as it moves into this new paradigm. The answer to that is that for the good writers who learn to adapt, the quality writing will follow. Disney – nor many of his earlier animators – didn’t give up the ghost when the new edict came out. They carried their desire to create quality cartoons through the new techniques and ended up with quality cartoons built a different way.

Protip

Reguar readers of this blog know the following about me:

1) I hate it when people misspell things.
2) I misspell things often.

These two facts, bubbling around in my brain, do not make for classic matter/antimatter explosions. Because of No. 1, I am working as hard as I can on No. 2 to check and verify and repair my spelling so my head doesn't explode when I read my own stuff.

But reading what's out there on the Internet still hurts.

So here's a protip, and a compromise. I will learn to spell the word antenna without looking it up in the dictionary. I understand if you spell something out ten or twenty times a day for several days, you don't forget it. So here goes:

antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna
antenna

(It's going to help if I forget phonics and pronounce it anTENna in my head. That'll help me with my spelling.)

Now it's your turn: Please, for the love of Mike, learn to spell the word lose. As in "I'm going to lose everything." I don't know how many times I see people write "I'm going to loose everything." That's fine if your're standing amid a couple dozen weasel cages and have prepared a Rube Golderg device to open all the cages at once, loosing the weasels. But if loosing the weasels is going to cause you to lose everything, please make sure you spell lose right.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Just How Bad is it Out There?

A few months ago, I was at the ATM at the credit union, chatting with a lady who was painting an advertising mural on the union's windows. We got to talking about the economy. She mentioned her husband had just been laid off from a job as a painter, and was looking for work. That, I'll admit, was my first hint that this recession was going to be more than something they jabber about on the television.

There, but for the grace of God goes I, I suppose I could say. I actually hit my financial and career nadir iin 2005, when I quit a job I didn't like any more. Took more than a year to find the job I currently have. Learned a lot in that year. Learned that you find work where you can, and often work two jobs to make sure things keep going. I hated that worse than I hated the job I left. I'm glad I'm happy where I work now, glad that, at least for the moment, things here appear recession-proof. I've survived three layoffs here already, and look to survive another one coming up in March. I would not want to be job-hunting now, given the economic climate. **Knocks very loudly on wood** Maybe I'm lucky I did my career hopping four years ago. Maybe that was a way to get me prepared for now.

Then there's this: bailoutbooth.com. It's a new classified ad website, where, by all appearances, the brokers give you cahs for what you want to sell. They're taking advantage of the current economic crisis. What's most telling, however, are the stories told to Bailout Bill here. Some of these hurt -- they're from folks who are genuinely (at least as genuinely as the Internet can be) having trouble. Then there are the comical stories from people who woefully overestimate themselves and waste money, like the guy who blew $6,000 trying to save a cashew tree, the Brooklynite looking for help so she can maintain her lifestyle which includes a 150-lb St. Bernard, and the high school dropout who is $3,000 in credit card debt and rueing the fact that his lackof a high school diploma is making it "a little difficult" to get into college. So a collage of the sensical and nonsensical, the deserving with the dumb. Arianna Huffington over at the Huffington Post may have bragged that "This recession will be blogged," but it' won't be by her or pretenders like those at unemploymentality.com. It'll be thanks to Bailout Bill.

Addendum: Of course, you have to wonder what is worse: the apparent lack of financial sense exhibited by some posting their requests to Bailout Bill, or folks like me, the ambulance chasers of the Recession of Aught Nine. Don't get me wrong: I have a lot of sympathy for people who find themselves in financial straits, whether they deserve to be there or not. My Dad, an immigrant from the Netherlands, often said that the United States is a great country to live in if you have money, but if you don't it's one of the worst places. Growing up, he said, they were poor but didn't know it, because everyone else was doing the same thing, namely bragging about having THREE kinds of vegetables for dinner. Get poor here (and pretty much everywhere in the developed world) and you know it.

Uh, I Think I'll Stay Home

I'm not sure if this is due to a computer reporting glitch or what, but it sure doesn't look good.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Going Herbal

It appears, at the Davidson home, that we are going herbal. Due to a sinus cold that lingered for more than two weeks, and thanks to a lady in the neighborhood who has done her research into the world of natural remedies, Michelle is finally recovering from her cold. She's taken some odd concoctions -- garlic and parsley pills -- and she's been doing something or other with grapeseed oil. She confided in me tonight that the stinky pills she's been taking taste bad going down, but are even worse coming up.

It all has to do, or so says our neighborhood remedy researcher, to cleaning out the liver and helping it do its job of ridding the body of toxins, something I thought was primarily the duty of the bowel. Part of me can't help but to think of Tim Conway doing a bad imitation of Euell Gibbons, roaming about the set muttering "Many parts of the pine tree are edible" while taking bites out of chairs and tables. But this gal is going to hook me up with some pretty wicked lemon and peppermint oil, which, she says, is the cure-all for seasonal allergies. Given that the current allergy medication I take takes at least a week to kick in and occasionally leaves my fingers numb as it works its wonders on the sinuses, I can't say that I'd come out any worse, going the herbal route.

But it is a little comical -- because when I lived in France, just about every ailment is pegged to liver difficulty there. That reminds me of an Asterix and Obelix comic book, from which I've pulled a few panels for our amusement:


Here, Obelix defends Dogmatix's bone from the foraging Roman (starved into oblivion in a reducing spa where the food is limited to boiled vegetables) by threatening a "poke in the liver" in retribution.

That was inspired by this even, depicting his chief's illness (due to, his wife says, overeating) and sensitive liver:

Ouch! the chief yells. Obelix asks, "Can I try too?" with the predicted effect.

So I'll keep you up to date, sporadically, on our entry into the herbal realm. I'm optimistic we'll see some results. Why not let chemistry involving natural elements have an equal chance with chemistry brewed up in a pharmaceutical plant? Nature is where most of that stuff gets started anyway.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tinkering

Yes, I'm tinkering a bit. Trying to master some mad skillz. Which, obviously, do not include proofreading. As Marvin the Martian would say, "Well, back to the old drawing board."

Friday, February 6, 2009

It's A Horsey

Once and a while, amid the loads and loads and loads of artwork your children bring home from school, you find something startling. This watercolor Lexie did of a horse, for example, still really enchants me. And she was only 5 at the time.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ley Lines

I've pondered quite a bit these past few days about the Internet, social networking, and how there are some people who are rebelling against the stupidity that are things like the List of 25 Things About Me on Facebook, the useless futility of being one of a hundred million bloggers and our growing inability to separate civil discourse from snark.

Then I got to thinking: Ley lines.

Ley lines -- hypothetical alignments of a number of places of geographic or archaeologic interest -- were first postulated, at least in our day, by Englishman Alfred Watkins, who came up with all sorts of mystical alignments between archaeological sites in England in the early 1920s. He believed, and many do today, that these alignments were not of mere chance, but that Site A aligned with Sites B, C, and D because the ancients found, or believed to have found, a line of power that, if strung with beads of archaeological significance, would impart some of that power to the sites, and thus to humanity.

I don't know that I believe all of that. But using the concept of ley lines, I can look at the Internet in a different way. We're not all brilliant here by any measure of the word. But through our blogs, our social networks, our inane comments on YouTube and our useless attempts at convincing others to accept our world view on any number of message boards and comment sites, we're creating our own Internet ley line. We're trying to line up our artifacts to form some kind of mystical connection to a world that remains as large as it was when Columbus sailed the ocean in 1492. Sure, we can cross the Atlantic in seconds now, but only in the sense of spitting a few hundred thousand electrons that way.

Where am I going with all this? Nowheres in particular. I'm still here at home, reaching out to intersect with your ley line. Or are we not supposed to cross the streams?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bad, Bad Reporting

It's a shame to see how some California bloggers and mainstream media outlets are twisting the latest filings made by supporters of Proposition 8, the successful measure meant to ban gay marriage in the state.

The Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle and other sundry media outlets are falsely reporting that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints underreported by as much as a factor of 20 the money the church spent supporting the measure. Additionally, these outlets are also reporting that the church's filings of Jan. 31 are in response to an investigation prompted by opponents of the proposition into the church's financial dealings in the measure.

"Mormon church officials," writes the SF Chronicle, "facing an ongoing investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Friday reported nearly $190,000 in previously unlisted assistance to the successful campaign for Prop. 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California."

What the Chronicle and other outlets are not reporting is that the report is one of several the church filed, according to California election law, detailing the amount of money the church spent shortly before and after the Nov. 4 vote.

"The church has been filing required contribution reports throughout the campaign," a church spokesman says here. "Those earlier donations 'initially stated' were filed for specific time periods prior to this last reporting period."

In other words, the church has not underreported a thing. It has complied with California law that allows groups such as the church up until Jan. 31 to report the full amount spent. When these outlets say the church underreported what it spent on the proposition campaign, they're comparing the final tally to only a portion of the amount spent and previously reported.

In other words, what bonehead writers and editors made this dumb, elementary reporter's mistake of letting bias get in the way of fact?

Anyone who thinks the church would make such an elementary mistake as to underreport what was spent is foolish. Again, they are grabbing at straws to find a way to overturn the will of California voters. TIME magazine has gleefully described church heirarchy as "hard-nosed businessmen." As such, they're not likely to make such an elementary error.

The Associated Press has reported this information correctly here.

That the Chronicle and other outlets have grossly misreported this story shows their bias, and shows that the writers and editors of these pieces prefer to frame their stories in ways to please Proposition 8 opponents rather than in a way that states fact. That others are spreading their errors on the Internet is shameful. I'd like to see corrections made, but I'm not holding my breath.

Zaftig

Learning something new every day is, by all appearances, a good thing. But it's not without risk.

Today,l while reading a National Geographic article on a healthcare program in rural India, I cam across this sentence: "She is often accompanied by Babai Sathe, an exuberant woman of 47, a bit zaftig, with a toothy smile."

Zaftig. I had to look it up, anticipating it would mean something along the lines of loony, high-spirited, or exuberant (given that the author qualified this lady's zaftigness with the phrase "a bit").

Alas.

With the delicate, exacting gusto typical of most dictionaries, Houghton Mifflin's American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines zaftig thusly:

1. Full-bosomed. 2. Having a comfortably ample figure.

Using such a word is fraught with risk. One, you have to explain it. Two, given the two definitions, it's clear that the word is unisex, though a male described as zaftig might take offense at the primary definition. A zaftig followed by a zap or a zinger would not be pleasant.

Additionally, it's my experience that you're either zaftig or not, and that there ought not to be any qualifying statements to define one's state of zaftigness, so the author threw me on this. But I did indeed learn something. Now I just have to figure out how to use the word in polite conversation. Outside of a Scrabble game.

I Should Have Written It Down

Ooh how I love to see things written down.

First of all, I have a rotten memory. Check that. I have a great memory, but that memory is kind of like the hard drive on my computer – filled with current affairs mixed with memories mixed with bits of songs and commercial jingles with some really important stuff buried deeply but with other, non-important stuff channeled into E-Z Recall circuits for review any time my brain decides it wants to, like the time I was sitting at church and had to sneeze and then had to find the wad of gum I shot out of my mouth when I sneezed and how I had the ENTIRE bench shaking with my muffled laughter as I tried to find the gum I sneezed out. My brain loves to revisit moments like this. I did find the gum, by the way.

But I like Lips’ suggestion of writing out proposals and progress reports. Because, for me, when I see something like this written down, I get reminders of the things I need to do, I remember what I’ve forgotten and, in reviewing the written records, I have sudden flashes of intuition on where I need to go next to make the project even better. Most of the stuff that’s written down is stored in my brain somewhere, but re-reading it from the printed page (or, indeed, the glowing screen) helps my muddled brain pull things together sequentially and enables me to visualize the bigger picture.

Seeing things written down also helps me figure out where I have holes in my memory and helps me come up with questions to ask – and people to ask – to fill those holes. Writing things down forces me to think things through clearly and to recognize where my thinking or knowledge may be lacking. If I rely on memory too much, I’m more liable to filter out the gaps and believe, erroneously, that I have a complete picture of what’s needed.

But it’s more than writing things down. We have to have things written down, but put together in a way that makes it easy for anyone to pick up what’s written and get a clear picture of what’s going on. For instance, the communications and marketing team at Uncharted is fabulous at writing things down. But, here’s a bit of writing here, a bit of writing there, and it’s hard for a dim bulb like me to figure out how these bits of information fit together in the company’s communications and marketing plan – of which, I’m told, we have one, but it hasn’t been updated with new information and nobody has the time to do it because they’re too busy communicating and marketing to fix the plan. I’m no expert at communicating or marketing, but it makes me a little uneasy to know that I’m not on the same page as this team because I haven’t seen their plan as a whole, I’ve only seen pieces of it. (Maybe I have seen the whole plan, cut into various pieces. But it’s my perception that I have not.)

On a related note – I’m helping the business team at Uncharted write the business plan – which has existed in a few scattered documents here and there, but mostly as a philosophy inside heads more than anything else. It’ll be interesting to see how we can pull all this together in a way that helps us all land on the same page, businesswise.

What’s ironic here is that a lot of the stuff I’ve read for web design, publishing, texts, et cetera, leans toward getting people away from written documentation. It’s almost like they’re trying to reproduce that scene from “Spaceballs,” in which Dark Helmet makes fun of his adjutant, Col. Sanders, for always saying things like “Prepare to leave!” “Why are you always preparing,” Dark Helmet asks. “Just go!” So once, Sanders just goes without preparing, and Dark Helmet falls on his butt because he wasn’t prepared. (I haven’t really described this adequately. I’ll try to find a YouTube video.) The logic behind avoiding written documentation to a point, I suppose, is sound – they don’t want projects to get bound down by documentation, or be forced to eliminate innovation because it doesn’t fit in with the written plan. But nobody says (OK, the anal retentives say) you have to stick with the plan. You want these kinds of proposals to be living documents, than can be thought out, altered, changed, or just referred to. The spiral programming model, advice given by 37 Signals (the group behind Ruby on Rails) all want to avoid massive amounts of written documentation. I think it’s a mistake – and a misnomer, because they still rely on the written word (on whiteboards, e-mails, and such) to track progress and to pose and answer questions. A written proposal, a written update, doesn’t have to be a novel. Some of the best proposals and updates I’ve seen have been five pages or less, with pictures. But it all gives everyone in the group something they can easily refer to to know where the project is at a given point. That’s invaluable.

Writing things down and sharing what’s written with others is critical in making sure everyone involved in a project knows where the project is headed and what needs to be done to meet project goals. I have a higher degree of confidence of finishing a project to the satisfaction of everyone involved if things are written out beforehand, and if updates are written out as well. That means for fewer surprises, better planning if things are delayed and the opportunity to ask questions.

A few more things I found pertinent from the Lips chapters this week:

Responsiveness: My job hinges on how responsive others are to the questions I have. When texts I’m working on are in the “critical path,” meaning that they have to be done for work to continue, responsiveness is great. On other texts where the sense of upper-management urgency is missing, responsiveness for some reviewers disappears almost completely. And that I understand – these reviewers are incredibly busy with their own work duties, and with answering questions from all sorts of other people. I find I have to tailor my requests for information based on my perception of how busy they are, and how involved they want to be in certain document reviews. With some, a short e-mail is sufficient, allowing for a few weeks for them to get to their computers. For others – and when urgency is increased – phone calls work. But they can’t be off the cuff phone calls. I prepare a script beforehand, so I can quickly summarize my questions and needs concerning the texts, so they know what they need to know in a minimum amount of time.

Client involvement: Some clients want to be heavily involved. Others want to be involved only when they absolutely have to. This means a tailored approach to updates and such. For those who want to be involved heavily, they get lots of status reports, office visits, phone calls, et cetera. For those who want minimal involvement, they get contacted when their discipline is in the critical path. They don’t want to be bombarded with excess information.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Blogging On The Bus

Though I won't be able to post this until I get home because the Lost River Desert is a bit bereft of wi-fi hot spots, I can at least truthfully say that I am blogging from the bus, filling in this slack time with yet another inane posting, at least until the sun sets.

I will mention the deer. For the past week, we've had a herd of deer grazing on the lawn to the north of the bus depot at Central. Today, there were eight of them, but last week there was an even dozen. They don't seem fazed to be eating in such close proximity to a bunch of humans and lumbering yellow buses. It may be that they're hungry enough that they'll tolerate our presence because they have little choice. But they look pretty healthy, the lot of them with their thick coats and shiny eyes. A few of them were pawing the snow away to get at the grass underneath. They don't look skinny or weak. I'd like to think they tolerate us because our behavior -- watching from a discreet distance -- is tolerable. There are certainly no gins pout here outside those that belong to the security guards (or at least any guns people would own up to having out here, as wuch is ubiquitous but verboten). There are enough hunters out here ogling the herd, that's for sure. Me being the peacenik that I am, I just enjoy watching them. I tried for a walk down the sidewalk near them today, but the bus came earlier than I hoped. Still, it's fun to watch them. They keep a pretty close eye ok us, a few watching while the rest eat. They're pretty sure we mean no harm, but they're still wary. I might get all foolish and name them, but I know they're only transients who found an easy feed. I could easily be one of those commune with nature Thoreau/Hippie types if I had the time and could stand the cold for more than 30 minutes at a time. Ah well. Maybe when it's time for dogs and cars to live together, I'll get my chance.


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