Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Hey, looka me! I'm a writer!"

As writers, he said didactically, we're obliged to know what we write will have an impact on others and to accept some responsibility for that impact (in contrast with the Scott Adams Theory of Writerly Absolution, in which he places blame for misunderstanding of a writer on the reader or the messenger who took the message to an unintended audience).

This bit of writing, for example, by TIME magazine’s Jeffrey Kluger, bugs me nuts:
Human beings have been staring at the moon since long before we were human beings at all. Far back in biological history, some light-sensitive eyespot on some prehuman thing must have first registered the shimmer of moonlight, and the lunar love affair began.
This isn’t because I’m a creationist, some wild-eyed anti-Darwinian who goes unhinged when someone hints at evolution. This bugs me nuts because it’s just too contrived, too cute, too stupid of a lead to even encourage me to read the rest of the article. Claiming that the first sight of moonlight beamed to a light-sensitive spot on a pre-human thing does not equate to anything akin to a “lunar love affair.” Because to that light-sensitive eyespot, that beam of moonlight is just another beam of light to a brain not really all that interested in processing whether the light comes from a source that ought to be loved or even noted as more remarkable than any other light from any other source. It’s not the Darwinianism that bugs me – it’s the antropomorphism. And it's funny that it bugs me, because I'm a big fan of anthropomorphism.

It's just a bit too clever, that's all, and is a writerly way to point out to the reader, "Hey, looka me! I'm a writer!" Good writers (and I don't include myself in that category often) don't do that.

To Mr. Kluger’s credit, I did finish reading the article. But this lead still bugs me nuts.

Back t my original topic sentence: We’ve got to know, as writers, that what we write will have an impact on others, and that impact will influence whether others continue to read what we write or write us off completely. We can’t always know what will appeal to our audience, because in this day and age we have no control over who our audience is. I know thanks to Google’s statistics that many of the people who come to this blog bounce in and bounce right back out again. I have no idea why. Google helps me identify what searches led searchers to me, but I have no idea what information they were hoping to find when they clicked on a link to an obscure blog written by a babbler such as myself. I feel bad wasting their time, but that doesn’t stop me from writing. And I don’t have the time or the inclination to tailor my writing to those bouncers, making my site more valuable to them. This blog, first and foremost, is my Minisec of information for me. That it occasionally interests others is of lesser interest to me.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Vacation Creep

We've hit that point in our vacation where our luggage, so small and firmly-packed and neat at the beginning of the trip, is now spilling and bulging all over the vehicle threatening us with avalanche with every twist of the road.

Part of it is the Davidson Pack Rat Factor, which compels all of us to bring items we think we're going to use but never do. My frivolity this trip is a pair of jeans I bought more than a year ago and finally took the tags off of just prior to the trip. I haven't used them at all.

For the kids, this tendency is worse. At first, they wanted to bring no fewer than three bags of coloring books. We talked them down to two, and they haven't cracked the cover of any of them since we left. Add to that the backpacks full of toys that they haven't broken out because they got souvenirs and other stuff on the trip and we've got a fair amount of clutter threatening our lives from the back of the car.

Then there's all the stuff we bought, from Legos to t-shirts to sacks of random Wal-Mart stuff including a loaf of bread that has served the same purpose as bowling alley bumpers in the back of the Pilot. Add to that the enormous bag of dirty laundry that is threatening to go critical even though Michelle's done three loads of laundry while on the road this week and we're a pretty frightening-looking crew.

But we have seen some fun country. Two nights ago we drove through a torrential downpour and pretty brilliant lightning storm in northwestern Missouri as we plied the back roads to avoid flooded interstates. And today -- also avoiding flooded interstates in Nebraska -- we got into some pretty open and desolate country filled with field after field of corn and cows swimming in the ponds where they're supposed to be drinking. I have enjoyed driving through this rolling country, seeing the little churches in nearly every little town and wondering what it would be like to live in some of the places we've seen on the way. I'm sure in some of them we'd go out of our freaking minds because they're so far from civilization, but there are a few we might actually like to live in, if there were such a thing as a decent job to be had there. For a time I contemplated what it would be like to be the sole missionary couple at Far West, Missouri -- they don't have anybody there full-time now, but it might be fun -- as long as I could toilet paper the Community of Christ church across the way and get away with it. But that wouldn't be all that nice, would it? No. So forget I even said it.

Farewell, Nauvoo

A few things first:

Isaac tried to bring home a souvenir pet tick from our trip through Missouri today. We told him we already have a pet and don't need any more. The tick is now swimming with the fishes in the labarynthine Omaha, Nebraska, sewer system. I hope in the future we don't suddenly hear about an attack of mutant giant sewer ticks attacking the city and its populace. If it does happen, let me apologize in advance.

We're out of the humidity and heat. It actually felt cool today in mid-Missouri, with the temperature at about 82 degrees. I never thought I'd regard the low 80s as cool. I guess everything is relative.

To the "The Book of Mormon is a Lie" guy standing in the heat at the southeast corner of the Nauvoo temple lot: With the wonderful message that is Jesus Christ's gospel, don't you think your energies would be better spent teaching people about the goodness of Christ, of his tender mercies for all of us, and of his tolerance and love of his fellow beings, rather than frothing it up and trying to rile up a bunch of solidly Mormon folk whom you think you're going to convince of their errors with your little placards? Oh. I guess not.

Got to thinking about Hyrum Smith tonight, on the way up the river from Liberty Jail. What a remarkable individual, following his younger brother Joseph around as he did. What love he must have had for Joseph, and what courage and strength of conviction to be with him at his side during their trials at Liberty, during their struggles in Kirtland, Independence and Nauvoo, and eventually at the tragedy of Carthage. That is faith and humility in action, much in contrast to the relationship Nephi had with his older brothers, and Joseph had with his. The same goes for Joseph Smith, Sr., who loved his sons and treated the messages Joseph brought into the world through the power of the Holy Ghost with respect and not a small matter of faith.

Good thing is, though I'm no Joseph, I have brothers like this. I hope I'm a brother like that as well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

City of Joseph

I never thought I'd think of 82 degrees as cool, but that's what the temperature was as we were leaving the parking lot at the Nauvoo Pageant tonight. Compared to the day, when the "heat index" (something, I take it, that's akin to our beloved wind chill factor) had us pegged at 117 degrees.

So yes, we baked in Nauvoo. Paid way too much for a rather mediocre buffet meal (it was all you could eat but the food, with the exception of the pie, wasn't all that memorable, and it was too much to pay for just pie). But I can forgive that, because the day overall was wonderful.

I've got photos and video, of course, but as it's past midnight already I'm not going to upload any of it tonight. It may have to wait until we get home, because I'm just too cooked. The heat is really taking it out of us, but we'll get through it. I keep telling that to my kids: We'll deal with the heat because we're here and that's what we've got to do and we certainly didn't come all this way to stay in the hotel.

We're in Fort Madison, Iowa, about a half hour north and on the other side of the river than Nauvoo. Our first adventure of the day came as we were trying to cross the Mississippi River into Illinois and had to wait for about ten minutes because a semi truck was trying to cross the bridge from the Illinois side and didn't notice the huge signs that said semis weren't allowed on the bridge. So he had to back up into Illinois, and that took some time. Once he got out of the way, however, we were on our way.

We saw three shows today -- our reason for coming is that Michelle's niece Lauren Brower is a performing missionary in the shows. We got to hear her play the violin and the harmonica -- a trick she's picking up as she performs here. She's got a lot of talent. Lexie is convinced she wants to be a missionary like Lauren, but it worried that it'll take hard work to get there. Yeah, I told her, it will. But it'll be worth it. She just needs to keep up with her piano lessons and work hard at that, because that's how Lauren got her start into the whole musial thing. Having musical parents as she does, however, helps out a lot.

The Nauvoo Pageant was most excellent, and not just because the temperatures dropped as the show went on. Getting all those reminders of what Joseph Smith did, and what he represented to the early saints was wonderful.

Watching that temple spire -- constructed of wood and muslin -- spring out of the blackness as they represented the completion of the temple just about made me shoot up into the heavens to join the bugs flitting around the stage lights, but in a good way, springing up with joy at the restoration of the gospel and the saving ordinances we perform at the temple. It didn't even bother me that there were anti-Mormons outside the pageant entrance, shouting at us as we went in. Nobody seemed to pay them any mind, and that's as it should be -- we ought to have done nothing more than the "whittling brigade" that Brigham Young advocated when they spotted troublemakers in Nauvoo, back in the day.

So, tomorrow: I want to get down to the Mississippi River and stick my feet in, if such a thing is possible there. I'd like to see the quarry. I know the boys -- especially Isaac -- are counting on Carthage Jail and the Browning gun shop. So that's where we'll head.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Grades are Done! Teacher Going On Vacation.

Here I sit in a Microtel Inn at Council Bluffs, Iowa, trying to get my kids to go to sleep and celebrating (quietly, silently) that I just finished grading the last (very, very late) paper for my FDENG101 English class at BYU-Idaho. The grades are submitted and there's a big cheesecake grin on my face. The first class is over.


I was way too nice to these students this semester. Going to have to recalibrate myself starting mid-September when I get a new crop of students. I let way too many hand in assignments way too late and worried too much about their grades when it was pretty damn obvious in a few cases that they weren't all that worried about them.

The class does have a bell curve, but it's upside down. Where a regular class should have few As, many Bs and Cs and a few failures, my class has many As, a few Bs and Cs and a few failures. So I guess not entirely upside down, but not the traditional bell curve you'd expect.

Looking at their midterm grades compared to their final grades, however, is a bit more interesting. Those students who had As at midterm maintained them. Those who did not have As either maintained their lower grade or slipped, in some cases precipitously.

And I was way too nice for just about everybody.

Going to be meaner next semester. You hear that, BYU-Idaho students? MEANER! Quake in your boots at my approach. Well, not exactly that mean, but I will be more demanding, less forgiving on late assignments and other such stuff. I kinda knew going into this first semester would be hard in trying to calibrate myself as I got used to the idea of teaching online and working with students from the teacher's perspective. Whereas when I was taking online classes I was one student trying to please a teacher, I turned into one teacher trying to please all the students. That just doesn't work at all. So I will be firm, yet fair, if I may invoke a teaching cliche.

I will admit, however, it did feel good to see that final paper take the student from an F to a B with just a few keystrokes.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The First Teeny Step

Hey, remember this post, in which I wrote a draft of a letter to send to the powers that be in the English graduate department at Utah State University to see if they’d consider letting me pursue doctorate classes while working as an instructor at Brigham Young University-Idaho?

Well, I finally did talk to Michelle about it and yesterday I sent it off, via email, to the university.

Today, I got this brief reply:
Hi, Brian,

Thanks for your thoughtful message. I've passed it on to my colleague, Prof. Keith Gibson, to see what he thinks about what you propose. We'll get back to you.


Keith Grant-Davie

Significantly, not a no outright. At least they’re (possibly) open to thinking about the idea. I take that as a good sign.

Of course, this is only the first of many, many steps that will have to be taken if this is to come to pass. I’ll have to apply to school at USU again – I may not have to take the GRE again; then again, I may have to, so I’ll see how that goes. And we’ll have to figure out where the money is going to come from. Michelle will finish her masters program in the spring of 2012, so if the stars align it’s quite possible I (or we, she’s also interested in going on in the program, if we can make the financial arrangements) could begin classes, if I’m accepted, that fall. Lots of ifs, but at least we’re on our way down If Road at the moment.

Space . . .

With the landing of the final space shuttle flight this week at Cape Canaveral, Florida, about all I could think of was this:

(Yeah, the music doesn’t track with the film as it does in the real thing. The real thing is here, I’m just not able to embed it.)

If I could go back in time, I might very well pick the mid-1960s. Not necessarily for the race riots, the inequality, the Vietnam War, or any of the other terrible things going on. But for the optimism that still remained in a lot of people when it came to that thing called “human progress.” We have gobs of it now, but it is lost in the noise. And perhaps I would find that same phenomenon back then; perhaps I’m better off looking through the noise of now to find the optimism that still remains here and now.

But at least back then, we had movies like this to help us, once in a while, find that optimism. This goes back to what I wrote earlier this week on the hooptedoodle of the “Pink Elephants” segment from “Dumbo.” They just don’t do things like this any more. I can’t think of any modern film that would allow for a sequence like Kubrick’s “Blue Danube” sequence from “2001.” Five and a half minutes with no dialogue, just some models, a little special effect, and some really crusty old music. But put together in a way that helped the optimism ooze out. That feeling that if we could get the rest of our crap pulled together – you know, the racism, the wars, et cetera – and put our money and time and effort and thought into something like this, we just might enjoy a more peaceful and productive future. A future that involved travel in outer space becoming commonplace.

As it is, we’re down to this.

Jeffrey Kluger writes this for Time:
If the shuttles were business class and the old Apollos were coach, the Soyuz is a little like hiding in the wheel well for a coast-to-coast flight, even if it's a wheel well with an impeccable safety record — at least recently. . .

With the Soyuz, things are a little sportier. After the spacecraft decouples from the ISS, the commander fires the reentry engines and then jettisons the docking module that's attached to one end of the crew compartment and the engine module that's connected to the other. The little pod that remains plunges into the atmosphere, encountering the first air resistance at about 400,000 ft. — or 75 mi. It falls at a brisk 492 mph until its small drogue parachutes pop out at about the cruising altitude of an airliner. The main parachute is deployed shortly after that, and at just 3 ft. above the surface, three small engines fire to brake the landing slightly. That landing, incidentally, is a thumpdown on the ground, not a splashdown in the ocean. And did we mention that through most of the reentry the spacecraft is spinning in order to maintain stability?
I’m never going to travel in space. Only this way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mesa Falls Hiking Bliss

Had a ball a few weeks ago hiking the canyon around Mesa Falls up in Fremont County, listening to the marmots whistle at us as we walked past and listening to the kids complain about all the hiking. Finally got to writing about it for Uncharted. Go read it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

There's an iPad in the House

Grandpa Griffin got himself an iPad 2 – because there’s a “2” after the name, of course – so his original iPad is now at our house. Given that Michelle successfully sneaked it into the house without me finding out about it, I’m pretty content to let it be hers.

And, yes, I would take one if it were offered to me. Thinking about how I might winkle one out for Christmas, though they seem pretty spendy to me still.

But that’s not the substance of this post.

I have a bet with a former college instructor that the iPad and other such tablet PCs will not lead to the development of new industries. He’s convinced that the iPad and its ilk will spawn new, glorious industries that do not yet exist. I have a hard time believing that. I can see where current industry will make us of it, but I’m hard-pressed to identify any new industries that might arise due to the fact that we now have hand-held, powerful computing devices at our disposal. Smartphones didn’t lead to an industrial paradigm shift, after all – though expansion of current industry isn’t out of the question and is, in fact, pretty obvious.

I have had the opportunity to play around with the iPad a bit – it’s been my job to get it connected to iTunes, to get her father’s personal information removed from it, etc. That has caused some trouble at home, as iTunes itself is pretty clunky when it comes to using multiple devices on a single computer (I’m still confused as to why Apple has to tie its products (iPhone excluded) to another device for updates and such). Michelle’s computer is already home to her iPod Touch and her iPod Nano; mine is home to my iPod Touch and potentially our older iPod, so the iPad is now connected to the kids’ computer. I still prefer the interface built into the Sony MP3 player I have; it just plugs and plays, doesn’t need PC software to run, and can connect to anybody’s computer without requiring reconfiguration or any data dumping. I still believe for the iPads and such to be truly “magical” they need to cut the PC tether.

And we need ubiquitous, low-cost wi-fi.

We spent the weekend with friends who have iPads and iPhones. We were camping. They were connected at all times – because they have grandfathered data plans and are willing to pay the monthly fees for such. I’ve written in the past that I’m not as willing. Well, I would be if there were a less expensive solution. So I’ll keep spitting into one hand and wishing into the other, and see which one fills the fastest. I am going to make a prediction, however: Michelle is beginning to see the utility of always being connected, so the day may come – I’ll say within two years – that we migrate over to some kind of plan for which we pay monthly access for that everywhere connection. Again, an expansion of industry, not the creation of a new one, unless, of course, someone wants to create a national wi-fi network.

Making Connections to Connectivism

The more I read Richard Rhodes’ “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb,” the more I realize the education al philosophy of connectivism plays a critical role in how we advance our individual knowledge by connecting it to the interests, vocations, and knowledge resident in others.

I just read this passage, detailing how mathematicians Stanislav Ulam and John von Neumann connected their varied knowledge of the problems of thermonuclear physics and the development of the first electronic computer to solve certain problems:
The Hungarian-born mathematician embraced [ENIAC] and the concept of the machine, and soon abstracted from its crude vacuum-tube technology a logical system for manipulating and processing information, mathematical or otherwise. [Mathematician and computer designer Herman] Goldstine believes von Neumann’s 101-page draft report, written that final winter and spring of the war, was “the most important document ever written on computing and computers.” The ENIAC as the Moore School group had designed it had to be prepared for each new problem by physically rearranging its circuit wires, plugging and unplugging what looked like old-fashioned telephone switchboards. In his draft report, von Neumann formulated for the first time the idea of a store operating program – and defined in the process the basic organization of the digital computer.
Von Neumann and Ulam knew scientists at Los Alamos had a problem on their hands in that current mechanical computers could make the computations necessary to design a thermonuclear weapon (and, potentially, hot-fusion electricity generation) but only at a slow rate that would take years. But when von Neumann and Ulam met Goldstine and heard about ENIAC, the connections they made brought them a leap forward in completing their computations.

Connectivism – when the connections are done properly – results in a sum that is greater than the sum of its parts. Two plus two can equal four, or twenty, or ten thousand. As a teacher, I can facilitate the making of connections, be they connections to people, to authors, to concepts. But then it’s up to the student to recognize the value of the connection and to implement it – we have to be programmed to connect, just like the whie cells in our brains have to be programmed to connect, in order to take advantage of the knowledge or information possessed by the other.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The [Something] of Teton Pete

IPSC, Chick Creek. An ironically-named creek to flow through a scout camp.

I have spent a good portion of the past weekend re-living some of my more vivid memories of life at Island Park Scout Camp. On Sunday, we took a walk through the camp, visiting the spots Michelle camped as a girls camp camper, and the spots I camped at as a Scout, including that lovely trail on the north end of camp that features the full-grown trees right in the middle of the pathway. I also jumped off the dock into the lake and had that breath-taking-away flashback of the good ol' swim check and realizing it wasn't the swimming that was tough, but trying to remember to breathe while swimming through that cold water.

Then there's the Ballad of Teton Pete. I can remember parts of it and want to teach it to my kids, but I can't remember it all. Here's to hoping someone out there is from the same IPSC era and can help me. Here's what I do remember:

This is the something of Teton Pete
Who something something his fortune to seek
He came through Wyoming and then Idaho
And said “Here I’ve found it no further I’ll go.”

Singing oom-pah-pah oom-pah-pah oom-pah-pah oom-too-dee-ay

Blah-dee-blah-dee-dee-blah blah dee dee blah
“It’s time to get up, you lazy old scamp!”
And blah blah blah blah blah blee-blee-blee-blee-blah
It bounced off the Tetons and woke him at dawn.

Singing oom-pah-pah oom-pah-pah oom-pah-pah oom-too-dee-ay

Help will be appreciated.

BYUI Winding Down and Other Navel-Gazing

Here we are in the concluding week of my first foray into teaching an online course. Most of my students will pass with As and Bs. A few are going to fail.

Me? I give myself a C plus.

Average work, plus just a little bit better. I know there are things I can do to improve, and I also know that I kind of petered out these past few weeks as they worked on their group projects. Still, I have to wonder if that’s a benefit, given that it’s less for them to have to read and respond to. And I can cheerlead all I want, but if that’s the best I can do to encourage them to get their group projects done on time, perhaps I’m kind of a bunghole teacher. So I’m expecting fair-to-middling marks on the class evaluations with an eye on learning from my mistakes for next semester.

What do students want out of a class like this? The grade? To learn to write better? The grade is pretty easy on me, the teacher. But to learn to write better. Wow. That’s a lot harder to achieve. I’m slowly walking away from the premise that you can’t teach writing – because I’ve seen some of my Uncharted cohorts improve at their writing as they go along. With writing, it’s quantity that begets quality – back to the old Bradbury Postulation, of course.

And how, like Ma and Pa Kettle in this video clip, can I hope to teach better writing? Or is that what I’m supposed to teach at all? Writing – while it’s easy to tell good from bad – is a lot more subjective than the math these folks are trying to do. Does it really matter the journey in writing if we end up at the same destination? Or even some mirrored version of that destination?

I’ll leave that to the philosophers.

Art for Art's Sake

Do animators do this kind of thing any more?

And by “this kind of thing” I mean animation for the sake of animation, some little bit of the story to actually kind of leave the story behind and allow the artists to create art for art’s sake. Kind of like the nonsensical song-and-dance numbers that showed up in many an old movie before we all got tired of it and became sophisticated and wanted stories to tell stories, not simply be a story interrupted occasionally by song and dance.

I kind of like it. And I kind of miss it.

I keep thinking of what might be contemporary examples – the “Carl and Ellie” sequence from up, the “When Somebody Loves You” sequence from Toy Story 2. While they’re song and dance accompanied by beautiful animation, they’re not exactly the same as what I’ve got above. They’re expository. We get Carl and Ellie’s entire life story in one short sequence; we get Jessie’s backstory. The “Ride” sequence in Cars comes close, but it’s still more of a device to move the end story along rather than a bit put in because the animators and the song writers got together and decided to have a bit of fun.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mosquitoes and Horseflies

Oh yeah. Scout camp. I went to scout camp four or five summers in a row as a kid. That was pretty much my vacation as a kid, excluding that trip we took as a family to Yellowstone Park and the many trips to Salt Lake City.

This year, I got to go as one of those sober, fun-drowining and stern adult leaders, if only because our oldest son Liam got to go for the first time this year. Above, his reaction to revely, and to Teton Pete firing off one of his black-powder cannons at 6:30 am.

Yeah, that's pretty much how I reacted too. Neither one of us are morning people. But we had a full, rich day, in which we had meat at every meal. And some kind of starch. But the only fruit or vegetable we saw all day was the orange at lunch. I don't think the powdered lemonade counted.

Nevermind. We were at Scout Camp.

And so were the mosquitoes. Full force, biting, hungry. And the rain. We did get rained on our first and only morning in camp. But we didn't care. We were eating pancakes.

I was the mean Dad. I made Liam earn his First Aid Merit Badge -- his first. And that included learning CPR -- something he didn't want to do because he didn't know what it was. So I told him. He was still reluctant until I promised him $5 for our trip next week. And once he realized he could ham it up as an actor while working with the rescue dummy, he did well enough to pass. So I bought him an ice cream sandwich and promised I'd spend the rest of the day doing what he wanted to do. He wanted to swim in the creek. So we did.

We did actually have a fun time, even though by the time the mosquitoes faded in the heat of the day the horseflies came out. And I reminded myself of one of the most permanent memories I have of Island Park Scout Camp: Using the kaibo while trying to swat the mosquitoes away from the nether regions.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Think It's Worth A Shot?

I'm consdiering sending this letter to Utah State university to see if I can sqing a deal on starting towards a doctorate without having to move to Logan.

Dr. Grant-Davie,

In July 2009, I graduated from Utah State with a MS in English with an emphasis on technical communication. My wife Michelle is currently enrolled in the program and, if all goes well, will graduate with her MS in the spring of 2012.

We’re both interested in furthering our studies at Utah State, and are considering pursuing doctorates in the Theory and Practice of Technical Communication, but are facing some stumbling blocks as we face the decision to apply for the program. I’ll outline them here, then suggest some possible solutions for your consideration. I know there are others who would have to be brought into this conversation; this is just an exploratory feeler to see what kind of reception our solutions might receive.

The largest concern is financial, of course. Given the uncertain economy at the moment, leaving Sugar City, Idaho, for Logan would be financial suicide. I have what I consider to be a stable government job in Idaho which should keep me employed at least through the end of 2015. I have sought employment in the Logan area, but given the fierce competition that exists right now for technical writers, I have not met with success. Ours is a single-income family – we have three children – whose ideals focus on remaining a single-income family for the foreseeable future.

To supplement our income, I began teaching a beginning-level English course at Brigham Young University-Idaho in April. They’re pleased enough with my work to have offered me a contract for the coming fall semester as well.

I am curious to know if Utah State would consider looking at the class I teach at BYU-Idaho and consider letting me use it to meet the teaching component portion of a USU doctorate. If such an arrangement could be reached, it would allow me to pursue doctorate studies at USU in a more financially-secure situation that is in harmony with our family goals. Such an arrangement could potentially open up the option for my wife to pursue a doctorate degree through a USU/BYU-Idaho cooperative effort as well.

Areas of research that intrigue me include exploring how teachers and social media entrepreneurs can use the connectivist philosophy to increase the quality of online education and to make for more robust social media networks that want to function and turn a profit on a micro scale (hundreds of thousands of active participants) versus the macro scale (hundreds of millions of active participants). I feel I could pursue those research efforts as easily with Sugar City/BYU-Idaho/USU as a home base as I could with Logan/USU as a home base.

I’m willing to provide further information on this proposal and to do any necessary legwork with BYU-Idaho if this proposal is in any way acceptable to USU’s graduate studies program. I look forward to your reply.

More on Connectivism

NOTE: Just some more babble, this time in response to one of my teaching group colleagues on connectivism.

I’m glad you brought up student autonomy and the fact that we have to want to make connections to become better learners. Both of these aspects have caused the most difficulty for me this semester.

Though some students say they’re pleased that I’ve shared my expertise in the classroom, there are others who are shocked at my presence there. “We’re supposed to be teaching each other,” I’ve had more than just a few say, “and you’re making that difficult by domineering the conversation.” These are also the same students who weight their peers’ input on their papers far more heavily than any input I might offer, and are, in fact, surprised that I’m offering them any input at all aside from the thunderbolt of the final grade from Olympus. They want to make connections, but connections that meet their own expectations and fit within their own comfort zones. I can see through this that next semester, I need to give my students more of a reason to want to form a connection with me as an instructor and as a writer, so they’re more willing to drop the shield of autonomy and maybe learn something. This semester, I tried completing the assignments alongside the students as a way to forge that connection. That effort met with mixed results, as some appreciated my participation and others resented it. Finding ways to form that student/teacher connection is easier to do in a face-to-face situation, as you’ve already noticed, but I know through taking 2 ½ years of masters courses online that it is indeed possible to form those kinds of connections via computer as well. (I’m not saying I’m the best writer in the world; I learn a lot in the craft every day and know there’s still much more to learn, but I still think I’ve got something to offer my students. There’s got to be a reason why BYU-Idaho hired me to teach this course because they could have student interns do the grading, following the provided rubrics.) Ironically, it’s the better writers in the group who are more open to feedback, who are less prone to autonomous behavior, and who are more willing, at least to my perceptions, to want to form connections to better understand their world and to become better writers. This holds true in my FDENG 101 course and with individuals I work with in a writing context outside of any classroom.

A lot of the trouble I see with autonomy and making connections has more to do with maturity than writing ability. A few weeks ago, I served as a guest editor for a group of high school students participating in a week-long workshop at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s summer workshops. It has a setup similar to your La Verne University course, where in the students had physical classroom experiences mixed with some online elements. These students are supposed to be the cream of the crop of eastern high schools, sent to Columbia University by their advisors to become even better writers. I have to say that, for the most part, I was shocked at the overall poor quality of their writing. I need to qualify that, however. There were some in the group who are good writers, there were a few who are excellent writers. The better and best writers in the group turned in written pieces in which they demonstrate that they’re willing to talk to other people, listen to them, and try to form a connection with them. Throughout the group, however, lay evidence that, as writers and individuals, they’ve still got some maturing to do. Some students barely scratched the surface as they worked to turn their connection with, say a caretaker in a church near campus, into a story about the church and its connection to the university’s students, while one student turned in an awkward bit of prose about a security guard who praised the diversity of the Columbia campus without really offering any evidence of that diversity, or an explanation as to why diversity is a good thing. Comparatively, my FDENG 101 students performed better than these Columbia students, not because as a group they’re better writers (again, there’s a similar mix of mediocre writers in with the good and best writers) but because they’ve had time to mature a bit longer. In both groups, I saw students willing to forego autonomy and be open to learning from others and, as a result, turned in better papers, while those who were less open to forging connections turned in more mediocre papers.

So how can we encourage/teach our students to make connections that are trustworthy and worthwhile, as you ask? I’m still trying to figure that out myself. As a shy person, I’ve had to work hard to get around my own internal obstacles to build what connections I have both inside and outside of the work I do. I envy my father who is the kind of person who easily forms connections with other people. As I mention earlier, I’ve tried participation in class as a way to invite and encourage students to make a connection with me, to mixed results. I am considering a few other options:

• More appeals to the scriptures/appeals to authority. As we started our discussion on outlines a few weeks ago, I mentioned in class that Nephi offers us several outlines and summations of the allegory of the olive tree before we get to Jacob Chapter 7. This piqued the interest of one students in particular, who said he’d never made that connection.
• More examples. When we discussed logos, pathos, and ethos, I invited the class to watch a news report on YouTube by John Stossel and to discuss, for a few bonus points, what kinds of arguments he made in his piece. Again, one student in particular (but a different student than in the first example) responded favorably.
• More ventures outside my comfort zone. This semester I only did one podcast – at the introduction of the course. I’m going to commit to do more podcasts this coming semester. A work colleague of mine who also teaches an online BYU-Idaho course said he’s gotten a good response this semester through producing more podcasts for his students to listen to.
• More one-on-one visits with students through Adobe Connect. At midterms, I used the midterm conference opportunity more to discuss the paper they were working on currently. The majority of my students responded favorably to getting input and suggestions in a more face-to-face situation.

I like that in your La Verne class you’re able to participate in a research session with your students. I’d love to try to do that in FDENG 101, without doing the work for them. I love researching stuff, ferreting out the good from the bad, and analyzing how research and data could support – or undermine – the opinions I have on any given subject. I’m going to have to figure out how to do that with my students as well.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wizard of Speed and Time

Portrait of a guy who found his muse decades before YouTube would have given him a place for it to wallow in semi-obscurity. This is Mike Jittlov's (be warned, he developed this web page during the GeoCities era and hasn't updated it much since) "Wizard of Speed and Time," an odd little special-effects short he put together waaaay back in the 1970s. He turned the story into a feature film -- though it falls into the typical trap of being a film about making a film; I would rather have seen him pursue the Wizard storyline than he himself and him, but that's his film, not mine. (I've seen the full-length film. It's okay, but you're better off just watching the short. Trust me.)

Thanks, Mr. Schwartz

We used to play a game, my younger brother and I. He was Gilligan. I was the Skipper. He would lay on the top of the back couch cushions. I would lay on the couch itself. He’d lean over, holler, “Hey, Skipper!” and then fall on me.

Just like on TV.

Over and over.

And over again.

And how many times did we sing this song?

Lost count.

And how many times was this particular scene re-enacted at our house?

Again, lost count.

Thanks, Mr. Schwartz.


I have to admit, with only a week left in my first stint of teaching FDENG101 and with 25 hapless souls lined up to take the course from me next semester starting in September, I’m beginning to feel as if I, too, had participated in some farcical aquatic ceremony in order to become king.

Here’s what’s weird about this whole teaching situation:

• First semester ends in a week
• I’ve had virtually no supervision; there’s a lot of trust on BYU-Idaho’s part here
• Still haven’t received any feedback from the week my teaching group supervisor spent observing me in class. I assume if I were way off base, I’d have heard from him by now
• At least three students, possibly four, are going to get Fs in this course because they either didn’t show up past the first week or washed out after about half a semester’s worth of work. That would not be me. I’m too cheap to do that kind of thing

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of feedback I get on this first semester, and whether that feedback will have positive or negative effects on my future employment with the university. I’m pretty sure they take negative feedback with a grain of salt, and combine what positive feedback I get with the reality of observations from my teaching group leader. Either way, I feel fairly confident I’ll be able to continue employment as an instructor. That’s good news, as the money is handy. The experience as well is a benefit.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Real Signal

I’m thinking about social networks still – as always. How can we build Uncharted up? How can we find the people with the passion for what we do, as the makers of the Revelry social network have discovered for those who knit and crochet? As Facebook expands to 740 million users, as Google+ begins to tear it up among techies, what chances do we have, as microblips on the social networking radar, of becoming a force to be reckoned with?

Maybe Clay Shirky has the answer.

Part of what we want to do at Uncharted is to unite our users to do good, to do humanitarian things as our reach expands. And if we can develop the passionate user base that we hope to develop, we can accomplish great humanitarian things with thousands, not with the tens of thousands or millions that the behemoth social networks possess.

Shirky, in this short presentation, says that he’d like to see “more effort put into helping groups send real signal, rather than continuing to engage in competition in increasingly meaningless political noise.” What he means is that he’d rather see change wrought by a thousand letter-writers than spam coming from 2.5 million people whose most active political engagement comes from sending a form email. This goes back to what Michelle and I have talked about – in this day and age, what you’ve got to do to get attention is not to flood the mailboxes with stuff people won’t read, but show a much smaller, but much more committed group ready for action. Shirky talks about this in the guise of representation and voting, but I’m sure the same easily translates into other forms of social action.

Thanks, Mr. Gribble

Here's another odd little bit of musical flotsam from my younger years: Chuck Mangione playing "Feels So Good."

This song played regularly on KID radio in the morning as we were getting ready for school, and is thus indelibly part of my upbringing. And to think I never would have found the song again, let alone know who played it or what it was called, without Dale Gribble finding Chuck living in a toilet paper fort in the Arlen Mega-Lo Mart.

Connecting with Connectivism

If Wikipedia is to be believed, connectivism “is a theory of learning based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world rather than in the head of an individual.”

Tyler’s made it our challenge to get to know connectivism on a personal basis and consider how we might revise (again, no wholeseale revisions, just tweaking) our teaching approach.

I don’t like to rely on Wikipedia for a definition, but at least Wikipedia offers a clear one. George Siemens, in “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age,” offers a choppy definition of connectivism, one that occurs “within nebulous environments of shifting core elements,” much as he describes the learning process: “Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories.”

So I have to break down his definition:

Chaos he defines as “The breakdown of predictability, evidenced in complicated arrangements that initially defy order.”

Network he defines as “connections between entities.”

Complexity he defines as, well, he doesn’t really define it.

And finally, he defines self-organization as “spontaneous formation of well organized structures, patterns, or behaviors, from random initial conditions.”

So if I understand his terms correctly, he believes connectivism is learning defined by the breakdown of predictability that is navigated through connections between entities – and those entities can include the self, peers, instructors, and the knowledge that exists in the world rather than in the head of the individual – who spontaneously (and in some cases collectively) form a well-organized structure from the random collection of knowledge and entities they encounter.

I admit to a few assumptions and assimilations going into that redefinition, as I am in fact applying connectivism in trying to synthesize a definition of the term that I can understand. I also throw in an implied definition of complexity, which Siemens leaves undefined.

As I read more about connectivism, two things immediately come to mind.

First, is Nicholas Carr’s infamous 2008 piece “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” as printed in the July/August edition of The Atlantic magazine. In his article, Carr laments (to much criticism and scorn, I admit, though much of that criticism is short-sighted) that the growing reliance on information outside our heads – absent a deep synthesis of said information – is not, for many of us, converting that information into knowledge. He writes:
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).
Carr concedes that the Internet is likely to have as profoundly positive effects on knowledge and ideas as did the written word and the printing press, saying, “[Y]es, you should be skeptical of my skepticism. Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom.” What he laments is that the “efficiency and immediacy” of information we find on the net – and anywhere outside our own skulls – “may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, [developmental psychologist Maryanne Wolf] says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.”

Of course, we’re all “mere decoders” of information until we have read and acted upon that information enough that it becomes internal – I can’t call ‘stuff’ that exists outside my own head “knowledge” because, to me, knowledge implies that I understand the information I am taking in.

That brings up the second thing that came to mind as I read about connectivism.

I’m currently reading “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb,” by Richard Rhodes. In this book, Rhodes follows the development of the hydrogen bomb in the United States and the Soviet Union in the years immediately following World War II. Interestingly, Rhodes chooses to begin the story with an in-depth analysis of how the Soviet Union used intellectual theft of American and British atomic bomb and nuclear reactor theory and development to supplement its own research efforts. The Russian atomic theorists eagerly read and absorbed what the nation’s spies were feeding them. But to ensure that the information they were being fed was correct (both theoretically and correct by way of not being misleading because the United States knew they were being spied on and thus were feeding the spies incorrect information), they had to test every theory, every equation, ever assumption that came their way. They did indeed exist in a connectivist world, navigating through connections between entities who spontaneously (and in some cases collectively) form a well-organized structure from the random collection of knowledge and entities they encounter.

So it is not, as Siemens says, “the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe.” Whether we get information from the Internet, from books, from the written word, or whether we acquire our information through legal channels or through intellectual theft (though here, ethics come into play, but that is not part of this discussion) it doesn’t matter. What matters is how we act upon the information we receive, and how we synthesize that information into knowledge. We can mindlessly continue to consume information and have our brains function on only a rudimentary level as we read, knowing full well that since that information exists out there, somewhere we can almost immediately find it again, that retaining that information or synthesizing it beyond the point that the assignment we needed it for is complete as Carr fears, or we can, as the Russians did, use connectivist ideals to acquire information but then rigorously test it and convert it from information to knowledge. Both of these approaches can exist within the networks, organizations, and institutions that Siemens believes are powerful repositories of knowledge – but until the individual realizes, as Siemens points out, that he or she is the starting point of connectivism, all those connections, that information outside the head, mean absolutely nothing.

It is not, either, as Siemens says, that “we can not longer personally experience and acquire learning that we need to act.” If the individual, residing within a network where connections to information exist aplenty, does nothing to activate those connections and to convert that information into knowledge, it is the fault of the individual, not of the network, the information, nor of the conduit by which those networks or information are provided.

That is what I need to change in my teaching approach: Activating that individual responsibility to go beyond what is the bare-bones necessity. I’ve seen some of my students exercise that ability – I did nothing to ignite it in them; they have done so previously, and are thus reaping the benefits of working within their small FDENG101 networks to complete their group assignments this week. Others, however, have not had that individual to connectivist spark ignited, and are floundering. They have floundered all along, not taking advantage of the connections they can have with their peers in class. Perhaps I have failed them in not helping them find that spark that moves them from the individual to the connectivist.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Terrazzo Jungle

Stumbled across Malcolm Gladwell's 2004 piece, "The Terrazzo Jungle," from the New Yorker today. I'm not a habitual New Yorker reader, but the subject of this article -- Southdale, the nation's first enclosed shopping mall -- still enthralls. This piece actually helped inspire "Slouching Towards Bensonville," the perennial I'm still working on that one novel.

It is, if I can be so bold, an ambitious book. I've got a few characters fleshed out, but not much of a plot at the moment, which is why this one is on the back-burner for a while. Still, when I read snatches of it, I feel there's something there I've got to keep working on.

It is by far the novel I've researched the most. That might be part of why it's still stalled. "Considering How to Run" took a little research, but it's nowhere in the same league as "Slouching." Why that one got finished in a year and "Slouching" still sits is a mystery. Well, not that much of a mystery. "Considering" is the one I pulled out and worked on, while the other has just sat there. Now both sit there, waiting for me to come along and finish. Maybe re-reading "The Terrazzo Jungle" will help.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hey Fatso!

Regence BlueShield of Idaho, it's okay to say it: I'm fat.

We're getting new health insurance, as I've let you know here. We've decided to go with Regence BlueShield because Michelle's Aunt Joan, who works in insurance, recommended it to us (too bad she's not licensed for Idaho or we'd have a new insurance agent as well).

It's a mixed blessing. It's still not affordable by any definition of the word, but we will be getting a bit more bang for our buck, with actual office visit copays, prescription benefits and a few other perks.

Then there's the fat thing.

Except they don't just come out and say fat. What they say is that for me, there are "height and weight guidelines" that, well, they don't really say what, but it's understood that because I'm a relation of Dr. Eva C. Tubby, then, well, these are the plans that can be offered at the prices indicated.

I'm okay with that. I know I've got some weight to lose. I just wish they could just say in plain English: "Hey, Fatso, lose some weight and you'll get a better deal from us." I'd be cool with that. Of course there are those who would take offense. So they have to dither with the language.

Mesa Falls Teaser

Another teaser while we wait, patiently, for the story module at Uncharted to be repaired. Goofy geotagging feature is giving us fits and the moment and just won't let us go past that point.

I did upload some photos to Uncharted last night and met with success, so the site does have some functionality at the moment. Just wish I could bring it all together, you know?

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Devil's Baseball

Just a hint of what you're missing if you're not a regular visitor to My Kids' Refrigerator.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Unraveling Uncharted

Farhad Manjoo,’s geek columnist, writes an interesting exploration of Ravelry, a social networking site for knitters and crocheters, touting it as a maybe-kinda-sortofa model for niche social networks. (He and I include these caveats because the success of a social networking group depends wholly on its participants and their passion for the subject at hand, not merely that someone creates a niche social networking site hoping that the Shoeless Joe Jacksons of that niche will flock to it and make it come alive.)

Here’s the meat of what Manjoo has to say about Ravelry:
Social sites work better when they're smaller and bespoke, created to cater to a specific group. What makes Ravelry work so well is that, in addition to being a place to catch up with friends, it is also a boon to its users' favorite hobby—it helps people catalog their yarn, their favorite patterns, and the stuff they've made or plan on making. In other words, there is something to do there. And having something to do turns out to make an enormous difference in the way people interact with one another on the Web.
And yes, this is going to segue into a discussion on Uncharted. You knew that reading the title of this post.

What I find interesting about Ravelry is how they’re able to monetize their efforts – something we’re struggling to do at Uncharted. Here’s what they’re doing, per Manjoo:

• Advertising. Targeted directly at their audience. Only knitting and yarn-related advertisers need apply.
• Donations. They raised $71,000 from their fans.
• They sell bric-a-brac like t-shirts.
• They sell original knitting designs via PDFs and PayPal.

Also interesting what they do: They have discussion boards that give their audience free reign to discuss whatever they want, knitting-related or not. That gets people going to the site time and again, keeping that hit count high. They have about 400,000 active users a month.

They’re also doing this:
Ravelry's second function is to chart everything that exists in the knitting world—it is an enormous library of patterns, yarns, and designers. An army of volunteers works hard to keep the site comprehensive and organized (as soon as a new issue of a knitting magazine is out, all of its patterns are catalogued), and, amazingly, everything is cross-referenced with everything else. You can click on a certain yarn and see all the stuff people have knitted with it. You can click on a pattern and see thousands of finished versions. People use the site to look for patterns—search for "necktie," for instance, and you'll see hundreds of varieties.
Uncharted can do all of that, right? We can find ways to monetize our content, to encourage our contributors to make money with their stuff, and to cross reference everything so that when readers find one story, they get a list of similar things they might also find interesting, right?


Here’s the part that we’re missing:
The way Ravelry took off from there is a gripping yarn. Jessica sent out invitations to a few hundred of her knitting friends. They all loved it, and soon all of their friends wanted in, too. To conserve server space, the couple kept the site closed to newcomers in its early days, and soon they had a waiting list of a few thousand people wanting to join—and then 10,000 people, and then 30,000. Casey quit his day job to maintain the site. The couple ran through their savings, they ran up their credit cards.
Where’s our passion?

I don’t know.

I don’t have the passion to be an entrepreneur, unfortunately for Uncharted. I’m not willing to make these kinds of financial risks. No one on the team seems willing as of yet to do this, either. That caution is understandable. But lamentable, from a certain point of view.

We also don’t have – yet – that committed community. Here’s what the Ravelry folks said about their fund-raising efforts:
Not only did we receive an amazing financial boost, we also received a flood of love. About 800 people wrote up really wonderful and amazing notes in the 10 Lousy Bucks group’s “Why I gave” thread. Jess and I are still reading all of the kind words – it feels so good to know that people are really happy about Ravelry. The stories are all different! We never imagined that so many people would come to our site and get so much out of it.
Passion. Passion. That’s what we need.

But how to get it?

Don’t know.

Dark Sun

On Nov. 4, 1964, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz featured Linus reading “The brothers Karamazov.” Charlie Brown asked him if reading all those Russian names – and trying to keep the characters straight in his head – bothered him. Linus said no, adding that when he came to a difficult Russian name “I just bleep through it.”

That’s how I feel thusfar reading Richard Rhodes’ “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.”

As much as I enjoyed Rhodes’ “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” I’m having difficulty with its follow-up. I blame the Russians. So far, 130-some-odd pages into the book and there’s little science, but a lot of international espionage on a mass-production scale. I know Rhodes rhetorically is working to build up to the Cold War arms race with this detail, but I’ve got to say that I’m disappointed thusfar in the book as it deviates from Rhodes’ concentration on the scientific and personal details of the development of the bomb and of the scientists behind it, as in his earlier book.

Maybe if I imagine one of these Russian spy geniuses (or one of their American spies) as William Shatner, that’ll help me get more engaged in the book.

It’s not that the spy stuff is boring. It’s just not what I expected from Rhodes, who did so well with the scientific stuff in his earlier book. I’m certain he gets more into that later in this volume, but to have to swim through all the cloak-and-dagger to get there is a bit disheartening. Rhodes’ handling of the technical stuff was vivid enough in “Atomic” that I looked forward to it in this volume. He’s one of those few authors who can turn technical stuff into riveting reading. He’s also one who doesn’t stint on research and helping his readers find immediate relevance in the material he presents. I’m finding that missing in “Dark Sun.”

And maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I’m bringing in unrealistic expectations for Rhodes may have a slightly different agenda in mind with this book. And I must concede it is interesting to see how much the Soviet Union relied on espionage to build its industrial base during World War II, on top of working to steal atomic bomb secrets. Also interesting is how much the United States tried to conceal from its own allies – even England – during the war. So I’m slowly getting into what Rhodes is writing here, though I reserve the right to be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Goodbye, Blogger

So Google is going to re-brand Blogger within the next six weeks as it rolls out Google+, its Facebook rival and tries to become king of all that is social media.

Makes sense to me. As does the rebranding of its Picasa photo service which, frankly, is so buried as far as social media is concerned I’m only aware of it because I occasionally peruse my Picasa web album looking for photos I can re-use from previous blog posts.

Google Blogs, though. Well, I suppose Apple has its i-Everything, so why not a Google-Everything as well.

What’ll be most interesting is to see if the rebranding is also packaged with a push to join Google+, or if there will be compatability issues between the rebranded service and rival Facebook. I have yet to see Google+, but I hope that the Plus and Blogs remain distinct because, as far as I’m concerned, the blog and the social network aren’t exactly the same thing.

I like that I can customize my blog, for instance, giving it a distinct Mr. Fweem feel. And though I link many of my blog posts on Facebook, I’ve never looked at Facebook as a blogging tool, as when I go to my blog I want to see my stuff only (yeah, I can do that with a Facebook profile, but it’s not the same. It’s all too short-coupled).

More than likely I won’t notice a thing. I didn’t notice, for instance, when they rolled out their “major overhaul” of Blogger earlier this year. Oh, I may have noticed a few conveniences, but nothing that really stood out.

It's Official

I’ve still yet to see anything about this in the local media (but to be truthful, I don’t follow local media all that faithfully so they could have had it and I’ve missed it) but the Weapons Complex Monitor announced July 1 the extension of CWI’s cleanup contract in Idaho through 2015.

WCM writes in part:
DOE’s decision to grant CWI – made up of CH2M Hill and URS – an additional three years at Idaho is set to be greeted with disappointment from most other cleanup contractors, with the recompete of the Idaho cleanup contract having been eagerly anticipated as one of the last near-term major contracting opportunities in the DOE cleanup program.
There’s a 60-day comment period now, in which the extension could be contested, and given the competitive atmosphere over the fence at AMWTP, where extensions and contract awards have been contested left and right over the past year, anything is possible.

Monday, July 4, 2011

C'etait Bien Votre . . . Trip?

We're back a day earlier than we'd planned from our Fourth of July vacation, and I'm fine with that. These kinds of trips exhaust me, especially when they include sleeping in a tiny tube tent during a thunderstorm and listening to my youngest kid and his four-year-old cousin get up at the crack of dawn and begin carousing around, as well as a four-year-old and a six-year-old can carouse.

One certainly odd memento from the trip: A copy of "Pat Nixon: The Untold Story," autographed by the author, Julie Nixon Eisenhower. I wonder how it ended up at the used book sale at the Victor, Idaho, Fourth of July fair. Prob ably donated by someone who got the book, had it autographed, then put it on the shelf, never to be read. Well, I'll read it. I have an odd fixation on the Nixon/Watergate years, so this'll be an interesting addition to the library. Michelle, of course, rolled her eyes at my find (though she was kind enough to find another Nixon-themed book for me as well, "The Whole Truth: The Watergate Conspiracy," by Sam J. Ervin, Jr. Pound for pound, it's pretty hard to beat a Nixon book with a colon in the title. I'll bet back in the day everyone who was anyone was writing a Nixon tell-all and the presses were running deep into the night.

So here's the report on the rest of the books (interesting and even boring inscriptions, bookmarks, etc.):
  • A 3x5 card with the numbers "124103799" and "3521001887" written on them, inside a copy of "The Prince and Other Writings," by Niccolo Machiavelli.
  • "To William, xo xo, Mom and Dad, Christmas 1995" inside a copy of "City of Light, City of Dark," by Avi and Brian Floca.
  • An inscription: "Phil -- Same to you! Love, Jim," and an address stamp: J.L. Stirling, MD, RR #9, PO Box 336, Columbus, IN 47201, inside a copy of Richard Bach's "Illusions."
I used to be really, really into Richard Bach. Johnathan Livingston Seagull, of course, was the reason why, but I eventually found all of his books and read them all. Found an author who pretty much figured out he was God and that was it and that was all, so I chucked all of his books (except for the aforementioned JLS) as a reminder of what you don't want to become as an author: Insufferably smug and self-assured. So I don't know why I picked up this book. Oh well.

Other stuff:

We watched the Fourth of July fireworks (on July 2nd) at Huntsman Springs, where John Huntsman, Jr., former Utah governor and presidential candidate, spoke. Can't say he really said anything that stuck in my mind -- just lots of typical politic flopdoodle about the Constitution and this and that and the other thing. He was followed by Glenn Beck, who repeated himself a lot and seems to think we're choosing now between freedom or slavery, because he said that over and over and over again. Good thing the fireworks were worth the wait. (He mentioned when he spoke at the fireworks last year that there had been one protestor. Well, I just about stood up and shouted "Get the hook!" with a Dutch accent, but we were waaaaay to far back into the crowd to be heard. Again, oh well.