Sunday, May 31, 2009

Grumble grumble mumble

Grammar Nazi here. I know. It's been a long time. Not that I haven't been noticing things, mind you.

Tonight, we discuss the word milquetoast.

It is a good word. It is also a severely abused and misspelled word. Read on. Learn More. Impress your friends. If you have any.

Meet Casper Milquetoast, star of H.T. Webster's 1920s comic strip The Timid Soul. Milquetoast is named for the food "milk toast," which, as the name implies, is toasted bread soaked in milk. Apparently in Webster's time it was a popular meal among those with nervous stomachs, due to its bland, inoffensive nature. Webster twisted the spelling of milk toast to Milquetoast to come up with a name for his bland, inoffensive character, bent on getting through the world without taking or causing offense.

It's from this comic strip that the word milquetoast entered our language. But, unfortunately, it's phonics that is turning milquetoast back into milk toast, or milktoast for those who recognize that the word is of its own origin, even if they don't know how to spell it.

A milquetoast is a timid or unassertive person. The many ways I've seen this word used shows me that many people who use it don't know what it means. Most often, I've seen it used as a synonym for unlikable, which, of course, a milquetoast may be, unless you really mean to call him or her a milquetoast.

So please, for the love of the Grammar Nazi, get it right.

No mantra today. I'm feeling rather perfect.

The State of Things

Our house is in complete disarray right now, because of carpet. We decided, waaay last year, that with part of our tax refund this year we would buy carpet for the study and for the boys' room. Right now, the study is home to a horrid orange shag carpet that, according to our neighbor, was used when he installed it 20 years go. The boys' room has a rather sturdy berber carpet, meaning that no matter what they do to it, it'll never wear out. Why carpet that's indestructible also has to be beoyond ugly is beyond me. So we're getting the carpet replaced.

As those of you who own homes know, that's not as easy as it sounds. Part of replacing the carpet in the study also involves doing a bit of remodeling. We have -- or had -- some rather ugly paneling wainscotting on two of the walls. It's now been ripped out and replaced by drywall. I'm in the process now of doing the plaster and sanding, which means that most everything of value in the study has been moved out so it doesn't get dusty. That means the living room in the basement is a mess of books, bookshelves and scrapbooking supplies. We can't breathe in that room, let alone walk in it, for all the stuff that stuffed in there.

Good news is I'm closing in on the project. If I could get a full day in on it this week, it would be done. But we're not going to have that happen, because we've got Things Planned. So I might be able to squeeze in a little work between 9-11 pm each night, after the kids have gone to bed and before I turn into a pumpkin. The end product will be worth all the fuss, but it's sure a pain to have everything torn up at the moment. Add to that I had to pay nearly $12 for one piece of drywall yesterday because there's only one store in Rexburg that sells the stuff that's open after 2 pm on Saturdays. This town is so weird.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Just in Case . . .

Just in case you thought it was only poodles that get those humiliating haircuts. Here's a llama for you, courtesy of the Tautphaus Park Zoo.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Go See Up

It is a risky thing to make five of the major characters in your movie old. Carl Frederickson is old. His house is older. His hero, Charles Muntz, is older than Carl, maybe younger than the house. Muntz' blimp is an anachronism flying straight out of a 1930s newsreel. And Elie Frederickson is so old, she's dead.

No matter. With this cast of characters, Pixar Animation Studios shows off its maturity and, again, scores a big hit that out-Disneys Walt Disney. I have to say that if Disney's films as represented by the dreck we saw advertised before "Up" unspooled are going in that vein, then Pixar is the one spot in the studio where Walt's spirit resides.

Pixar, obviously, possesses strength in computer animation. But its greatest strength still lies in its storytelling. With the wordless fifteen-minute exposition we get to Carl and Elie's life together, I cried. With Carl's introduction to Russell, the overager Wilderness Explorer bent on earning his Assisting the Elderly badge, we get a concise introduction to Carl's character as an irascible, lonely man, and Russell's endearing, clueless innocense.

And with Carl's house, festooned with balloons or threatened by modern development, we get a visceral connection to the past and a reminder that, after all, it's life that's worth living and that the things we possess are "just a house."

I have to count the house and blimp as characters, because they represent the object that drives both of these explorers. Muntz, driven by past humiliation, clings to the past in the hopes of rehabilitating his reputation, and he needs the blimp to do it. Carl, driven by grief, clings to the past in the hopes of fulfilling and promise, and he needs his house to do it. I won't reveal more because I'd rather not ruin your experience with spoilers. Just go see this film.

For casting, Pixar again excels. Christopher Plummer is perfect as the aged, creepy Muntz, and Ed Asner, who still has that Lou Grant bark and bulldog jowl, is perfect for Carl Frederickson.

For music, again Pixar relies on Michael Giacchino, who adds the emotional and dramatic spice to this film. The soulful piano piece that plays throughout the exposition is evocative of a life well-lived, topped by regret over dreams unfulfilled.

And for effects -- I've heard some grumble that Pixar didn't do anything "new" in the film, as they did in past films -- notably with Sully's fur in "Monsters Inc." Wrong. Watch the clouds. Watch them closely. They part, they reflect, they absorb, they cling, they menace, they embrace, they're fluffy, white and enchanting, they're black and menacing. Don't tell me Pixar didn't try anything new.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Dangerous Allure of Google Maps

If I were only single, I'd be driving to Gray's Lake National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow. By way of Bone, Idaho, which is so small it doesn't even have a population. On the way, I'd see Wayan and Henry, two other little frontier Idaho towns stuck in the mountains I can see from Idaho Falls or Pocatello but have never visited. They may as well not exist, as far as I'm concerned. I don't need to be trapped in Truman Burbank's Sea Haven. I'm trapped in a world outlined no longer by creek washes or ridgelines, but by state highways and interstates and that insensate fear of driving off the beaten path and getting lost and devoured by wolves.

And it's a fair bet, in these mountain ranges named (sadly, I'm having to look them up) Snake River, Blackfoot, Chesterfield, Caribou, and Ninety Percent, are little boles and vistas, peaks and gorges, forests and plains beautiful enough to make one weep. And I've never seen them.

So I go to Google Maps and start plotting routes. I'm not rube enough to believe that these are all paved roads, or indeed roads at all. I've heard the stories if witless wanderers with their GPSs wandering off the beaten path and getting stuck, lost, frozen, and worse. But the allure, the dangerous allure of wandering, even if it's wandering in a Pontiac minivan, is strong.

I'll go there. Oh yes I will. Dad did. Or tried. He liked wandering as much as I do. I don't remember it, but Dad once put us all in our old Oldsmobile Delta 88 and we drove off into the mountains, the same mountains I dream of now. We got lost. Butt lost. Mom was livid, but since that farmer happened by and set us back on the straight and narrow, all was eventually forgiven. The straight and narrow, of course, led back to town. I don't know that Dad got to do much wandering after that.

So I've had Google Maps out, studying it. The terrain. The names like Kepps Crossing, Camas Flat, Brockman Road. I want to go there. I will. I will. Someday. It'll be like descending into a Mandelbrot set, one of those psychedelic mathematical constructions that, deep within, conceal a complete replica of the whole. I'll descend deeper and deeper, road after road, flat after flat, ridge after ridge, until I find that lake and then descend into its marshes, each step or paddle taking me deeper into the heart of the Mandelbrot bug, past Seahorse Valley, until I find the singularity which is the whole. Then I'll go home, happy to have visited. Ready to go back.

A Debate Begins

Over at Uncharted, the debate has begun: How often should we update our homepage to keep attracting and retaining readers, and how should those updates take place?

Currently, we're updaing twice a week, a pace we've been at since our site launched in mid-December 2008. We seem to have fallen into a simple rhythm, one that's easily maintained and not, as far as I can tell, straining anyone involved. I brought up the question last night at our budget meeting, however, that given the backlog of stuff we ahve ready for the home page (as of alst night, we have enough new content to update the home page twice weekly for four months, and this is even before the big summer adventure season begins) we ought to be updating more frequently, perhaps switching to once every week.

My reasoning is this: I have taken a look at my Internet habits. I'm not a prolific surfer. I do, however, have certain sites that I visit frequently. In analyzing why I make these frequent visits, I realize it's because the content -- be it posts, videos, or even comments -- are fresh daily, sometimes several times a day.

I'm smart enough to know, however, that my behavior doesn't necessarily translate into everyone's behavior, but I don't think I'm too far from the norm here. I think as long as we've got the stuff, we may as well accelerate the frequency of our updates. If the time comes that the backlog is reduced, we can then slow down our frequency, going back to the twice a week.

We'll ruminate this for a while and decide what to do later. Alan, I think, is worried that we're strained at updating twice a month. He may have a better feeling for this than I do, so I trust his judgement.

I know more frequent updates isn't a cure-all. Over at the Cokesbury Party Blog, for instance, I've had a weekly update for a month now, and traffic there is abysmal. Not the Internet's fault; it's merely the fault of a guy (me) who got a wild hari to start a blog about a 1932 party book. I'm doing the updates as an exercise in writing more than anything else at the moment. If anyone ever visits the site and finds it useful or amusing, so much the better. But the site is an excellent example of the fact that it doesn't matter how frequently you update if you don't have anyone visiting.

At Uncharted, it's not the updates or even the stories that are most popular -- something I'm finding a little ego-crushing at the moment. What is most popular are the people pages -- where visitors can see who is involved witn Uncharted -- and the photo pages, where each photo is worth a thousand words -- though in Internet speak, the value of a photograph should probably be presented as 1,024 words. That demonstrates to me that we might be better off pushing photo updates with as much alacrity -- or even more -- than we are homepage updates, as it's the photos that are attracting people, and, hopefully, inviting them to go to the people page, sign up, and begin posting their own photos.

I like very much that we can look at our statistics and see what is drawing the most people in, and then use that data to better plan how we handle updates, site upgrades and the like in the future. It's very real-time, to use a worn-out phrase. Back when I worked for newspapers, the only way we knew people were reading our stories or looking at our photos was by the number of complaint calls we got -- hardly easy on the ego. Our site stats show us how many are visiting, where they're looking and how long they're staying, though there are still ego-crushers, including the 40 percent "bounce rate," which is the number of people who come into a page on our site and immediately leave. So we've got some work to do. Interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Interesting Rhetoric

After the California Supreme Court upheld a ban on gay marriage yesterday, I'v espent a few fascinating hours reading the rhetoric spinning around this unexpected ruling. It's telling, but not surprising, to find that the majority of media voices out there are fimrly in the anti-Proposition 8 camp. Take, for example, this lede from the Washington Post:
The ruling Tuesday by California's Supreme Court upholding a ban on same-sex
marriages shows that, despite a year of successes for gay activists, the road
toward full marriage rights remains difficult -- particularly when voters are
given a direct say.
Those pesky voters. Always throwing up obstacles. Funny how the voters are blamed for this, when "the voters" also elected Barack Obama, in which instance the press praises "the voters" beyond all measure. fares little better. They write:
The same court, dominated by Republican appointees, ruled in May 2008 that the
state constitution guaranteed gay and lesbian couples the "basic civil right" to
marry. Voters responded in November by approving the marriage ban by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.
Now, back in May 2008 when the court rules in favor of gay marriage, I didn't read anything about how the court was dominated by Republicans. But it's the same court now that upheld the Constitutionality of Proposition 8, and now, suddenly, they're Republicans.

And it goes on. Nearly every story I read shows a bias towards those making the "struggle" or the "fight" for gay marriage, without thinking of those who oppose gay marriage. A surprising stance for the press, which ought to be able to maintain neutrality. Neutrality isn't hard to do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"It's in Memphis"

Ever since I watched Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings and Tom and Jerry after school during the week, I've long been a fan of cartoons.

And since King of the Hill, I've been a fan of Mike Judge's cartoons. Hank Hill, and especially Bobby Hill, have always felt to me to be two of the most real and believable cartoon characters ever conceived. And Judge is always willing to reverently skewer everybody, but in that kinder, gentler way that George Bush Sr. would be proud of.

Now, he (Mike Judge, not George Bush Sr.) is bringing us "The Goode Family." Here's a clip:

Now it would be very easy for Judge and company to turn this into a politically correct skewerfest, but from what I've seen they're making their a more complex satire in that not only do we recognize the Goode family as someone we know, but that we recognize the Goode family as part of ourselves. Every one of us believes or adheres to something patently silly, and only rarely do we get climpses of our own silliness. It's in those glimpses that comedy arises, and Judge and crew have proved that they're capable of magnifying these instances to great effect.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Economies of Scare

I'm tired of having health insurance.

Not that I think we should be without it. But I'm tired of the concept. Here's why:

Two years ago we signed up for some basic health insurance that would pretty much take care of us if one of us lost a limb or got blowed up or something. Obviously, we have not used it. At all. I was lucky enough to get a physical for free at work that didn't identify any terrible problems aside from my weight, which I knew about already. We've had our daughter into the dentist, and our oldest son to see, well, the witch doctor.

So explain to me why I had to get a letter from our insurance company this weekend saying that due to rising medical costs, our premium is going to jump $150 a month. Madness. We have not had a claim. We haven't had a claim on our auto insurance, and it's actually gone down in price since a few years ago. Why doesn't health insurance work this way?

It's all a racket, of course. Costs are going up for somebody because somebody at the health insurance provider wants an ivory-handled back scratcher. And pharmaceuticals in this country are ludicrously expensive. And doctors struggling with malpractice insurance, and, they can't deny it, boat payments and payments on their huge houses and whatnot. I know a few doctors, and have seen where they live. They're not living in hovels bereft of toys.

And then there's my employer. A few months ago, they said they were looking into health insurance for their employees so they could remain competitive. Right now, I get an extra $3.01 an hour so I can pay for my own health insurance. I was excited that perhaps with our employer now going to bat for us insurance-wise, we might get a better deal someplace else, using our combined buying power to get insurance that we could actually use. (As much as I hated working for the Post Register, I have to confess that their insurance was pretty good.) And back when I worked for Qwest -- as much as I hated that place -- the insurance was by far the best. $300 a year -- $300 a year, folks -- and we could see a doctor any time we wanted. For free. Economies of scale are possible. It's too bad right now that we operate on economies of scare.

Then the employer sent out a memo with two very naughty words in it: Supplemental and Aflac. Great. So, meeting attended where the two goons from Aflac explained their wares and I find that all the employer has done is figure out a way to help us spend the money we're already getting for health care without actually offering us any health care at all.

I'm ready for something akin to Britain's National Health Service. Yes, we hear the nightmare stories about long waiting lists and such. But can we honestly say that's any worse than the system we have, which is pretty much a roulette wheel that says "We might take care of you but it'll cost you plenty. You didn't need that house any more, did you?" I'm ready to pay higher taxes for something that would actually let me go to a doctor or a hospital without worrying myself even sicker over how to pay for it all. This is one of the primary reasons I voted Democrat this last time round. I do not, however, have high hopes that anything will come of my invidiual vote. Clinton had a majority in congress back in the early 1990s, and squandered it without doing a blasted thing on health care. I have little faith that one party can do anything to fix things. Truth be told, I believe it's going to take some kind of national catastrophe -- aside from the millions of people who go uninsured and are unhealthy, a catastrophe which we already have -- to fix things. Which means it's going to take something awful, because no one seems willing to fix what's going on now.

I'm done with my rant. Except that the employer's going to hear it from me, and our insurance agent is going to hear it from my wife. It's Network News time -- We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take it any more.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Little Pictures

As a father, I really enjoy it when my kids come to me with a freshly-drawn picture and tell me they want to share it with me. I even love it when they just leave the drawings lying around for me to discover later, like this one:

Then, of course, come the times when you look at the detail in the pictures your kids draw, and wonder what's up:

I'm sure my wife will find a way to blame this on me. She'll be right.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Our Weekend

If I'd have known our first camping trip of the season was going to be as successful as the trip we took this weekend to Warm River, I'd have stood in bed.

We did have a lot of fun, don't get me wrong there. Had a ball. Took a long enough hike up the old rail bed at Warm River to make the kids complain, then had a campfire, roasted marshmallows, listened to the birds and watched the Milky Way unfold above our heads. Then the next morning we went wading, froze our toes in the cold water of Warm River, and then got home in time for our oldest to get to a birthday party.

But I didn't need the broken propane regulator on the camper.

Or the subsequent leak that drained our propane tanks so when we went to power up the fridge and heat some water, there wasn't any gas left for the chore.

Or the camper battery that died so we spent the evening in the dark with food getting warm in the fridge. Thank goodness we weren't far from Ashton, and that Ashton -- population of about 1,000, has one thing that our hometown of Rexburg -- population 26,000 -- does not have: A store open 24 hours a day that sells ice.

So I went to Ashton and got the ice. We managed to cook breakfast over the campfire and not have food that was repulsive. And now we're all home and the kids are asleep and I have to go upstairs to do the dishes. Now I have something to complain about.

Check This Out for Some of Alan's Excellent Wildlife Photography

Now I babble away on the Uncharted blog about our latest update.

My Personal Cutler Marsh Blather

For a free-verse journey through Cutler Marsh, go here.

Blissed Out in A Canoe

One of my hobbies is listening to old time radio recordings. I have to blame my mother for that. She grew up with the likes of George Burns and Gracie Allen, Spike Jones, and an unlikely pair of Midwestern newlyweds, Fibber McGee and Molly.

Fibber McGee and his wife live at 79 Wistful Vista from 1935 to 1959, going from scratchy radio transmission to high fidelity and eventually to television. Molly constantly put up with Fibber’s wild schemes, whether he was attempting to make money without really having to work (such as the time he decided to dig an oil well in the backyard) or concocting some hair-brained solution to a problem he himself created. (He once suggested putting midgets on Fourth of July floats after it was pointed out the route he’d planned passed underneath a 6-foot-high viaduct.)

One of the sanest things McGee ever did was taking his wife on a canoeing trip where, with the soft swoosh of the paddles and an echo that knew more of the words than he did, he crooned to his lady love with the following song:

Cruisin’ down the river, on a Sunday afternoon.
The one you love, the stars above, waiting for the moon.
You and I together will plan our honeymoon,
Crusin’ down the river on a, on a Sunday afternoon.

It’s a sweet song, written in 1945 by Eily Beadell and Nell Tollerton. Blue Barron and Russ Morgan both brought it to the top of the U.S. Billboard Best Seller in Stores list as a number one single in 1949. Here’s the song:

As fortune would have it, Uncharted brings you such a Sunday afternoon feeling on Utah’s Cutler Marsh in two stories by Alan Murray and Brian Davidson. Our 2 ½ hour paddle through the marsh brought this song to mind and wrapped me in a cocoon of warmth as I recalled many an evening of sitting in the dark with Mom and Dad, listening to their old radio recordings.

For me, sound evokes powerful memories. When a new memory is mated with an old sound already linked to older memories, those memories flood out – in this case, bringing a bit of my childhood to life again as we paddled the still waters, watched the birds, and gazed up at the swallow nests built underneath the bridges. Now, swallows and goslings and sandhill cranes – and that scary moment when our canoe got stuck on the mudbar and I thought I’d have to walk us to shore – are indelibly tied in with this little ditty. So much the better for me, as I now have more memories on instant recall.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

That Lemon Stuff Just Might Be Working

All this week, the folks I work with have been sneezing, sniffling and otherwise complaining about their seasonal allergies. In years past, I'd have been right with them.

Not this year.

There may be several factors: Maybe the junk I'm allergic to isn't floating around yet. Or, just maybe, the lemon juice/lemon oil/peppermint oil concoction my wife and I have been taking for the past few months in anticipation of allergy season is working.

I can't say I'm symptom-free. On the days folks have been complaining loudly, I have had a slight tingling in the nasal passages, the kind I usually get when the allergies are going to kick in. But that's it. Usually, the tingling is gone by 10 am or so, and I'm not bothered by anything for the rest of the day. I could easily be imagining things, but part of me believes as well that this herbal cure is actually doing something.

I'll take a cure -- even one that's only in me head, Mrs. Tweedy -- over the modern pharmacological one I've been using. I use an OTC version of, drat, forget the brand name. Want to type Ritalin, but that's something completely different. Anyway, I use a generic version of a popular antihistamine that, though it stops the allergy symptoms, leaves me a bit tired and often with thingling in my fingers. I get all of the symptom easing with the lemon juice cocktail, but none of the fatigue and finger-tingling. I like that in a cure.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Son, Where Are You Going?

I love to go out into Idaho's lava flows. Where else can you talk your kids into climbing things like this? I think my kids are braver than I was as a kid. They're always ready to follow Dad on some damnfool exercise out in the wilds. They love going places. I think I would have, too, if my own Dad had taken us places like this. Oh, he took us places. We spent many an hour in the old Army Surplus Warehouse, poking around the old military stuff. And we'd go on odd little excursions, Salt Lake City and the like. But rarely camping, or hiking, or something like that. We'd go to Island Park, yes, but that was to get firewood. We went as a family to Yellowstone National Park on a real sleeping in a cabin vacation once, too. And, for some odd reason I can't explain, I have memories (probably false, because no one else in the family can verify this) of sitting with Dad in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. I'm sure that one is a false memory stored in the collective unconsciousness. Or something like that.

I'm not bitter, of course. Dad just didnt' like to do the vacation thing, or the wander around the bush thing, that I do. And maybe my kids will grow out of enjoying going with me. But as long as I can convince them what we're doing is fun, I'll continue bringing them along.

This photo, by the way, was taken at Hell's Half Acre lava flow, soon to be featured on Uncharted. If only I can decode my notes.

Trending Topics

I've stopped looking at Twitter's "Trending Topics," because, frankly, they're spam.

Sure, there may be people out there tweeting about Michael Vick or American Idol, but each time I click on a trend, I get to see a bunch of messages like this:

I just won $30,000 at such-and-whichy casino, URL, Michael Vick American Idol other trending topics, et cetera.

I knew there was a risk of running into spam on Twitter. It's despairing, however, to see how quickly spam is taking over. And it's not just the corporate shills or viagra sellers, either. There are many a Twit who will put a Michael Vick or Star Trek or whatever have you hashtag on a tweet just to get into the trending topics queue. It's getting to the point that a topic or keyword search on Twitter only works if it's not a trending topic -- that's how you find the people (well, most of the people) seriously discussing the subject. In detached bite-sized ypiiety yap only 140 characters long. Sigh. Maybe I'll go back to the telegraph. At least you had to pay for those, which limited for most folks how many they sent . . .

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Marketing, Out of Control

This is not your father's Oldsmobile. Heck, to the folks at Nissan, it's not even a car. It's a "mobile device."

Here's the New York Times' spin on this spin:

The phrase, borrowed from the digital domain, signals that the intended market
for the Cube is younger drivers. It also signals the focus of the campaign:
presenting the Cube as a part of a fun, busy life that can be customized and
personalized as easily as a cellphone ring tone or a Facebook page.

To underscore all that, the campaign borrows terms from technology like “search
engine,” “browse,” “storage capacity,” “add friends” and “set preferences” to
describe features of the Cube. And the media mix skews decidedly toward
nontraditional elements like iPhone games, wallpapers, text messaging, the
Internet and MP3 downloads.
May I throw up now?

Oh, it's a cute campaign, sure to win some kind of marketing award somewhere. But it's my opinion that when it comes to shifting, what should be shifted in vehicles is the transmission, not necessarily the paradigm with which one is asked to interact with the product.

I know it's been done before, and I present a lame example: Used to be on those old manual typewriters (nobody under 25 knows what I'm talking about) had something called a "carriage return," which was (stay with me, young 'uns) this turn-signal-like lever on the side of the kyeboard (we called them keyboards in those olden days) that you'd manipulate to preserve your margins and keep typing on the next line of paper. We all know it today as the "enter" key, with the carriage return's more laborious functions performed with the sroke of a key or automatically when the computer senses we're at the end of our typing line.

But that change in terminology was due to a true paradignm shift in technology, from analog to digital. When I look at the Cube, the only thing I see, paradigm-shifting wise, is a real maintenance and repair headache if that wraparound back window gets cracked or broken.

I guess I'm kind of a purist, or kind of a fool, when it comes to the things I buy. If I buy a car, it's because it performs the functions for which I bought the car: It moves forward, backward, and side to side at my command, with a minimum of mechanical breakdowns. If it happens to look good, so much the better, but be advised I have driven a 1976 Chevy Nova that was about 60 percent rus and a 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais that had a tiger-striped paint job after a wreck, so I'm not particularly picky. And I use a cell phone to make calls. Nothing more. I just don't need to be thinking about adding friends and setting preferences and these other lame social media things when I'm more worried about my gas mileage and whether the rack and pinion thingy is working correctly.

Nissan may indeed sell a few cars to the technologically-inundated with this campaign. But if this campaign is a joke in six months, I wouldn't be more surprised.

Addendum: As commenter Carl points out, the irony here is that we're not seeing a new product -- Nissan has sold the Cube in Japan for lo these eleven years as a panel truck fit for plumbers and other tradespeople -- but a new marketing niche. How do we appeal, the Nissan execs thought, to an audience already so oversold they'll buy just about anything that starts with a lower-case "i." Then brilliance: Market the Cube not as a car, but as a "mobile device." And market it at a demographic similar to that as the Toyota Scion, which has seen success but has struggled, according to, as more marketers ahve entered this coveted demographic of selling to callow youths who will buy most anything as long as it makes them appear edgy and cool.

Who is the "Public" in PBS?

I grew up with PBS.

On those glorious days as a kid when I was ill enough not to go to school but well enough not to sleep all day, I'd turn on the ol' TV to Channel 10 and watch the likes of Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, Electric Company and the other shows our local Public Broadcasting Service station aired.

My one regret now that I have children of my own is that in our decision not to have television in the house, our kids aren't getting the same exposure to the same PBS programming I enjoyed as a kid.

But in reading this story this morning, I have to wonder, who indeed is the Public in PBS?

The Deseret News reports that KBYU in Provo may lose its PBS affiliation because the station airs religious programming. Programming, mind you, that the station produces itself and gears towards a public audience generally receptive to its religious content. PBS itself, in evaluating its affiliates, seems ready to implement a 1985 statue banning PBS funding for stations that broadcast shows that are partisan, commercial, or sectarian.

Would this rule ban the broadcast of Sesame Street? True, the Children's Television Workshop, which has produced the show since the 1970s, is a non-profit organization, but considering the number of Sasame Street-themed books, videos, baby folderol and other junk one can buy, one could clearly argue that the show is commercial even if it's not pushing any products. To say otherwise is to argue that Elmo or Big Bird could be taped and broadcast sipping Cokes or Pepsis and that would be okay under PBS rules as long as they're not facing the camera and saying things like "Buy this soft drink."

Our local PBS affiliate used to air "The Frugal Gourmet," starring Jeff Smith. I loved watching this show with my father, who eagerly bought the cookbooks Smith hawked directly on the show. Sure, he didn't do it every episode, but I remember several occasions when the book was there, and that Smith mentioned it. Does that not qualify this show as commercial, and shouldn't any PBS affiliate that airs it lose its affiliation as well?

I'd be curios to hear if this same rule applies to National Public Radio, an entity which is hardly a bastion of non-partisan news and feature reporting. And with PBS stations airing the likes of Bill Moyers, the partisan objectivity of public television is also in question.

The problem with making rules like this is that you have people like me who parse them. Apply the rule to one, and, by golly, you have to apply it to all. Is PBS willing to take this punishment further and do a bit more than strafe at its affiliates, like LDS Church-owned KBYU and Howard University-owned WHUT, which dares air a Catholic Mass weekly for shut-ins, because of their sectarian programming which, by all accounts, is serving its intended public audience? Or is the rule going to be harshly applied for sectarian reasons while the rest of the rules get just a simple navel-gazing?

I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd be putting money in my belly button about now.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"I Don't Want to Ruin His Political Career"

As I have three children of my own, it's not uncommon for fights to erupt in our house when it comes to making them clean their rooms. It's also not uncommon for them to comply with the request while in tears (not necessarily because I'm an ogre as a father, but because that's the nature of the beast when dealing with children between the ages of four and nine).

But this instance of crying uncontrollably, fist-balling, plate-hurling rage involving a 28-year-old "political consultant" and local school board member forced into cleaning his messy room by his daddy is absolutely nuts.

Hat tip to Michael McIntyre of for writing this one up, from which I swiped the title for this post, but, now, not without proper attribution.

If I were a Cleveland area resident living with in this individual's school board zone, I'd be saying "Consider your political career, at least on the school board, ruined." Now, it's absolutely healthy and natural to get a bit huffy, I don't have a problem with that. Any 28-year-old ought to have the right -- I'm sure someone wanted to include it in the Constitution but got shouted down there in Philadelphia -- to leave his room as messy as he wants. I, as a 37-year-old, keep my corner of the study in such disarray our daschshund was nearly buried alive in an avalanche of books and papers just prior to Halloween 2008. But ya gotta figure that anyone with political aspirations, in our day and age, ought not to be exhibiting such behavior while still living with Mom and Dad without paying rent.

True, I don't know his economic situation. Perhaps he's down on his luck and living with Mom and Dad isn't a perferred choice. I have family members in that very situation. But I do know that they're capable of complying with a few simple house rules without getting all plate-throwy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Aw Crap

Leaving work Thursday, I joked with my boss that I wouldn't think about the place until 4:30 am Monday, getting ready for the bus. Just thought about it right now, and the temporary field change I'll have to chase first thing in the morning. Good thing, though, is that most of the groundwork has been laid and it'll be just a matter of futzing with the paperwork tomorrow. But still. I'd rather not start off a Monday with a stresser.

But thus is life. I should be happy -- and I am -- with my job, since it affords ample time to do the work I'm assigned to do and at not a bad rate of pay. I've certainly held jobs where the Sunday Dreads were a lot more meaningful, as the jobs I was dreading were far, far worse than this one. In fact, I'm actually dreading more the thought of having to head upstairs in a few minutes to wash dishes than I am dreading going to work in the morning, and that's significant. Never knew working within a half mile of one of the most contaminated nuclear waste dumps in the nation would bring such peace of mind.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

One of the Reasons I Really Love Uncharted

A Clark's Grebe Floating in Cutler Marsh

I've been writing stories like the ones at Uncharted for a long time. I spent more than 10 years in the newspaper business, for heaven's sake, working on this and that and the other thing and having a grand time of it. As I look back at my newspaper career, however, I've got to say I enjoyed the time I spent at the smaller papers better than at the one larger paper I worked for.


Fewer walls and boxes. I had beats I had to cover, to be sure, but if I got a wild hair and decided to write something akin to a feature story that didn't necessarily fit into my assigned beats, those stories were welcome. At the bigger paper, not so much. They had a features department. That was their job, to fill their pages, and it was our job to fill our pages. The most joy I had at that paper was on the few occasions when that wall fell. Why it was repaired so quickly I never understood. I was able to morph some of my stuff into the featurey genre, but not enough to keep me happy, and I suppose I was too timid to do any more insisting.

Now I get to do what I want.

Not in the spoiled child kind of way. But in a way that I'm able to build on my passions. For instance, thanks to Uncharted I've had a lot more freedom to write about my wanderings through the Lost River Desert. I'm also able to build new passions. I'm working on a story right now on the Cutler Marsh in Cache Valley, Utah, that's making me want to pick up a lot more information on birding. Nature's original voyeurs, you may now have a new acolyte. If only I could justify the $30 for the iBird app for the iPod . . .

This is the power of citizen journalism, versus corporate journalism. There are a lot of talented people out there who have passion for what they do and what they photograph and what they write, but there are darned few outlets for them, even in this Internet age, that can get them the notice their passions deserve. Maybe Uncharted can help fill that niche. It's certainly working out well for me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Bunny, the Bunny, Ooh I Love the Bunny . . .

You know, it's not often you hear a bunny give a lecture, so when one does show up and starts pontificating, you pay attention. That's how it was a week ago at Uncharted's retreat in Logan when Andrew Clark, our Director of Presentation, issued part of his keynote address wearing a bunny suit from Pink Bunny Pajamas, his web-based business. Andrew's been selling the pajamas for about six months now, and even despite the bad economy, orders are pouring in. Folks at Uncharted helped Andrew launch the business so he could help us launch Uncharted. We built e-mail databases for him. We found him a pajama manufacturer in the United States. As a reward to us, he wore the bunny suit at the retreat.

Of course, seeing him in the bunny suit made me really, really, really want to sing this song:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Anybody Want to Buy A Van?

Remember that serpentine belt on our van? Well, it slipped off again today, this time due to a loose crankshaft. So klunk goes the van on the side of a fairly busy road in Idaho Falls. My only consolation: I was at work at the time. I only found out about it when I called home to report an errand successfully completed and ended up talking with our nine-year-old, home with the seven-year-old while Mom and the youngest were stranded. Fortunately, Michelle's family (and mine, for tnat matter) live in Idaho Falls and they were able to help. And Kevin, our mechanic at Larsen Repair in Iona, also made the half-hour trek to Michelle to see if he could fix things on the road. How many other machanics would do that, and not charge for it? I know one, and his name is Kevin.

So my Uncle Med (and Michelle's longtime backyard neighbor) came to help get the van to Iona, after the roadside repair proved futile. Then Michelle's Dad gave her a ride home.

Irony: We're trying to sell the thing. It's emblazoned with for sale signs. And while Michelle was sitting there, awaiting rescue, a local policeman pulled up behind her to see if she needed help. Her first words to him, after he studied the signs on the windows, were "I really, really need to sell this van." That gave the cop a good laugh.

So we'll get it fixed. Again. Anybody want to buy a van?

Uncharted Gets Noticed

Amanda over at her Don't Get Bored in Idaho blog has given Uncharted a nice plug, in connection with our story on Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Thanks, Amanda, and we hope to see you (and many others) at soon!

Twitter, circa 1935

So, tell me again how Twitter is a paradigm-shifter?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Idaho's Next Governor May Be . . . A Democrat

The joke in Idaho is that if you want to run successfully for public office, you'd better have a "R" in your name somewhere.

But with Rex Rammell's announcement today that he plans to run for governor on the Republican ticket, combined with current Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter's ambivalence about running for a second term, the "R" in Democrat just might be worth something.

Rammell is apparently running, according to KPVI (see link above) on what might seem to be a successful paltform: opposing higher taxes on gasoline and increased vehicle registration fees, which Otter supports and the state legislature famously opposed this spring. This may win him points with fiscal conservatives, but it's hard to see how the issue is going to support him in the race for governor, even if Otter doesn't run at all.

Rammell, running for Larry Craig's U.S. Senate seat last year, was trounced, despite a platform of fiscal conservatism. Former Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who rodered Rammell's elk shot when they escaped from his elk ranch near Yellowstone National Park, won the election hadily, with 371,749 votes, with his nearest opponent, Democrat Larry LaRocco, earning 219,903 votes. Rammell came in dead last among the candidates with 8,662 votes, falling behind another independent candidate -- who changed his first name to Pro-Life -- and Libertarian Kent Marmon.

More tellingly, even with his fiscally conservative platform, Rammell didn't win his home county of Madison, billed as the reddest county in the nation and a bastion of fiscal conservatism. Risch swept the county with 9,552 votes, trouncing LaRocco who earned 1,282 votes and easily beating the minor candidates including Rammell, who together earned only 2,037 votes in the county. Rammell nettted s paltry 197 votes in the county he calls home. His campaign RV was also vandalized in Rexburg. (I don't condone vandalism, obviously, it's just interesting to have it happen on his home turf.)

Idaho voters certainly vote the party. They also -- and this is to Rammell's detriment -- vote the individual within the party. So unless the Republicans in Idaho nominate a complete rube in the event Otter does not run again, Rammell's chances of winning are slim.

So why do I think a Democrat could win Idaho's governorship next time 'round? Well, I don't. Unless Rammell wins the Republican nomination. Then a Democratic governorship becomes a distinct possibility.

Also worrisome is that Rammell himself can't seem to make up his mind. Earilier this year, he announced plans to run against Rep. Mike Simpson, who won 71 percent of the vote last time he ran and is widely regarded as popular. Rammell probably realized his chances of unseating Simpson were poor, so he's now targeting the governorship.

Rammell obviously believes he's a Republican savior. He told the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., that he himself sees a Democrat winning the top office if Otter decides to run again. But at the same time, in chiding Otter, Rammell says something he ought to be listening to himself: “I watched what Butch had done,” Rammell told the paper. “He reminded me of a guy that’s not going to run for re-election. Usually, if you want to be re-elected, you don’t go cause a bunch of trouble.”

My advice to Rammell would be: If you want to be elected, you don't go cause a bunch of trouble. And that's what most people see in him.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Twitter: A Bridge, Not A Destination

ReadWriteWeb had a little blip on the state of Twitter on their website this morning that’s leaving me scratching my head. They seem pretty excited that Twitter, according to PainContent and Quantcast, saw more unique visitors than the websites of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The piece starts off with this question: Where do you get your news from? The implication, of course, is that people, or at least more people, are getting their news from Twitter, not from the NYT or WSJ.

My response: Huh?

Maybe I misunderstood the intention. But this post seems more like a continuation of the “Oprah, Ashton, CNN lovefest for Twitter,” as the author puts it, than telling me what people are using Twitter for.

What does the author use Twitter for?

Twitter is “useful, fun and captivating.” It’s a “place to learn about what’s going on in your world.” It’s a “different animal. It’s more interesting” than Facebook or Myspace.

But the writer does get past empty banalities to say why Twitter is all these things: “We found the PaidContent post via NY Times designer Jeremy Zilar (on Twitter) who was passing it along from the Twitter account of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. The Lab posted a video tour of the New York Times R&D lab this morning, where the very forward-looking newspaper giant is exploring ways to deliver its content to new devices, to satisfy advertisers in a changed media world, and to aim (presumably) not to lose to Twitter as the news outlet of the future.”

So they got it from a guy who heard it from someone else who posted a video on their site about a forward-looking newspaper giant exploring ways to deliver its content to new devices (while at the same time threatening to shutter the Boston Globe, which is, of course, an old device). Couldn’t they have accomplished the same thing listening to a man in the corner of a pub?

Oh, I know. I get Twitter. It’s connecting people separated by distance and interests and education and reach and putting the paradigm-shifting powers of the printing press into one of the stars from “That ‘70s Show.” Much like the connections between neurons in the brain of an individual who likes to brag about his new MacBook Pro, yammer about cribbage or pocket-handkerchiefs, the new Star Trek movie and create unlikely titles for James Bond movies.

I will disclose I have seen some benefit from Twitter. Just this week I got the Idaho Travel Council and to visit the Uncharted website, tempting them with a link to a story and photos we just posted on Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Twitter is helping us network our site, and, hopefully, drive traffic to it. But I fail to see how RedWriteWeb can justify it’s claims that a flow of bite-sized yippety-yap, to steal a line from “Twouble with Twitter,” a rather amusing animation belittling the paradigm-shifting power of the site, is going to drive the future of news. Unless, of course, they envision news being delivered in 140 characters or less.

Other than that, I find Twitter to be an excellent place to shout into the darkness, even if I do get an occasional shout back, wondering why my shouts are so nonsensical.

The author of this piece also throws in the juicy rhetorical question: “Of course Twitter doesn’t create original content. Does it?”

The question is left unanswered, because the answer is no. Well, I suppose it is content if you don’t mind being limited to 140 characters. Not that great things haven't been said in less than 140 characters, but as far as news goes, it would be difficult for even USA Today or Reader's Digest to condense so much. As Twitter is being used now, it’s a fine networking tool and, at least in the way I use it, is a fine news aggregator focusing on my special interests. But I’m always leaving Twitter as soon as I find something interesting to read. Twitter is a bridge, but hardly a news destination.

Monday, May 11, 2009


We will continue to eat rainbows and poop butterflies at the Davidson household. My wife ordered more essential oils today for our continued dabbling into herbal remedies. The newest remedy that will be tried – on myself and our youngest son – is rosemary to cure warts. No longer content with seeking our gypsies or trying to home-paint or home-freeze these warts out of existence, we’ll now try rosemary and see if it works.

So, what is rosemary. It is, I've discovered, related to the mint family, and is an evergreen herb that has the following "active" ingredients: 1,8-cineole, acetic acid, camphor, carnosol, carvacrol, carvone, caryophyllene, chlorogenic acid, geraniol, hesperidin, limonene, luteolin, rosmarinic acid, salicylates. Most of which mean nothing to me, of course, as do most of the ingredients in the over-the-counter wart removal aids I've tried. Now the salicyclates I'm familiar with, as they're also the active ingredient in aspirin and the OTC wart removal aids I've tried. No surprises to find it there. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its peculiar pungency, and rosmarinic acid is one of those magicl things called antioxidants. As for the rest, I don't know much about them. But through some alchemical combination, our resident witch doctor (not Dr. Thayne, but someone else who got us walking down this garden path) swears by it.

Lemon update: Allergy season is beginning to swing here, and, thus far, the only effects I've noticed is a slight tingling in the nasal passages that quickly fades as the days go on. I take that as a good sign, because in the past those tingling sensations typically meant I was goingto have a fair-to-middling day, allergy-wise. I still suspect part of my reaction is mental, but I'm as willing to give the lemon/lemon oil/peppermint cure the benefit of the doubt as I am the OTC antihistamines.

The thought of consuming (or at least applying) rosemary does bring up one concern: Rosemary Woods, or, more specifically, the Rosemary Wood Face, a longstanding family joke featuring a rather fake smile. I'm hopeful using Rosemary won't induce Joker-like side effects.

How to Write A Wal-Mart Story

As I read a lot about Wal-Mart in researching a novel I'm writing, I've begun to notice that those in the national media who write about the retail behemoth seem to adhere to a standard template and rhetorical pattern in writing their stories. A recent story on Wal-Mart in Newsweek, "Watching Us Save, One Cart At A Time," fits this pattern perfectly.

First, attend the store's morning meeting:
It's 9:20 a.m. inside a Wal-Martsupercenter just north of Denver, and
three-dozen employees are gathered in the back of the electronics department.
Their boss, Karisa Sprague, steps to the center of the huddle. "GOOD MORNING,
KARISA," they thunder, then stamp their feet twice, clap their hands twice and
shout: "TEAMWORK, HUH!" Sprague congratulates an employee named Crystal on her 10th anniversary with the company, and offers a quick pep talk. Then the
employees stretch: touching toes, bending elbows, rotating wrists.
Next, call it weird, odd, cultish, spastic or some other fill-in adjective. Newsweek chooses "odd."

Quote company mottoes (such as "Save Money," and "Live Better," then paint them with Christian overtones. "That mission," Newsweek says, "starts in the grocery aisle . . ."

Overanalyze or prompt a source to overanalyze a quirky Wal-Mart shoppers' habit:
Sprague admits she's puzzled by some of the store's hot recession sellers, like
$5 white toilet seats. "It seems bizarre," she says, "but I can't keep them in
stock." Her best guess: unemployment and cocooning are leading people to put
more wear on their home bathrooms, and they're choosing her $5 seats over
pricier ones at Home Depot.
Point out that Wal-Mart's incredible revenue is always overshadowed by something, thin this case the "fear" that Wal-Mart is ranked 56th out of 59 grocery chains by Consumer Reports, "due to poor service and lackluster perishables," and point out that Wal-Mart is always traying to improve their stores but make note that "cleanliess" is always an issue.

Nowadays, they don't have to point out that Wal-Mart gets a lot of its merchandise from China, because commenters will do that for them in droves, while at the same time glossing over the fact that Target, and even some of your Mom and Pop stores (which are always mentioned as a bastion of American commerce by the commenters) also get some of their stuff from China.

Do I think these reporters aren't telling the truth about Wal-Mart's performance, dirty stores and the like? No. I'm sure they report things accurately. I'd just like to see a reporter or two pop out of the same Wal-Mart story template once and a while and do something original with their rhetoric.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Dreamer of Dreams

As a buyer of used books, I'm used to a little extra pathos between the front and back covers, as the books' former owners leave bookmarks, margin notes, and other examples of their former attachment to the books that lie on my shelves.

A copy of Tom Weber's "All the Heroes are Dead," which I picked up earlier this year, has an exceptional drama on the flyleaf. A pencilled note reads "May all the Springs, Summers, Winters, and Autumns bring you life -- joyfully -- tenderly -- happily. I love you, J"

The recipient's name is obscured by a bold black stamp, "DISCARD," as if from the collection of a library. How deeply held is sentiment? How dearly was this book discarded, by someone bored with its contents, with "J," or by someone cleaning out a bookshelf left by one passed on? Such a story without the first word of the book read.

More on Craters of the Moon from the Craters of the Moon Moron

More evidence I love to torture my family with the desert landscapes of Idaho. And proof that they love it. Or at least the kids love it . . .

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Uncharted Goes to the Moon

The Davidsons at Indian Cave

Just got back from Uncharted's annual retreat at Logan about a half hour ago. Kids are in bed after a grumpy ride home from Grandma's house. And our latest updated, featuring a story I wrote on Idaho's Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is up at I plan to have additional photos up on my personal profile soon, but it's not going to happen tonight. Worn out.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Uncharted on the Road

On the road for Uncharted this weekend, and feeling fine about it. In fact, it's officially been a year since Michelle and I last took a trip on our own without the kids -- for the Uncharted retreat in 2008. So maybe it's a good thing we're involved with Uncharted; it gets us out of the house.

And what a way to get out of the house. Had a ball paddling a canoe through the Cutler Marsh outside of Logan, Utah. Cannot believe how much wildlife we saw -- lots of waterfowl, obviously. We came across a family of Canada geese, including at least half a dozen goslings. Mom tried leading us a way, and we obliged, not wanting to torment her family. The goslings immediately dove under the water, but one kept surfacing nearer and nearer our canoes, so close I didn't want to paddle lest I whacked the poor little thing with an oar. So we were paddling all over the place trying to get away from the birds so as not to bother them, which we finally did.

We did get stuck on a mudbar with the dock in sight at the end of the 2-hour paddle, and for a little while there, I was certain I'd have to take off my shoes and walk us out of the muck. Bob -- big ol' butt, which I carry around with me everywhere -- is what got us stuck. After ten minutes of furious paddling and scrabbling around in the mud we did get out to the channel and to the dock, where I kissed the ground. This is a momentous occasion for me, because it's the first time in at least ten years I've gotten into a canoe, paddled and then gotten out again without falling out of the boat. See, usually I do, taking whomever is with me into the drink. I think Michelle appreciated my efforts.

Now I've got to write about this for Uncharted. Should be a lot of fun.

Then there's tomorrow. Have to give part of the keynote address, in front of a video camera. I asked Alan if I could do my portion through sock puppet theater. I'm not sure he said no.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Walled Garden Going Up

This is pretty big news for those following the saga of newspapers trying to stay alive in the digital age during a financial crisis. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation expects within the next 12 months to make users pay to read his papers' online content.

Murdoch, speaking with, claims the pay-for-use model at the Wall Street Journal, which his company owns, shows that users are willing to pay for online newspaper content. I'm fairly confident he's only gotten that partly right. In researching this subject, and writing an essay which I call The Shirky Test for Clay Shirky, on whose essay the test is based, I believe that for general audiences, the pay-for-use online model is dead. For those interested in specific information from a source they believe to be irrefutably valuable, the pay-for-use model changes. More people will be willing to pay for the WSJ online than, say, an ordinary newspaper (like many of the others News Corporation owns).

But the announcement from a big corporation planning to put its content behind a walled garden may embolden others to pursue the same tack. For the walled garden to work, it's got to be an all or nothing venture -- but for all media. There are many folks, like me, who might pay for an occasional story if I can't find the information elsewhere, but I'm not willing to pay for a general subscription. That attitude, however, may be biased by the free-for-all that the Internet has presented us for the last two decades. Readers of the future may be more willing to pay for online content, as many are increasingly willing to pay for digital music, rather than buying a CD. It'll be interesting to follow this arfhebung in the communications industry.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gleeful Angst

An awful thought just struck me. As of July 31, I will be finished with classes for my masters degree. I've been taking classes for this degree for the past 2 1/2 years.

I have no idea what I'm going to do with my free time once that final class is finished.

Back to the novel, yes. Throw in a little speaking like Yoda as well, and I can probably fill a little more of that time. The novel. I've had it shelved for a while, about three months now. Going back to it, I still get the feeling that it's good. Well, acceptable. I still hvae little ideas for the storyline and characters hit me out of the blue, so that tells me through intuition that it's not crap.

Then there's the job thing. I'm thrilled to be this close to earning a masters degree. However, I don't see the degree (or the skills I've picked up along the way) doing much by way in my current job. The place where I work is fine, don't get me wrong. The writing we do, however, is stuck in a rut. In a good way. It works very well for the intended purpose, but that purpose has a pretty narrow scope. I'm working hard, of course, to make the writing I do at work be the best I can manage to produce, because I want to give my employers good value for their money. It's just a little stifling, creative-wise. So back to the novel. And that's just fine.

Another thought: Took the boys on a hike Saturday through the lava fields west of Idaho Falls. I have memories of going out to these fields to gather lava rock with Dad. People back then wanted the lava rock on their homes, so we went out to the desert to collect it. We had a ball, the boys and I. In leaping over a crack in the earth, I landed on a rather large rock in the middle of the crack. As I pushed off from it, the rock jiggled. So I stopped and stood there, jiggling this massive rock, like a loose tooth in the earth's crust. I felt pretty big.

We did just a little jaunt in the lavas. Next time, I'm taking the walk all the way out to the vent. Ten miles round trip. Won't take the boys. They're a bit young for that kind of a trip.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Disclaimer: I Don't Always Follow these Rules

I got the task tonight to conjure up a set of writing tips for Uncharted writers. Came up with a set of lucky 13. I don't always follow them, recognizing the power behind Rule 13. Here they are for what they're worth.

1) Write in active voice, not passive voice.

It doesn’t matter if the mountain was climbed, the rapids were run or the portage around the rocks was hard. What does matter is that I climb a mountain, we run the rapids or the portage nearly killed me. Replacing forms of the verb “to be,” especially those in the past tense (was, were, et cetera) will make your writing as active as you are.

2) Closely related to the first rule – write in present tense often, past tense when necessary.

We hike, we swim, we climb, we breathe, we sing, we smile. Only if something is fixed at a certain point in time have we hiked, swum, climbed, breathed, sung or smiled. Writing in the present tense helps our readers feel as if they’re with us on the adventure, rather than listening to us tell about it after it’s over.

3) Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly – instead, use descriptive verbs and nouns.

Waterfalls are often amazing and awesome, scintillating and such. But these and other adjectives and adverbs are overused. Instead, use verbs – thundering – or nouns – turbulent – to describe that waterfall.

4) Read what you write aloud.

A good way to test your writing is to read it aloud. You’ll find, as all writers do, that you stumble over a few passages while you read. Re-write those passages until they’re easy to read aloud. They’ll make for better writing.

5) Find your voice.

Each writer has a different way of communicating. Some use long sentences, others use more descriptive words, others use sentence fragments. It’s good if your writing sounds different than others – that’s your voice coming through.

6) Show, don’t tell.

In the words of Mark Twain: “Don't say the old lady screamed . . . bring her on and let her scream.”

7) Resist cliches.

Familiar sayings are comfortable as an old shoe and as friendly as a dog, but presenting our readers with unexpected imagery will surprise them.

8) Take risks.

There are no bad writers, only timid writers. It’s okay to take a risk, to experiment with a bit of writing – try a bit of poetry in a story, quote a song lyric, throw in a few sentence fragments. These kinds of risks bring your writing to life.

9) Read. A lot.

The best writers are often the best readers. Start a journal of sorts of beautiful passages from the books you read, and study authors like J.R.R. Tolkein, Zane Grey and Terry Pratchett, who excel at description and dialogue. Start with imitation, but then move quickly into applying Rule 5 so what you write is your own.

10) Don’t fall in love with your writing.

Once you’ve finished a piece of writing, put it away for a day or two. Pull it out again and read it. You’ll find ways to improve even the best writing this way.

11) Don’t let writing intimidate you.

If you’re having trouble with the beginning, skip it and write the middle. Or the end. Or just sit down and write out a few thoughts. The act of writing itself often will help you form your thoughts and help you around the inevitable writers’ blocks that fall in your path.

12) Let someone else read what you write.

Writers often get too close to their work. Letting someone else read what you write puts a fresh pair of eyes on your prose and helps you identify areas of improvement.

13) Relax.

Not everything we write is going to be stellar. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work at a piece, the writing is difficult. Sometimes, it’s a breeze. Revel in the moments when your writing sings and look at the times when your writing clunks like a brick as learning experiences. Author Ray Bradbury says that 90 percent of what a writer writes is terrible – so a writer has to write a lot to find that remaining 10 percent.

Local Snooze

Having written a few stinker local stories in my time back when I was a newspaperman, I know what they look like. This one, by one of our local television stations, is probably the dumbest local story I've ever seen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Holding on, Holding on . . .

Last week, I wrote about taking our son to see a "natural remedy" doctor to see if he could help him with a few medical problems, among them being a bout of constipation that has plagued this kid since he was a baby.

Sunday came the deluge. Sparing the details, I will simply say that our son went to the bathroom a lot, a week after starting treatment. He was uncomfortable, to be sure, but -- and this is a first for him -- he said he could feel his body telling him he needed to go. Most of the time in the past we had to tell him to go. So Sunday's activity, despite his discomfort, is comforting. And he's in school today, apparently functioning as normally as can be expected.

Part of this may be mental, as this is the first time we've had a doctor who recognized there might be a problem that stool softeners and time wouldn't cure (that's all we got out of our pediatrician, and the internal medicine doctors around here won't see anyone younger than 18 years of age). So chalk up at least one potential win in the column of Dr. Destin Thayne, BEP.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Blast from the Past: McBroom's Ghost

First, I have to do the yell:

Willjillhesterchesterpeterpollytimtommarylarry andlittleclarinda!

That's how farmer Josh McBroom shouts his eleven children into the house as they're playing on his amazingly rich one-acre farm, where the soil is so rich they can grow two crops of tomatoes and a crop of carrots on the first day of planting.

And now it's my goal as I pass these wonderful books (this is the first of a series by Sid Fleischman) on to my children that I perfect McBroom's yell so I can shout it at them when it's time to come in for the day.

When I spotted this book along with McBroom Tells a Big Lie at the DI this weekend, I had to buy them. I used to own copies of the books myself, and remember, as a youngster, being a little spooked by the idea of reading a story about a ghost. Then, of course, I remember reading the story and laughing out loud at the outrageous tale-spinner that is Josh McBroom.

Then there are Robert Frankenberg's illustration, in which he leaves a few of his characters a bit buck-toothed and, frankly, skeleton-like with all the teeth you see.

And there's Heck Jones, the neighbor, covetous of the McBrooms' wonderful farm, who stands on the hill eating shoofly pie (made of molasses and brown sugar, sure to attract the flying pests). I remember thinking the pie was called "shoo-flee" pie, and wondering why the author had picked such an odd name. Well, I'm not the brightest penny in the patch, you see.

Somehow, it was Josh McBroom in this drawing that always worried me. He looked to my young eyes as if he were ready to tumble down the hill under the brunt of Heck Jones' shoofly pie breath.

My kids, as they will, have mixed feelings on Josh McBroom. Lexie, our daughter, was scared off by the ghost thing. Isaac, our youngest, who likes things loud, really likes the book, especially when I belt out Josh McBroom's kid-calling holler. Liam is pretty indifferent to the book. He has to pretty much discover a book on his own for it to hold his interest. Fortunately, he does a lot of finding, since we have the nasty habit of leaving a lot of books lying around the house. Don't know how we'd handle that if we had a Kindle or all electronic books. You don't exactly leave a bit of hardware like that lying around the house, and if you do, I'm not sure what the appeal would be for kids. Ours oure very visual, and unless the Kindle or its ilk can flash a nice illustrated cover once and a while, I'm not certain the screen would hold any interest.

By the Way . . .

My first party post is up today at the Cokesbury Party Blog. I promise not to intermingle the blogs too much, but thought a little plug here would be acceptable -- This shows off just how exciting the parties outlined in The Cokesbury Party Book can be. This week, it's a New Year's Eve party featuring amazing watch tricks, a spelling game, tying up your neighbor and oyster stew.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I Explain My Fetish

It dawned on me a few days ago that, in the photo slide introducing my blog, I brag about my rocks shaped like pig noses, but I had yet to share them with the rest of the world. So here you go.

Yes, I do collect rocks that look like pig noses. I have two so far. That's not a very big collection, I admit. But every collection has to start somewhere.

Lest you think I'm obsessed, I do not see pig noses everywhere. I'm not like those people who see the virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich. But when I see something that strongly resembles a pig nose, I stand up and take notice. Behold:

So let's start with this one. I actually found this one in the alley behind my house in Sugar City, Idaho. It has that rounder shape you expect from noses from older pigs. Yes, I have spent a lot of time thinking about pig noses. I'm glad you noticed.

This one here is actually the first rock-as-pig nose I found, and this one comes from Idaho's City of Rocks. There are probably regulations about not taking rocks out of a national monument, and if so, I apologize and I will return it forthwith by mail.

I use them, primarily, to drive my wife nuts. Once and a while, I will grab one of the rocks (especially this last one) hold it up to my face and say, "Hey! It's a pig nose!" She's to the point now she won't even look at me when I say it. It's a credit to our marriage that she has remained with me through this fetish. I do remind her that there are certainly worse things I could be doing, and that if rocks-as-pig noses ever get her to the point they're going to erode our marriage, I will dispose of them.

But until then, I'd love some more. So as you're wandering, keep an eye out for rocks I can add to my collection. I thank you.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Now! Twice the Blather from Yours Truly!

Welcome, welcome, welcome. As if you weren't getting enough blather from me from one blog, now I've got TWO! Why? Because I found this rather entertaining book at the Rexburg Deseret Industries today and got such a kick out of reading it and laughing about what I read that I decided, why not share the wealth and blog about it for an entire year? I must be nuts. But I think it'll be fun. Read my ruminations here. Hope you enjoy it!