Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It Starts Out Slow . . .

A SHADOW OF BLUE from Carlos Lascano on Vimeo.

. . . but towards the end, you get a nice little shot of reality that makes the fantasy that much more enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Good Writing Should Sing

NOTE: More babbling aimed at my FDENG 101 class.

I don’t claim that everything I write sings, but there are times I succeed. And there are times that something I write sings better than something else I’ve written.

The secret, I think, is to gathering the information and images you want to share, and then sharing them without getting in the way. If we can take ourselves out of the picture, we can get to the singing.

Here are two passages I wrote off the cuff this morning. The first one, I think, sings. The second one, well, it’s okay, but there’s something missing. Or, rather, something in the way. Me. Read on:

The alarm will go off in three minutes, but he’s already awake. He turns the alarm off before it sounds and the house is quiet. In the darkness he finds the clothes he laid out the night before and carries them to the bathroom. He showers and dresses.

Then quietly, with the bathroom fan off and the light extinguished, he goes back into the room to find the dog.

The dog is Dottie, a year-old dachshund. If he doesn’t find her, hidden in the bedding with his wife, she’ll stir and cry and bark because she wants to be with her Daddy – or at least her Daddy’s breakfast – every morning. Or at least poop in the bed and make Mumma angry. She emerges from the blankets, tail wagging.

“Hi Dottie,” he whispers. “Ready to go?”

She squirms and thwaps her tail on the quilt, the loudest noise in the room.

They descend the stairs together and race to the back door. He struggles with the lock – it’s worn and needs replacing – and sends her out into the cold air. She leaves pawprints in the fresh snow and sniffs about as he prepares his breakfast.

Hearing the plate clink quietly on the table, Dottie is at the back door, whining to be let in. He lets her in and she races to her place at his feet under the table. There, as the breakfast sandwich is eaten and the breakfast milk is drunk, she breaks the laws and shatters the quiet with barks, the next more urgent than the last. He shushes and snaps his fingers and when she does, the dog startles and stops barking. But only momentarily. The temptation of bread and butter and cheese and turkey sliced thin is too much. She barks.

But the meal is consumed despite the barking. Their last dachshund died of a broken back from being overweight. Not this one.

Five-thirteen AM. Time to take the dog silently back up the stairs – the breakfast is gone so the barking is over – and then head out into the cold morning to catch the bus.

In the play “The Little Shop of Horrors,” Audrey tells us a lot about herself – she delivers a mini profile – when she sings the song “Somewhere That’s Green.” How does that song work to tell us a lot about Audrey? Here’s the song:

I think the best thing about this song is that nobody listening had to have someone there, asking the questions as Audrey gives the answers. The answers to the questions just come out as she sings and tells us about the life she’d like to live.

Now, compare the passage above to this one:

I asked him what his morning routine is like, and he said, “I set my alarm for 4:30, but I’m usually awake two or three minutes before that and turn the alarm off so it doesn’t wake anybody up. I shower and get dressed. I try to have the bathroom fan and light off so it doesn’t disturb my wife. Then I have to find the dog. ‘Hi, Dottie! Ready to go?’”

Why find the dog, I asked. “She makes too much noise if she doesn’t get up with me, and sometimes she poops on the bed if I don’t get her out on time,” he said. “It’s fun to put her out in the mornings after it snows to see the little footprints she makes. She’s very impatient. Sometimes I have trouble with this worn-out lock and she can’t stand it. Usually while she’s out, I make my breakfast. She knows what I’m doing and makes her potty break as short as possible so she can join me. I swear she can hear the dishes clattering from outside. When she does, she gets really noisy and insistent that I share. But I don’t. I snap my fingers or shush her to keep quiet, but it usually doesn’t work. My wife says she can’t hear the dog barking in the mornings, but I don’t like to take chances. She and the kids need their sleep.”

Why don’t you share with the dog, I asked. “Our last weenie dog died of a broken back, due partly to being overweight,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen to this dog.”

“Usually about a quarter after five – this morning, it was 5:13 – I take the dog back up to bed and then I leave to catch the bus. That’s about it,” he said.

So what are the differences? Bonus point time: I’m thinking of three things that make the first passage stand out from the second. The first, I’ve already told you: I took myself out of the passage. I don’t have to sit there, showing myself asking the questions. The other two have to do with quotations and with verb tense. Bonus points to those who can tell me how my use of quotes and verb tense choice in the first piece differ (and are maybe better) than in the second piece.

How We Doing?

We’re now into our second week in the new house, and things are well, either settling in nicely or running as efficiently as a pig on stilts.

We’ve figured out a few quirks with the heating system – not necessarily in a way that’s going to save us money on our electric bill, but in a way that’s keeping us somewhat warm as we occupy various parts of the house throughout the day and night. Still very interested in having natural gas heat put in. We had Intermountain Gas come in and mark where they’d put their meter, and have some contractors coming later this week to give us some bids. Not really looking forward to all that, but you know how it goes. It has to be done. Curious to see what people can do for us without costing us an arm or a leg. Whatever the cost, though it’ll be nice to be warm.

We’re almost done moving all of our stuff from Iona to Ammon. Probably one more trip would do it, and that could happen this weekend if – and that’s a big if – I can get the garage and shed pulled together in a manner that would allow us to bring more stuff over. The bikes, for example, are going in the shed, but I have to get the shed organized so they’ll fit – and I’ve got to get a padlock for the shed as well. Don’t want it left open to, you know, Ammonite thieves and such. And the part of the garage where I would park my truck is still comically crammed with all sorts of different stuff, from a massive pile of flattened cardboard boxes destined for the recyclers to some furniture we haven’t yet brought into the house and my workbench stuff, which also has to find a home somewhere.

The good news is that last night I got all of the garage stuff moved out of the house into the garage, and a lot of the shed stuff hauled out to the shed, so we’re in better fettle at least with fewer piles of stuff lying around. But I’m going to have to go into shelf-building mode here before too long, because there’s nary a shelf in the house for books or knick-knacks and such. Plus we’ve got to get the camper hauled over here and all the black bags inside it emptied out before we can officially say we’re settled.

But we are getting there. Had our first Sunday in the Ammon 11th Ward this week. It’s always a bit weird trying to settle into a new ward – same program, same meetings, but you have to figure out your place in the ward, who the regulars are, who the Ward Weirdo is, and such. Maybe it’s my turn to be the Ward Weirdo this time around. Could be a pleasant change. Lexie, bless her heart, nearly asked the bishop if we were going to have to speak in the ward because we’re new, but I managed to shush her before the words came out. But it’s probably too late to avoid all that anyway.

Good, Better, Best

As I grade profile essays for my BYU-Idaho Foundations English 101 course, I can’t help but be reminded of Dallin H. Oaks’ October 2007 Conference address, “Good, Better, Best.”

In his talk, Elder oaks admonishes us to look beyond just what is adequate to get our jobs done – whether they be church callings, family life, career, or what have you – to doing what is better and then, ultimately, what is best as we accomplish our daily tasks. Says he:

As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all.

So as I grade these essays, I wonder, how can I encourage my students to go from the good to the better and then to the best? And – contradictorily – how can I do that without interfering with BYU-I’s learning model in which students are encouraged to work with their peers, with the instructors more in the background? I can do good, I suppose – and I have tried this – by commenting on essays as they’re in the writing workshop groups, so I can offer feedback on them before they’re submitted as final drafts. But then, I have noticed, when I comment, the commenting from the students pretty much shuts down and what I say becomes law. The self-motivation, the peer-to-peer learning aspect disappears, and what I thought was going to be good remains there – only good, not reaching beyond that to better or best.

So I wonder: Can’t we, as we re-shape the curriculum, instill a bit of “Good, Better, Best” into it? And by that, I mean we take an assignment like the profile essay, have the students work through them in the workshops, then have me, at the end of the week, chime in. There, we reach the level of good. In the subsequent week, the students would be encouraged to take all the feedback received and work to take what was adequate and good and shape it into something that is better or best. Because as it is now, the good is about all we reach – because in order not to stifle conversations I offer feedback at the end, and by then, gradewise and curriculum-wise, it is too late to take that essay into better or best territory. They have other writing to work on, but it is on different subjects, taking on different tasks, so the one to one opportunity of taking feedback on a paper and seeing how re-shaping and re-working can make that one paper great doesn’t have time to sink in as they jump from assignment to assignment.

So I find myself in a contradictory environment here. Before I became an instructor of English, I was convinced that the students needed to do more writing. Now, I’m thinking less writing, but lots more feedback, lots more introspection, and lots more re-writing in order to make things go from good to better to best.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We the Web Kids

Read an interesting little manifesto that The Atlantic dubs We the Web Kids, in which a Polish author shares the common collected banalities about how the Internet makes his generation think differently and behave differently and justify wanting movies and music for free that most of these kinds of manifestoes have.

Thing is, about these kinds of manifestoes, is that they’re patently useless. But they do make for some amusing reading.

What I find most amusing about these kinds of manifestoes is that those who write them look at how the media reports on the whiz-banger technological whoopiness that the Internet is by looking at those reporters who do things the Ric Romero way, or they indulge themselves in the fantasy that because their Gran clicks her tongue about all this new technology that everyone who has a bit of grey in their hair thinks the same way about it all.

Here’s a clue for you manifesto-writers: We don’t.

It’s true I didn’t “grow up” with the Internet. I didn’t have an email account as a kid. The only things our rotary-dial phones were capable of doing was making phone calls or, if you watched TV back then, murdering people with a blow to the head from the heavy, lead-lined receiver.

It’s true that I learned to type – not keyboard, but to type – on, of all things, an electric typewriter, and that as a kid I had my own typewriter – the analog kind, with the ribbon and all.

But you know what? The majority of those with grey hair to whom you preach know what you’re talking about.

Here’s something that may shock you: I’ve had an email account for nearly twenty years. Twenty years, Mr. Whipper-Snapper. I was blogging in 1996, back before it was even called blogging. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, you can still read what I was blogging about.

This Internet thing, as whiz-bang and nifty as it is, is old hat. It’s great, yes, absolutely. I love having all sorts of information at my fingertips, as you say:
Brought up on the Web we think differently. The ability to find information is to us something as basic as the ability to find a railway station or a post office in an unknown city is to you. When we want to know something - the first symptoms of chickenpox, the reasons behind the sinking of 'Estonia', or whether the water bill is not suspiciously high - we take measures with the certainty of a driver in a SatNav-equipped car. We know that we are going to find the information we need in a lot of places, we know how to get to those places, we know how to assess their credibility. We have learned to accept that instead of one answer we find many different ones, and out of these we can abstract the most likely version, disregarding the ones which do not seem credible. We select, we filter, we remember, and we are ready to swap the learned information for a new, better one, when it comes along.
Of course, we did the same thing with libraries, encyclopedias, and such before he Internet. Same process, same deliberateness, same ability to assess credibility, same ability to find more than one answer, same ability to swap new information for old. It just took us a wee bit longer.

Speed, yes, speed. I know. That’s what the Interwebs are all about. And that’s about it.

Speed. And instant gratification. As you say:
We understand that, despite the increasing accessibility of technologies which make the quality of movie or sound files so far reserved for professionals available to everyone, creativity requires effort and investment. We are prepared to pay, but the giant commission that distributors ask for seems to us to be obviously overestimated. Why should we pay for the distribution of information that can be easily and perfectly copied without any loss of the original quality? If we are only getting the information alone, we want the price to be proportional to it. We are willing to pay more, but then we expect to receive some added value: an interesting packaging, a gadget, a higher quality, the option of watching here and now, without waiting for the file to download.
Oh, and that free flow of information. Free, free, free. I like free stuff, yes I do. I don’t like it when, for example, I’m unable to rip a copy of a DVD that I’ve purchased so I can play it on a digital device. I don’t like it, for example, when Amazon suddenly decides to block an individual from reading or viewing his or hers legitimately-purchased material. But I do not expect it all to be handed to me for free, which, despite what you say here about your generation being willing to pay, is what your generation seems to expect or at least tolerate. Why pay, when your adeptness at Google can find you want you want for free because someone else in your global community decided that information wants to be free, free, free?

Yes, you concede:
This does not mean that we demand that all products of culture be available to us without charge, although when we create something, we usually just give it back for circulation. We understand that, despite the increasing accessibility of technologies which make the quality of movie or sound files so far reserved for professionals available to everyone, creativity requires effort and investment.
But do you know what you’re doing? By assuming that the money charged for, say, a digital copy of a movie, is for distribution costs, for some faceless corporation, and not, say, for the individuals who worked hard to write, film, perform, produce, and, yes, distribute the content you want, you’re taking money away from hard-working, creative people like yourselves, and not from some faceless corporation? The Internet makes anonymity a viable option – but in assuming everyone and everything on the Internet is anonymous, it’s easy to justify stealing content – or paying a bargain-basement price – just to stick it to the corporate man and forget that when you stick it to the corporation, the creative people who don’t want to “give it back for circulation” are being cheated of the money you say you’ll freely pay them.

Because, really, you don’t want to pay. You want to use the anonymity, the corporate hatred, to justify your thievery:
It is not our fault that their business has ceased to make sense in its traditional form, and that instead of accepting the challenge and trying to reach us with something more than we can get for free they have decided to defend their obsolete ways.
My local gas station, in trying to sell me candy and soda and newspapers and knives and tobacco and such, has ceased to make sense to me in its traditional form. They don’t want to accept the challenge in trying to reach me, a gasoline consumer, with something more. They’d rather defend their obsolete ways. So I’m going to gas up my truck and dash off next time, without paying. I’m just ripping off some faceless corporation, dontchaknow?
One more thing: we do not want to pay for our memories. The films that remind us of our childhood, the music that accompanied us ten years ago: in the external memory network these are simply memories. Remembering them, exchanging them, and developing them is to us something as natural as the memory of 'Casablanca' is to you. We find online the films that we watched as children and we show them to our children, just as you told us the story about the Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. Can you imagine that someone could accuse you of breaking the law in this way? We cannot, either.
Yeah, you do know. Because something’s in my memory log – internal or external – it ought to be free, copyright be damned. All I did was consume it, all I did was automatically fire some neurons that created electrical and chemical reactions in my brain that, by some mysterious process, gives me the ability to store, say, the Capital I song from Sesame Street, so all of it – and I mean all of it – ought to be free to me.

Hey, there it is. In several forms on YouTube. Sesame Street and PBS seems to be tolerating its presence there. I didn’t have to pay for it. But you know what – not every episode of Sesame Street is available for free on the Internet, and all of them are part of my external memory. So where’s my free stuff? Oh yeah, I’m supposed to do this, right:

We are willing to pay more, but then we expect to receive some added value: an interesting packaging, a gadget, a higher quality, the option of watching here and now, without waiting for the file to download.
I  forgot about that part. Being willing to pay more and all. But then again, PBS and the Sesame Workshop are faceles corporations, albeit on the case of PBS, a publicly-funded one. That makes my justification for free stuff even more potent: As a taxpayer, I’ve already paid for PBS programming. Give me all those Sesame Streets and Cosmoses and NOVAs for free. And NOW, dammit.

Ya see, We the Web Kids, these manifestos make you sound not global, not hip, not connected, not real, but stupid. Just like us oldsters.

Welcome to the club.

Intermountain Gas

I’m going to sound like a shill for Intermountain Gas here, but so be it.

In our first house in Rexburg, we used those little zone heaters that run on electricity. Our first month using those things full-blast, we froze to death and paid a $300 electricity bill for the privilege.

I remember our first winter in Sugar City, reveling in the glorious thing that was that house’s natural gas furnace. Supplemented by the wood stove, we kept nice and warm in that house for nearly a decade.

Now in Ammon, we’re back to those crappy zone heaters and, thankfully, a fireplace insert. But Homey don’t play that electric heat game any more.

We’ve got appointments Friday with Intermountain Gas and a local heating installation company to get gas rolling to the new house. Whether it was clever of me or not, I did set some money aside from the sale of our home in Sugar so we could address the heating problem head-on rather than wait as have the past home owners – for more than 20 years now – to address the house’s one serious flaw: heat.

So hopefully March will be a warmer month for us, or at least that is my goal.

And yes, it is my intention to drone on about the house incessantly on this blog, mixed in with other flotsam and jetsam that you’ll find just as uninteresting.

Heinemakkefrau is Dead

Thre may be some disappointment out there in Blogland, but I kinda doubt it. But Heinemakkefrau is dead.

That's the blog I was going to create, spoofing another book. But you know what happened? We moved. I had to take the book back to the library. And, frankly, Im' busy enough with work, a part-time gig, novel writing, and the blogs I've got right now to fuss with another book blog. At least for now. but perhaps, in the future, it may happen. We'll see.

But at least we got Terre Haute, Indian . . . a.

Damn. And they just got a public library.

Monday, February 20, 2012

We're In. Almost.

After our first Goonie weekend in Ammon, I’ve got this to say: My hands hurt.

Cardboard, I’m discovering, has this quality of sucking all of the natural oil out of your skin. I’ve handled a lot of cardboard this past weekend, moving boxes and such, and my hands show it. And feel it: They hurt like the dickens. I can barely type this post, they hurt so much. So I may have to put a splint on them and not do much of anything this week. Except what I’ve got to do: work, type, etc.

We are officially moving into our new house. Won’t say moved in, though we did get three of the four beds set up over the weekend (poor Liam has to wait; his bed is a more complicated affair than the rest).

Some things I’ve learned:
  • If you want a king-sized mattress jammed up a stairwell, get Jana Porter to do it. We pushed and squeezed on our mattress for a half hour until it finally popped into place on the stairs, then Jana almost single-handedly pushed it up the stairs, which are now named in her honor.
  • Electric heat is crap. That’s what we’ve got in the new house and that’s going to change soon.
  • Sugar City, be proud of the welcome you give new people moving in. When we did, we were swarmed by people helping us move items into the house, with bread and other goodies and with a neighbor with a monkey wrench who turned our water on after the city forgot to dispatch someone to do it. Here in Ammon, no one has said boo to us, with the exception of the former homeowner and a fellow delivering Republican caucus fliers. Big city folk, I suppose.
  • Kids, left unsupervised, will eat an entire box of fudge Pop-Tarts.
  • Speaking of kids, they went on a “treasure hunt” in the new house to see what the former occupants left behind. Their find sofar: eleven cents, some beads and other shiny things, a bobble-head plastic cat of which our daughter has several other varieties, one red LEGO brick, three outlet covers with one screw, a purple clothes hanger and a princess bag to carry it all in. Plus the skateboard, which Isaac has glommed onto.
  • Tom Lehrer is a genius. 

  • A guy can get dehydrated really, really quickly when moving boxes and furniture and stuff. I swear I drank about four gallons of water this weekend and went to the bathroom once. The rest of it came out as sweat. I feel like that horrible sweaty guy – Parsons – in Orwell’s 1984.
  • Ugh. Reading that chapter from Orwell really frightens me now, much more so now that I have kids of me own.
  • My hands still hurt.
More updates will follow. Maybe.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We're Out. Well, Almost.

It’s official: We no longer reside in Sugar City. Though some of our stuff still does. Temporarily.

Frankly, with the amount of stuff we hauled out of our house, I’m surprised it just didn’t blow up with all of that crammed in there. We have successfully diminished a six-car shop until there’s barely enough room to park two cars in it, and we still had to leave some stuff in Sugar City with friends because we just didn’t have enough room in our two vehicles last night to haul it home. Lexie had to sit in the truck cradling a radio and with a plant dangling in her face. Liam rode with Isaac sitting on his lap. And Michelle had to unbuckle her seatbelt and lean waaaaay forward every time she wanted to check traffic at a stop sign to see if it was clear enough to pass.

Yet we all made it to Iona, our temporary abode for the next few days, unscathed, losing only the top of a shoebox in the voyage.

Today, Michelle goes back to Sugar to pick up a few things we couldn’t cram in the car: A mirror, vacuum cleaner, a garbage can, some stuff to give away and a few random empty boxes. Friday, I go up with her with the trailer to retrieve the swing set and one big garbage can. Then we’re done. And by Friday afternoon, we’ll be moving in to our new home in Ammon. Hopefully.

So what did we do last night? Clean and pack. I scrubbed toilet and cleaned out the fireplace and then spent a long time stuffing things into the truck and car while Michelle cleaned out the refrigerator which, I’m glad to say, stayed there.

Looking forward to a more relaxed few days between now and Friday, however. Riding the bus out to work after sleeping in an extra half hour was nice, and to add to the pleasure I’m able to get on a bus that takes me to RWMC without having to make a change at Central, and that’s nice. Though the seats are cramped. I may have to experiment, see if I can find some seats on the bus that are more suited to the fully-seated gentleman that I am.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Heads Up: Our Internet is Out

Just a heads up that our internet service is out and won't be back until Friday or so. We should have intermittent contact over the next few days, but if you need to contact us for urgent matters, use the telephone.

How quaint.

Farewell, Mr Christopher

Thanks to some feminist who castigates John Christopher for not including strong female characters in his tripods trilogy, I know that the author – one of my favorites from childhood – passed away Feb. 6 at the age of 89.

I confess to being a man. I confess also to not really pondering the inequality of the imbalance between male/female characters in the books I read as a kid and the books I read now. Forgive me, feminists, for I have sinned: I have loved a trilogy of books (a love supplemented not by the atrocious British television series based on the books but by an atrocious comic book rendering done in Boys Life magazine) that has no strong female characters, though conversely I have loved other books, notably Melba the Brain and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which do have strong female characters. Bebother me for enjoying the former as well as the latter and not giving a tinker’s cuss for the difference in gender.

Torie Bosch, said feminist, would be good to read the obituary she links in her screed, in which she dismisses the influence of Christopher’s “lady editor” in a quotation-marked sneer. Says The Guardian:

[Samuel]Youd [Christopher’s birth name] had an unusual way of working. He did a quick first draft of the opening chapter, but for the remainder typed a "final" version, with several carbon copies. When he had completed the book he would go back and redraft the first chapter. He used the method when he wrote his first Tripods book, The White Mountains (1967). Almost at once he came into the charge of an American publisher's editor called Susan Hirschman. She ordered a rewrite before she would accept it, so he gamely redrafted the first chapter. Then Hirschman said the middle sequence was no good, so he reworked that. More followed. Afterwards, he reflected ruefully that she had made the novel much better than it might have been, as she did for the novels that followed.
I think I’d like Susan Hirschman: Focusing on making the story better, not getting into a fret because there were no strong female characters.

Anyway, off the feminist bit.

Christopher is a master of the genre, and not just because of the tripods. My favorite book of his is The Guardians, followed closely by The Lotus Caves. I like his spare approach, his limited focus on just a few characters and situations rather than making for a more complex tapestry. He leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination, and when he has to describe something in order to help the reader along, he does so in the fewest number of words possible so he stays out of the reader’s way. That’s a remarkable way to write a novel, and I think he does the process justice.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hi, Atus

We here at My Kids' Refrigerator are taking a well-earned sabattical this week as we prepare to move our headquarters from one site to another. There may be blogging here this week, and then again there may not be. Regular blogging may begin after Feb. 21, providing all goes well.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Campus that Says Go Away

BYU-Idaho, it appears, is continuing on its chosen path to be the campus that says “go away” to its host community.

Twice in Tyler Burgener and Tommy Bailey’s article “BYU-I Stamps on New Policy,” in the Feb. 7 issue of The Scroll, it is mentioned that the policy requiring a hand stamp as proof of payment to use sports facilities on campus was put in place in part “to keep community members who have not paid to use the facilities out” and to “filter out members of the community who don’t have passes.”

Nowhere, however, neither on BYU-Idaho’s web site at least under my powers of Google-fu, nor at either the Hart or the BYU-Idaho Center is the policy clearly explained, nor is it outlined anywhere I can see where these seemingly unwanted community members may go to get a pass or otherwise throw themselves on the mercy of the powers that be to get in a little walk out of the weather in order to stave off obesity and eventual mortality.

As an online adjunct faculty member, I believe I barely qualify to use the sports facilities on campus without having to pay an additional fee, but I have to confess if a BYU-I Center employee came up to me to ask for my I-Number, all they’d get is a stunned bunny look from me. My wife and I walk on the track at least three times a week, and I can recall once being asked by a pleasant-looking person holding a clipboard if either of us were faculty as we huffed and puffed along. I said I was, and that was the end of it. I figured they were taking a student survey or something. Maybe they were preparing to put us on a list of community undesirables.

I would hope to see this policy more clearly explained to the community at large so we may know whether or not we are welcome on campus. As it stands now, it appears we are not.

I understand that BYU-Idaho’s policy overall is that campus facilities are for student use first. Given the amount of money students invest in their tuition, it’s understandable that the university wants to make sure its facilities are available to those who are paying for them. But in the times I have been in the Hart or the BYU-I Center exercising (walking exclusively) I have not seen the facilities overwhelmed by unshaven, uncouth and unwelcome members of the community at large, who apparently are now going to be cast out of the synagogue due to the coarseness of their apparel, though their tithing money goes in part to build the campus that keeps pushing them away.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Real Oak Veneer

I’ve said for a long time that I probably won’t get as excited about collecting ebooks until I can go to a thrift store and shuffle through them as I can printed books – and now it looks like someone’s trying to do just that thing. At least with music.

And the music publishers don’t like it one bit.

ReDigi, which bills itself as a modern-day used-record store, per Wired magazine, does just that with music. It lets music lovers sell their unwanted digital music files – deleting them from their hard drives once the download is complete – and then offering them for sale at discounted prices. It’s basically what happened with used books, records, CDs, cassettes, and such – and nobody seemed to have a problem with it. The first sale doctrine in action.

Not so with digital music, and not so with EMI Capitol Records. They’re suing – sofar unsuccessfully – to shut ReDigi down.

So enters the conundrum: If it’s okay for an individual to sell physical media, why not digital media?

Yes, digital media is easier to pirate than, say, physical media. And ReDigi confirms it has no way to guarantee that, once it deletes a song from a seller’s hard drive, that the seller doesn’t have another copy hidden away on a storage medium not connected to the Internet. So, what’s to be done?

The debate goes back, of course, to the definition of the first sale doctrine, which allows the sale or a lawfully made copy of a copyrighted work once it has been paid for. Lots of debate will swirl around definition of “lawfully made,” obviously – who is to say that a piece of digital music on ReDigi was lawfully made, i.e., the original copy purchased, without any duplicate having been made.

Technological solutions, perhaps?

Cloud computing, maybe – we may enter the era where we buy cheap leases on digital media, not owning the file outright but having rights to listen to it or view it via the cloud – bad news for people like me who aren’t tethered 24/7 to the Internet. A lease could be bought and sold, guaranteeing no unlawful copying.

But then comes the conundrum: a society shifting away from physical media wants still to physically own, possess, collect, buy and sell, not lease this kind of thing, or so it seems. We want our digital cake and to eat it too.

Proposition 8 Goes Down -- Conundrum Completed

That the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California’s four-year-old ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional is not surprising. Since the measure was passed into law in 2008, I haven’t heard a single legal argument for it – and vague promises that the measure will protect “traditional” marriage don’t count as legal arguments.

Let us revisit the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads thusly:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
This is typically referred to as the equal protection clause which, among other things, was used to combat laws in territorial and early statehood Idaho that prohibited Mormons from voting, holding public office, or serving on juries.

Equal protection, in my book, means equal protection. Prohibiting gay marriage is depriving people of their liberty and denying the equal protection of the law.

Says the court:
Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.
Yes, this puts me at odds with Mormon hierarchy. Does that mean I am not a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

I certainly hope not.

I have never felt my marriage threatened by gay marriage. There are plenty of other things that threaten my marriage (selfishness, petty jealousy, etc.) but certainly not the fact that a man and a man or a woman and a woman want to get married. Overwhelmingly, the threats I see to my marriage are internal, not external – though there are certainly external threats that we can legitimately combat on Constitutional grounds, ranging from pornography to whatever else have you. I’m busy enough working out my own shortcomings to worry about imaging up constitutionally-sound reasons to prohibit gay marriage.

We’re working with our soon to be 12-year-old son to memorize the Articles of Faith. Whenever the Proposition 8 discussion pops up, I almost always turn to Articles of Faith 11, which states:
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
This, in my mind, means that if people want to worship pond scum, they may. So why not gay marriage?

Yes, I know there is doctrine on that as well. I suppose I am at odds with that doctrine.

And from a doctrinal and spiritual sense, that homosexual feelings are sinful I can understand. I just cannot wrap my head around the legal trappings of a measure that would curtail liberty – free agency.

And yet.

In reading something completely disconnected from Proposition 8, I see someone else arguing for something that’s morally right, though legally defensible:
If Mitt Romney is right, and corporations are people, perhaps Marvel/Disney has the capacity to feel shame. In any event, a public flogging has already begun. Cartoonist and educator Stephen Bissette’s blog post calling for a boycott of The Avengers kicked up a lot of dust in the blogosphere. Tom Spurgeon, writing for his well-respected industry website Comic Reporter also framed the issue in moral terms, as did the cartoonist Seth: “The corporate lie about Kirby's role in the creation of all those characters is abhorrent. It's a bold faced lie. Everyone knows it's a lie. No one is fooled. Everyone lying for the company should be ashamed. Stan Lee should be ashamed. What the Marvel corporation is doing might be legal but it certainly isn't right.”
And then there’s this: The powers that be had absolutely every right to do a remake/parody/update of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for a Superbowl ad, though there are many willing to spout about the moral implications of doing so (This update violates the spirit of the original movie which is a classic that shouldn’t be tampered with, is the argument I heard most often.)

So, it’s a conundrum, this thing called life.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Spotty Blogging

Blogging here at Mister Fweem’s Blog (and ancillary blogs owned and operated by Poop Soop LTD) is going to be spotty over the next two or three weeks as we complete a move of our corporate headquarters. We might say we’ll try to keep up with occasional updates and postings, but then again we’ve said that about our newest blog, Heinemakkefrau, since October and you’ve seen how well that’s worked out.

In other words: “Why must I fail at every attempt at masonry?”

We’ve simply got a lot to do over the next few weeks to get things ready to move into our new house and for the lady who bought our house to move in. Take yesterday, in fact – I spent several hours re-setting some tiles in the kitchen floor because the were coming loose. Got to finish that job this week. We’ve also got more packing and hauling to do. Not going to be fun at all. Add to that a drill at work on Thursday and a trip to the dentist Friday morning and the week’s stacking up with suckage.

Oh well. Stiff upper lip and all that.

Oh Boo Yourself

So part of buying a house these days involves allowing one of the arcane entities involved in the process to see your last complete tax return. I duly signed and submitted the form to allow such to happen, and received it back in the mail today. Note I said received it in the mail.

The IRS' complaint? The address provided on the form did not match our records. Everything else, including names and social security numbers matched, but the PO box number was missing. So they sent a request for a new request to an address they believed to be suspect.

Only government thinks like this. Especially when my phone number was on the form as well and they could have called me. But they don't have a procedure for that.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thanks, Dad

A long time ago, Dad loaned me a scraper.

I was doing some plastering or something. I think. I don't remember. But I needed some tools and Dad said I could use his.

I got the work done and kept the tools at my house, thinking after a while I'd get them returned to Dad.

I never did get them back. Dad died in August 2000, and I still had his tools at my house.

I kept them and used them. The others, one by one, wore out or fell apart and had to be discarded. But the scraper. I still have it. Just used it today, in fact, to help me pull up some loose tiles in the kitchen floor, then to mix and apply some thinset so I could replace the tiles.

Every time I use this scraper, I think of Dad. The scraper was worn and rusted when I got it from him, and I've kept it in that worn, rusty state. But it's still useful. Whenever I plaster, or work with tile, or paint, it's right there with me, doing all sorts of useful things.

I'm grateful to a Dad who helped me learn how to work, though I'm sure there were times he rolled his eyes at the results of my work or wanted to stop his ears at all the complaining I did about having to work.

Maybe one day I'll be like this scraper -- like Dad: A bit worn, rusty, and showing my age, but always there when useful work needs to be done and always doing it without complaint.

Thanks, Dad.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mind-Bending at the RWMC

There is such a thing as a time tesseract.

Had the thought this morning as I went over a conversation I had with a co-worker the day before.

Here’s the story: We have an arcane process (imagine that: an arcane process in government work) we have to follow in order to ensure that the hazards workers would encounter when doing work are adequately identified and mitigated. It’s a flawed process, but one that is universally recognized as the best solution we can have right now that doesn’t need money to make it better. (In the best world, of course, that money would be there, but it ain’t, so we go with the best solution available to us.) I suggested a few days ago that rather than fight the system, this co-worker simply game within the system to his advantage, combining procedures that have similar hazard sets into one go-through of this arcane system, thus saving time and money.

But no. He and his customer spent two days looking for any loophole possible in order to avoid the arcane process, including going to the head of our health and safety org to find a way through the mess.

I get a call from the head of the health and safety org, and we talk about the arcane process and how it could be used to follow the letter of the law but at the same time save time the others don’t want to spend.

Still today I’m not sure I’ve convinced them that this is the way to go in order to avoid any audit fodder in the future.

Enter the tesseract.

Basically, I was offering them a way to enter a tesseract in the system to accomplish their work in the shortest amount of time possible. I guess, however, they decided they wanted to continue finding their own route. I may finally win them over yet, showing them that the best way is to fold that string so the ant can walk from one finger to the other.

I sound pompous here. It’s because I am pompous. But at least I can see the shortcuts – legal ones – that present themselves. That’s a government tesseract.

BYU-I Goals Progress

NOTE: As part of my professional development as a nerdly instructor at BYU-Idaho, at the beginning of the semester I set two goals to help me become a better instructor. Here, by way of accountability to myself and others, are my goals, and how I'm doing on them at this point in time.

1) Compile and update a dossier of student feedback suggestions, lessons learned, and helpful tips from our teaching group to deepen my understanding of course content and strengthen my lesson preparation skills.

Lesson Learned One: Anticipate student difficulties. Students appear to have the most difficulties with assessments which, admittedly, can be a bit tricky if you rush through filling them out, which the majority of students do. At the first of this semester I offered my students a cautionary note to keep an eye on their assessment scores and to contact me immediately if they feel a score is in error.

Lesson Learned Two: Offering a forward view. Even though the syllabus and course schedule are available to students, I’ve noticed they tend not to use them, or at least not to consult them (especially the schedule) once the introductory week is over. To give them a heads up, I’ve been sending out announcements, emails and class postings in which I discuss, at the beginning of each unit, the expectations for the unit so they’ve got an overview of what’s going to be happening in the next few weeks. This has reduced the number of students “surprised” that, for instance, their belief statement is going to eventually become a podcast.

Lesson Learned Three: Stay abreast of grading, even the “little” stuff. The most persistent grade-oriented questions I received last semester were when I was going to grade them on updating their student profile and their discussion leadership. In the past, I had opted to leave that toward the end of the semester. This semester, I’ve graded their profiles up front, and am grading them on discussion leadership as the weeks end so they have a better feel for where they stand. This also gives me the opportunity to give those students who forgot about their leadership assignment a second chance to get the work done.

2) Compile as list of and analyze my distance learning and collaboration strengths and weaknesses, taking in experience from my full-time job, time spent as an online student, and in my role at Uncharted to improve my online learning facilitation skills. This goal will dovetail with the first goal.


• Familiarity with the online learning environment
• Dialing back on my in-class presence so the students don’t see me as a domineering figure
• Willingness to check into the class every day as a lurker to answer any urgent questions, and to check my email several times a day to field questions there


• Busy lifestyle on some nights lends to checking into class as a low priority, especially mid-week when work and family demands soar.
• Busy lifestyle has also left me easily putting off checking into the new online community for instructors where I anticipate there is a trove of information that would help me become a better instructor.
• Lack of follow-up on discussion leadership assignments. I think, perhaps, I depend too much on student memory to ensure leaders know when they’re supposed to lead.
• Lack of empathy for students who “disappear” from class. I am a highly-motivated student, spouse to another highly-motivated student. Neither of us understand why you’d pay to take a class you never attend. Need to develop more compassion, reach out better to these students, find out why they’re disappearing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


So, a month ago when I signed up for a free online course meant to have me become a programming fiend by the end of the year, I was overly optimistic about the time I thought I’d have to devote to the lessons.

So far, of the four lessons they’ve sent, I’ve completed half of the first one. Had something to do with Java, something to do with strings. Or threads. Or something of that nature, though I could be confusing my lesson with the spool of thread that fell out of our antique sewing machine when I was trying to figure out how to get the cover off over the weekend.

What happened?

We’re moving, for one. Packing up every little bit of furniture and personal stuff in the house and gradually shipping it south towards our new house, which we should be able to get into on Feb. 17.

I still want to complete the lessons. They’re on a backlog of things to do once life settles down a bit more. As if that’ll happen.

Maybe I’m just easily distracted. Or fearing my mortality. Or just a wee bit distracted. And prone to repetition. I am working full time, teaching part time and, in between it all, trying to write novels and play with the kids and give my wife some attention.