Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thirty-Five Degrees

Yesterday, I heard a telephone bird for the first time this spring.

Even with a foot of snow still on the ground, even with the threat of more snow ever on the horizon, I can still connect the two: Telephone bird and spring.

This is where the Internet fails me. I have no idea what the real name of the telephone bird is. If someone out there knows, please tell me. I think it's a type of jay or thrush, but the bird has a distinct call that sounds like a telephone -- and old one, with the dial -- ringing. They always sing spring to me.

Yesterday was beautiful. High thirties and low forties for highs. Relatively speaking, that's tropical. That sets the snow on the roof of the house to melting, dripping down the shingles and splatting on the ground. It makes me want to smash. Smash the ice and snow caked on the driveway, smash the ice and snow caked on the edges of the sidewalks, smash the ice and snow clinging to the sunlit edges of snowdrifts and piles so it falls apart and melts faster.

Things emerge as the snow melts. The wood pile doubles in size as the stuff that's been covered on the ground is revealed and begins to dry. I see snatches of grass next to the house where the snow can't fall. Underneath the snow lays the promises of crocuses, tulips, and the brae branches of the cherry trees yearn to explode.

When I hear the meadowlark, I know spring is here and winter cannot return until the season is right. But as long as I can hear the telephone bird, spring lays waiting, in hope.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

BORAX on the Mind


You know, a big part of me really wished I'd been alive to see this:

Imagine you're driving along U.S. Highway 20 in the middle of the Lost River Desert. The only thing you can see aside from the extinct volcanoes on the southern and eastern horizons and the Lemhi Mountains to the north are vast plains of sage brush and cheatgrass. Suddenly, to the right as you're traveling east, you see something like a geyser shooting water more than a hundred feet in the air.

Only it's not a geyser. It's a nuclear reactor. Technically, it's the BORAX reactor, an experimental reactor that went critical in 1953. The reactor was purposely run through hundreds of tests in which those testing the reactor committed errors from removing control rods to allowing the reactor's water coolant to boil (hence the geysers shooting into the air).

Here's something interesting about those experiments, taken from the book "Proving the Principle" by Susan Stacy:
The results proved correct. In every case, the chain reaction stopped before the aluminum fuel plates became hot enough to melt. It appeared that boiling water reactors might therefore be "inherently" safe; that is, safe because of the way nature took its course, not because automatic controls, machinery, and human judgment operated perfectly one hundred percent of the time.
That, of course, did not prove to be true, as subsequent experiments showed. But it's this kind of experimentation that led scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory to plumb the natural forces of nuclear reaction they sought to understand. They've helped make reactors worldwide safer.

What's fun is that I work about a mile and a half from where all this experimentation took place. Each day, we drive past the little dirt road that wanders off into the rejuvinated sage brush where the reactor (and a handful of other experimental reactors) once stood. Aside form the dirt road and a patch of desert where the sage brush is growing back but isn't as big as what surrounds it (no signs of contamination here, despite the experimentation and excursions which took place here ) there's no way to tell these kinds of tinkerings took place. So I remind myself that there's history out there, as I go to and from work.

The BORAX III reactor, pictured above, was one of those groundbreaking experiments. It was the first nuclear reactor that supplied power to an entire town -- nearby Arco. One of these days, I hope to see a commercial reactor built out in this desert that can supply Idaho Falls and other cities in the area. Maybe someday.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Here We Go Again . . .

Oh, the funny things people think they believe.

Take this, for example. This is a study done by someone somewhere -- at the London School of Economics and Political Science -- claims that individuals who identify themselves as liberal or atheist have higher IQs than those who identify themselves as conservative or religious.

The study comes with a big caveat, however, that most people are sure to ignore.

Caveat: The IQ differences, while statistically significant, are not stunning -- on the order of 6 to 11 points -- and the data should not be used to stereotype or make assumptions about people, experts say. But they show how certain patterns of identifying with particular ideologies develop, and how some people's behaviors come to be.

So, they're smarter, on average. But not incredibly so.

Funny thing is, as soon as the "experts" say this, the expert conducting the study makes some pretty stupid assumptions and pushes forth some rather stupid stereotypes of folks who believe.

First, this:

Religion, the current theory goes, did not help people survive or reproduce necessarily, but goes along the lines of helping people to be paranoid, Kanazawa said. Assuming that, for example, a noise in the distance is a signal of a threat helped early humans to prepare in case of danger.

"It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere," Kanazawa said

So religion stems from paranoia? Really? That's a rather shaky assumption, and is a stereotype of religious people. I know a lot of religious people and while there are paranoids among the religious, I think it's a fair bet to say that there are plenty of paranoids amongst those who do not believe.

Then there are the stereotypes and assumptions being tossed around on those who are liberal and atheist:

"The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward," said George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study. "It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people -- people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower -- are likely to be the ones to do that."

Bailey also said that these preferences may stem from a desire to show superiority or elitism, which also has to do with IQ. In fact, aligning oneself with "unconventional" philosophies such as liberalism or atheism may be "ways to communicate to everyone that you're pretty smart," he said.

So liberals are the only ones pushing progress forward, and they do so because they want to demonstrate their superiority and elitism? Well, there may be those in this category who display these traits. The same can be said about the religious and the conservative. Unless, of course, you're a paranoid liberal atheist who sees conservatism and religion destroying everything you hold dear. Maybe there are a few folks like that out there. But not all conservatives nor are all believers the Bible-thumping, freedom-barring people maybe the writer of this piece wants us to believe.

There's too much seeking for absolutes, too much pigeonholing, too much looking for the black and white in a world that is rainbow-hued.

Take me, for example. I'm a believer. For the area in which I live, I'm liberal. Whenever those "test your political leanings" tests come out, I take them and consistently score more on the liberal side than I do the conservative side. But I'm not paranoid. I'm not trying to prove myself superior, or to thump the Bible or anything else like that.

It's too bad, then, that the liberals will use this study to show off their poorer evolutionary traits: elitism, snobism, putting down those who don't believe as they do. I can say all that as long as we're tossing around the stereotypes, can't I?

It also doesn't help that folks who are good with numbers can make them say whatever they want. We've seen that in Climategate. (Yes, heap on the stereotypes, then consider that I think we still need to be doing things now to stop carbon emissions, but I sure wish the scientists pushing this agenda had done so in a much more ethical and scientifically-sound manner than it appears they have.)

Tax Time

Dig the propaganda. Except that today we don't have Hitler or Hirohito to blame, or, for that matter, thrifty Scotsmen to stereotype. Nevertheless, can't deny that it's tax season.

I don't mind so much. What with having three children lying around the house, tax time is a time of rejoicing in our house. We'll pay some bills with the refund, including a big hunk of money on our car payment. That'll feel good.

Here's something else that feels good:

Factories making guns. Machine guns. Anti-tank guns. Long-range guns. Guns. Guns, All kinds of guns! To blast the aggressor from the sea!

Forgive me a cruel chuckle, Hiss. (If you don't understand, you've got to watch the propaganda provided.)

I do my own taxes, which Louis Tully tells me I shouldn't do, but I do it anyway because I figure I'm smart enough to figure it all out.

A new wrinkle this year: Schedule M. This comes from the oddly-named Making Work Pay act, or something or other like that. I can't think of another reason to go to work than for pay, unless, of course, it's Uncharted and I'm doing it all voluntarily because it gives me something to do in the off hours when I'm not working for pay. Aside from writing for all these blinking blogs. Back to Schedule M. Maybe I expected things to be too obvious, but just try to find an explnaation about who can take this credit. Seems like everybody, and if I'm reading the schedule instructions right, and if the trial run I did through H&R Block's online tax software is right, I can take the credit, even though I got the reduced payroll deduction. It's all a bit hazy, though. But I'll take the money. It's just like Grampa Simpson says: the money is coming because "I figured it was because the Democrats won power again."

Other good news: I'm off the Lifetime Learning credit as of this year, since I'm done earning my masters degree. But for this year, we ought to be lucky enough to have Michelle enrolled as a full-time student, so that'll mean the credit can keep on rolling our way.

Then there's the instant exemption for property taxes paid. That's a weird one. But this is the government we're talking about, and if it knows anything, it knows weird. Oh, the stories I could tell on that one but won't because I'm currently employed by the government and applying for another government-related job, so, hi to those in the NSA who are spying on me right now. I know I haven't showered yet, but it is my day off, you know. Busy figuring my taxes.

My Little Buttercup

I'm not sure what this has to do with anything I'm doing today, but I sure like the song and dance. And how many times have I wanted to say to someone: "Hey, Dusty. Go on over to that piano."

And, speaking of random movie scenes that suddenly came to mind today:

This came out of my memory because my son was telling me about a dream he had, and I asked, "Well, did you dream a cream puff stuffed itself in your mouth?" Then this came back in full, living color. Never noticed it before, but it's a string of sausages that trips Watson up. Always wondered what this hallucination was supposed to accomplish -- getting attacked by Lilliputian pastries doesn't exactly cause one to kill oneself.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Kind of Underdogs

For a long time, I’ve had a soft spot for Bert. And Rabbit. They’ve been joined by Fred Colon, Wally, Dr. Johnny Fever and others.

They’re the underdogs. Or at least the characters who see life happen to other people and do their darndest to make sure it doesn’t happen to them.

There’s Dr. Fever from WKRP in Cincinnati, who said he took the job from Mr. Carlson because he figured Mr. Carlson was just like him: “A guy who really doesn’t understand what’s going on and likes it that way.”

There’s Bert and Rabbit who have more popular cohorts – Ernie and Pooh Bear. Bert and Rabbit put up with a lot. Ernie’s always counting fire engines when he’s trying to sleep or trying to even out the amount of pizza and grape juice they both have for lunch by eating his lunch and all of Bert’s lunch. Rabbit has Pooh’s rump stuck in his door for weeks; nothing more need be said.

And Wally. He never disappoints in delivering the least amount of work required for basic employment or showing signs of life.

And Fred Colon, whose sensibilities on coppering are offended when one continues to investigate a crime even after a suspect has delivered a confession, and nearly confessed to every unsolved crime in the city.

And Jerry Colonna. He's a scallywag, yes -- always has a tea with a bit too much lemon with the night watchmen -- but I imagine he'd be fun to hang around with, as long as you had an alibi for his night watchman moments.

They’re all dependable, in a way. They’ll do what you expect them to do. They’re boring – especially Bert. But in a way, that’s comforting. You don’t have to ask them to know what they think about something. And occasionally, their stolidity pays dividends, like Fred Colon’s tenacity on investigating the theft of the Methodia Rascal painting TheBattle of Koom Valley from the art museum (in Thud!; if you haven’t read the book, please do so) despite the fact he and Nobby Nobbs have no idea what they’re doing.

Another Oont Puzzle Piece

When we come of age, we get a name. Until then, we are nameless, though in our own huts its common to be given a child name by which we may be distinguished from our siblings. It is not allowed to use our child name outside the hut, though it’s common among those closest to coming of age – our sixteenth year – to use the child names among our peers and as long as the adults aren’t listening.

Outside the huts, the children are called him or her. Parents learn to modulate – and children learn to recognize – individual calls, so one child can tell which is in trouble when a parent yells. I cringe to her the longish yell “hii-im-uh,” their call for me.

Big Brother in Cupertino

iPhone is Slavery?

This is too funny.

Under the banner headline “Apple: Maybe We Should Be Afraid,” Michael Wolf of the Silicon Valley Insider laments the “strange and dastardly” company that Apple has become because of the “no-good business” of censoring iPhone apps.

“This may be piddling,” he writes, “but it’s obviously part of the major control-freakishness that has always lurked below the surface in Cupertino, but which has not become broad-based corporate policy.”

Sawing away at the old bones that say censorship equals control, Wolf and others of the progressive ilk scream that in banning explicit apps, Apple has become The Man and is putting down what the customer really wants.


I’m an Apple customer. So’s my wife. So are a lot of people, including a lot of women who’ve apparently commented to Apple that they’re disturbed with the explosion of explicit apps available at the app store. Seems what these customers really want is the chance to browse in the app store without running into things like iSexy, Wobble, iBoob, and other racy images and descriptions we’d rather not see.

What makes the situation funny is that Apple has long been the darling of progressives and of Silicon Valley Insider – the stories it touts at the tail end of this one include:

“How Apple Keeps Its Laser-Sharp Focus,” in which Dan Frommer squeals “Apple releases fewer new products in a year than some of its competitors launch in a month, and it pays excruciatingly close attention to details.”

And this screamer from Feb. 17, by Nick Saint: “15 Outrageous Sex Apps that Made it into the iPhone App Store."
But while apps featuring actually nudity are forbidden in iTunes, apps with images of people in their underwear are fine by Apple.

Consequently, porny apps are ubiquitous in the iTunes store.

Here’s the real surprise: Not many of them are making that much money, however. That’s because porny apps seldom make the best-selling list, which is dominated by games.
So by Silicon Valley Insider’s own admission, these apps aren’t making people money. They’re being downloaded, yes, especially the free ones. But that doesn’t make it morally right.

I have a hunch: If Apple suddenly banned religious-themed apps – I’ve got a few of them – Silicon Valley Insider would be silent on the subject. I’d bet a sizable sum on that postulation. Progressives, who want everything tolerated and loved and coddled, only scream when the stuff they love and tolerate is being threatened. Threaten something they don’t care about, they’re at best silent, at worst cheering. Apple may be inconsistent in banning these apps while allowing Playboy and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to remain, but they’re no more hypocritical than the progressives whining about the “Big Brother” of Cupertino.

Yeah. Any time a company does something decent, this is the only thing progressives see.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Religious Unity, We Need More of This

(Tribune photo)

Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of the Chicago Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, celebrated Catholic and Mormon unity as the churches and its members strive to work together to protect religious speech.

"I'm personally grateful," George said in a story in the Salt Lake Tribune, reporting as George spoke at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, "that, after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have come to see one another as trustworthy partners in the defense of shared moral principles."

The Tribune goes on to say:

Freedom of religion, George said, is a fundamental right that cannot be reduced merely to a freedom to worship or freedom of conscience, as some in this country now advocate.

Such a limited notion of religious freedom is not the American tradition, he said. "It was the tradition of the Soviet Union."

True religious freedom, he said, includes "the right to exercise influence in the public square."
This kind of unity is going to be increasingly important for people of all faiths as those determined to erase or curtail religious freedoms in the United States band together as well. This kind of unity in a common cause will help those who believe avoid being shut out of public discourse by those who denigrate them for their belief.

This kind of unity also ought to encourage all of us on both sides of this divide to more openly practice the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have others do unto you) and to practice the tolerance the other side preaches. In other words, we can all have a say, publicly and privately on what we believe in. We can work to influence public policy, as is our right.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Grammar Nazi, Chaffering Away

The Grammar Nazi, as has been stated earlier, works at a place where he’s got his nose in technical documents most of the day. That means the Grammar Nazi is constantly learning new things. First of all, I know that the phrase “measure the tare weight” is absolutely correct, as is the word “areal” – it’s the adverbial form of area. Who knew?

So to see an error in a technical document that makes the Grammar Nazi laugh, then laugh even harder when the dictionary comes out, is pretty rare and exciting (I work at an industrial plant; give me a break if I seek excitement where I can find it).

So today’s lesson is on this word:

Chaffing. It is a word, not a mere double-f misspelling of chafing – which is the word this technical document was scratching around for. Chafing, or to chafe, is to “wear away or irritate by rubbing,” according to the trusty American Heritage Dictionary.

Chaffing kinda means something similar, but really means something different. Chaffing, or to chaff (the verb, more on the noun later), means to “make fun of good-naturedly, to tease.”

The noun (chaff) has three meanings:

1) Husks of grain after separation from the seed
2) Strips of metal foil released in the atmosphere to inhibit radar, and
3) Good-natured teasing or banter.

Then there are two orthographically-related words chafer and chaffer. Don’t confuse the two, unless, of course, you’re Franz Kafka.

A chafer is “any of various beetles of the family Scarabaeidae, such as the cockroach.”

To chaffer means to chaff, or in other words to bandy about words, or, alternately, to bargain or haggle. A person who chaffs is called a chafferer. You don’t hear this word much these days.

One final word: baggywrinkle. That’s the soft covering on cables or obstructions that sailors use to prevent rope or cable chafing. Wikipedia describes it as a “large, hairy cylinder.” I kinda like that.

Hoyt Axton

Here's another one of those guys whose face and voice really sounds familiar but you can't exactly place it until you do a little googling. Hoyt Axton. Saw him last night on an old WKRP in cincinnati episode. So an old TV show leads me to an old singer singing old, familiar songs. What fun.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ever Try to Breathe Through A Wart?

It’s the Curies! We must flee!
(Apologies it's not in English, but that's what the folks under attack by Pierre and Marie say in English.)

Ever want to feel like a fool? Research the ingredients on the homeopathic medicine you’re taking. Especially if you want to feel like a slightly radioactive, cobra-venom-poisoned fool.

First of all, you may ask, why take homeopathic remedies in the first place? Maybe because the lemon juice and peppermint concoction I took all last spring and summer meant only two days of mild allergy symptoms, no allergy pills that left my fingertips numb and tingly, all while others who suffer the same kinds of allergies I do reported an average allergy year. (We're scheduled to begin our lemon/peppermint regimen for this year starting this weekend.)

So that worked. But the jury’s still out on the wart remedy I’m taking right now.

I’ve been taking Tumorell for about two weeks now, and can’t say much of it. That is a short time, of course. I’ve used OTC wart-removal methods, ranging from the paint-on salicyclic acid compounds to the freeze-your-warts-off-and-save kits. Neither worked well. Oh, the warts shrink and seem to go away, but they always come back and, like Sand People, in greater numbers. We also went the lavender route while skipping down Homeopathy Lane, but that hasn’t seemed to work, either. So when Tumorell was recommended, we thought, what the heck. Can’t be any worse than what we’ve already tried.

Uh huh. Like I said, so far, no success.

What’s this stuff supposed to do, I wondered. So I did a little research on the active ingredients. What I’ve discovered is a confusing mish-mash that may leave me slightly more radioactive after all is said and done, but still with a warty left thumb. I am, however, willing to give this stuff more time before I pass total judgment.

Here’s what’s in the foul liquid I’m taking:

Scrophularia nodosa. First of all, not an ingredient to inspire confidence, as it sounds like a remedy Grampa Simpson might recommend. It’s from a plant called the carpenter’s square. They don’t really come out and say it, but it sounds like it’s valued for its alkaloid properties – which is fine, since the OTC wart remedies rely on changing the pH around the wart enough to kill the virus that causes them.

Then there’s acidium lacticium – lactic acid for the common folk. It’s a naturally-occurring acid found in milk. Seems OK, but counterproductive to the alkaloid in the first ingredient, since acids and alkalods tend to neutralize each other.

Then there’s this: radium bromatum. Radium bromide, for those familiar with chemistry. This is a radium salt that famously left a burn on Marie Curie’s arm that took more than a month to heal. And I’m taking this internally. Whee. It, too, seems to want to play with pH, but also introduce that radiation curative that did the Curies so well. Yes, radioactivity is used to battle cancer, but it seems a bit steep to take on mere warts. It’s also supposed to ward off much flatulence. So let me see, radioactivity or flatulence? Which should I pick . . .

Then there’s naja tripudians. I’m not quite sure what it does. I do know, however, that it’s derived from Indian cobra venom. Yeah, radioactivity and snake poison. I’ll either be cured or the butt end of a sad joke like this:

Lawyer: I’m suing a doctor on my client’s behalf.
Other Person: Why?
Lawyer: He went in to have a wart on his nose removed, and when he awoke, it was gone.
Other Person: What’s wrong with that?
Lawyer: Ever try to breathe through a wart?

The Dilbert Influence

We're heavily into Dilbert at our house. Liam, our ten-year-old, loves Scott Adams' comic strip to the point of obsession. He asks me all the time if I have ever had a bungee boss. If my boss has pointy hair (he does not, he's bald). He's fascinated to know I work with engineers and wants to know if I work with anyone like Wally. (I don't, though most of his traits are easily identifiable in many of the people at work, myself included.)

He also wants to know if I've ever seen a primitive, donut-scavenging man clad only in sticky notes. I have not. Liam did, however, provide this drawing which I'm to use to identify such a man if he ever pops up at work.

I have to admire Liam's obsession. I was similarly obsessed with BC and Charlie Brown as a kid, though I never went as far as to delve into drawing them myself. (I spent a lot more time reading, absorbing the comics, than I did harboring delusions of actually drawing them. This is how I know Liam may well be my kid, but he's not going to be exactly like me. Which is a good thing. Trust me.)

Apple Scores on the Side of Modesty

Apple is inciting the wrath of libertines, er, progressives everywhere by instigating a ban on sexually explicit apps in its app store. Read the kicking against the, I can’t say it, here and here, for starters.

While I’m all for such a ban, the more democratic approach may still be what I wrote earlier this year: Apple needs to fix the parental controls so not only can one prevent such apps from being downloaded, but the apps should also be tagged somehow to not even show up on iPhones or iPod Touches in which the filtering is in place. That way, those who want the apps can get them and those who don’t won’t even realize they exist. Putting such filtering in place would satisfy those, like me, who don’t want even a hint of salaciousness in their app store browsings, while satisfying those who are merrily skipping away down the road to hell.

It’s good to see Apple making some kind of move on this situation, however. Those who don’t mind such apps shouldn’t let their rights trample the rights of those who don’t. Go view your pornography where and how you want, just don’t make me an accessory to your viewing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Oont, A Puzzle Piece Part

I whirled in the darkness. From the trees, rattling the dried grass, I heard footfalls. I heard voices. “Come here,” they said. “Come closer. We will speak to you.” I felt ill. Dizzy. The air smelled sickly sweet. The full light shone through the trees, but the light was fuzzy. The trees were fuzzy. “Come,” the voices said. “Closer.” “Over here,” “No, over here.”

It was not right for the voices to tease. It was not right that they teased from afar, whispering at me in voices that sounded like they came to my ears submerged in water. The lights above in the dark sky whirled against the black pointed spearheads of the treetops.

"OVER HERE!” a voice shouted and I startled into a lumbering run, confused, like a bear emerging from hibernation seeking water to drink. The full light shined through the trees still, but shined as if through a thickening mist. The air I breathed was an ichor, sweet on the panting tongue. I wanted to lie down. To rest.

From behind, a rock smashed into my head. I knew no more.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Al Haig

What I know about Gen. Alexander Haig is what I've learned reading about Richard Nixon. I don't know why I have this Nixon fascination. The only thing that comes close to explaining why is, of all things, a Charlie Brown comic strip, in which Charlie Brown talks to Linus about his fascination with reading about the fall of the Roman Empire, the decline of golfing, et cetera. "I'm fascinated with failure," Charlie says.

I think what fascinates with Nixon are the flaws. A deeply intelligent man, but, ultimately, one done in by basic flaws all of humanity share. And Al Haig was in the middle of it. To Haig's credit, I think he did his best as a presidential adviser to Nixon, maybe not always giving the best advice, but given that he was almost always kept in the dark in regards to the truth, he did the best he could.

That Haig is better known for the "gaffe" in a so-called power grab after Ronald Reagan was shot is ludicrous. I've watched that tape over and over again, and can only conclude that the media blew the situation, and Haig's words, out of proportion. Haig was telling people that he was in constant contact with Vice President George Bush, and that he was "in control" at the White House in the sense of acting as the nexus for communication at the White House, including direct communication with Bush, during the VP's absence, not that he was seizing power in any line of succession kind of situation. The press' reaction to the situation was simplistic, naive and make them look downright silly, if you ask me.

Anyway, Haig with Nixon is much more interesting. It's a telling part to his character that even as the truth was parsed out and doled out reluctantly by Nixon, Haig did his best to protect his president, ultimately doing the right thing in protecting the country and the president from the president himself, in acting as one of the architects of his resignation. For those interested in this time period, I advise reading Woodward and Bernstein's The Final Days, a fascinating account of the Watergate period as told by the reporters mainly with interviews with Haig and others. Fascinating story there.

Bill Gates' TED Talk. Finally.

So, TED, if these ideas are worth spreading, why did it take more than a week for y'all to post this video to your site?

Anyway, the more I hear about TerraPower, the more fascinating it is. Of course, anything that has to do with nuclear fuel reprocessing is pretty fascinating. The technology to reprocess spent fuel/depleted uranium into fissile forms has been around for a very long time, and is almost as old as nuclear fission itself. You don't have to look farther than the research done at the Idaho National Laboratory since the 1950s to see that these kinds of ideas have been around for a very long time. What's missing, of course, is the political will to carry the ideas out.

I think what some of the opponents of nuclear power don't get is that Gates -- and many others -- aren't looking to nuclear as an end-all to base power production. The advantage nuclear has right now is that it emits zero carbon emissions, which, if you've been reading the papers lately, is a huge concern environmentally. Nuclear waste is in itself an environmental concern, but it is a concern that is much more easily handled than carbon. It's a lot easier to sequester nuclear waste than it is carbon; you don't ahve to look further than the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico to see that.

So we work to reduce carbon emissions now. That buys us some time to get other technologies to the point they're capable of producing the base power we need without fossil fuels or without uranium. Solar and wind are great, folks, and I love to see the windmills above Idaho Falls churning, but the wind isn't constant, and right now the amount of ground you'd have to cover with solar cells to produce power on a massive scale is enormous -- that's a significant cost of solar power that a lot of people ignore as they complain about government loan guarantees and subsidies given to nuclear power.

Here's another suggestion: I'd love to have wind or solar powering my home. Maybe it's not practical on the large scale, but it's entirely feasible on individual scales. I'd like to see work done on decreasing the initial costs of individual solar and wind power stations so that an individual or even a small city could buy and build its own power plant. I've looked into it myself, and right now if I had $12,000 to $18,000 to drop, I could install wind power at my house. If the city allowed it. And if I could afford the initial cost. So let's work to get these renewables down to the individual scale. Nearby Idaho Falls provides nearly half of the power consumed in the city through hydropower; it ought to be feasible for cities to get into wind or solar on smaller scales. That also eliminates the need for transmission lines.

Anyway, I love to hear this kind of speculative talk. I'll be even more excited when it becomes reality.

Friday, February 19, 2010


NOTE: I don't know where this came from, nor where it's going. I do know it's happier on the outside.

"Parents don't understand," he said.

He picked up an apple-sized rock, threw it in the lake where the ripples spread on the still surface.

I had to agree. He's my best friend, after all. We sat on a log near the shoreline, throwing rocks, listening to the spelunks the rocks made, watching the ripples.

“What don't they understand?” I had to ask, finally.

He held a rock in his fist, stared at me. Laughed. He threw the rock into the water. “Everything.”

We sat in silence a few minutes longer. Everything, I thought. That's a lot to not understand. But I knew what it felt like – there were so many things I didn't understand: Where the water in the lake came from. Why the sun was warm and pleasant when the land was green, cold and unfeeling when the snow came. What the lights in the sky were. Why my hands weren't as skilled as my brothers' hands. Why my father resented me for my lack of skill and hated to see me staring in wonder at the night sky, the distant mountains, an unusual rock, a bird, a plant, a bit of food. That my brothers ate like wolves, gulping down the food they had then searching around for more I didn't understand either, but knew enough that it had better be the last bite of food I needed for the day that I was contemplating.

I didn't know why he, my best friend, liked me. We were, as far as I could tell, opposites. He was much like my brothers, though lived with a family of girls and – my father sneered at this – as a result was a daintier eater than most. He reveled in fits of physical skill: racing, throwing, tossing, hunting, scaling cliffs and fording rivers. He plunged into the cold waters of the lake and held his breath underwater until I was frantic on the shore, running about, he said, like a frightened rabbit until he came to the surface, gasping and laughing. Maybe we liked each other because no one else really did, or at least knew how to express it.

“I want to go through the pass in the mountains,” he said, tossing another rock. “I want to see what's beyond the snow, to see more of the world than this little valley.”

He went on gambades, took me with him. We left the village carrying only our coats and a few spears. He made me stay in the wilderness for days, in the snow, freezing rain, darkness, heat. He could drive me to do things my father had no hope of doing, and I didn't understand that, either. I went, though, because as we walked, he tolerated my slow pace, my mania for stopping to scrape away at the rocks on the cliff face to see the layers. He pondered with me the imprints of leaves we found in some of the rocks. We talked about the lights in the sky, the pinpoints, the great orb that blazed in shifting shapes in the darkness. We both stared agape as one of the lights suddenly streaked across the sky and went out. Then that amazing night when a river of light, hued as a rainbow, snaked and waved in the wind for hours that night, though no wind blew at our upturned faces.

He let me wander, never questioned what I was looking at and at least feigned enough interest to make me feel comfortable enough to gaze for a few minutes longer than I would ever dare if I were with my father or one of my brothers.

His father still did not trust the heating light, so new to the valley. My father accepted it grudgingly, fearing perhaps the fumes might stifle us in our sleep. “I don't know why my father fears it,” he said. “It helps so much. Food tastes better. The cold nights are shorter with the heating light nearby. He does not understand new things. I use my new spear, as the others showed us. He refuses.”

I had to laugh at that. “You nearly killed me with your new spear,” I said. “You couldn't have done that with one of your father's spears.”

He rolled his eyes. “You were nowhere near death,” he said. “But the hunting goes much easier with the new spears. My brothers, they still carry the old spears, but when we enter the forest to hunt when father stays home, they leave their spears in a place where I've hidden some of the new spears, and use them. We always have more success. Father says it's because we're finally paying attention to the lessons he gives us. We know it's because the new spears don't bounce off the game.”

“It certainly didn't bounce when it hit me.”

We both laughed. He roughed my hair – he was much larger than I; I couldn't stop him from doing it, though we were the same age and nearly as tall as each other.

We sat on the shoreline. He stared at the distant mountain pass, green and clouded.

“We'll go there,” he whispered.

I threw another rock.

He stood up. Grabbed my arm, firmly but not roughly. “We'll go there,” he said, looking me in the eye. “We'll leave tonight."

Eh? What's That?

What people will do for money (Example No. 4,980):

A Marcel Proust Moment

Had a Marcel Proust moment late yesterday afternoon. I was gazing out the window in my cubicle, first at the dripping water from the roof, then at the icicles and cornices of snow hanging on the side of teh building next door. Suddenly remembered those bright, slightly warm winter days when I'd wander around the house on Hitt Road, knocking down icicles and any other bits of winter clinging to the eaves of the house or the sheds. Sometimes we'd make castles out of the icicles, dragging a bit of black ice off one of the cars for the castle of the evil wizard.

I used to be pretty anal about knocking down every last bit of ice or snow. then a few days later, after more thawing, I'd do it all over again, and marvel at all the shards of ice piled on the ground under the eaves. We had that one corner of the house where the icicles grew huge, and we left those intact. Some years, the icicles turned into a massive ice clumn, inches thick, from the eaves to the ground.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ogden's Spaceport is Closing

Where'd the Spaceship Go?

This is kinda sad news, if you ask me.

Color me different, but I’ve always liked the look of the Ogden and Provo LDS temples. They’re unique. Different. Modern. Space-shippy. Something Glen A. Larson could be proud of.

But now the LDS church is going to completely remodel the Ogden temple’s exterior, transforming it from a nice bit of ‘60s art into, well, what I call a modern “box lunch” temple. Borr-ing.

I like that the upper portion of the current temple looks like it’s floating above the earth. I like its round shape that makes it look like it’s ready for the Columbia Exposition or the New York Worlds’ Fair. With this remodel, there's absolutely zero chance a sequel to "Men in Black" will ever be filmed in Ogden. Provo, hold on to your temple as currently designed; you may yet have a chance.

Thankfully, the church isn’t touching the similar Provo temple. At least for now. When I was at the MTC, I enjoyed the thought that after I walked up the hill to the temple and went inside, that we’d blast off into the outer stratosphere on a technically unexplainable journey to confer, converse, and hobnob with, well, whomever else was up there. (It has been noted in a study, I'll see if I can dredge up a link, that Mormons are among those least likely of religious adherents to be disturbed if intelligent life is found on other planets. I always assumed such without the study, and that the Ogden and Provo temples were in fact spaceship prototypes we'd use to hie ourselves to Kolob when it came time to hie.)

I don’t know why a lot of people have that fear and loathing of 60s and 70s architecture, especially really overblown architecture as is used in these two temples. I think it’s great. These buildings actually look different. They’re not the same “box with a steeple” that is so favored in temple architecture today. (If you ask me, the temples they ought to be updating are the inverted pizza box temples, such as they have in Boise.) But listen to me, the little LDS temple architecture critic.

Just don’t mess with the Idaho Falls temple. That’ll really get me riled up.

I Like Traffic Lights

I think the traffic lights in Rexburg are getting gimpier.

For the longest time, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the light at Second East and Highway 33. I travel through this intersection daily, typically at about 4:50 am and near 7 pm. In the evening, there’s no trouble. Most mornings, no trouble either. But heaven forbid it be slightly foggy, or that a tiny bit of snow be falling, and the camera sensor that detects traffic waiting on Highway 33 does not function at all. There have been times in the AM when I’ve sat at that intersection for three minutes or longer waiting for a green light, with no opposing traffic, and the light will not turn. So I run the red light, making sure traffic is nonexistent, of course.

Then there’s the light at Main Street and First West. I think it used to have cameras, but it’s on a timed loop right now. And it takes forever to go through the loop – a minute or more. That doesn’t sound like a long time, but just try sitting there in the wee hours of the morning when you’re the only person on the road, waiting at a red light at that intersection for the light to turn and with no one else there.

Now this morning, the same thing happened to the light on Second East and the Rex.

Do we need lens cleaner for the cameras? New cameras? Someone who knows how to program a light? I’d like to know. Because whatever disease Rexburg’s traffic lights has, it’s spreading.

On Originality and Authenticity

A 17-year-old author, Helene Hegemann, in plagiarizing blog posts for her breakout novel Axolotl Roadkill, reveals the shortcuts some people think they can take on the road to success.

To defend her plagiarism – and there’s no other word or concept for it, despite her insistence on “intertextuality” (Read here at Time magazine lest I be accused of plagiarism myself) – she said this:

True originality doesn't exist anyway, only authenticity

She also defends her “’right to copy and transform’ other people's work, taking a stand against what she called the ‘copyright excesses’ of the past decade.'"

Who is this kid, and why is her ethical compass so broken?

Originality and authenticity exist. To say otherwise denies the limitless expanse of the human imagination and is a terrible, crippling crutch for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a writer.

Miss Hegemann, let me tell you what’s authentic: My own writing. Your own writing. Writing that comes out of the imagination of an author, writing original prose for what may be, yes a familiar genre. Or a familiar story. Or a familiar type of story. Stealing someone else’s writing and passing it off as your own is not authenticity, nor is it intertextuality, nor is it a battle against the “copyright excesses” of the past decade, century, or millennia.

It’s plagiarism, plain and simple. It’s not authentic. It’s not original. It’s not yours. It’s theft. You’re a thief, Miss Hegemann, not a writer. Or a writer-thief. The thing is, you have to learn how to seperate the two. choose to be a writer, please.

You’d do well to listen to the writerly ambitions of another writer, one Cyrano Savinien Hercule de Bergarac, who said in Edmond Rostand’s classic play:

Be thou content with flowers,--fruit,--nay, leaves,
But pluck them from no garden but thine own!'
And then, if glory come by chance your way,
To pay no tribute unto Caesar, none,
But keep the merit all your own! In short,
Disdaining tendrils of the parasite,
To be content, if neither oak nor elm--
Not to mount high, perchance, but mount alone!

That’s true authenticity. You ain’t got it, Miss Hegemann. And your defense of your plagiarism tells me you’ve got a lot to learn about authenticity before it’s actually yours to possess.

Go to 2:32 for the start of the whole monologue.

Here it is in the original French. Exactly Rostand’s text and, I have to say it, delivered with much more passion than Jose Ferrer in the first.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reset Yourself

Once and a while, it’s good to hit that ol’ reset button.

I’m talking about the one on your brain, not the one on your computer. Look at it this way: Everyone, no matter their political stripe or socio-economic status, believes they are the center of the universe. Not literally, but figuratively. We learn to read, speak and write first by observing what goes on in the world around us, according to Frank Smith, but then once the barest foundations are laid, we learn even more by building on what we’ve already internalized. Whatever new bit of information that comes into our head, we compare it to what we already know so we can store it, compartmentalize it, and then regurgitate it. This is the basic mechanics of learning.

Sometimes, however, it gets us into trouble.

Take the mass media, for example, more specifically the notion that it is biased. I believe the amount of bias the news shows depends on the last time we hit that ol’ reset button and calibrated our own beliefs against those of the world outside our own skulls. Those with a liberal reset aren’t going to notice the same bias as those with a conservative reset. Those living in Europe have a different reset than those living in America. Now, there are overlaps, but as none of us share exactly the same belief, there are gaps. The bigger the gap, I think, the less frequent those noticing the gap hit that reset button to recalibrate their own thinking. Now, oftentimes when the reset is hit, it’s not going to result in a paradigm shift of thinking. The gap won’t suddenly disappear. But with each reset, I think, the gap of understanding is lessened.

If resetting doesn’t appear to work, doesn’t appear to close the gap, it’s because resetting really isn’t happening. Those of a liberal mien may be exposed to Fox News, for example, but without a reset of understanding, the bias of Fox News remains clear. Since the reset is already set on other media not being biased – and by this I mean being close enough to matching their own set of beliefs, with maybe a few gaps but none of them significant – they do not perceive the “liberal” bias that those with a conservative reset experience. And vice versa. To a conservative, most of the media is biased towards liberals. You can see this in statements made by Dan Rather in Bernard Goldberg’s book titled Bias, in which Rather said he believed the New York Times was a “middle of the road” publication, politically. Say that to folks with a liberal reset and they’ll probably agree, or maybe even say it leans a bit too far to the right. Say that to someone with a conservative reset and you get laughter, loud and long.

So what’s my point in all this?

It’s that if we don’t reset our thinking once and a while to at least understand each other’s resets, to understand why the gaps exist between our resets and the resets of others, we’re not learning. We can learn about, say, homosexual marriage, or, say, nuclear power, but learning about such and learning to accept such, despite the pitfalls of each as perceived by those who oppose them, we have not learned at all. Facts are fine, but most of the gaps we witness between ourselves and others is filled with emotion, reasoning, reckoning, upbringing and a general unwillingness to learn. Or at least an unwillingness to understand.

Want proof? Read the comments on this story about Bill Gates' TED talk on energy miralces -- which includes a boost for nuclear power. You'll see gaps and people doing little to understand the reasons for those gaps. Instead, you'll see people covering their individual reset buttons and defending their own beliefs without really conceding that the others may have a point as well.

And here, as Bible-thumpers scream at atheists. And vice-versa.

I’m not saying that with each reset we have to accept the opinions, emotions and reasoning that are in the gaps we witness with each other, but we can at least, with each reset, understand why those gaps exist. We don’t have to change our beliefs, just the understanding we have of each others’ beliefs. If we could do that more often, we wouldn’t see all the finger-pointing and eye-rolling we get today.

So I’ll go on dreaming about my perfect world. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Prof. Hinkle, I Need Your Help

 Word processors are naughty, naughty, naughty

I have a serious bone to pick with the jokers out there writing word processing software and packaging new computers.

Let's take the latter part first. I bought a new computer at Christmastime because my old HP bit the dust. I got a new HP, Windows 7, the works. I love it. Except for the works. Microsoft Works, that is. Oh, the program works fine until I want to cut something from a web page and then paste it into a document. Then the program hems and haws and then has an error and has to shut down. This is unacceptable. If Word Pad can accept a paste, Microsoft Works ought to be able to do so as well.

I'm spoiled, I suppose. My last HP came packaged with WordPerfect, which I love to pieces. Never, ever had a problem with that software, and I really put it through its paces. Not so Microsoft Works. Yes, I could shell out the whatever to buy a word processor; I get enough enticements from Microsoft Office to do so already. But is it too much to ask that a computer come pre-packaged with an acceptable word processor? Evidently, it is.

On to my next beef:

Because I don't care for Microsoft Works, I've downloaded the best alternative, being OpenOffice. Urgh.It does accept a paste from a web page, but if I have the temerity to cut something from an OpenOffice document and then paste it into a WYSWYG test editor on the web -- which I do so often, being a blogger and writer at -- things go kerflooie. I get all this nifty little metadata that shows up like a sore thumb on the pages. Looks very ugly and unprofessional. If I try to edit it out, I have to have lightning-quick reflexes, like a buttered bald monkey, to highlight and then cut the offending text in the WYSWYG before it poof! disappears and then reappears like the aforementioned bruised digit when it's on the web page.

So get with it, folks. Meanwhile, I'll be pricing WordPerfect.

Update: Hah. Did a quickie Internet search on "cut and paste makes Microsoft Works crash" and found many, many others having this problem. Come on, Microsoft. FIX THIS PROBLEM. yeah, yeah, I get the point: These kinds of things are hard to fix because there are so many variables. Horse hockey. There may be a lot of variables, but something as simple as a cut and paste ought to be handled elegantly, with dignity. Not crashes and cussing.

Second Update: $199 for Word Perfect? On sale? Urgh. Maybe I can buy some papyrus . . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Look at the Pretty Flowers

A karesansui garden. Maybe not the place to take three, shall we say, busy, kids. But these busy kids ate up the scenery at Portalnd, Oregon's Japanese Gardens to the point that when we got to the zen garden, they actually sat on the benches and contemplated the cleanliness, the simplicity of this little sea of pebbles swirling in ripples around the rough rocks. And they got even more excited when their Dad pointed out that the squatty boulders were actually the tigers observing the towering Buddha. Or something like that. I was so blissed out by the time we got there, you could have relaxed me with a feather.

Read more about it here as Michelle takes you on a tour of the gardens. And definitely plan on a visit to the gardens the next time you're in Portland.

Nice Doggie . . .

It's an event that screams for nicknames.

Lydia “Whistlin' Lyd” Hutchinson you'll meet in a moment. Right now, let's talk about Tud. “Tud” is the nickname. “Tud” Kent. He regularly ran the mail from Ashton, Idaho, to the Railroad Ranch in Island Park, Idaho, a journey of about thirty miles. In 1917, he and four others founded the American Dog Derby. He won the first race that year, a 55-mile slog through deep snow and a raging blizzard from Ashton to West Yellowstone, Montana. In the subsequent ten years, he won five more times, each time in a blizzard. They had better blizzards back then.

This year, those who participate in the 100-mile race will do so in Tud's honor – the race now bears his name.

But there's room for the new at the American Dog Derby, too. The 60-mile race, for instance, is named this year for Ray Gordon, of Rock Springs, Wyo. Since 1995, he's won five races at the American Dog Derby, a record no modern racer has bested. He also boasts of running the Iditarod. Twice. Best I've done is hook our wiener dog up to the kids' sled for a race down our suburban street.

So go to Ashton this year to see the real thing. Races this year kick off Feb. 18 at about 7:30 am (I'm fudging a bit on the time here, get there early to get a good view and so you don't miss the race). Races go on through Saturday the 20th, with plenty of events in town to keep you entertained.

For more information on this year's events, go to here.

For Uncharted's story on the event last year, go here.

Global Energy Miracles

The more I hear about and read Bill Gates’ speech at this year’s TED, the more I have to ask – how come we haven’t done this a long time ago?

Lack of money, lack of political will. That’s what it always comes down to.

Critics of nuclear power always bring up two bugaboos – waste and the initial cost of building the power plants – as reasons to avoid the technology altogether. If the technology can be developed to burn depleted uranium in a slow process – Gates is investing in a company researching a fourth-generation nuclear plant capable of doing so – and if there were enough political will in this country to allow nuclear fuel reprocessing, the waste bugaboo, while not disappearing entirely, would be a much simpler task to accomplish. It’s hard to come up with another power source that lets you re-use 99 percent of your fuel and produce electricity for the baseload.

The cost thing has always boggled my mind as well, because it seems to me that there’s a lot of cost involved in putting together large enough solar and wind power plants in order to provide electricity on the mass scale needed to get this country off electricity through coal. Why cost is always brought up as a no against nuclear power but glossed over for other alternative, carbon-friendly power sources kind of bugs me.

I’m as big an advocate for wind and solar as I am nuclear. One of my goals is to have solar or wind power personally installed at the house I live in, in order to help get me off the grid as much as possible. I think these technologies are reliable and inexpensive enough on the small scale like this to help individual families achieve electricity independence.

But we can’t ignore Gates’ (and others’) calls to action for clean electricity on a massive scale:
The world's energy portfolio should not include coal or natural gas, he said, and must include carbon capture and storage technology as well as nuclear, wind and both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal power.

"We're going to have to work on each of these five [areas] and we can't give up on any of them because they look daunting," he said. "They all have significant challenges."
Gates spent a significant portion of his speech highlighting nuclear technology that would turn spent uranium -- the 99 percent of uranium rods that aren't burned in current nuclear power plants -- into electricity.

Just talking about this makes me want to re-read my Richard Rhodes books. There’s a time when the science, the need, and the money all came together. The Manhattan project, the Apollo Missions – we need a similar push for the energy miracles Gates talked about.

Postscript: It's a shame the TED organizers are so slow at releasing text and videos of the speeches for the mass audience -- but then again, maybe they're not tyring to communicate with the masses. Elitist pigs . . .

Update: Just watched President Obama's talk in Maryland, announcing $8 billion in loan guarantees to Southern Co. for their planned nuclear power plant in Georgia. Maybe some of that political will is coming back, along with the cash necessary to make things happen. Encouraging signs. And a reminder that this single plant alone is the equivalent of removing 16 million tons of carbon out of the atmosphere -- compared to building a comparable coal-fired plant.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Daaa daaa daaa daaa daaa, HEY!

Give me the name of a man who has never done this at a wedding, at church, at a meeting or at work, and I'll say I've got the name of a liar.

I think this is why I like Homer Simpson. He's so human.

Optimism: It's as Simple as That

I did some rather eclectic reading this weekend because I had that kind of time on my hands, we were house-sitting at the in-laws and, as usual, there was nothing to watch on cable TV.

First I read this. No surprises, of course. This is Sam Harris, after all, who can find danger in a daisy and umbrage in an umbrella. To sweepingly say that anything – the web, religion, science, evolution – is “destructive technology” is to lump all the good in with the bad and stir it all up until you’ve got a nice bubblin’ cauldron o’ crazy.

He says of the Internets:
I think it's had two diametrically opposed effects. One effect has been really good. It's created transformation and empowered people and allowed us to debunk bad ideas in a very ... decisive way. It's almost created a cognitive immune system for the planet.

It's also empowered pranks and pseudoscience and bad information because every person on the Internet can sort of find the people like them and everyone can find an audience so there are certain forms of ignorance that would more or less be unthinkable without the Internet. Global jihad has been massively empowered by the Internet. Even things like the 911 truth conspiracy. That, to my mind, is an Internet phenomenon. No one would publish those books. This is something that is born of Web sites and Internet commentary.
So has the printing press. And radio. And television. And the telegraph. And waaaaaay back when the first caveman put ink to cave wall or the first Hammurabian put stylus to unbaked clay. Yeah, there’s a lot of crap out there. But if you constantly look at the ways bad people use technology, or science, or religion, or anything else in a bad or unacceptable way and use those examples to deny the good that comes of science, religion, the internet, or evolutionary science, then, by golly, you are going to find danger in every daisy. Because if "no one would publish those books," if the Internet had not spawned conspiracy theories and like-minded people swarming together to believe what they believe and deny all others (this goes for every belief system, remember, Mr. Harris, atheists included) then how do you explain the likes of "Mein Kampf" and "The Protocols of the Elders of Israel," or the KKK? Didn't they all exist, plus many, many, others, pre-internet. Yes, evil is using the Internet, just as evil uses any technology available.

I prefer a more optimistic approach to life. This does not mean, however, putting my head in the sand, or up my rear, or into any other orifice of the choosing of Mr. Harris or his ilk. It means, to the contrary, being more aware of what is going on, who I'm associating with, what I'mr eading, who I'm listening to, and all that.

That leads me on to some of this weekend’s other reading.

Moroni Chapter 7, first of all, starting with verse 12:
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

Wherefore, take heed, my beloved bretheren, that ye do not judge that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

For behold, my bretheren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
We have it in us to know what is good and what is evil. I know enough how to filter out the crap in this world to avoid it. Does that mean I avoid controversial ideas, or science, or reason? No, but the Sam Harrises of the world would have you think as such. This is where many critics of religion go so very wrong: they equate religious likemindedness with blindness, or rather blindness to what they would have us believe – or not believe, since they go about telling us how foolish we are to believe in God and how much evil has been done in God’s name.

I don’t deny that bad things have been done in the name of God. But I can look at my own internal good versus bad compass, following the admonitions of Moroni, and not confuse evil which is done by men and men only in the name of God with anything that has been done at God’s behest.

This brings me to more reading, this time St. Augustine’s Confessions, which he wrote during a period of increased spirituality over worldly pleasures. He writes, in Part 8 of Book Two:
No one can tell me the truth of [his acts] except my God, who enlightens my mind and dispels its shadows.
This goes back to calling good evil and evil good. Good versus evil is black and white, daylight from the dark night.

Good is remaining optimistic in the face of the evidence. St. Augustine, in revealing his sins of youth, reveals faith and hope in God and in the role God plays in our lives. His God, as is my God, is not the God Jupiter, who “punishes the wicked with his thunderbolts and yet commits adultery himself,” as St. Augustine wrote in Book One. He, like I, agree that “the two roles are incompatible.”

I equate optimism with hope. Maybe it is the “hope without guarantees” that deeply Roman Catholic J.R.R. Tolkein interlaced throughout his novels. Maybe it's more of a pessimistic optimism, in which one hopes for the best but acknowledges that in this world, some crap will fly. But it is hope, optimistic, nonetheless.

Hope, Moroni tells us, leads to faith, which leads to charity. Thusly:
And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all thingsk, endureth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
So on the whole I choose to remain optimistic. Optimism even in the face of disaster and especially in the face of evil.

Indeed, I follow an admonition from Gordon B. Hinckley:
Of course there are times of sorrow. Of course there are hours of concern and anxiety. We all worry. But the Lord has told us to lift our hearts and rejoice. I see so many people. . .who seem never to see the sunshine, but who constantly walk with storms under cloudy skies. Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. Walk with faith, rejoicing in the beauties of nature, in the goodness of those you love, in the testimony which you carry in your heart concerning things divine.
I will always see the sunshine. That does not mean I do not see the clouds; but it does mean I see the sun shining through them, in beautiful rays down to the green grassy earth.

Grammar Nazi Says it's Getting Grizzly Out There

Sad, grisly, grizzly bear is sad

Grammar Nazi here, just to say I’m not sure I can take it any more.

Homophones. Within the last five minutes, I’ve witnessed two examples of grievous misuse of homophones. And whether one is a peasant or a king, there’s no getting away from screwing up these soundalike (but not meaningalike) words.

The first is an old hat in the Gallery of Homophone Screw-Ups, the venerable grisly versus grizzly.

Grisly, of course, has the wider meaning of the two words. Good ol’ American Heritage tells us that grisly means horrifying, repugnant, or gruesome. This word as an interesting etymology. It has its roots in the Germanic ghrei or gris, which means “to frighten,” or “to grate on the mind.” Grisly certainly wears its roots well.

Grizzly simply means grayish or flecked with gray, and is most often seen in the company of the word bear – though you’ll have to agree that encounters with grizzly bears do tent to grate on the mind as well. (I wouldn’t know; I’ve only been in close proximity with a black bear, an event that certainly hasn’t faded over time).

If you get it wrong, don’t worry. So did George Ord, who formally named the grizzly bear in 1815.

Don’t worry, but don’t be a chronic screw-up. Use the words correctly.

The next homophonic mix-up is far more likely to grate on the mind, because the words involved – through and threw – have nothing to do with each other, aside from pronunciation.

Threw, we all know, is the past tense of throw. Throw has its old English roots in thrawan, meaning to turn or twist. Considering the turning, twisting motions we go through to throw something, this word adaptation is apt.

Through, however, has its roots in the old English thuruh, which means to cross over, pass through, or overcome.

But using threw in the place of through – this is the most common mix-up involving these two words; only once have I seen the mix-up go the other direction – dashes these old English-derived words to pieces.

Taxes, they say, are threw the roof. And that always makes my jaw drop threw the floor.

It’s laziness. It’s spoken English trying to become written English without knowing the rules. Threw is a much more phonic spelling of the sounds in the word through than through ever could be. I know we live in an age where the battle lies between those who argue whether we change our language or whether our language changes us, but come on, folks. We can and ought to shape our language to a certain extent, but that certain extent should not lead us to look like illiterate boobs. Use through when you mean through, even if you have to think about how to spell it out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


A Valentine Poem by Lexie, age 8:

Every shovel loves a pail
Every wave loves a whale
Every boat loves a sail
and I love you!

Every dog loves a bone
Every ice cream loves a cone
Every wire loves a phone
and I love you!

Every girl loves a book
Everyone loves a cook
Every pole loves a hook
and I love you!

Every kid loves a cat
Everyone loves a bat
Every man loves a hat
and I love you!

Now, tell me again why you don't want kids because of their carbon footprint?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Going in in my Puberty and Coming out in my Adultery

As I was up on the roof today, shoveling snow, trying to find the source of the water stain on the wall and ceiling in our bedroom, I realized something: Adults do a lot of things they really, really don't want to do.

I really did not want to be up there, shoveling snow, trying to fall off the roof. But because of the water damage and the desire to stop the house from falling apart, I was up there, in my slick snow pants and good shoes, shoveling. I found the ice dam that was causing the problem, and then got down off the roof, making sure Michelle was there to hold the ladder and to make sure they spelled my name right in the newspaper in case I fell.

Then I had to re-shovel all that snow off the deck and sidewalks. Yuck.

So the kids came out. Liam, especially, whined about the work. I told him, Hey, you know, adults do a lot of things they really, really don't want to do, either. But we do it because it has to be done.

Dad, I understand a lot more now. The older I get, the smarter you get.

And that must make me a little old corporal.

Friday, February 12, 2010


“It's all about connections,” he said, glowering. “Connect marijuana use with the 'easing' of autism, boom, another gateway for the normalization of marijuana. Call something a "brash vulgarity in a sea of vulgarity," boom, you raise the bar on not only what is vulgar - lessening the sting of the currently obscene - but you open the door for increased vulgarity to make the brashness of the current vulgarity appear quaint. It's the classic slippery slope, but with the wrinkle that as they're sliding down, everyone's laughing and excited to see what's around the next bend, even if it's a chasm.”

“Y'all want connections,” he said, putting his hand lightly on her shoulder. “Y'all are gonna get 'em. From us.”

He turned quickly and walked out of the room. At the door he paused, turned around, looked at her. “Uh-huh,” he said. He left the room and closed the door.

“Show her the first,” he said, disembodied, loudly, through a speaker in the room. She jumped.

A projector whirred and a rainbow light shone out of the wall behind her. An image slowly coalesced on the wall in front of her.

She squinted.

The image's blur faded further.

Tinny, martial music started. The frozen image lurched into movement. Happy shoppers pushed their carts through a cavernous Bil-Stor. Beaming mothers. Well-behaved children. Not a mullet or fatty in sight.

The camera zoomed in on a cashier, smiling, clad in a green vest peppered with buttons and curled ribbons. A name tag.

“No!” she shouted.

The cashier, smiling, toting up the purchases from a heaping cart, patting a toddler on the head.

She closed her eyes.

The commercial stopped, frozen on the smiling, leering face.

She sat in the chair. She leaped up.

“You can't do this,” she screamed. “I won't let you!”

“Your vest is on the hook just outside the door."

The projector turned off, leaving her in darkness. She sat on the chair, sobbing, cursing. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw a band of light, streaming in underneath the door the man had used to leave the room.

I won't put on the vest, she said to herself.

She calmed her sobbing. Breathed deeply. The dark made her nervous, but she could handle it.

“We'll turn the light off in the outer room in three minutes,” the voice said. She heard footsteps, the opening and closing of another door.

She sat in her chair.

They can't make me, she said.

She stared at the band of light under the door, waiting for it to go out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poor Kitty

Simon's Cat, it appears, is at it again.

I bribed my youngest son with this little movie so he'd use the potty tonight. Parents are shameless.

Sugar City Deserves Great Internet

On top of everything else I've got to do this weekend, I just may nominate Sugar City for Google's fiber optic Internet trial. And sicne I start with the pessimistic attitude that there's no way they'll ever select Sugar City, I've got nothing to lose. Except the time it takes to put the nomination together. Including the video I'm thinking about. But that's insanity. But it's also a justification for the video camera we bought at Christmas, and good practice at using the thing for more than recording when the Pink Bunny sings.

I've got to admit it would be pretty nice to have the fiber optic option in Sugar City. The school district has a fiber optic network that, if I remember correctly, links up to a fiber pipeline that leaves the state. Or something like that. Maybe not. But it sure would be nice. I have a fiber optic connection at work, and love it. The wireless connection I have at home is OK -- it's better than dial-up, comparable to DSL. But it's the pricing that stinks. No matter what service we go with (wireless, DSL, cable) it's the same price for the same service. That's not competition. It's an agreed-upon monopoly.

Spirit's Work Ethic

Oh, Spirit. You've gone where I'd like to go. Although I've got to confess it looks lonely there.

So, what do you do all day, now that you're stuck in that sand? Do you analyze the rocks and such near you? Stare up at the sky and track dim Phobos and Demois? Or try to pick out that blue speck that is your home planet?

Maybe you're lucky you're on Mars. I'm sure you'll be eroded over time, but in that dry, oxygen-poor atmosphere, you won't corrode as quickly as you would on Earth.

So what would a probe meant to explore Earth have to look like? Much more rugged wheels or spidery legs, especially if you were in the forest or jungle. Not near as compact. Not near as able tor esist the elements or even falling over. You're perfect for your environment, Spirit.

Maybe someday, my grandsons or his grandsons will come to Mars and pay you a visit. I'll insist in my will that they take a picture of me with them, so I can say I, in a way, went along.

And to have your work ethic. Always doing that work, ever-faithful, not complaining that you missed your weekend, even when you realize that weekend is never, ever coming.

You did a good job, Spirit. From a schlub in Idaho who watched your career with great interest: Thanks a lot. I wish I could come bring you home.

Thanks, XKCD.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

True Online Journalism

This is the kind of online journalism the mainstream media needs to fear. Or emulate. Or purchase. (Hat tip to the Reflections of A Newsosaur blog for bringing this to my attention.)

Michelle Leder, author (but no longer proprietor) of took her expertise in business journalism and parlayed it into a successful finance-oriented blog that has attracted an undisclosed number of subscribers who pay $2,500 a year for premium content and attracted the attention of Chicago-based Morningstar, which purchased just recently.

This kind of online journalism isn’t going to kill traditional newspapers or traditional media, but it is going to provide an expert source for information that the MSM simply cannot afford to provide.

Is what Leder is doing a model for the MSM? Hardly. I can’t see anyone paying that much of a premium for local news, simply because there are so many local news outlets out there. Just in my area alone (which is rural) we have three television stations that present local news for free and one local paper that offers most of its content online for free. The regional daily charges $6 a month for their content. That’s probably about as much as the market will bear – though by their own numbers the online portion of their site represents just under 3 percent of total subscriptions. It’s a way to bet the attention of the American Bureau of Circulation, but it’s hardly a model on which one can anchor a business.

I don’t fault the local news outlets for doing what they do. The regional daily is right to insist on payment for its content. It’s well-reported and researched. With the other sites, we get what we pay for, typically in one-sided reporting and lots and lots of typos. Just like my blog here. But I don’t pretend to be a news outlet.

This is, however, a model for any enterprising journalist who has a specialty and wants to leverage it outside traditional media. Yes, Leder built her site up over time, through long struggles and lots of self-marketing, something many traditional journalists are loath to do (Grammar Nazi is proud I used this word correctly). It doesn’t mean that every niche journalist is going to succeed at this, but it shows it can be done. And it shows the power of the Internet as a publication platform and distributor. Leder could not have done this the old-fashioned way, via print, with the initial overhead costs being far too high.

This is where being a knowledge worker intersects with having enough leverage to use that knowledge to best effect. There are few mainstream news outlets who would use Leder full-time at doing what she does – extracting, in her words, buried treasure – from filings at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Maybe the Wall Street journal, maybe another national paper. And the others would be foolish to hire her, not because she’s talented, but because her talents would be wasted. An Internet platform is perfect for what she is doing.