Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Radiation from Japanese Reactors Detected in Idaho

The company I work for put out the following communication today:
As expected, the extensive environmental monitoring program at and around DOE's Idaho Site has detected minuscule amounts of radioactivity associated with recent releases from the damaged Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan. The results are consistent with the detection of radioactivity that has occurred in other locations around the U.S. and with results from the state of Idaho monitoring network. The amount of radioactivity detected poses no health concern.

For perspective, the radiation doses by people in the eastern Idaho area from the Fukushima nuclear facility releases are a small fraction of those received each day in the U.S. from natural sources of radiation -- such as rocks, bricks and the sun.
They also provide a set of links to various blogs and monitoring reporting stations, both inside and outside the Department of Energy, providing additional information to the public.

The most illuminating information provided comes from the Idaho State Department of Environmental Quality. Go here and take a look at the chart on this page. Notice that the beta particle radiation they're tracking -- as is the EPA -- hasn't spiked much at all since the reactor disasters. Note especially the high readings early in the month of March -- before the March 11 earthquake -- where radiation was much higher than the readings being seen now.

In other words: Nothing to worry about, folks.

Beta particles are high-energy electrons or positrons shot out of the shell of an atom as it seeks to decay into a stable atom. Such particles can be stopped with a simple sheet of aluminum foil. They're not to be joked around with, however, as they can cause DNA mutations and are used in medical applications to kill cancer cells. They're not the most dangerous type of radiation out there, but you still wouldn't want to mix them with your peanut butter.

It is good to note, however, that a University of Idaho nuclear engineer employed by the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls is calling on the US to send experts to Japan to help Tokyo Electric Power rein in the ailing reactors. He's making these recommendations based on his knowledge of Japanese crisis control methods versus American ones -- he is of Japanese descent, so he knows of which he speaks. DOE has already responded by sending 40 technicians with their equipment to Japan to help out as they can. They're also gearing up to send a radiation-detection robot to help.

Making Writers, not Baseball Players

Bill James, a baseball historian and statistician, writes an intriguing piece for Slate Magazine in which he poses the question: Why is our society so good at developing athletes and so lousy at developing writers?

Here are his reasons:
  • First, we give [athletes] the opportunity to compete at a young age.
  • Second, we recognize and identify [athletic] ability at a young age.
  • Third, we celebrate athletes' success constantly. We show up at their games and cheer. We give them trophies. When they get to be teenagers, if they're still good, we put their names in the newspaper once in a while.
  • Fourth, we pay [athletes] for potential, rather than simply paying them once they get to be among the best in the world.
And what do we do for young writers?

Not much.

Oh, I participated in a Young Authors’ contest when I was a third grader. Won third place in the state. And you know what? That little recognition alone still spurs me along to want to be a writer.

I look at my oldest son, who has an affinity for writing and drawing his own comics, just at age 11. I’ve heard some of his peers comment on what he draws, but I’m doubtful there’s much encouragement from adults at school, given that at this elementary age art is kind of a sideline to more basic subjects – he won’t have a public school opportunity to take art classes until he’s in junior high.

So we provide him with lots of paper and pencils, I let him pore through my comic books as much as he wants, and I’ve started a blog where I share his and his siblings’ art with the world. Hopefully, that helps.

Is he talented? I think so. But will society in general provide outlets for his talent in ways that encourage his development into an even greater talent? I have my doubts – the same way I have my doubts that society is really gunning for me to become a novelist.

James knows why:
There are people who believe that when baseball leagues ex­pand, this leads inevitably to a decline in the quality of talent. In my view, this is preposterous. Talent—like stupidity—lies all around us in great heaps: talent that is undeveloped because of a shortage of opportunity, talent that is undeveloped because of laziness and inertia, talent that is undeveloped because there is no genuine need for it. When baseball leagues expand, that simply creates a need for more talent, which creates more opportunity, which leads—in a soci­ety like ours, which is brilliant at developing athletic ability—in very quick order to the development of more players.

The average city the size of Topeka produces a major league player every 10 or 15 years. If we did the same things for young writers, every city would produce a Shakespeare or a Dickens or at least a Graham Greene every 10 or 15 years. Instead, we tell the young writers that they should work on their craft for 20 or 25 years, get to be really, really good—among the best in the world—and then we'll give them a little bit of recognition.
That’s what I hear time and time and time and time again in the writers’ world: Maybe in 25 or 30 years, you’ll be good enough for the recognition. And the reward. Until then, well, bub, yabothahmee.

And the publishing world wonders why so many young writers are turning to self-publishing, to ebooks, to any which way they can get their writing out there and read before they’re too old and withered to enjoy it?

Yeah, maybe this approach leads to a talent of pool akin to the Platte – a mile wide at the mouth yet only an inch deep. But as James points out, there will be – will be – greats among them. Greats who can move a lot of pulp and greats who can sear the human soul with what they write.

There used to be outlets for the young writer, of course. Ray Bradbury found his in the multiplicity of pulp science fiction magazines out there in his day. I found an outlet in the now defunct Silver Valley Voice, a small literary magazine distributed at bus stations and in alley kiosks in the Idaho panhandle when I was attending the University of Idaho.

But try to submit, say, to the literary journal at the U of I or to such outlets as Utah’s Sugar House Review and you’ll find that there’s room for developing talent, but so little room as to leave the lesser developed out in the cold without anyone to talk to.

And no light verse. No, no, we can’t have that. Only serious poets need apply.

. . . Only the Planets Are Big


This NASA photo is in the public domain. The large white-rayed crater is Debussy. Note to the west another crater, with much smaller black rays.
Space is small; only the planets are big.
Robert Kleinman, fictional spacefarer in Arthur C. Clarke’s “Imperial Earth”
I think Robert Kleinman would agree that Mercury is looking pretty big.

This is, of course, the first photo taken of Mercury from NASA’s Messenger probe, which entered orbit of the planet on March 17.

Why is this exciting? Well, I’ve been caught up with NASA’s exploration of our solar system since the days of Pioneer 11 when I was a kid. I used to draw elaborate charts of the paths of Pioneer and the Voyager spacecrafts, indicating how old I would be when the probes reached the outer planets.

I was a geek, yessir.

Still am. I’m still convinced I’ll be able to walk on the moon as a space tourist before I die. How that will happen, I don’t know. But I maintain faith it will, even if I have to get an old space suit, a lawn chair, some scuba gear and an awful lot of helium-filled weather balloons.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vertical Integration at Uncharted, Part II


Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Today is opposite day apparently. And, I hope, not too much of a blinding flash of the obvious.

Last time I broached this subject, I advocated making sure that there is evidence of our ancillary sites, from the Uncharted Institute to Facebook to whatever, on Uncharted. Today, I’m saying that while that effort is great, making sure we’re taking advantage of our ancillary sites without looking at them as traffic drains but as overall traffic to our brand.

Here’s the rub: We've got to walk away from the idea that everything Uncharted is going to be focused on the Uncharted site or ancillary sites where all of the traffic "counts" in our favor. We've got to go where the people are, and like it or not, the people right now are on Facebook, YouTube and other sites, not necessarily on Uncharted. Web 1.0 was the era of the homepage. Web 2.0 started to break that up. With social media – what I'm calling Web 3.0 – the web has fragmented, with people getting what information they want where they want it, not necessarily where it originated.

Clay Shirky in his book “Here Comes Everybody,” puts it this way, comparing newspapers to the web: The newspaper model is that if you're a person who likes crossword puzzles and word jumbles, what you're going to get offered when the crossword or jumble is done is news from Uruguay or Pakistan or the local sports scores. The web model is that if a person likes videos – Uncharted videos – what we offer them is additional high quality videos. Maybe we provide links back to our site so they can come read stories and view photos. But we don't force them to do it. We let them discover – and participate in – Uncharted as they want to. We get engaged Explorers, and we can take video view count, or participants in our Flickr photo pools, to the followers we have on Facebook and Twitter, to folks like Campsaver and say, wow, the videos we put up on YouTube are really popular.

I think it's a misnomer to say that traffic to an Uncharted channel on YouTube (or to a Facebook page, or a Flickr photo stream or what have you) helps only YouTube, Facebook or Flickr.

But we don’t do this blindly. It’s all part of a strategy to build our brand. The intent of putting our content, our brand, our name, et cetera, wherever we can provide content is to extend invitation after invitation to get them to come to the site and hang out and have fun with us. We do this kind of thing with every intention of having these viewers come to our site, but in every way that lets them think it's their idea to visit Uncharted and come hang out and have fun.

I see it as having advertising on cable channels. If we can use YouTube effectively, we've got advertising there that, yeah, helps YouTube with their traffic numbers, but also gets our name out on a channel where lots of people are hanging out, watching videos and getting curious about what we're doing.

I look at my blog as an example. Before I was on Facebook or Twitter, I'd get so-so traffic (read really bad, since I'm not a popular blogger). However, since I have posted stuff (links, posts, videos, teasers) et cetera, on Facebook and Twitter, my traffic us up more than twice than what it was a year ago. Maybe the people who come in through these other venues don't all stay for long, but some do.

Here are some examples of what I mean. They're kinda crude videos in some ways, but they're apparently very effective.

Saddleback Leather is a small bag-making company that is taking full advantage of small-scale viral marketing, using what skills they have and what audience they’re building to help sell their product. They have customers posting their own product reviews, such as this, online:



This was a user-submitted video that saddleback leather turned into a YouTube commercial:



Here are the videos on his site. Watch the "crocodile attacks bag" video:

These YouTube videos aren’t linked to his site, other than having a URL in the video description. But still, they’re generating interest in his products. That YouTube benefits from the video views is immaterial, because Saddleback Leather Company benefits as well by getting their name and their products out there, in testimonials done by customers, unsolicited, but with links back to the company’s site.

We can do such “attractions” as well, by posting YouTube videos to our own channel, embedding them on our site, and encouraging our explorers to do so as well. This adds an extra way for Explorers to contribute and to have them help us build the brand. And it puts our name out where the people are already.


 Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Oh, the Derp!

A horrible little boy came up to me and said, ‘You know in your book, The Martian Chronicles?” I said, ‘Yes?’ He said, ‘You know where you talk about Deimos rising in the East?’ I said, ‘Yes?’ He said ‘No.’ So I hit him.
That apochryphal event from the life of science fiction author Ray Bradbury always makes me chuckle, whether it’s true or not. It’s funny because every author wants to defend his or her own work. It’s even funnier because it’s hard to imagine Ray Bradbury ever punching a critic, let alone a little boy, horrible or not.

A spat that’s unfolded at Al’s Books and Pals blog – one of a googolplex of sites I’ve never heard of until this went viral – is a lot less chuckle-worthy than it is pain-inducing.

On March 16, Al reviewed Jacqueline Howett’s “The Greek Seaman,” praising the story but panning the book for its multiplicity of typographical errors and awkward wording. The author immediately jumped into the discussion, demanding Al remove his review, and read the “correct” or “emergency” version of the story she recommended he download. Then, as criticism mounted, she belched out a few expletives then left the discussion.

I highly doubt this situation will lead to a Cooks Source-style nuking of Howett’s career (the situations just don’t compare; Al rightly accuses Howett of poor proofreading and writing skills, not plagiarism) but the author’s over-the-top reaction is a caution to those tender Internet dwellers that there are distinct advantages to having someone with a critical eye review one’s work before it’s published, and that the author take criticism the way it’s intended – as a help, not a poke in the eye. (This kind of thing, unfortunately, isn't all that uncommon; here's another example provided by my brother-in-law.)

One poster said the following:
As a general rule, we as authors are told by our publicists that, "controversy creates buzz, and buzz generates sales."

Upon reading this thread I was pretty sure this wasn't the kind of "controversy" intended by the PR Pros, so I called my publicist and asked her if I'd misunderstood. Turns out I hadn't. I was correct in my assessment.

In fact, she threatened to kill me if I ever did such a thing.

Glad I checked though. I was just about to add telling everyone to "f**k off" to my promotional repertoire. Whew! Dodged that bullet...

;-)
And another chimed in:
It's sad because your reviews on Amazon were excellent, even though small in number. I give it to the end of the day before your starred review average takes a nose dive.

You've let one bad review turn your profile into a flame magnet - which is what always happens when something like this goes viral.

Those terrific reviews are going to get buried beneath a pile of 1-star reviews by people who've never, and will never, read your book, but will make posts about your behavior here.

Do yourself a favor, author, and don't give into the temptation to answer back over there; it will only back fire.
The author could have taken this opportunity to graciously thank the reviewer for making these comments and then earnestly worked to fix the errors – crowd-sourced editing and proofreading at its best, as the author apparently wants to go down the indie/self-published route. Instead, she takes herself and the thread as a whole down that shouty path.

This situation just cements in my head the overarching importance of having someone with a cold, fresh, critical eye read what you’ve written, especially if you’re going the indie/self-published route where editing is going to be cursory if not nonexistent. Errors and bad writing, of course, slip into even professionally-vetted writing, but you want to do what you can when you can to make your work as perfect as possible before it’s unleashed on the public which has that cold, fresh, critical eye that you desperately need.

I know I need it. I’m lucky in that I’ve got a technical-writer niece who has agreed to read “Considering How to Run” – that invitation is still open to anyone who wants to read it and offer suggestions to budding fantasy writer; just send me an e-mail at misterfweem (at) yahoo.com and I’ll get y’all set up.

Another note: One poster at Al’s blog was criticized for having a signature that promoted her own indie book. She removed the posts and apologized for the promotions. I have to ask: Why? Indie/self-published authors ought to promote their books when and where they can, and on a site that does book reviews it seems appropriate. How is this generation so averse to advertising – except when they like it – that they castigate a fellow author for advertising her own works in a public forum? Maybe it’s not correct to have that promotional hat on all the time, but the situation, I thought, seemed to fit the promotion, not the other way around.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Have We Got A Video?!

Sometimes you just don’t know what you can do until you try it.

As part of our discussion on vertical integration at Uncharted (read the beginnings, well, the middlings, here; this has been a long conversation) we’re trying to figure out simple, cost-effective ways to pull all of our Uncharted webdealings together under one roof: Allowing facebook and blog postings and twitter updates to show up on the site, live, as they are posted, along with enhanced notification to site visitors when new stuff is posted so they don’t have to rely on e-mail, they can just go to their Uncharted “homepage” – not necessarily www.uncharted.net, but their own profile – and see instantly what updates their friends have posted.

Then there are the Uncharted orphans – the Institute site, our YouTube channel, and other venues. We have tried video embedding from YouTube in the past, but it never worked on our site.

Until today.

Here’s the note I just sent out:
Folks,

Just had a little e-mail conversation with Michelle about integrating all sorts of fun stuff into the Uncharted website. Lamenting the fact that, in the past, we have not been able to embed YouTube videos into the site.

Then I got a wild hair. YouTube has changed its embed code a bit. Why I don't know. But apparently, for the good of Uncharted. Behold:

http://www.uncharted.net/North-America/United-States/Idaho/Tunupa/story/test-3

If this works consistently and doesn't cause the mushroom people to reappear constantly, then this is all I have to say:

VIDEOS VIDEOS VIDEOS
Again, I don’t know why it’s suddenly working, this magic of embedding videos on our site. I never quite understood why it wouldn’t work before. But what’s important is that it seems to be working now. Once and a while, the Intertubes gods smile upon you, and toss you a bone for free.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Vertical Integration at Uncharted


Used under the fair use doctrine for illustrative purposes.

Funny the things you only notice after you've been on the web for a few years.

And by on the web I don't mean surfing. I mean having a presence on the web, a place you want people to go and to hang out and to contribute to. Like Uncharted.

Integration is the thing now, because Web 1.0 just doesn't work any more. I know this is no serious revelation to those long familiar with the current state of the Internet. Nor is it a real revelation to my current way of thinking. Just seeing Web 1.0 versus Web 2.0 -- and, really, it's more like 3.0; I'll get into that in a minute -- and you know how far the whole hairball has come.

This is going to build a little bit on my earlier post about "Facebooking" Uncharted, or integrating the efforts we're making in various spots on the web into a united whole that all can see.

Look, for example, to the blogroll on the left of my own blog. I have a good handful of blogs that I follow. There are a few I will go to via their "homepage" on a regular basis, but there are others that I will only hit from time to time, when the mood strikes me or when I see something interesting that I know I want to read or watch. To make it easier on myself, I used Blogger's blog list tool, thus shwoing me in an instant, on my own page, what's going on on others' pages. I can use my home page as my launching point, rather than theirs. And that suits me. I know I can go to one place on the web and find what I want. It suits those whom I visit as well, because it inspires me to visit more frequently when I know, before going there, what I'm going to find.

We need that at Uncharted.

We need a spot on our site, a ubiquitous spot that's always there, where people can instantly see what's new, hidden in our pages. Furthermore, we need the same thing for our other promotional efforts -- Facebook, Twitter, the Uncharted blog, our institute, and, soon our store -- so that our visitors can have one-stop shopping, so to say.

This'll make promotions easier as well. We have stories like the Holi Festival of Color, Shelley Spud Days, and the American Dog Derby, that we might want to promote every year. That's most easily accomplished through a Facebook post letting people know what the current information is, while providing a link to the story at Uncharted. Those posts should also be showing up on Uncharted itself, so visitors there are reminded of our other presences, our updates, and such. One-stop shopping.

This might be one of the reasons Facebook is so successful: They're trying to become the Internet for a lot of people. They're doing blogging and photo posting and messaging and instant messaging and providing a place for you to share Internet links and inanities and such. Add search -- which they're working on -- and a few other little oddments, we won't need things like, oh, Google or Gmail or Yahoo any more.

We need to integrate fast.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More Bad Poetry: So I Weed; Sow I Tend

NOTE: Just another snatch of bad poetry. I was actually praised for handling the "tight structure" in this one.

And the mole crept along the garden
dragging rake and spade
stumbling root and snuffing candle
as his starlit path me made.

"I was worried; I was waifish,"
mutters Mole as he rubs his eyes.
"That the cabbages had gone all to rot,
and the raspberries gone to pies."

"For that lazy, bloated creature, snoring
in hovel between crick and track
fritters his days and nights away
as the garden turns to brack."

"So I weed; sow, I tend
and root beneath the dirt.
Dreaming while the sun is hot
while robins sound alert."

"Sow to live, and soon I'll die
naught young, nor holes, nor beets
can keep me here to loaf away
as the rhubarb's green repeats."

Mole, he crept and trundled 'long
gaining hole mid merciful black
and died he there with death's cold stare
still body gummed up the track.

Rhymed Couplets on A Yellow Legal Pad

NOTE: Found this old poem today. It's not so bad.

We came today to sit at tables
discussing what and who is ables
to push the paper or chair the thing
to pull the bull by the bright brass ring

Man with the tie and shiny head
talked and talked 'till my eyes were red
we open folder and write down notes
I cross me eyes as me bladder floats

We hem and we haw and agenda oodles
I fill three pages with cubes and doodles
Something said in my direction
slid on by without detection

The thing was said to me once more
while I bobbed my head, tried not to snore
but by bobbing, I express comprehension
though in reality I lost all attention

So then, Bill, the chairthing burbled
praytell share this problem's hurdles
So me, Bill, sweating, rubbed my neck
empty-headed, but what the heck

They pause to hear my thought sprofound
while I tap my feets upon the ground
Throats are cleared and eyes are rivited
while the frog in my throat deeply ribbited

Well, said I, stood, shuffling papers
clearly where the budget tapers
is where we ought to smack this beast
and our phantom profits will be released

The room was quiet, the room was still,
the chairthing said, well, thank you Bill
we'll take your thoughts into consideration
and forgive you of this abomination

The room not still, was full of titters
smiling faces and gobs of whispers
Cruelly mocked, my fates decry
blushing redly, zipped the fly.

The Social Half Hour

NOTE: Below you'll read a bit that I'm calling the "Social Half Hour," something we need to do as Uncharted staff to help our little social media group grow and flourish. It'll be added to over the weekend, as the discussion continues.

Everything I've read, from Clay Shirky to reports given from SXSW 2011 (TIME magazine has a good one) tells me that the sites that take off are the sites who have people who will gladhand and pound the pavement and really annoy their friends into participating. That's said in a jocular fashion, but that's pretty much what we have to do -- we so enthusiastic and persistent about Uncharted that people eventually give in.

But, to give us balance and to help us each explore this opportunity in a variety of ways that help us sometimes stay in our comfort zone while other times leaping out of it, here's how I suggest we do that half hour:
  • Time spent on the Uncharted site, either reading and commenting on stories or photosets.
  • Forwarding suggested promotional content on to me, so I can get them in the editorial queue. We've been challenged to update once a week, so that is the only way that's going to happen.
  • Responding to (via comment) any invitation we receive from an Uncharted friend to view a photoset or read a story. The comments are the only visible stamp we have that the stories/photosets on Uncharted are viewed and appreciated.
  • Scanning staff profiles and the profiles of any staff members for typos and such, and letting the responsible party know in a kind way. We've got to present ourselves well, and I've noticed even in my own stuff that typos are getting through.
  • Spending time on our Facebook profiles, in the Flickr photosets of people we know, et cetera, looking for stuff that could go up on Uncharted easily. I say "people we know" because that's one of our best ways of making a connection with people. Morgan Spurlock, of "Supersize Me" fame, however, points out in a new documentary that there's simply a lot of cold calling involved in getting people interested in anything. So there'll be a cold calling element to that as well. To aid that, I'd like to see editorial/marketing gin up a few sample responses we can send out as a springboard to help the rest of us articulate the advantages of submitting to Uncharted. We need that because we're competing against places where people are already very comfortable in submitting content. We need to show them advantages of resubmitting to us.
I'd love, of course, to hear other suggestions.

Ancillary to this effort, I see the following as things that are needful or that would be helpful to our cause:
  • A simplified submission process. Flickr and Facebook make it really, really easy to submit photos. Our process is a bit more cumbersome. Fixing it, of course, will require time and effort, so this is not a short-term fix.
  • Until the short-term fix is in place, we need a submission tutorial, on-screen, with video and sound and such, showing the submission process. We'll post the video to YouTube than link it somewhere on the site. I'll have time to put one together tonight, using some screen capture software I've got. I'll also write a script, but I'd like someone else to narrate and put on the Uncharted flair and such (I've got a cold and am not in good voice at the moment). Maybe if we can walk people through the procedure it'll entice them more.
I'll keep thinking about this, but these are my preliminary thoughts.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Genius Wife

She probably won’t brag on herself – and I might get pummeled for posting this – but I’d like people to know just how intelligent my wife is.

A few weeks ago, the head of the technical writing online program at Utah State University emailed her to ask how she’s paying the tuition in the masters degree program she’s in. She emailed back, reporting that she’s essentially paying for it herself.

Then yesterday she got word that she’s been awarded a $1,500 New Century Graduate Writing Fellowship from the English Department’s Graduate Advisory Committee. That’ll pay a significant portion of a full semester’s worth of courses, saving us a bit of money and helping her keep going in her coursework. They mentioned she got the award due to her 4.0 GPA, continued progress in completing the coursework and the fact that she’s paying for her education herself.

I’m so very proud of her I could just pop. I told her when she got into the program a year ago that I knew she’d do better than I, as she’s the better student. I’ve not been wrong in this instance.

To put in a plug for the university on this fellowship:

The money comes from royalties retired USU professor Christine Hult gets on “The New Century Handbook,” a textbook on online writing she co-wrote. I’ve not read the book, but given this award, I’m sure we’ll have to get a copy in the house now. A used one, as the fellowship will only go so far.

Monetize, Monetize . . . Morne Plaine

The older I get, the less I know.

Fortunately, there are people out there who know a lot and are willing to babble.

Take, for example, Nathan Thornburgh, writing in TIME magazine on March 24. He’s a blogger – a “Creator,” apparently, an appellation given anyone who creates stuff on the Internet – who, like many others, is searching for a way to turn the eyeballs he’s got coming to his website into money in the bank. He attended this year’s SXSW and found many similar soul-searchers, who, apparently, can’t agree on a thing:
Monetizing is the core obsession of South by Southwest Interactive (SxSWi), as much as eyeing celebrities and eating breakfast tacos. There are a lot of us Creators who brought our iPhone chargers and ironic t-shirts to Austin in hopes of finding someone — a venture capitalist, a corporate marketer, perhaps a lonely widow with a vast oil inheritance — who can lead us to greener pastures. But there was little consensus among the bloggers, content-farmers, Tumblr vixens and other minor badgeholders at SxSWi about the right way to sell out. Wealthy patrons? Banner ads? Donations? Product sales? Paid links? Content that marketers pay you to write? A book based on your blog?
The advice he got is pretty similar to the advice we’re getting:
  • “What you need is a grand who’s not afraid of what you have to say,” per Jason Avant, owner of the DadCentric blog forum thingy.
  • “Ads won’t get you anywhere,” also per Avant.
  • “The bottom line is no one is going to sponsor you ahead of traffic,” per Guy Kawasaki, a “famed entrepreneur-guru.” And he’s telling this to a guy who gets millions of web hits.
  • Open a forum, get readers to contribute, provide information on products and services, from Jimmy Treybig, spouting obviousalities despite being a venture capital star.
  • And Thornburg’s conclusion: “You’re not going to make money until you learn how to get in touch with your readers as well. And that would require us to stop being wallflowers and dive into the broader community of fathers, [he also runs a dad-centric blog] perhaps with a product we’re selling: something that would require real outreach and effort.
Exposure, exposure, exposure. Talking yourself up to everybody. Gladhanding. All the crap I’m no good at. But it’s stuff we gotta do.

How to do it? The tiniest booth at SXSW runs $2,000, but includes one platinum pass. Having Uncharted represented at the booth would be a significant exposure for us, perhaps well worth the money if we had people at the booth who were gladhanders, not wallflowers like me. But that’s something I’ll bring up as we discuss what we might do to attract investors, interest, eyeballs, whatever we need to get Uncharted off the ground. Two thousand bucks sounds like a lot until you consider the exposure we might get. Might get. Because SXSW is a big place full of big players and a little two-bit operation like ours could easily be looked over for $2,000. Alan’s presenting at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and though he reports good news each time he comes back, I’m not sure it translates into traffic bumps for us at all.

But it’s exposure. Perhaps, in a way, exposure like Napoleon got at Waterloo.

It’s got to be better than what we’re getting now, right?



Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Happy Birthday All You Twits

So, Twitter is five years old.

I’m probably doing it wrong, but since I’ve been on twitter for about half that time, I’ve got to wonder: What’s the big deal?

I mean, aside from all the MLM folks, the people who want to teach me social networking and how to make money and a few similarly random wannabe writers, what has my presence on Twitter gained me? Oh. Can’t forget the occasional horrible chick who thinks it’s professional to use some kind of PG-rated bum shot for her profile photo.

My most favorite tweet ever delivered by me? Came during a screening of “The Love Bug,” during which I gave a running commentary on the show:




Second to that comes the string of tweets I delivered during scripture study of all things. The tweets themselves aren’t all that memorable, but the fallout – a friend commented he thought they were funny and I got in trouble with my wife for tweeting during scriptures – was much more notable.



Now, I’m not saying Twitter isn’t a wonderful thing. Apparently, it had a role in the Egyptian uprising of a few months ago, has helped reunite family members, cured cancer, brought peace and stability to marriages and such. But it’s also been a platform for an awful lot of idiots, such as myself, so you have to take the good with the bad.

Side note: It took me almost a half hour, manually scrolling through my more than 3,000 tweets, to find these. Twitter's search function leaves much to be desired. It could find me keywords in a very narrow time line (like, right now, within a day or so) but nothing, repeat, NOTHING beyond that.

The Anti-Social Network


Used under a Creative Commons license.

The problem with developing an anti-social media platform is, obviously, how do you get people who really catch the vision of it to sign up?

With oversharing merging with voyeurism – Chatroulette, remember that, and Color, we’re going to be hearing A LOT about that one soon enough – I’m beginning to think the only growth area in social media that remains untapped would be to go after people who are naturally anti-social.

What would an anti-social network look like, populated with hermits and recluses and such? Status updates would – from the wild hair individual who wanted to reach out while they were shunning the world – probably look like this:
Another evening at home. With the phone off the hook. The lights out. And damned if I’ll respond to the doorbell. Because it doesn’t work.
Or
Still hiding in the bathroom stall, waiting for that freak at the sink to leave. Fifty seconds and the water’s still running? How long does it take to wash a pair of hands?
Or
—U—
That’s supposed to be a tongue sticking out.

Anti-social folks, I admit since I am one, have their filters wound perhaps a bit too tight. You’d believe this of me if you met me in person, but not, however, if you know me only on Facebook, where I tend to be a bit more logorhheic. You owe us thanks, because we’re not likely to glom onto this new Color app because our filters are so tight we don’t necessarily want our raw images shared instantly with everyone else who has that particular app.

Filters are good.

Filters are our friend.

So I can’t see an anti-social network really being trafficked all that much, making such a platform doomed to failure before it even began. At least I’ve got the guts to admit it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Argon

NOTE: This is a short story something. I'm not quite sure what it is.

Sometimes, I sit here with an empty head.

An empty head, waiting to be filled with something. Waiting to be acted upon, rather than acting myself.

I sit and listen to the whirr of the heater in the cubicle across the hallway, the soft murmur of the radio station played low, or my boss in the cubicle next to mine, spitting tobacco juice into a Gatorade bottle.

When people come through the door I sit silently like a rabbit, not moving, watching, reading the tells of their footfalls, their voices – if they speak – or their heads – if they can be seen above the cubicle wall. When I identify one who is going to stop in my cubicle – I can tell, I can always tell – like Wally I put my hand on the mouse.

Mostly, they walk by. On their way to their own cubicles. I don’t know if their heads will be empty or not, but I know where I’d put my money if I were a gambling kind of man.

They’re engineers, mostly. And chemists of several varieties. None very talkative to a mostly non-talky tech writer, sitting in his cubicle with an empty head. They’re not rude people, or nasty. Just quiet, competent people who talk when they need to talk and don’t when it’s better to shut up.

I’m the one who, when I’m in the bathroom stall, will hid there, quietly reading a book, until I know the rest of the bathroom is empty so I can go out to wash my hands without the fear of having to say hello to anyone.

I’m the shy one. With the empty head.

I want to be busy but then when I m busy I find work to be an inconvenience to merely sitting there with an empty head. If I endeared myself to the chemists, if I talked to them more than the occasional passing hello, maybe they’d give me a nickname. Probably a smarty chemist nickname. Possibly one of the noble gases, for I am inert and do not react with anything.

A Writer Writes, Right? Part II



This conundrum has come up:

A BYU-Idaho professor from whom I took several classes when I was a young’un is concerned that fewer of the students graduating from the university show proficiency in writing than he’d like to see, with only one-third of the students he’s seeing building an adequate portfolio that would qualify them for internships or make them stand out to potential employers.

I may be interpreting a bit since all of this comes from a brief Facebook posting – but the question he poses is a good one: What can the university do to turn the situation around?

My suggestion: Make them write more. A heck of a lot more. In fact, ten to twenty times what they’re being required to write right now. And it’s got to start with the basic writing course which, ironically, I may have an opportunity to start teaching come mid-April.

The reasons they ought to write more are obvious and legion, but the biggest reasons are:

1. Students need to move beyond writing to satisfy an instructor or a course requirement to writing to show mastery of the topic at hand.
2. Students need to follow the Bradbury Rule: Says science fiction author Ray Bradbury: “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

What form ought this extra writing take? Anything and everything. Students ought to be able to find a subject that interest them and then write an analysis of that subject fit for posting to a class forum or a blog. Students ought to keep blogs of their own – going beyond the journaling that many teachers already embrace and into a forum where their peers read what they write on a daily basis and comment on it. Students ought to learn how to write collaboratively, either through the old-fashioned methods of meeting together and writing together to contributing to a wiki.

To accomplish this, instructors need to offer students varied strategies on how to write, and recognize that a strategy that works for one student may not work for another. Students who enjoy writing ought to be given dual opportunities to work with like-minded writers as well as mentoring students who don’t quite have the muse.

They need to read a lot more good writing, too, and learn to recognize what makes good writing good.

They ought to be given ample opportunity to practice what they learn in forums outside the classroom – that’s where blogs, student media, and other outlets come in.

And student media – here’s another soapbox – needs to rely less on Internet-only sourced stories to finding real, live people to talk to. That’s what’s going to take the “citizen journalism” phenomenon to the next level.

And preachers of writing, like me, ought to practice what we preach.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Keeping the Fantasy Real, Part II

You’ll recall only a post or two ago I ranted a bit about “keeping the fantasy real,” advocating not using things like eBay, rifles in a sword-and-sorcery story (except for “Wizards,” in which technology played a central and comic role in the story). You’ll also recall me saying I’m sure I do some of the things I abhor, and that my writing would need correction.

Oh yeah. Found a great example.

Slouching Toward Bensonville, a novel I started waaaaaay back in the mid-2000s. So far back, in fact, one of my characters, to publicize a bit of social action/protest used MySpace, of all things, to advertize it. I even included a real MySpace URL. It’s probably still out there, neglected, unused, waiting for me to make use of it as part of the novel’s viral marketing campaign.

Of course, when I wrote the thing viral marketing was a mere nascent concept and MySpace was the place to be. Now viral marketing is ubiquitous and MySpace is going the way of the dodo.

So a good example of why we ought to be cautious using this kind of stuff in our novels, especially if you’re as slow writing as I am: By the time you’re don, what was with it isn’t with it any more because they changed what it was and now what you’re with isn’t it and what’s it seems new and scary. It’ll happen to you, whether you’ve got an onion tied to your belt or not.

This is one of the reasons that I step back and look at the ideas – not necessarily the things – when I’m writing to ensure that the ideas that started me on the path are still the ideas that are guiding me to my end destination. I may use “things” along the way as they come into the story, but I try not to make things central to the story, lest technology pass me along the way.

In reading what I’ve got of Slouching Toward Bensonville, I can see other areas where the things I’ve got are either not fully developed or entering the realm where technology is going to pass them by.

Students!? AAACK! Part II

With less than a month to the beginning of the Spring semester at BYU-Idaho, I have a total of two students signed up for my Foundations English class.

That may not sound like a lot (and it isn’t) but it’s way more than I had at the comparable time for Winter semester last year, so there’s a good chance I’ll have students to teach come April 19.

That’ll be good. I’ve been including the gig on my resume, but with the caveat that I haven’t had students yet due to slow demand. If I can get some teaching under my belt, I’ll be a happier man. Challenged a bit. Taken out of my comfort zone and put into a position where I have to, you know, work. And think.

Not that I don’t work and think at the full-time job. It’s just working and thinking in different ways on different things.

So I’ll be watching the class roll over the next few weeks, hoping that it grows a bit more. I think the cutoff for the number of students is nine, with the limit of students in each section at 25. So hopefully I fall somewhere in the middle of those two numbers.

I’m coming into this semester better prepared. I’ve read the text, made some notes on it, and have actually studied the syllabus a bit. My goal for this weekend will be to get all of my preliminary class stuff done in box.net and to make sure everything’s set up and that I can still log into BrainHoney and such.

Nuclear Boy



Thanks to Brian Porter for passing (ha!) this on to me.

Jokes -- and all that banjo music -- aside, I think this video does an adequate and truthful job explaining what's going on with Japan's ailing nuclear power plant. The fart/poo metaphor is apt, and the comparisons to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are accurate. I like that the author of this work has taken to explain a complicated (and somewhat scary) concept in terms that are easily understandable as they are accurate.

The same, unfortunately, can't be said for the YouTube commentors on this particular video, so I'd be wary of reading too much into what they say.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Supermoon


Okay, so the so-called Supermoon is a little bit underwhelming. But you know what? It gave me the excuse to take Michelle's tripod outside and try my hand at some nighttime photography.

Yes, I know I'm light years (ha!) away from being any good at this, but for a boob who has only a rudimentary idea of how photography works, let alone toying with the thought of taking photos in difficult situations, I'm pretty pleased with the result you see here.

I learned a little bit about metering (hear that, Alan? some of your teachings have sunk in!) and read a bit more about ISO and shutter speeds and the adjustments thereof. I'm still going to have to do lots of work on this, but I think maybe I'm not too far gone to give up hope.


I know this is a crappy photo, but I can at least point out a few things that make me like it. The tree is almost in focus, and I like the onion-style concentric rings around the hazy moon -- did I mention it was a bit hazy when I took these photos?


Here's another one, kinda artsy-fartsy. I think it's not too bad.

Today's YouTube Nonsequitur: La Femme D'Argent



Once and a while, somebody on YouTube really throws a wildcard at you. Take this video -- ordinary traffic on Market Street in San Francisco circa 1906 (according to researchers, this was likely taken four days before the massive earthquake and fire that destroyed a good portion of the city) combined with a bit of modern technojazz, and you've got something that's hypnotic to watch.

Things I noticed:
  1. Boys (and boyish men) will ALWAYS mug for the camera.
  2. The more muggish boys will, in fact, run to keep up with the camera so they can be featured more than once.
  3. We ought to have more horses and carts on the roads nowadays.
  4. Ladies still ought to wear hats like that.
  5. I want a bowler hat of my very own.
  6. We are slobs today. Everybody there is wearing a suit jacket or heavy dress. Yeah, some of the cuts aren't the finest, but they're all dressed up.
Here's a bit more on the historical background of the film, if you're interested. Bonus points: Introduced by the grumpiest of TV journalists, Morley Safer.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    It's a Christy Minstrel Night



    All video clips used in this post are used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

    Friday nights, Michelle sits down to scrapbook and listens faithfully to a handful of shows from the BBC. Then after the kids go to bed, I jump onto YouTube and play some of the stuff I like -- what what does it say about our musical tastes when she can go to the BBC and I have to go to YouTube. Tonight is no exception.

    I got introduced to The Christy Minstrels in France of all places, while I was serving a mission for the LDS Church. I grew to love their renditions of American folk songs -- the genre I think of automatically when I hear people lament that the United States has no original indigenous musical sound.

    The song above is one of my favorites of theirs, and stems from the Civil War.


    This one, well, I can live or die without it, but whenever I hear it, I always think of this guy:



    I'll confess I enjoy the Droopy episodes with the Whistling Wolf more than I enjoy the Droopy episodes with Droopy in them.

    But back to the Christy Minstrels:



    That's the one that I imagine using if I were ever to write a movie about life at Ricks College.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    New (to Me) Comic: The Dogs Of C Kennel


    What’s most remarkable about “The Dogs of C Kennel,” a relatively new comic strip by the scions of the late Johnny Hart (of BC fame) is that in creating the new strip the artist and author reveal how reverently they’re treating their grandfather’s original creation.

    I mean that in the nicest possible way, having been a fan of BC since my older brother Jeff introduced me to the comic way back in the 1970s when I was but a wee lad. I quickly learned to recognize Hart’s bizarre sense of humor, his wit, and his sparse artistic style before I knew what it really meant to have a sense of humor or what the words “wit” and “sparse” even meant.

    The writing in C-Kennel is a bit more modern, a bit edgier than what Hart wrote in BC – there are a few more (mild) cuss words (they didn’t bother me, they just stand out in this Hartesque art milieu).

    I like what they’re doing with their new strip, though perhaps they’re a bit too married to the three-panel format their grandfather used. But the characters and the writing are most excellent.

    Short Story Alert: The Mechanic-Priest

    The door opened suddenly, quietly, as if the entrant didn’t want the light from outside to stain the carpet. He pulled it closed as gently as he could, but it was one of those doors designed to shudder and slam and shoot echoes no matter how gently it was closed.

    He stepped off the patch of carpet at the door and walked, his feet clomping echoes across the cluttered, cavernous room. It smelled of oil and grease and dirt, but part of that came from the debris, the busy street outside. Pale light poured in through the windows, silhouetting him as he passed.

    The nave was empty of souls.

    He walked faster. His echoing feet chased him.

    He reached the tiny cubicle, wrenched the door open and threw himself inside. The small dark therein felt colder somehow than the vast darkness outside. He collapsed into a rickety chair and listened for a few moments to the sound of his pounding heart, throbbing at the temples, rattling the eardrums.

    A cough, then a grate on the wall slid back.

    “Yes?”

    The voice: quiet, penetrating; innocent, accusatory; froze his heart mid-thump.

    “It’s—“ he shivered as warmer air poured through the grate on the wall “—it’s been more than six months since my last . . . my last . . . “

    “Take it easy, son,” the voice said not unkindly. “I am here to listen and to help, not to accuse.”

    “Okay,” he said. “It’s like this. I’ve come a long way—“

    “I’m sure many have come further, son,” the voice said.

    “I have come a long way,” he continued, as he sniffed at a hint of cloves and tobacco on the noodles of air streaming into the room from the open grate. “More than six—more than six thousand miles.”

    “Yes,” the voice said.

    His voice lurched forward to fill the void.

    “I think I made a mistake,” he said. “Well, I made a mistake. And I feel stupid about it. Really. Stupid. Really stupid. About my mistake.”

    “We all make mistakes from time to time,” the voice said. “Yet we all manage to roll along. You feel remorse. That is good. And perhaps you are not too far gone down the path to redeem yourself from your error. But you must tell me, son, you must tell me what it is you did.”

    He paled. Though he drove to the building thinking, knowing he would confess, preparing what he would say, imagining the responses through the grate, it now dawned on him he would have to tell. He would have to tell. He had not even told his wife what he’d done. He thought he’d covered his tracks well on that account. But now the thought of the voice knowing, of his wife knowing, of the souls who might soon populate the nave outside knowing, filled him with dread and shame.

    “I—“

    Again he shrank.

    “I know it’s difficult,” the voice said. “But for me to help, I have to know what it is you have done. So I can assign a penance.”

    “I—“

    “I can find out by myself,” the voice said, loudly, wearily, not accusing. “But, invariably, that always takes longer. There are more questions. More parts to the process. More time wasted. And more penance to pay.”

    It was a hard love offered through the grate, he thought. Accented with cigarette smoke and cloves. He coughed.

    “I put power steering fluid in the brake fluid reservoir,” he said, the confession suddenly gushing like a river undammed. “Not much, maybe two or three tablespoonsful. I put it in and then I drove around and the steering was still squealing so I got home and opened the hood and looked in and walked around and then I saw the cap marked ‘Power Steering Fluid’ so I realized what I’d done and I ran into the house. I didn’t even put the cap back on.”

    It was quiet in the cubicle.

    Then with a crack of thunder, the voice said, in an audible whisper: Thou Shalt Not Mix Incompatible Fluids.”

    He buried his head in his hands and slumped in the chair.

    “Wow,” the voice said. “Sounds like rain out there.”

    He whimpered.

    “I sense, son, that the story is not finished,” the voice said. “Pray, continue.”

    He sat quietly in the chair a few moments, willing his heart to start beating again as rain thundered on the roof above.

    He finished his story with the patter of the rain. “I went inside, see, and I thought, well, it can’t be all that bad. So I got on the computer. I read some forums and I watched some videos on YouTube. The videos frightened me, all those melted parts. I think I panicked. I ran upstairs and grabbed the turkey baster and ran out to the truck and I siphoned out as much of the brake fluid as I could. I just squirted it on the ground, on piles of leaves in the gutter. Oh, I’m so ashamed.”

    “It is true, son, the EPA curses such onanism.”

    “Then I put fresh brake fluid in. I drove the truck around. Everything seemed to work just fine,” he said.

    Rain on the roof, falling heavily, the only sound.

    “Yet you are here,” the voice said. “Is everything working just fine?”

    “Yes, oh yes,” he gushed, pleased to grab at any straw thus offered. “No trouble, no trouble. Oh, the brakes might be a little mushy, but I think in doing the siphoning, I might have gotten a little air in the system. But those bubbles’ll work themselves out, right?”

    Rain on the roof, falling heavily, still the only sound.

    “Yes, they may, they may, as you pump the brakes,” the voice said.

    “Oh, good,” he said, slumping into the chair again, the tension of the moment melting like butter on fresh toast.

    “Your penance,” the voice said.

    He jolted as if the chair were electric and his mouth ran dry.

    “Son?” the voice asked.

    “I am here,” he said. “And I washed the baster. Several times. With lots of soap.”

    “Your penance,” the voice continued. “Watch the parts. Watch for melting. For leaks. And if the brakes get mushier, you’ll have to come back.”

    He wept quietly in the chair.

    “That’s embarrassing,” the voice said. “And I have other clients. Leave now. And have your oil changed.”

    He rose from the chair and burst from the cubicle as the cover over the screen slid home.

    In the nave, quiet, gritty, oily, dusty, grey sunlight filtered through the patina of raindrops rippling down the windows.

    At the far end, the door opened quickly. A man rushed in and tried to close it quietly, but it pulled itself shut with an echoing slam.

    They glanced at each other but avoided each other’s eyes as they passed, feet clattering on the echoey concrete; he toward the door and freedom and penance and the quick lube, the other to the cubicle of the mechanic-priest smoking, chewing clove gum, reading a three-day-old newspaper turned to the comics page.

    By Popular Repost

    NOTE: I wrote this post a year ago. It still applies.

    Ever since I was a little kid, I hated St. Patrick's Day.

    Pinching those who did not wear green on March 17th was THE THING to do at Lincoln Elementary, I'm sure as it was at every damn elementary school everywhere in this country, then and now. Heaven protect the poor fool who forgot to wear green that day, he or she was literally -- I mean literally -- pinched black and blue by the time the day was over. Some teachers took pity on people and passed out paper shamrocks to pin to shirts, but nine times out of ten some creep would rip the shamrock off, shriek "He's NOT wearing green!" and pinch away.

    I hated them.

    Then, too, there was the lunchroom attendant/recess aid who loved St. Patrick's Day and, in addition, attended church with my mother. That meant I was pinched unmercifully, if tenderly, by a crasy woman not above chasing us through the playground. These were much more innocent times back then; today, you'd get on the news with this kind of shenanigans.

    Worse than the pinches, though, were the smug little farts who wore concealed green and lived by the rule that said if you were pinched but had green on somewhere, you got to pinch the pincher ten times. Everyone hated the little creep whose mom bought him green underwear.

    I stopped pinching in the third grade, though there was little I could do to avoid being pinched. "I'm not Irish, I'm half Dutch," I'd say to the owners of those stupid pinchy fingers. That is true, my father came from a land where they used their fingers fore more useful pursuits than pinching -- they stuck them in leaky dikes. Not that it did any good. Everybody got pinched, though I'm sure there was only one kid in the whole school who could claim direct Irish ancestry. I had a crush on her. I was too shy to go anywhere near her, let alone pinch her.

    So now I'm a grumpy old man with kids of my own. They wear green to school on the 17th of March, simply because there's no getting out of it. I do not wear green to work. I tell people who want to pinch that it's a quaint old Dutch tradition to punch people who pinch. I tell them that with a smile on my face, of course. So far, no pinching. Or punching.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Doomed, Part V


    Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

    Because I enjoy navel contemplation, I’ve been thinking about how my own book-buying habits relate to the fact that I want to write books and, more importantly, that I’ve written a book I’m editing and hope soon to start farming out to agents.

    So how do my habits impact my future as an uthor?

    I’m doomed.

    Doomed before I even take the vow.

    Why?

    Because over at Nathan Bransford’s blog, the question came up: What advice would you give bookstores? Here’s my response:
    My advice: Surrender Dorothy.

    I have lots of books. We've got shelves and stacks of them in the study, plus the five boxes, no, six, for which we've got no room. The kids' rooms are overflowing with books.

    We get about 90 percent of them from the local thrift store. Another five percent comes through the book order forms the kids bring home from school. The rest come from used book purchases via the Internet.

    Stocking used books is a good idea, if the prices are right. I laugh out loud at the prices at our regional used book store when I can go to the thrift store and find the same used books for substantially less.

    I love all of you folks who go to the new book stores, buy new books, read them, put them on a shelf and then, after a while, get bored with them and take them to the thrift stores so I can buy them cheap. Keep it up. Don't buy e-books, though, they're not resellable.

    Keep taking your rare and collectable books to the thrift stores, too. I've found several that are worth upwards of $30 to $50 at Powells for $2 or $3 at the thrift store.
    Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I bought a new book.

    Hence, I am doomed.

    I want to write books. I have written a book. But if everyone in the world is like me, the only way I’ll get any money out of it is to open a thrift store and sneak copies of my books onto the shelves and then pocket the money when and if they sell.

    That brings up other tantalizing questions: Self-publishing? E-book-only publishing?

    No. I need an editor, a disinterested outside observer to tell me where I’ve gone wrong. I’ve read enough poorly-written self-published stuff to know better. Of course, I’ve read enough poorly-written traditionally-published stuff to know better as well.

    What to do, Dorothy, what to do?

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Keeping the Fantasy Real

    This is why I read a lot: I want to find out what I don’t like.

    That sounds odd. Even odder than the title of this post.

    Yes, it is an oxymoron. So let me explain:

    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Anthropomorphic up the wazoo, with rats gifted with intelligence due to human studies into such. Add to that a mouse who befriends a crow and is taken to see an owl and then has to drug a cat in order to save her home before the plow comes, and you’ve got a lot of fantasy.



     Used under the fair use doctrine for educational purposes.

    But it’s real. Nothing other than a tractor and a shadowy bit of humanity intrudes on the story.

    Not like the story I’m reading now, which, in the first few pages introduces me to a character who has grass and dandelions growing out of his head. That’s not all that bad. But he looks things up on eBay. On eBay, for heaven’s sake. But he’s in a version of our world – the story evidently takes place in New York City – where people can fly.

    But eBay? Talk about a present-life experience intruding on fantasy time.

    It’s a minor thing, I know. But you know what? It bugs me. Just like in Niel Hancock’s Squaring the Circle fantasies. I’m okay with everything in it, except for the modern guns and bombs and such. Why should all my fantasy swashbuckler? I don’t know. But I know I don’t like it when the bear and the otter who can turn into humans get handed rifles, of all things.

    I do the same thing I my own writing, I know. So I’m going to have to re-read it. And see how much it bugs me.

    Last I Heard, God Speaks for Himself, Mr. Beck, not Through You.

    UPDATE: I guess the Governor of Tokyo said essentially the same thing. Still seems odd to be putting one's own words in God's mouth.

    This is a message to all of you so-called Christians from a guy who reacts a little bit differently than maybe you think he should.

    When disasters happen, do not blame God. And when I say that, I mean do not say, as Glenn Beck said earlier this week, for example, that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan were a “message from God” to the nation of Japan:
    “[T]here's a message being sent. And that is, 'Hey, you know that stuff we're doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.' I'm just saying."
    Sure, you’re just saying, Mr. Beck.

    Here’s what I’m saying:

    What’s the message sent to the little kids who have to suffer through these events, if this is a message coming from God?

    What’s the message sent to the elderly who have to suffer through these events, if this is a message coming from God?

    What’s the message sent to anyone who has to suffer through these events, if this is a message coming from God?

    From what I know, the Japanese are pretty much like us -- when disaster strikes, they fight back. One of their poets, Kokan Shiren, wrote a poem on earthquakes:

    Still things moving,
    firm becomes unfirm,
    land like ocean waves,
    house like a boat --
    a time to be fearful,     
    but to delight as well;
    no wind, yet the wind-bells
    keep on ringing.

    God set us on the earth he created. I think we can agree on that. In part of that creation comes the phenomenon we now know as plate tectonics. Also in part of that creation, if I’ve understood my theology well enough, is that the devil is here on earth, his dominion as he calls it, also sending messages, if you will.
    Maybe the message being sent from God is this: A tragedy has yet again occurred, killing many of my children and leaving many more homeless and afraid. What will my other children, who have not been directly impacted by this tragedy, do to help? Will they show empathy or will they merely sit back and pontificate, either on the evils or benefits of nuclear power, the roiling of the world’s financial markets, the scamming of money from those who want to help, the turning by ignorance of such events into fodder for comics and cynics and idiots? Will they pontificate on what kind of message they think I’m sending?

    No, because even though there is no wind, the wind-bells are chiming. Dawn will come.

    In 3 Nephi 17, when Jesus groaned because of the iniquity of the people of Israel, he did not rain destruction on them. He had compassion on those who were there to listen. He healed their sick. He blessed and comforted their children. The only message he sent was one of love.


    Will God's children show empathy, rather than stupidity?

    The answer is yes, Mr. Beck. They will show empathy. They will help in whatever way they can, even if all they can do is send a text message that nets the Red Cross $10, or if they kneel and pray to me. That’s the answer many are sending.

    They’re not putting words in God’s mouth.They're too busy helping out.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Nuclear Nonsense


    EBRII at the Idaho National Laboratory. This image used under a creative commons license.

    Critics of nuclear power are pointing to the disastrous effects of Friday’s 8.9 earthquake and tsunami on three now foundering nuclear reactors in Japan as ample evidence to shut down current US reactors and forestall construction of new ones.

    These critics raise valid safety concerns. What is happening in Japan is certainly close to the worst-case scenarios that led to a partial meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979 but have not – and likely will not – approach the absolutely worst case scenario of 1986’s Chernobyl accident.

    The knee-jerk reactions to stop nuclear power production, however, such as Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s call to halt to building new nuclear plants “until we understand the ramifications of what’s happening in Japan,” will do little to wean the United States off of fossil fuels or enlighten the public on newer, safer plant designs that could have forestalled the disasters now unfolding in Japan had Democrats not pulled the plug on research funding in the early 1990s.

    As reported today by the Idaho Statesman, the Loss of Fluid Test Reactor and the Integrated Fast Reactor, as developed at the Idaho National Laboratory and the Argonne National Laboratory, would have survived the effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami with no ill effect. Read on:
    The Loss of Fluid Test reactor, one of more than 50 nuclear reactors built on the Delaware-sized nuclear reservation near Arco, was melted down in 1985 on purpose to re-enact the Three Mile Island accident. When the scientists and engineers successfully melted the small reactor core, they popped the corks on champagne to celebrate.

    On April 3, 1986, nuclear scientists from around the world came to the INL to witness a test of a new reactor. The Integral Fast Reactor, invented by Idaho Falls physicist Charles Till, was designed not only to turn itself off and cool itself down, but also to burn much of its nuclear waste and create more fuel than it used.
    When Argonne workers shut off the coolant pumps, a relief valve opened with a loud crack, scaring the visitors in the control room. But the demonstration worked perfectly. The reactor shut itself down without incident.

    Then Argonne’s team brought it back to full power that afternoon and set up a test where the reactor’s electrical system was isolated from the plant the way the tsunami shut off the generator pumps to the Japanese reactors. The Idaho reactor shut itself off again and quietly dissipated the heat.
    The technology to make nuclear power much safer than it is now exists. What doesn’t exist is the political exigency to further the research. The Clinton administration cut funding for the IFR in 1994. In 2002, it was identified as the No. 1 technology to pursue as the United States works to develop Generation IV reactors.

    Letting current technological advances – and advances in the future – be curtailed by the failure of 1970s technology in Japan is akin to negating the advances of current computer technology because of blown vacuum tubes housed deep within ENIAC. Stalling current research because it’s easy politically while the “ramifications” of what happened in Japan are studied are as technologically backward into opening a new investigation into why Ford Pintos exploded on impact. This kind of political malarkey is unsafe at any speed.

    William Saletan, writing at Slate.com, is calling for such rhetorical restraint. Writes he:
    In advanced countries like Japan and the United States, nuclear plants are built to standards no drilling rig can touch. If a sensor, cable, or power source fails, another sensor, cable, or power source is available. Containers of steel or concrete envelop the reactors to prevent massive radiation leaks. Chernobyl didn't have such a container. Three Mile Island did. That's why Three Mile Island produced no uncontrolled leakage or injuries.

    Japan's plants were designed to withstand quakes and tsunamis, but not a combination of this magnitude. At the affected facilities, the quake knocked out the primary cooling systems, and the tsunami wiped out the backup diesel generators. Then a valve malfunction thwarted efforts to pump water into one of the reactors. Everything that could go wrong did.

    Despite this, the reactor containers have held firm. The explosions around them have blown outward, relieving pressure, as designed. Meanwhile, plant operators, deprived of their primary and secondary power sources for cooling the cores, have tapped batteries and deployed alternate generators. To relieve pressure, they've released vapor. And in some cases, they've pumped seawater and boric acid into the reactors, destroying them to protect the public. Cooling systems are back online at two previously impaired reactors, and a backup pump has averted cooling problems at a third plant.
    From what I’m reading, those who are serious about nuclear power are just as concerned as anyone with what’s going on in Japan. The most vehement critics and the most vehement apologists seem too prone to knee-jerk reactions than to reason at this point.

    UPDATE: It's getting worse in Japan, with a fourth reactor now involved and radiation levels spiking. Time will tell what'll be the result here.

    Back to Whose Future?

    I’ve never heard of David Sirota, and already I don’t want to read his new book.

    It’s not because he took on Back to the Future as an Islamophobic, jingoistic film that idealized the 1950s as a fuzzy cocoon of all-that-was-niceness-about-America.

    It’s not because he regards Dr. Pete Venkman’s baiting of Walter Peck in Ghostbusters as anti-government.


    Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

    And it’s not even because he looks at the “Family Ties” sitcom as a propaganda machine for Reaganesque business policies.


    Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes. 

    It’s because he makes these assertions in “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now – Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything,” thus exposing himself as a “neoliberal” slash progressive boob who obviously is out of touch with American culture, appears ignorant of satire and overly prone to contemplating the emanations from his own navel.

    Has he ever seen “Back to the Future,” and realized that the fuzzy-wuzzy image we’re getting of the 1950s is of a mother who appeared to be as oversexed as an alley cat and a father who was a complete nerd and sold out his desire to write science fiction stories because “what if someone read them and told me I was no good?”

    Or seen this video of actual Libyans at an actual mall in an actual VW microbus wielding an actual AK-47 and laughing their assess off at the portrayal in the film?


    Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes. 

    Has he ever considered that, for dramatic and comic effect, “Ghostbusters” needed a foil in Walter Peck, and that making him a government official just made sense?

    Has he ever sat and considered the satire that is “Family Ties,” in that because his parents were liberals, naturally, in teenage rebellion, Alex P. Keaton is going to be conservative? And yet he still decides on a cooperative management team, involving the minority kid?

    And I could go on. But apparently Sirota is too busy filming “The Egret’s Regret” for PBS. (In case you’re as unschooled as Sirota, that’s the film Alex’s Dad was constantly working on for his PBS station. Don’t know if it ever got produced.)

    I don’t mind that he pokes fun at conservatives. They deserve it. So do the Democrats:


    Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes. 

    Of course, the premise of his book seems primarily to set himself up to sell books to fellow neoliberals/progressives, not to set himself up as a great cultural thinker. His premise makes as much sense as saying that violence against children in the future can be tracked back to the "Angry Birds" mobile games of today, where you're encouraged to kill little pig-children -- I assume that's what the small ones are -- in order to recover your own eggs.See? I can sound as culturally important and as culturally silly as he does.

    I just wish he’d get that satire thing figured out.

    Just A Sample

    Here's just a sample of what you're missing -- or not -- over at the Treasury of Laughter. Enjoy. I know I do.

    Where I work we have a stink bug problem. If we have a week where we don’t see two or three of them trundling along the walk outside or from underneath the cubicle walls inside, we consider ourselves lucky. And it’s not necessarily the stink that’s worrisome, it’s the radioactivity they bring.

    Because of this, I feel Don Marquis’ pain. As the creator of Archy and Mehitabel, a paste-eating cockroach and Cleopatra reincarnated as a cat, he lamented “It would be one on me if I should be remembered longest for creating a cockroach character.”

    So this is one more on you, Mr. Marquis.

    And thanks.

    Here’s Archy’s first bit of vers libre poetry, as found on the typewriter:

    expression is the need of my soul
    i was once a vers libre bard
    but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
    it has given me a new outlook upon life
    i see things from the under side now
    thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
    but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
    there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
    removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
    catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
    there is a rat here she should get without delay

    most of these rats here are just rats
    but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
    he used to be a poet himself
    night after night i have written poetry for you
    on your typewriter
    and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
    comes out of his hole when it is done
    and reads it and sniffs at it
    he is jealous of my poetry
    he used to make fun of it when we were both human
    he was a punk poet himself
    and after he has read it he sneers
    and then he eats it

    i wish you would have mehitabel kill that rat
    or get a cat that is onto her job
    and i will write you a series of poems showing how things look
    to a cockroach
    that rats name is freddy
    the next time freddy dies i hope he wont be a rat
    but something smaller i hope i will be a rat
    in the next transmigration and freddy a cockroach
    i will teach him to sneer at my poetry then

    dont you ever eat any sandwiches in your office
    i haven't had a crumb of bread for i dont know how long
    or a piece of ham or anything but apple parings
    and paste and leave a piece of paper in your machine
    every night you can call me archy

    More, of course, is available here.


    And oh, isn’t that the truth, the fierce competition and jealousy between poets. But as a rat poet, what exquisite relish to be able to eat one’s opponents’ words after having sneered at them.

    Interestingly, Marquis’ work transcended the page, ending up as a musical, “Shinbone Alley,” starring Eddie Bracken as archy and Eartha Kitt as mehitabel and featuring the song “Toujours Gai,” based on a poem archy transcribes for the catty cat.


    And further as a terribly-produced 1970s cartoon of the same name starring Bracken and Carol Channing at her bone-rattlingest.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    The Hazards of 140 Characters


    Taken from Basic Instructions. Go there now. Enjoy.

    Mr. Meyer, thanks for being a Twitter geek. And a sci-fi nerd at the same time.

    Makes me think back to the dark, dreary times in which we were forbidden to take our children into any public restroom without first vetting the toilets to make sure they weren't scary. And by "scary" I mean not encrusted in filth starting from the 1950s, swarming with Marlboro butts or locked behind a door for which the sole key you must approach the Scary Tattooed and Surly Gas Station Attendant of Doom, but those toilets that flushed automatically when the sensor was activated. My kids HATED those toilets. How many times did I have to cup my hands over those stupid censors, leaning over my boys like some kind of demented pervert -- Don't worry folks, or call the cops, I'm just engaged in parenting there -- and then not giving a damn if the kid washed his hands or not, just worrying that I got my hands washed.

    Those toilets aren't magical. They're diabolical. And my rant about them DEFINITELY won't fit into a mere 140 characters.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Yay! Uncharted is Working Again!


    Several years ago, I read an Internet travelogue written by a visitor to my home state of Idaho. No matter where this writer stopped, things just weren't good enough. The people were boring. The food was bland. And the scenery, well, this guy said you may as well make the drive in the dark.

    Well.

    Simpleton, I thought. Sure, never get off the intersate and you know what, barreling along at 75 miles per hour, you're not going to see much. Even if you're looking hard.

    So when we took a wintertime trip through the state of Arizona, I promised myself two things:

    1)    We'd get off the interstates.
    2)    We'd make the trip worth seeing in the daytime.

    As it is, we traversed the state from north to south and back again, hitting only 70 miles of interstate. And rather than waste our trip jadedly farting away our opportunity to explore, we took the time to stop and explore a bit.

    We found plenty:

    -    We crossed the Hoover Dam, one of the greatest engineering marvels of the 20th century.
    -    We traveled along stretches of Route 66, the Mother Road, which the kids thought was boring until we told them they'd have a good chance of seeing Mater and Lightning McQueen along the way.
    -    We gazed at the industry and misplaced wealth that brought a bridge from London, England, to the Colorado River.
    -    We clambered over parched rocks sporting sparse desert vegetation surrounded by acres and acres of fresh, cool water.
    -    We rattled our bones tearing down a washboard one-lane road into the outskirts of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge as the mountains and their odd projections and peaks cut the horizon.
    -    We wandered the Art Deco streets of a charming down town Yuma, Arizona – in our shirtsleeves, no less – the day after Christmas.
    -    And, like C. Montgomery Burns' son Larry, we “sawr a blimp.”

    What, my friends, could be cooler than that?

    The route we took brought us from the Nevada State Line at Boulder City down US Highway 93 to Kingman, down Interstate 40 to Arizona Highway 95, then along that highway through Lake Havasu City, Parker, and Quartsize to U.S. Highway 95 south to Yuma.

    Come along. Over the next few months, I'll be posting photos and stories from our trip to Arizona, just to show that travelogue bum what he might have seen in the frozen wastelands of the north if he'd taken the time to get out of his car along the way.

    For the full photoset, go here. Enjoy!