Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Palisades Creek, Brought to You By Uncharted

Gushing water. Spring water with newts in it. Dick deMott inside a collapsed tent, wandering around the campground. Those are my memories of Palisades Creek as a lucky new boy scout. This summer, we re-discovered the trail and its natural wonders. Read about it at Uncharted. Go now.

Breaktime: Night on Bald Pate

Knowledge of Knowledges, for Pity's Sake

Having read Peter Drucker’s 1993 book “Post-Capitalist Society” over the past few weeks, I have to say this is the most important “take-away” I discovered:
[W]hat we do need -- and what will define the educated person in the knowledge society -- is the ability to understand the various knowledges. What is each one about? What is it trying to do? What are its central concerns and theories? What major new insights has it produced? What are its important areas of ignorance, its problems, its challenges?

Without such understanding, the knowledges themselves will become sterile, will indeed cease to be "knowledges." They will become intellectually arrogant and unproductive. For the major new insights in every one of the specialized knowledges arise out of another, separate specialty, out of another one of the knowledges.
Thankfully, Drucker speaks of this “knowledge of other knowledges” concept not only in the context of economics and business management, but also in the realms of education and politics.

This lack of knowledge of other knowledges is what is crippling this country. Not arguments over whether Obama is right and Bush is the devil incarnate. Or vice versa. Unfortunately, we’re practicing what a commenter posted on a Time.com story about this weekend’s Glenn Beck rally in response to criticisms from the left on the intelligence of Beck, other rally speakers, and rally attendees:

I guess it’s ok to be stupid if it’s the right kind of stupid.

That kind of thinking, that kind of discourse, is going to get us nowhere. And it applies to the right as well as to the left, as well as to those who, like me, sag in the middle.

Want to understand why people attended Beck’s rally, why they like Sarah Palin, why they worry about religion being left out of our society? Get to know them personally. Not through the crap filters of the media, or the crap filters of your own moronic biases. Actually get to know them. Put aside preconceived notions and actually shut your damn mouth and listen to them. Try to understand where they’re coming from. Don’t react. Just listen. And think. You might learn something.

Want to understand why people are aghast at climate change deniers, why they like Barack Obama, why they worry about religion encroaching too much on society. I’ll repeat: Get to know them personally. Not through the crap filters of the media, or the crap filters of your own moronic biases. Actually get to know them. Put aside preconceived notions and actually shut your damn mouth and listen to them. Try to understand where they’re coming from. Don’t react. Just listen. And think. You might learn something.

Get off the I guess it’s ok to be stupid if it’s the right kind of stupid bandwagon. Right now.

I’m just sick of the smug from both sides of the spectrum.

I’m just sick of the lack of curiosity about what the other guy thinks and why he thinks that way. This applies to the left as well as the right. The left like to paint themselves as the right’s intellectual superiors. But the left is just as full of derp as is the right, because there are just as many on the left unwilling to understand the way their opposites think as there are similar thinkers on the right.

So it's Not Really Official After All

So the waiting game goes on.

From what I understand, if I had a class at BYU-Idaho to teach, I’d know it by now. Since I don’t know it, then I have to assume that the section they set aside for me did not fill up.

I’m kind of bummed out. I was actually looking forward to teaching. Now, there’s the possibility that I’ll be asked later, but it does seem a shame to go through a month of training only to end up not doing what I was trained to do. This is part of my drive to always be learning something, and now I just get to sit around and wait.

No matter. I’ll continue reading the text for the class and see what I can learn about my own learning and writing styles and methods in order to improve. And if, in the future, I am invited to teach and actually have students, I’ll be better prepared. I just don’t want to become what Peter Drucker describes as a person “well-rounded in mediocrity.” I want to excel at something. I’m trying to do that with my writing, and I see teaching as a way to help me do that – as well as paving the way for possible future educational pursuits, including a doctorate in technical communication, which would require a move to Logan and a commitment to teaching.

But I can still do things here. I can be a better father, especially while Michelle is on her continuing education path as she works toward her own masters degree. I will remain patient and try not to get frustrated. Too much.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Meadow Lake in Video. No Dramamine Provided.

This is what happens when you hand a video camera over to a ten-year-old:

I apologize, of course, if you get ill while watching this. He was really, really excited to be in charge of the camera, but not really sure how to make it focus and, at times it appears, not really sure what he should be pointing at. But at least he was having fun.

And this is what happens when you give a video camera to a six-year-old:

And to show I'm equal opportunity in exposing everyone's weaknesses here, this is what happens when you hand a video camera over to a 38-year-old.

Thanks for the riveting commentary. About dirt, no less.

Meadow Lake

Aside from the idiot who set off his car alarm at 7:43 Saturday morning, we found our time at central Idaho's Meadow Lake to be pretty pleasant this weekend.

The lake is a beautiful sight, a glacial puddle squeezed between a rocky slope dotted with pines and the bare bones of the Limhi Mountains. We found the lake several years ago when our camping gear consisted of a battered canoe, an even more battered Toyota pickup and a tent. This time, we came up with a Honda Pilot, a 14" camper and forgot the canoe. We had a wonderful time.

The ground there is rocky, peppered with the quartzite the glacier sheared from the mountain and what other rock frost action could heave down. The lake is in a cirque, or a hollow left behind by the retreating glacier, and is icy cold. The kids went wading -- figuring they could do so without hurt, since they do the same at Wyoming's Jenny Lake. But at just over 9,100 feet in elevation, you know the water in the lake is going to be not too far above freezing. Indeed, on the other side of the 31-acre lake, snow still lies in the mountains' shadows.

The mountains. Topographical mountains tell me that Mount Portland is the tallest in the area, coming in at just over 10,800 feet. That's nice. But much more picturesque is the folded, tilted peak at the lake's southern shore. I can't find a name for it. Unofficially, I hear it's called Meadow Mountain, though it doesn't look like a meadow to me.

(I think I'll call this photo "Where's the Mountain." I kinda like the sound of that.) This is the mystery mountain, by the way. More photos here. Again, these are fairly low-res photos coming from our video camera. Michelle used the Canon, as you can see in this picture, and will have better photos up later. I'm the impatient one. More of my low-res photos here.

I realize now that I made only one mistake in getting that Canon Rebel for Michelle for Christmas two years ago. I should have gotten two, because we both like to drive.

Fossilized Fud Music: Herman's Hermits

All you have to see is Ed Sullivan. All you have to hear are the word "Manchester" and all the high-pitched girlie shrieking from the audience and you know Herman and the Hermits are part of the '60s British Invasion:

In my brain, they're classified in two ways:

1) The one-hit wonders that wrote and sang the song "Henry the Eighth," as you've just heard, and,
2) Oh. They wrote and performed other songs?

Like this one:

And this one:

Somehow, they look really, really weird in color. And in modern clothing. Not as endearing. Not nearly as goofy, particularly if you pay attention to the marionette-style dancing in the first video (of course, their marionette dancing is much better than Ed Sullivan's typical marionette-like delivery, but only moderately so).

In this color video, and with their aged, hippie fans in the audience, they look more like they're directing exercises at an old folks' home rather than performing at a concert. But then again, these are my kind of people: Mellow. Kinda boring. Not likely to raise a fuss and not really likely to scream their heads off so much at a concert I go home not being able to hear.

But back to the one-hit wonder thing. Perhaps it's because I simply don't pay attention, or that all these British invasion bands sound, well, so much alike. It's easy to think that they're one-hit wonders because their one hit song gets played and played and played so much on the radio that you forget they recorded anything else.

Ew. That musical finale at the end of that third video reminds me why I don't like to go to concerts. I'm much happier with the studio version of most songs, since they typically -- and I know it's not true for every song -- don't get overblown like that.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How Long is Too Long? Or too Short?

So, how long should a novel be?

Quick answer: Long enough. But I'm finding out as I research a bit more on what agents and publishers expect from a novel, I'm finding some of my preconceived notions my not be all that accurate.

Length, first of all. I apparently am thinking too short. My first manuscript clocks in at just over 50,000 words. I thought that was a good length for a first novel. But it appears in the reading I've been doing that the expectation, at least for printed books, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 85,000 to 100,000 words. I've read lots of formulas as to why this is the alchemical number range to achieve, some of it having to do with print runs and editorial costs and whatnot.

Still, I'm in the original camp: How long should a book be? Long enough to tell the story.

I stopped at (or at least near) 50,000 words not because I liked the roundness of the number, but because I knew the story I'm writing is going to be a bit more complex and the narrative, at that point, reached a natural point where a break -- such as ending book one and leading into book two. But now that I'm nearly 16,000 words into the second manuscript, I've hit upon another natural break that either tells me I could easily add these words to the first manuscript, putting me closer to the magical territory, or that I've got to keep writing. The latter is obvious. The former, well, I'm not so sure it's obvious.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is Facebook Going All Anne Elk On Us?

You know, if only Richard Nixon had copyrighted the “-gate” suffix, he’d be a much richer man nowadays. Or at least his estate would, given that he’s dead.

Or, conversely, we’d be much more free from overuse of the suffix in the media.

Hence a small part of me applauds Facebook for pursuing a trademark infringement lawsuit against Illinois-based teachbook.com for using the “-book” suffix in its website and company name.

There seem to be two sides to the Internet. One is that side that has to be so painfully original that they invent words on the spot with which to brand themselves. These are the Twitters, the Vimeos, the Flickrs and others.

Then there’s the side that figures originality and creativity are (somewhat) overrated so they end up either being banal – think youtube, craigslist and others – or enter into the realm of copycatting, either on name (like teachbook) or on appearance (like digg.com’s latest design iteration aping Twitter).

Facebook doesn’t claim to have copyrighted the “-book” suffix, but argues in a court filing provided by Wired.com that:
The BOOK component of the FACEBOOK mark has to descriptive meaning and is arbitrary and highly distinctive in the context of online communities and networking websites. If others could freely use “generic plus BOOK” marks for online networking services targeted to that particular generic category of individuals, the suffix BOOk could become a generic term for “online community/networking services” or “social networking services.” That would dilute the distinctiveness of the FACEBOOK Marks, impairing their ability to function as unique and distinctive identifiers of Facebook’s goods and services.
Though I’m no legal scholar, what Facebook says here makes sense. They’re concerned if the “book” suffix becomes ubiquitous with a passel of non-Facebook-affiliated social networking websites, people will associate the term generically with social networking rather than exclusively with Facebook.

There may be some who would scoff at Facebook’s actions. I’m not one of them. As I’m a board member at Great Divide Media, which has filed trademarks on the Uncharted name in print media, online media and other categories with the U.S. Patent Office, I’m well aware of the cost and energy involved in building a brand. We’ve already seen some feeble attempts to copy what we’re doing using similar names and, thankfully, they never got to the point of a trademark lawsuit. But we had the big guns – our trademarks – ready to go, just in case.

Anne Elk here may be going overboard protecting her ideas, but at the same time, protecting your ideas is a good thing to do. Teachbook stands to gain more by using the “-book” suffix simply by riding on Facebook’s coattails than Facebook stands to gain by brushing off the competition, even if it doesn’t seem very competitive. It’s just too easy to dismiss Facebook’s legal arguments here in the era where the “little guy” on the Internet is always cast in the role of the victim because the bully is some huge successful company that, frankly, people are jealous of. Facebook has the legal right to defend its copyrights, and is not wrong to do so, no matter the size of the alleged infringer.

UPDATE: According to TechCrunch, Facebook is now trying to trademark the word "face," likely for reasons similar to what's already been outlined. There is, naturally, opposition. And a demonstration in the unoriginality of many, many Internet companies who think putting "face" in their name (or "book" for that matter) is going to help their chances by hanging onto the 800-pound gorilla's coattails.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Applying Knowledge to Knowledge

So I’ve been kicking myself a bit this morning.

Started yesterday, actually, when I got what I call the “loser email” from the Energy Dynamics Laboratory, in which they “regret to inform” me that someone named Caroline is going to Barbados. No. Wait. That’s Mr. Bean. The EDL regretted to inform me that someone else was offered the proposal/technical writer job, and that they had accepted. So we won’t be moving to Logan. (And given the housing market as it is now, this is, ultimately, a good thing, since though houses might be more affordable in Logan right now due to the financial crisis, selling ours in Sugar City might have proved to be a burden.)

That’s no real surprise. They wanted – it was obvious at the interview – someone with more proposal writing experience than I have. I’m hep to that. So I’ve got some goals now to try to fill in that gap in my technical writing portfolio. The kicking myself part comes in when I realize I should have mentioned the work I did on the package we put together for the Utah innovation competition. That certainly counted as a proposal. Even though we failed in getting any money, I should have mentioned it. Not that it would have made a lot of difference, I’m sure. There are many out there with much more proposal-writing experience than I, even with this in question.

So my wife – who is the bold one when it comes to stuff like this – asked the superintendent of our school district yesterday if they had anyone who did grant writing for the district. They don’t. She then mentioned that I’m looking for experience rather than pay, and would be interested in doing such work for the district. That’s true. So I’ve got to talk to him now (and do the same with the mayor) to see what needs they’ve got, and then start looking for opportunities. And then start writing. I’ve found a few already. Having a successful grant or two on my resume would look pretty good, even if it didn’t get on the front page of Pravda. Goodness. So many book and movie quotes coming out in this post. Must be the stress and nerves talking.

And it’s partially another book talking, namely Mort – uh, Peter F. Drucker’s “Post-Capitalist Society,” in which he insists that productivity gains are only going to come as we service- or knowledge-workers learn to efficiently apply what we know to the processes in which we’re involved. Unfortunately, the only efficiencies I can see in my job arena right now involve me losing my job so that a thin workload isn’t stretched over so many writers. So with cat-like tread I’ll skirt that issue, and look for smaller inefficiencies and other ways with which I can apply my knowledge without ending up on the dole.

Yeah, the older I get, I realize how little I know. So I’ll keep reading and learning. And doing some grant- and proposal-writing, if I can find the work, in the future.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Grammar Nazi: Nuqjatlh?

I’m concerned we’re devolving into Klingon.

Now, I’m sure there are experts in the Klingon language out there who will bristle at the thought of anything “devolving” into Klingon. Let me reassure you by saying this: Hab SoSlI' Quch! (And if you think you can’t find common Klingon phrases on the Internet, well, you are as they say in the vernacular, nuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e'.)

So Klingon is a fine language. But to see English spelling taking on Klingon attributes when no such attribute is meant, well, it’s maddening.

Saw this today in a posting at thatsmyboss.com:
In fact, he was one of the nicest individuals at the facility and it took me a’back.
Really? Where did that apostrophe come from, pray tell?

And (a segue) from the same poster:
I dealt with the job until I was accepted for a research based position, but my boss behaved in a fairly unorthodoxed manner on my last day.
Unorthodoxed? Really? I agree wholeheartedly with the maxim that if you’re gonna use a woid, use a big ‘un, but you ought to know how to use the big ‘un you’re using.

Then there’s more Klingon from a different poster:
There were stories that the regional salesman would spend time in his personal bathroom with his laptop but that may just be here-say.
Again, using a fun word is perfectly acceptable. Just make sure you’re spelling it correctly, not just how you think it ought to be spelled. And while some correct spellings may call for punctuation, be sure to double-check before you fling punctuation marks into your words indiscriminately.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dawn Upshaw and Canteloube

Partially the inspiration for tonight's "Considering How to Run" segment. I love these songs. I lived in the area of France where these songs originated. I'd love to go back.

UPDATE: Huh. Just noticed in this photo that she has kind of a Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia vibe. Weird. Fits in with my theory that there are only basically about six kinds of people on the earth. Maybe more on that later.

Author Seeking Input

To think this all started because of Hewlett-Packard.

A few weeks ago, I got a bug in my ear to read a summary of a research paper done by a group of people mostly affiliated with a wing of the Hewlett-Packard company that does, well, research. To read the piece, I had to sign up for a new website. Ugh. I hate that. One more way for my email address to get out there, another password to remember, et cetera, et cetera.

But I did it anyway. I really wanted to read the piece.

Then, in quick succession, I got two emails from people I know. Apparently they're on this website -- scribd.com -- as well, and wanted to "subscribe" to whatever I post there. Really? I mean, I'm already on my blog, on Facebook, doing what I can to babble away on the Internet. But they want to read my Scribd stuff as well. So I put some stuff up there, including a copy of "Through A Glass Darkly," the novel I wrote earlier this year. Figured hey, maybe I'll get some comments on it on how to make it better. If you're on Scribd, you can read the book here.

So far, it's a wash. Scribd tells me at least 30 people have opened the file while two have downloaded it. One took the time to comment that the title I chose for the book is that of a book by Agatha Christie, so I ought to consider changing it. I did some research; the titles aren't quite the same, so I'm probably okay.

Agatha Christie as Miss Marple
Perhaps for her book "In A Glass Darkly."

So I'm hopeful someone out there will actually read the book and give me some concrete suggestions on how to fix it. Then again, given the quality of comments we typically see on the web, and that most people don't have the attention span to read a 1,000-word post, let alone a 114 page PDF, I'm not confident I'll get much out of it.

What I need to find is a local writers' group. Some live bodies willing to critique and offer constructive criticism. Anybody out there know of such a group in Eastern Idaho?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fossilized Fud: Mac Davis, Assorted Hippies, and Myself as A Babe in the Woods

Earlier this evening, my wife said she didn't realize how much of a "babe in the woods" I am because I didn't know who Mac Davis was.

I do now, of course. Thanks to YouTube, she's educated me.

And I do know who he is, or at least recognize his music. This is probably his best-known song (at least in this neck of the woods):

And here he is trying to teach Beaker of Muppets fame how to eef, while he eefs and hambones:

I think for 2011, I'll make it my new years' resolution to learn how to eef. We've got so many classical musicians in the family -- well, at least in the Brower part of the family -- that maybe having someone learn to eef and eef well will bring some balance back to the force. Or make me look really, really stupid. Either way, it's win-win.

Then there's this collection of flannel-clad hippies singing their signature song. Wikipedia tells me they were part of a wave of music called the Jersey Shore Sound, which entails such artists as Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi -- neither of whose music I ever got into, nor could ever get into. Too loud and screechy. I'm too steeped in Wuss Rock, I suppose. Such music, per 'pedia, focused on the lives of everyday joes working in the industrial cities of northern New Jersey and those who were "underdogs" in any way. No explanation, of course, for the hippie look. Sign of the times.

Friday, August 20, 2010


The first time I saw this cartoon, many moons ago, I laughed my head off. Not because it's a cartoon, but because of the fox's delving into psychology. Loved it. Though I probably didn't understand most of it, I figured that there was something clever going on. And I loved the line: "If ya gotta tell a lie, don't tell a small one. Tell a big one!"

Simon's Cat: The Box

Yeah, I've had cats that did this very thing.And small, curious dogs who would do it as well, but not as acrobatically, of course.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Who Knew? Mama Was A Mason.

Mama was . . . a Mason?

Categorically, no, as women aren't allowed to become a Mason. But as I was reading William Poundstone's "Big Secrets" today and came across this drawing in a chapter on Masonry, I had to do a double take:

I now know how Elroy felt when Jet Screamer knew the code.

I remember, long ago as a wee lad, learning the substitution code shown here. Mom showed us how, probably digging out some paperwork she'd kept from one of her many stints as Primary president. My brother, sister and I wrote messages to each other. I clearly remember writing a rather longish scroll that I purported to be part of our teddy bears' mythology, and burying the scroll with a bag of marbles -- their treasure -- somewhere in the back yard. Never did find it again. It's probably still there, getting soggy and moldy in that sock we used as a treasure bag.

All written in the Masons code. Of course, if Poundstone knows it, and if my mother knew it way back in the 1970s, it can't possibly be in use by the Masons today. Still, makes me want to go to a Masons hall to see if I can decode the encryptions on the wall, or at least in the bathrooms.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tonight's Nonsequitur: Evil House of Pancakes

Grammar Nazi Assured This is A Shoe-in

Can a barefooted runner be a shoo-in? The way some people mangle this amalgamated word, it’s doubtful.

Shoo-in. I’ll type it again. Shoo-in. Now your turn. Got it?

It’s not shoe-in. Definitely not shoe-in. Use shoe-in at peril of being considered a moron.

Shoo-in, folks. Shoo-in.

From whence does the word come? Michael Quinton over at World Wide Words, has an answer. Apparently he believes a shoo-in – which we all know is a sure winner – gets its origin in horse racing where, as he says it, “a shoo-in was the winner of a rigged race.” The word comes from the onomatopoeic word “shoo,” which we use when we want to shoo animals away, or in this case, to the finish line.

Quinton goes on to say:
The shift to the horse racing sense seems to have occurred sometime in the early 1900s. C E Smith made it clear how it came about in his Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburgh Phil in 1908: “There were many times presumably that ‘Tod’ would win through such manipulations, being ‘shooed in’, as it were”.
That feels a little too pat to me, a little too much like folk entomology. But it’ll have to do. Quinton, unfortunately, seems to be the only one on the web willing to offer an explanation on this word’s origins.

But why worry about such an eggcorn? Ben Zimmer over at the Oxford University Press seem to think that it’s not worth bothering about, since, as they say, “our generation’s ‘common error,’ however, can be the next generation’s accepted variant.”

I counter by saying this: Get off Sarah Palin’s refudiated statements, then.

In other words, we’re not Shakespeare. We ought to be spelling these words correctly lest future generations regard their progenitors as morons.

Taking Sides

If there’s anything that ails humanity, it’s thinking like this.

And this in particular, which, to me, is one of the most cynical things I’ve ever heard said of the world of politics:
You have to stay on message, follow the polls, listen to your advisers (who are writing the message and taking the polls) and realize that when it comes to doing what is right versus doing what is expedient, you do what is expedient so that you can get reelected and do what is right in the second term. If at all possible. And it will help your legacy. And not endanger the election of others in your party. And not hurt the brand. Or upset people too much.
And there’s this:
You could not put the conventional wisdom more clearly: It is far better for a president to do nothing than to choose a side. Even if the side he chooses is the right one from an ethical or moral perspective, it is a “blunder” politically because inevitably it will upset some people.
And this:
The problem for Obama is that he appears to have taken seriously all the “change” stuff he promised during his campaign. And he has been unable to make the transition from candidate to president.
But Roger Simon, writing at Politico.com, speaks the truth in a clever bit of writing that’s bound to be misinterpreted across the board.

He doesn’t like the namby-pamby Democrats who would have a Democratic president choose expediency and preservation of the party over doing the right thing. Nor does he like the hawkish Republicans who are rubbing their hands with glee as President Obama chooses the other side in the idiotic battle over whether an Islamic community center and mosque should be built in the vicinity of lower Manhattan, a decision they hope they can exploit for political gain, rather than for anything else such as, you know, rapproachment with American Muslims.

Simon dares suggest that Obama is doing the right thing for the right reason, rather than doing what is expedient to stay in office or cushion the party from another blow.

Isn’t that the kind of leadership we want? I know it’s what I want. I know it’s how I’d behave. I’d rather make a stand, choose a side and stick with that position and risk losing a second term, or risk hurting “the party,” rather than make a choice that goes against my better judgment for the sake of political expediency.

Lest the left get too smug, let me remind them that they practice this same kind of expedient demagoguery as well. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck has incited the lefty version of righteous indignation by planning a rally on the Lincoln Memorial, 47years to the day of the Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have A Dream” speech. This, of course, cannot be, as the left paints Beck and his conservative followers as narrow-minded racists.

Says the Washington Post:
Beck's choice of day and place for the rally "is insulting, is what it is," Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in an interview Monday. "August 28 is something special. It is a day that means something in American history because it was the demonstration in the United States in support of civil rights."
Kinda sounds like the same kind of argument conservatives are using, as equally foolishly, against the mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. 9/11 made that holy ground. "I Have A Dream," and Aug. 28, are sarcosanct. Not so. And not so.

Those too close to either side of the argument can’t see it that way, however. Which is sad. And maddening. And, unfortunately, business as usual.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Want a Peel for Your iPod Touch?

So, do you want a Peel for your iPod Touch?

Yes, it’s a clever little play on Apple’s brand, the Peel – a device that Sprint may soon offer to iPod Touch owners enabling them to communicate over Sprint’s cell network for an as-yet undetermined monthly charge.

A Chinese company’s version of a similar product (also using the clever Peel name) is the one getting the press, but it has a few disadvantages, according to some reviews. The biggest: It’s available only in China. Sprint’s version, however, may also run into trouble, as Apple is, well, kinda proprietary about its products. It appears, though, that Sprint would keep the Peel-enabled iPod Touches to data only – no voice, thus not cutting into the iPhone market. That might help take the curse off it. Then again, given the capriciousness of Apple, it might not.

Would I buy one? I’d consider it. I can see the utility – I have an hour and a half commute home every night on the bus that a 3G-enabled iPod Touch would certainly help to fill. But it all comes down to the pricing. If I could have unlimited access for, say $20 a month, it enters the realm of maybe. Or a pay-as-you-go model might work as well and would certainly curb my use of the device to essential use only, while at the same time not overloading Sprint’s network.

Of course, I'd have to buy a 64gig iPod Touch. So maybe if the utility is there, the price-savings isn't.

Then there's the aggravation factor. When I travel, I enjoy being Internetless while on the road. I can pick up free wi-fi at hotels and such for when I’m really jonesing for an online fix. The ability to surf the web or check e-mail no matter where I am still seems, at the bottom of all things, an expense I can do without.

You Are Your Own PR Agent

Update: As of 10:30 pm, CNN.com has updated its story to say they've tried to contact Mr. Sloppy, but had no luck. Should have done that earlier. And I'm still dubious about taking a quote from a person you haven't technically spoken to yet.

Maybe I owe the folks at The Scroll an apology.

The Scroll is the newspaper at Brigham Young University-Idaho, where I cut my teeth in journalism before I figured out I’m no journalist. The bone I’ve privately picked with them is that they tend to rely on quotes yanked from the Internet as sources for their stories, rather than doing original reporting themselves. That smacks of “blogosphere” behavior, most unbecoming traditional journalism.

But I see the big boys at CNN.com doing the same thing, and it’s irksome.

Here’s an example of a post pulled from Facebook into a story now circulating internationally:
The California Highway Patrol identified the driver as Brett Sloppy. Authorities said Sloppy is not facing any charges in the crash that took place Saturday at an off-road race in Southern California's Mojave Desert.

“Soo incredibly lost and devistated [sic] my thoughts and prayers go out to all the familys and friends involved,” the San Marcos resident said on his Facebook page late Sunday. “Thank you too all my friends for sticking with me even thru these tragic times I love you all.”
Don’t get me wrong – five years ago, ten years ago, when there was little social networking going on Internet-wise, finding people like Mr. Sloppy might have been a tedious undertaking. But now that we have the ginormous White Pages that is Facebook, finding people – and even people related to events; we don’t even really have to know their names to begin with now – is relatively simple.

But why not take it a step further? You found the guy. Is contacting him out of the question? Don’t tell me you’re too shy, or don’t want to tread into an already upsetting situation. You’re CNN.com. That’s your schtick.

But there’s no mention of trying to contact Mr. Sloppy, not even the sop of “attempts to contact Mr. X were unsuccessful.”

Is a Facebook posting now fair bait as quotable material, even without asking permission first?

I know the logic goes like this: Facebook is a public facing. People put stuff there so people can read it – especially if they’ve misunderstood Facebook’s privacy controls and throw stuff up there for anyone to see. Ergo, what is available on Facebook is like going into an open-pit opal mine: What you find, you keep.

That may be entirely true. Still doesn’t make it right. I hated contacting people when a tragedy had occurred, but I did it, and the old-fashioned way: In person, or by phone. Nasty business. Got yelled at a few times. But that’s part of the business, isn’t it? Most of the time, people where OK to talk. If they weren’t, I respected that.

But they ought to be given the chance to say yes or no, whether what they’ve posted is in a “public” space or not.

Do we become our own public relations experts, spinning and screening what we say in “public” spaces? I suppose we do. I’m aware enough that there are things I just don’t post in public. I’m not going to say this comes from media savvy or sophistication, because it doesn’t. It’s just a conscious choice on my part to be a bit more guarded online than others. And if the media’s new norm is to delve into Facebook and such for quotes without asking permission first, well, maybe that guarded attitude is a good one.

But I’m probably overreacting. CNN.com’s Facebook mining may just be an anomaly noticed only in this story. (The Scroll’s anomalous behavior is a bit more widespread.) It’ll certainly be an interesting trend to watch.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yellowstone Color

A little experiment here. Well, two. For Christmas, we got a Canon Vixia HF200 video camera. I really like it, though it's evident from the videos I've taken that I've got to learn a lot about videography -- and that we need a tripod badly. The videos are crystal clear and hold up under some pretty good increases in size.

The camera will also take still photos, though as a still camera it's impossibly slow. Still, it gives me a way to snap a few photos while Michelle uses our Canon Rebel digital camera.

So here are a few photos I took while we were in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks over the weekend. A full album is available here on Facebook and here on Uncharted.

I don't admit to being a genius behind the camera. In fact, I'm kind of an idiot behind the camera, given the fate of the three cameras I used while on my mission in France. The first, a little 110 film spy camera type, fell into the toilet after a day-long visit to some chateaux in the Dordogne. Fortunately, when it fell in the toilet, the film popped out and floated. The second camera fell out of my pocket as I was riding my bicycle and was crushed by a passing bus. Again, I was fortunate in that I had just removed a roll of film from the camera, so no photos were lost. The third camera disappeared under mysterious circumstances soon after I came home. It might have to do with the fact that it took really, really poor pictures.

One thing I have noticed with this Canon Vixia is that the photos and video tend to come out a bit darker than the scene or image appears in real life. It could very well be operator error -- I'm the kind of guy who'll pick up a camera and run with it for a few years before I pick up the instruction manual. But one of my goals for the rest of 2010 and the whole of 2011 is to become a better photographer, and part of that is going to be to get to know my cameras better.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


As we drove through Yellowstone National Park and its environs today, a few thoughts came to mind:

1)We're crossing the Gibbon River. I wonder if there are gibbons about, and if they show their bums to each other.

2) National Park Mountain. Who named that thing?

3) Many Japanese/Chinese folk here today. As always. I feel huge. Circus freak huge.

4) Buffalo walking along the side of the road, with a NPS truck with flashing light trundling along on the opposite side. Driver is doing the "come around, idiot, come around" arm motion to everyone as we pass. Michelle says, "Hey, get your buffalo butt moving." Regrets it instantly, as the kids laugh about that for the next several miles.

5) A few miles later we stop along the side of the road with many, many others to take photos of unsupervised buffalo. Goon with yellow stocking cap on is stalking one buffalo through the brush, with the buffalo looking back at him somewhat menacingly. No gorings, but he deserved it.

6) Just as we're pulling away from the buffalo stoppage, another NPS truck appears and a ranger emerges immediately and begins the "come around, idiot, come around" arm motions with both hands. A little bit more velocity and he could have taken off and flown to Yellowstone.

7) We're at the Grand Prismatic Spring. It is steam-enshrouded and surrounded by Japanese folks. It's pretty much as I remember it as a seven-year-old.

8) Isaac is ready to leave the park and go to Swan Valley to collect his final remaining birthday present. A day communing with the cheap showiness of nature just isn't doing it for him.

9) Overheard at Biscuit Basin: "I heard that the things that made this look like Biscuit Basin got destroyed so there's no biscuits but they still call it Biscuit Basin." The biscuits are intact. We did also get to see Jewel Geyser erupting. Pretty cool.

10) Old Faithful. Soundtrack of my 3 1/2 minute video of the geyser bubbling and doing its thing will be our kids fighting over who gets to slump over on the cooler mixed with Spanish from the nice family behind us. Next time we're climbing to the mountaintop overlook if it kills us.

11)  Thoughts: We're going to rent a cabin in Yellowstone and spend a week here so we can see more than just the traditional West Yellowstone to Moose trip.

12) Leaving the park, we discuss, technically, where we are. Me: "We're in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway." Michelle: "In?" Me: "The John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway." Michelle: "Huh?" This goes on for about a minute before we give up.

13) Jenny Lake. One of these days, we'll do this trip in reverse so we can get to Jenny Lake at a time in the day when the sun isn't shining right into our faces, obscuring the mountains to the west of us. But it's still a great place: Oh look! Little itty-bitty fish!

14) Honda Pilot: "Whoonk! Whoonk! Whoonk!" First time I ever accidentally trigger the car alarm, and it's in a parking lot full of liberal hippie-type people.

15) Why does Jenny Lake attract so many liberal hippie-type people? By that I mean the type who have to have animated arguments about their personal lives while wearing impeccable hiking gear while blocking an asphalt path way in the hell out of the middle of nowhere, have those really nifty $90 retractable walking-sticks or have children mooning about not having brought swimming suits so they can go to the hotel pool tonight.

Speaking of liberal hippie-type people,

16) Jackson. Many, many people. We do not stop. Well, we stop long enough at McDonalds to get some food. I eat a double cheeseburger while driving up Teton Pass. Beats driving up the pass in a blizzard, as Albert and I did several years ago.

Bonus: Forgot that daughter is prone to nightmares and explained how Island Park, Idaho, and Yellowstone are basically volcanic leftovers. I expect Lexie to be in our bedroom in tears at 3 in the morning.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Considering How to Run: 10,000 Words

Somehow, I find it hard to believe I'm doing this.

Ten thousand words into a second novel on the same vein. And all the while, I'm not sure what I'm writing is any good. The Ray Bradbury Postulation -- write always because 95 percent of what you write is no good -- looms heavily. But at least I'm writing. And writing. And writing.

Hoping something will come of it. I feel like my characters: Determined to follow through with what they've started doing, but fearful that somewhere along the way I'll look for a way to get out. And I worry that I've already taken ways to get out and am writing just dreck. That's always possible.

And yet I remain faithful. Surely somewhere in the stuff I've written -- somewhere in this collection of 10,037 words -- there are a few things that are good. A few things upon which I can build and eventually make a good run of it.

The only way to figure that out is to keep writing. So off I go.

More Daughter Photos

As you'll recall, our daughter got a very basic digital camera for Christmas, and has had a ball with it. As with all photographers, she's got a lot to learn about composition and actually focusing the camera, but for an eight-year-old, she can turn out the occasional good photo.

This first example is of her daddy atop the Teton Dam, his camera slung about his neck.

Here's one she took of her cousins (and a few other hangers-on) at the Fourth of July Parade in Victor, Idaho:

It's a bit colorless, but that's because of the harsh sun and, well, her eight-year-oldness coming through. Still, it's fun to see her have fun with a new hobby.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Maybe A Sign I'm Ignoring Someone . . .

When I got home this evening, I found the following scrawled on a bit of scratch paper on my desk:

Dear Dad,

I have been being nice to Mom. Love, [scribble scribble]

Can you find me? I am one of the children. I am in the house. I am not a boy.

I did go find Lexie and gave her a big hug. Maybe that'll take the curse off it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's Official

Well, it is definitely official.

Go to the Brigham Young University-Idaho employee directory, look under D, and there I am. I am, as of yet, pretty much like Philip Nolan in Edward Everett Hale's short story "The Man Without A Country," since I'm an official employee but without a class at the moment, as I have mentioned earlier.

Still, it's weird to go online there and see my name. I kinda feel like Steve Martin's character in "The Jerk," and am wondering if someone's going to come along now with a sniper rifle.

Fossilized Fud Music: Roy Acuff

As much as I loathe modern country music, I think I could get into some of the older stuff quite easily. Roy Acuff is one of them.

Take his song "The Wabash Cannonball." I heard this a lot when I was a kid. Had no idea what they were singing about; I just liked the sound of the word "Wabash" and that one of the Smoky Mountain Boys could sound like a train whistle.

And to use an over-used phrase, I like the old-timey feel of Acuff's "Lonesome Joe," as it has that Christy Minstrels, real country music feel to it, not the manufactured pseudocrap that passes for country music today.

Like it or not -- and I'm sure not many would like it today -- this kind of music is a huge part of the American musical legacy. Country, and especially southern country, is, in my opinion, the single most significant and original contribution this nation has made to a world of music. I say that because the songs, the tunes, springing from the rural backwoods, speak more of the American experience than any other genre, with perhaps the exception of Black gospel music, of which I'm also a fan.

My only worry with this kind of music is that the messages -- of love, of the gospel of Jesus Christ -- are going to fade so that they're cultural relics of an ancient time with no meaning in today's world. George Orwell, in his novel 1984, fretted that Newspeak would eliminate words from our vocabulary -- but that's not the issue. What is the real issue is that the deep, self-seated meanings of the words and concepts that were once revered and enjoyed fade and are now, for many people, just a cultural thing to enjoy while listening to the music, but to forget once the banjo and fiddle have stopped.

Social Media Influence

According to a study done by a handful of mathematicians and researchers in the United States and Switzerland, this is the question you’ve got to ask yourself – or your business – if you’re using social media as part of your marketing strategy:

Are you popular or influential?

The study, done by Sitaram Asur and Bernardo A. Huberman of the Social Computing Lab, part of HP Labs in California; Wojciech Galuba of the Distributed Information Systems Lab in Lausanne, Switzerland; and Daniel M. Romero of the Center for Applied Mathematics at Cornell University in New York, posit that influence – or the number of times your content is linked to or forwarded to others – is much more important in gauging your overall success than the size of your audience.

This is the core advice they offer to anyone running a social network, or to anyone trying to use social networking for marketing purposes (emphasis mine):
This influence is determined by many factors, such as the novelty and resonance of their message with those of their followers and the quality and frequency of the content they generate. Equally important is the passivity of members of the network which provides a barrier to propagation that is often hard to overcome. Thus gaining knowledge of the identity of influential and least passive people in a network can be extremely useful from the perspectives of viral marketing, propagating one’s point of view, as well as setting which topics dominate the public agenda.
A summary of the study is available here.

This, of course, comes as no great surprise. You’re more likely to have your content talked about if you’re sharing it with people who are more willing and more likely to talk about it and spread it around, than you are with people like myself who are reclusive socially and thus do not mix as well with others. That doesn’t mean you cut out the shy folks entirely, though – because in doing so you might risk kicking out some of the influential members of your group.

What’s got to happen instead is you’ve got to look at the people in your network and see who is the most influential, then talk with them to see what you can do to get the word out better. You can also study different sets of your social network to see if there are influential individuals in one sector that have not yet made the crossover to the sector you’re interested in bolstering.

This comes into play for us at Uncharted as we’ve got three groups of followers that may be – if we studied them – significantly different. We have folks on Uncharted itself, plus we have followers both on Facebook and on Twitter. I’m sure in looking at these three groups we’d find some crossover, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of our Facebook and Twitter followers aren’t yet explorers on Uncharted. So, if what this study says holds true, we need to look at our most influential viewers on each of these networks and then convince them to make the crossover to become Uncharted Explorers.

The authors of this study are cautious in pointing out that their ideas on influence may not be the be-all and end-all of social networking:
In spite of the seemingly chaotic fashion with which all these interactions take place, certain topics manage to get an inordinate amount of attention, thus bubbling to the top in terms of popularity and contributing to new trends and to the public agenda of the community. How this happens in a world where crowdsourcing dominates is still an unresolved problem, but there is considerable consensus on the fact that two aspects of information transmission seem to be important in determining which content receives inordinate amounts of attention.
This still gives those of us in the social networking arena something to consider, especially as we consider how to build an audience at Uncharted.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Net Neutrality Fear-Mongering, Part II

So there’s going to be two Internets now, if Google and Verizon have their way? One for all the crap that’s out there, including this blog, and the other, electroplated with gold or platinum, for the stuff that the content providers want people to pay for?

Okay. Don’t we already have that? To some degree, at least?

Hulu is experimenting with paid content now. And there are sites ranging from things like Fark.com to Lileks.com – not to forget any number of newspaper websites out there – where some stuff is offered for free, but the “premium” stuff is behind a paywall.

Why, then, are Google and Verizon being called the new Internet Axis of Evil?

Google has outlined the policy on its Public Policy Blog here.

So yeah, two Internets. One for all the free stuff, the other for stuff people would have to pay for. Kind of like broadcast television and cable television.
We want the broadband infrastructure to be a platform for innovation. Therefore, our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon's FIOS TV) offered today. This means that broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services. It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop, but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options. Our proposal also includes safeguards to ensure that such online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules. The FCC would also monitor the development of these services to make sure they don’t interfere with the continued development of Internet access services.
Wired.com takes it apart here.

Here’s the thing: Content costs money. Most of the folks on the Internet today like to forget that part unless, of course, they’re on the creation end of content and then they realize that, for the most part, giving it away isn’t paying the bills. Yes, here’s the rub – this is going to be yet another dividing line between old media and new media, the corporations versus the Internets, with all the evil on the one hand and the innocent truculence on the other hand.

Wired doesn’t seem to think there would be a have versus have-nots on the two Internets, seeing as the “free” stuff is what most customers want anyway They quote Google CEO Eric Schmidt:
“There seems to be a concern that somehow the investment, because of this, would move from the open internet to other things,” said Schmidt. “They way [the proposal] is written, that’s not possible. Furthermore, Verizon and others have a large financial incentive to make the open internet — the public internet — more useful, simply because it’s what their customers want.

“Frankly, if they were to choose to degrade it, other competitors would enter the market. But of course, they’ve promised not to do that anyway… there’s enough excess supply that they should be able to handle both. And according to this, they’re not allowed to prioritize against the open internet. And I told our friends at Verizon that we will continue to enforce these principles.”
If a service or website gets uppity and moves to the pay-per-internet, the folks who don’t want to pay will leave. Some other upstart will swoop in swiftly to fill the vacuum on the free internet. All will be right with the world again.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Net Neutrality Fear-Mongering

So Google and Verizon are on the cusp of announcing the end to Net Neutrality. They're quickly climbing up the ladder to the top prize of epitomizing evil – a spot currently held by AT&T, Apple, and British Petroleum.

Why, I have to ask.

There's this, as explained by the New York Times:
Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.
So the new Devilish Duo wants to make content providers pay for the privilege of getting their stuff to users faster. How dastardly. How insiduous. How like radio, television, and print media.

How old school.

And – to make this a scary bugaboo to the masses – the threat is that if net neutrality goes down, our ISP charges will go up, up, up.

Like they don't already? Like they're going to go down, or remain in stasis, even with net neutrality ensured?

I guess I need some new media or technology wonk to explain the scary implications of all of this to me, rather than relying on the pseudo-scare managed by the New York Times.

So off to the Internets, Robin!

Josh Silver, over at the Huffington Post, has this to say about the impending doom of net neutrality, after – of course – making a jab the Bush Administration, which would SO be on the top of the Evil List if he were still in office, damn democracy anyway:
A non-neutral Internet means that companies like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Google can turn the Net into cable TV and pick winners and losers online. A problem just for Internet geeks? You wish. All video, radio, phone and other services will soon be delivered through an Internet connection. Ending Net Neutrality would end the revolutionary potential that any website can act as a television or radio network. It would spell the end of our opportunity to wrest access and distribution of media content away from the handful of massive media corporations that currently control the television and radio dial.
All? Really? All. I never trust that word. Never. And it's ironical that a writer at the Huffington Post is expressing umbrage at an attempt to thwart “our opportunity to wrest access and distribution of media content away from the handful of massive media corporations that currently control the television and radio dial” seeing as just about what the Huffington Post can manage to do is what most bloggers do: Riff off the work of those self-same media corporations.

Let's face reality, folks. Even with net neutrality, the chance that, say, something at Mister Fweem's Blog is going to be as significant, as thoroughly researched, as entertaining, as valueable to mass audiences, as stuff prodiced by those mass media outlets is pretty slim. Yeah, I've preached the value of Clay Shirky's Psycho Milt here, but let's get real. The arguments for net neutrality are so dependent on a plethora of “what if” statements – But what if Psycho Milt has just the photo you want? But what if Uncle Bob's Blog is the best source on the Internet for stale jokes? But what if Bumhole Radio broadcasting out of a closet in Sugar City, Idaho, has the best mix of punk-ska music you've ever heard of – that they seem farcical.

The idea that one idea, one source of information, one person, one whatever, is as equal to the ideas, information, people and dedicated resources of media companies, whether old or new, is ludicrous. It's the idea that the traditional American fifteen minutes of fame has been expanded to fifteen millennia by the advent of the Internet. It's a stupid, wrong-headed suggestion. And scaring people into thinking it's bad simply because they might be charged more for Internet access is downright embarrassing.

We have on one hand the free-for-all that is the Internet, up against on the other hand the more – and here's a word most everybody on the Internet hates – traditional distributors in (gasp!) old media, or, at best, new media (Google and Verizon) behaving in an old media way (Why do you want to controllll ussssss?).

Pardon me if I'm not scared at all.

I don't see ISPs offering me any price love right now. They pretend to offer spectacular deals – our local Baby Bell is the worst at that; offering the same “special” deals they offered when I worked for them in 2006 – while, when you get down to the basics of it all, offer the same service, same speed, at the same price. Prove to me that the end of net neutrailty will mean annual increases in my ISP bill and you'll have to prove to me as well that content providers, under a tiered system, won't write of the tier charges as advertising and slash their advertising budgets in kind, while ISPs shake in their boots at the thought of increasing dramatically the price of the service they offer to consumers, already in rebellion against stupid pricing, lousy service, and bureaucratic hell if, heaven forbid, something goes wrong and they can't access the Internet any longer.

And you know what? I'm already forced to swim through sponsored links, not only in Google searches but in places like Digg.com and any other number of places where net neutrality is championed. Tiered content offerings are already here, folks, and the price I pay for Internet access hasn't budged.

It all may be moot since at this point Engadget tells us that both Google and Verizon are saying the NYT's story is full of hogwash. That's good news for folks like me who don't see the scare-mongering doing any good anyway. It all sounds like the Wacky Races to me.

The only question is, who is Dick Dastardly in this question, and who is Muttley?

Safety Tips

Sometime late last week, our oldest came up with a list of "Safety Tips" he thought worthy to be shared with the rest of the family. I present them here for your edification:

1. Don't drop banana peels.

2. Don't put skate boards right next to car doors.

3. Never eat bubble gum while staring.

4. Never lift a car in front of an audience.

5. Don't laugh at people.

6. Use nice words in front of the entire world.

7. Never use fart guns.

8. Don't go slow.

9. Never shout at people.

10. Never unscrew belly buttons.

11. Don't show the sign of I'm a dork.

12. Don't sing in front of people.

13. Don't kiss people on the lips.

14. Don't wave at people.

15. Never kiss me.

16. Don't stick out your tongue.

17. Don't push people.

I can't assume that lifting cars while alone is acceptable, because it stands to reason that it isn't, but one could certainly infer that from Tip. No. 4.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Peter Cushing Nonsequitur

Because, of course, it's hilarious to think of Grand Moff Tarkin cycling around a little seaside English town buying vegetables.

Peter Cushing is on the mind, by the way, because I bought my first Hammer Films DVD today at Smith&Edwards in Ogden -- "The Curse of Frankenstein." Now, I'm not really into horror films, and Hammer films tend to be, well, Hammer films, so we'll see how long I last. But it'll give me my first chance to see Cushing and Christopher Lee together in a film, so what the heck.

I'm a little concerned that, in this scene, Dr. Frankenstein appears to be studying a jelly doughnut rather too intently. Then there's the classic "reveal" of the monster which, inexplicably, leads to the monster trying to strangle the mad doctor. I'll be curious to see what the rest of the film is like.

Smith&Edwards, by the way, is well worth the stop if you're ever driving along I-15 in Utah. It out-Cabelas Cabelas, combining the best of an inexpensive outfitter with the best of the best of the traditional war surplus store. We spent about an hour there today, and that wasn't nearly long enough. I could wander through that store all day, looking at the interesting bric-a-brac from $30 Navy trenchcoats to Gilligan hats to bags filled with 25 boxed of "imported" matches. It's a place that takes all the snooty urbanity of the greater Salt Lake area and says, "Pfui, who needs it all?"

Dad used to stop there all the time just to wander the aisles. In fact, as we pulled up into the parking lot there today, I realized that it was with Dad the last time I was at Smith&Edwards, and Dad has been dead now for ten years. I miss him especially in places like that because in his eyes I could see the same kind of wonder and excitement I saw in my kids' eyes as they explored the aisles and picked up the random stuff that makes the store so interesting. So maybe I'm helping pass on a Davidson tradition here. Too bad it too me so long.

Re-Entering Limboland -- and Wife-Praising

I'm certified to teach at Brigham Young University-Idaho. I've gone through all the training courses. I've got an introductory podcast ready to go that includes Droopy the Dog. What else do I need?

Oh yeah. A class.

I got an e-mail earlier this week from the online ed folks saying basically, um, your online section of Foundations English 101 isn't filling. I must have a bad agent, or bad placement on the online sign-ups, or an already poor student review which, since I've never taught anything before, is kind of overreacting. Or the demand for the course simply hasn't met up with the supply.

They did ask if I want to teach the 201 course in Foundations English, and I said yes. But getting "permission" is taking a bit longer than I thought it would. So that leaves me in limbo, three weeks from when the semester begins, not knowing for sure or not if I'll be teaching anything. I will continue reading the textbook for the 101 course in case things improve in that direction, so I can at least say I'm doing some preparation beforehand. I should probably log into the shell courses again to get a better feel for what's going on in both classes, though. It's no fun having a teacher who's as unprepared with the material as the students.

Speaking of students, Michelle is now in her final week of her first two masters classes and, despite the frustration with her online course on online courses, things are going well. I think she'll get the As she deserves for the hard work she's put in, and then revel in the three-week break before her new semester starts up. I asked her today what she wanted to do to celebrate the cessation of her first round of classes and she said "Pay the tuition for next semester." She's such a practical person.

This is what I think of her:

She knocked herself out for these courses. I, of course, expected nothing less. She's always so willing to throw heart and soul into the things she does, from taking care of the kids to taking care of her classes to taking care of her Missing Linkesque husband. I love her for that.

Wart Testing

Alert: For those who don't want to hear about my ongoing battle to get rid of the warts on my left hand, you may want to skip this entry.

You'll recall earlier my theory that swimming in a chlorinated pool was what helped my warts to begin dissolving. Went swimming again today, so I'm going to see now if the remaining warts shrink at an accelerated rate, or if there's no difference. It's not exactly a controlled experiment since it's a different pool and we weren't in the pool for five hours as the last time, but we'll see if maybe a smaller dose will make any difference.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Fourteenth Amendment

Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Equal protection under the law. That means something, whether you’ve benefited from the rulings of Brown vs. the Board of Education, or were a Mormon denied voting rights in the Idaho Territory for 18 years and in the state for two years, between 1872 and 1892. Mormons were also barred from holding political office or serving on juries.

Elements of these laws remained in the state lawbooks – though unenforced – until 1982.

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. Nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Only through due process of law can a state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property.

That’s clear to me. Very clear.

So how can I, as an American and a Mormon, reconcile my trust in the freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution – a document we’re reminded time and again was inspired of God – with demands that same-sex marriage be outlawed? I can’t. Can I go out on a limb – at least in this neck of the woods – and say I approve of the California Supreme Court’s ruling today striking down the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage? I’m going to.

Yes, I anticipate this ruling going to the US Supreme Court. And I don’t suspect they’ll make any decision different than the California Supreme Court. Tyranny of the majority is ugly, especially when you’re in the majority.

About that USU Logo . . .

I have survived.

A whirlwind 24 hours, to use a cliché. I’m glad it’s over, to use another. I’m hoping that something might come out of it in the next two weeks, but I have enveloped myself in a sense of calm pessimism in case nothing happens at all.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m job-hunting. Not that my current job is terrible, see. I love it. It’s just the benefits thing. And the retirement thing. We’re working on both, but the benefits I can afford right now don’t do what we need them to do. And while the roiling economy isn’t helping our retirement much at all, I could certainly do better with an outfit that had such benefits. I know – people are starving worldwide and here I am moaning about benefits. Put in the cosmic perspective, I’m a moron. So nothing has changed.

I would like more of a challenge, though. I say that now; maybe when one comes I’ll regret it. Anyway: On to the meat of the matter.

I had an interview today with the Energy Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, for a proposal/technical writer position. It went better than I could have expected, though the aforementioned pessimism is still held in ample reserve considering the competition I’ve got to deal with. I figure perhaps I’ve got a ten to 15% chance of getting this job, maybe a 20-30% chance of at least getting past the “first round” of interviews.

This was the most intimidating interview I’ve ever had to go through, but still it came out better than I thought it would. I had to put together a ten-minute presentation, selling myself to them as the solution to their proposal/technical writing problems. I didn’t have much to sell on the proposal end; if I get cut, it’s because the other applicants have more proposal experience – and I’m thinking now that’s what’s going to happen. But that’s okay. I will survive. And if I make it past the first round, well, I’ve got something worth fighting for. Nonetheless, I have also applied for a writer/editor job with BEA. They’re looking for someone with journalism background, which I have. But so do a lot of currently unemployed – and thus hungrier – applicants. So we’ll see what happens.

I did tell the interview committee, by the way, about the logo mixup. They thought it was funny and actually said, "That wouldn't have been the first time that happened." Someone who made the same mistake currently works there. So I would not have been doomed. That's good to know, and tells me a lot about the kind of people who work there. People
I could work with.

Yes, the USU logo below does have something to do with my presentation. Last night, as Michelle and I were rolling along in the Pilot, we were talking, we were listening to the radio, and, in the quieter moments, I was ticking over the presentation. Something’s not right, I kept telling myself. Then Michelle noticed a USU sign or motto somewhere: “Be an Aggie. Bleed Blue.” Then it struck me. The “U” I used as a university logo in my presentation was for the University of Utah down in Salt Lake, not USU. I just about drove off the road. So at midnight, in the hotel, after dropping in on Alan, Sarge and John to see if they had a mouse we could borrow, I got it fixed and turned in. What an adventure.

Thanks, by the way, to Alan and Sarge, for their encouragement, and to John, for his encouragement and prodigious memory on recalling all of the people he knows at EDL so I could drop his name. I did what I could during the interview, but will also wave my John Milligan flag in their face via e-mail and hand-written thank-you note as well. Hope it helps.

Working at EDL would be a challenge – lots more work than I’m used to now. But lots more original work, not the more rote stuff I’m doing now. Not, again, that my current job is bad; I’m grateful for it. I’ll stick with it as long as they’ll have me. But I can still look for a something better. I’m hoping EDL is it.

This Image . . .

More about this image later. If I live to tell the tale.


Suddenly – and I’m finding it hard to avoid the rats fleeing a sinking ship metaphor here – the warts on my left hand are dissolving. And my right hand is now wart-free.

I’d like to think it’s the herbal remedies we’ve been trying. But it could also be the dousing they got in chlorine a few weeks ago. Or it could be aliens, for all I know. I’ve even contemplated getting a medical opinion on the subject, but I’m loath to spend $55 for a doctor to say “Well, yeah, they’re disappearing all right. Keep doing what you’re doing.” I’m educated enough to know that.

I’m not gross with warts. True, my left thumb, at one point, had five. But now two are nearly completely shriveled, and the other three are looking wan. The wart on my palm is gone. As is the one on my pinky. Even the two new ones that popped up on my middle finger are looking sickly, and the one on the tip of the finger – the one that kept getting in the way of my fingernail – is gone completely.

I’m glad they’re going, to be sure.

Maybe it is the Tumorel. I’d like to think that at $16 for a one-ounce bottle it’d do something besides dribble. Or maybe it’s the combination of Tumorel and Heise Hot Springs chlorinated water. Or the sunburn I got there. Or all sorts of combined environmental factors.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Always Pivotal Ray Bradbury

"People are afraid of fantasy," says Ray Bradbury in an article by Penelope Mesic (a Bradburian character name if I ever read one) at raybradbury.com. "A lot of intellectuals think science fiction is trivial. And it's pivotal! People are walking around the streets with phones to their heads talking to someone ten feet away. We've killed two million people with automobiles. We're surrounded by technology and the problems created by technology, and science fiction isn't important?"

Science fiction is certainly important; without it, I never would have voyaged to Saturn with the likes of Arthur C. Clarke's Duncan Makenzie or Robert Kleinman, plumbed the depths of the sea with Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, or saved the galaxy with Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat (I'd still love to see someone make a movie out of one of his books, though maybe not; it'd probably get thrashed).

But Bradbury. Quintessentially American and -- unlike Clarke -- willing to focus on the philosophical implications of technology rather than zero-gravity sex which Clarke obsesses over for some odd reason. He's still active. Still writing. Still seeking the "monsters and angels" that make up the stories he writes. This is the kind of writerly life I aspire to. I need to keep on writing, and keep writing, and then when I'm worn out, write some more.

Of his novels, the one that grabs my mind every time I read it is "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Of his short stories, it's "The Man," in which an intrepid crew of spacefarers arrives on a planet populated with human beings only to discover that they just barely missed the coming of Jesus Christ, and thus their visit is made unremarkable. They spend the rest of their time rocketing after the messiah. I think this story is among the root tales that have inspired me to write my novel -- though I'm light years from being as good as Bradbury.

The best writers' advice I ever heard comes from Bradbury. He said, basically, that 95 percent of the stuff we write is nonsense, but you have to get it out of your brain in order for the good stuff to come. Thus the explanation for the stuff I write. I'm still getting rid of the clogs.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


August is here.

It's a bellwether month. Did you have a good summer? If not, and it's August, it's practically too late. School for the kids starts in three weeks. And for me, well, I get another two weeks beyond that, but then I'm in the teacher's chair. It's a virtual chair, yes, but nonetheless I'll be in charge. A weird feeling, that.

I am now certified to teach online at BYU-Idaho. That means I can navigate around their online learning software, make a podcast and perhaps respond to student queries in a way that won't make them sic their bishop on me. Though the training is done, it's going to be weird interacting with students as a teacher. Part of me wonders if I'm up to this, and then another part of me reminds the first part that, well, you may as well give it a shot else you'll never know whether you're up to it or not. And given that I teach a bunch of (really) rowdy Primary kids, how bad can a bunch of college freshmen be? Well, probably worse, but at least I don't technically have to be in the same physical room with them. The temptation to thump skulls and kick rumps will be significantly diminished. I hope.

Also coming this month: A job interview in Logan, Utah. That'll take place this week. I have to go, in person, and give a ten-minute presentation on why I think I'm a good fit for the position they're hoping to fill. I'll call them tomorrow for more information and to schedule a time and to find out if the first five minutes of the presentation can be from a mariachi band singing something along the lines of "Hire this guy, he's great, he's greeeeaaaaat!" And it's not that I'm disappointed with my current job -- it's just that I'm looking to the future. 2012 comes and the stimulus money dries up and the entire contract comes up for renewal, so anything could and likely will happen between now and then. They're already talking up layoffs and helping us find jobs in Scotland and such, and you know the help they'll offer will be along the lines of "Well, there's the unemployment office, so go get 'em, boys!"

Another bridge to cross when we come to it: There are a lot of houses for sale right now in Sugar City and they're just not selling. Nobody seems to want to buy houses right now, for some odd reason. Michelle has said that if I did get the job in Logan I could just take the camper down there and live out of it until we get affairs settled here, but, as I said before, that's a bridge we'll cross when we come to it. An interview doesn't mean a job offer is in the offing. And, as I've told her, it would have to be a pretty attractive offer to make the move attractive. Though there are benefits attached to that job. That would be sweet.

So August may change a little for us, as Isaac enters the first grade, or a lot, as maybe we look to relocate the entire family and all the possessions it took us thirteen years to shop for. If it comes to that, the only thing I can think of to say is: Massive garage sale.