Wednesday, March 31, 2010


First, this:

Which leads, of course, to this (which spawned the following):
I used to work at Toys R’ Us back during my high school years, and I had a boss who absolutely hated my guts. He legitimately treated me badly to try to get me to quit, and the strategy had worked on two other people.
Note the use – misuse, rather – of legitimately. The word Opie’s scratching around for here is probably literally, though, as the commenters point out, it could also be deliberately, at least in the first case, but not in the second.

What’s going on here is someone’s trying to use a two-dollar word on a seventy-five-cent vocabulary. If you want to use a word, make sure it’s the right word before you use it, else you’ll end up looking foolish. Not getting-involved-in-a-land-war-in-Asia foolish, but foolish nonetheless.

Just as egregious, however, is this. At least Opie No. 1 had the smarts to use a real word, albeit incorrectly. Opie No. 2 here just makes one up.

In this case, we’re likely dealing with someone who uses the commonly-accepted abbreviation for legitimate: legit. While it’s an acceptable word, it’s hardly on that can be made into an adverb without making you look silly. Legit is slang, and has its origin among snobs who wanted a word to mark the difference between television dramatics and those put on a stage. Stage dramatics were more legit, they said, because that's the kind of bohemian thinking that goes on among those on stages, I suppose.

What's worse about the first example is that it takes the winds right out of Opie No. 1's story. If he were legitimately berated, then why in the world is he complaining about it? As for Opie No. 2, well, her mistake just makes her sound a wee bit illiterate.

It’s true that we drive the language, rather than letting it drive us. But as we drive the language, we ought to be careful to avoid wrecking it.

Theory of Anything

Well, I feel a little bit smarter than I was a few days ago. But since, like Homer Simpson, every time I learn something new it forces something old out of my brain, I wonder what I’ll lose for having gained this knowledge. I hope it’s the poorly-memorized periodic table of the elements I picked up in high school chemistry.

What I’m babbling about is this: Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, which I finished reading today. As “popular” books on science go, this is a good one as Hawking walks the reader through the basics of general relativity, quantum mechanics and other current physics theories. It’s enough to offer a good foundation to people like me who have an interest in science but were scared away from the subjects by my abject failings in the world of algebra and the aforementioned chemistry. But now I’m older and wiser and can see that gaining science knowledge is actually going to be helpful, especially if I want to climb in the ranks of technical writers – though I’ll have to get directions to the ladder first.

I can’t help but feel like I need something meatier, though. Perhaps I spoiled myself by reading first Ricahrd Rhodes’ The making of the Atomic Bomb, which tackles a lot more of the technical aspects with aplomb and success than Hawking achieves in this book – but then again, it is true that this book offers a good foundation. Now I just need help finding something meatier that won’t part my hair as it flies over my head.

Side note: I couldn’t help but to chuckle when the narrator of this BBK production said Hawking’s seeking a “Theory of Everything.” That reminded me of poor Ponder Stibbons in Terry Pratchett’s books, also seeking a Theory of Everything but, that in moments of despair, he would have settled for a “Theory of Anything.” I know that feeling well, Stibbo.

Getting Sick

When I was a kid, getting sick meant staying home from school, watching "The Price is Right" on TV and, occasionally on those rarest of the rare days, getting to spend a couple hours at home alone and unsupervised. Sure, things like Pepto-Bismol, throwing up and other things were involved, but the benefits of being sick certainly outweighed the disadvantages.

Getting sick today means taking garlic and oregano pills (we're still on that herbal remedy thing) and shoehorning myself out the door at 4:45 am so I don't miss the bus to work. My logic, and my wife's logic, state that if I'm going to be ill -- not deathly ill, mind you, but just sorta so-so sick -- I may as well be sick at work, where I get paid for it. The advantages of this approach still outweigh the disadvantages: I get to smell like your more expensive pizza all day long, I get paid and I actually get more peace and quiet than I would at home, since there are a lot fewer children at work who figure they need to entertain Daddy or take advantage that he's home and be entertained by him.

I do miss "The Price is Right," however. Bummer.

I just have to say this: "Stand up?" Really? Stand up? And these folks are reacting as if they're going to be called on to deliver an impropmptu speech on the political impact of Nixon's "Checkers" speech, not appear on a game show. But maybe their reactions are a good thing. These days, people freak out as if they're being attacked by pterodactyls. Like this:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Tell-Tale Tale of Tales that are Telling

Where Most of Us Got our Health Care Info

I'll be watching this one with great interest.

Sarah Kliff, writing for Newsweek, promises an in-depth rview of what I hope will be the statistics and examples of clear communication that helped pass major health-related reforms through government in the past century. I'm having to read some into this, because in the teaser posted today at Newsweek, she's a bit hazy on the details.
Clear communication is going to be crucial as the government moves health-care reform from policy to programs. I’ll have a story that goes in depth on this tomorrow, but the bottom line is this: every major American health-care reform, from Medicare up through SCHIP, has required incredibly strong public outreach programs to educate and enroll Americans—essentially, answer the "how does this affect me" question. Skip that, and Americans simply don’t bother signing up.
Kliff concedes that the vast majority of news outlets did just as poor a job as the White House in explaining the latest nuances of health care reform. This lack of information, combined with disinformation, political posturing and outright lies from health care opponents -- combined with a deer in the headlights reaction from proponents who looked to the media for help and just got blow-by-blow coverage of the rancor, not clear communication on what health care means to the average American -- has fomented the ugliness that's going on right now, with the fringe on the right as gleeful members of the peanut gallery watching the train plow into the station in real time. (The media, of course, report on the fringe folks cheering the accident, not looking at those who are helping the wounded or who were working on both sides of the tracks to make sure the wreck didn't kill more people.)

What I'm hoping comes out of Kliff's treatment is that the vast majority of those who opposed health care reform in its current iteration did not oppose out of fear, but because they simply weren't finding enough information on what the reforms were going to mean to them. Kliff hints at a study of Google search trends, which ought to go far beyond any Gallup poll -- or any type of poll, for that matter -- in examining what people were thinking up to the vote and what they're hoping to find out now. Of course, Google search trends are a one-way street; we cannot tell from search results alone what information people found informative. Maybe the search trends can be combined with analytic data to show not only what people searched for, but what they read as they searched. Polls show that for at least some people, adequate information and clear communication was enough to sway them onthe debate. I am one of those people, and, at this point, I have to remain in the "optimistic but confused" camp, hoping, in fact, for more reforms to come.

Coming to a Close at the CPB

Staff at the Cokesbury Party Blog (Gladys; back row, left; Skip, Henrietta, Gordon, Lillian; front row, left; Alma, George, Martha, Maud, and Eloise) preparing their fancy duds for the inevitable End of Blogging Party. I'm the one taking the photo, of course.

In just about a month, the last post will go up at the Cokesbury Party Blog, one of this blig's many, many affiliate blogs. At last count, about eight posts to go. And of course I'm beign coy. The blog, for the most part, ahs been on autopilot since the end of January, though I do keep up with the times and do some little edits and tweaks if something comes up in Cokesbury Party Book Land, which doesn't happen nearly as often as you would think.

For those of you ontenterhooks: I still haven't found a book to which I could do justice in order to continue life at the CPB. There was that one contender at the used book store a few weeks ago, but when I was able to go back to the store with money, it was gone. I know, truly the Internet's loss.

The only other options I can see on the horizon include:

1. The New Freedom, a book written, optimisticaly, by Woodrow Wilson, as he was campaigning for the Presidency of the United States, or,
2. A book written by the secretary to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I have to admit, neither really appeal to me from a blogging perspective, so I'll indeed keep on looking.

And if you have any suggestions, drop me a line here, or, better yet, send me a book at PO Box 572, Sugar City, ID 83448.

Disclaimer: Anything you send to the Cokesbury Party Blog will become the absolute and exclusive property of CPB and will not be returned for any reason, unless, of course, your death threats prove intimidating or you ask really, really nicely. Do not send children; we have three and that's more than enough already.

Confessions, by St. Augustine

Toward the end of his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo says an interesting thing. Basically, he says that if he had been assigned to write scripture as Moses had been assigned, he would have written it in a way toat "many truths" could be drawn from them, since many truths that are equally good can and should be extrapolated from good writing. Thus we see how eager mankind is to add their own interpretations to the messages from the prophets.

We're all guilty of it -- those who actualy pick these things up and read them, that is. We all enter into whatever bit of reading we happen to pick up and, bearing our truths in hand, try to see how what we read reinforcess those truths. That is one of mankind's logical faccacies, no matter how logical and no matter how objective we try to be. So you'd think that a learned man of scripture would long for scripture that was clear-cut, that offered not as many interpretations as there are colors in the rainbow, but exact, clear-cut doctrine to help mankind avoid the Confusion of the Good Things. Alas, it is not so, at least as far as Bible scholarship and man's interpretation of oft-translated books.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading St. Augustine's Confessions. I won't say it was doctrinally earth-shattering, as he mixes plenty of earthly philosophy into the mix, but it's certainly interesting to read what's considered the first Western autobiography and a detailed exploration of one man's search for faith and how one man approached the common wisdom of the day -- steeped heavily in Greek and Roman thought -- and dared challenge some of the notions held that day (that some of the notions he concluded as truth are now challenged today is also of great interest, notably for LDS readers, the thought of original sin and, for everyone, the notion that wars can sometimes be justified). He outlines his search in the doctrines of Christ in comparison to his searches in the philosophies of men in this manner:
And as I had already read and stored up in memory many of the injunctions of the philosophers, I began to compare some of their doctrines with the tedious fables of the Manicheans; and it struck me that the probability was on the side of the philosophers, whose power reached far enough to enable them to form a fair judgment of the world, even though they had not discovered the sovereign Lord of it all. For thou art great, O Lord, and thou hast respect unto the lowly, but the proud thou knowest afar off. Thou drawest near to none but the contrite in heart, and canst not be found by the proud, even if in their inquisitive skill they may number the stars and the sands, and map out the constellations, and trace the courses of the planets.
In all, i sincerely believe he wasn earnest, God-fearing man, searching for the truth. It's interesting to note that he didn't consider his searchings out of the ordinary -- as they certainly would be regarded today -- as we deal not with asceticism but an increased evangelistic brand of atheism which is not content to not believe in God, but insists that the rest of us not believe as well.

If you're setting about to read this book, (read it online for free here) here's some advice: Don't plow through it quickly. Take your time to not only read what St. Augustine writes but also to ponder what he writes. I spent some time, also, looking up the scripture references he cites, to help me understand more where he is coming from, but more importantly to see how what he believes meshes -- or conflicts -- with what I believe and with what I've been taught. Many, many interesting cmparisons that have strengthened my testimony in modern revelation.

Monday, March 29, 2010

20,000 Words In: Reflections on "Oont"

As regular readers of this blog know, I've been torturing you with my mad writing skillz. "Oont," which started out as a short story, is now close to hitting 20,000 words, with no end, nor distinct plot, in sight. The last installment is perhaps the weakest of them all, but I know this, knowing all this effort is just that: effort, into a first draft of something that could possibly become a novel.

It's rough. In parts, it's skimpy on the detail. Part of that is on purpose. Part of that is just accidental as I work to get thoughts down on paper -- or at least in ether -- in order to have a first draft to revise. In the past, I've tended to obsess with revision, trying hard to get everything at the beginning right before it's done. Not with this one, or with some of the other things I'm working on. Getting a complete first draft is the goal, with major revisions to come later. I think I can prove to be well-disciplined at revision, especially since I have a heartless editor in the guise of my wife, who isn't shy (thank heaven) in pointing out things that are wrong, stupid, or just plain silly.

"Oont," you most unfortunate readers, will continue, though I confess to being stuck on it at the moment. Too much thinking, not enough action. Too much after the fact, not enough right now. At least that's my current assessment. It might be that magical time to put it away for a while, but then again, that conflicts with my goal of having a finished draft to play with. So stuck or not, I'll keep pounding away at the keyboard.

Goal the First: Complete a first draft.

Goal the Second: DO NOT end up sounding like this:

(Sigh . . . )

You know, in some ways it’s hard to be a believer these days. And folks like this don’t make our jobs any easier.

I’ve read the Bible. I’ve read a lot of religious-themed works. Nowhere – and I mean nowhere – can I find evidence that to prepare for the end times, we need to stockpile guns and target police officers, even after you sort through the symbols and euphemisms and parables these works contain.

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

No, the only things I can find are things like this:
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the Publicans the same? And if he salute your bretheren only, what do you more than others? Do not even Publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
That’s Matthew 5:44-48, folks. And there’s a lot more evidence in the Bible and in other books that Jesus Christ didn’t want people killing others in order to “protect his testimony,” as these militia nuts seem to think is appropriate.

So, folks, don’t call yourselves Christian if you’re plotting murders.

And, folks, don’t lump all Christians in with these kinds of right-wing nutjobs.

Spouting and espousing this kind of nonsense only gives the likes of Sam Harris and his ilk more fuel to add to their fire.

Stumella Neglecta

The meadowlarks are back.

These sweet, melodious birds always mean spring and summer to me. I love to sit on the back porch of an evening, listening for their calls.

(Sorry for the seasickness-inducing opening moments of this video. Once you’re past that, though, enjoy the call of that magnificent bird.)

I didn’t realize, until I read this Wikipedia entry, that these birds are ground-nesters. That I hear them in town isn’t a surprise; we live in a small town – about 1,200 inhabitants – surrounded by pasture, farmland and not just a few tracts of semi-developed land that have gone back to nature due to the current economic crisis. Still would like to buy a chunk of desolate property, plop a house in the middle, hide it with trees and then just sit and listen to the birds.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Exploded Snowmen

Yesterday, I took a shovel and hacked the two last piles of snow in the yard to pieces. I even flung some if the snow into a completely different part of the yard, where the sun shines longer, to make the snow melt faster.

Yesterday, when we returned from our walk, it looked as if a couple of snowmen had exploded in the front yard.

Today, the snow is nearly gone. The carnage, the evidence of my shovel-murders, is disappearing.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Obama Starred on Star Trek

Here, a photo of our current president, Barack Obama.

Here, a photo of a minor, and unnamed character from the Star Trek animated series episode "The Time Trap."

Though he's dressed in red, he was not the traditional Star Trek sacrificial lamb. You can watch the episode here:

Frankly, I think it's kinda cool that Obama starred in that old TAS episode. If he's a loyal Starfleet officer, he's certainly worthy of the presidency of the United States of America. And if you're going to tell me it's not possible that he and this cartoon character are the same person, then explain to me all the time traps and wormholes and time traveling the Star Trek folks are known for. Huh? Huh? See, you can't explain it away.

If you think this is weird, there's another episode with another minor character who bears a striking resemblance to John Kerry. I'll try to dig that one up.

How J-Schools and the Current Beat Model May be Killing Journalism

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, after it folded for the last time at about this time last year, launched itself on a bold experiment in community-based journalism.

Note the experiment does not say “Internet-based journalism.” There is a distinct difference here, even though their experimentation is in a wholly online environment.

What the Seattle P-I is doing is, I believe, showing both the good and the bad side of community journalism -- involving non-experts in the activity of producing stories, photos, columns and other content. It’s also showing that part of the failing of current professional journalism is the education model coupled with the business model.

In other words, the Internet isn’t killing traditional journalism. How it’s being taught and how journalists are being trained, however, is.

I applaud the Seattle P-I's approach here -- getting citizens involved, having professionals work with them to turn out better-quality content (sounds familiar, doesn't it). There's a lot of passion out there for creating news and features, photography and all sorts of stuff that papers could use if they'd just break down that "fourth wall" and open their publications to non-professionals. As it is now, most papers do this but only in niche products -- humor columns, occasional op-eds by prominent citizens, gardening columns and the ubiquitous letters to the editor. Our local paper long has lagged in covering the Idaho National Laboratory -- but have never bothered to tap into the writing and photographic talent that's there already because these people aren't their employees or might have “biases“ that would show up in their reporting. As if reporters, on their own, are free of bias, or if the non-professionals can‘t be coached, in just a few hours, to realize how bias shows up in one‘s own writing and enthusiasms. That‘s part of professionals showing the non-experts how to do something, while tapping into their expertise outside of journalism, and the passion they have for writing about what they do.

On the other hand -- there's always an other hand in these arguments -- I can see that reaching out to the non-professionals is going to bring on a more eclectic, less substantive product in many cases (strictly talking here of the news side of journalism; I don‘t see lighter features, columns, et cetera, being affected much, quality-wise). It's just like as is said in a recent article on the Seattle P-I from another journalistic dinosaur, the LA Times (full article here):
The community bloggers produce useful items -- like school curriculum debates and local crime trends. They also offer plenty that is leaden or narrow -- a bride's musings on her wedding or a homeowner's ponderous diary on a visit by a film crew.

David Brewster, who founded and ran the alternative Seattle Weekly and now heads said he finds some PI stories provocative. But the tangle of information overwhelms him.

"I am slashing my way through this jungle and occasionally finding good stuff," Brewster said, "and I think that is a mistake."
There's a lot of passion out there among amateurs, and a lot of talent. Finding that talent and then nurturing it to the point this talent can consistently produce content is a difficult thing.

But a big part of the current problem in journalism is that even for those who are professionals, in the business, the extent of the passion that brought them into the business is lacking, as this article points out:
When a bright young reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Monica Guzman mentioned a couple of years ago that she planned to post a story with a Web link to the rival Seattle Times, colleagues didn't swallow their tongues. But close.

Joel Connelly, a veteran political columnist at the Post-Intelligencer, found that his forays away from his beat, to review books and write about religion, made union overseers all twitchy. They didn't like anybody coloring outside the lines.

But in the year since the Post-Intelligencer printed its last edition and laid off all but 20 of 160 employees, Guzman, Connelly and their co-workers have been unleashed to cover and link to just about whatever they want. Amateur journalists have been invited to join their ranks. Other media outlets have been thrown into the mix. A 146-year-old newspaper has been reborn as an Internet-only news site that invites material from almost all comers.
That the Internet is providing outlets for that “misdirected” passion isn’t killing newspapers. That most newspapers in general haven’t -- or won’t -- allow their professionals to pursue their passions in the context of providing the service they do -- local reporting, investigative journalism, et cetera -- is a general failing of the industry model in general, and would be a failing whether the Internet were here or not.

Look at the current model: a person decides he or she wants to be a journalist either because they like to write, they like to poke their noses into other people's business, they like to talk to people, whatever reason. So they go to school and get a journalism degree and then go into the job market and really want to contribute. Then they find that they're slotted into a niche -- school reporting, features, whatever -- and see that if they try to cross that line for the most part they get their hands slapped and are told to do their assigned job, even if it's not their exact cup of tea, even if it doesn't completely fulfill the passion they have; the passion that got them into the business in the first place. The best description of this phenomenon that I've ever heard come from Dave Barry, who before he was a columnist was a local beat reporter for a rinky-dink paper in Pennsylvania: He was ready, he said, to go out as a journalist and expose corruption (that was the big reason to go into journalism when he was in college) but he had no idea how to find any. And that, among many other things, is a big failing of the majority of journalism schools around. I have to confess that I didn't learn anything more in four years of college studying journalism than I did in the two years i was in high school journalism. (I always wanted to ask this question, but never had the guts to do it: "If you (the professors) love journalism as much as you say you do, how come you're working here rather than as journalists?") The conundrum is this: In J-school, they said, "We'll teach you the basics, you'll pick up the specifics through on-the-job training." Then when I got the job, they said, "Hey, how come the didn't teach you the specifics before you got this job? We have no time for on-the-job training." Thus we find our current state of journalism. Passion-filled people whose job descriptions typically misdirect or deform part of that passion, leading to discontent and eventual flight from the industry.

Damn, I think I've just discovered a doctoral thesis if I ever decide to go after a doctorate. This is all anecdotal information, but I'll bet if I interviewed a lot of ex-journalists, they'd find this same problem. The Internet (getting back to the topic) didn't create this problem, but added the felling blow to the traditional newspaper's business model. But does the world need another doctorate babbling on about this kind of thing, or would it be better to get teachers -- and the industry -- putting these babblings into place. Well, it’s something to think about, anyway.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Look at the Little Bricklayers

Check this out: using nothing more complicated than a swarm of about 5,000 bacteria and a computer-controlled magnet, researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal built a very, very simple step pyramid using the bacteria as workers and tiny epoxy bricks.

There's a lot more technical detail here, but watching the video itself is pretty amazing. Well, it doesn't seem amazing until the last fifteen seconds or so when the action is sped up -- but then you watch the video again to watch these little hoddies at work.

There's a lot of talk out there about using nanotechnology to do things from deliver cancer drugs precisely to tumors to building tiny electronic components to repairing organs and cells. The big problem with a lot of the research going on out there is that the material being used to build the nano-robots is stuff like carbon and titanium dioxide. Further research shows that the titanium dioxide is toxic at nano-scale, and that the carbon strings used in this technology can cause asbestos-like lesions in lungs. So why not use a natural bacteria as the robots and engines, while figuring out a way to make them do what you want.

That's where this particular bacteria, magnetospirillium, comes in. They have tiny strucutres within their cells that react to magnetic fields. Tun on a magnet on, say, the east side of a petri dish, these little buggers swarm to the east side. Get them bunched up ad as they swarm, they can push and/or carry stuff. That's how the pyramid is built.

Watch the video, then marvel at how science is able to figure things like this out.

Honestly, I feel for the little guys. I called them hoddies -- that's slang for a bricklayer's assistant, which I used to be growing up. Dad and my older brother Albert didn't have magnets to make me work, but the call of the paycheck was enough to keep me motivated. So I understand how these little bacteria must feel.

Shame on Bear World

So Yellowstone Bear World got its exemption from the minimum wage law.

Addendum: No, they haven't, or at least not this legislative season. The bill to make this so was held hostage in committee by a lawmaker throwing a fit over a bill he wanted passed that didn't get a chance. The legislature is now out (as of April 1) so it's not likely this is going to happen. Still to see is if YBW will close this summer as threatened. Can't say I'd miss them. (I guess the local paper screwed up in saying the bill had passed when it actually hadn't. I feel their pain.)

I still fail to see how a business that has lost 40 percent of its revenue over the last two years is going to stay open by cutting the pay of 35 to 40 part-time workers by a maximum of 75 cents per hour is going to keep this business in the black. They already charge $16.95 for an adult to get inside the park, or $75 for a carload of eight or fewer people. Yeah, the exemption is going to save the company several thousand dollars over the course of the season, but you have to wonder, at what cost?

I don't think people have stopped going to the place because their workers earn the minimum wage. If I were Bear World management, I'd be taking a closer look at those ticket prices and seeing if there weren't anything I could do to tweak them to make entry more affordable. If, perchance, it were less expensive to get into the place, they might get more people coming through the gates. Yes, I said might. I have no idea if that idea would work at all. I do know, however, that the ability to pay their employees less isn't going to do a damn thing in getting people to come through the gates.

When we toured the Oregon coast last summer, we ran into quite a few of these kinds of tourist traps -- and they are traps indeed. One place allowed you to descend a wooden stairwell to go to the beach below and gaze at sea lions. It would have cost our family of 5 $110 to do so. We passed. Oh, we did eventually pay to get into the Newport Aquarium, but it was less than half the cost and we got to see a lot more than sea lions. But these tourist trap places ought to figure out that on any given trip, an average family is going to skip nine out of ten of these places and go to the one that really hits their buttons.

Yellowstone Bear World has benefited because they don't have the competition -- there aren't a string of traps from Idaho Falls to Yellowstone, thank heaven. And that ought to frighten YBW more than direct competition, because even without a competitor, tourists and locals are going elsewhere. Like to Yellowstone National Park, without an intermediate stop. More people are traveling to Yellowstone -- they hit record numbers of visitors last year. But obviously a lot fewer people have stopped at Yellowstone Bear World. I think price is one. People are traveling but saying, you know what, we can pay $50 for entry to the park and most likely see the animals we want (last time my family went, we saw bison, elk, deer, a coyote and a bear, or equivalent to the animals at Bear World) without having to pay to get into YBW. So much for their ad campaign saying they've got animals you can't see at Yellowstone anymore, or that YBW is the best part of any Yellowstone trip. It's not. It's an expensive side trip at most.

If YBW prices were lower, stopping there might be more of a temptation for cost-conscious people who are obviously staying away now.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fewer Features, but Better!

Sometimes I have to wonder what they’re ingesting over at ReadWriteWeb. They’re a constant source of amusement. Today’s example:
Digg released its official iPhone app this morning and in many ways it’s more usable than the website itself. The app is a little buggy, doesn’t allow you to post comments and doesn’t include the video or images section of the site – but it’s still quite good.
In other words, it’s practically featureless, but more usable than the website. Huh? Now, I know, journalistically, you’re supposed to get all the important stuff in the lede. But I’m at a loss to understand how an app with fewer features than the site can be all that handy.

I know, I know. It’s an app. It’s all that. It’s where it is. We’re all supposed to be untethered from our desktops, and all that. I, too, have an iPod Touch (not an iPhone; I don’t need a cell phone, folks) and I use apps. I just started using IMDB’s app just last weekend. It’s okay, but given the limited size of the iPod Touch screen, apps by nature have to be stripped of features we’ve come to accept on the original site. Now, maybe with the iPad, such evolution can continue – but then by golly you’ll see folks just using the original website, which, with the iPad’s larger screen, is easier to use.

Usability, I suppose, is a relative thing. These stripped-down apps may work fine for handheld devices, but are they handier than the real thing – and I feel justified calling the original web sites the real thing because that’s where you get all the features in a legible size that doesn’t require precise finger-poking to work. Is it really that hard to use a desktop for this kind of thing? Do we really need the instant gratification that becoming digital parasites allows us? Well, I guess for some, the answer to that last question is yes. Personally, I like to escape from the web. I like that I don't have a cell phone, and that I can go a weekend without picking up a handheld or even approaching the computer. There's a lot to do out there that doesn't involve ones or zeroes.

Me, I say meh. And I will continue to read ReadWriteWeb, just for the entertainment value.

Polygamy Was Better than Monotony

In writing Polygamy Was Better than Monotony, Paul Dayton Bailey presents a delightful remembrance of living on the ragged edge of polygamous Utah – but also presents a conundrum as he condemns the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for being “vital, pugnacious, earth-shaking,” and a “unique breed” and at the same time condemning the church and its members for being too strait laced and too inflexible to those who don’t “toe the line.”

Still, it’s refreshing to read a book written by a lapsed Mormon that avoids the two clichĂ©-ridden pitfalls that typically strike at those attempting to write about the faith: The strait-laced Molly Mormon approach that, as he points out, avoids the controversy and only writes that which is edifying; and the hey I used to be a Mormon and boy am I ever glad to have escaped that horrible, mind-bending cult approach that shows more venom than is absolutely necessary. Also refreshing is that bailey has the truth in him enough to blame his and his family's foibles more on their own behavior than on the church -- a favorite four-lane highway of the typical jack Mormon writer.

Part of me wonders, however, if Bailey might be more pleased with the church of today. He died in 1987 during the tenure of Ezra Taft Benson as president of the church. He was pugnacious in his day, but likely not as pugnacious as Bailey would have had him be. Today’s leaders are probably also not as pugnacious, but there is increased tolerance among the “authorities” for unorthodoxy, especially when it comes to exposing such things as the Mountain Meadows Massacre and other sell-savory aspects of early Mormon history.

Here’s what Bailey writes:
The Church – no longer poor and persecuted – is run by men whose years are far past the three-score-and-ten. Instead of being a vital, pugnacious, earth-shaking movement – it seems not to be interested in only one thing – to be well thought of. So, don’t mention polygamy; ignore Mountains Meadows, Danites, and militarism. If you are a Mormon writer – do it according to approved pattern – keep your mouth shut on the controversial isaues – pay close attention to keeping one’s mortal estate.

I am proud of my Mormon heritage. I love it with inordinate passion. My grandparents were tremendous characters. They willingly went to prison for their beliefs. Instead of courting Gentiles, and groveling for their approval, they had guts and conviction enough to spit in their eyes, and to deliver them forthwith to the buffetings of Satan. They know they were a peculiar and special breed; that they were chosen before the world was formed.
I have to wonder, though, would Bailey’s jack Mormonism (as his affiliation with the church must be described) would be augmented by the church today, as its pugnaciousness continues into areas that perhaps he might not approve. (He’s already critical of a church that granted a divorce between his mother and father, and erroneously assumes that this divorce makes his father risk hellfire.) Surely he’d have something to say about the pugnaciousness of the church in taking the stand it has on California’s Proposition 8, though he might have grudging admiration for how the church and church members have weathered the storm of hatred that emerged after that proposition, banning gay marriage, was approved.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Bailey, while not antagonistic towards Mormon culture, is only nonantagonistic because of his immersion in that culture, while avoiding immersion in the gospel. In other words, he’s a Mormon by culture, not by faith. Read this:
The rents and patches are there because of me, my flounderings, and my continued and unorthodox toilings. I have found that whenever I too snugly tighten my cloak, it becomes a strait-jacket. . . . By wearing the cloak a bit loose, by opening it to the wind and the storms, I have frayed its edges, and have weather-spotted it a little more than it should be. But it is a good cloak, and I am proud of it.
Yes, he admits, he’s gone astray. But being the big-minded cultural Mormon he is, his astrayness is OK because it makes his cultural Mormonism that much better. While I myself have been known to wear my cloak a bit loose as well, I’m not foolish enough to think that keeping core aspects as tight as I can bear. That tightness, that unwillingness to bend – which his beloved Grandfather Forbes displayed as he first served jail time for being in a polygamous relationship, then fled to Colorado and New Mexico to avoid capture by federal authorities – might be the true store of the pugnaciousness that Bailey claims is missing from the church today. But that’s just me.

I heartily recommend the book, however. It is probably the most honest treatment of polygamy, and life in polygamous families, that I’ve ever read. It’s also an admirable human portrait of a man – his father, Eli Bailey – living his religion despite his faults (he was married in the Salt Lake Temple but parked his cigarette on a temple stone for retrieval after the ceremony).

It's also odd to see the Lincoln Sugar Factory play a small part in a novel. I attended elementary school next to the factory where Bailey's father worked for a time as a foreman -- the school was called Stinkin' Lincoln because of its proximity to the factory and for the belching smoke that rose out of its single brick smokestack on most days.

Reason No. 4,891 Why Squirrels Will Never Rule the Earth

I think a species' chance of ruling the Earth is quite a bit dependent on how much dignity said species maintains while eating. So this is photographic proof that you cannot rule the Earth if you're a squirrel. They're busy chewing away at the sweet, sweet innards of two coconuts specifically prepared for them by some sadist in England. Of course, this rule also rules out dogs (how many have you seen with their heads stuck inside some kind of food container) and cats (ditto) and, frankly, apes and humans, since the other cardinal rule in ruling the Earth is this:

Never be photographed eating a banana when you already look like a monkey.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Handwriting, Adieu

It seems odd now that I'm commenting on this. Today, Time magazine pulled this story to its front (web) page, in which Claire Suddath mourns the passing of handwriting as a skill taught in school and learned by school children. She wrote it back in August 2009 which is, in the Internet lifespan, aeons ago. But still, I will comment.

Unlike Suddath, I remember how to make the capital Z in cursive. That and the capital Q and the capital L were my favorites. Nevertheless, I print, and have printed since the fourth grade, the year I learned how to write in cursive and got "unsatisfactory" marks in cursive writing the entire year. I havent' used cursive since. So when I do write in cursive -- mostly doodling these days -- I revert back to that fourth-grade script. It's obvious I don't remember how many humps the lower-case m's and n's are supposed to have, nor when I'm supposed to crick up the next connected letter because the preceding one -- notably B -- requires that I not descend to the baseline in order to start the next letter. I didn't master that in the fourth grade, and I'm certainly not going to master it now.

But then I see letters and journal entries and notes for the grocery store that my father wrote, and my handwriting -- passable as it is -- breaks my heart.

He grew up in the Netherlands, nad had his education cut short by World War II. He finished the third grade, and that was it. But he writes a beautiful hand. His capital H's leave me near tears. After many years of imitating his cursive, I can reproduce the H -- but none of the other letters he crafts with such ease. I remember vividly watching him sign checks, waiting for the scripted letters to flow out. First, he'd take two up and down practice strokes, never varying, before the pen hit the paper. Then the M for Marinus would flow. The capital J for his middle name soared from the baseline like a sequoia. Then the swooping D, followed by the scribble that was the "avidson" in Davidson. If I had one of those canceleld checks today, I'd frame it.

But we don't even get cancelled checks any more. Not that it would matter. I never sign them. I just get teased at work because my hadn-written editorial markups are often illegible. I used to work as a journalist, and knew that if I didn't get back to my hand-written notes in 48 hours, they'd be lost to me. I can't read my own handwriting -- done in haste when interviewing on the phone, with my own invented shorthand -- if too much time passes. Seems a pity. But now I know how Bilbo Baggins feels: He enjoys runes and cunning writing, J.R.R. Tolkein writes in "The Hobbit," but when he wrote himself, it was a bit thin and spidery. That's me.

Snow, Go

I'm happy to see the snow going.

Seeing the first patch of lawn, just a few weeks ago, thrilled me. Some errant child's footprint, increased in size by the sun's stronger rays, exposed the brown grass below. Then more footprints. Then a path. The path from the sidewalk to the woodpile. Aided by sun striking the warm concrete, the banks of snow bordering the sidewalks shrank, widening the swath between the hills. Then, the hills became isolated mountain ranges of filthy snow, isolated, ripe to be taken apart by the shovel, which I did with glee.

Now, the back yard is nearly free. The children rediscover the joys of the swing set, the bicycles, the playhouse. They get out the baseball mitts, bats, and balls. And the picnic blankets.

In the front yard, less progress. The neighbor's massive pine tree casts a long shadow over the yard. The snow hill the neighbor piled up for us is shrinking, to the point the sleds on the porch -- which traveled down the hill millions of time -- are superfluous. Enough snow melts I can begin removing Christmas lights; the rest will likely come down this weekend.

Goodbye, snow. At this point, I can't say I'll miss you.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Silly Thing

In October of 1982, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went and did a silly thing.

Because the government of the then Communist German Democratic Republic wanted to continue restricting its citizens from traveling outside the Communist bloc, then President of the Church Spencer W. Kimball, with the government's blessing, announced plans to build a temple in the country, the first behind the Iron Curtain. This would preclude the government having to give grudging permission for members of the church in East Germany to visit the temple in Switzerland. Ground was broken for the temple on April 23, 1983. It opened in Freiberg, East Germany, in June 1985 after nearly 90,000 people toured what was then the smallest LDS temple ever built.

Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor to President Kimball, dedicated the temple and offered the following in his dedicatory prayer, as reported in the Ensign in September 1985:
He expressed gratitude “for all who have made possible its building—the officers in the government who have given encouragement and made available land and materials, the architects and builders, and all who have made possible this glorious day of dedication.”

He referred to the temple as “the offering of thy grateful sons and daughters,” and added: “Thou knowest how long we have prayed that we might have a temple in our midst.

“We are met here today as people of various nations bound by a common love for thee our Father and thy Son, the Redeemer of all mankind. We thank thee for the peace which makes this possible and for the hospitality of this nation in permitting us to join together in this house of sacred worship. Our hearts are touched by the bond of fellowship we feel one with another. Strengthen that bond, and may we reach out in a spirit of love and appreciation and respect for one another,” President Hinckley petitioned.
Note that Hinckley thanked the government -- then one of the most restrictive of the Soviet bloc -- for its assistance in securing land, materiel and permission to build the temple. Here is a true exercise of the 12th Article of Faith, which states:
We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
Now, were the citizens of the GDR, for the most part -- or the church, for that matter -- pleased with the oppressiveness of this restrictive government? No. But, in harmony with further scriptural teachings on honoring government and its representatives, the church and its members in the Communist bloc showed their love of God and his gospel through a lens of continued, if not always content, obedience. Here's what
Doctrine and Covenants Section 134 verses 5-6 has to say on the subject:
We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.

We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men show respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.
There's a good caveat here: "while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments." I love that caveat. That caveat is what allowed people like JirĂ­ and Olga Snederfler to peaceably resist overt government surveillance of their LDS activities in Communist Czechoslovakia for nearly 40 years. They resisted the law, held secret meetings, possessed outlawed literature and willfully hid it from the government, because their "inherit and inalienable rights" were not being protected by their government.

But in East Germany, the Saints' rights to worship, and to worship in a temple, were not only being upheld, but were aided and abetted by the Communist government that only grudgingly allowed members of the church to travel outside the country to worship. Once the temple was built, those rights of travel, extended as a courtesy to church members, was rescinded. The church flourished, and, a scant five years later, Communist Eastern Europe was no more.

Nevertheless, the church did not abandon the Saints in East Germany because of their oppressive government. Rather, they worked within the framework that government would allow in order to see the Saints' rights of worship protected and augmented. God's work continues unabated, and his people can be blessed, no matter what form of government might be the rule of law over them.

In 2002, the Freiberg Temple was enlarged. Upon returning from its rededication, then President Gordon B. Hinckley had this to say:
The temple has been enlarged and made much more beautiful and serviceable. We held just one session of dedication. Saints gathered from a vast area. In the large room where we sat, we could look into the faces of many of those rugged and solid and wonderful Latter-day Saints who through all of these years, in sunshine and in shadow, under government-imposed restraint and now in perfect freedom, have kept the faith, served the Lord, and stood like giants. I am so sorry that I could not throw my arms around these heroic brethren and sisters and tell them how much I love them. If they are now hearing me, I hope that they will know of that love and will pardon my hurried departure from their midst.
He congratulated the Saints for keeping the faith, despite the oppression of government.

As I reflect on my missionary experiences in France, and as my wife recalls her missionary experiences in the United Kingdom, we recall working with and loving the people we met, both inside and outside the church. We saw them experience the same trials and struggles we have seen in our own lives: challenges in fulfilling church callings, challenges to testimony, challenges in remaining faithful, challenges in enduring to the end. We've also see them enjoy the same blessings: temple worship, the peace of paying a full tithe, the love of humanity, the love of sharing the gospel, and the love of life itself.

Those are the memories I cherish from my experiences as a missionary in France.

We have good, faithful members in these countries. We have temples in many of them.

The gospel flourishes wherever our Father in Heaven plants seeds. The examples are endless. Here, seeds planted in Mongolia, which did not officially recognize any religion from 1920 to nearly the present. Yet now the church flourishes there.

I guess what I'm getting at is that the gospel -- and good people, inside and outside the gospel -- can flourish wherever good people can be found, whether their government is oppressive or not. And I guess what I'm getting at as well is that certain recently-passed legislation isn't going to make me freak out and turn on the Oppression Meter.

Phonics Gone Mad

People, people, people.

I know I'm guilty of the occasional typo. The occasional transposition. The occasional flub from a fat-fingered typist. But at least I look words up if I'm not sure how to spell them.

Unlike this guy, who went totally commando on "hilarious," which, even for middle schoolers, isn't a difficult word to spell.

If you're to weak-stomached to click the link, I'll reproduce the spelling here. And I promise it's ugly:


Gouge out your eyes if you want. Or ponder, for a moment, this guy:

trying to spell. Just remember, them Hogwallops'r kin!

So unless you're this person and are looking to turn your Star Trek TNG persona into a pseudo-adjective, get a dictionary.

Speaking of personas, with this post I introduce the Phonics Nazi, the more evil twin brother of the Grammar Nazi. Get used to hearing from both of them.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup. Ubiquitous as oxygen and sunshine. how many of us acutally take the time to think about maple syrup? If you have, you're the better man. Because I never do. I use it on my waffles and pancakes -- we make our own out of that imitation maple syrup flavoring you can get at the store. I don't like the store-bought stuff. Too sugary.

Never, to my knowledge, have I tried the real thing. So reading Joseph Burkhead's story about making maple syrup in Michigan is quite a learning opportunity for me. Sure, folks around here make their own root beer, but as we have a significant lack of maple trees, no syrup. The closest we get is huckleberry syrup, because said berries grow in abundance in my neck of the woods.

So read the story. It's a fun one. I wonder what sage brush syrup would taste like? Sage brush, probably. Nice to smell. Not sure I'd want to eat it, though.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Message to Atheists

Hey diddeley ho, neighbor!

I, for one, am truly, truly sorry that someone who holds religious beliefs

a) Waved them in your face

b) Suggested you come to church with him/her

c) Repeatedly suggested you come to church with him/her

d) Quoted the Bible/Book of Mormon/Quran at you

e) Asked where you go to church

f) Dared express his/her religious beliefs in a setting other than church (i.e., politics)

g) Sat next to you on the bus

h) Breathed your oxygen

i) Farted in your general direction

j) Shamefully hid behind the First Amendment

k) Did not abandon their beliefs even after your cunning and logical argument against said beliefs

Yes, there are religious bungholes out there screaming racial epithets, straining to stone gays, protesting funerals with oh-so-amusing signs and purporting to tell everyone whom God hates and loves, but please remember this: They are the minority. As in a microscopic minority that gets played up in the news media because the news media love anyone who’s batshiat crazy and prone to wearing stupid costumes or waving dumb signs in public.

But until you're willing to refrain for indulging in any of the items on this list to express your own beliefs, may I suggest you temper your umbrage jsut a wee bit?

As for the rest of us who hold religious beliefs, believe me – we’re right along side you, shaking our heads at these insane spittle-emitters. Don’t lump anyone who holds a religious belief in with these or any other kinds of whackjobs. Don’t look for offense in what we may regard as innocent inquiries or a sincere desire to share what we believe in – after all, y’all are sharing your agnosticism/atheism as well. Realize that for every evangelist out there who won’t take the hint that you’re not interested in their brand of Jesus, there’s an atheist telling believers that they’re deluded, delusional and talking to imaginary friends way up in the sky. May the bitterest of these two meet in some fantastic matter/antimatter explosion, while the rest of us just go about our business, believing or not believing, but also generally getting along just fine.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Health Care

So, President Barack Obama got his health care bill passed. I have mixed feelings.

On one hand, I'm hopeful it'll do something for people who want health insurance but can't afford it.

On the other hand, I'm worried that people who can't afford health insurance will get it, and figure out that, hey, it's not as great as people make it sound. I've got health insurance. We've paid the premiums for years. No claims, but the premiums go up, up, up. And we're not anxious to put in a claim, because it'll cost us money. Real money. Not the Monopoly money they play with in Washington. What's nearly a trillion on health care we probably can't afford when we've spent that much on a war in Afghanistan and Iraq that we can't afford? Somebody'll keep those U.S. Mint printing presses going day and night, right?

Is this the time to stop asking, "Hey, what does it do for me," and figure that, "Hey, at least it's helping somebody out?" Floating all those boats? Because right now I get a $1,000 per kid tax credit just for the sake of having the kids, so that's what's in it for me, while those who are single by choice or through nature don't get the break I do. Sure, raising kids is more expensive than living single. But you know what, that tax break means I still get more out of Uncle Sam in tax credits than I pay him in income taxes, just on those three kids alone; forget about the other tax credits and breaks and deductions I get (I know all about this; I've done my own taxes for years and am thrilled each and every time I find a loophole). So maybe it's a time when I can say, well, maybe this'll do something for the other guy.

I can't say I see this lowering my health care premiums. At best, I'll get a subsidy if I opt for more expensive insurance, which I can't say is an option at the moment. And those subsidies will come at the expense of someone, somewhere, you know. I mean, the economy's in the tank, the state is cutting school funding of all things, my job's being propped up with stimulus funds which are going to dry up eventually, putting me out on the street and into a health care system that's reformed but not really doing me much good because I can't afford enough health care to qualify for the subsidies. You see where this is going. I know. Pull on those bootstraps. Lift that bale, tote that barge. I'm willing to do that. Have done it, in fact. Spent half of 2005 and half of 2006 either laying bricks, stocking shelves or answering phone calls from whiners who were upset that their phone bills were way too high. I don't want to have to do that again.

So maybe I'll read P.J. O'Rourke's Parliament of Whores again and remind myself of his premise: When it comes to suckling at the government teat, we all do it, to a certain degree.

Call it A Hunch

 "Call it a hunch . . . ba-dum-chi!"

If  a friend invites you to play the Hunch Twitter game, don't bother.

It's described here, by an apparently gullible blogger at TechCruch. How can I call him/her gullible if I played the Twitter game because of the suggestion? Well, at least I didn't believe this was anything out of the ordinary. Or worthwhile.

Basically, the "game" invites you to enter your Twitter name, and then says it's going to ask you a series of questions based on your contacts, or your tweets, or your hat size, or something or other. I put the coin in the slot and got this as the first question:

Have you ever used a Polaroid camera?

I answered no. I've used many kinds of cameras, but never a Polaroid. Hunch got it wrong; they'd predicted I had used a Polaroid.

So on to the interminable string of questions (they don't end; after 25 or so I kept hoping the next question would be "Does Hunch ask way too many questions in this stupid game?"

I have to say that the questions were too generic to think that Hunch had done anything but a cursory examination of my contacts or anything else. Here are some of the earth-shattering questions that Hunch got "right":
  •  Have you ever been in love?
  • Have you ever been to an art gallery?
  • What hemisphere do you live in?
  • Do you think women are inferior to men?
  • How comfortable are you at using technology?
  • Do you like salad?
  • Do you believe the world will end in 2012?
And so on. Absolutely stupid questions that anyone with only the basic technology of asking the question could hope to get right with an amazing percentage of correctness.

Based on my Twitter followers, they should have been asking these kinds of questions:
  • Do you think Donald Trump is a kind of god?
  • Are you really, really sick of all the MLM twits on Twitter?
  • Do you live in the vain hope that everyone is clicking on the links you've tweeted?
  • What do you think of people who hate children?
  • Does Jim Douglas wear boat shoes when he's driving Herbie?
  • Does Pumaman really fly like a moron?
So color me unimpressed with Hunch's little twitter game. This is the only kind of hunch I want to hear about on the internet:

Tinkering With the Minimum Wage

You'd think the owners of Yellowstone Bear World might learn something from this. But You'd also think that wearing a tinfoil hat will protect yourself from the invisible rays the commies are shooting at your medulla oblongota as well, so I can't put too much stock in what you believe.

This Madison County landmark, which I've blogged about before, is urgently working with the state legislature to make it legal for them to pay their part-time employees less than the minimum wage because they're only open part of the year. They've got lobbyists working the state legislature to this effect, and have had enough success to get their bill approved by the House.

Why is this a good idea? Because a business is seasonal they should be exempted from minimum wage laws? I've worked in seasonal businesses myself, you know, and I would not have worked there if they could jack with the minimum wage just because we didn't work twelve months out of the year. Yeah, I guess these seasonal businesses don't make as much money as they could if they could be opened year-round, but that doesn't mean their employees don't eat or need shelter for part of the year.

Idaho Reporter has something telling about the situation. Yellowstone Bear World's labor costs are up because of the new federal minimum wage, which Idaho adheres to – which they should. But with the sour economy, the park's overall revenues are down 40 percent.

Why not reduce park entry fees and try to make up in volume what you lack with the higher-priced admission? Getting more people through your gates – and into the interminable gift shop and such – might make you more money than paying your part-timers less than the minimum wage might save you in labor costs, don't you think? And it would certainly go further in addressing community good will. But I'm no businessman, of course.

To Sen. Brent Hill of Rexburg, I've gotta agree with Corey Taule of the Post Register in saying this is a bad idea.

You'd also think a reducing in the entry price would go further in good will than cutting the jobs of the high school students you want to protect. But I guess those deceptive radio ads have got to be paid for somehow.

Most ludicrous is the claim that YBW would have to close this summer if the wage concession isn't made. You're telling me your who business model hinges on being able to pay your part-time help less this summer than federal law says you should? For shame. You sound just as desperate at the movie theater in Rexburg that wanted property tax breaks else they'd have to shut down. They didn't get the breaks last year. They're still in business.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"What's A Commercial?"

Earlier this evening, I was perusing a local news website. Our five-year-old, who can see an embedded video window from a thousand paces (chalk up yet another skill at which he's better than his father) insisted I let him watch the video the news site had on display.

"Really," I asked him. "It's about road construction."

"Yeah," he said. Of course, he's five. He loves construction vehicles. Our neighbor has a backhoe. He is worshiped as a god.

So I play the video. It starts with a commercial.

"Hey," my five-year-old says. "This isn't about road construction."

"Nope," I said. "It's a commercial."

"What's a commercial," he asked.

Wow. My kid doesn't know what a commercial is. I feel so proud.

We don't have satellite or cable TV in the house, see. Don't see the need. Don't want to pay all that money for something we don't really use. We've been married thirteen years, and in that time haven't subscribed to TV. Nor do we have the ol' rabbit ears or digital converter box going, either. So of course our kids don't know what commercials are. They know what previews are -- they see plenty of those on their movies. But not commercials.

I tell them they're not missing anything.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Seeking Answers: What does the S.S. Stand for in "S.S. Minnow"

This afternoon, for some reason, we decided we wanted to know what the "S.S." in "S.S. Minnow," as in the boat that took Gilligan and the others on their infamous and infinitely prolonged three-hour tour, stands for.

Can't be too hard, I figure. What with the magic of the Internet these days, you can find an answer to just about anything. Still, we were embarrassed by this gap in our nautical knowledge. After all, we already know what USS stands for -- United States Ship -- and HMS -- Her Magesty's Ship -- but not knowing what "S.S." stands for was galling.

So, I'm told, by Wikipedia at least, that it stands for "steamship."

Really? There are no stacks on the S.S. Minnow. Identifying the ship by its propulsion as a steamship doesn't make sense. So more exploring.

This site tells me the ship was named for Newton Minow, who was chairman of the FCC in the 1960s and delivered the famous "vast wasteland" speech concerning the quality of television (he regrets that while the "vast wasteland" portion is remembered, few remember what he hoped people would get out of (and put into) televison, namely the "public good."(If you've never heard the speech, you should. It's quite riveting. Audio and text can be found here.) The site's author is also confounded by the definition of S.S., not really finding the steamship explanation satisfying.

This answer makes a little more sense, adding that "screw-driven" steam ships are called by the appellation S.S., though I still don't understand the steam ship part. So maybe I need to find out -- what kind of a boat is the S.S. Minnow?

Here's a video about the boat. The introductory text tells us the ship has diesel engines. Now, diesel engines are capable of producing steam, but would they really need that intermediary step? Maybe they just didn't want to call their ship (or similar ships) by "D.S."

 And, for now, that seems to be the answer. Not satisfying, by any means, but the answer.

Introducing A New Feature: The Marge Simpson Activism Postulation

Today, I present to you proof that the Marge Simpson Activism Postulation is true.

Not familiar with the Marge Simpson Activism Postulation? It comes from the episode where she decides she wants to ban "Itchy and Scratchy" after Maggie whaps Homer on the head with a mallet because she saw a similar act on the show. Called into Kent Brockman's TV show "Smartline" because she's "Marge Simpson, the whacko" whom Brockman assumes is the front of the group protesting Michelangelo's "David" to Springfield, Marge concedes this:

I guess one person can make a difference, but most of the time, they probably shouldn't.

Thus, the Marge Simpson Activism Postulation.

Here's evidence of that in play today.

Minks released from fur farm are destroying the local ecosystem, nature group calls the release "disastrous."

I hope to make this a regular feature on this blog. Be sure to send me any suggestions you've got.

Doggie's Got Blue Eyes

One of the big deals at Uncharted is finding adventures not typically found. Any bozo -- myself included -- can drive along and then, when somethign interesting comes along, pull off the road, maybe hike a little bit, and enjoy it.

Then there are folks like Yellowpaws, who want adventure off the beaten path. Well, at least a path beaten by humans.

She recently found a company in British Columbia, Canada, that will take adventurers on a dog sled run. Hence the photo of the happy, curious canine. You can read her story here.

I highly recommend dog sledding, by the way. I got to do it once, long ago, as a representative of a local media outlet at the American Dog Derby in Ashton. While the local TV reporter was hamming it up (and stoking up her own fear of dogs) I had a ball. Those dogs run damn fast, and at 310 pounds, I'm no lightweight, either. They took off as if there was nothing on the sled. I screamed as loud as I could to encourage them.

We won the race.

Get an opportunity to go dog sled racing? Take it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Take the Grammar Nazi's Advise

I remember studying phonics as a kid. We had these workbooks, with PHONICS in big bold letters on the cover, slantwise, from lower left to upper right. But I remember the teacher telling us as well that for every phonics rule, there is a phonics exception.

I think this is what screws people up – the exceptions.

Take advice and advise. Both are very similar words. Advice is the noun. Advise is the verb. There’s only one letter difference in how the words are spelled. But, oh what a difference that one letter makes.

Here’s the killer: The C in advice is, of course, pronounced with the /s/ sound, while the S in advise is pronounced with the /z/ sound. Both variations are acceptable phonetically. Any student of English learns to recognize them and know the difference.

But this problem transcends phonics, and goes into the realm of hearing words long before trying to spell them. As children, we learn most of our vocabulary by hearing words, rather than reading them. As we grow older, we learn more through reading, but I’m not confident to say that the amount of words we learn by reading outpaces the amount of words we learn through hearing them first. How many times have you said this: How can I look up a word in the dictionary if I don’t know how to spell it? That’s because, I think, what we remember is how the word is said, not how it is spelled.

To make up for this inadequacy, sometimes we go commando with our spelling. Thus you get people using advise when they mean advice. Because of our phonetic upbringing, it’s easy to think the S gives us the /s/ sound we hear in speech. I’ve never seen it in the reverse (something like this: “I advice you not to do that”) though I’m sure it’s quite possible, but much harder to do because, phonetically, we know there’s supposed to be a /z/ in there somewhere.

Advice and advise are just words we have to learn to spell – and use – correctly. At least, that’s my advise.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Playing with Passion

This is Victor Borge, above. And Liberace, below. Both wonderful men, playing the piano. With passion. They don't do this because it's their job, or because they have to, or because someone else wants them to do it. They do it because they love it. They're passionate about playing. Their hours spent at the iano practising is not onerous, it's wonderful. It's play.

We can do this, too. We just have to find what we're passionate about.

I have growing passions, but it's this year that one of them -- writing -- is actually coming out. Why is it coming out? Because I'm doing it. I'm not waiting for the grand idea, for the entire plot, for everything to be perfect. I'm just writing. It's not necessarily all that good, but parts of it, yes, I can see progress.

This is how things get done. This is how a piano player turns from a player to a virtuoso. Practice and passion. I hope the passion I have for writing is showing through in the things I'm writing. I've started on a few projects. Haven't finished one yet. But my gosh, something's in the water this year. I can feel it coming out. I'm excited.


I got this message on Facebook today:

(Alan): Just ate lunch in the Ghostbuster's library.

Can I just say how jealous I am? I have two goals for when I visit New York City: I will see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which meant so much to my father when he came to the United States in 1950, and I will also see the all the buildings used in Ghostbusters: The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, the firehouse, Ivor Shandorf's building, and Columbia University. That Alan had lunch there today just makes me insane with jealousy.

Why the Ghostbusters fixation? Probably because I think it's among the top ten best movies ever made, bar none.

I Am Not Irish; Do NOT Pinch Me

Ever since I was a little kid, I hated St. Patrick's Day.

Pinching those who did not wear green on March 17th was THE THING to do at Lincoln Elementary, I'm sure as it was at every damn elementary school everywhere in this country, then and now. Heaven protect the poor fool who forgot to wear green that day, he or she was literally -- I mean literally -- pinched black and blue by the time the day was over. Some teachers took pity on people and passed out paper shamrocks to pin to shirts, but nine times out of ten some creep would rip the shamrock off, shriek "He's NOT wearing green!" and pinch away.

I hated them.

Then, too, there was the lunchroom attendant/recess aid who loved St. Patrick's Day and, in addition, attended church with my mother. That meant I was pinched unmercifully, if tenderly, by a crasy woman not above chasing us through the playground. These were much more innocent times back then; today, you'd get on the news with this kind of shenanigans.

Worse than the pinches, though, were the smug little farts who wore concealed green and lived by the rule that said if you were pinched but had green on somewhere, you got to pinch the pincher ten times. Everyone hated the little creep whose mom bought him green underwear.

I stopped pinching in the third grade, though there was little I could do to avoid being pinched. "I'm not Irish, I'm half Dutch," I'd say to the owners of those stupid pinchy fingers. That is true, my father came from a land where they used their fingers fore more useful pursuits than pinching -- they stuck them in leaky dikes. Not that it did any good. Everybody got pinched, though I'm sure there was only one kid in the whole school who could claim direct Irish ancestry. I had a crush on her. I was too shy to go anywhere near her, let alone pinch her.

So now I'm a grumpy old man with kids of my own. They wear green to school on the 17th of March, simply because there's no getting out of it. I do not wear green to work. I tell people who want to pinch that it's a quaint old Dutch tradition to punch people who pinch. I tell them that with a smile on my face, of course. So far, no pinching. Or punching.