Monday, January 31, 2011

File Under: Poems, Craptacular

US 91

Dusty gutters and sagging lines
tattered books stacked on the shelf
next to the highway
sinews and sews the clots together
under the radar eye of the policeman
in the blue and sliver squad car
Towns and mascot agricultural products welcome you
and call to visit long enough
to spend a few
minutes
dollars
at the tables of the Dutch Treat
or in the seats of the Virginia
or on the steps of the library book
glassy faded brown
building and tree
road dust and citizen
do not betray the promise
of the solid yellow stripes

US 91/Business I-15

Rainclean in the desert heat
holding back the waving wheat
shrugging shoulders at silo and shack
bleary eye of stoplight
dead grade up the railroad track
Arrows stabbing left and right
calling to the gathering flight
beckon off the widened path
to engulf among the trees
manicured, and flowered too
grass growing green
but at the feet of the ancient remnant
fit for witch with a child to eat
the maw swifly slurps at
the fading yellow stripe

NOTE: I like that last little bit. But as for the rest, I'm with you -- I have no idea what I was babbling about. So dies another college poem.

Cold

It's supposed to be in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 degrees below zero, with the wind chill, in the morning. Not looking forward to that.

Neither is the truck. I did get the oil pan heater plugged in, but still, nobody likes to get up and go at 4:40 in the AM when it's that butt-cold outside. I swear, the next house we have is going to have a garage. I don't care what else it doesn't have, but it is going to have a garage.

Just so you don't think we're wusses here:

I'll be on the bus in the morning, heading to work. The INL does not close down at a mere bone-chilling wind chill. And the kids will likely have school too, since the school district here won't shut down unless the wind chill drops to 45 below or colder.

Still, I don't like it.

Michelle and the kids got the woodpile at the back of the house restocked, so we'll have plenty of fuel to burn. And, thankfully, it looks like the worst of this little burst of cold will be over by Wednesday.

I still don't know how the Leaning Snowmen of Sugar City can handle the cold:




It probably helps that this one in particular was made of November snow, which just doesn't stick around here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sometimes, Inspiration Comes to You

Richard Thompson over at the Cul de Sac comic strip, brings to us today a peek into sometimes where a writer's inspiration comes from.


I love moments like these, but I depend on them too much. In reading my writing, I can tell when a great inspiration has come. But most of the time, I can tell when something mediocre has come by and I've just run with it. That helps with the word count, but not necessarily with anything else. But I still take these moments as they come, because sometimes bad writing helps the good stuff come.

So my mission for this week: Read First and Second Timothy in the New Testament, looking for inspiration.

Go Away

I know Blogger isn't hip.

But I know I'm not, either, so we work together well.

I have no complaints here. Oh, it would be nice, for instance, to be able to post PDFs here, rather than having to do things the clunky way and post them at Box.net first. But for the blogging things I do, Blogger works just fine.

See, it works.

Rarely have I experienced glitches with this platform. Oh, the occasional hiccup, but nothing chronic. I see a lot less trouble here than with other services such as Twitter -- though I rarely see the Fail Whale there any more, either.

Blogger works when I need it to. So I can pretty much ignore it. And it's free, which makes it even better.

Then there are the folks over at Tumblr. That's one of the hip blogging platforms. At least I think it is. I'm so unhip I'm not sure what's hip any more, not that I really knew what was hip in the first place. I am connected with Uncharted.net, which we're trying to make hip, but that's been a little difficult as of late, since part of the site has pretty much been broken since late October. We are working on a fix. We are also working on a shoestring budget. And so far, no complaints. Not having a huge audience of users helps in that department.

But what could we do with $40 million in venture capital funding, like the folks at Tumblr have? Light years' worth of awesomeness, I'm sure.

Not at Tumblr, though. Apparently, they've been having much more serious trouble with their platform than we've been having, and their CEO's answer to that is to tell the complainers to go away.

That hardly seems productive.

Yeah, dealing with whiners isn't fun. But you know what? If I had that much VC at my disposal and was running a site approaching 200 million hits a day, I'd be doing something about fixing things, and I wouldn't be telling customers to go away. I'd have my guys working around the clock until the problems were fixed. If my guys needed help, I'd bring in more help. I wouldn't be telling customers to go away.

Clay Shirky points out that people are turning more and more to social media to get companies to fix mediocre and outright bad service. Witness sites like The Consumerist, for just one example, where people are banding together to get things fixed. For a social media company, then to ignore its own users who are banding together to try to get that selfsame company to fix things just doesn't bode well.

If I had a brick-and-mortar business tell me to go away if I went in to complain about poor service, I would go away. And given that I've got a big mouth, I'd tell a lot of people that I am going away, and why. Maybe there are those who don't see problems at said business, or have a higher tolerance for poor service, or simply choose not to react to the poor level of service they're getting. That's fine. We see that in cable companies, cell phone companies, any kind of company you care to mention. But to actively tell your customers to leave? Wow.

So the answer is this: Be up front with your customers. Listen to them. Work harder at fixing what's bugging them. Maybe you don't fix everything, but if enough people call or write you about something that's bugging them, you fix it. Fix the big problems by paying attention to the small ones, per 37 Signals. And never tell your customers to go away.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Kingdom for A Can Opener

This photograph is in the public domain. I sleep better at night knowing that.

I'm going to rant a bit, first by asking a question:

Has anyone, in the past five yars, been able to purchase a can opener that works?

I ask -- obviously -- because we haven't. We've got two can openers upstairs, one just like this one, the other electric. And it's hit and miss as to whether they'll work when we have to open a can.

The hand-crank jobbie is the worst. We've gone through three of them in not too long of a time, probably three or four years. Each time I have to use one of these devices, they end up just mauling the can rather than opening it. I cut my finger on the lid of a can tonight because I had to finish by prying the chewed-up lid off the can with a butterknife.

The electric one is no better. Heaven forbid I push the can against the blade to get I to catch and cut. The blade just folds and the opener makes the can spin merrily while not opening the can at all.

I blame consumers, frankly.

I remember the can openers of my youth -- they always worked. Even I, as a child back then, could count on being able to use one to open a can. I can't do that with my kids these days, because it takes a lot of effort to get one of the stupid things (the can openers, not the kids) to work.

I do blame consumers, because we're all out there looking for the cheapest item. And yes, they can make them cheap. But the problem is, they're cheaply made. The ones we've bought lately are crap. And worse yet, crap is all we can find, because every store we go to now carries the same crappy brands. I'm about ready to go to the kitchen supply store in a nearby city to get a can opener because all of the ones available locally just suck. I know because, over time, we've bought them all. And if the kitchen supply store can't fit the bill, I'll go to the army surplus store and find one the army uses. Certainly they don't allow people who have free access to bayonets and guns put up with crappy can openers.

A Writing Bit: Ourscielfurr

NOTE: Yet another bit of random writing from many moons ago. Trying -- and failing -- to emulate a saga here. Though this poem is less sagaish, I sure like it a lot better.

Come ye prophets, mages wise
porters of peeping stones
Oracle bearers, come hear the tale
of Second Ourscielfurr's bones

On green hump near the Willow
deep in aspen black glade
In a hut made of thatch branch and twig
reeds (1) delivered blue-furred babe

To a brown-hued corn farmer
Tugarraf, pink-furred mate
Blue larks burst forth singing, bells ringing
Friend Sun shone bright at the gate

Hail, hail tiny wee blue-fur!
Bears' great battles lead on
Peasants, warbears, prophets paid homage
To savior, black burlap wrapped

Aspens d'or, flowers bedecked
Silvergrass weaved and twined
Crown on the blue brow-festival light!
Fire Feast sprung up on the Hump

Starfire bright, pinhole light
Silvery crescent moon
Smiled on the hump glade, Ourson (2) stood guard
Yet sparrows clouded the wood

Firetorch lighting! Mourn, cry!
Gold ones! Black hoods! Red eyes!
Spears marched like raindrops, surrounding glade
Hellclouds grew thick in the sky

Silver moon dimmed by lightning
Hellclouds veiled Ourson's eyes
Feasters ran panic, brave warbears stood
dark blood slaughter struck the glade

Crows and sparrows fought and squawked
warbears groaned bleak and fell
Confusion Master, cries in the night
Hump opened dark gates of Hell

Cry of anguish, Voice of Death
screeched out from thatched hut
Ourson! Ourson! Family forsaken!
wee blue-fur lay streaked with blood

Treason! Treason came the cry
Rally warbears, hie! Hie!
Blue-fur, pink fur, brown fur, all lay dead
Wee Ourscielfurr babe is gone!

Birdcall ceased, clouds shuddered still
Pale Eye shone down on the Hump
Tugarraf, Cornear, blue-fur lay still
Wrapped up in each others' claws

To avenge dark sin treason
Prophet called to the sky
Ourson, Fair Ladies (3) hear ye this cry!
Of these dead, form ye thy skies!

Fair Ladies wept, descended
took up blue and his kin
of their bones formed them Wee One, Big One
To the heavens made them kin

Watch and learn tiny young ones
O, remember ye old!
Wee One, Big One, with Cornear around
Heed tokens, shining stones

Heed ye prophets, mages wise
porters of peeping stones
Oracle bearers, remember the tale
of Second Ourscielfurr's bones

(1) Cattails
(2) Orion
(3) The Pleadies

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Raising an "Aspie"

The honeymoon, it would appear, is over.

I’m not talking marriage here. My wife and I get along just fine, in our own odd little hermetical ways.

We’ve got a kid struggling in school and a teacher who seems content to want to teach responsibility by remote control rather than by example.

This isn’t going to turn into a harsh beat-on-the-teacher rant, so don’t get all riled up. We know our little snowflake in question isn’t perfect. He’s kinda lazy in a few respects, in fact, much more intent on having fun than doing homework. So he’s gonna get kicked in the rear for that. And we’re going to try a few things – including a written checklist for him to take to school on which he can record his homework assignments and ask the teacher for clarification as needed – to help him be more responsible.

But we’ve also got a teacher who isn’t behaving all that well, either. We really had to go until midterms to find out our son’s got some low scores because of some incomplete and missing homework assignments – and the only thing the teacher can tell us is that she likes her students to learn responsibility?

We do to. And think that responsibility thing ought to apply to teachers as well.

Our school participates in Power School – a handy little electronic database that lets teachers put day-to-day grades on a parent- and student-accessible Web site so we can all track progress together. Responsibly. This teacher, however, opts not to use Power School, preferring the stealth responsibility approach.

Our son is an Asperger kid. We don’t use that as an excuse for his laziness. We do, however, expect that a teacher who knows of this diagnosis ought to perhaps go a little further in helping the kid to know what is expected of him at school.

We can talk to our kid and make sure he’s doing his homework and set aside time for it and help him as we may while at the same time making sure he’s doing the work and learning as he should, but if the kid consistently forgets or misunderstands what is expected of him on his homework, we’d like a little help from the teacher – who knows precisely what is expected – so we can model the responsibility our kid needs to learn.

His teacher admits she’s got five or six other little boys she has to help in this regard. She can’t add one more to the mix? She can’t pick up the phone or shoot us an e-mail to let us know what’s going on, preferring instead to wait until midterms to reveal the problem? That’s not helping. That’s not responsible teaching.

And it’s affecting our son negatively. He wants to do well at school, but he’s the type who will immediately say that his teacher hates him – and avoid going to her for help – when he’s called on the carpet. That’s a typical Asperger response that he’s yet to develop coping skills for. But not to recognize that the social aspect of his condition can and does have effects on his learning is detrimental and not conducive to helping him learn responsibility if part of that learning entails having to interact with a person whom he perceives as thinking he is stupid or incapable, which is the message he’s getting from his teacher whether that message is the one being delivered. I’m sure she’s not telling him he’s stupid, but that’s his perception, and we’re going to need the school’s cooperation to help him come up with coping strategies for his difficulties and to get him beyond thinking like that. This social aspect difficulty is now impacting his learning.

Part of that learning is exploring what other parents are doing to help their “aspie” kids. I’ll be doing a lot of reading at sites like wrongplanet.net this weekend, just to see what we can do to help our son and our teacher and ourselves see eye to eye. To eye.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SOTU and Energy Policy

President Barack Obama continued to deliver good news for folks who want to see changes in the nation's energy policies as he outlined continued support for nuclear power, electrical cars and other innovations and programs in the State of the Union address.

Full text of the address may be found here.

First of all, the president wants to eliminate taxpayer dollars going to the oil companies:
We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's.
To that, all I can say is hear, hear. This nation has no business offering these companies any subsidies or handing over this nation's resources cheaply, especially when these companies are enjoying record profits.
Of course, we'll be presented with the bugaboo of increased gasoline prices because surely the oil companies will pass on any increased costs that show up in the elimination of government subsidies to the consumer.
I'm not thrilled at the prospect, but if that means money being put into other areas of energy research and innovation, I'll put up with higher gasoline prices for that. Here's where the President would like to see that money go:
Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
Add to this the goal of having 1 million electric cars on the streets by 2015, and I see good things coming.
Of course what's going to happen if this can come to pass – and that's a big if, because there are a lot of people who want the status quo – is that a lot of people are going to see their cheese moved, and not be happy about it. I guess what I'm saying is that it's time our cheese be moved. And some of that cheese is going to have to move in Congress, with politicians putting politics aside. So, in other words, I'm not really holding my breath.

The President talked about America facing another Sputnik moment. I believe we are facing that moment. I can hope that we can find the courage to pursue another grand project on the scale of Apollo or Manhattan. Money will be easier to find -- finding the courage to do what it takes to get the programs planned and implemented will be much harder to do.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Bit too Bookish

I might have a literacy problem, the problem being that I read too much.

I've got four books I'm reading right now. Lest you think that's excessive, that doesn't count another book I've been reading with the family and another book I read in one sitting yesterday when the rest if the family thought I was taking a nap.

I've taken to sneaking books into the bathroom. I have certain books hidden around the house so that no matter where I happen to collapse, there us reading material readily available. There are even DIVE cartons if books in the Harry Pitter under the stairs, but the only reason I'm not in there reading now is that there are ants in there and it's a bit dark.

I confess to reading three types of books right now. I'm not talking genre. I'll show you.

Books meant to incite learning. The Song of Roland and The Silmarillion fit in that category. Books that I know I should read from a cultural literacy standpoint, but books that I don't quite fit into yet because I haven't read them a dozen times already.

Comfort books. Terry Pratchett's Moving Pictures is the one I've got right now. Old, familiar books that act like mental grease to help me through the others. New books by familiar authors also fits this bill; thus the E.W. Hildick book, The Snowbound Spy, which I read at one sitting.

Whim books. 1066 and All That. Thought it looked good at the thrift store. Too good to put on the shelf unread.

I'm beginning to worry myself, though. I'm using books as bookmarks, which Pratchett rightly regards as a worrying sign.

7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People

This is a perfect example of what can happen with one provocative Facebook post and a group of creative and easily entertained people. I'll keep you posted on any further developments.

KJV @ 400

Just a reminder today of the debt we owe people who went on before us, and for Deseret News reporter Sara Israelsen-Hartley, who wrote an interesting article on the 400th anniversary of the King James version of the Bible, which contains quite a few reminders of what we owe the scholars and translators -- and King James himself -- for creating for us a spiritual and literary treasure.

I don't pretend to be a scholar of anything, let alone one of the Bible. But I can agree that the language used in the King James version does have that poetic, lyrical quality that makes other translations I've read -- and certainly the paraphrases I've read -- sound stilted and shallow in comparison.

Christmas, of course, would not be the same for me without the Gospel of Luke, delivered thus:


It's hard to believe this scene would be as impactful had Charles Schulz used a different version of the story, such as this:
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,

but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
To those who like the New Living Translation, let me be clear here: I'm not saying the NLT is bad. I am saying, however, that maybe if the KJV is a bit more difficult to understand, it is more mellifuous. And I'll say that when we study the scriptures with our children, we do paraphrasing when we explain what we just read, but at the tame time we want them exposed to the sound of scripture, so they grow accustomed to it.

Going back to what Israelson-Hartley writes, I like what Tim Brearley, director of the King James Bible Trust, says about the book:
"The King James is poetry," said Brearley, director of the King James Bible Trust, a group established in England to commemorate the 400th anniversary through conferences, performances, celebrations and publications. "You find that as soon as you start saying it out loud, it helps you. The words start to carry you along and it's got that resonance to it."

The rhythm has been captured in famous speeches, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream," and his allusion to Amos 5:24: "No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream," and Isaiah 40:4-5, "I have a dream that every valley shall be exalted."

"Would a modern translation have that force?" asked Brearley. "I don't know. I think that would be a tough one."
I think we've all got bits of the Bible that we enjoy reading, if not just for the spirit, but also for the sound. I enjoy reading Habakkuk Chapter 1, certainly for the message but also certainly for the sound of the words.

And what a debt we owe William Tynsdale, who years before the King James Version, translated the original Greek and Hebrew into English, giving us much of the Biblical language we know today. (I won't go over the history here; read Israelsen-Hartley's article instead.) Certainly here was an inspired man, working with the will of God to bring His message to those who needed to hear it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Another Bit of Writing: Dropping Dreams

NOTE: Here's another bit of poetry from long ago. Need to keep up with it, but got other projects going right now . . .

You infuriate me, you
standing there on the lava rock
just staring at me and waiting for a handout.

You really ought to get a job and fend a bit more for yourself
after all, you’ve got a family to support
out there in the rocks and reeds.

Don’t stare at me, your
little beady eyes seem too complacent
for all the rotten things that happen

You seem to ignore it all, and let me tell you,
Mister,
you’d better watch out because it’ll catch up to you one of these days.

Don’t hiss, you swine
or cluck your beaky lips at me
you infuriate me, you
stand there so carefree.

The others don’t run when you come near despite your shortsightedness
but boy do they run when I come walking by.

Well, maybe I’m a bit jealous of you
you who despite your shortcomings are more in touch
with the reality humans once knew but have long forgotten

I yearn to join your club, yet I imagine with all my inconsistencies
I wouldn’t meet the social criteria let along the maximum height standard.

So waddle off, you
look like a toddler who’s due for a diaper change
Leave me here with my dreams scattered with your droppings on the asphalt.

I’ll go and join the warren of rabbits who live in the foothills.
You can keep your flighty ways and your waterbed
I’ll not have my dreams trampled on by
haughty geese.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Civility and Filters, Part II: Again, the Soft Answer

Jeff Pearlman is a pretty awesome guy in my book.

That assessment has nothing to do with his blog or with his writing at Sports Illustrated. In fact, until tonight, I'd never heard of the guy. But he takes on the Internet haters. And pretty much makes them his friends.

Who else does that?

funny gifs

(Taken from www.gifbin.com, using the site's embed feature.)

As the mainstream media -- and a fair number of idiot bloggers such as myself -- yammer on about civility, here is one Jeff Pearlman, epitomizing the advice offered in the early part of Proverbs 15:1: "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger."

Remember that post about filters? Here's someone else talking about the breakdown of filters and how it's affected him and the people who are taking advantage/disadvantage of the broken filter. Pearlman writes:
Now, with most online publications allowing readers to comment beneath stories, and with Twitter boasting an estimated 175 million users, and with a phony e-mail address a mere click away, readers can easily lash out. The filter that was a pen and paper has vanished, replaced by the immediate gratification of negativity. The concern for a writer's feelings? Ha. What feelings?

"It's about consequences, and not suffering from any," says Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and founder of etiquetteexpert.com. "There are absolutely no repercussions to writing a nasty comment or e-mail, so people feel they can vent at will. They never think that the person receiving the message might be a real human being."

That's why, when journalists take the time to respond personally to venomous notes, proving that they are made of flesh and blood, the reaction is strikingly -- and puzzlingly -- positive.

"I don't know how many times I've tracked down someone who's sent a vile or nasty e-mail, tweet or Facebook post," says Richard Sandomir, the New York Times' sports media columnist. "It often results in their being so astonished, even honored, that you'd find them, that they act normally."

Back in the day, sending someone snark was a hassle -- you had to write it out, get an envelope, and a stamp, and then send it off. You could still do so anonymously, but, as Pearlman points out, the Internet makes it so much easier these days. Nothing about the information has changed, but the filter that kept it away from you has broken.

So what do we do about it?

We do, for starters, what Pearlman does: He finds the haters and makes a human connection with them. And, for the most part, they're flattered and the snark disappears like an early June snowfall.

Another thing we can do: Avoid the snark. I've been on a personal crusade as of late to halt the negativity in the comments I post randomly about the Internet. And for the things I decide to post, I make sure I'm posting intelligently, logically, not relying on personal attacks -- not that I did much of that, but still, it always pays to read and re-read what you're posting, and then decide, for 90 or so percent of it, just to not post at all.

And when the snark comes? Go back to Proverbs 15 and give a soft answer. Acknowledge fault when it lies with you -- I do that as much as I can, because heaven knows I'm not perfect.

In other words, do as Pearlman does and make a human connection -- setting aside the technology that lowers the filters we're used to. It takes guts to call a hater on the phone. And it takes guts to continue hating when there's a real person on the other end of the line, not some faceless drone at a monolithic corporation.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Anything Overload

Here’s something to think about, and I believe it goes far beyond what Clay Shirky originally intended: When we suffer from Anything Overload, it’s not because something’s happened to the Anything that’s suddenly overwhelming us, but because the filter we’d been using to shelter us from the Anything just broke.

Here’s the video:


In this speech, given last year at an Internet exposition in New York City, Shirky focuses on the phenomenon of information overload, but insists – successfully, I believe – that we’re not in an information overload situation because of the words, images, video and sounds flooding out of our Internet ports and televisions, but because the filters we’ve had in place to prevent such floods have broken, whether by ourselves or by others.

He gives some excellent examples:

First, he maintains that we’ve been on information overload since the advent of the printing press. Up until then, he argues, publishing anything was so time-consuming and cost-prohibitive, the great unwashed masses were protected from it all. When Gutenberg came along, suddenly the cost to publish diminished incredibly, as did the cost of buying the end product.

There’s one filter broken.

Other filters, however, suddenly came into being. Publishing, he says, came with a certain amount of risk. The printer had to print a bunch of copies at a time unless he wanted to go through the process of laying the type again, so the publisher had to risk that what was printed would be bought. So in came an economic filter that judged what was being printed by quality – not everything that came into the print shop, or the publishing house, got printed, because not all of it was worth the risk of printing up.

Then came the Internet, which reduced the costs of publishing astronomically. “There’s no economic logic that says you have to filter for quality before you publish,” Shirky says of the Internet.

There’s another filter broken.

Here’s one I thought about:

About a week ago, I wrote a post about the Gabrielle Goffords shooting, and some of the trouble that occurred with the media putting out bad information as the story broke. In the post, I quoted an Associated Press story which quoted Dan Rather in this context:
Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather said that if he were covering the story in the 1970s and 1980s, he would not likely have gone with the NPR report. But if he were in the anchor chair in 2011, he probably would have.

“The pressure is immediate and almost crushing on you and your news organization to match that,” he said. “Mostly what you hear are sets all over the world going to your competition and computers, handheld or otherwise, going to a different site.”
Back in the day, I’m sure, they got bad or incorrect information fed to them at the national news desks – certainly there was lots of confusion, say, about the assassinations of the Kennedys, riots at the 1968 Democratic convention, and other events, but Rather implies they had filters back in the day that helped them curb their enthusiasm.

Bad and incorrect information still flies into the newsrooms today, but, again, Rather implies today it would have gotten out. Not because something in the information changed, but because the filter used back in the day broke.

So what’s the solution?

Here’s what Shirky suggests: We don’t ask what has happened to the information we’re getting, but we do ask ourselves what filter just broke. We look to see what can be done to replace the filter.

Identifying broken filters sounds easy, but I’m fairly certain it isn’t, and fixing them is going to be even more challenging.

With the economic logic gone with Internet publishing, we see that anyone can publish pretty much anything – as evidenced by about 99 percent of the content of my blogs: Trash. And that’s okay. I’m the principal audience of this blog, and if getting some of the trash out of my brain helps the good stuff flow out, then I’m better off, right? Perhaps what I – and most other bloggers – need to do is establish some other kind of logic to replace the economic logic that no longer makes sense in the I Can Publish Anything model.

Replacing economics with quality seems iffy, but that’s a start. I’ve already shelved several pieces that I realize were just too hair-brained to put anywhere. And frankly, I’ve seen the quality filter can be pretty porous – there are plenty of writers out there getting published who write like I do: Not well at all. (Maybe that’s evidence of yet another broken filter.)

Privacy as a filter, as Shirky points out, isn’t much of a driver any more either.

So I don’t know how to fix it. I’ll give it some thought. But don’t expect much.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Idaho and Stuxnet

The New York Times on Friday published a provocative article suggesting that the United States and Israel jointly developed and tested the Stuxnet computer worm that many suspect has partially crippled Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

The article suggests that cybersecurity research at the Idaho National Laboratory played a role in the development of the worm in Israel.

But that’s about all the article does: suggest. The paper offers no concrete evidence, only conjecture, which they openly acknowledge:
Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence. 

Evidence that Jeffrey Carr, a cyber warfare expert who has consulted with, among others, the governments of the United States and Russia, says is scanty and based on a timeline that is incorrect and “excluded evidence that didn’t support their theory.”

For its part, the Idaho National Laboratory, per the Times, confirmed its partnership with German control systems manufacturer Siemens, “but said it was one of many with manufacturers to identify cybervulnerabilities.”

Further, the INL, per the Times, argues “that the report did not detail specific flaws that attackers could exploit.”

And though I’m no expert in cybersecurity, upon looking at the report the paper suggests is evidence, I’ve got to agree with the INL statement.

The PowerPoint presentation the New York Times suggests is evidence of a plot is too general to suggest anything of the sort. The report lists general weaknesses that have been spotted in these systems and how they’re secured, ranging from factory default passwords never being changed to passwords being shared too frequently to automatic log-ons being abused. The Siemens portion of the presentation is also very general, showing what kinds of attacks might be possible and identifying what the general approaches the company could take do make its devices more secure against cyber attack.

I won’t rule out, however, that governments – perhaps our own – would be involved in developing and deploying such a worm. But I find it hard to believe, by implication, that the INL had anything to do with that kind of nefarious mischief. That some other entity took INL-based research and did something with it, however, is not outside the realm of possibility.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hiatus at TOL Is Over

While the vacation was nice, it’s obviously time to get back to work.

And since my wife was kind enough to fix my copy of “The Treasury of Laughter” in her home made book press, I can actually open up and use and read the book without fear that it would fall apart in my hands. It’s still a bit delicate, but it’s a lot more robust now after her careful repairs. (Anyone interested in seeing our home made press in action, let me know in the comment section here.)

So go here for the latest installation at the Treasury of Laughter.

I Have A Dream . . .

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Verdict: Guilty!

I have four boxes full of books stuffed into the closet under the stairs.

We have at least 70 linear feet of shelving in the study, also stuffed with books. There are books in the upstairs closet. There are books on my desk. And there are books on the shelves and on the desks and under the beds in our childrens' rooms. And I've got at least a hundred books on my iPod Touch.

We're rich with books.

The authors who write them, not so much.

I'm not one of those pirates we hear about, stealing books left and right. The ebooks on my iPod Touch are all in the public domain; I got them legally, for free. Every book in the house has been paid for by someone or other.

But most of them are used. I'd say less than ten percent are new. So that means for the 90 percent left over, the authors haven't seen a dime from us.

That's how it's always been though, right? Somebody buys the book new, reads it, then sends it on its merry way, either to a thrift store, a used book store, or other such outlet. And people like me buy them, and rarely pass them on, because people like me hoard books and are loath to see their collections shrink.

But, I have to ask myself, am I a parasite?

I read earlier today an excellent screed on the evils of downloading unpaid for ebooks, and how this newest type of copyright infringement is literally stifling the careers of some writers. The writer of this post writes with some experience, saying that even when the print demand for her book has slowed, the illegal downloading hasn't. Her fans are literally taking money out of her pocket, and gleefully tell her so.

This author shares some statistics that are pretty sobering and show the breadth and impact e-book piracy can have on an author, and his or her future success:
I’ve been very open about the money I’ve made and not made, to help give the writing community some perspective. So I’m going to be very open about money today. I’ve told you before that I made a $15,000 advance on SHADOWED SUMMER. In two years, I’ve managed to earn back $12,000 of that.
It’s going out of print in hardcover because demand for it has dwindled to 10 or so copies a month. This means I will never get a royalty check for this book. By all appearances, nobody wants it anymore.
But those appearances are deceiving. According to one download site’s stats, people are downloading SHADOWED SUMMER at a rate of 800 copies a week. When the book first came out, it topped out at 3000+ downloads a week.

If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list.
That's some pretty serious impact. She's literally being paupered by her fans who see nothing wrong in praising her without actually paying her.

Worse yet, it doesn't end there:
And let me tell you guys… the sales figures on SHADOWED SUMMER had a seriously detrimental effect on my career. It took me almost two years to sell another book. I very nearly had to change my name and start over. And my second advance? Was exactly the same as the first because sales figures didn’t justify anything more. I don’t blame my publisher. There’s weak demand for my books, according to my sales figures.

Meanwhile, 800 copies of my book (worth about $1200 toward my advance, if everyone paid for a copy,) are being downloaded a week.
Yes, her fans who won't pay up are stifling her career.

This is serious business. This is why newspapers are up in arms about protecting their content and taking it behind paywalls. This is why the MPAA and other organizations are so serious about monitoring illegal copying and distribution of music and films.

And those who pirate and see nothing wrong with it just don't get it: They're thieves, they're hurting other people's careers, and they are, frankly, everywhere.

I glean two important bits of information from this post:

1) Unless you're a Terry Pratchett or the like, you're not going to make scads of money writing books. I'm okay with that. It's the writing, not the payment, that's really fun for me. But still, I'd like to be recompensed if people read and enjoy the stuff I'm writing. I don't want the moon, but I'd like to collect some of that astral dust, if you see what I mean.

2) I might be the pot calling the kettle black. I haven't bought a new book in years. I make no attempts to keep up with current fiction. My view of the writing world is incredibly narrow, despite the sheer tonnage of books we have in the house. And I don't really feel any modicum of guilt. There's too much out there for me to keep up. And I can't afford it, anyway.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blurtin' Alice Otterloop


Copyrighted, of course, but used under Fair Use doctrine for commentary purposes.

She screams and waves her arms and then
with bugging eyes and hair aflame
She decries the puppy-laden foe
of bucket-headed mein:

“I'll overlook his bucketheadedness
if the puppy with drooping tongue I see,
unless of course, that bucket head
says something stupid to annoy me!”

Then while Mom scrubs at the dish
little Alice clamps her mouth and 'oop's
Mom rolls her eyes and mutters:
“It's just Blurtin' Alice Otterloop.”


Don't know why I wrote this little poem, but it was fun. I've enjoyed these past few Cul de Sac strips, given that as a kid and now I am a bucket head. I've been on the end of such blurted wrath.

Birdwatch: Day Three

UPDATE: No video. It was pouring rain this morning so neither the bird nor I felt like cooperating.

Our maybe-Cooper's Hawk is back on his little precarious perch tonight, making this at least the third night we're aware of that he's been there.

I say maybe-Cooper's Hawk because as Michelle was looking at birds of prey photos today, she's partly convinced that what we have might also be a Peregrine Falcon. I just know I can't be sure of anything until I see his face, and even then, I know I'm likely to be wrong.

I do know this: He's started building little stalagmites of poop on the front porch, and has liberally peppered the string of unlit Christmas lights that go down from his perch. I may just throw them away when the time comes. I'm not sure I'm up to scrubbing up bird of prey poop.

Tomorrow morning, I'm sneaking out of the house at dawn to see if I can get some pictures and/or video of his face and chest, by which we hope to be able to identify him a little better. That'll mean going out the back door tomorrow morning and trekking through the deep snow on the north side of the house so I don't spook him going out the front door. At least I can hide out in the Pilot and get warm doing my sneaky work.

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Alive!!

UPDATE: 7:32 PM. The bird is back in the same spot he occupied last night. Not sure when he came back -- we were in town on a walk -- but he's back now. Going to try to figure out how to get my webcam out there so we can keep an eye on him.


This photo is used under a Creative Commons license.

Just in case you were on tenterhooks all night wondering what has become of the "horribly splatted bird" stuck like a moldy marshmallow to the front of our house, wonder no longer. It's alive and appears to be in fine fettle.

Our youngest popped out of the front door to look at it before school this morning, and as he did, the bird was still clinging to the wall but looking down at him. It took off in a flurry. Maybe it'll come back. It's likely, because it's the bird's second night perched there, based on the goo on the wall and on my snow shovel.

One of my wife's friends in England, a raptor enthusiast, thinks we've got a Cooper's Hawk shacking up with us. I'm not so sure based on the pointy-feathered tail I saw on the thing last night, but I'll defer to our expert.

Another of my wife's English friends called me a "big girl's blouse" because I put a paper towel on the shovel handle because I didn't want to touch the bird goo on the shovel as I cleaned the sidewalks and driveway last night. I told him I take umbrage at that insult, though I'm not quite entirely sure what it means. And maybe he's right, given my family's past history with being manly with birds:


So maybe I am a big girls blouse after all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Behold, the Wonders of Nature. Now Poke It With A Stick.

So, any guesses as to what kind of a bird this is?


Even more important, what do you think it's doing, splatted into that little corner nook on the front of our house? I know it looks as if it's been put to shame in a corner, but when that happened to me as a kid, I didn't do it suspended more than ten feet into the air, clinging to a brick mortar joint only, at most, a quarter of an inch deep. Surely there are more comfortable spots for a bird to perch.


When I got home from work and saw it there, I figured, hey, we've got a dead bird horribly splatted into a corner of the house. But you know, it doesn't have that typical splayed look of the other horribly splatted birds I've seen. So though I've bet lunch with Michelle that the bird is dead, I'm officially not so sure now. I do know it's either puked, splatted goo, pooped, or dropped entrails onto my snow shovel.

Naturally, when I saw it there, I wanted to poke it with a stick. Handily, I've got an eight-foot length of PVC pipe just inside the doorway. But I haven't poked it yet. I had visions of something like this happneing:


Copyrighted by Columbia Pictures. Used here under the Fair Use Doctrine for illustrative purposes.

Or, worse yet, it would come alive, swoop down and me and then fly amok in the house. That would be much, much worse than the time that bat got inside.

So here's to hoping it's alive. And here's to hoping it'll do something about that little neighborhood dog that likes to wee in our front yard.

Where's That Tide Schedule?

Nobody likes to make mistakes, least of all newspaper people.

Mistakes I made led me to exit the industry butt-first in 2005. I regret the mistakes still. But the corrections were handled as they should have been: Swiftly and prominently.

So I read with great interest a debate on Scott Rosenberg’s blog Wordyard about whether news organizations (and by extension, anyone looking to keep a reputation of accuracy in any kind of social media) should delete erroneous tweets as part of a corrective action or leave the tweets to hang in the twittersphere as part of the overall public record.

This goes far beyond the typical newsroom correction debate, parodied in an unforgettable Bloom County comic strip in which Ace Reporter Milo Bloom approaches editor Vanderbeek to proclaim that the sensational child-stealing epidemic the paper wrote about never actually happened.

“Yeek!” replies Vanderbeek. “Run a correction beneath the tide schedules on page 39!”

So where do I stand on the whole bald versus shaved debate?

Don’t delete.

First of all, deleting from your Twitter or Facebook account doesn’t really delete anything because you don’t know who else out there has cached the page or done some other kind of public-access archiving to preserve for posterity the terrible things that you’ve said. Appending a correction to the tweet, or as some posters on Rosenberg’s blog has suggested, adding a “correction” function to Twitter’s options make more sense, as it’s clear – and likely traceable back to the original post or tweet – what is being corrected. The additional function of retweeting the correction to everyone who retweeted the original tweet seems essential, and not outside the realm of technology.

Still, it seems easier to avoid putting out bad information in the first place.

In other words, don’t rush to post.

What I find most intriguing about this discussion are responses from the Associated Press and Dan Rather, as reported by the AP’s David Bauder:
Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather said that if he were covering the story in the 1970s and 1980s, he would not likely have gone with the NPR report. But if he were in the anchor chair in 2011, he probably would have.

"The pressure is immediate and almost crushing on you and your news organization to match that," he said. "Mostly what you hear are sets all over the world going to your competition and computers, handheld or otherwise, going to a different site."

NPR's reputation as a news organization would carry weight, particularly since television news organization knew NPR was more likely to have people close to the scene.
To blame the urgent drive for expediency seems dubious to me. Why rush to be the first with bad information that hasn’t been substantiated by at least two sources? Yes, there is much more instant media today than there was in the 1970s, but, frankly, we’re talking only in a matter of seconds versus a manner of minutes. If, in the 1970s, Rather would take an extra few minutes to find a second source, knowing he could get on the air within minutes with the corroborated information, why not take the time now? The pressure may be “immediate and crushing,” now, but tell me, truthfully, is it any more immediate and crushing than it was 40 years ago?

Additionally, whatever has happened to the old newsroom axiom: If your mother says she loves you, verify it? That certainly would have saved me some embarrassment in 2005, surely, as it would have many news outlets this weekend as their erroneous reports went out and were retweeted across the universe.

It also seems essential, in reading the National Public Radio ombudsman’s column on the incorrect Gabrielle Giffords information the network sent out Saturday, that reporters and social media wonks at any news organization not exist in walled gardens:
The Twittersphere exploded with scores retweeting Giffords’ supposed death, exemplifying how news travels in a nanosecond in today’s media world before anyone has time to process it.

“Within a few minutes, I started seeing other news orgs either holding back on reporting it as well as people on Twitter asking me about it,” wrote Carvin in an excellent post on Lostremote.com explaining what happened with Twitter. "About 25 minutes later, I saw that the NPR site had changed the headline from saying she had been killed to that she had been shot.”
While it’s a good thing he was watching the newsline, he shouldn’t have had to – those on the news end and the social media end ought to be talking to one another, especially in frenetic situations like these.

To Find Civility, Be Civilized

We’ve heard a lot of talk lately about civility and civil discourse.

Most of the reaction to it sounds like this famous clip from “Network”:


Copyrighted by Turner Inc. Used here under the Fair Use Doctrine for commentary purposes.

Because, frankly, most folks are reacting to who is giving the message on civility, rather than the message itself. Find a Republican asking for civility and you happen to be a Democrat, well, then the Republican call for civility is shallow political posturing. And vice versa.

Howard Beale isn’t sure what to do in this little clip. He’s not sure what to have you write your Congressman about. Rather than find something to do, he just shouts into the darkness, and encourages his listeners to do so as well, which they do in spades.

It’s stupid advice. And a stupid, gutless reaction to solving what ails a society that really isn’t all that uncivil, once you turn off the television and the radio and stop listening to all the talking heads advising us to be civil while behaving uncivilly towards whomever is of the opposite political stripe who also happens to be calling for civility.

So what am I going to do about it, rather than shout into the darkness of the Internet, with an inane and useless blog posting?

I’m going to follow a bit of ancient advice:

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

That is, for those who don’t know, from the Biblical book of Proverbs, Chapter 15, Verse 1.

We don’t need to shout into the darkness about our anger. We need to do something about our anger. And we need to use soft words to do it.

I’m going to stop accentuating the negative, and that includes sarcasm. Instead, I’m going to be more positive, and find good things to say and do, rather than slipping into the snide or snarky. Howard Beale – nor any other talking head – isn’t going to make a mindless acolyte out of me.

Because you know what? Civility is all around us. We recently took a trip from Idaho to Arizona and back, and encountered far many more polite, kind, and civil people than rude and uncivil ones. I firmly believe there are still many more good people on this Earth than there are bad ones. Does that mean I’ve got blinders on, or am ignorant of uncivility? Not hardly. I just choose to react positively to kindness, and not at all to rudeness. Pining for a civil society doesn’t do us any good unless we’re willing to be civil ourselves and, frankly, to shut up when we feel like being uncivil towards others.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tonight's Nonsequitur: Debating Doughnuts

Debating Doughnuts

Well, don’t you think Q is a neat letter? It’s like an O with a handle. They’ve got to be pretty portable, those Q’s. I’ll bet if they grew on trees the little hook would stick to your coat like burrs or Velcro.

Why don’t they make doughnuts in the shape of a Q instead of an O? You’d get more doughnut and if they used the doughnut hole for the tail they wouldn’t have to sell those sad boxes filled with doughnut holes. You know. The boxes look like caskets with all these little sugar-coated bodies inside. And humans eat them.

I think someone tried to make doughnuts that looked like Q’s but they got too excited and invented the pretzel. Then they put huge chunks of rock salt on them. They still have the holes, which they turn into billiard balls.

Sometimes humans just go too far.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Looking for the Easy Answers, or, What Is Magic For?

Tiffany Aching, the practical, level-headed witch in Terry Pratchett’s “I Shall Wear Midnight,” is in trouble. The Cunning Man is out to get her. The Cunning Man used to be a fabulous witch-hunter, but now is an eyeless, rank, wandering idea, searching for bodies to inhabit and destroy as he seeks more witches to kill. He may have found a willing host in the nurse of the deceased baron, and is now gunning for Tiffany:
That wretched nurse, she thought. I might have known she would make trouble. Poison goes where poison’s welcome, and in Miss Spruce’s case, it would have been welcomed with cheering crowds and possibly a small brass band. Yes, the nurse would have invited the Cunning Man in. She was exactly the sort of person who would let him in, give him power, envious power, jealous power, prideful power. But I know I haven’t done anything wrong, she told herself. Or have I? I can only see my life from the inside, and I suppose that on the inside nobody does anything wrong.
Unfortunately for Tiffany, the Cunning Man isn’t the only one out to get her. So is Roland, her childhood friend, the one she rescued from the Fairy Queen, and the new Baron. He’s heard some things. Some awful things about the witch, Tiffany Aching. And it doesn’t appear to matter if they’re true or not:
“I have been told you were standing over my father with a poker in your hand, and that you demanded money from him,” he said sadly.

“That’s not true!”

“And would you tell me if it was?”

“No! Because there never would be a was! I would never do such a thing! Well, perhaps I was standing over him . . .”

“Aha!”

“Don’t you dare aha me, Roland, don’t you dare! Look, I know people have been telling you things, but they’re not true.”

“But you just admitted that you were standing over him, yes?”

“It’s simply that he wanted me to show him how I kept my hands clean!” She regretted this as soon as she said it. It was true, but what did that matter? It didn’t sound true. “Look, I can see that it –“

“And you didn’t steal a bag of money?”

“No!”

“And you don’t know anything about a bag of money?”

“Yes, your father asked me to take one out of the metal chest. He wanted to –“

Roland interrupted her. “Where is that money now?” His voice was flat and without expression.

“I have no idea,” said Tiffany. And as his mouth opened again, she shouted, “No! You will listen, understand? Sit there and listen! I attended your father for the better part of two years. I liked the old man and I would do nothing to hurt him or you. He died when it was his time to die. When that time comes, there is nothing anyone can do.”

“Then what is magic for?”

Tiffany shook her head. “Magic, as you call it, kept the pain away, and don’t you dare think that it came without a price! I have seen people die, and I promise you your father died well, and thinking of happy days.”

Tears were streaming down Roland’s face, and she sensed his anger at being seen like that, stupid anger, as if tears made him less of a man and less of a Baron.

She heard him mutter, “Can you take away this grief?”

“I’m sorry,” she replied quietly. “Everyone asks me. And I would not do so even if I knew how. It belongs to you. Only time and tears take away grief; that is what they are for.”
Poison goes where poison’s welcome.

I can only see my life from the inside, and I suppose that on the inside nobody does anything wrong.

Then what is magic for?

This is what we ought to be thinking in light of the shootings in Tucson over the weekend. This is what we ought to be thinking in light of any demonstration of the base animal instincts that hide in mankind, the instincts that lead from paranoia to isolation to acting out in violence.

Both sides of the political spectrum are making hay of this event, in which a federal judge was killed, a congresswoman critically injured and five others dead, including a nine-year-old girl. They’re looking for the easy answers. Sarah Palin’s political action committee featured a map of gun crosshairs on twenty congressional districts throughout the nation, including that of Gabrielle Giffords, the injured congresswoman, where the PAC thought Republicans could make gains over Democrats. So, it must be, then, that the shooter took this advice literally and gunned Giffords down. But then Democratic strategists used similar graphical representations – in their case, targets – on congressional fights where they figured they could win victories over Republicans.

And so on. And so on.

Blame. That’s what’s important. And an easy blame as well. Tea Partiers, yes, they’re the new vogue in GOP evil; let’s blame them. No matter that the shooter, as his profile emerges, appears to be more of a schizophrenic anarchist than Republican or Democrat. What’s important is the blame. Because, after all, poison goes where poison is welcome.

As is the case with events such as this, no one wants the blame to land in their camp. So the arguments begin: Couldn’t have been the SarahPAC map; as the shooter expressed frustration with Giffords in specific and congress in general more than two years before the map was made. And since the Democrats used similar imagery, why not assume there are others just waiting for the opportunity, the tipping point, the trigger – if I can use that word – to go psycho?

David Weigel, writing at Slate.com, has this to say in an article he wrote on legislation proposed to make it illegal to use crosshairs and other such imagery against politicians – a dubious attempt to fix a problem based on the dubious assumption that it was the crosshair imagery that pushed the shooter over the edge:
On Saturday, before we knew much about [shooter Jared] Loughner, an Arizona Tea Party activist told me the incident had made him think about how he talked. “Should I talk differently when I describe the Founders and compare what we're facing to what they faced?” Patrick Beck asked. “Could somebody imply that I'm calling for a revolution?”

I've thought about that as I read more about Loughner. Beck was thinking about how to calibrate what he said so that the craziest person in the room wouldn't take it the wrong way. This is undoubtedly what Rebecca Mansour wished she'd done when Democrats like Giffords started complaining about the map of targeted seats. And I suppose that's what Bob Brady wants to do, with the force of federal law and prison sentences. But what's the long game? If someone like Jared Loughner wants to develop bizarre ideas about government based on obscure online theories—or based on nothing at all—no amount of civil dialogue will prevent it.
In other words, looking for a scapegoat is just looking for an easy answer where none really exists.


Placed here using the Dilbert.com “embed” function. Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

I’m no fan of the Tea Party or Sarah Palin, but I’m also not a fan of people who are too quick to jump to conclusions, especially when they can blame conservatives. I agree with what Glenn Reynolds writes in the Wall Street Journal:
American journalists know how to be exquisitely sensitive when they want to be. As the Washington Examiner's Byron York pointed out on Sunday, after Major Nidal Hasan shot up Fort Hood while shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" the press was full of cautions about not drawing premature conclusions about a connection to Islamist terrorism. "Where," asked Mr. York, "was that caution after the shootings in Arizona?"

Set aside as inconvenient, apparently. There was no waiting for the facts on Saturday. Likewise, last May New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and CBS anchor Katie Couric speculated, without any evidence, that the Times Square bomber might be a tea partier upset with the ObamaCare bill.

So as the usual talking heads begin their "have you no decency?" routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?

To paraphrase Justice Cardozo ("proof of negligence in the air, so to speak, will not do"), there is no such thing as responsibility in the air. Those who try to connect Sarah Palin and other political figures with whom they disagree to the shootings in Arizona use attacks on "rhetoric" and a "climate of hate" to obscure their own dishonesty in trying to imply responsibility where none exists. But the dishonesty remains.
We all need to think more like Tiffany Aching. She can call a spade a spade – knowing where the poison goes – based on empirical evidence, not because that’s what the storyline tells her she should believe. When she looks at herself from the inside, she realizes she’s looking through rose-colored glasses. And when she responds to Roland’s question of “Then what is magic for?” she tells him specifically that there are some things magic just can’t do.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

God's Thoughts

An inkling, perhaps, of the knowledge of God this evening.

Not that I'm in that league. Or even in the bush league of that league. Or the Little League of that league. But perhaps I'm smart enough to know where possibly the games are being played.

God, in the pre-existence, promised we could attain his level of knowledge and wisdom. He presented a plan, in which we would continue on our road towards that goal, but go through a period of time when the knowledge we had gained up until then would be hidden for a time, and we'd have to start anew.

Why is that? Why would we have to start again, especially in an environment where we're prone to making mistakes and prone, in many instances to not knowing we've even made the mistake until we've gone down that path for a bit. We're here to learn, we're told. We're to learn from each other, from our own mistakes, but mostly from each other because -- why? Are not the gods solitary creatures, going on in their own little corners of the mulitverse, creating what they will create, sending out their own little minions to perpetuate the cycle. Or are we to cooperate with each other, not to have walled gardens between each creative area, each creative impulse, each creative genius?

And of course we won't talk of minions, either.

"I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details," Albert Einstein famously said.

I, too, want to know god's thoughts. We know some of them -- and ignore most of them because they're easily dismissed as mythology or fit for obedience by someone else.

All The Tiny Little Screams


This photo used under a Creative Commons license.

As winter drags on its January clothes, I identify one of the things I detest the most about the season: The piling of snow.

Snow does not merely fall. It clings. As the season wears on, I have not only to shovel the flat part of the sidewalks and driveway, but also the walls of the chasms that build as the snow deepens, else soon the driveway will be as narrow as the sidewalks and the sidewalks nonexistent.

Snow piles up on the cars. I hate that the most. When we came home from Arizona a few weeks ago, my truck was covered with at least six inches of snow. I had to clean it off before I could drive to the bus stop, and, even now, bits of that snow are still clinging to the truck, underneath the new layer of snow that just fell overnight.

I feel closed in and claustrophobic with all that snow about, and driving a vehicle still half-buried -- even if it's only the perception -- makes me mad. I feel oppressed, as if I were driving through an avalanche. A few mornings ago, I was driving the truck to work, struggling to scrape the inside of the windshield as the defroster struggled to warm up. Suddenly I drove into a bank of fog. Scraping at the windows while driving through fog all the while feeling oppressed by the mountains of fluff on the ground and on the truck nearly drove me into a ditch. Only the thought of having to drive the 178 miles to and from work kept me going so I could get to the bus stop and peacefully fall asleep in a vehicle that has enough headroom and width and length to push the snow away, even if it's cold enough inside I dream I'm driving to work inside a refrigerator.

My sister today posted on her Facebook page saying she's not been sleeping well last night because of all the noisy snow. I know how she feels. I wouldn't mind the snow if I couldn't hear all the tiny screams as the flakes fall.

PS: The only one good thing about continued snow is that it does drive the Sootis from their natural habitat.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Through the Hole

NOTE: Here's a bit of poetry I wrote when I was a pup.

though the hole see the sky
past the green see the flat
yellowed field smooth patch and rippled kentucky blue

browned with cold freezer burnt
watch the road white ice black
sunning cat - fence sitting fatly - peering through

peering through swatches green
not be seen, dare reveal
hiding place: juniper canopy at corner house

through the hole see the sky
hop to branch prepare to fly
stretch the wings: small brown and drab but flying still

know the air hello the breeze
wan yellow sun bare leafless trees
winter now, but soon to come the smiling spring

latch to branch whistle song
as the cat pouts below
scan the field across the street for succulents

push the branch let it go
magic arms and fanning tail
no leap of faith as sparrow glides to field below

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Their Hearts Run Cold, 10,000 Words

These first ten thousand words have been slower in coming. I won’t say they’re better quality, because, as I wrote them and as I re-read my first 80,000 over the Christmas break, I noted among the good quite a bit that needs fixing.

No matter. What matters in this exercise is that I continue to get words on paper so that, eventually, I can filter out the crap and find the really good stuff.

And it’s fun.

I read an essay earlier this week in which the author said that he always questioned when someone told him that learning was fun whether they were learning or had ever had fun before. Well, I’m learning here and having fun at the same time. I’m not Shakespeare, by any stretch of the concept, but that I’ve put together 90,000 words in a story is pretty significant to me, the guy who has started many a novel but never gotten beyond the firat 10,000 words before. So I’m happy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

TIIIMMMBERRRRR! Or, Again, No Teachee, Part II

So, once again I’m not teaching this semester.

I’m a little disappointed, but not necessarily surprised. As of today, there are only six students in the course, and it doesn’t make economic sense to have one instructor for six students.

But.

But I’m learnding.

This time, even with the section shut down, I’m not going to sit and do nothing. I’ll get my material ready for next semester, I’ll finish reading the text – a couple of times – and then when I do get to teach, I’ll be better prepared.

Still, I was looking forward to it. I have other things I can do as a challenge – I’m working, or supposed to be working, on a grant proposal for the school district, to hopefully get them new playground equipment. I’m looking at a mid-February deadline for that, at least for one grant I’m looking at for them. So I can concentrate on that.

Still, I was looking forward to it.

And that cancels out the items I was planning on with the extra money – tuition for Michelle, a load of logs from Yellowstone Log Homes, a light bulb for the attic, new lawn chairs . . .

Nope. Didn't Take Long, Did It?

Anybody Wanna Yell TIIIMMMMBEERRRRR!?

I am a fraud, but it feels like a good thing.

I say this as I prepare, within the next 24 hours, to begin teaching an online English course at BYU-Idaho.

Apparently, I have on paper what they think it takes to become an instructor. I’ve got that bit of paper that says I have a masters degree. I also took that class, waaaay back in July and August, on their version of Blackboard.

And those problems I was having with Box.net? Sorted them out myself after fixing – you guessed it – a boneheaded mistake I made earlier in setting the account up.

So how can I say I’m a fraud and still feel like it’s a good thing?

In the words of Ralph Wiggum: I’m learnding.


Copyright by 20th Century Fox. Used here under the Fair Use Doctrine for educational purposes.

In the assigned readings for this week – yes, I read them, just as my students will be asked to – we’re cautioned against becoming complacent in our pursuit of knowledge. As Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, as quoted in M. Kip Hartvigsen’s “Thinking about Thinking,” “Don’t be a couch potato. Be a man or a woman with a mind and a will and a bit of discipline, with a zest for learning that will be cultivated in this institution while you are here and that will be expanded through the years to come.”

Both Hartvigsen and Eliot Butler, a retired BYU chemistry professor, urge lifelong learning. Per Butler:

In the first place there is no barrier to anyone except one’s own self. . . . The educated person, actively, consciously, and vigorously learning through his own drive, cannot be egotistical about what he or she knows. Each step that increases understanding reveals a large area of ignorance tan could be seen before.

You must decide how you will respond. The Introduction to Music class can be a drudge with you dragging mental feet, complaining at the requirements of the class – or you can wake up, get interested in the subject by meeting the requirements, and then become free by letting that interest carry you beyond the requirements. You can choose to get credit, or you can choose to change your life (still receiving credit, but now with an improved grade). That class may be one that will affect your listening ever after. With a little understanding of music you will crave increased understanding, for you will have seen how much your appreciation and enjoyment grew just from effort in one class.

So, how am I applying what I’ve learned, and how am I continuing to push myself to learn?

Well, this teaching gig, for one. It scares the hell out of me. And it came to me last night, after I solved the technological issue, that it’s not the technology that scares me. It’s the students. They’re looking to me as an instructor. As someone who is going to help them learn to think. Do I do enough of that myself to say I can pass on any critical thinking skills?

I do know this: As Butler recommends, I do recognize my own ignorance. I do read a lot, on varied subjects, and realize more and more that I’m ignorant of a lot of things. I do try to reason things out, by seeking diverse opinions, by challenging assumptions and asking why people think the way they do, why I think the way I do, to see if I can identify flaws in my ways of thinking. I find plenty of flaws; don’t worry about that.

But I challenge Butler on one point. He says:

To learn is hard work. It requires discipline. And there is much drudgery. When I hear someone say that learning is fun, I wonder if the person has ever learned or he has just never had fun.

I’ve seen the hard work, discipline, and drudgery of learning. Yet I have experience the joy, the fun, the excitement, of learning as well. I’m sure some of what I have learned through fun is superficial and shallow. But much of what I have learned and had fun doing so has been highly enjoyable.

For example: I’m writing a book. Writing isn’t easy, because, as I read the draft, I know there is much work to be done to make it better. But, as Butler recommends, I took creative risks. I sought inspiration. I still do, hoping that as I work and as I go through the drudgeries of revising and editing, I can still find the inspiration, the joy, the drive that makes learning how to write a book a fun experience, one that I want to repeat again.

I know I’m ignorant. I know I’ve been an Ophelia to many Poloniuses – been too anxious to get the grade and get the class over with, rather than learning how to apply and use what’s being taught, thinking about it, challenging it. But like Ralph, I’m learnding. And always will be.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tangibles vs. Intangibles


"Online Ordering is the Greatest!" from Spamusement.com.

So, what intangible objects or services are you paying for on the Internet?

Me? None. Aside from the monthly fee we pay our internet service provider, we don’t pay a red cent for any intangibles on the Internet. Oh, we do buy quite a bit over the web – movies, books, computer parts and software, but as far as the intangibles go – mp3s, e-books, mobile apps, subscriptions, and such, we’re talking nada. Light chicken gravy territory.

We’re not in the norm.

A study released Dec. 30 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that nearly two-thirds of Internet users “have paid to download or access some kind of online content from the internet, ranging from music to games to news articles.”

So does that translate into good news for individuals and businesses offering “intangible” objects for sale on the Internet? Well, looking at the data, it depends on what you’re offering.

Music and software by far are the most popular intangibles purchased on the web, with 33 percent of those polled saying they’ve made such purchases. Mobile apps clock in at 21 percent, with 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively, buying digital games or subscribing to the digital version of a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

The rest of the purchases are a mixed bag of this and that, ranging from 15 percent buying cell phone ringtones, 10 percent buying e-books and five percent each buying “tools or materials to use in video or computer games,” game cheat codes, and for access to certain websites such as online dating sites.

Of those purchasers, however, there aren’t many who cross lines. Forty-six percent say they’ve only purchased one kind of intangible item, with only 16 percent saying they’ve purchased sox or more types of content.

Pew’s data shows little by way of surprises. Those with incomes of $50,000 or greater were more than likely – in some cases, twice as likely – that those in lower income brackets to purchase music, software, and mobile apps online.

For those offering e-books or premium content – content held behind a paywall – the numbers are pretty dismal. Even in the highest income brackets, only 13 to 17 percent of those polled are buying premium content.

So what does all of that mean? Well, without some similar contextual data, not all that much. It would be interesting to know how many people are paying for “tangible” objects online so comparisons can be made between those who want to buy atoms – here, I’m using Pew’s descriptive words – compared to bits. Are fewer people buying e-books because fewer people are buying books in general, or is there a significant disparity between the purchase patterns?

Knowing what people buy, in addition, is only half of the story. Knowing why they buy tells a greater story. For example, I have wanted to purchase the soundtrack to Pixar’s “Up” for quite some time, but, apparently, Disney has decided only to release the soundtrack in digital form – no physical CD. I have not purchased the soundtrack because I prefer to have the physical media, even if I only listen to the music via iTunes. Why? It’s a tangible object. So a side-by-side study of tangibles versus intangibles would be more interesting, informative, and useful than a study that looks at intangibles alone.

This is especially important to small outfits like Uncharted, where we have limited resources to produce tangible and intangible items for sale to our Explorers. We have made a physical, hard-bound book as a priority, but given the likely high price of the book, what are our chances of getting the book sold? We’re also exploring intangibles like podcasts, photo sales, and workshops. Where do those fit in our audience’s buying habits and areas of interest? Knowing what Pew has found out gives us a general blueprint, but we can’t be sure that what they see in online purchasing will translate over to our different audience.

There is no Zen on the Internet. If the digital tree falls and no one is there to see it, it has not fallen at all, and the lumberjack has wasted time and resources felling it.

Students!? AAACK!

My pretend career as an online adjunct faculty member at Brigham Young University-Idaho may suddenly not be so pretend any more.

Casually, earlier this afternoon I checked into my course list to see if the student count – at zero for more than a month now – was changed. It indeed was: I now have two students.

I don’t remember how to get into my course.

I may have written my passwords down somewhere, but I can’t be sure.

Class starts Wednesday.

Oh, I’ll get it all pulled together. Still, it would have been nice to have had the weekend to get mentally prepared for all of this, rather than finding out about it on Monday. Afternoon.

Still, I have to wonder: Will they let me teach two measly students? Will they pull the plug on my section? Or will more students, then more, then more again, keep adding until, kaboom, I’m teaching? Only time – the next 48 hours – will tell.

This is good news. A feather in my cap. I’ve been wanting to teach, you know; that’s why I applied for the job as an online instructor. This is going to take me out of my comfort zone. But that’s okay. I need that. Been too complacent as of yet.

I haven’t read the textbook fully yet. Yikes.

Double yikes.

Maybe if I confess to my students that I’m a fraud, they’ll take it easy on me. Or just maybe I can use this as a learning experience – in addition to a way to earn $2,500 – and make myself a better human being. I was just praying for that over the weekend. So here goes. Thooick!

Updates:
  • I now have three students
  • I can't access the file I need to update my instructor bio or anything else
  • I have sent messages for help
  • We'll see what the next 24 hours bring

Sunday, January 2, 2011

SL-1, 50 Years Ago


Ordinarily, I don't get wound up about 50th anniversaries -- or anniversaries of anything, for that matter, except for my wedding anniversary of course can't forget that one. But with tomorrow being the 50th anniversary of the SL-1 accident at what is now the Idaho National Laboratory, I think this one is worth noting.

The explosion at SL-1, a small US Army research reactor in the Idaho desert that killed three operators, is an obscure but seminal event in the history of nuclear energy in the United States. What's significant about the event is that a faulty reactor design -- the reactor was capable of going prompt critical with only insignificant movement of the control rod, due to corrosion in other safety elements -- combined with a still murky personal story that leads some to believe the accident was either the result of emotional strain or a practical joke on the part of one operator. Much of the reactor safety we see in present reactors owes its existence to the SL-1 accident. Automation and redundant systems made the reactors nearly immune to accidental criticality or one brought about on purpose.

I work just a few miles from where this accident occurred. I drive by the spot daily. It's now just a bit of nondescript desert sagebrush with an abandoned and fenced-off road leading to it. Nobody talks about it much, but because we've got other things to do, not because of the mystery that surrounds the event.

What is more disturbing is that foes of nuclear power use this accident -- though much less prominently than they use Three Mile Island or Chernobyl -- as weapons against further nuclear power plants, while ignoring the yearly deaths that occur in other, less green energy extraction methods, from oil to coal to natural gas. What should be noted is that despite the accidents that have happened, no one in the United States has been killed as the result of an accident at a commercial nuclear power plant. The only deaths here are the result of a research reactor that had serious design flaws that have not been repeated in current reactor design. But it's easy for those who work against nuclear power to point to such accidents and say, "See! That happened! What's stopping that from happening again!?"

Well, plenty.

Pink Bunny Pajamas on MSNBC

Here's my buddy and co-conspirator at Uncharted, Andrew Clark, being interviewed by MSNBC about his Pink Bunny Pajamas business.

The story is a pretty interesting one. MSNBC interviewed two people, Andrew being one of them. The other, whose name I forget, is the guy who bought the Christmas Story house in Cleveland and turned it into a business/museum.

The story focuses on how each of these entrepreneurs approached Warner Brothers for licensing. The house guy did -- as he should, since he's using the title of the film and images of the actors throughout his enterprise. Andrew didn't, arguing -- apparently successfully -- that you can't patent or trademark a pink bunny suit, nor necessarily the name "Aunt Clara's Creations." I'm with him on the former, but on the latter, I think he's skirting the intent of the law a bit. But as long as he believes he's got good legal standing, and as long as Warner Brothers doesn't get too aggressive, perhaps he'll be okay. I certainly wish him the best, seeing as I have a set of his pink bunny pajamas as well.