Thursday, June 30, 2011

Default Views, Part II

You’ll remember last week I wrote about Alan’s students at the CSPA summer workshop, and how they shared in common a set of default views to which they’d never put much thought. You’ll also remember how I said this:

I’m not bringing this up, of course, because I want to make fun of anybody. I could draw up a similar list of tropes that the locals believe without bothering to investigate them. It's just interesting to see the differences. Here, we'd get nothing but big cities are riddled with crime and strife and drugs and hookers and always smell faintly of pee from kids who haven't been to anyplace bigger than, say, Salt Lake City, or any further east than Jackson, Wyoming.

So I spent a good portion of the day today reading my own students’ proposal essays, in which they propose a solution to a common problem. Some of them chose to write on unemployment and, as I predicted, came up with their own batch of commonly-held belief to which they’ve maybe put some more thought than their younger, more liberal counterparts on the East Coast, but which still kinda don’t stand up to the sniff test, if you get my meaning.

Lots on trickle down economics. Lots on getting rid of regulation – even the minimum wage – as a way to encourage businesses to create more jobs and to stimulate the economy and to motivate employers to create opportunities and compete for workers and more of that rainbows and unicorns stuff. It’s like they all were John Stossel acolytes or something.

Again, in their essays as well as their younger counterparts, lots of opinion without fact to back them up. I’m encouraged they’ll work harder in their revisions to fix these errors (one of the reasons I comment on their drafts, rather than leaving my lightning strikes for their finished papers).

Remember Dialup? Not Like This

So this is probably the most weirdly creepy noise I've heard in a long time. And considering I've got a yappy wiener dog, work in the company of whistling marmots, and have kids who occasionally squawk like peacocks, that's saying a lot.

That is, of course, that good ol' dialup sound, spend up 700 times. Here's what it sounds like normally, for those who have never heard it (For those who haven't, this is like the Internet equivalent of sending smoke signals. Yup. I remember the day I finally got rid of that 2400-baud modem. Woo.)

And if you think it's computers that made this sound, boy are you wrong.

Man Without Smartphone

UPDATE: Farhad Manjoo's call in for a cheaper iPhone, coincidentally, falls with the announcement that Apple may offer a free iPhone 3G on contract starting in the fall. Still doesn't get me around the ol' monthly charge for cell/data service, however . . .

The only way I could be more backwards – or maybe retro, given hipster affectations for All Things Old Except Politics – in the world of telephony is if I went to the thrift store and brought home one of those rotary dial phones they have there. While I’d look a bit silly toting one of those onto the bus for my morning and evening commute, it would certainly be less expensive (and, yes, less useful) than a modern cell phone.

But I have one of those. Well, modern in the may it cal make phone calls from pretty much everywhere the bus goes (though I can’t make calls form inside my building, too much RF interference from the engineers’ radios next door). I have a randomly-branded and –named dumbphone through Tmobile, pay-as-you-go, that costs us maybe $50 a year.

That’s why I don’t have a smartphone. Sure, I can’t browse the internet or get email on my dumbphone (and I don’t even carry that with me; it’s pretty much my wife’s phone), but I also sure don’t spend $50, $60, or $80 a month for the privilege of having a smartphone to mess around with.

Farhad Manjoo, over at Slate, argues that Apple needs to come out with a cheaper iPhone to help the unwashed masses like myself dive into the world of smartphones.

Not so. While I might balk at the idea of paying $200 for a top of the line iPhone if I were interested in getting a smartphone, what steers me from smartphones (and cell phones in general) is not the price of the phone, but the price of the monthly service. I don’t have $600 to $1000 to toss into cell phone coverage for a year. Remember how I said we spend less than $50 a year on our current cell phone? That’s all I’m willing to pay.

Would it be nice to have email and internet capability all the while I’m on the 1 ½ hour bus ride home? Yes, it would. Is it necessary? No. So I look at the opportunity cost and decide I’d rather spend that money on something else.

Ah, many argue – you still have a landline at home. That costs you about $35 a month – $420 a year – plus the at-home high speed internet service, another $360 a year. Yes I do. But don’t compare apples to oranges here.

I could eliminate the landline and substitute a smartphone for it. But I’m still spending more money for phone service. Moving money from one bucket to another and calling it a cost savings (which is what most people tout when they brag they’ve gotten rid of their landline) is disingenuous. And while there are ways to tether cell phones to work as high-speed internet lines, cell phone carriers are clamping down on that – all that internet browsing is cutting down on the bandwidth others might want to use, for, say, making a phone call. So I’d have to retain my at-home high speed internet and pay extra to have an internet-capable smartphone. I just can’t pry the wallet open far enough to do that.

So I will remain smartphoneless. And not unhappily so.

More Good News

Yesterday I wrote about the good news of our jobs not necessarily being on the chopping block for layoffs in September. Today I can provide more good news: The Department of Energy has opted to extend CWI’s INL cleanup contract by another three years.

These two letters, addressed to John Boehner and Joe Biden, respectively Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, from DOE Secretary Steven Chu, began circulating around work at about 10 this morning. Chu writes:
At a time when the Nation is experiencing significant economic distress and job loss, and in light of the President’s economic recovery program to preserve and create jobs, the agency can add work to the existing contract for the period September 2012 through September 2015 and accelerate the decontamination and decommissioning of the Idaho site. Expediting this work also provides significant cost savings in future years.

The Department, therefore, intends to extend the work effort under the CWI contract for work at the INL, without using competitive procedures.
This is good news for us, as our contracted wok is scheduled to dry up this September, at least at RWMC. We’ve still got two waste facilities to build and one to dig in, with some D&D work on top of that. There’s plenty of work to do for the short term.

After 2015, it’s anybody’s guess. There may still be work here for some of us, though not all of us to be sure. This announcement, at least, makes the immediate future a bit more secure.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No, Mr. Adams, No.

I know it’s a popular thing right now to pick on Scott Adams for his Internet ramblings. But when a guy has to stoop to sock puppeting to find defenders for himself when he plants himself in hostile territory, you know you’re stirring – this is a popular Adams phrase – a big kettle of crazy.

So it is with his latest blog post.

But it’s not his fault.

It’s mine. Because I’ve now provided a link to it through my blog where an audience Adams didn’t intend to read his message may now find it.

See, his new message is the concept of “author by location,” which is this (quoted from his own blog post; emphasis his):
I believe authorship - at least in terms of responsibility, not copyright - should transfer when a person moves material from one context where it is appropriate to another where it is not. The same should be true whenever moving material from one context to another changes the message.
As with many logical people, Mr. Adams fails to see the flaws in this belief. Though I can’t blame the guy. He’s stirred up a big kettle of crazy with some feminist bloggers who took umbrage at some of his ramblings. He also kinda contradicts himself in the last paragraph of his post, which reads "This model maintains complete freedom of expression, including freedom to quote material and to criticize. It simply recognizes that moving and changing a message makes you the Author by Relocation."

I agree with the latter portion of his first statement, that in changing an author’s message, the messenger bears responsibility, because the messenger is creating a derivative work. The flaw lies in Mr. Adams’ the first part of the statement in which he implies moving material unchanged from one audience to another shift authorial responsibility from the author to the messenger.

In other words, bringing a new audience into a message makes me the author of his blog post as far as cooling down any kettle of crazy I might stir up by shepherding an audience his direction. That makes as much sense as making Japanese disaster response teams responsible for cooling down the Fukushima Daiichi reactors rather than the nuclear plant experts simply because their radioactive message got spread around by that tsunami. More from his post:
As a writer, you recognize that a huge part of your job is choosing your words to fit your intended audience. When a third party introduces a different audience to your writing, it destroys the audience-matching element of your craft. In a real sense, it changes the product.
Writers should also recognize that they have no control over who their audience is, intended or not. Additionally, this is a phenomenon that existed long before the Internet, which Adams singles out as making this audience transposition by his “authors by location” easier.

While it is true writers may start out writing a piece with a specific audience in mind, once the piece is published – whether in book form or in a blog post or Quattro or a list of theses nailed to a church door – the writer has no control whatsoever over who views that piece, unless he or she puts the piece behind a walled garden and allows in only those whom he or she intends the piece for. That others may come in and read that message and be offended by it – or take it out of its intended audience into a sphere where the original author hadn’t intended for it to be read – does not remove authorship from the original writer in any way, whether the message went beyond its intended audience or not.

I do agree with Adams that if the messenger changes the message by taking things out of context, the messenger then becomes an author because in that case – and this is clearly outlined in copyright law – the messenger has created a derivative work of the author’s original message. The law is clearly on the side of the copyright holder when it comes to someone else making a derivative work of an author’s message.

If, as in Adams’ case, the authors of blogs like Jezebel and The Huffington Post took something from this humble blog, altered it in the translation, and then stirred up a big kettle of crazy in my direction, I’d be understandably upset, as Adams is. But to insist that the mere introduction of an unintended audience to a message not meant for them shifts responsibility for anger over that message from the author to the person who provide the link is ludicrously illogical.

Authorship does not change, however, if the messenger introduces the message to an unintended audience in its entirety. It’s still Martin Luther’s signature on the Ninety-Five Theses whether that paper is nailed to the door of the church at Wittenberg or in the hands of Pope Leo X, delivered to him by someone else than Luther.

A Tiny Bit of Light

Though there are clouds of obfuscation that still abound surrounding pending layoffs where I work, a quick perusal of the jobs targeted for the embiggened round of layoffs planned for September does not include technical writers – which is kinda hard to believe, considering we’re kinda disposable in the industry. Any industry, for that matter.

We’re hopeful that the absence of our job code on the list is a good sign, though given we keep seeing the “several hundred people to be impacted” repeated over and over for this coming layoff we’re not saying we’re safe and happy.

Still, a little ray of optimism enters.

What does that do?

Well, it gives me a little breathing space to try to find a better job with benefits. Not that I don’t like my current job – I do enjoy it a lot. Just still can’t shake the feeling that there’s something better around the corner. Still hopeful I’ll get called for an interview at the Space Dynamics Laboratory here in a few weeks. I called them about a week ago and found out they’re interviewing the “senior” applicants in the first part of July, so here’s to hoping I’m in that pool. I’d still like to work there. Drat that Carl Sagan for filling my mind with dreams of space. I know the SDL isn’t exactly JPL, but you know what, it’s a step in the right direction, don’t you think?

So if this tiny bit of light is true and we’re not on the layoff list, that basically gives me another, what, 3 ½ years until the work here dries up. That’s a lot better than 2 ½ months in my book.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Default Views

As you know, I spent a good portion of last week helping Alan Murray edit and comment on a series of assignments he gave to his students at his session of the Columbia Scholastic Press Association's summer workshops. He had about 14 students (some filtered in and out of the group, so I lost count) from various places throughout the east and midwest.

Interesting group. Young, bright, eager, and any other cliched adjective one might wish to applyto the rising (there's that word again) generation.

What I thought most interesting throughout the week, however, was not their ability or eagerness or what have you, but the difference in the default attitudes and assumptions they have, as compared to those of us out West. And it's a bit more than Red State versus Blue State too, you know.

One of them wrote a passionate essay about the evils of farming and the joyful bliss that is an organic farm while demonstrating she'd never set foot on a farm her entire life. To her, all non-organic farms are the evil, gigantic, poorly-lit corporate farms that basically pen up every single animal in as small a space as possible until they're large enough for the slaughter, while organic farms, well, they have these things called paddocks that, well, that's where the organically-farmed animals hang out, sipping coffee in front of an unopened copy of Kerouac, until the inevitable end.

I exaggerate a bit her for comic effect, but the truth remains that they write with verve and passion on the tropes and memes that are just assumed as truth, even though they have done little to nothing to investigate whether they're true or not.

This is the kind of thinking I'm trying to steer my college students away from. For the most part, they are able to do so, not because I'm such a great teacher but because they've got a few years (and, for many of them, a mission) under their belts so they've seen a bit more of the world and experienced a few shattered tropes and memes more than Alan's students.

There's more, of course. One of Alan's students thought himself sophisticated because he could pick out the sexual humor in a Broadway play they saw as a group. If that's sophistication, well, I know a lot of sophisticated thirteen-year-olds.

Then there were all the articles on diversity. Diversity this and diversity that. She grew up in Alabama, but the town wasn't diverse. Columbia is a diverse campus, and the security guard, who got her undergraduate degree there, values its diversity. Diversity, yay!

Of course, it's diversity in skin color and nationality -- but they can't seem to get around to saying that. We're automatically supposed to know what diversity is, and automatically know that diversity=unicorns and rainbows=good. I appreciate diversity. But I know what it is. I can look out on my little dumpy town of Sugar City, Idaho, which is 99 percent white and 99 percent LDS and know that if people who really know what true diversity is, they'll find it here in spades. There's a lady from Uruguay who lives kitty corner to us. A block away is a native Frenchman. I could, of course, list off others -- but that gets to only the easily visible, superficial meaning of diversity. There is a greater diversity of thought, of feeling, that never gets talked about because for most, diversity can't see past the nationality or skin color.

I'm not bringing this up, of course, because I want to make fun of anybody. I could draw up a similar list of tropes that the locals believe without bothering to investigate them. It's just interesting to see the differences. Here, we'd get nothing but big cities are riddled with crime and strife and drugs and hookers and always smell faintly of pee from kids who haven't been to anyplace bigger than, say, Salt Lake City, or any further east than Jackson, Wyoming. 

All of this, of course, inspires me to teach my own kids to look beyond the superficial to see life as it really is, not as the tropes we pick up along the way tell them it is or should be.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Speaking of Marmots . . .

The Perfect Tweet

Yeah, 3,000-some-odd tweets later, this pretty much still sums up how I feel about Twitter.

Fools Following the Marmots and Deer


The thing about following game trails is this:

Deer will go anywhere and climb up pretty much anything without giving a hoot or holler for who might follow them.

It might not be deer. The trails we follow as we walk our way to and around Upper and Lower Mesa Falls on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River may very well have been carved by generations of marmots, which are even more mobile and more loco than the deer.

Then there’s the wife factor. Not that she minds following the trails at random, wandering through the scrub under the canopy of pines and quaken aspen. It’s just that she jogs. She’s in better shape than I am. So when I get to the top of a rather steep slope, wheezing and looking for a place to park my sorry carcass, she’s pacing to and fro, fretting in her own kind way: “Come on, I’ve got to keep my heart rate up. That’s the deal!”

Here’s the other deal: If you travel along Idaho’s Mesa Falls Scenic Byway and only stop long enough to see the Upper Mesa Falls, you’re missing a lot of awesome stuff that you can only see when you park your car and follow one of the many trails that lead to and from the two waterfalls in the area and then in random directions, depending on where the deer or marmot wanted to head that day.

We start with a fairly basic trail from our camping spot at Grandview Campground (so called, I suppose, for the fact that from anywhere in the campsite you can hear Lower Mesa Falls tumbling 85 feet through a tight U-bend in the rock to the river below but you can’t really see it unless you head to the lookout north of camp). The trail winds through forests, meadows filled with bluebells and wild daisies, brief stretches of fragrant sagebrush flats and near and far from the canyon rim for about a mile before it merges with the road that snakes down the canyon to Upper Mesa Falls.

My advice: Go visit now. An unusually wet winter coupled with an extremely soggy spring has brought out the green in full force along the trail. I literally have never seen this area so green, and so varied in its greens – the blue-green of sagebrush filling the air with that odd, nostrummy tang of sage and pepper; the bright, eager green of the quaken aspen leaves, the dark, barky green of snake grass and the green of the pine needles, alternating between the spiky green of the old needles to the downy green of spring’s new growth.

Walk slowly through all that green. As you do you’ll see the wild birds the populate the area – Cooper’s hawks, robins, yellow finches and, occasionally, the mountain bluebird. You’ll hear the sharp barky cries of the marmots, calling out to each other as they watch you through the undergrowth. We saw several of them, including a young ‘un, perched on the side of the road watching as we descended to Upper Mesa Falls, watching from a fallen log as we walked the trail back to camp. They probably wanted to know what we were doing on their private highway.

Then there’s the other trail – wilder, steeper, more mysterious. We found it leading from the corner of a tiny parking lot just south of Grandview, where boaters park to prepare their light craft for a strenuous journey down the skid trail to the river. We wanted to find the river so the boys could throw rocks. We never found it. Instead, wandering down that trail that sometimes brought us close to the roar of the falls through the trees and sometimes brought us to spots where the trees swallowed up the roar of the falls completely, we came to a spot where the deer or marmot decided walking along the canyon rim would be a good idea. Mountainous trees to the right, a rocky stumble of volcanic basalt blocks descending fifty or sixty feet to the right.

We opted to turn around. Next time, though, I’m going further.

Next time, too, we’re finding that trail that leads exclusively from the upper falls to the lower falls so we can stand on the butte overlooking that tight U-bend where the water tumbles, living again the axiom science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke put in the mouth of space explorer Robert Kleinman in “Imperial Earth”:

Space is small; only the planets are big.

Our planet is big. We know this as we wander the tiny trails off the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. We only traveled along those trails for five miles or so and saw not even the tiniest fraction of the entire canyon, where the Henry’s Fork punches through the southern wall of the Island Park caldera to the Snake River Plain below.

Space is small; only the planets are big. And we’re only beginning our explorations.

Getting there: The Lower Mesa Falls overlook off State Highway 47, about ten miles northeast of Ashton, Idaho, is an excellent place to leave your vehicle behind and begin exploring the Mesa Falls area. From the overlook, you can either walk north to the Upper Mesa Falls, about two miles away, or south along the canyon rim past the Lower Mesa Falls lookout, Grandview Campground and on towards Bear Gulch, where other trails, including a rails-to-trails that links Ashton, Idaho, to West Yellowstone, Montana, branch off.

Parking at the Lower Mesa Falls overlook is free. Parking at Upper Mesa Falls isn’t – that costs $10 per carload. Nothing stops you from making the walk to Upper Mesa Falls from the lower falls to avoid paying the fee, however. Potable water and bathrooms are also available at the Grandview campground.

The campground itself costs $13 per night. If you have a second vehicle, the price goes up $6. There aren’t many spots at the campsite, so plan on getting there early – it’s first come, first served.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dancing about Architecture

Remember this, according to Ray Rhamey, blogger and author of books like “We the Enemy” and “The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles” when it comes to showing, not telling:
  • Telling is dispensing information
  • Showing is evoking experience
But let me show you. First, here’s Andy Williams singing “Try to Remember,” from “The Fantastiks.”

Now here’s me, trying to evoke an experience:

In silhouette he walks toward us, gently walking as if he doesn’t want to leave footprints. The guitar, the horn, the invisible singers in the background; their sounds ripple the air like wind on grain, on the farm we see behind him.

He emerges from shadow. He’s wearing a suit.

Maybe he’s a visitor at the farm, contemplating buying it. Or maybe he’s the farm’s long-lost son, returned from the city, wandering the fields he knew as a child, trying to find those places that captivate his memory: the silo where he played in the shadows, the ditch where he swam, the fallow field where the wild strawberries grew amid the cowpats.

Try to remember the kind of September,
When life was slow and oh so mellow . . .

He doesn’t look at us through the camera. He’s not singing to us. He’s singing to himself, trying to remember as he urges us to remember in song.

Melancholy. He is the boy searching for the magical spots of youth. Though crisply dressed in his blue suit, he has wandered the farm for hours, searching, and finding nothing but the grain that ripples under the wind of the fingers on the guitar, the wind of the lungs blowing into the horn.

But not so melancholy. As he stands, looking over the fields that were once a fairy world, he remembers. He remembers the green grass, the flowing yellow grain. But the memories are faint. He looks up as he remembers, then casts his eyes to the banks of earth at his feet as the memories fade.

He has returned, but he cannot go back to the days when he was a tender and callow fellow, playing in the fields, living in a world where the sky was small because the fields were big, each day lit differently by the hues of sun and fading chlorophyll.

Try to remember when life was so tender,
That no one wept except the willow. . .

When he sings this, his lips are crooked, as if he’s trying to shape the W as he sings. He knows he can’t go back to that time when the only weeping was done by the willow, though he has returned to the farm he knew so well.

Melancholy – but resigned. Content, maybe, with the dreams he keeps beside his pillow.

Deep in December it’s nice to remember
The fire of September that made us mellow . . .

Here, he almost smiles. He can’t go back to that time, standing there in the field, dressed in his suit when back then he wore overalls without a shirt on underneath. He is content with the memories he has. It’s time to go.

My Kids vs Adam Ant

So I have proof here that an invasive species of ant living in North Carolina may have better problem-solving skills than my own children.

Typical of the BBC’s top-notch science reporting is this paragraph that sums up the whole story:
When worker Pachycondyla chinensis ants find very cumbersome snacks, they return to their nest and literally grab another ant in their jaws, carry it over and drop it next to the food.

Though researchers studying the ants aren’t sure how the carried ants – which they describe as “passive” while it is being carried to the food – reorient themselves vis-à-vis their colony and the task at hand once they’re dropped near the big food item, they quickly get to work and can even adjust locations if the researches move the big food item on their own.
Here’s where my kids come in.

I see a mess they’ve made, collective or otherwise. I’d like it cleaned up. First, I ask them to clean it up. I make my expectations clear, and even remind them where the mess is. When I get no response – okay, when I get no response from several requests of cleanup – I bring them to the site of said mess and, believe me, they do not arrive passively. Then the command is given onsite.

Unlike the ants, they cannot reorient themselves vis-à-vis anything, let alone the mess that they could clean up in five minutes if they wouldn’t indulge in a minimum fifteen minutes of fussing about not wanting to do the task at hand. Even when I recruit a helper – either because the mess is a collective one or I believe, foolishly, that many hands will make light work – the help a) does not arrive passively and b) cannot reorient itself to the task at hand. More fussing and delay ensues.

Meanwhile, the ants are all busy, happily at work carving up a cockroach too big for one of them to carry on their own, secure in the fact that they’re collectively helping out the colony and getting their chores done in a way that might leave them time to play with their little dolls before it’s time to turn in for the night.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Flyover Confession

I have to make a flyover country confession: I do not know what a rising senior or a rising junior is. And I read that a lot in the personality profiles written by Alan’s CSPA students.

Must be an East Coast thing. Maybe they’re all into astrology – that’s the only thing that immediately came to mind with all of these rising juniors and seniors. Maybe it’s good they’re rising, in the house of Gemini or whatever. Better to be rising than descending, and better yet to be rising without colliding with Saturn, if I understand astrology at all.

But no. I’m not convinced it’s astrology. So I made the confession to one of Alan’s students while reading his (or her) essay: Don’t assume people understand the jargon.

Does that apply even if it’s a regional thing? Depends on the case, I suppose. We out here don’t bother to explain what we mean by pop, even though more than half the nation (erroneously) refers to pop as soda. Or coke. We just assume everyone will know what we’re talking about, and if they don’t well, bub, they’d better learn. So it is with rising seniors and juniors. They who be back East know what this means, to be a rising senior or a rising junior. So be it.

That’s a minor issue, of course.

What I’m seeing of greater concern is the same thing I’m seeing in my BYU-Idaho students: Fear of detail. And – surprisingly – what we in Mormon Country call testimony bearing.

Testimony bearing and fear of detail go hand in hand. A writer wants to say good things about a person – say that Alan Murray, for example, is a humble and hard-working person. That’s great. But the detail to back up that testimony is lacking, if there are even hints of the detail at all.

There’s also a fear of follow-up. So a student says he enjoys coaching kids, or that he is in a band. Those facts are duly written down and noted in the story. But rarely is it explained why the student enjoys coaching kids, or what kinds of band the student is in. There’s a veneer of detail, but nothing you can sand through without revealing the Formica beneath.

So Alan’s students are getting the same advice I’m giving mine: Elaborate. Bear your testimony, but then have the detail to back up what you say.

A Tiny Crack Appears in the Fair Use Law reports that a federal judge has ruled that in one particular case the posting of an entire newspaper article – including headline – by a poster hoping to start a discussion on the nation’s financial crisis falls under the umbrella of the Fair Use doctrine.

Cautions abound, however. Fair use is still determined on a case-by-case basis; what defense works in one case may not work in another. This demonstrates the capriciousness of the fair use law, and also the caution bloggers and other Internet denizens must exercise when citing fair use as a reason for using another’s creative media without prior authorization.

US District Judge Philip Pro said Righthaven, a Las Vegas-based “copyright litigation factory,” per Wired, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper didn’t provide ample evidence to show that Wayne Hoehn’s posting of a Review-Journal editorial on a discussion post drew enough eyeballs away from the original article to damage the plaintiffs financially. Pro also ruled Hoehn used the posting for a noncommercial purpose.

This is a significant case in that the fair use law has never defined how much of an article may be quoted even for noncommercial, educational or commentary purposes. And though that will still be decided on a case-by-case basis, that an entire article was allowed to be used under the fair use law in this instance is significant and could set a precedent for other jurists who are weary of the law’s vagaries.

Still, caution is the better part of valor here. One ruling won’t make the law’s capriciousness disappear.

A Quiet Book

First impression of Grace Tully’s “FDR My Boss,” a memoir written by the president’s personal secretary in 1949: It would not be written today.

Well, maybe it would be written. But in today’s environment of tell-all political memoirs, it would pale in comparison to the crap that gets produced. It’s certainly partisan – in Tully’s mind FDR could do little wrong – but it’s also completely lacking in scandalous detail and scurrilous treatment of the opposition. What scurrilousness is contained therein is polite, demure, said in passing and as quickly forgotten.

Polite is the word for this book. Even when it comes to dealing with difficult White House guests – Madame Chiang Kai-shek treating White House staff as hotel busboys, for one – Tully is polite. Even the press this book comes from – The Peoples Book Club of Chicago, Ill., is polite. Aside: The Peoples Book Club. That sounds so New Deal-ish. I love it. (The price I got it for, $2, is also pretty New Deal-ish, as the book sells for between $12 and $99 (the ridiculous price) at

There is this given: This is the first political memoir I’ve read from this era. Maybe polite was de rigeur, though Tully drops enough hints about other writings that make me think this isn’t so. Maybe Tully’s point of the book bears the politeness through: FDR was a decent man doing a decent job during difficult times. End of story.

A few of my favorite bits:

FDR slaps down the American press (page 219):
On my recent mission of good will to South America I made the great discovery that the overpowering influence of your club has not yet extended to the Southern Hemisphere. Our friends in our sister republics are handicapped by being limited to the reading of nothing but actual news. They lack the North American habit of interpreting news. Perhaps in the days to come you can offer your services.
Ouch. That was delivered the Washington DC’s Gridiron Club. Yes, he was expected to deliver comedy at their annual dinner, but comedy always bears with it a bit of truth, no?

One more bit taking on press criticism (page 220-221):
One morning, about the middle of October, I became curious about this man Roosevelt and I went to a beautiful old mirror of the early Federal period and took a careful look at him in the glass. He smiled. I remember that one of the most damning indictments that had been brought against him was that self-same smile. I smiled back. And after a careful examination I decided that all that this villain looked like was a man who wanted to be re-elected President of the United States.

He was re-elected and the great 1936 campaign serial turned out to have a most surprising ending. On the morning of November fourth the editors decided that this villain was, after all, a reasonable person. He was deluged with editorial advice – suave advice, friendly advice, advice based on the apparent assumption that this man really was a reincarnation of a cross between Little Eva and Simple Simon.
May I recommend this habit of standing in front of a mirror? It is a good habit. It restores perspective. It brings out all the blemishes one ought to know about.
Yowza. More backhanded gallantries directed at the nattering class. I like this guy.

And speaking of Simple Simon . . .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

One of My Favorite Places

Went here over the weekend, just to see the moss. Well, not necessarily to see the moss, but getting to see the moss is a nice bonus of going here. Here is Mesa Falls, of course. Where else would it be? The only thing I forgot to do was to verify that the ubiquitous Nose Hair Man was still there. Actually forgot about it until just now. Feeling dumb about that.

I just love the moss. Whenever I hear anyone say that Idaho isn't green and pretty but brown and ugly, I have to say, well, you don't know Idaho like I know Idaho.

We met a couple from Illinois there. They'd enjoyed -- well, if that's the word for it -- driving through a blizzard while crossing the Continental Divide in Yellowstone National Park the day before. They'd stopped at Mesa Falls on their way to Jackson. "This is God's country," they both said, over and over. Yeah, it is. And you know what, I'll bet if we'd have been able to show them around the "drier" part of Idaho, they'd have seen the beauty as well.

But here, there is the moss. And, even on the 18th of June, a big patch of snow at the foot of the waterfalls.

Alan Murray: Detecting Gorillas All Week Long

Within the next hour and a half, Uncharted's Alan Murray will be detecting gorillas. Much better than Dr. Bunsen Honeydew here.

Gorilla detecting is a good metaphor for what Alan is doing this week. In case you've forgotten, Alan is teaching a week-long writing and leadership seminar at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association's summer workshop series. The gorilla detecting comes in as Alan teaches his students that we have to go beyond the obvious and stretch ourselves as writers and communicators to succeed in any kind of writing endeavor, not just journalism. (I wish I'd realized the importance of the communication part when I was a journalist; that would have helped avoid several unpleasant problems, namely my exit from the industry in 2005.)

We've had a buy month, getting Alan ready for this week's adventure. And we're not done. Andrew will work as a Skyped-in guest speaker on coordinating writing with visuals, while Dave will also Skype in to talk about SEO and other ways to generate web traffic. I'll be working with Alan all week as well, offering feedback on his students' writing. It's going to be a challenging week.

Alan is up to it, through. He's good at detectoring gorillas.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

BYU-Idaho Threatens to Eat Rexburg

It appears BYU-Idaho is stirring up a small kettle of crazy in our old Rexburg neighborhood and it’s got residents in the area all riled up.

The Rexburg Standard Journal reports today that the university has bought seven homes along College Avenue, with as-yet undisclosed plans for the property.

First, my prediction, which is simple enough to come up with when you look at the neighborhood on Google Maps (zoom in on College Avenue just north of campus):

View Larger Map

I’m unfamiliar with the house numbers in the area, but it appears that with the exception of one address given by the paper, all of the houses are on the right side of the street, facing north. Note there’s also a LDS church on the block.

Here’s the prediction:

The houses will be torn down, naturally. As will the church. A new church will be built on the combined property, along with parking for church and campus use.

My reasoning:

• As badly as the university wants to be a walking campus, this just isn’t so. The university recognizes this and thus is looking for additional parking on the north side of campus, where parking is scarce.
• The church is still short of meetinghouse space for student wards. The church building in question is of a nonstandard design that further limits usage. So it’ll be torn down and replaced with a modern building. Additional student housing complexes going up on First West – where another five homes were razed to make room for it – is only going to make the meetinghouse space situation to the north of campus worse.

Alternate prediction:

The Kirkham building, just to the south of the LDS Church in question, is also slated to be torn down. Either parking or a church building will be put in on the property once the Kirkham is gone, with the additional property to the north being used for parking only. This is a less likely scenario, however, as the trend is for the church building and parking to be built on the same property. A parking lot in place of the Kirkham is more likely than a church building.

I know residents of the area are concerned about their neighborhood disappearing. All I can say to that is, well, that process has already started. The vacant lot that used to stand across the street from our First South home is now student housing. Other residences on the black to the northwest of us have disappeared to become part of another church parking lot or a car wash. Then there are the houses gone for the new student housing. Many of the other homes – ours included – is now student housing. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of that neighborhood is changed.

Most painful to me is to see the house that was formerly the home of the Anderson photo studios, now vacant, gutted, and open to nature, for more than a year. Evidently, the home was victim to the financial crisis. Stray cats are probably living there now.

Lying Liars . . .

I’ve read a lot about Richard Nixon. The man and the story he’s inevitably tied to – I don’t even have to mention Watergate and you know what I mean – fascinate me. Here we have an intelligent, powerful man who easily wins a second term to the highest office in the land brought down by a lie.

Begins to sound familiar, doesn’t it?

News is today that Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned this week over the story he’s inevitably tied to – I don’t even have to mention Weinergate and you know what I mean. Here again when have an intelligent, powerful man who is being brought down by a lie.

It’s easy to say in Weiner’s case that it was the cover-up, not the initial act, that brought about his downfall. (Not the same with Nixon, however. His lie made his situation worse, but the initial act was worse than the lie.) I’ve got to admit that I don’t really care if the man sent naughty pictures of himself to the ladies. That’s a matter between him and his wife to sort out. But when he lies about it and tries to blame it on anyone from “hackers” to Andrew Brietbart, well, a big part of me has to ask: What else is he willing to lie about, and what has he lied about in the past?

Yes, we all lie. He who says he has never lied is by default a liar. But here’s the part of the lying that gets me, and it goes right down to what Homer Simpson says about lying: “It takes two to lie. One to lie, and one to listen.” I know Homer says it in a half-serious jest, trying to shift some of the blame for his own lies onto his wife Marge, but there’s a lot of truth in what he says. If the other person believes the lie, that person aids and abets the liar, thus encouraging further lies.

We ought to examine what those in power tell us. I know it is human nature to be trusting, but that, perhaps, is one of the weaknesses we are to work out while we have the faculties to do so. We are, in fact, urged to examine what those in power tell us, even in matters of the gospel. Moroni’s promise in the last chapter of the book that bears his name comes to mind. He offers his evidence, and then urges us into action:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere hears, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Reminds me as well of something that I read this week for the BYU-Idaho class I’m teaching (you knew that had to come into the fold at some time, didn’t you).

Here’s what John D. Lamb says concerning “voodoo science” at a forum given at BYU-Idaho in November 20003:
Voodoo science can jump out and hit anyone at any time from any direction. You may have a sister-in-law who wants to sell you some new “alternative medicine” that cures your tendonitis, or you may hear on the news that using cell phones will give you cancer. You must decide: Are these claims reliable? Should I buy from my sister-in-law? Should I quit using my cell phone? Make the wrong choice, and you’ll feel like someone has stuck a voodoo doll of you full of pins!
It’s up to us to decide, when we are lied to, whether we’ll participate in the lie or not.

FDR and the Liberty League -- and Modern Parallels Best Left Unsaid

Interesting, the things you can learn when you read a book. And then go to the Internets for further information.

I’m reading (well, got back to reading after a few readerly interruptions) book called “FDR My Boss,’ by Grace Tully, one of the Democratic president’s full-time secretaries. In it, Tully excerpts part of a speech given by FDR in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Oct. 31, 1936 (full text available here, thank you Internet):
For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.
What makes this speech interesting is that it was, in part, delivered to refute allegations made by the so-called Liberty League – which Roosevelt and others panned as a Republican organization but was in fact founded by Democrats opposed to his New Deal policies – that Roosevelt was taking the nation down the road of Socialist ruin. (Kinda sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

The Liberty League, however, died out just after FDR was re-elected in ’36 with a landslide vote.

No particular reason to post all of this, aside from wanting to point out that it’s fun to read history and draw parallels from then to now (either former president George W. Bush or current president Barack Obama could make a similar speech today and have it fit in pretty well with current political thought). Guess the partisan nature of politics isn’t as new today as many would like us to believe.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Carl Sagan's Logic

NOTE: More babbling from my BYU-Idaho class.

Carl Sagan is known, of course, as a scientific populist, someone who advocates, per Wikipedia, a return to the “older Aristotelian movement of horizontal interactions among equals who are different.” In other words – Sagan is someone who wants to speak on scientific principles not only with other scientists, but with lay people who share his interest in the scientific method.

In this clip from the popular television show Cosmos (well, it was popular when I was a kid in the early 1980s) Sagan turns to the subject of astrology. Obviously, as a scientist, he is dismissive of astrology. But isn’t it interesting to consider the persuasive methods he uses to put his point across?

First, who is his audience? What approach will he take – will he use logos, an appeal to logic; pathos, an appeal to emotion; or ethos, an appeal to character or credibility?

Second, what kids of claims does he make in the following statements:

• Astrology suggests a dangerous fatalism. If our lives are controlled by a set of traffic signals in the sky, why try to change anything?

• I was born in a closed room. Light from Mars couldn’t get in. The only influence of Mars which could affect me is its gravity. But the gravitational influence of the obstetrician was much larger than the gravitational influence of Mars. Mars is a lot more massive, but the obstetrician was a lot closer.

• The desire to be connected to the cosmos reflects a profound reality. But we are connected. Not in the trivial ways that the pseudoscience of astrology promises, but in the deepest ways. Our little planet is under the influence of a star. The sun warms us. It drives the weather. It sustains all living things. Four billion years ago, it brought forth life on Earth.

Sagan, interestingly, relies heavily on ethos – or our trust in his character – as he makes his arguments. He mentions the last “scientific astronomer” Johannes Kepler in this bit, but he does not reveal anything to us about how Kepler drew away from astrology and into astronomy. Sagan presents few documented facts for us to consider throughout this clip. He is instead using ethos and pathos to convince us of his point of view.

He does, in the second example, use logos to convince us that believing the planets influence our fate at the time of our birth is absurd, given that the planet’s physical properties have such weak influence on us at the time.

In the third example, he relies heavily on pathos – drawing on our emotions, our desire to feel connected to the world around us but in real ways, not the “pseudoscience” used in astrology.

What kinds of claims does Sagan make in this clip? I believe he uses the three we discuss in class:

He makes evaluative claims, asking us to find the common assumption in the view that celestial traffic lights controlling our fate is a silly thing.

He uses definitive claims when he compares what scientific evidence-gathering has found out about the planets in comparison to the astrologers’ belief that the planets personify war, death, authority – and portent the presence of such in our lives as they rise and fall.

He uses advocative claims when he works to convince us to take the course of action that leads us to believe we are connected to the world and our own sun through real, physically-measurable ways.

Healthcare Update, or More Potential *&@*#!

With our end-of-the-month deadline looming to find new health insurance approaching, we’re holding our breath. Our hopes are not high. And I still haven’t heard thing one from my congressmen aside from boilerplate email responses.

Here’s what’s going on:

• Sayonara, Assurant Health. Fie to you and your more-than-our-mortgage premiums.
• Private individual market for health insurance sucks, according to my wife’s aunt who is in the business, and ObamaCare has made the situation worse.
• Regence Blue Cross/Shield of Idaho, take pity on we poor, simple folk.

Yeah, we’re going to give Regence a try, though our hopes aren’t high. We sent off our application material yesterday and hope that this company will actually offer us something besides the same old crap. Again, expectations are not high. Oh, we will likely be offered a policy. Whether it offers the care we’re interested in at the price we can afford is a different story.

How ObamaCare is making the situation worse, I’m a little fuzzy on. Though this report (sorry, registration required) from McKinsey & Company paints a pretty appalling picture. (This is only one report, I know. I’m still open to reports that have more rainbows and unicorns in them, but this is the one making the Internet rounds right now.)

Basically, the report says that of 1,300 employers contacted by the company, upwards of 30 percent are likely to drop employee health insurance as the ObamaCare provisions come into play in 2014 – this even despite penalties that will kick in further down the road.

Here’s the report’s key finding:
Starting in 2014, people who are not offered affordable health insurance coverage by their employers will receive income-indexed premium and out-of-pocket cost-sharing subsidies. The highest subsidies will be offered to the lowest-income workers. That reduces the social-equity advantage of employer-sponsored insurance, by enabling these workers to obtain coverage they could not afford on today’s individual market. It also significantly increases the availability of substitutes for employer coverage. As a result, whether to offer ESI after 2014 becomes mostly a business decision. Employers will have to balance the need to remain attractive to talented workers with the net economics of providing benefits—taking into consideration all the penalties and tax advantages of offering or not offering any given level of coverage.
Not pretty. The subsidies will be nice – as far as I can tell, we’ll qualify for some amount – but if we’re looking to the individual insurance market to keep prices down even with this potential influx of new insurees, well, I guess we’re also likely to buy swampland in Florida. (Yes, there are bright spots. The study also points this out):
This development should not suggest, however, that employers considering the elimination of ESI are focused exclusively on the bottom line, at the expense of their employees. In fact, because of the subsidies, many low-income employees will be able to obtain better health coverage, for less out of pocket, on an exchange than from their employer.
So we’ll see what happens. Feeling pessimistic, however.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teechur Thots

I’m now two-thirds of the way through teaching my first FDENG 101 course at BYU-Idaho. I’m here to report that I’m still enthused about teaching.

And why, pray tell?

Well, my students are working hard. They turned in their rough draft personality profile essays early last week, and through my feedback and feedback from their peers, most of them turned out an end product that was quite good. Not spectacular, but good enough that I can see where they’re making progress in how they think about writing.

The big question for the week: How involved should I be as they comment on each others’ rough drafts? Being the pompous egotistical maniac that I am, I thought I should comment on each essay, making sure to point out what they do good, and where they might need improvement. I decided this time around to do it privately, via e-mail. Here’s what I posted in my teaching group discussion this week:

I'm erring on the side of being involved. I've talked with my wife about this -- she taught high school English -- and she said that in her experience, the majority of the students appreciated that the teacher is involved in helping them become better writers.

I took a different approach this time around, providing individual feedback in private via email. I took a bit more time with each essay, and with the feedback being private, I think the students were more open to it. In grading their essays over the past few days I can see where this approach is working. So many students had much better essays -- and this was from incorporating their peers' feedback as well as mine. Those who take the feedback seriously are, I believe, the ones who want it the most. Providing feedback in private avoids the problem of "stealing thunder," while giving me a chance to help those students who want it. That everybody gets feedback is for fairness. I already know there are some who won't respond to my feedback at all.

That may introduce the subject of a flaw in the learning model [sound of cudgels being brought out and knives unsheathed]. Learning peer-to-peer is great. but if all the instructors are is a grade machine, what are we really here for?

I’m trying not to make waves. Well, not really. I am making waves. I want to be involved. I know going back through my own experiences as a student both in traditional classrooms and online that I enjoyed the classes where the teachers were more than a grading machine. Roy Atwood at the University of Idaho, for one, and Dave Hailey at Utah State, for another. These guys made us think. They presented the material and then made sure we thought about it and digested it and tried to figure out how to apply it to what we were doing in class. Roy Atwood, I recall, cautioned me against my proclivity towards BS, and I recall some of those conversations as my BS-ometer chimes when I write. And Dave Hailey opened my eyes to the vast store of technical communication knowledge I do not have. So I’m doing a lot of reading and experimenting on that end – including teaching this class so maybe I can figure out if I want to go on to a doctorate.

Those teachers who were grading machines? I don’t even remember the grades I got from them.

By George, I Think He's Got It

Well, it appears that Alan is prepared for his stint – starting next week – at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s summer workshop.

The whole Uncharted team has worked pretty hard over the last month helping him get ready, and I think we’ve got a pretty comprehensive program put together. His students ought to leave the week-long conference with a lot of valuable information and I’ll be surprised if the Columbia folks don’t ask Alan to come back and teach again.

Our crown jewel this week is a completely fleshed-out schedule, with much of the lecturing ready to go. Not that he’s going to do lots of lecturing – there’s going to be lots of hands-on stuff for his students to do.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Trailers and Delusions of Adequacy

Been thinking a lot about book trailers this weekend. For the uninitiated, a book trailer is basically a mini movie an author (or duly appointed agent) puts together to try to sell or hype or otherwise publicize a book.

Thinking about book trailers has kind of got me thinking about books in general, specifically the ones I’m writing.

First, “The Hermit of Iapetus,” the story of a slightly off-kilter guy living isolated from humanity on Saturn’s moon Iapetus, where he reads the story of Roald Admunsen’s journey to the South Pole and believes he sees squirrels running free range on the moon’s surface. For some reason, whenever I hear Patsy Cline sing “San Antonio Rose,” I think of this particular story.

Don’t know why I think of this tune, I just do. It’s stuck in my head as I think about this book. Well, it’s a mere short story right now, but I’m thinking it’s going to evolve. There’s just such a contrast between the music and footage from the Cassini mission to the moon:

And what, pray tell, of “Considering How to Run,” the book for which I have a complete first draft?

Well, the trailer is a bit fuzzy. As is the query letter. Which tells me – rightly – that the book itself is fuzzy. So it’s not ready yet. Oh, the idea may be ready some day, but as for now, it needs more work. So chalk up one for navel contemplation here. I’ve often heard it’s wise for a new author to get a manuscript or two or three or four under his or her belt before they go a-fishin’ but I’ve always dismissed that. Until now. Now I begin to see the sense in it. Percolation is a long process, and perhaps writing that query letter or contemplating that book trailer is a good way to tell if the percolation process has gone on long enough.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


So, you know that nifty electrical zapping noise you get in your better-quality old-timey Superman cartoons, like this one:

Well, I was standing at the sink this evening washing the dinner dishes while an apple crisp cooked in the oven right next to me. All of a sudden the oven started making that Superman noise, accompanied by a big puff of smoke and a fake electronic light show. But I knew it wasn't fake, so I quickly turned the oven off and peeked inside. Part of the element was glowing a very nice cherry red with some melted globs stuck to it.

After it all cooled, I took the standard approach to appliance repair. I opened the oven and poked at the element with a barbecue fork, shielding my face with a furnace glove, to be extra-extra-extra safe. I could see that the element had snapped and the nifty noise I heard was 220 volts of electricity arcing between the broken bits, melting things as it went. Sooo glad I was standing there when the fireworks went off or, well, I could be typing this from a smoking ruin right now, or at least still be outside with the guys in the funny hats and rubber boots.

So we can replace the element, in theory.

It's still par for the course this year, though. So far this year, we've had to replace the toaster, the microwave, and the freezer. The master cylinder in the truck has failed twice, and we had to get new tires for the Pilot after Michelle had a flat. Just holding our breath now to see what the next broken-down bit of machinery will be in the house. Probably me.

Two things to day: When I see the baddie's hideout in this episode, all I can think to say is "Art Deco. Very nice." Also, if you can identify the pop culture references I use in this post, well, you're just as much of a nerd as I am.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Two Important -- and Hilarious -- Sites for Writers

I’m sure the existence of QueryShark and the BookEnds blog is not news to those seriously into scouring the Internet for great resources for budding writers. That’s not the point. What is the point is that they’re new to a schlub like me still marveling at the jargon and the sociability of agents and literary agencies – some of them – on the Internet.

I’ve spent at least an hour perusing the posts at QueryShark and have learned a lot. The premise is that budding authors can send their queries in to QueryShark for a critique. The site provides a good mix of both good and comically bad query letters, with underlying criticism reminding authors that if they’re having trouble with the query letter, it might jus be that they’ve got a novel that’s not quite up to much.

What’s most helpful about QueryShark is that the authors take query letters through several iterations, working with the author to make things better. Here’s one of my favorites.

The advice is often savage, but – and I know this to be the truth – necessary. There’s a lot of people out there writing books and thinking they’ve got the next great American novel in their hands when, in truth, they do not. This is a good place to go for a taste of humility, and a willing, professional audience ready to help you write the best query – and, conversely, a better novel – than you might have without any help at all.

I’m absolutely submitting my query for “Considering How to Run” to QueryShark – after I revise it, of course. Sounded good to me when I wrote it. It’s obviously trash, after reading the critiques on their site. Ooh yeah. It’s trash. Revising it right now. Not pretty. So QueryShark, yes, very useful site.

BookEnds is more of a generic lit agent blog (something I need, given that Nathan Bransford is no longer a lit agent) with some of the features of QueryShark, accompanied with more basic information on landing an agent, how agents tick, etc. Not quite as humorous (or painful, if you want to go that way) as QueryShark, but still stuffed with valuable information. Good example of BookEnds stuff here.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Death of the Mouse?

So, according to TIME magazine’s Techland blog, the mouse is doomed.

Doomed, I say, doomed. Just – dare I say it – like these guys:

Because of Apple, of course. Everything that is dooming computer technology as we know it is either due to texting or Apple.

I’m a bit skeptical about all this touch technology they’re touting. You know, I like my iPod Touch. I like tapping on it, not having to have a keyboard or mouse attached to it. I like the pinching and other touchy-feely things I can do to manipulate text, games and such. To a point. Playing Galaga or Dig-Dug on these devices is crap. The games beg for a joystick. Maybe someday somebody will be able to wire an old Atari 2600 joystick to an iPod Touch, and I’ll play those games again. Don’t ask me to tilt the thing to get things to move. My geriatric brain – a match to the photo of the age-spotted hand Techland includes in their story – just doesn’t work that way.

I have a laptop that has a touchpad instead of a mouse. I don’t like it. When I type on the keyboard, my wrists brush against the touchpad and bad things happen. Now Apple wants to sell us something (surprise, surprise) called a Trackpad. Techland uses the word “magic” to describe the Trackpad. I’m not sure if they’re poking fun at Apple for their overuse of the word or just in awe of Apple’s overuse of the word. Doesn’t matter.

Jason Fox, I think, illustrates the pitfalls of changing from a simple directional pointing device like the mouse to anything more complex.

Though it’s inevitable, as Zits point out.

Okay, Apple. I’ll send you my wallet. Again.

Babbler Unleashed

So, in applying what I’m teaching my Foundations English students, I’m going to write a “proposal paper” for the upcoming BYU-Idaho Faculty Conference on the subject of “Improving the Quality of Our Teaching and the Depth of our Knowledge.”

Why do this?

Well, for a few reasons.

I need to put up or shut up, for one. I tell my students learning to write an argument in which you clearly state your thesis and then support that thesis with good, documented evidence is something they’re going to want to know how to do properly in life. And yet I sit back and write silly little blog posts and tinker with fantasy novels, not really taking that stance into action.

I’m also bored, I confess. Teaching this class is fun. My job keeps me busy. But this will be fun and challenging and keep me busy in a different way. And so it goes. Whether or not it’ll be accepted for presentation at the conference I don’t know, but I want to do this anyway just to say I did it.

So here’s my thesis, on the assigned topic:

As BYU-Idaho instructors, we best model the acquisition of wisdom for our students by seeking wisdom alongside our students.

Principle Four of the BYU-I Learning Model states “Learners and teachers at BYU-Idaho act for themselves and accept responsibility for learning and teaching.”

There’s no parsing of language in this statement, assigning learning to only learners. Indeed, as is stated further on that principle: “Teachers and students are expected to act in accordance with their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; these actions include diligent effort and preparation, participation, reflection and prayers, and maintaining a proper attitude toward learning.” There is no out for the teacher – the learning model impels us to learn alongside our students.

So, how do we do that?

We act.

BYU-I President Kim B. Clark explains our need to act in his Inaugural Response delivered on campus on October 11, 2005:

To learn by faith, students need opportunities to take action. Some of those opportunities will come ... in the classroom, where prepared students, exercising faith, step out beyond the light they already possess, to speak, to contribute, and to teach one another.

Though he addresses students specifically in this instance, what he says clearly applies to teachers as well, when taken in context with the Learning Model and other instruction given by church leaders and academics both inside and outside the church.

As teachers, we need opportunities to take action. In the classroom – whether it’s physical or virtual – we need to act as prepared teachers, exercising faith, to step beyond the light we already possess to speak, to contribute, and to teach one another. We can best model the acquisition of wisdom by seeking wisdom alongside our students.

I’m new to teaching. Up until I signed that contract to teach Foundations English 101 starting in May 2011, the most experience I’ve had as a teacher has been limited to stints as Elders Quorum Instructor and as a teacher in junior Sunday School and Primary. My pool of wisdom on the subject of teaching is shallow.

What is comforting to me is that those at Online Instruction who hired me, and Tyler Chadwick, my teaching group leader, know my pool of wisdom is shallow. But rather than watch me puddle-jump, they arrive with shovels and my fellow instructors and are helping me dredge the bottom of that pool so it becomes deeper. They have put a shovel in my hands and encourage me to dig as well. Together, we collectively increase the depth of our own pools of wisdom.

“If a person seeks to obtain wisdom in his life, the first step he must take is to seek the Lord, ‘to establish his righteousness,’” writes Marion G. Romney, then first counselor in the first presidency in the Liahona of October 1983. “He must come to a realization that he is inadequate in and of himself. . . .‘Seek and ye shall find’ has ever been and is now the pattern and the promise. Doing this, a person may – and it is the only way he can – be led to a knowledge of God from which springs that “profound reverence” declared by the Psalmist to be the beginning of wisdom.”

We have at our disposal a number of tools and methods with which we as online instructors may improve the quality of our teaching and the depth of our knowledge of the subject of teaching – and before you classroom teachers tune out, be aware that these same tools and methods are available to you as well, though not quite exactly in the form I’ll describe.

• Best practices discussion board
• Teaching group discussions
• Informal opportunities to “talk shop” with colleagues
• Our students

And on it will go.

Hey, You, Get Into the Cloud

See if you can wrap your head around this one. Because I can’t.

Apple is now offering the iCloud – a web-based service for storing our music, movies, photos, brain cells, whatever – in a way that’ll let us sync that content to up to ten devices, thus ridding the cumbersome and space-hogging method currently used, which is storing all of that stuff on our own hard drives and either having to create clunky playlists or do somersaults to log in as a different user in order to sync more than one iPod on one computer.

Sounds great, yes?

Well, wait until you read the fine print.

It’s free for up to 5 gig of music downloaded via iTunes. In other words, music you buy from the record labels via Apple. I have none of that. No, for schlubs like me who rip their music from CDs (I don’t steal it; get that out of your heads) the service costs $25 a year. Fair enough. Apple can’t exactly give away the storage space for free, you know.

This “iMatch” service also applies to storing illegally-obtained music, providing one volunteers to pay for it via iTunes for the privilege of storing it in the cloud.

This, of course, makes record execs ecstatic. So reports CNN, cobbling from Rolling Stone:
It is one way to make someone pay for music they've already bought. It's pretty ingenious," Syd Schwartz, a former EMI Music executive who is now a consultant to artist managers and record labels, tells Rolling Stone. "I'm sure someone in an executive office at a major label somewhere is going, 'At least that's one way we can monetize the stuff people stole from Napster over the years.'
And that’s fine, too. These people stealing music shouldn’t be allowed to use the service unless they’re willing to pay for what they’ve stolen. So guess what? They won’t use it.

And I won’t use it either. Not because I have any qualms on paying for music, but because I don’t want to pay someone else to store stuff I’ve already paid for when I can store it at home for free. Yes, the syncing remains clunky. But that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

We bought a one-gig external hard drive for $89 a few years ago. It’s paying for itself just serving as a spot for us to store our digital photos. I haven’t bothered migrating music or movies over to it, simply because our collections of such aren’t large. Storing them in the cloud may make sense from the point of view of convenience, but not from the point of view of cost. Luckily, I have a Sony MP3 player that’ll sync with whatever computer I choose, so that makes the syncing simple. Only Apple seems to want to make it complicated.

But they’re not the only ones wanting lolly for the privilege. Google offers Google Music, free for a limited time. May check that out. Amazon offers its Cloud Drive, with 5 gig of free storage. We’ll have to see what restrictions apply.

Jared Newman, writing for PCWorld, is dismissive of Amazon’s service, mainly on the pricing, saying that “cloud storage isn’t quite ready to replace a trusty external hard drive.” Obviously I agree with that. I bought a computer with three gigs of internal memory, so storage isn’t all that much of a problem. Neither is lost files, since all of the music I enjoy comes from my physical music collection. Well, I have some freebie stuff and podcasts and the like that I don’t have on physical media, but if it were lost, I probably wouldn’t shed a lot of tears about it.

There are disadvantages to Google and Amazon’s products – no Apple device support, at least as far as I can tell. That seems odd, so I’m probably wrong, but what I’m reading says they’re Android-supporters only.

That leaves mSpot, which has free Android and iPhone apps – presumably, it works for the iPod Touch and iPad as well. But there’s another disadvantage – mSpot only supports one device for free, for up to five devices, ya gotta pay $3.99 a month (so on price, iCloud wins; mSpot comes in at close to twice iCloud’s cost per year). So for scum like me that want the freemium advantages with multiple device syncing, there’s nowhere to go. (See Ginny Mies’ comparison of the four services at PCWorld here.) I suppose you could game mSpot and set up multiple accounts on the free system, but I suspect they’ll have ways to counter such shenanigans. Further investigation is warranted.