Wednesday, June 30, 2010

E-book Expectations

My brother-in-law, who blogs at The Lithium Press, got me to thinking more about e-books after his interesting post on how academia is handling the e-book revolution.

He mentions the "digital natives" which are today's young'uns, those who have grown up in the digital age and do not know a world without Web 2.0, Facebook, and all that other folderol. Part of their folderol includes no preconceived notions, he says, on the superiority of printed books over electronic books. Old folks like me tend to cling to the printed page as if it were imbued with some totemic quality. Not so, say these digital natives, who are much more willing to peruse stuff online, and don't see the necessity of antiquated things such as libraries and such.

That's well and good. I downloaded iBooks to my iPod Touch tonight, and now have nine free e-books to read.

And there's the trouble.

As fascinated as I am with electronic books, I've yet to pay for one. And while digital natives are buying books, they're still clamoring for books that cost pennies on the dollar, simply because they tote up their own tired mantra: You don't have to pay to print or distribute these books, so the books should be cheaper. As if the act of writing, editing and marketing books suddenly cost a lot less and are just as disposable as the printed page.

So we have the conundrum -- and maybe it's mostly imaginary -- of digital natives balking at spending a lot on e-books when they think they should be cheaper than they are currently, while authors and publishers are saying, "Hey, we evil magicians need to make a livin' too, ya know." Add to the mix the digital natives' general disdain for copyright law, and you've gone from fossilized fuds like me complaining that e-books don't smell or feel right to the wild west of "Well, that book ought to be free. Or real cheap.

I feel their pain. As I browsed through the iBooks store, I went straight for the freebies. They're treated comically at the moment, especially classics. I could spend $4.99 for a copy of Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows" if I wanted a nice color cover and illustrations, or I could get just the words for free. Guess which route I took?

Now, I've just written a book. It's nowhere near being published, except on my blog. So technically, anyone who wants it can download it for free. Is that bad? Well, maybe not -- maybe I can get a following and then, joy, get it published. Or maybe they'll just steal it; that's always a possibility. More likely, it's not worth stealing. But as easy as the web has made publishing, it's made it just as easy to steal and to belittle the work that goes into producing a good book.

The battle will continue.

Oont: The Selling Begins

Seth and Altus don't want much: A little adventure. A new weapon or two. A peek at what lies beyond the green, secluded valley they call home and have never left because, well, the elders say there's no reason to leave.

They don't bargain on getting exactly what they want, either.

The strangers bring them the weapons they want, and with them, they help the village find more food for survival. Then the strangers whisk the two boys away.

In 50,600 words, Seth and Altus are whisked to House Deus where they learn they're in training for some kind of odd apprenticeship in which all they have to do is make suggestions to others. The suggestions they make, however, become more sinister until the boys escape. They're caught by the one man they thought would help them flee and are then taken to the other side of House Deus, where they learn their mission now is to train to become messiahs, saviors of other worlds.

And that's what I've got thusfar for a plot summary and the nucleus of an inquiry letter to send to publishers. If I can find one that'll give me the time of day. Which is rare this day and age, as most publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Writing the book, fine-tuning the book and getting an inquiry letter than sings may be the easiest part of this book thing. I will persevere, however. I will triumph.

I'm currently following, as I have mentioned, two literary agents who have blogs and massive followings from the Yankee Stadium of mediocre novelists that exist out there. I don't know if anything will come of that, but I can at least give it a shot, right?

A Town Called Panic: Cake

I have no idea what this is, but I approve of it 100 percent.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Me? A Teacher?


Some times, I think the only reason I signed up for this adjunct online faculty thing is because I've got that Homer Simpson Syndrome. Respect. Authority. And then I remember that I'm the kind of guy who'd fit in well at Super Weenie Hut Junior's:

So why do I want to do this? Why do I want to go about babbling about the Spirit of Ricks for? Well, maybe this:
I currently teach a group of ten-year-olds in Primary. We’re learning the Old Testament this year, going over the old, familiar stories: Adam, Noah and the flood, Moses and the Israelites. Thanks to previous lessons at home and at church and, in a few cases, to Hollywood, my Primary kids know these stories well.

That’s only half the battle.

We’re told as adults to liken the scriptures unto ourselves. We’re supposed to look at the stories and the lessons and the doctrine and figure out how it applies to our own lives. That’s the approach I take with my Primary kids. They know the story well, for example, of the Israelites tiring of eating the manna God sends them and, as a consequence, being bitten by the fiery serpents and being asked to look at the brass serpent on the pole that Moses has built, following God’s commands. But they struggle, sometimes, to see how these stories apply in their own lives. I try to help them figure that out.

I am not a scriptural genius by any definition of the word. I do not prepare the curriculum from which I draw my lessons – the church correlation committee does that for me, and amply so. I do, however, have to know my students well enough to figure out what church-provided enrichment activities work the best in communicating the “how does this apply for me” message to the students. I have to know the curriculum well enough to be able to not only answer questions, but to answer them in line with the doctrines taught and the curriculum offered. I ask them questions, and, as a student discovers a way that a doctrine or story applies to their lives, I help them explore that idea. That prompts other students to offer their own suggestions. The classes are often noisier than most Primary classes, but I get the feeling that they go home having learned a bit more about how “church life” applies to their own lives.

I see the same role for BYU-Idaho instructors. We will not prepare the curriculum. We will, however, be expected to know it enough, and to know our areas of expertise enough, that we can find connections with the students we teach in order to help them see the application of what they’re being asked to learn in the careers they’ve chosen. President Bednar, in the material we’re to read for this course, explains that in being asked to build a ship, Nephi in the Book of Mormon “was commanded and instructed to build something he had never built before in order to go someplace he had never been before.” I felt the same way when I was in the MTC, preparing to go to France for my mission. The students we’ll encounter are being asked to build the knowledge base for careers they’ve chosen.  Our job is to help our students take what they’re being asked to learn and to positively apply it to the careers they’ve chosen to pursue.
Yup. That's me. Odd thing is, I believe this stuff. It sounds odd, coming from me, doesn't it? Just thinking aloud here.

The above, of course, is for an online course I'm taking this week and this week only on the learning model at BYU-Idaho and all that entails. As far as the actual job goes, I think I'm in limbo. I had an interview last week, and they said "they'd get back to me," but here I am in the class, babbling along with everyone else, all of us thinking we've got the jobs. I don't know what to think of it. I suppose, however, they wouldn't waste money on us if we weren't at least somewhat capable of doing what they want. They're not exactly just looking for mouth-breathing warm bodies. Or at least that's my assumption. Anyway, I suppose by the end of the week we'll know one way or the other.

E-books. What Do You Think?


This past weekend, I did something I’ve wanted to do since high school, but for reasons ranging from “meh” to “I’ll get to it eventually,” it never happened.

What did I do?

I read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Gold-Bug.”

A good story, if you’re into cryptanalysis, which I could get into. I was more interested in reading it because, hey, it’s a classic short story by an author I really enjoy.

Why blog about this, you may ask? Well, it’s because I read it from an e-book. A freebie I have of Poe’s works on my iPod Touch. And it’s not that I don’t have the story in any other form – I’ve had “the Collected Works of Poe” on my bookshelf since high school. The book is new. Pristine. I’m sure I’ve cracked the spine to read “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “Masque of the Red Death,” but everything else, aside from “The Raven” has always been on my to-do list.

I have to wonder: Did having thee-book make it easier to read? Here are the circumstances: Shortly before bedtime, I was upstairs, fresh bowl of popcorn ready. I was looking for something to read. The paperback I’m currently reading is downstairs. Feeling too lazy to go get it. So out comes the iPod Touch. I go to Poe. I open the first volume and there it is, “The Gold-Bug.” I read. And read. And read. I enjoyed it.

Would I have enjoyed it as much if I’d gone downstairs and gotten the hard copy? Probably. The e-book was a convenience, so that’s the form in which I read it.

Now, if I’d had to pay for that e-book compilation, it wouldn’t have happened. Poe’s marvelous story would still be unread, because, hey, I have Asterix and Obelix books downstairs too. But I got this one for free. And will continue reading it. And paperback books. And hard-cover books, because I like to read, no matter the form the book takes.

Jan Swofford, writing at Slate.com, seems to argue that e-books aren’t going to take over the world any time soon because – I think – he believes, as probably would Marshall McLuhan would, that e-books are a cold medium, cold as television or the telephone, because they don’t take, as McLuhan says, one sense into “high definition.”

I’m not so sure I agree with that. I can become as mentally absorbed in a good movie as I can in a good book – and it’s not because film or television have any special hypnotic effect. I just get caught up in the stories, same as I do in print.

Part of Swofford’s problem is that he falls back on the worn clich├ęs that books are more physical than e-books. Though I have preached the physical and spiritual attraction of real books in the past, I'm not sure I believe it:
So real books and e-books will coexist. That has happened time and again with other new technologies that were prophesied to kill off old ones. Autos didn't wipe out horses. Movies didn't finish theater. TV didn't destroy movies. E-books won't destroy paper and ink. The Internet and e-books may set back print media for a while, and they may claim a larger audience in the end. But a lot of people who care about reading will want the feel, the smell, the warmth, the deeper intellectual, emotional, and spiritual involvement of print.
It’s all in what you’re used to. E-books can feel just as real. I felt as absorbed and as compelled to read further in “The Gold-Bug” in e-book form as I would have in printed form – I can tell. Because when I drop a “real” book, I immediately pick it up again and fly to find my place before the mesmers leave the brain. I brushed against a bad spot on my iPod Touch screen and accidentally went back to the table of contents in my e-book, and did the same kind of scrambling to get back to where I was in the story.

Buses, Yes. Alarm Clock, No.

For those of you on tenterhooks (get down, you’ll mar your skin) wondering if the bus drivers went on strike this morning, the answer is no.

I did, however, forget to set my alarm clock, so I woke up at 5:18 am, said “Oh poopy,” then raced to Idaho Falls to catch one of the shuttles out to the site. That beats having to drive all the way out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Out of the Website Thinking

Just a little ponderin’ here. Bear with me.

At Uncharted, we’re concerned. Concerned by the fact that we have more Facebook followers than actual explorers on the site. I’m thinking we need to find out why, and find out what we can do to increase migration to Uncharted (I’m not going to say from Facebook to Uncharted because, well, that’s taking on the 800-pound gorilla that’s just not going to go away any time soon.


Then I begin to think: Uncharted cannot hope to be self-supporting through advertising alone. Not going to happen, given the poor return you get on web ads, nor the insurmountable amount of web traffic you have to have to make ads work. Not that we’re counting on ads for revenue anyway; that’s just a small little drip trickling into the revenue bucket.

But, I have to wonder, in this age of megalithic social networking platforms and social network platform users who are a bit tired of trying to join every hip, groovy and with-it social network out there: Do we really need our Facebook followers (or likers, whatever they’re called) to migrate over and become Uncharted Explorers?

What are we after? Exposure. People willing to pay to participate in Uncharted workshops on writing, photography, dressage, whatnot. Do they have to be Uncharted Explorers, official, to participate? No. At this point, money is money is money, or so the saying goes. Maybe they get a discount if they’re official Explorers. But do we scare non-Explorers away? Not really.

I look at the folks we have as Uncharted Explorers. A few active. Most are not. Would getting our Facebook followers on over increase the number of active Uncharted Explorers? Perhaps marginally – but those are the kinds of people who are already active on Facebook, not just along for the social networking ride. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just to brand them on Facebook as Uncharted Explorers and let Facebook, by virtue of their 800-pound-gorillaness, pay for hosting all of their stories and photos while we at Uncharted reap the benefits of their already self-identified Uncharted affiliation on Facebook?

Well, I can see a lot of opposition to this idea, both without and within. But mostly from within. Branding, of course, is the key thing. If they’re not on Uncharted, are they again’ us, brand-wise? Not necessarily, but that’ll be the perception in some circles.

Or does it matter where we find people willing to pony up for the things we offer? Is the era of branding so over that we can find value in our Facebook followers just as we can with our Uncharted Explorers, but without the expense of hosting them and theirs? This idea needs more thought. But I think it’s thoughts worth thinking.

On Strike?


I try not to blog much about work, simply because I’m there 40 hours a week already and also because I’d rather not get in trouble in the first place than have to apologize for it afterward. It’s not that I’m worried about any Imperial entanglements, it’s jus that, well, when you work for the government (or at least for a subcontractor subcontracted to a government subcontractor) you develop a little personal paranoia.

But I’m babbling. I do want to write about this: Our bus drivers may be striking. Or maybe not. It’s not clear at this point what’ll happen, even though their current union contract expired today without settlement on a new one.

I won’t pretend to understand all the subtleties. Or the big picture, for that matter. I just hope there’s a bus in the morning because I’m not sure my truck will make it on another journey out to work. Management’s side of the will-there-be-a-bus argument is less than reassuring: They’ve said they don’t expect an interruption in bus service, but remind us that we, the employees, are ultimately responsible for getting ourselves to work. That covers all the bases, I suppose.

I do know this: If the drives do go out on strike, I will be counting the days for which bus service is not provided, so I can get a reimbursement of the pre-paid bus pass I’ve got, or, barring that, at least an extension of that pass for the missed days. That’s the dog I’ve got in this fight.

And wow, wouldn’t U.S. highways 20 and 26 be a mess Tuesday morning with all that traffic if there aren’t buses. Also, there’s no way the parking lots out here could accommodate that many cars. Not to mention little me, broken down on the side of the road. (I drove out last Wednesday because I had to go to the print shop at INTEC and didn’t want to take a taxi. When I went out to start my truck, it wouldn’t. I finally coaxed it to go, but then white-knuckled it to and from the print shop, then all the way home as well.)

As of tonight, every news source I look at has a different story to tell. The most optimistic is that the bus drivers will work under the current contract for the next several weeks. Pessimistic one says maybe tomorrow we'll have bus service, but y'all had better check first. I'm hoping for the former, though I do support the bus drivers in their desires.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fossilized Fud Music: Roads Go Ever, Ever On

Like most of the songs I know, this one was introduced to me via television. This is about the only thing I worry about in thinking that we don't have broadcast or cable TV in the house -- where will my kids get their introductions to the world around them?

Oh yeah. Through me. Because of me, they've seen "The Hobbit," from which this song comes. And thanks to my many years of watching the Muppets, they've seen the likes of Harry Belafonte, Danny Kaye, and others. So they are getting an education of sorts.

Here's more from Glenn Yarbrough.


 And this one. I really dig the groovy hippie chicks clapping mindlessly in the background.

Parenting Tip No. 2,390: Keep Yer Fat Yap Shut

Keeping yer fat yap shut is one of the more important parenting lessons that I still have not learned. And this goes way beyond a young kid overhearing a swear word blurted out by a father wrestling with a gigantic inflatable pool, although hearing said child repeat said words in mother's presence is a good indicator of why keeping yer fat yap shut is a good idea.

More of what I'm talking about are the things that a parent says that are innocent or, betimes, illustrative of some kind of situation that said parent is trying to explain to children. Then parents get to hear those things said over and over and over again until they want to skewer themselves for, yeah, not keeping their fat yaps shut.

An example:

Took the kids to the Rexburg Spray Park today. I really hadn't counted on getting wet, but the kids really, really wanted Dad involved. So I got wet. I did not remove my shirt beforehand, because I did not want to read reports of a hairy, bloated Sasquatch being seen at the park. But I didn't want to drive home in a sopping wet shirt. So I took the shirt off, stowed it in the back of the Pilot and, caveman-like, wrapped a blanket over my shoulders so, as I told my children, "some cop won't say, 'Hey, nekked-boy, put some clothes on while you're driving.'" That's all I heard on the way home, and that's all we've heard all evening long.

Thing is, I keep on saying stuff like that, and the kids repeat it endlessly. There are things I said weeks ago that they still repeat as if they're the funniest things in the world. I can even try to say something to them to illustrate something in the scriptures, and it's the stupid thing I say that they remember, not the scriptural thing I was trying to explain to them.

But I suppose kids are like this the world over. Right? RIGHT!

Yeah. The boys are in bed right now, repeating and repeating Dad's latest hilarities.

Thing is, I just about opened that yap of mine again tonight. The youngest wants a water bottle. But until he learns to wake up at night to use the bathroom, he can't have a full one. Why, he asks. I almost said, "Well, son it's because you go to the bathroom like Ruprecht." Then I would have had to explain it, because he'd invariably ask, "Who's Ruprecht." And then I'd have to show them this:


And then I'd never hear the end of it. Good thing I kept my fat yap shut.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Not Done?

While I was driving into town today, it dawned on me: Oont isn't quite finished. I just teased readers (okay, myself) with Altus stuffing a letter underneath a flagstone in full view of Seth as Altus was leaving House Deus, and I haven't done a payoff on that note. Do I keep it for the next book, or do I do another installment?

I don't know right now. But I suppose lots of things like that will come up as I read the whole thing again and notice the many, many little things (and probably some big things too) that need fixing.

Still, it's thrilling to think that I've got a completed thing to fix.

Rolling Down A Hole With Glee


The news I got on Twitter this morning made me as happy as the Mirkwood Elves:


Yeah, Peter Jackson is going to direct "The Hobbit." Nothing against all the other folks who were atached to direct, or teased about in the media. But for anyone else but Jackson to take "The Hobbit" home never made sense to me. You can read the exclusive here.

I've loved these stories since I was a very little kid. My older brother Jeff had the vinyl album from the Rankin/Bass version of the story, and we wore it out listening.

I'm thrilled for the movie to be moving forward with Jackson at the helm. I'm sure this guy would be pretty happy too:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Internet Reading

How lazy are people?

Well, plenty damn lazy. In fact, I’ll bet that if I make this blog post longer than a single screen, more than half of you out there won’t even read it, even if I say I’m going to reveal something shocking and extremely interesting at the end of it. That, at least, ought to get some to scroll to the end of the post.*

Maybe it’s not laziness. Maybe it’s expectations. But I’m still not discounting laziness.

Take this, for example. Consumerist.com, one of my favorite blogs, but some of the commenters, well. There’s this post about an epic computer-repair fail that’s extended over a year and a half, so, yeah, it’s a bit long. 1,279 words, or about 2 ½ pages of a Word document. I read it in five minutes.

Some of the commenters, however, have issues with the length of the letter. And issues with comprehension, since at least one of them is convinced the repairs stretched out over only two months.

I know it was Internet vogue to write ‘em short ‘n’ peppy, chunking and all. The poster could have done that – as one commenter suggests. (See Commandment No. 5 on this page.) Just because “people have far less tolerance for large blocks of text” is no excuse for, well, not reading large blocks of text, whether you play little design (read chunking) tricks to stroke them into reading those long blocks of text. But to dismiss a post – or anything – for that matter, simply because it’s too long to read is just lazy.

I don’t mind chunking. I hate the Jakob Nielsen approach, pandering as it is to the scanners. Just make your text interesting, and people will read it, no matter the foo foo or folderol you incorporate into your web-based writing. And how can you take advice from someone whose web sites look like his do.

I’d like to see research that compares how people read on the web versus reading in other contexts. I think it’s fair to say that those who whine about long texts on the web are going to whine about long texts in other forms. Then again, they may read novels voraciously, depending on the compelling writing to get them through, rather than tricks.

And that’s what it is – it’s all tricks, be they chapter headings or line breaks in a novel or concise writing and hyperlinks online.

Me, I’d rather read a long text. I hate having to click on a link to get to the next bit of writing. And some of those Jakob Nielsen-inspired sites do that to a t—making you click, and I’m not kidding, twenty to thirty times to read through an article, because, well, chunking is more important to them that not annoying my type of reader.

I’m not against good, concise writing. I love it. I just hate to hear dismissals of good, long form writing by those who want to be spoon-fed factoids.

*Where they’ll search in vain and then find that the shocking and extremely interesting thing I promised at the end of this post is this custom-made footnote.

Longing for the Wilderness


I hear ya, Alice. I was just thinking about this a few days ago.

Let me warn you of something else: Sometimes adulthood is also an encroachment that despoils pristine wildernesses and we are all the poorer as well. I used to look on the backyard I had growing up as a place for adventure and excitement and sleeping out in the room Al built on the back of the garage. Now it’s just chores and all the kids’ toys all over the place.

Fie on adulthood.

Oont is Finished

I’ve come to a startling conclusion:

The first draft of “Oont,” or “Through A Glass Darkly,” is done. It’s an odd feeling. And part of me is a little disappointed that it’s finished here, short of the psychological 50,000-word goal. I’m at 49,382 words. But I feel the first draft is done.

So what does that mean?

Informal research on my part shows that with 49,382 words, I’ve got a novel of about 165 pages, given an average of 300 words to the page. That’s an informal average I came to after counting the words on pages in several novels and averaging them out.

So it’s short, by most standards.

But that’s only what it means on the surface. Next comes the hard part: Revising. And it’ll take a lot of revising. Not that revision is a bad thing, it’s just that the real difficulties now arrive. And asking Michelle to read it is probably out of the question, given that she’s neck-deep in her classes now. And I’m also walking down the path to teaching a course at BYU-Idaho now, which seems exciting and foolhardy. Will I be able to revise this thing?

Yeah. I wrote the damn thing, didn’t I?

And good news: If I get too tired of the revisions, I can start on the next volume. Yeah, Oont is finished, but the story I’ve started isn’t. Heck, the story in Oont is incomplete and is going to require some give and take, adding in explanations, taking out what’s confusing and such. But I’m well on course to having a revised draft of the book done by the end of the year. I’m excited, and overwhelmed, both at the same time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Milligan-Wiser Method


There is something to be said for planning.

Pick a destination. Go to Google Maps. Plan a route, taking in the scenes along the way. But keep that final destination in mind. In the eye. And on schedule.

There are, of course, other schools of thought. Take John Milligan and Mike Wiser’s approach to climbing a central Idaho mountain peak, which started with Google Maps but ended up with he and a friend using their climbing gear to build a raft so they could paddle around on an icy Idaho alpine lake with the unclimbed mountain pouting in the distance.

Both methods make for fun vacations. Both make for spontaneous vacations. But the latter method, hereafter known at Uncharted as the Milligan-Wiser Method, is the one that holds the most appeal to me as a guy.

So go read about John and Mike and their adventures in Idaho’s central mountains. Then go and don’t plan a vacation just like it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Politico-Military Complex

You know what? I don’t know enough about this Obama/McChrystal situation to comment on it competently.

I do, however, know that if a president – or a general – can’t handle hearing candid, honest opinions of his or her work from another in a national magazine, it is, perhaps, correct to say that they’re being a bit thin-skinned about the whole deal.

Yeah, maybe in the Middle East it’s not considered good form to belittle one of your own. But that’s coin of the realm out here in the West, where a little honest criticism can either be taken as an affront that calls for apology and resignation or at least a little cool, rational thought that, well, maybe I haven’t handled the situation as well as I could have.

I think we’ve got a bit of the latter, rather than the former.

And, apparently, support from the Afghan president bears little weight. Which seems odd. Per CNN:
[Hamid] Karzai weighed in from abroad, urging Obama to keep McChrystal as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The government in Kabul believes McChrystal is a man of strong integrity who has a strong understanding of the Afghan people and their culture, Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said.
Jackson Diehl, writing for the Washington Post, points out that McChrystal isn’t the only one involved in this comic opera who has been airing criticism of others involved in public, but it does appear he will be the first to lose his job over it.

Diehl concludes:
McChrystal may be at fault for expressing his frustrations to Rolling Stone. He is not at fault for the lack of coherence in the Afghan campaign or the continued feuding over strategy. That is Obama’s responsibility.
It’s asinine to insist that military leaders don’t have the option of bringing their criticisms to the fore, limiting outreaches to the press (and, via that route, to the public) to politicians.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Today's Nonsequitur


Best line: "Damn. This is what I was wearing the last time he attacked." And may I just say that this skit kind of shows some of the differences between feminism of the day and feminism of today -- no way would this skit even fly today, it would be a lot meaner than this. They'd be Lieutenant Yar all over the place.

Somewhere, A Dog Barked


Pick up any novel, says Slate.com writer Rosencrans Baldwin, and you’ll find a “throwaway reference” to a dog barking in the distance. Why do they do it? Baldwin postulates it’s because they’re thinking aloud in their prose:

If novelists share anything, it's a distant-dog impulse. Picture an author at work: She's exhausted, gazing at her laptop and dreaming about lunch. "[Author typing.] Boyd slammed the car door shut. He stared at his new condominium, with the for-sale sign in the yard. He picked up a pistol and pointed it at his head. [Author thinking, Now what? Gotta buy time.] Somewhere a dog barked. [Author thinking, Hmm, that'll do.] Then Boyd remembered he did qualify for the tax rebate for first-time home buyers, and put down the gun." If a novel is an archeological record of 4.54 billion decisions, then maybe distant barking dogs are its fossils, evidence of the novelist working out an idea.

Why is this a big deal? She/he continues:

The thing is, these so-called dogs are nameless and faceless, and frankly I doubt them; it's the curious incident when one actually does come into view. Really, are there so many out-of-sight, noisy dogs in the world? Listen: My bet is you'll hear a highway, an A/C unit, or another human before a dog starts yelping.

I’d have to say that’s true. I spent the last weekend camping and, though we were in a rural area populated by a legendary rogue rooster, nary the rooster nor a dog was heard. We did hear an awful lot of traffic; the campground is bordered by a busy farm-to-market road. No dogs, then, barking at Twin Bridges.

I thought I’d test my own nascent novel, “Oont,” to see if I’ve got any superfluous dogs – Baldwin doesn’t mind barking dogs if they’re used in the story, not just put in as a backgroundy noise appendage.

Here’s my near-“somewhere a dog barked” passage:
Dogs yowled as we approached, but the man quieted them quickly down with a few whispered threats and not a few kicks. About a half dozen dogs ran in a merry circle around him as he walked, while others, silent but curious, circled us or sat nearby, sniffing the air.
Fortunately, the dogs in “Oont” go on to have a bigger role in the story than just noisemakers, so I don’t quite fall into that category. (My tell for thinking aloud in prose is repetition, not quite of the Virginia Woolf variety, but close to it.)

So that set me to thinking about some of the authors I favor. Offhand, I can only think of one dog-barking incident in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, coming in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” when a hobbit’s dog barks at, then shies from, the Black Riders. That doesn’t count as superfluous dog-barking, however, per Baldwin’s definition.

No background barkers in Sinclair Lewis’ “Main Street” either, though there are plenty of dog-related folkisms – one character is a crooked as a dog’s hind leg, others are dog-gone tired, or displaying hangdog expressions.

So what does all this mean? Nothing much, except for those like me who get off on this kind of writerly flim-flammery. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of flim-flam in my writing, so this one test doesn’t prove I’m worth the powder to blow me up. But it’s something to keep in mind as a writer writes.

Will the Big O Be A One-Termer?


U.S. News & World Report Editor Mort Zuckerman makes a compelling argument that President Barack Obama is seen as “incompetent and amateur” on the world stage in today’s edition of the magazine.

Though you have to take what Zuckerman writes with a grain of salt (he tends to be a bit too pro-Israel, among other things) he certainly brings forth some salient points that, as a pajama-clad armchair blogger and L.H. Puttgrassesque pundit for the people, I find interesting. First:
The reviews of Obama's performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America's role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world's leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America's foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one's own tribe while in the lands of others.
If I know anything about leadership in the Arab world (and what little I know I glean from the likes of terry Pratchett and Frank Herbert, well-noted scholars of Araby) bad-mouthing one of your own simply isn’t done. (Yes, it's done in the West in spades; that just shows some of the cultural differences one has to deal with when going West to Middle East, and vice versa) What the west sees as apology and attempt at humility, others clearly see as weakness – and if we’re hoping to make inroads with Muslim countries, showing weakness isn’t the way to go about it.

Then there’s this ouchie:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy openly criticized Obama for months, including a direct attack on his policies at the United Nations. Sarkozy cited the need to recognize the real world, not the virtual world, a clear reference to Obama's speech on nuclear weapons. When the French president is seen as tougher than the American president, you have to know that something is awry.
Nuclear disarmament – talk of it and a little action – is what earned Obama his Nobel Peace Prize. But at the time it seemed odd to me, and it appears I’m not the only one. Nuclear deterrence is a noble goal, but a state-sponsored nuclear attack certainly seems a lot less likely than continued terrorist attacks, even a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon.

What’s most interesting about this entire situation is how blind the national media and Obama’s core supporters are to the man’s shortcomings. I voted for the guy, believing that, well, maybe if he’ll follow through with some of the stuff he’s talked about and works to improve our image abroad, he’ll be a good president. Given that we’re still operating that prison in Guantanamo, we’re still wiretapping citizens and going by guess and by God when it comes to national security.

The man does give a good speech, I admit that. Or as Zuckerman says:
Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well. But he is one of those people who believe that the world was born with the word and exists by means of persuasion, such that there is no person or country that you cannot, by means of logical and moral argument, bring around to your side. He speaks as a teacher, as someone imparting values and generalities appropriate for a Sunday morning sermon, not as a tough-minded leader. He urges that things "must be done" and "should be done" and that "it is time" to do them. As the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Les Gelb, put it, there is "the impression that Obama might confuse speeches with policy." Another journalist put it differently when he described Obama as an "NPR [National Public Radio] president who gives wonderful speeches." In other words, he talks the talk but doesn't know how to walk the walk. The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty.
I know enough from raising my kids that if I don’t follow up my rhetoric with action, any amount of rhetoric won’t work. At all. It’s only after the action comes that the kids understand that the rhetoric is serious. I can’t parent by words alone, and running a country that way doesn’t work either.

So I believe in 2012 that the presidential election is for the Republicans to lose. Nominate the right person and they’ll win the White House. I also expect to see a rather raucous nomination fight on the Democratic side to the caliber of the Hubert Humphrey/Ed Muskie battle in 1968.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Two Towers Bookbinders' Curse

Of the books in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, "The Two Towers" is bar none my favorite. We're kind of in interim space here, with the fellowship broken, the threat at Helms Deep, the looming treachery of Saruman and the insiduous, resting but not restive evil of Sauron. I love how Tolkein paces the novel, breaking the narrative up between sets of adventurers and not taking shortcuts when he goes back to tell another part of a story that we've already heard from one perspective. It's masterful writing.

And, apparently, cursed.

Not cursed in that the writing is bad, or that the characters face dangers, or anything like that. It's just that I've never in my entire life, through about a dozen copies of the book, found one that'll survive more than three or four readings. They always, without question, fall apart, pop pages, lose covers and whatnot until I get frustrated, get a new copy and throw the old one away. It doesn't matter if I get an old copy from a thrift store or a new copy from the book store. Within three or four readings, they fall apart. And it's not that I'm hard on books. I'm rather anal about book care. And I re-read many books many times, and it's always my copy of "The Two Towers" that falls apart, nothing else. I can even find other books in worse shape at the thrift store, and it's invariably Tolkien's middle work that falls apart. I don't know why.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summertime Boredom


If anyone ever needed more proof that Richard Thompson and his comic strip Cul de Sac are the Charles Schulz and Peanuts of the 21st century, here it is in these simple four panels. This is kiddom. This is summer and kiddom: The anticipation of emancipation, exuberance, joy, and then the sudden letdown that, hey, summer is here in all its hot, sticky boredom.

I'm sure there were times when I was bored as a kid. But through the rose-colored glasses of adulthood, those moments are buried and the high times are what come to the fore of memory.

One thing I worry about with my kids: They don't have a wild little corner of the back yard where they can play and dig and create. As I kid, I had several spots where we (my brother and sister and I) could build villages for the teddy bears and other such constructions. We had the yard behind the abandoned chicken coop where we built a pond, river, trails and such through all the crazy weeds. Then the spot behind the lilacs. Then the spot on the northwest corner of the house where we could also build. And parts of the garden. My kids have the spot underneath the playhouse, and now that the sand and the accompanying feline Lincoln Logs are gone, perhaps that can be their spot. I've got the bricks. I should show them how to build houses for their teddy bears. And give them mine to play with. But maybe that's trying to get my childhood back through them. Better off letting them discover their own creations.

Fun With Wocks and Wogs


Note: I've tried to upload a photo to go with this post, but Blogger is playing silly with photos today for some reason. (A day later, the problem is fixed.)

I took my two boys to our first Fathers and Sons outing this weekend, to the glorious locale of Twin Bridges campground -- which are nice and all, but we've been there before. Still, seeing that Snake River surging past -- the campground is on an island in the river -- was a lot of fun.

The boys, I think, had a ball.

First of all, we cheated on dinner. Originally thought of doing the traditional tinfoil dinner, but decided I'd rather talk them in to going to Big Juds -- in the vicinity -- for dinner instead. Didn't have to do much coaxing.

So after a little spell of rock throwing, we went to dinner, then came back, made s'mores, got really sticky, then went into the tent to engage in that traditional camping activity of watching "Iron Giant" on the portable DVD player. Bliss. They watched an giggled, I dozed and read Tolkein's "The Two Towers," then we went to bed.

They had me up with the sun. No kidding, 5:30 AM, they were awake and demanding breakfast. Fortunately, at 6:30, the rest of the folks from the ward were awake too and we were cooking breakfast. I cooked the sausages, as exciting as that sounds. Only dropped one on the ground. I ate it. Then I ate the pancake that my five-year-old dropped on the ground. I've had my fair share of Scout pepper today, let me say. Then we cleaned up camp, spent about a half hour throwing rocks in the water, then we came home. A good day. Not too bad for a first Fathers and Sons outing.

Oh -- and the wocks and wogs? Well, as we were tossing our rocks, one of Isacc's buddies, Noah, came to join us. He really wanted me to throw a log into the water so they'd have something to aim at. But given he can't say his R's, it came out as "Thwow that wog in so we can thwow wocks at it." I chuckled about that all the way home.

As I recall, Dad only took us on one such outing, and about all I remember from it is that as we were getting out of the tent, Dad tripped and popped me on the lip, giving me a fat lip. Try as I can, I can't dredge up any other memories of the day. I can't even remember where we went. Dad said he did enough camping in the Dutch army in Indonesia in 1948 to get too much excited about camping afterward.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Great Fossilized Fud Music

I'm not one who's much for country music. But I qualify that. I enjoy a great deal of "country" music, as long as, for the most part, it's not the modern crapola. This is the kind of country music I like:



What a voice on this gal. This is back when country music was about voices and songs and melodies and such, not about beer and tattoos and, let's face it, mostly skanky ladies. And not too twingy-twangy. So maybe it's not really country music. It's probably more rock-influenced country. And that's fine, because that's what I like.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Majestic


Critic Roger Ebert, though I’m not great fan of his, got it right about “The Majestic”: It certainly is a Frank Capraesque look at the ideals of America. Maybe it sounds hokey, his speech, to our modern ears, but that’s likely because we’ve become more cold, more bitter, more close-hearted as blacklisted screenwriter Peter Appleton points out. Where are the warm hearts?

We still have them. I see them come out when disaster has occurred – not in the finger-pointing, the recriminations, the carping and whining and politicking that goes on afterward, but in the initial response, when people help others not because they have to or because it’s their duty but because their hearts are warm and open and they want to help. This is what makes any nation strong – people willing to help. And I think America, and many other nations, have that in spades. It just doesn’t come through in the media, in politics, where it’s more important to point fingers and lay blame than to help.

Again, Happy not to Be Average

The more I hear about student debt, the more I’ve got to consider how lucky I am, I suppose.

The folks over at Kiplinger.com tell us that the average student debt per bachelor’s degree issued is $12,400 in 2008, up from $10,600 in 2000. Sixty-eight percent of the graduates in Idaho had student loans to pay off when they graduate.

It’s even worse for those with a graduate degree – the cumulative debt for a person with a masters degree, Kiplinger says, is $40,208.

To me, that’s unfathomable. I’ll tell you why:

When I graduated from the University of Idaho with a bachelors degree in journalism and mass communication in 1997, I had $1,500 in student debt, which I was able to pay off within a year of graduating.

When I graduated from Utah State University with a masters degree in English with an emphasis on technical writing, I didn’t have any student debt at all.

I did not get much by way of grants or scholarships – less than $3,000 for the undergraduate degree and nothing at all for the graduate degree. The rest of the money came from me working summers and during the year to pay for my bachelors degree and having a full-time job while earning the masters degree. I paid cash for all but $1,500 of my education.

I didn’t go to fancypants colleges. U of I was middle of the road, quality-wise. USU’s technical writing program, however, is highly regarded – but still, at a school that doesn’t call for top dollar for the education it offers.

My wife is now enrolled in the same masters program I was, and though tuition prices have gone up considerably, it still appears we’ll be able to get her degree by paying cash for it – our only bonus being since I completed the program just recently, it’s likely she can re-use many of the textbooks I already have.

I’m not the brightest person in the world, so it stands to reason – another college from which I have a degree – that others can replicate what I accomplished. And it looks like some have – Kiplinger says for a MS degree, only about half of those who earn a degree end up borrowing money to pay for it. I’m happy to be in the half that didn’t have to do any borrowing.

I didn’t live like a king during my undergraduate years – mostly, I lived on campus. The one year I lived off-campus, it was fairly Spartan. For my masters degree, I chose a program that was entirely online, so I could work full-time and take my classes when I wasn’t on the job. That was the only way I could have done it – moving from Idaho to Utah to attend school would have been impossible, given the current job climate (I started the degree in 2007, or about a year before the economy went into the ashcan.)

You hear some on the news lately telling people a degree just isn’t worth the money any more. I have to beg to differ. It’s worth the money if you’re careful how you go about earning it. And while the masters degree I have won’t amount to more money from the current job I have, it does open doors – in fact, I’ve got the opportunity now to teach as an adjunct faculty member at a local university, just because of that piece of paper. We’ll see what comes of that.

Trying Again

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oont: The 100-Page Milestone

Oont marches on, this time with lots of wildlife. And I hit the psychological level of 100 pages of single-spaced tomfoolery. What that means beyond having a page number in three digits I don’t really know, but it is nice to be there.

While I’m prattling on about meaningless numbers, here are some more:

Words: 44,221
Characters (no spaces): 196,014
Characters (with spaces): 239,403
Paragraphs: 1,140
Lines: 4,516

This tells me that my average word length is 4.43. Must be lots of short words then, which is okay.

What the numbers don’t say, however, is whether the writing here is any good at all. Most likely it’s not, but I can at least try, can’t I?

'Tweet' Lives on at the NYT -- But Not Really

So Philip Corbett hasn't banned "tweet" after all.

He writes in his After Deadline column today:
[M]y note to colleagues did not attempt to "ban" the use of "tweet." Regular readers of After Deadline know I seldom attempt to ban anything outright - partly to leave room for editorial judgment, and partly to avoid demonstrating how little effect these memos really have.

But except for special effect, we try to avoid colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon. "Tweet" - as a noun or a verb - is all three. Yet it has appeared 18 times in articles in the past month, in a range of sections.
While I agree with Corbett's reasoning against overusing tweet -- or, indeed, overusing any word -- I think it's disingenuous to insist that writers steer away from using tweet in a Twitter context when appropriate. His "deft English alternatives" still leave me laughing:
"Tweet" may be acceptable occasionally for special effect. But let's look for deft, English alternatives: use Twitter, post to or on Twitter, write on Twitter, a Twitter message, a Twitter update. Or, once you've established that Twitter is the medium, simply use "say" or "write."
I suppose deftness is in the eye of the beholder. I realize that it's important for writers, especially journalists, to avoid jargon. It is equally important, however, that journalists and writers avoid convoluted writing in order to get around using jargon. The readers of the New York Times are an intelligent group; surely, if some of them are unsure as to what the word "tweet" means in certain contexts, they're smart enough to look things up.

The larger issue remains reporters using Twitter for research or mining it for quotes -- that seems a bit lazy to me.

Comically, Corbett takes issues with bloggers who didn't contact him for comment on the issue. Like he's going to want to field a thousand phone calls from my pajama-clad fellows.

Don't Play Silly With Science -- Even if You Disagree With It

When hackers released information showing top climate scientists fudged some data and tried to intimidate scientists who oppose their views on climate change, the American media was practically mum. So I'm not
holding my breath for coverage of this latest blip, as reported by the National Post in Toronto:

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change misled the press and public into believing that thousands of scientists backed its claims on manmade global warming, according to Mike Hulme, a prominent climate scientist and IPCC insider. The actual number of scientists who backed that claim was "only a few dozen experts," he states in a paper for Progress in Physical Geography, co-authored with student Martin Mahony.

Of course, given that the National Post is misreading what Hulme and Mahony wrote, it's probably best that the blip stay off the screen. The Post has done what many are guilty of -- seizing on one particular
passage in a paper and misinterpreting it badly. Here's what Hulme and Mahony write:
Consensus-making in the IPCC has been largely driven by the desire to communicate climate science coherently to a wide spectrum of policy users -- "to construct knowledge" -- but in so doing communicating uncertainties have been down-played. As Oppenheimer et al remark: "The establishment of consensus by the IPCC is no longer as critical to governments as [is] a full exploration of uncertainty.
Without a careful explanation about what it means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism. Claims such as "2,500 of the world's leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on climate" are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgment, as are many others in the IPCC reports, is reached only by a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields. But consensus-making can also lead
to criticism for being too conservative, as Hansen has most visibly argued. Was the IPCC AR4 too  conservative in reaching its consensus about future sea-level rise? Many glaciologists and oceanographers think they were, leading to what Hansen attacks as "scientific reticence."
In other words, for the guys who really understand and have unquestionable expertise in human impacts on the global environment (specifically in the field of detection and attribution studies), their numbers are understandably few. But many others with expertise in closely-related fields have studied what these experts have agreed is correct and agree with their assessment. So to say the number of experts who agree that humans are causing climate change is to ignore Hulme and Mahony's entire argument.

What's going on here is that Hulme and Mahony are lamenting past emphasis on consensus-building over efforts to study climate uncertainties. Hulme is against alarmist climate language and believes climate change is a "relative risk, not an absolute [risk]." He's a good, cautious, skeptical scientist who sees the data,  acknowledges that there are serious climate risks that been to be addressed, but also cautions that alarmism and political tomfoolery with climate change will do nothing to fix the problem, given climate research uncertainties. The rest of the paper from which the Post extracted its headline-grabber details research going on into the uncertainties Hulme and Mahony believe need to be studied.

So, shame on the National Post for doing precisely what Hulme and Mahony criticize some climate scientists and politicians for doing: alarmism.

Hulme, of course, is put off by this and many other misinterpretations of what he wrote:
The point of this bit of our article was to draw attention to the need for a more nuanced understanding of what an IPCC 'consensus' is - as I say: "Without a careful explanation about what it means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism." The IPCC consensus does not mean - clearly cannot possibly mean - that every scientist involved in the IPCC process agrees with every single statement in the IPCC! Some scientists involved in the IPCC did not agree with the IPCC's projections of future sea-level. Giving the impression that the IPCC consensus means everyone agrees with everyone else - as I think some well-meaning but uninformed commentaries do (or have a tendency to do) - is unhelpful; it doesn't reflect the uncertain, exploratory and sometimes contested nature of scientific knowledge.
Those who question climate change should not indulge in the same tomfoolery they accuse the climate scientists of doing. You can't win the argument playing silly buggers like this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tomfool Thing to Do

I try to reign myself in. I try not to do new stupid things because my brain already has a vast collection of stupidity that it likes to pull out and polish and sort and fondle on a regular basis. My daily mantra: "Try Not to Suck too Much Today." Most days it works.

Then there was that day in February that's only catching up to me this week.

It's going to sound like bragging, but that's not how I mean it. To tell the truth, I'm scared spitless. Here's the rub:

I might be teaching this fall. Or winter. I don't know which. Or if I'll even get the job. But I found out last night that I've made the first cut - if that's what you call it - to become an adjunct online faculty member at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Dumb. That's all I can say. Me? A teacher? My brain is adding on space to store the new, impending stupidities as you read this.

I guess it sounded like a good idea at the time. I have a co-worker who is also an adjunct online faculty member at BYU-I, and he seems to enjoy it. He teaches technical writing. I'm being considered to teach a foundational writing class, using course material prepared by somebody else.

It sounds impressive, but as far as I can ascertain, they're pretty desperate for teachers for this particular course. It's a required class for all students, so is heavily used and abused by the student body. It looks like for $815 a credit hour, I'll have to grade lots and lots and lots of papers.

Michelle thinks I'm nuts, except for this: if I can pull it off, pull the wool over the fuzz's eyes, I've got an in at BYU-I if something else comes along. And if it doesn't, at least I'm using a part of that MS in English I earned last July. Because as much as I enjoy my current job, a MS in English isn't a prerequisite. It's awful handy, though, pour epater les copains.

So I've got hoops to jump through. First, curriculum vitae and transcripts, plus an ecclesiastical endorsement. Then a class on the BYU-I learning model, and, likely, the Spirit of Ricks(c). Then if I keep my nose clean through that, another online course on teaching online courses. Perhaps by December I'll have the necessary juju with which I may summon the Invisible Swordsman and be shown the way to El Guapo's.

Wish me luck. Or at least minimal additional stupidity.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPod Touch, like a pretentious pseudosnob.

The Future We Missed

Wow. Just like the Jetsons. With door-to-door service. Cars that take you to your vacation spots using pre-punched cards. Highway escalators. Aquacars. And, wow, almost six minutes into the video, the first mention of mass transportation, amongst all the visions of decentralized and sprawling communities that commuters can visit simply because the roads are there. And the magic of the atom, with electro-suspension cars on upside-down highways thrown in.



All centered on the individual. How interesting. And comically inefficient, something we recognize today. Maybe it’s good that we didn’t get this future.

And we can only hope that we don’t get this kind of future, either. Oxygenated rooms, spy cameras, bathroom mirrors that let you check the weather and headlines.



Cash rich, but time poor. Or at least soulless zombies who believe technology and the future and woo woo digitality is going to be the future, when the future – as we recognize watching the Disney film – is as full or as empty as we make the present. I want a future as full of technology as this as I want a future as full of individual vehicles and underwater highways.

And it’s not that the “future doesn’t look futuristic,” it’s just that both of these futures appear so sterile, so insular, keeping ourselves and our families closely-knitted as we communicate by e-mail or atomic communicator or CCTV that we forget that homes – and families – and cities and such are meant to be used, maybe a bit grotty, but human. I’ve never liked the vision of sterility that is the future.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Calling It Like It Is


Yeah, the world needs more straight shooters like Wiley here.

Got A Better Word for Tweet?

So, the New York Times forbids the word “tweet” in its pages. Now, Slate.com wants readers to come up with better words than Twitter’s “tweet” and “retweet,” and Facebook’s “like.”

Uh-huh.

Better in what sense?

Now I agree that some of the Twitter nonsense is just that, nonsense. Don’t need a better word to describe such things as twitterverse, tweeple, tweeps, twitteratti and the like. Some times the cutesy factor of new words gets taken too far.

But for the basic “what should a single message on Twitter be called,” why call it anything else but a tweet? Those who know what it means don’t need another word, and those who don’t, don’t need another explanation aside from “A tweet is a message on Twitter.” The best advice, as already mentioned here earlier, is to perhaps use the word once, or mention somehow that the messages you’re quoting are from Twitter, and then just use words like “says” or “writes,” rather than the jargon.

And while it does seem odd, as Slate points out, to “like” an article from People.com detailing the death of actor Gary Coleman, it’s not the word, but the insistence that we feel compelled to connect ourselves to any article or event or personage or whatever with a thumbs up or a comment that is questionable, not the word used to describe it.

After all, it is just as Homer Simpson says: “Why do they call it crab grass? Everyone would like it if it had a cuter name, like Elf Grass.”

I’m sure we went through the same thing when e-mail came into common parlance. We went through the same word craze when high fidelity wound recordings were new (as seen in the comic strip Peanuts, in which Lucy, then Violet, show off their hi-fi jump rope and parasol, respectively, to a bemused Charlie Brown, who wonders how such items can be considered high fidelity).

Does the language drive us or do we drive the language? I rather prefer us in the driver’s seat.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I'm Turning into Red Green

I hope you know Red Green. If you don't there's a very large hole you need to fill in your life.

Anyway, I think I'm turning into Red Green, because, twice this week, I used duct tape to fix something at home. And I don't mean temporary fixes. I mean permanent, security fixes meant to enhance my lifestyle and make sure the sugar ants don't get into our stored water.

First, here's the master at work:


Now I can't hope to equal his prowess with the sliver stuff, but I can at least try.

First of all, the water barrel. It's under the stairs. We've got a nifty little hand pump we can use to pump that water out when we need to, but it wasn't made for the barrel and thus didn't fit snugly in the outlet. Now, thanks to duct tape, it's secure, and there's no chance in heck the sugar ants that are also under the stairs can get in. Note, I said nothing about fishing out those that are already in there swimming.

Second, my chair. I've been fighting my office chair for more than a year now. Problem is, the original wheels broke, so I bought new ones. A series of new ones that BOB (big ol' butt) keeps breaking. The final set I have seems to be holding up under the stresses, but they fall out of their place if I so much as fart while sitting here. So now they're duct taped in place. They don't wheel as freely as they did without the tape, but they do stay in place. That's making me a lot happier, and the silver color of the tape blends in so well with the silver of the chair legs my wife hasn't noticed the repair yet. Of course, if we hadn't bought the clearance color laser printer at the office supply store, we probably could have afforded a new chair. But, c'est la vie.

The Bountiful Basket Diet

About a month ago, Michelle signed us up for the first of our Bountiful Baskets. For the uninitiated (and I'm sure there are only just a few in this neck of the woods) Bountiful Baskets is a Utah-based outfit that, for $25 a week, sends us outlandish amounts of fresh produce for us to eat. Yes, we could buy the produce at the grocery store -- and indeed we do, apples, grapes, carrots, cucumbers and a few other common bits being our staples.

What I'm liking about Bountiful Baskets is that we're being introduced, as a family to new fruits and vegetables. Until a month ago, for example, I had never eaten a mango (I know; I don't get out much). Friday, I cooked a stir-fry with bok choy, which was suddenly popular in the basket last week, and on Saturday I cooked a stew that was entirely of Bountiful Basket stuff except for the beef and the onion.

Another bonus: Rather than having the produce go bad, we're forced to eat it. That means fruits and vegetables are supplanting the ordinary snacks we'd eat. We're being forced to eat healthier because I'm too cheap to allow anything to be thrown out. Check that. The black bananas can go, as can the beets, rutabagas, turnips and any other unwholesomes. It's my wife who keeps us on the straight and narrow, eating the stuff that we get.

In fact, yesterday for lunch we basically had a variety of sliced apples. That was it. I felt so proud.

So I'm excited to see what'll come this next weekend and what new culinary adventure awaits.

Another from the Fridge: Here We Have Eye-Da . . . Oh


Our oldest son is, shall we say, somewhat obbsessive about certain things. Maps are one of those things. He started early, stealing and shredding two giant road atlases of mine not because he was careless with them, but because he literally wore them out looking at them and looking at them and looking at them. When we go on road trips, he's the official navigator, and loves to point out interesting things we might see on the way, unless, of course, we've got a movie going. So it's no surprise to me to see that he drew a detailed map of the state for his fourth grade Idaho History class. (Yes, we study Idaho history in the fourth and eighth grades here. It's not as bad as it sounds.)

I love that one of the oor little guys holding up the map key got squished. That's just our kid's sense of humor coming out.

Here's an essay he wrote to accompany the map:


In his essay, he writes:

Why I Love Idaho

I like Idaho because it has many amazing features like Craters of the Moon, because it looks exactly like the moon. Idaho is also famous for potatoes, silver, and gold mines, and Craters of the Moon. It also had many disasters, like the Great Idaho Fire in 1910, the Great Teton Flood, which killed thousands of livestock and many people were left homeless, and the Influenza Epidemic. The explorers Lewis and Clark even came to Idaho in 1805. It is also a fact that if Idaho were flat it would be bigger than Texas! How cool is that? And that is why I like Idaho. THE END.

Yes, we've taken him to Craters of the Moon. Twice.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Grammar Nazi Saute to Tas Anjarwalla

You know as well as the Grammar Nazi knows that the debate over English is do we let the language drive us, or do we drive the language.

Right now, it seems the New York Times is putting "official" language in the drivers' seat as they forbid the word "tweet" in the Gray Lady, with typical word-snob aplomb, since the word is still acceptable inside "ornithological" contexts.

They do have a leg to stand on, as the following definition of the word tweet: Tweet is both a noun and verb, both used in relation to twitter.com. To tweet is to send a message on Twitter. A tweet is also a message send on Twitter.

The New York Times' reason for forbidding the word is comical. I'll let Tas Anjarwalla, "special to CNN," explain:
"Someday, 'tweet' may be as common as 'e-mail,' " wrote Phil Corbett, the Times' standards editor, in a memo this week, according to The Awl. But, for now, Corbett has nixed further use of the word -- "outside of ornithological contexts," he wrote.

The Times will stop using the word because "tweet" isn't standard English, "and standard English is what we should use in news articles," Corbett said.

Corbett noted that not everyone uses the micro-blogging site and therefore may not be familiar with what a "tweet" is.

Fair enough. But in a simple sentence-length rejoinder that earns Anjarwalla a Grammar Nazi salute, she takes the air out of Corbett's "standard English" and familiarity arguments:
After all, The New York Times always uses words people are familiar with, like "louche" and "shibboleths."
Oh, Shibboleths. Anjarwalla, keep on smackin' them out of the park.

Part of me understands the NYT's later explanation in expunging the word tweet. In many cases, it's a gimmick, a reporter's crutch for saying, hey, I'm cutting edge -- I'm researching on Twitter, which is akin to saying, hey, I'm cutting-edge, I'm exploring the ocean depths by exploring Google Maps. Corbett advises writers to use words like "says," or "writes," after one has established that the medium being used is Twitter, because to say tweet over and over again does push the story into ornithological territory. I'm not one who likes to read authors who use thesauruses rather than the word "says" in recounting dialogue or quotes, because the flowers get in the way. It's clutter. And while it's asinine for the NYT to insist on banning tweet, it's just as silly for reporters to rely overmuch on the word.

Note: Links in the pulled quotes are from CNN.com.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sin Taxes, and Journalism Taxes

I don't much like sin taxes.

Whenever someone in government or the rabble of innocent vicitms gets excited about a new tax on cigarettes or alcohol, or proposes the legalization and subsequent taxation of marijuana, I scoff.

Tax something they use, these supporters. Diapers. Soft drinks. and marijuana, after legalization and taxation and then tax it and tax it and tax it and you'll see them plead for it to be criminalized again so the price will go down.

Or electronic devices.

That's among the many proposals the Federal Trade Commission is "exploring" as they ponder how to save traditional news outlets. Yeah. Tax electronic devices, or ISPs, and turn that money over to the people who make the news. That'll get those bums getting their news for free to pay for it all.

Meh.

Yes, this is old news, though it's making rounds in the blogs right now. This report popped up last year. I don't see that it's got any legs, or even pseudopods. Because there are no real new ideas here.

I don't argue that people should pay for the news. The years I spent in the news business I certainly would not have spent for free. But the problem of news -- or content -- not making money isn't isolated to traditional news outlets, such as the FTC says:
Existing newspapers are struggling to find a sustainable business model for the future. Severe cuts in expenditures, especially staff cuts, permitted most newspapers to break even or better during 2009. Advertising revenues are likely to improve in 2010 as some businesses recover from the recession and increase their advertising expenditures again. But the trend toward online, rather than print, advertising is very likely to continue over time, forcing newspapers to look for other sources of revenue.
 I'm a volunteer worker for a purely online content outlet, and we're not exactly swimming in cash, either. Last year, in fact, we made just over $100, going nowhere near in paying the bills. We didn't even have enough money to have a petty cash fund from which we could withdraw to take Dana Barret on a date or buy some Chinese food.

The FTC realizes this:
Although dozens of newly created online news sites have found sufficient funds to keep going through the early years of their existence, virtually no sites have yet found a sustainable business model that would allow them to survive without some form of funding from non-profit sources.
 So, from whence to squeeze the blood from this news-sucking turnip?

The FTC proposes:
  • A $5 to $7 per account fee on internet service providers. Fees collected would be distributed by a new bureaucracy to copyright holders who applied for it and could prove they were losing revenue to online news aggregators and such, or through algorithms based on what kind of online content is being viewed. This will, of course, effectively be passed on to consumers, since no ISP is going to absorb that cost.
  • News organizations establish pay walls uniformly. That, of course, is they key, because applying them haphazardly only drives most Internet news consumers to the free outlets.
  • New vouchers, funding, Small Business Administration and university incentive funding for non-profit news outlets. That one fascinates me. They're basically saying, well, we can use existing or augmented mechanisms to provide funds for non-profits, but not for for-profit entities.
  • Allowing news produced for Radio Free America, et cetera, to be aired domestically. Ah, yes, government-funded agitprop rather than the private entity agitprop. How is that saving the industry? I guess maybe more journalists could be hired by the government? (I know, I know. I'm a hypocrite: I work for a government subcontractor. Cleaning up a government-owned nuclear waste site. Oh, no hypocrisy here. Move along.)
Paying for it all. That's where the ISP fees come in, plus the five percent tax on consumer electronics. Couldn't traditional media just increase subscription rates? Oh, right. Noboby would pay them. But we'll pay them indirectly because we're taxed on stuff we want, to pay for stuff that we don't necessarily want. I don't mind gas taxes to pay for roads; that makes sense. It's when they shift gas taxes to pay for, say, flood control, that I wonder.

Yeah, I know it's tough. There are no easy answers, and it's certainly easier to sit here as an armchair blogger critic than to think up ways to solve these problems. Citizen journalism I mostly laugh at, because it couldn't be any less partisan or incompetent than what most citizens accuse traditional journalism of being.

What do I think is likely to succeed? Well, first of all, all the news organizations out there have got to have the guts to install paywalls. All of them. Anyone not participating needs to be slapped down by their pay-walled fellows. Yeah, there'll be revolution from those who are sooooo used to getting their news for free. But once they see a united front, they'll cave, because they'll figure out that the news they want is valuable enough to be paid for. But if the paywall application isn't uniform, they'll flock to the chinks in the wall just as certainly as East Germans fled to Hungary in order to evade the border to flee into West Germany. There'll be a lot of griping, lots and lots of it. Then, I'm sure, many of us will pay up. Right now, locally, only one paper has a paywall, while one other has one for "premium" content. Everything else is free. Guess which one doesn't get much traffic from me?

Fossil Hunting

I'm going to take my kids fossil-hunting. I'm not exactly sure what we'll find, or, indeed, if there's anything left to be found at the place I intend to go. I went there as a little kid and we did find a few fossils, but I can't imagine having more than 25 years pass, even with erosion being what it is, that we'll find much of anything, given that this particular place is scoured quite a bit by amateur fossil-seekers. It is pretty cool, though, to find a little sea creature preserved in the rock, though "preserved sea creature" and "relatively fresh bird droppings" kind of resemble each other on the rocks out there. So we may bring some rubber gloves.

Updates will be posted here, of course.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Uncharted - Story - To the Top of Idaho's Teton Dam

Uncharted - Story - To the Top of Idaho's Teton Dam

Finally Got the Teton Dam hike story and photos up on Uncharted. The more I think of that trip, the more fun I realize it was. I'll have to find something similar like this to do with the kids this weekend. Too bad I can't talk them into going into caves . . .

Gripe Session

I know I should be a happy man, blessed as I am with a lovely wife and family, comfortable home, two vehicles, a great job, a great suit and terrific henchmen. But I just gotta vent a little. Here are my gripes tonight:

My chair. I love my chair. It's comfortable. It kicks back very nicely. Except I hate my chair. The original wheels are broken, and I've been trying to make due with substitute wheels from Lowes, Home Depot, ACE Hardware, et cetera. Nothing is sturdy enough. And the local office supply store looked at me as if I were a descendant of Martians, thinking they could help me find replacement wheels.

Legos. We have waaaaaay to many Legos in the house. The boys REFUSE to clean them up without a lot of screaming. They have about a minute now before I go into their room with the garbage can to throw them all away.

Road Construction. I like good roads. I just hate it when they have to get torn up to make them better. And in the case of Highway 33 through Sugar City, they're NOT removing the ridiculous camber in the road which makes my cars bottom out on occasion as we have to cross the road.

Leaks. We have, or appear to have, two leaks in the house. One is in the basement, and I'm concerned it's not coming from the stud wall, but from behind the brick wall behind the fireplace. I know I come from a bricklaying family, but I do not want to have to tear that wall up to find out what's behind it. Talk about yuck. The second leak is in the bedroom upstairs. If I hack the drywall out to see where the water is coming from, I'm going to get showered with insulation. Double yuck.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

20 Years

I know I’m not far from this:



My mornings are already pretty regimented as are Carl’s, I just don’t have the stair chair to get me where I need to go. I wake up at 4:05, shower, dress, eat breakfast in front of the computer, then it’s off in the truck to the bus stop, onto the bus and asleep for an hour and a half before I change buses, nap another ten minutes, then get to work. All I really need is the hat, cane, and surly attitude.

Maybe they’re coming more quickly than I’d like to think. This summer is my 20th high school reunion. I’m probably going to go. At least to the picnic, if nothing else. I don’t necessarily feel old, however.

I can’t be nostalgic about high school, because I didn’t enjoy it much. Not that I was attacked for being nerdly or whatever, I just kind of drifted through the halls without leaving much of a mark. I have much more nostalgia for my college years, although it’s a lot less likely that I’ll ever go to college reunions for that matter. I’m just not that nostalgic of a person.

Marian the Librarian

I may be able to sing this song to Michelle with real feeling sometime soon.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Oont: 40,000 Words

Oh, the adventure. Not that my story is all that exciting. Or finished. Nor does it even make sense. But I am trying to live a dream here, and that dream says “write a novel.” The parts that involve re-writing the novel come later.

Back at Hosue Deus, which is not particularly surprising. And with not that much bigger a stable of characters. That tells me either my writing style is such that I don’t want a lot of characters, or that my writing is so poor that I can’t handle more than just a few. Probably more of the former than the latter, but I will persevere.

I have direction, though. And I’ve actually done a little bit of research to help me along. What that research will actually end up doing for me is anyone’s guess, but it helps me identify some of the philosophical points I might want to cover, and they, in turn, suggest plot devices and other novel hints and structures that will help when the time comes to use them.

In other words, I’m optimistic.

I’m also wordy. Terribly wordy. I know people who were bragging that, at 42,000 words, their novels were finished. I’m still in the Petey Otterloop 95 chapters of exposition stage. I’m fairly confident that up to a quarter or half of what I’ve written thusfar can be thrown away, and that may happen as the editing occurs. But still, I’ve committed myself to finishing this thing (by the end of the year, gulp) before any editing occurs. I want to see the whole of it before I start to carve it up.