Thursday, September 30, 2010

Words Less Valuable Than Spreadable Cheese


When I signed up for Scribd about a month and a half ago, I had no idea that, two months from when I uploaded material to the document-sharing site, that it would be “archived” and that I’d have to pay to see it again.

Oh, I’m sure in the esoteric license agreement or other such mumbo-jumbo that I didn’t read but agreed to anyway that the paywall after two months was mentioned. But really, my first inkling of any such paywall comes from this article.

I have to admit I’m not willing to pay to read my own stuff.

That’s terribly worrying, because it’s probably a sign that nobody else will want to pay, either.

Has it come to this? Have we really entered a world where the written word has less value than, as Stanley Bing puts it so eloquently, a roll of paper towels?
There are circumstances under which I'm more than willing to pay for a commodity. Paper towels.  Spreadable cheese. A piece of research I can get nowhere else on the dangers of not changing your socks. But the idea of registering myself and logging in every time I want to get the weather or a recipe or the random musings of somebody like me... I don't think so.
Yes, there’s the popular cow analogy, as put succinctly by one of Bing’s commenters:
Why buy a cow? 'Cause you can make nice steak and 'burgers out of it. It's the bovine final product, a.k.a. "bullsh...t" that is free of charge. And since there are [sic] plenty of that around, just go to the place that will shovel it to you for free. No need to huff and puff, even if you do hate selling that product you are selling. Just keep repeating in your mind: "exceed the quota - get the bonus".
In other words: A lot of the stuff on the web is free for a reason. There’s a reason I don’t charge for reading the drivel on this blog.

But there are business decisions to be made. I’d much rather be a WordPress blogger, as that system has the added features and flexibility I’d like to use in a blog. But since you have to pay for your own hosting with WordPress, I’ll stick with Blogger. It’s free. If I suddenly had to pay per blog, you’d certainly see me bid a quick goodbye to my ancillary sites and, if the cost were too dear, this blog as well.

It’s a business conundrum. Hosting all of this garbage isn’t cheap. Over at Uncharted, for example, it’s a problem for us, and we’ve got next to nothing stored on our servers (for which we pay monthly) compared to the big dogs on the social media spectrum. Maybe it costs Scribd less than a nickel a month to store my 187-page manuscript, but you know what, multiply that by tens of thousands of people storing their documents, and you can see why Scribd wants and needs to charge for its services in order to stay afloat. They’re in the business of business, though the pity is most web users out there think businesses ought to be in the business of charity, passing over everything they produce for free, simply because it’s on the web.

Please pass the Cheez Whiz. For free, preferably.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't Be Schtupit, Be A Schmartie . . .

A few days ago, I heard a story about my paternal grandmother that I'd never heard before.

Apparently, Oma loved to tease Opa, and found ample opportunities to do so. Shortly before World War II began, she and Opa were voting in an election. He was adamantly against the burgeoning Dutch Nazi Party, and went over the ballot scrupulously with his wife to ensure neither voted for a Nazi Party candidate.

He went to vote. Later, she did as well. When she came back, she acted confused and told him, "I couldn't remember who we talked about. I think I voted for the Nazi Party."

He lost it. "Oh, you're going back right now to change your vote!"

She was teasing, of course.

She passed that teasing bit on to Dad. And he spread it liberally among his children. Good thing for us. That leaves me with only one thing to say. Or sing, rather:

Somehow, I think Oma would laugh at this. Opa, not so much. Sorry, Opa. I still love you. Pity they both died before I got to know them.

Doonesbury Nails It

Pew Pew Pew

It’s interesting to see how the results of a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey on general knowledge of world religions is being spun in the media and by those now swamping the Pew Foundation’s websites trying to take the poll.

I’m one of them. I tried several times today to take the poll, only to encounter multiple “Server is Busy” errors. I’ve seen some of the questions – what figure is most connected with the exodus of Hebrews from Egypt, what religion was Mother Teresa, what is Ramadan, when does the Jewish holy day begin – and they seem pretty basic. I got a 15 out of 15 on the quiz, though I admit I guessed on a few.

But I’m a Mormon – a member of one of the groups (including Jews, atheists and agnostics) who performed the best on the poll, per Pew.

More importantly, I also have a lot of education – and the level of education, Pew says, is the best indicator of success in answering their questions right. This should even be less surprising than the basic nature of the poll’s questions. (They do say, however, that even adjusting for levels of education, Jews and Mormons still performed better on the poll than did members of other faiths.)

Other interesting findings:
  • Mormons performed the best out of any group in answering questions about Christianity. Interesting considering many mainline Christians don’t consider Mormons to be Christian at all.
  • Jews, agnostics and atheists performed the best in answering questions about other religions.
The spin is interesting. Most new outlets are crowing that agnostics and atheists performed the best on the test, getting 20.9 of 32 answers correct. That’s statistically insignificant when you consider that Jews got 20.5 answers right and Mormons 20.3 answers right, but it’s more fun to say, hey, those guys who don’t believe anything at all ore aren’t sure what they believe know more about this stuff than anyone else.

Only the Huffington Post is reporting precise numbers, of the sites I’ve read. CNN performs the most poorly, burying Mormon and Jewish performance in their story while highlighting the stellar performance of agnostics and atheists and the poor performance of mainstream US religions. The favored headlines go along the lines of “US Flunks Religious Test.” That may be true for some, but not for all. Of course, given tight space for headlines, it’s a given that something basic like this is going to be written. Oddly, though, all of this I’ve seen is on the web, where space isn’t as constrained. Still, journalism goes for the short ‘n’ snappy, if not completely accurate, headline.

Thomas More's Utopia

It’s hard to believe that Stalinist Russia thought Thomas More’s Utopia was such a shining example of communism’s tenets.

It’s equally as hard to believe that the Catholic Church thinks More’s ideas on religious tolerance are as ideal as they’re made out to be.

More admires communism with the small c, but certainly would not have agreed with Stalinist Russia’s persecution of religion. And any red-blooded communist would find the colonialist attitudes of the Utopians – who hire mercenaries and other lackeys to do their dirty work, certainly a colonialist and capitalist sin; and who expel the natives of lands they settle if they don’t agree to become Utopians – as tolerable. And while More’s religious toleration is admirable, he still shows a people intolerant of atheism or agnosticism and an attitude towards punishment of moral sins (in his case, adultery being punishable by death on the second offense) that would be regarded alongside the harshest tenets of Muslim sharia law today.

Perhaps it’s that I’m looking at the book through modern eyes. Perhaps, as More’s Raphael Nonsenso encountered with the Utopians, it’s because I’m not reading the book in its original Latin, but rather as translated into English by Paul Turner.

Maybe it’s just that I’m taking the book as a whole, while the Stalinists and the Catholics are choosing to pick out parts of the book that agree with their already preconceived notions while they reject or gloss over the things that don’t. And I thought it was only the moderns that do that.

What I found most striking in reading Utopia, however – and here I get to do cherrypicking of my own – is how closely More’s critiques of kings (or any kind of prone-to-despotism leadership) is to the critiques King Mosiah lays out in the Book of Mormon.

Here’s what More has to say (from page 40, for those following along):
In short, it’s a pretty poor doctor who can’t cure one disease without giving you another, and a king who can’t suppress crime without lowering standards of living should admit that he just doesn’t know how to govern free men. He should start by suppressing one of his own vices – either his pride or his laziness, for those are the faults most liable to make a king hated or despised. He should live on his own resources, without being a nuisance to others. He should adapt his expenditure to his income. He should prevent crime by sound administration rather than allow it to develop and then start punishing it.
Here’s what Mosiah has to say (Mosiah Chapter 29, starting with verse 16):
Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.

For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!

Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.

And were it not for the interposition of their all-wise Creator, and this because of their sincere repentance, they must unavoidably remain in bondage until now.

But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.
Both More and Mosiah talk about pride as being a principal enemy to righteous rulers. Read a bit further on in the same chapter in Mosiah, and you’ll find mirrored More’s attitudes toward letting the people rule:
Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the claws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.

Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
Further reading in the Book of Mormon find similar parallels in the Utopia More envisioned and the ruling government that Mosiah’s people and their descendants tried to live (they held goods in common, worked to support the poor and afflicted, and had leaders who worked for their own support rather than being supported by the people).

I’m not sure what these parallels mean, outside of the fact that it’s common to find such parallels when reading various documents that discuss the ideal forms of government.

I could draw similar parallels between More and the world Harry Harrison describes in the novel “The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted,” but then we’d be getting too damned silly and this post would be getting too long. Suffice it to say if I had the opportunity to move to Bellegarrique, I’d do so in a nanosecond.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trumpeter Swans

We've been heavily into movie production the past few days. Liam read E.B. White's "The Trumpet of the Swan" -- a book I've never read, incidentally -- for school, and had to do a "project" centered on the book. He chose to make a movie about trumpeter swans. Finally got the thing done tonight. Good thing, as it's due in the morning. Nothing feels as good as finishing a project. Especially when your son did the lion's share of the work and all you had to do was basically help him find some music, make a few editing suggestions and burn the thing to disk. That's the kind of school assignment I like.

Monday, September 27, 2010

More art borrowed from My Kids' Refrigerator. Enjoy. I know I do. Constantly. I especially enjoy that Rod Blagojevich got to go camping with us.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Love Note

When you've been married as long as I have (a whopping, uh, 13 1/2 years) you get notes like this.

Sure, other guys get love notes. I get this.

But you know what? It is a love note. It shows my wife has the confidence (maybe misplaced) in me that I can get these jobs done. Nevermind, of course, how long it's taken for me to get to some of these jobs.

To my credit, I did tackle the first one on the list. It's not as easy as it sounds -- we had a joint in the floor tile in our bathroom that lost its grout. It had happened before -- and I fixed it, or so I thought. It cracked again. So this time I knew I had to do more than send a few screws into the floor. I pulled up four tiles and tore out the underboard, put down new stuff and I'm hoping that helps. I think the problem was that the joint in the tile met up with a joint in the underboard, and the underboard hadn't been secured down well enough to prevent the bouncing that led to the cracking. So I used up a tube of liquid nails plus as many screws as I could find to fix things. We ought to have a pretty strong spot to stand on now, providing I used enough adhesive and screws. You never know.

Other tasks on the list are either done or started. The "air hose flowers" was meant to remind me to take my air compressor to two displays of imitation flowers we have in the house. They're all now dust-free. (As a bonus, I cleaned off the top of the refrigerator as well, where one of the displays is home.) I've also got the blue ball patched to the point it should hold air. I have one more toilet to scrub. In fact, I think I'll go do it now.


As part of a school project for Liam, we went walking along the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in St. Anthony yesterday, trying to find some trumpeter swans willing to be photographed. No swans. But we did take two pictures of feet.

Here's the first:

Aw, cute little raccoon feet. Isaac found them for us -- he really wanted to follow a little trail down from the main trail to a spot underneath a thick stand of willow trees. I'm glad we listened to the little six-year-old. It's obvious the raccoons like the spot took as there were prints all over in the mud by the river.

Here's the second photo:

Liam learned the lesson that if you have to watch out for cactus on the way down to the river, you have to watch out for cactus on the way back to the path, too. We managed to yank them out of his shoe with a stick.

Want to see more? Check out my "Roadside Wandering" photoset at Uncharted.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

You Maniacs!

So, do you wanna be a cyborg?

I don't mean mere mechanical contrivances like pacemakers. If that's all it takes to be a cyborg, then my mama's a cyborg.

I'm talking about things like this.

Are we really still worried, in 2010, that someone is going to invent a robot that once it's switched on it can't be switched off and that, eventually, apes will be our masters? I like science fiction, but you know what -- this kind of thing just ain't gonna happen.

Or, in fact, I'll outline how it already has.

Newton Minow already warned us about one kind of machine that, once switched on, cannot be switched of. George Orwell also went down that same path, but stuck with aural and not video. Alan Turing took us down that path as well.

I know. That's a figurative can't turn them off. Warwick's talking about a literal can't turn them off. Sounds like someone's worried that Springfield's monorail system is going to be solar-powered. When will people learn?

And if you're worried about intelligent machines that can't be turned off and think it's the machines ya gotta worry about, you've got no sense of history. Mankind has produced plenty of organic machines that can't be turned off that are a hell of a lot scarier to me than any Terminator.

What's laughable about Warwick's fears is that he himself is experimenting with things that could lead into exactly what he fears -- he supposedly implanted a chip in his body that allowed his wife to control it using her thoughts, not his. I find that claim dubious. And to those who say I'm squawking about the slippery soap on the slippery soap, pay close attention to Warwick. He's babbling about exactly the same thing. He wants to stay ahead of robots by researching the kind of thing that, used by evil men -- not evil robots -- could lead to evil robots. Find an evil cyborg and, somewhere along the line, you'll find an evil man pulling the strings, even if that evil man was stupid enough to design a robot without an off switch.

Are we really worried about machines getting smarter than us? I hope they do. In fact, many already have. if I want to talk with my cyborg mama, for example, i can either pick up the telephone or hop into the truck to go see her. Both machines are smarter than I am. The telephone is smart enough to allow me to speak to her instantaneously, with only a slight diminuition in voice quality. The truck is smart enough to get me to her house in less than half an hour.

Heck, this bit of plastic and silicon I'm typing on is smarter than I am -- it can do complex math in its head that I can't do on paper.

But do I worry about apes becoming our masters? Or machines, for that matter?

No. I'll leave that to the science fictionists.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Memory Lane: Tiny Talkers

NOTE: Found a copy of a very, well, dumb story I wrote about twelve or thirteen years ago. This is another writerly trick: Find something you wrote a long time ago and hope against hope that your writing style has improved. Gratefully, I think I have. Anyway, here's the story: "Tiny Talkers." Has that Twilighty Zone feel a lot of my early stories had, for some reason.

"Don't forget to flush please. And sir - you're low on phosphates."

Being from the old school, Bernie wasn't used to having urinals talk at him. Frankly, he didn't like it. Not one bit. Bernie's the kind of guy who was still shocked to see diaper changing tables in the men's room, and he certainly avoided those out-of-the-way spots where restricted space called for unisex bathrooms. "Certain things are just meant to be silent," he said often to those around him who weren't plugged in to transistor symphonies or listening to their Twinkies tell the tale of just how their filling got to be where it was while they ate them.

Cigarettes. He stopped smoking three years ago, only two months after legislation required cigarette manufacturers to put Tiny Talkers in each cigarette, rattling off the surgeon general' s warning each time a smoker took a puff.

The pressure monitor on his right front tire wailed at him so loudly and so often he finally stopped on the expressway and smashed the control box - which whined pitifully under his blows - with a hatchet he stored under the seat. Even the belt on his wrinkled beige overcoat burbled at him in a sing-song voice, mainly telling him with each cinch his waist was growing.

Interactive, they called it. The latest rage. Some Vietnamese flunky for an Oregon computer firm developed a system so streamlined, so small and so cheap little talking bits of silicon were embedded in everything from apple blossoms (from which they called enticingly to bees with what they hoped were encouraging words) to those Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law tags on mattresses. Big Macs told you how slobberingly juicy they were as you chewed on the pickle and dabbed secret sauce from your chin with a napkin. Breakfast cereals gave you five minute countdowns to your preset Sog Quotient so never again would your morning be spoiled by eating soggy cereal. Minuscule weather stations planted in a stalk of scalp hair gave temperature, UV factor, relative humidity and dandruff count at the press of a button. Melons screamed their state of ripeness, books shouted blurbs from their back covers. The newest item, talking toilet paper, well, Bernie didn't even want to know.

You couldn't even count on a daily paper to be silent any more. Even when you'd succumbed to their siren calls from the newsstands, the blankety-blank things wouldn't shut up.

Bernie feared the crossword puzzles which with exasperation told you the words if you erased too often. Garfield, through some odd aberration of science and copyright law, had Bill Clinton's voice, and though the drawl was often amusing when Garfield told Jon why he refused to chase mice, he found it a bit disconcerting to hear a former president's voice coming from an orange cat who kicked that banana-shaped dog off tables.

"Did you hear this in the paper, dear?" Sheila, Bernie's wife, squeezed a spot on the front page and Bernie heard all about an anti-terrorist raid on a besieged embassy in Koala Lampur as he struggled to eat his morning grapefruit.

Bernie dropped his spoon. "Yes, dear, I listened to that story while you were in the shower talking to your soap. Pass the sugar."

"Whoa, fat stuff, that coffee's already got three scoops!"

"Why do I have the talking mug again? I thought I told you to get rid of it." Bernie poured his coffee down the sink and rinsed the mug, which cooed appreciatively at the cool water.

"I forgot, Bernie," Sheila said. "Besides, you heard your trench coat. You are getting a bit more portly."

"Hmnph." Bernie shoved his spoon into his grapefruit and sent juice flying.

"That grapefruit's not ripe."

Bernie slurped at his spoon. "Whaddaya mean, not ripe? Any more ripe and it'd be rotten."

"Are you talking to me, dear?"

"Who else is in the room, Sheila?"

"Well, there's Dolores. Looks like you got her right between the eyes."


"Dolores Castella. The paper's new home and food columnist. Here." Sheila handed Bernie the paper stained with grapefruit juice. One blob had indeed smacked the chubby Dolores right between the eyes.

"No, not ripe at all," said Dolores from the printed page. Bernie wasn't sure, but he thought he saw her blink. "But it's a California grapefruit, which of course means they can be eaten a little under-ripe."

"This woman," Bernie said, poking his finger through Dolores' soggy face, "is a twit."

"Come now, Bernie," Sheila cooed. "You just met her. Some people just leave a bad first impression."

"Just met her? I squirted grapefruit juice on her picture!"

"Well there you go, Bernie. It was you who got off on the wrong foot."

"Feh," Bernie said as his cereal gave the two minute warning. "Tell me one thing," he said, through mouthfuls of not-yet-soggy cereal, "why do these papers think this talking thing is such a great gimmick? I mean, if I wanna hear the news, I'll turn on the radio. And if! want health advice, I'd listen to my trench coat over some fat food columnist any day."

"Lulu the polar bear has fattened up nicely after her harrowing trip to the Tautphaus Park Zoo last month."

"What," Bernie asked, milk dripping down his chin, "does Lulu the polar bear have to do with what we're talking about?"

"Oh," Sheila said. "Sorry. I was hearing this article about the zoo."

Bernie ate more cereal.

"Bernie! You cheater! You're drinking two percent milk instead of the skim Dr. Bartlett told you to."

"That's enough." Bernie shoved a fork in his beard and ripped out the Fallen Food Detector Dr. Bartlett had installed. He tossed it on the table and continued eating. "You shouldn't have done that, Bernie. Health insurance won't pay to have that reinstalled."

Bernie's eyes bugged as Dr. Bartlett, whose picture he'd hit with his discarded medical device, lectured him from the front page of the newspaper.

"Give me that paper!" Bernie lunged form his seat, knocking the chair over and sending his grapefruit spoon sailing. With one swoop he gathered the paper from the table top, and snatched the comics from Sheila's hands. Tiny voices cried from within the mass of paper he crumpled in his hands as he stalked through the living room toward the fireplace.

"Seventeen people died when a train jumped the tracks near Jura in the French Alps..."

"Bronko Nagurski's genetic clone, drafted by the Green Bay Packers, promised fans he'd do for them what he'd done for them fifty years earlier: play good football."

"Lost, 6 month-old black lab puppy. Answers to name of Stinky."

Bernie wadded the paper into a tight ball and tossed it into the fireplace. The voices within screamed shrilly as the match took and the paper began to burn. "You should have recycled me! Recycle me! The forest creatures will thank you!"

Firelight danced in reflection on Bernie's glasses.

"The flue's closed, idiot."

Bernie jabbed the flue sensor with a poker and sat silent and watchful as the flames died down.

Kip, of course, would have a different reaction to Tiny Talkers entirely:

The Irritating Part of Writing -- And Writers

For those of you with writer friends, you'll understand this.

First of all, don't trust writers who write about writing. Including me. Because, at heart, we're all a bunch of soulless creeps (like this guy, channeling Uncle Rico in his photo; I wonder if he feels like he's floating?) who think we've gotta look legit, like we've got all the answers.

We don't. We're full of hot air.

Because how you write isn't how I write. Oh, maybe we use similar methods and ideas, like the so-called "Snowflake Method" Uncle Rico talks about. But you write differently than I do -- you use language a bit better (or, if I'm lucky, worse). Maybe you plan things out before you go. Good for you. I'm an Ur-writer, as discussed earlier (and yes, writers will drone on and on and on and on and on about the art or craft of writing because, well, how else will anyone else in the world know that they're a writer?

The worse kind of writer to run into is the writer who isn't writing -- maybe because he's editing (which is a different beast entirely from just sitting down and writing). Or maybe he or she is in between novels or projects or whatever they're working on. The better writers are the ones who have all sorts of pots on the fire in different stages of simmering. I'm in that camp. I'm proud to have finished a novel, don't get me wrong. And editing the thing, well, it's not going to be as fun as writing it, but you know, if I want to get it published, that's the way I've gotta go.

But in the meantime, I'll be irritating as hell. Not complaining. Just jittery, anxious and -- on this blog -- repetitious because the Muse isn't as satisfied editing as it is writing.

My cure for this: Writing a short piece, something light or breezy. Let's see if that helps tonight. But remember what I told you about taking writing advice from a writer: We're all jerks. Don't listen to us.

I'm going to shut up now. At least for today.

Fully-Inflated Tires

Uncharted, once again, has reached a crossroads, but as Alan said to me last night, "this time we're running on fully-inflated tires."

In that he means that we've filled two critical positions in the company that we've either lacked in the past or had to pay a pretty penny for. We've now got a volunteer business manager from someone who has actually managed businesses and written successful grants, and a Ruby on Rails programmer who is working full-time but wants a more creative outlet at a startup where he can flex his programming muscle. Also for free.

And we've got a director of creative content (that's me) who has mapped out what content we'll feature on the homepage for the coming year.

This is all very exciting news for us at, because it's been a long time coming. We've got a long list of features we'd like to add to the site, but because of monetary constraints we've just had to put them off because we can't afford the programming. Hopefully within the next six months to the year we'll have the ability to embed video (I'm not sure I'm yet comfortable with hosting our own video; I'm content to sponge off YouTube/Google for a while since they offer their service for free) and to more fully engage in the social networking phenomenon. Enon. (As if we need more of that.)

With more tools and ambition, however, comes more responsibility. We're going to have to get to work at a more accelerated pace. I'm hoping with a new business manager on board we can get going in the aspects of actually finding revenue in this cacti-infested wilderness of the Internet. Making money entails getting eyeballs to the site, and getting eyeballs to the site begs that they have something to look at to keep them coming back again and again and again and again and again. So I can't think the pressure is off editorial to perform. Though having a year's cushion of updates planned out (and at least half of them ready to go, just waiting in the hopper) is a comfort. That'll give us a better chance to cultivate contributions from our Explorers and truly make this a place where anyone can com to share their photos and write about their traveling adventures.

End of commercial.

So here's to hoping for good things to come.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lots o' Turmoil

I rarely blog about work because, well, I’m already there 40 hours a week. Rest assured that if something momentous happens there, you’ll be notified.

Yesterday, I spent a few moments watching a sleeping rabbit. I work in a trailer that’s right next to another one. Both abut onto another building and have a vestibule that connects them on the other end, so in between everything there’s a little graveled courtyard – my word for it; it’s only there to provide access to the HVAC equipment. The rabbit was in the courtyard, napping away in the sun. Its feet were curled up underneath it like a cat, and it had its ears back. Preserving heat. It looked pretty comfortable.

That must mean it survived the gassing of the voles. We’ve been overrun with them this summer, so overrun they’ve forced the ordinary mice into the building. One climbed all over my boss’ bookshelf a few weeks ago. Scared the hell out of him. He spent the rest of the day seeing phantom mice in his peripheral vision.

We’re hopeful too that the weasels survived, since they’d been doing their little part to control the vole population. They’re fun to watch, undulating through the grass like snakes with legs.

We’re hopeful we’ll survive. After about two years of stimulus funds, they’ve dried up and the company is back in layoff mode. Lives that were “touched” by stimulus money are likely going to be touched by its absence. The company is laying off 65 this month, with another 600 or so to go next year. Yikes and double yikes. The only good news we have right now is that nobody in our little group will go in the first 65. We’ve got some assurance in that the projects we’re attached to have a life beyond the end of the contract in 2012, but that’s cold comfort seeing as we don’t know how many bodies will remain attached to that life.

But thus is the life of a worker in the DOE complex. I know one guy who fled Paducah for Rocky Flats, then when that place got shut down completely he came here. And that story’s not uncommon. I’ve just got to hope it happens to me, because I kinda like this line of work. We joke about this line from Ghostbusters a lot, but it’s not like that. Much.

Good news, though: Today I went and got my security badge renewed. That’s typically a good sign when they let you do that. It’s no insurance that nothing will happen to you, jobwise, in the coming fiscal year, but at least you can get into the building before they throw your ass out.

Feeling the Distance

I have thought a lot about Considering How to Run for the past 72 hours and, without even re-reading a single word, I recognize it needs work.

No real surprise there; what I’ve got is only a first draft, and a quite haphazardly written first drat as well. My writing style for this novel was, well, start out with a premise and then each day shakily wobble forward, aiming only for enough words to substantiate a good blog posting, then stop. Kind of a gonzo way to go about writing a book, but it worked for me in that I’ve got a first draft to play around with.

So now I’ve got to review it for continuity. Plot holes. Cliches and instances where I can use the language better. Insert more original stuff. Have faith. Be spiritual. And ring that doorbell. And do a lot more to make the story more interesting, the characters more appealing and plant more motivation in the book so the readers understand why the characters are doing what they’re doing. Maybe it means I’ll have to go over the draft a few times, working at it and working at it to make things better, taking longer than if I’d planned things out from the beginning rather than just, every session, pointing myself towards the end of the page and letting go.

Yes I’m going to obsess about this a lot. That’s my schtick. And it’ll help me in planning out the next book I write, once I get the system down.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dan and Mary, Thanks for the Memories.

Thanks in part to Dan and Mary Hess, proprietors of Ashton's Hess Heritage Museum, I got the Idaho Press Club Rookie of the Year award in 1997, the first year out of college and the first year of professional newspaper work.

I've since left newspapering behind. And with the passing of Dan in 2006 and Mary in 2007, the Hess Heritage Museum -- an old farmhouse with outbuildings, a collection of odd and old farm machinery, bric-a-brac from the Boy Scouts of America, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, frontier schoolrooms and an inexplicably odd Polynesian Room -- is being shuttered and its collection auctioned off.

The Polynesian Room always fascinated me. It wasn't much -- a few dresses, leis and other sundry items mostly from Hawaii. But to see it in the context of a restored 1890s farmhouse smack in the middle of nowhere (actually, about two miles southwest of Ashton) was a bit mind-boggling. Yes, there is that certain Mormon fascination with Hawaii, so in that case it makes sense, but it's just an odd bit of exotic culture to see plopped in among the frontier butter churns, old-fashioned wood cooking stoves and other such stuff.

I got my rookie of the year in part because of a story I did on the museum shortly after I began writing for the Fremont County Herald Chronicle in nearby St. Anthony, Idaho. That was back when journalism was actually fun and engaging. Dan and Mary showed me around the place, I dutifully took notes and snapped a few pictures -- I could easily have been writing for a frontier newspaper at the time, the only difference being I had a little point-and-shoot, not one of those massive betripoded cameras with the big tray of exploding powder for added light.

I've got a scan of the article somewhere -- the paper copy long ago went up the chimney -- but I can't find it in my labyrinthine filing system. No matter.

Did the Hesses really have a first edition of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland?" They said they did. I never bothered to check. And it's not showing up at the PrimeTime Auctions preview website, either, so either they didn't have it or it's not being sold. The Apollo mission-era space suit (from 1976) is being sold. How much fun would it be to own that?

The Hess' personal 1950 Studebaker, with less than 10,000 miles on it, is being sold. I'd love to buy it. But I have no money. No money for the 1924 Model T Ford either.

I'm sure the Hesses hoped that once they passed on their family, or someone else, would be able to keep the museum open. That's obviously not happening. And it sounds like some people are bitter that they're not getting back the stuff that they donated to the museum -- an unfortunate situation; I'm sure Dan and Mary would be appalled. But apparently scant or poor records were kept, so the lawyers working with the family have only the word of people to go on. Maybe fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, that might have meant something. In this day and age, however, it means less.

Dan and Mary were wonderful people -- out of another era, really, full of grace, openness and humility you don't see much of any more. I won't say their collection of stuff was spectacular -- it's the detritus of a life well lived, for certain. Maybe when I kick off I'll have such a legacy of, let's face it, junk. Mostly books, by the looks of things right now.

Auctions of the stuff start on Friday. I think I'm going to go. Probably not to buy anything; I'm broke. But to look. And maybe sit in that Studebaker.

Nothing New Here. Move Along.

Last night, I found myself popping momentarily through the looking glass.

The city’s tree and beautification committee asked me to write a press release, announcing the honorees for best yard and best garden for the month of August. Easily done, you might surmise – and you’d be right. A few details, a pithy quote, and six paragraphs later, it’s done.

Then I put on my journalist hat when it came to thinking about how to present the information to the paper. Here’s what I came up with. Nothing earth-shattering, but certainly useful to any small group hoping to get attention from the local paper:
  1. Keep it brief. If they want a bigger story (not likely) they’ll do it. The worst thing a press release writer can do is to write the story for the paper – because the good ones won’t use it all, and the bad ones will give it bad play.
  2. Play the Internet card. This story in particular has about two dozen photos to go with it. No way in hell is any paper going to print more than one on a good day, and they’d have to think hard about printing just the one. So offer them everything. Let them pick a photo if they want. But put all the photos in a Facebook album and provide a link to it in your press release. Chances are the paper won’t run any photos at all, but chances are pretty good they’ll include your link in the story. Newspapers are already doing this to some extent with their own websites, but this way you’ve done part of the work for them.
Once again, I must recuse myself from being a journalistic genius. I washed out of the industry in 2005, remember. As much as it hurt at the time, I still maintain it’s one of the best things that could have happened to me. And the timing couldn’t have been better.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bach, Stokowski, Disney

I'm not really sure what "The Music Animation Machine" is, though for some reason it reminds me of the pitiful graphics capabilities of my old Tandy Color Computer 3, object of 1980s scorn and desire.

I do like it, however. I think, however, this version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is a titch on the slow side. Maybe Leopold Stokowski can assist me:

You know, as I watched this on the bus home from work today, I couldn't help but to think that, back then in the 1930s and 40s, Disney was as innovative with music and art and animation as we credit Pixar with being now. "Fantasia" was such an out-on-a-limb bit of music and animation I'm sure many people just didn't know what to think of it. It's certainly a weird bit of animation -- not what you'd really expect from Disney, but that's because Disney had to focus on the animation people expected to keep the studio afloat, which he struggled doing up until his death. "Fantasia" was a bit of art direction he wanted to do just to keep the sanity going. I'm glad he did it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

So, What's Next?

Have to say I'm torn.

I really, really enjoyed this summer continuing work on "Considering How to Run," even though what the story really needs is a good edit by someone who is absolutely ruthless and won't mind hurting my feelings (I still think my wife would be good at this).

I can't do it. Not now. I'm too close. Not, perhaps, to the first installment, but certainly to this summer's workings. Getting too close means you can't see the flaws, the idiot mistakes and such.

There's another possibility. Two, rather.

First, what I call my "Dr. Seuss Novel." I read many years ago in a TIME magazine piece on Theodor Seuss Giesl that, before he became famous as a childrens' author through the publication of "To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street," he wrote advertising copy for an insecticide called Flit -- to fill the fridge -- and "serious novels" -- to feed the soul. "Slouching Toward Bensonville," of which I've posted snippets from on this blog, is my "Serious Novel," and I could, conceivably, go back to it.

I could also pick up what's a novella right now -- "The Hermit of Iapetus" -- and expand that story. It's got possibilities. Of course, so do stinky socks and you don't see me picking them up all the time.

An edit of "Considering" has to happen. It's now my goal to have it ready to farm out to agents and publishers by the end of the year. I don't know how successful I'll be -- well, I do know: I won't be successful at all. But I can at least try, right?

Considering How to Run: Two Milestones

Hello folks. Kinda sound like Droopy, don’t I?

Two things to discuss tonight:

First, another psychological milestone in the hunt for a novel: Considering How to Run has hit 30,000 words.

What does that mean? Well, technically it means Considering How to Run has hit 80,000 words, seeing as I have decided to combine these words with the previous 50,000 under the umbrella of one book, with the newer title, to avoid any Agatha Christie entanglements, as I blogged earlier.

Second, do I stop now? By stop, I mean do I declare that the first installment of this story, clocking in at the aforementioned 80,000 words, is complete? I’m leaning towards yes, and not just because by any page count calculator I can find, this novel is now at just under 320 pages in length, printed and bound. I have arrived at yet another perfectly natural stopping point, as I did 30,000 words ago.

Of course, we see how well that worked out. I may well keep writing in order to avoid the trauma of actually having to sit down and edit this beast. But that’s the next natural step, isn’t it? That’s what all the agents on the web say to do, isn’t it? And it’s what I know I need to do, simply just to read it for inconsistencies. I’m sure I’ve changed a few names going from one idea to the next. That won’t work. And I’ve still got that gaping hole with the chemistry experiment to figure out. And I’m sure as I edit this thing, I can find other holes that may need filling. All that editing could easily net me another 10,000, 20,000 words, pushing me towards the magic number of 100,000 in word length.

But is it any good? I can cut out slabs of the dictionary that contain 100,000 words, but that doesn’t mean it’d be readable. So, slowly I turned . . .

The Great Recession, RIP?

So, the so-called “Great Recession” is officially over, eh?

Forgive me if I’m not in a partying mood.

The Great Recession, in fact, ended a year ago in July, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. They’re not exactly celebrating. Here’s the nut from their news release:

[T]he committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity. Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month.

So it’s kind of a looking for the silver lining in the clouds moment, I assume. And as you read more deeply into their news release, you really, really have to look for any glint of silver.

The committee decided that any future downturn of the economy would be a new recession and not a continuation of the recession that began in December 2007.

So whee. We’re on the uptick. But you know, given the cyclical nature of our economy, there are likely to be more downticks. But at least future downticks won’t be added to the Great Recession’s duration.

What LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said waaaay back in 1998 still sticks with me:

Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.

So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings.
We have witnessed in recent weeks wide and fearsome swings in the markets of the world. The economy is a fragile thing. A stumble in the economy in Jakarta or Moscow can immediately affect the entire world. It can eventually reach down to each of us as individuals. There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed.

I hope with all my heart that we shall never slip into a depression. I am a child of the Great Depression of the thirties. I finished the university in 1932, when unemployment in this area exceeded 33 percent.
My father was then president of the largest stake in the Church in this valley. It was before our present welfare program was established. He walked the floor worrying about his people. He and his associates established a great wood-chopping project designed to keep the home furnaces and stoves going and the people warm in the winter. They had no money with which to buy coal. Men who had been affluent were among those who chopped wood.

I repeat, I hope we will never again see such a depression. But I am troubled by the huge consumer installment debt which hangs over the people of the nation, including our own people.

There have been temptations to get more debt. Instead, we’ve listened to him and, thanks mostly to Michelle, we have instead put money away for the future. Not nearly enough, but we have made a start. The roiling stock markets have eaten away at our savings, but still we will save and hope against hope that optimism will return.

Attention Whoring

So, my friend, what exactly are you entitled to?

Air, for one. And water. Food, shelter, clothing, a peaceful place to live. Most of that – well, all of that – I have to pay for, directly through chunks out of my paycheck and indirectly, through chunks out of my taxes.

The rest is gravy, right?

In the immortal words of Beavis and Butt-Head: Huh huh huh huh huh huh huh huh.

I laugh because we, as humans, tend to believe we’re entitled to a lot more than what really ought to be coming our way. Take Chelsea Kate Isaacs, 22, journalism student at Long Island University, upset beyond reason that she couldn’t get a quote from Apple on the use of its popular iPad in academic settings.

Never mind that there are thousands – I googled “ipad use in academic settings” just a few moments ago and got 240,000 hits – of legitimate sources out there of people using the widget in the whoosis configuration. She wanted a quote from Apple. Five or six voice mails (or e-mails, she’s a bit muddled in her tale at Valleywag) and she’s not getting what she wants, so she e-mails Steve Jobs.

Who responds, curtly, that it’s not Apple’s job to get her a good grade.

She’s miffed beyond all reason. Now thousands of more people are either blue in the face defending Apple or just sagely nodding their heads, sure that Mr. Jobs really is, well, kind of a wiener.

Because Miss Isaacs was entitled to a quote. For her grade.

Never mind that she identifies herself as a “student journalist.” Never mind that she repeatedly says she’s “on deadline.” And never mind that Apple is probably inundated with hundreds of requests for information from many, many journalists, students or not, on a daily basis, not to forget the fanboys, oddballs, Gozer-worshippers and other hangers-on that must make the phones at the Apple PR department ring off the hook constantly. Miss Isaacs didn’t get her quote. Steve Jobs was mean to her in a reply. She’s going to get a B on her assignment and, in a nation already awash with journalists, be just one of the many hapless rabble of victimized journalists who didn’t get that one bit of information they wanted for their story in order to meet their deadline.

Student journalist? Dime a dozen.

And is this even real? Jobs has been known to respond to people who e-mail him but now that this address of his has been public, Im sure he gets more than just a few e-mails a day. He's really going to take time out of his day to insult a student journalist? Well, I guess I would . . .

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mission Memories

I have many regrets stemming from the time I served as a missionary in France. I didn't work hard enough, that's for certain. I didn't work as diligently as I should have to learn the language, love the people, and do so many of the other things that missionaries do. Oh, I'd never give up the chance to have served -- I loved France and I still love it, and I have many fond memories of not only the country but of the times when I did work hard and when that whole learning another language thing was really, really working out well.

But after Mom handed me a small envelope of photos I took while on my mission, I certainly regret not having a better camera with me at the time. Here's the album.

And here's an example; this is even one of the better ones.

That's me playing the traditional French game petanque -- you can see one of the croquet ball-sized balls being hurled through the air in front of me -- while my companion Elder Jackson (Michael Jackson of Astoria, Oregon) and Elder Vance watch.

For all you missionaries getting ready to go out: Work hard. Learn the language and learn to love the people you serve. Also, take a good camera.

I actually went through three cameras in France, none of them any good. The first was a little Kodak jobbie that took that old 110 film in the little cartridges. It always took very grainy photos and, after a trip to see some cheateaux outside Perigueux, it fell in the toilet. Luckily, the film popped out and floated.

My second camera fell out of my jacket as I was riding my bicycle in Toulouse. It might have survived had the bus not run it over. Fortunately, it was also filmless.

The third camera I don't remember, but I do know it didn't come home with me. Very happy now with the suite of digital cameras we've got.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Loaner Post from My Kids' Refrigerator

NOTE: Here's another loaner post from my other blog. Enjoy.

My daughter sat me down tonight and said she was going to teach me how to draw a horse. She's been heavily into horses for a very long time now (it's a genetic thing; I don't know why little girls are so attracted to horses. Nobody else in the family likes them much. I know I don't.). Anyway, she gave me the instructions.

Here's how her horse turned out:

Not bad. The legs make the horse look like a cross between a horse and an ostrich, but that's okay.

Here's mine:

She didn't much care for the goofy eyes. Or the donkey ears. Or the buck teeth. Or the bow tie or the Harlem Globetrotter shorts. Everyone's a critic.

School Lunch

Decided on a whim last night that I needed to go have lunch with Liam at school today. Michelle has done so with the other kids, but as a modern, groovy, late 2010s quality Dad, I wanted to get involved too.

So I packed a sandwich, some carrots and SUn chips in a leftover Spider-Man lunch box and walked over to the school. Checked in at the office, then sat like the lonely child I am in the foyer waiting for his class to wander by. They did eventually, and we sat and had our lunch.

Like father, like son, I've noticed. More and more as time goes on.

Neither one of us talked much. We sat next to each other, ate our food, and occasionally glanced in each other's direction. I made a few attempts at small talk -- you shouldn't have to do that with your kids, but being the socially inhibited person I am, that's what you do, especially when your kids is socially inhibited as well. Then we left the cafeteria and he went off to recess, after an awkward hug -- again, neither one of us are comfortable in such situations.

I watched him wander off as I walked home. Just mooning around the playground. That's what I did when I was a kid. I remember it vividly. I never liked recess all that much because there wasn't anything to do and certainly nobody to do it with. Oh, I had the occasional friend, but in that odd kind of way that you see a lot with kids who are shy and socially backward -- we'd hang around through happenstance -- my most common denominator with friends in elementary school was that we were mutually part of one single bully's corral of victims. So we became friends out of mutual self-defense. They were vivid enough that even now thinking about them, decades later, the thought of encountering some of these bullies still makes my skin crawl and wants to make me hide. I actually ran into one of them several years ago at Sears and, though we had a nice little chat as will any adults, the "flee" part of my midbrain was still firing actively.

I survived, obviously. And so will Liam. We'll be meeting with a group at school next week to get him some counseling in social skills -- something I wish I had had at his age -- under the Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 -- something else Richard Nixon did but never got the credit for, speaking of socially-inept individuals. I hope with us workign with him at home and the school folks working with him there, we can help him find better coping strategies for social situations than I found.

I shouldn't be gloomy. By midway through junior high, I developed coping strategies of my own that served me well through high school, college, and nearly a decade of working as a newspaper journalist. I have noted, however, that in the five years I've spent now as a tech writer, those skills and the desire to exercise them have atrophied. I'm not as willing to go outside of my own little comfortable world as I once was, because the job and social situation now don't call for exiting that box as much as it used to. Better re-learn them.

Urgh. Just read this. Despite the stupid nickname for kids with asperger's syndrome -- which Liam has and I suspect I had the more I read about it -- it's good info, certainly the bits under "classroom solutions:"

Many children with Asperger Syndrome are very bright, and may even excel academically in one or more subjects. However, they often need protection from other students who bully or take advantage of them. Aspies do not know which students to avoid. For example, if an Aspie makes a friend, that "friend" may make him do assignments for him, break rules, take the blame and otherwise put the Aspie in jeopardy.

Aspies usually do not understand the "hidden rules" of school but take all rules at face value. They may memorize the rule "Don't swear in middle school." Yet they don't know that all middle students swear, but you don't swear in front of adults, and you don't swear in front of a certain prissy teacher in particular. Aspies also do not understand "hidden social agendas." If an Aspie participates on a high school debate team that meets in a coffee house, she comes prepared like a little professor to talk about the subject at hand. She does not understand that the other students are there to socialize as well as practice for the team.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Else Needs A Permit in Rexburg?

BYU-Idaho psychology student Ford Erickson can’t win for losing.

Last year, he tried to organize an “epic” water fight at Rexburg’s Porter Park, but saw the effort thwarted minutes before it was to begin by the Rexburg Police Department, who ordered the balloon-tossers to disperse because they didn’t have a permit to use the park for a group activity.

Then this past weekend, his “Largest Bike Gang Ride in the History of Rexburg” was pulled off Main Street by the RPD, again upset that Erickson hadn’t secured the proper city permit for a “group event for bicyclists” in order to hold the event.

This won’t turn into a David vs. Goliath, RPD vs. BYU-Idaho student rant, though I will kindly roll my eyes in the general direction of the city of Rexburg which, truth be told, doesn’t seem to be able to handle this crazy thing called bored youth very well.

There are Constitutional implications here, of course. The First Amendment says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Then again, it ain’t Congress asking these folks to obtain a permit to hold these events, which certainly aren’t being held for redress of grievances. That might be an angle for Erickson to take: Largest Bike Gang Ride in the History of Rexburg to Protect Students’ Rights to Peaceably Assemble. That might make the RPD think twice about stopping them.

Idaho’s take on the right of assembly seems to be a bit broader than the protection offered by the First Amendment:
The people shall have the right to assemble in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good; to instruct their representatives, and to petition the legislature for the redress of grievances.
Idaho’s wording might not have protected the water fight as an assembly “in a peaceable manner,” as a previous fight resulted in some injuries, but it certainly would have protected the group’s bicycling rights.

I also have to wonder how the RPD would have responded if this had been a group of motorcyclists randomly circulating through town. I kinda think their response would have been different, as would have the bikers’.

Now, I’m no expert on the law. But I am an expert on silliness. So in that silly vein, let me add here a list of other seemingly harmless activities for which you’re likely required to get a permit in the city of Rexburg:

1) Croquet matches involving more than three people.
2) Questioning authority if the questioning is done by more than two people.
3) Repeating high school cheerleading squad cheers in an organized fashion while using crosswalk flags in city crosswalks, if said use and chanting is done by more than three people and more than two crossings per hour are performed.
4) Pretending that the mass traffic on Second East is an organized motoring event, if the hallucination is shared by more than two drivers on the same block within three minutes of each other.
5) Re-enacting the musical numbers from 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” in a public place, if said performances are done by more than three people and the decibel level exceeds 85.

There are, of course, events for which there are no permits required in Rexburg:

1) The bearing of excruciatingly boring personal testimonies by any number of churchgoers on any given first Sunday of the month.
2) Walking more than three abreast in local big box stores, especially when said walking is at a speed not to exceed on hundred feet an hour.
3) The annual late August/early September group pillaging of Wal-Mart.
4) Organized assaults by random individuals selling “discount cards” and ties at the local grocery store.
5) Local police “doing their duty” but looking like right asses while doing so.
6) The assembly of gigantic mounds of snow in the middle of the road during the winter, making driving on Rexburg’s already hazardous winter roads even that much more interesting.

So to summarize: Police, keeping doing your duty, but maybe consider lightening up a little. And kids, get a permit. Then stand up for your rights.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

That Dream . . .

That dream, by the way -- from Considering How to Run, Part XXXIII – is a real dream my Dad had several years back.

He died of congestive heart failure ten years ago this August. I like to think he’s somewhere now, tinkering with all those old cars.

Do I Want to Be A Perpetual Student?

I think it’s safe to say I’m probably going crazy.

Why? I seriously spent some time today thinking that maybe rather than pursue a doctorate in technical communication, maybe I should get a bachelors in web design and development.

The latter is tempting for several reasons. First, there’d be no teaching involved, no moving to Logan, no trying to raise a family on the paltry pay of a grad school teacher. Second, just about every job I see these days for technical writers wants writers who are also familiar with CSS, HTML, XHTML and other web-related phenomena.

Of course, bringing this to fruition will depend on a number of factors, mostly related to time but also money.

The money thing first. Michelle currently is in masters classes at Utah State. We can afford one student in the family, not two.

Then there’s the time thing. I can’t be a full-time student; I’d have to tackle the courses two at a time either online or via night courses – something I’m not sure BYU-Idaho would offer – and they would be the only option if physical presence in the classroom were required; there’s no way I’m doing this out of Pocatello.

Good news is I doubt I’d have to take any foundation courses – I hope they’d look at my other degrees and say, well, no, he doesn’t need to take those. And there’s the possibility that I could audit three courses – one in communication, one in English and the other in computer science – because of my current degrees and work experience. Still, that would have a mere 46 credits to tackle – thirteen more than I had to have for my masters, so about another two semesters; three and a half years versus two and a half, if I did two courses a semester. That means I’d be in my low 40s by the time I’m done. Would that make me more competitive in the workplace, given that there are whippersnappers about half my age willing to work for less? I don’t know. Maybe I ought to stick with the novel writing.

Monday, September 13, 2010


As I wrote today's installment, Dorothy Parker's delightful poem kept popping into me little head:

Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles and doubt.

And I'm almost glad I didn't find anyone doing a rendition of Parker's poem on YouTube -- because poets tend to use The Voice that shows how intelligent they are and how dumb we are and how the word need tone and inflection and deserve more than the common, tawdry, ignominious pronunciations we mere mortals give them.

Social Media and Work

Beth just isn’t having a good day.

I understand, however, where the pointy-haired boss is coming from. Though social media has the magic juju of helping business people connect with their customers, not everyone at work really needs that kind of interactivity, no matter how much we might say to the contrary.

Take me, for example. I don’t necessarily need to “network with my peers” when it comes to writing documentation on how to handle nuclear waste. What we do is fairly unique to our own installations, so there’s no real need to appeal to outside help. We get a lot of help internally, but we can do that by phone, e-mail or in person – we don’t need the social networks.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try to keep up with what’s going on in technical communication – or in the subsidiary worlds of journalism, social networking and other areas. I read a lot of research, just not on company time.

Still, the ability to use some “social” aspects of the Internet at work would be helpful. I do know the reasons why we don’t have access to the following, but I still believe that with a bit of responsibility on my side, I could use them without trouble: I’m an online instructor (on paper right now, that is) at a local university. We use to help set up our courses. I can’t access it at work, and any e-mails sent from to my work address are blocked. Trouble is, I’ve forgotten my password, and since it’s tied in with my work account (a mistake on my part, I admit) I can’t get back in, since the e-mails to reset my password get lost in the system. I may have to re-establish a connection through my university address, rather than fight the system any longer. How I’ll be able to do that without accessing, however, I don’t know.

Non-company e-mail. Here I’m talking Gmail and Yahoo! mail, both of which I use for personal and business reasons. I don’t use them for company reasons – which should take the curse off the at-work block, since I use company e-mail for company work.

That’s it. I don’t need Twitter or Facebook, or even this blog at work. Other things, however, would be pretty handy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

So, What Do You Do With A Junk Computer?

It's coming up on a year since my last computer died. Don't really know what happened to it -- it just suddenly decided it only wanted to turn off or turn on on occasion, and would occasionally do some kind of funky maneuvers while it was running, so I opted for a new computer.

Not that I minded -- it was old and my wife had a better one and I was jealous, so, well, a new computer came.

But I kept the old one because, well, you never know.

A week ago, to fix another old computer, I took a CD drive out of my defunct one and popped it in the other. That required a half hour of moving boxes and cussing stuff out of the way to get the old computer out from under the stairs.

I don't want to have to do that again. So tonight I cussed that box back out and dismantled the old computer, putting the best of the old parts into a very compact little box for future use. The rest is going to go away.

What I kept:

Hard drive
Floppy drive
Memory (a whopping 756 MB)
Modem/ethernet card

I thought about saving fans and power supply, but they were all rather dirt-encrusted, so I've decided to chuck them. I wonder, however, is there more stuff I should be saving? What do you save from your old computers? (By old, I mean 5+ years. This is why the motherboard and the power supply went/will soon go to the trash.) And yes, I'll recycle what I can. But where I live, recycling means driving a 60-mile round trip because there are no local recyclers. Green karma is a little hard to come by here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brian "Two Wheelbarrows" Davidson

Lately, both my mother and my father-in-law have been busy cleaning house and shedding possessions. I don't rightly know why, though I can understand the desire to get rid of stuff you're no longer using.

I'm on the receiving end, though. From Mom, we got the following items:

1) A back massager in the shape of a donkey.
2) A little tin box.
3) A novelty jewelry box in the shape of a whale that I built in junior high shop class.
4) A small wooden train engine.
5) A small wooden box with a farm scene on the lid.

All of these items came home and promptly disappeared into the mountains of knick-knackery we already have.

Today I got a call from Wayne, Michelle's dad. He's offering:

1) A wheelbarrow with a flat tire.
2) A picnic table.
3) A small load of firewood.

I'm taking all three items, of course. I see no reason not to. A man can never have too many wheelbarrows -- I learned that from my own dad. We'll burn the firewood and as for the picnic table, well, I guess we'll stack it with the other one we already have. I think Michelle's holding out hope that this one'll be in better shape than the one we've already got.

The table we already have we rescued out of a pile of trash our neighbors put out in the alley a few years ago for the city to collect. We've enjoyed it, and so have the wasps that tried to build nests in its hollow tubing until I insisted they find other premises.

So you may soon call me "Two Wheelbarrows." I guess having an emergency backup wheelbarrow is a good thing, especially if I can get the tire fixed. That shouldn't be a problem.

This all ties in, of course, with the Davidson Property Weight Augmentation Theory, which Randy, Maaike and I formulated after Dad brought home about a ton of landscaping rocks from the Kilgore area a few years back. The theory goes that merely increasing one's property value is meaningless. What counts is that you increase the weight of the property, by bringing in random items. I've already started to build on that theory, though my puny collection of bricks and pallets, to be burned, can't rival the collection of rock and other hardware Dad amassed over 72 years of life.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

International Read the Qur'an Day

I’m lucky enough to have a copy of the Qur’an on my bookshelf at home. I have, at times, started reading it, but I have yet to have the patience to read it in its entirety. (I have read the Bible in full, however, plus the Book of Mormon, so it’s not that I’m unfamiliar with religious texts.)

I’m going to start reading it again, if for any other reason to do something in reaction to “International Burn the Koran” day, as to be observed Saturday by a tiny flock of mock Christians in Florida. I’m funny that way – I think people ought to read a book before they decide to burn it.

Will I find things that are unsettling? Likely. There are some rather unsettling things in the Bible as well – I’ve been teaching the Old Testament to a group of ten-year-olds all year and have had to address the issues of polygamy, harlotism, animal sacrifice, murder, the slaughter of innocents during wartime by what are supposed to be the “good” guys, plus a lot of other stuff.

It’s okay. I’m smart enough to sort the good from the bad. I’m smart enough to ponder what I read, try to figure things out, and pray for guidance (yes, I pray) in understanding stuff that I find difficult. So the Qur’an isn’t likely to present challenges I haven’t encountered scripturally – or spiritually – before.

Many millions of people seem capable of reading and following the Qur’an without becoming bloodthirsty. The same can be said of the Bible. So I don’t anticipate having my Christian faith shaken by reading the book or having my overall positive outlook on the Muslim religion shaken by reading it. I base that on my reactions to reading the Bible – and some of the violent stuff contained therein.

The Florida church is, of course, within its free speech rights to burn whatever books it pleases. The church's pastor, Terry Jones, currently seems to be waffling on whether the book-burning will go through.  I object, however, to them insisting on exercising this right, given the holy nature of the book they want to burn. If they were burning Books of Mormon, I’d be equally upset – though you can imagine the event wouldn’t be getting as much media attention. In this opinion, I’m aligned with the LDS Church, which announced yesterday that:
A key tenet of our faith is to accord everyone the freedom to worship as they choose. It is regrettable that anyone would regard the burning of any scriptural text as a legitimate form of protest or disagreement.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Did Pixar Phone One In?

We went to see Toy Story 3 on Labor Day (I know; we’re incredibly slow getting to new movies. Blame high theater prices and the fact that we don’t want to have to pay more for a trip to the theater than we’d have to for a DVD).

Yeah, about that blog post title. I kinda think they did.

Now, the movie had its moments. Watching Mr. Potato Head become Mr. Tortilla Head was hilarious. “Spanish Buzz” was also a lot of fun.

But the folks at Pixar didn’t stretch themselves on this one.

I know it’s a sequel. I know there are going to be repeated elements (characters, music, et cetera) but when they did Toy Story 2, they stretched themselves. They story was great. Al – and the prospector – were great antagonists. And there were new songs – Jesse’s lullaby still brings tears to my eyes.

Toy Story 3 has similar moments – watching Baby long for its past life as a loved toy was pretty heart-wrenching. But I think the backstory for Lotso and Baby and the clown (can’t remember his name) is what bugs me. It’s lacking. Not enough motivation there for Lotso to turn Sunnyside into a prison camp. The only message I got out of this one is that, hey, if you’re shallow and self-centered then yeah, when you can make the world revolve around you, do it. Fortunately, Pixar pulls out of that a bit with the final scene with Andy and Bonnie (and with the toys going on to play with Bonnie, rather than being stored in the attic) but that seemed phoned in, too. They might have been better off going to that toy museum in Japan and making Al get his “buck-buck-bucks!”

Plus no new songs or music – long one of the most enjoyable Pixar elements. Pixar knows how to handle music – just look at Carl and Ellie’s waltz from the opening of “Up,” and the use of songs from “Hello Dolly” in Wall-E and you know this. And the voice work? Ohoned in as well. I kinda figured that was Michael Keaton doing Ken’s voice, but, well, they kind of wasted all that kinetic energy, didn’t they? And I know Pixar likes to use off-kilter voice actors (Ed Asner, Craig T. Nelson) but Ned Beatty? He could have been used much better than the story used him. Pity.

All they did on this one was go back to the toy box, find all the parts and put them together in a slightly different way. I’m a bit disappointed.

Its A Blogger!

If you don't read Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac comic strip, you should. And of COURSE there's going to be a blogger puppet, complete with the messy hair and, I presume, smudged glasses.

I can imagine the blogger's lines right now:

BLOGGER: Hey, Princess! Did you read what Thingby McBigbritches wrote in the New York Times today? He's absolutely the dumbest guy on the planet! I really took him apart on my blog!.

PRINCESS: Uh-huh. Do you think these shoes make my feet look big?

BLOGGER: Ooh, shoe trouble, eh? I've got a solution for that! Just go to and read all about it. . .

And so on.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ghost in the Machine

Though I crow over the fact that we have not had regular broadcast, cable, or satellite TV in our house since we got married in 1997, we're not totally disconnected from the world.

We now have three computers set up, networked, and attached to the Internet. Our latest acquisition -- christened the "kids' computer" came to us from Grandpa, who was getting rid of a box and wondered if we wanted it. We did. It came with a glitch, however: The CD drive, though it worked, popped open at inopportune times. No matter. the DVD drive worked well, so the continual -- and I mean continual -- popping out of the drawer of the other was of minor consequence.

Or so I thought.

It kept popping open. And popping open. You'd be sitting there in the darkness, typing away, or watching a YouTube clip, and, over in the corner of the study, prrrrrrpt, the drive would pop open. It startled me a few times, especially when I was watching clips like "FOR REAL GHOST!" I began feeling like Newman does at the post office.

But, heeding my wife's advice, and the advice of my brother-in-law Carl, I'd begun squirreling away old and defunct computers so, when the need arose, I could cannibalize parts for fix currently-used computers. So today I dug my parts box out from under the stairs and swapped out CD drives. Now the computer sits complacent in its corner, rid of the haunts that made the drawer pop open unbidden. I may sleep nights better knowing the problem is now fixed.

And of course the old CD drive didn't get thrown away; one that pops open at random is better than one that doesn't work at all.

I'm turning into my Dad, that's what it means. But unlike Dad, I'm collecting bits of computer hardware, not buckets full of nails and bolts and other such stuff, though I do have a drawerful of such stuff out in the shed right now, begging to be sorted. It's useful, too. And I add to it constantly, tossing in the parts left over from other projects because who wants to go back to the hardware store to return three unused bolts? Nobody, that's who.

The kids were fascinated by the operation, however. They liked seeing the innards of two computers. That is except for Liam, who refused to come when I explained what I was doing and only wandered in afterward, wanting to see. I told him he'd have to wait until the next breakdown.

How Easy is it to be Racist?

So, are you an Anti-Dentite? Not me. Well, they're fine as far as people go, but some of the things they do, well, I don't approve. And that novocain they use? Sheesh. I tried it once and it didn't do a thing for me. But they say it's the bees' knees.

We don't have any dentists in the neighborhood. Oh, one set up an office here and he does offer some cut-rate prices, but so far about all we've got in our neck of the woods is construction workers, college professors and old, retired people with nothing better to do. No dentists yet. Though the house across the street is going up for sale . . .

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Too Many Alberts

Too Many Alberts

From Einstein's brain popped the theory
of general relativity.

From Fat Albert's “Hey hey hey!” a line
of import, pop-culturally.

Mr. Schweitzer wrote “Reverence for Life,”
and built in Gabon a hospital.

While A.M. Johnson sold insurance and built
a castle in a place quite hostile.

All these Alberts, I don't mind
Be they noble or odd in their way.

I just wish that my dear brother Albert
would up and just go away.

NOTE: Yes, I do have a brother Albert. No, I don't wish he'd go away. He's a great guy and someone I look up to very much. I just wrote down the phrase "Too Many Alberts" and for some reason decided to build a poem around it.

Flotsam: Tweedlee Dee

Just a song I like, and for the life of me couldn't remember what it was called. Now I know.

If you ever wonder why I post some of the things I post here, it's because in part I'm using this blog as a memory box, where I can put little reminder of the flotsam and jetsam that flies around, uncategorized, in my brain, for later filing in more proper order, or at least I hope so.

This version here is a bit closer to the one used in John Huges' film "Uncle Buck," but I'm not convinced it's the one.

Same artist, I note. But I don't think it's the same version.

This one, however, is the one:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fossilized Fud Music: That '30s Sound

I guess I have to blame my mother for this.

She was born in 1936, so this music is a bit older than she. It is the stuff she grew up with (well, not necessarily the first one, but the rest).

Back then, it was radio. Yes, they had vinyl, but not everyone had a record player. So you had a radio. I know we're tired of radio today, but back then I imagine it was a magical place, with more than music -- lots of drama and comedy shows. I listen to a lot of them.

There's that '30s sound. Lots of brasses. Clarinets and piccolos, from the winds. And lots of swoopy, drippy violins, as in the Rudy Vallee tune.

Then there's that jazz sound, epitomized by Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher."