Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Read in 2013

Kind of slacked off this year, reading-wise. I try to read 1,000 pages a month, but didn't quite hit it this year. So here's this year's tally:  
  • 3-Minute JRR Tolkien, by Gary Raymond. 160 pages.
  • Airframe, by Michael Crichton. 431 pages.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Kindle edition), by Lewis Carroll. 100 pages.
  • Ballymore Bedtime Tales, by Bob Brooks. 100 pages.
  • Big Russ & Me, by Tim Russert. 336 pages.
  • Burmese Days, by George Orwell. 263 pages.
  • Capone, by John Kobler. 416 pages.
  • City of the Golden Sun, The; by Marylin Peake. 176 pages.
  • Count of Monte Cristo, The; by Alexandre Dumas. 544 pages.
  • Design of Everyday Things, The; by Donald A. Norman. 257 pages.
  • Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, by Jeff Kinney. 218 pages.
  • Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Last Straw, The, by Jeff Kinney. 217 pages.
  • Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. 217 pages.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, by Jeff Kinney. 217 pages.
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. 208 pages.
  • Emerald City of Oz, The; by L. Frank Baum. 320 pages.
  • Erewhon Revisited, by Samuel Butler. 170 pages.
  • Fisherman's Son, The; by Marylin Peake. 176 pages.
  • Frightful's Mountain, by Jean George. 258 pages.
  • Glinda of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. 232 pages.
  • Harbors and High Seas, by Dean King and John B. Hattendorf. 220 pages.
  • Last Continent, The; by Terry Pratchett. 390 pages.
  • Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The; by C.S. Lewis. 208 pages.
  • Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis. 354 pages.
  • Miss Pickerell to the Earthquake Rescue, by Ellen MacGregor and Dora Pantell. 158 pages.
  • Mr. Bean's Diary, by Mr. Bean and Robin Driscoll. 128 pages.
  • My Side of the Mountain, by Jean George. 208 pages.
  • Nixon's Shadow, by David Greenberg. 460 pages.
  • Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick. 336 pages.
  • Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, by Chip Kidd. 336 pages.
  • Peter Principle, The; by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. 189 pages.
  • Place Byond the Map, A; by Samuel Thews. 338 pages.
  • Prayers from the Ark and The Creatures' Choir, by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold; translated by Rumer Godden. 127 pages.
  • Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis. 256 pages.
  • Professor and the Madman, The; by Simon Winchester. 242 pages.
  • Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett. 253 pages.
  • Report from Group 17, A; by Robert C. O'Brien. 210 pages.
  • Road to Oz, The; by L. Frank Baum. 261 pages.
  • Secrets of Successful Fiction, by Robert Newton Peck. 119 pages.
  • Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics, by CS Lewis. 87 pages.
  • Star-Treader, The; and Other Poems, by Clark Ashton Smith. 122 pages.
  • This Beats Working for A Living: Confessions of A College Professor. By Professor X. 160 pages.
  • Thulsa's Gate, by Robert Schultz. 402 pages. (Beta read)
  • Walking, by Henry David Thoreau, 37 pages.
  • What Ho, Jeeves? by P.G. Wodehouse. 234 pages.
  • Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy. 374 pages.
  • Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The; by L. Frank Baum. 137 pages.
  • Ze page total: 11,254 pages.

  • Monday, December 30, 2013

    Beta Reading -- Not An Easy Task

    Beta reading, we all know, is an essential thing when you've written a novel and you're worried it's not ready to publish.

    But it's not an easy thing, being a beta reader.

    I just finished beta reading a 400-page fantasy novel for a friend of mine. I enjoyed it. At least I think I did. The process of beta reading is enlightening to a writer, as we're more aware of the mechanics of stories and how good stories go together. But at the same time, we're more attuned to what we like and what we don't like, and telling the author this while being honest and wanting to help.

    It's more than spelling errors and such, obviously.

    It's pointing out where the story is lagging, bogging down, making it tougher to read. And it's also measuring praise where it's needed and deserved, to balance things out.

    On top of it all, you have to remember to read for the pleasure of it. For the story. For the fun. Because if you don't do that, you don't know much about the book at all.

    So it's obvious what has to be done: I have to read it again. And that may be the key to beta reading: Not spreading it out over as many readers as possible, but giving a smaller group of readers the time to read your novel more than once. More than twice, per preference, so they can read once for mechanics and the other time for pleasure.

    That's something I'll keep in mind when I send a novel of my own out for beta reading.

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

    From the Fridge

    Just a little humor to ease the tension in the days before Christmas. My wife thought it was funny . . .

    Monday, December 23, 2013

    A Thousand Views

    For the first time since I started blogging in 2009, one of my posts has had more than a thousand views. And it's not an old post, lying around on the blog for a long time. No, it's this one, featuring the last chapter of Doleful Creatures, my NaNoWriMo 2013 winning entry.

    I have no idea why people are reading it. I can look at the analytics, but they don't tell me much. They don't tell me what key words might have brought someone to this page; whether it's some unfortunate combination of key words there that has brought them to my blog -- briefly -- or whether they're actually interested in reading the book. The absence of comments leads me to believe the former, as my typically pessimistic and cynical soul continues to take over. But I hold out hope. Wouldn't it be fun if it were Doleful Creatures drawing people to this blog. A guy can dream . . .

    Monday, December 16, 2013

    The Airing of Grievances . . . to the Idaho Falls Public Library

    My wife thought she was doing something nice.

    Something helpful.
    Something honest.
    Turns out what she did was a mistake.
    Through a combination of negligence, our three children left our puppy alone for a few minutes with a book borrowed from the Idaho Falls Public Library. So my wife took to the Internet and found a copy of the book she figured she could take to the library and offer as a replacement.
    She made the kids pay for the book, which totaled $8, including shipping.We returned a pile of books to the library Friday. My wife explained to the librarian what happened to the book, then presented her with the replacement book, identical in every detail except for the protective film and barcode the library puts on its books.
    “Oh, you can’t do that,” the librarian said. “We have to charge you for the book.”
    And full retail price. $14.99. Plus a $5 administrative fee.
    That’s library policy. Inviolate. Because what if someone else brought in a book to replace one that was damaged that wasn’t as good as it should have been? They’d have to argue over every book. It’s just simpler to have this policy.
    Simpler, maybe.
    But easy to file in the big manila folder of bureaucratic nonsensicalism? Absolutely.
    Here’s what galls me: My wife found the book – identical to the one the dog chewed on – for $8, including shipping. But the library had to have $14.99 to buy it from its distributor. At almost twice the price of the book my wife had in hand, ready to give the library. So when the library asks for monetary donations or a tax increase to help bring more books into the community, the tale of refusing a book in the hand while insisting on ordering one at nearly twice the cost of the one being offered will always come to the fore now. Always.
    Reality for the library may be that the policy makes for less work for librarians, But what’s more important is the perception of reality: The Idaho Falls Public Library refused a good-faith effort by a patron to replace a book damaged by her own childrens’ negligence.
    They did waive the $5 administrative fee. Theoretically. The receipt we got shows a “balance owed” of $5; when we called the library to ask about it, we were told the library administrator would have to approve it. We’re not holding our breath.
    We were not defrauding the library. We were not offering an inferior copy of the book. We were trying to correct a mistake.
    I was in the library a few weeks earlier (oh, we’re big-time library users, up until now) and heard a librarian make several calls to patrons, requesting information about books that came back damaged. Apparently all the people had done was stuff the books into the return slot and hope the damage wouldn’t be noticed. That seemed to be oafish behavior on the part of the patrons. I’m sure the librarian didn’t enjoy making those kinds of calls. I know I wouldn’t. So you’d think having someone come in, acknowledge the damage, and offer recompense right there that would have the book on the shelf as soon as it could be labeled would be a breath of fresh air.
    Oh yeah. This is a bureaucracy. Fresh air is not needed. What’s important is policy. A one-size-fits-all policy that might convenience the library in some ways but in others punishes patrons who thought they were doing right by replacing a damaged book, like for like.
    Now I don’t pretend to understand library cataloguing, or appreciate the superior quality of books procured from library-approved distributors. That’s a reality outside my experience. But again, it’s the perception of reality that’s important: Policy was treated as more important than people.
    That’s the true crime of bureaucracy.
    So we now have two copies of the book. One dog-chewed, the other pristine. The final irony: It’s not a very good book.

    Friday, December 13, 2013

    Give Me Learning, Sir . . .

    Back when I was in high school, I participated in the ubiquitous gym class.

    And let me paint a picture: I was not athletic then. Nor am I now. I was, and am, a bone-idle, out of condition bloke to whom regular exercise -- let alone something as organized as basketball or volleyball -- was completely alien.

    Why do I have to do this, I wondered, every time I had to strip down to the "skins" -- invariably, all the fat kids ended up on the team that had to take their shirts off; I guess the skinny ones liked to see our man boobs jiggle.

    But you know what? I did it.

    I sweated through the warm-up exercises. I panted and wheezed through all the running. And though I refused to play baseball, I wasn't shunned. Nor did I get a bad grade. Because I did everything else. I even learned to like things like the warm-up exercises and pickleball.

    I still regard physical fitness as important. I'm not wild about team sports, but I will go biking and walking and hiking. I try to watch what I eat.

    I got something out of high school gym, even though it wasn't my favorite thing in the world to do.

    So Rebecca Schuman's essay in Slate today really got my goat.

    She thinks students who don't like to write shouldn't be asked to write any more. Because they hate it. Because teachers hate reading their essays. And because they'll never learn how to do it effectively, so why bother teaching them.


    She says keeping writing in strictly English courses is okay. I assume she's OK with writing in other subjects -- history comes to mind -- but for those who don't want to be English majors or historians or whatever, writing should not be required in their college careers.

    Her attitude stuns me. "They don't like to do it. It's too hard to teach them how to do it. So let's not do it." How DEFEATIST is that?

    I don't recall seeing it written that what we learn in school has to be easy for us to do. Or something we'll be doing for the rest of our lives. I remember going in with the attitude -- and I get this from my father, whose schooling was interrupted at the third-grade level by World War II -- that we should learn whatever we can, even if it's hard. And he learned a lot of things, reading a lot of books and writing things down in a language that was not his native tongue. He might know what he's talking about.

    I get it from this, too:

    And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;

    Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.

    -- Doctrine and Convenants 109:7-8

    Or, if you prefer something a little less churchy:

    "Give me learning, sir, and you may keep your black bread."

    -- Leo Tolstoy

    Let's just not treat everyone like this:

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

    Visit Sunny Saturn

    Visit Sunny Saturn, or at least think about it in the infomercial my son made for his eighth-grade science class. Makes me want to work on The Hermit of Iapetus again. But Doleful Creatures awaits. That's the one I think I can have published in the next few months . . .

    Monday, December 9, 2013

    Want to Code? Learn to Read First.

    Dear President Obama,

    I like the idea of encouraging people to learn how to code – whatever that means. I’ve tried at least one variation of coding – using simple HTML not only on this blog but in an online class I teach. I built my own websites in the early 1990s, mimicking the code I saw back then. I haven’t kept up with it much, I admit.
    You know what I like better? Encouraging people to learn how to read.
    I listen to a lot of young boys read. I mean a lot of young boys. And most of them can’t. They stumble over pronouncing words. Simple words. And if you ask them to explain what it is they just read, the pat answer is “I don’t know.” And they’re telling the truth, because when they read aloud, they’re saying the words, but that’s all they’re doing. They’re concentrating on getting to the end of the passage, everything else is secondary.
    I can tell the readers from the non-readers at the first meeting. They sail through simple and complicated texts – and I hear them read everything from news stories to their Boy Scout manual to more complicated texts, like the King James version of the Bible. If they encounter a word they’re unfamiliar with, they sound it out, and usually get it right. They can guess at meaning, and usually get it right. And if they’re stuck, they know where to go to find the answers. They can summarize. They can explain.
    The non-readers can’t do any of that. Or at least they don’t try.
    And it’s not just young boys. I also can tell pretty quickly which of my college students are readers and which are not. I don’t get to hear them read aloud, but I do get to see them think as they write essays and post responses in our online classes. Those less interested in reading stand out, even more so than those for whom English is not their first language – and I have a lot of students that fit that category too.
    These aren’t dumb kids. They have other talents ranging from excellent math skills, a deeper understanding of emotion and empathy, and athleticism, among others. Reading isn’t “their thing.”
    But it’s fundamental to everything. Including coding.
    We haven’t left it up to schools to teach our kids to read. We read to them. We started early, with picture books, then Dr. Seuss, now others – right now, I’m reading CS Lewis’ “Prince Caspian” to my two youngest kids. And we read aloud, nearly every night, from our scriptures. We take turns reading and explaining what we read – requiring our kids to go over what they just read and using their own words to explain what’s happening.
    And they’re readers. They’re up late at night reading, getting yelled at to turn off the lights and go to bed. They’re always sneaking books into the car for trips, sneaking books off the shelves to read at mealtimes. They’ll read newspapers. And magazines. And comic strips. I’m sure if I put a book on coding in front of them, they’d read it. And maybe get interested.
    But the reading comes first. If it doesn’t, well, we’re slipping into Snow Crash a lot faster than previously thought. Technological achievement is highly valued in the Metaverse, but that achievement can be as shallow as it is stunning.
    There is, of course, this argument:
    Coding does require a lot of mental discipline, dealing with the concrete hidden in the abstract. Yes, a lot of what is written is drivel. But so is a lot of what is on the television. As is much of what is coded. Coding for the sake of coding, I’m not necessarily in favor of. Coding with a foundation on the ability to think and reason, well, that sounds a whole lot better.
    Could coding prod a non-reading kid into reading more? I’m certain it could. But you’re going to get more coding kids if they’re reading kids first.

    Tuesday, December 3, 2013

    I'm A Scofflaw. And So Are You

    I’m a scofflaw.

    I’m stealing money from schools. From schools. And other important things like state parks. Roads. And all those ivory-handled back-scratchers they pass out to state legislators.
    And my guess is, if you’re an Idaho resident, you’re a scofflaw too.
    If you buy things online and don’t pay a sales tax – and there are few ecommerce sites out there that do collect sales tax by state – you owe the state money. And not by some new-fangled law taxing internet purchases. No, you owe the state money under a “use tax” law passed in 1965, well before Jeff Bezos was even thinking about getting bald.
    The Idaho Statesman has the poop on this law here.
    The math is pretty simple. The state tax commission estimates Idahoans spent $1.08 billion on online purchases in an average year, with that number growing. At six percent, that equals about $65 million in taxes. Most of that is going unpaid. In 2011, only 9,555 Idahoans paid an average of $56 in use taxes – or only 1.4 percent of those filing tax returns with the state also paying the use tax.
    The Statesman skirts one issue: What happens to you if you don’t pay that tax? What are the penalties involved? Laws being what they are, the consequences appear murky, but this statute, requiring that anyone evading the tax be required to pay that tax once caught seems applicable.

    But the situation gets murkier than that.
    According to the US Small Business Administration – an official appendage of the federal government, businesses that conduct ecommerce are not required to collect sales taxes everywhere. Here’s the deal:
    If your business has a physical presence in a state, such as a store, office, or warehouse, you must collect applicable state and local tax from your customers. If you do not have a presence in a particular state, you are not required to collect sales taxes.
    Note the murkiness: Online businesses aren’t required to collect sales taxes. The SBA says nothing about whether or not purchasers area required to pay such taxes. So it appears we fall back to the state statute. And the state’s demands that the taxes be paid.
    Additionally, if you’re looking to the federal government for clarification on this, that’s shouting into an empty room. The US Supreme Court decided this week not to take up a challenge to a New York state law requiring online retailers to collect state sales taxes, instead saying that job is one best left to Congress. And we all know how well that organization works.

    The only thing that seems to save us is the bureaucracy. Per findlaw.com:
    The sole difference between a sales tax and a use tax is the person that ends up giving the money to the state government. When it is a sales tax, the retailer is the one handing over the money, while a use tax is handed over directly by the consumer. However, collecting use taxes on small purchases often costs more than simply letting the consumer not pay the use tax. Instead, state tax agencies try to focus more on collecting use taxes for big ticket items that are purchased online with no sales tax, such as cars and boats.

    However, there are a number of states that have stepped up their enforcement of their use tax laws and are now trying to make their state residents pay the taxes that should be paid. However, these states are still hampered by limited resources as well as the complexities involved with tracking down minor purchases and demanding that a use tax be paid.

    But to answer Mr. Incredible’s question:
    Did I do something illegal?
    The answers appear to point to yes.

    Monday, December 2, 2013

    Hand in Hand: Scouting, Online Instruction Making Each Other Better

    I sat in the Deacons Quorum room, waiting.

    The young man giving the lesson quietly slipped out a borrowed tablet, got it ready to play some videos. Two other young men sat in chairs near the window. Sat is a loose word for Deacons; one sat conventionally, feet on the floor, the other sat with his legs pulled up onto the chair, knees tucked under his chin. He had something in his lap – LEGO figures – he was showing to the other boy.
    Two other boys leaned their chairs against the wall. One of them realized with both the president and the first counselor gone, he, as second counselor, was in charge. He called the group to order.
    I am their Scoutmaster, but in the fuzzy leadership links in the LDS Church between the Aaronic Priesthood and the Boy Scouts of America, my role at church is uncertain. Tuesdays are my days to shine and campouts and merit badge pow-wows are my territory; Sundays belong to the deacons quorum adviser. Who was not present.
    The lesson commenced. The boy giving the lesson resembles my own: intelligent, obsessive, smug in his abilities and eager to challenge his cohorts to read a long list of scriptures, to guess the identity of the general authority speaking – Jeffrey R. Holland – and to repeat several times with joke that we look under our beds for devils and demons, while devils and demons look under their bed for Jeffrey R. Holland.
    The boys by the window weren’t listening. The LEGO figures were more compelling.
    The boy who took charge appeared to be asleep.
    The other boy challenged everything the young man teaching said, finally blurting “Why does everything have to be a competition?” throwing the boy teaching off his game. He tried to recover by bringing up the Elder Holland joke again.A bishopric member poked his head into the classroom, looked at me. “You alone here?”
    “Apparently so,” I replied.
    He took a seat. As it was Fast Sunday, he wanted to make sure the fast offering routes were assigned. They were not. One boy lamented he wanted to sing with the choir after church and thus couldn’t do fast offerings. Another said since he’d volunteered to help pass the sacrament at a retirement community that afternoon, his obligation to fast offering collection was nullified. Three other boys just stared at the brown leather envelopes in the counselor’s hand.
    Eventually, they decided amongst themselves that they could do two of the five routes. The leader went to find conscripts from the teachers and priests quorums for the other three. The lesson recommenced. With the Elder Holland joke.
    These are my scouts, I thought. On Tuesdays, they’re noisier. There are others there who don’t regularly come to church who add their own individual elements of chaos and decorum, often at the same moment.
    As I watched them, Wood Badge training kicked in. This kid challenging the teacher isn’t one who comes to scouts regularly. But when he does, I thought, our Scout team will go from norming to storming again – the team dynamic they’ve figured out (the norming, everything’s working normally) in his absence due to football practice will be upset and they’ll have to learn how to work as a team all over again (the storming, as in thunder and lightning) as he comes in, not knowing where to fit in, not knowing how the team has worked before, and with the team not knowing what to do as he attempts to fit in and his attempts are interpreted as disruptions.
    I sat there with them, terrified.
    Not because of anything that happened in the classroom. This wasn’t my first experience with this knot of Deacons on a Sunday. The boys always teach the lessons. That one kid always brings LEGOs and those two always sit by the window, distracted. The second counselor almost always looks like he’s asleep. And if the kid questioning everything isn’t there, another kid who does the same thing is.
    But because I’d seen it all before. Somewhere. Deja-vu.
    The Scoutmaster Handbook tells us this: “A new Scoutmaster is likely to approach his troop with self-confidence. He anticipates that his enthusiasm will excite his young charges to get the most they can out of Scouting.”
    I can do self-confidence and enthusiasm. As can just about anyone any bishopric would call as Scoutmaster, providing he meets the basic requirements: He appears to be breathing, is likely to pass a background check, has not been openly heard swearing,  and is also on the bishopric radar after the ward paid for his Wood Badge training.
    But the Scoutmaster handbook goes on to say, in the same breath and with that same self-confidence and enthusiasm: “Learning about the characteristics of boys, how to motivate them, how to deal with their behavior, and how to help them with their problems will give the Scoutmaster the insights necessary to enjoy working with his Scouts.”
    Oh woof. This is something respiration and a mild financial obligation can’t cover.
    Wood Badge taught me enough to know that “learning about the characteristics of boys” goes much beyond pigeonholing them into categories: Smug, self-confident yet awkward in social situations; At ease in social situations but prone to sweating and stumbling when called upon to pronounce words with more than three syllables; Distracted LEGO aficionado; Thrall of the LEGO aficionado; Avoider of responsibility unless it’s easy; and the inevitable Scout Camp Slob. Wood badge taught me that learning the boys’ characteristics meant finding ways for them to learn, to accomplish, to lead, despite the challenges they face from broken homes, aversion to schoolwork, or fixation with Danish toys.
    Wood Badge taught me it’s okay to let the boys lead and to let them make mistakes; the Scoutmaster Handbook cautions me against “falling into the trap of controlling the Scouts’ experiences and doing everything for them.” Wood Badge taught me it’s better for boys to try and fail and then try again than never to bother trying because “the Scoutmaster did it for me.”
    Wood Badge taught me that old saw from Lord Baden-Powell himself: “Scouting is a game with a purpose: the game is a fun and exciting program, and the purpose is to become better adults.”
    To become better adults.
    Funny, I’ve heard something like that before.
    Part of Brigham Young University-Idaho’s mission statement reads “Prepare students for lifelong learning, for employment, and for their roles as citizens and parents.”
    Different words. But the same thing.
    All this time I’ve been concentrating on how the training I got at Wood Badge could help me be a better online instructor at BYU-Idaho. Part of me now sees this as a two-way street, as there are elements of our online teacher training and the experience of teaching diverse groups of online students will help make me a better Scouter.
    As I sat in that Deacons Quorum room, I thought not of Scouting, but of my students at BYU-Idaho. What am I doing in class to, as the Scoutmaster Handbook advises, to make my classroom a safe place? To think ahead? To recognize students as individuals? And then conversely: What am I doing with my Scouts to encourage them to live gospel principles, to provide a quality education for Scouts of diverse interests and abilities, and to maintain a wholesome academic, cultural, social, and spiritual environment?
    Should my goal be to squeeze my scouts through the eight hours of community-based service they need for their Citizenship in the Community merit badge, or to show them that there are community-based organizations who need service from every person, including Scouts and Scout leaders, so those organizations can concentrate on serving the public?
    Should I sign my Scouts off on the Personal Fitness merit badge because they‘ve stumbled through three months’ worth of push-ups and mile walks and bookwork, or because through example they’re seeing how fitness now will pay dividends well into the future that for them may as well be a million years from now?
    One hand can learn from the other. My role as an online instructor at Brigham Young University-Idaho has as much to learn from Wood Badge as my role as Scoutmaster has to learn from my teaching online English students.
    So I took two of those Deacons – my Scouts – on their fast offering route, forgetting that when I arrived at church, my first thought was: My son is home sick; I don’t have to do fast offerings today either. We talked about the wind, the cold, the coming snow that might make our camping trip the coming weekend a bit more interesting. I reminded myself that one of those boys was in charge of planning our upcoming court of honor as he works on his Communication merit badge; I’d better follow up on that on Tuesday, lest the court of honor go unplanned and his experience fulfilling those merit badge requirements goes unfulfilled.
    I also noted the need to plan ahead for my Foundations English students. They’re starting work on their group projects, with some of them already expressing anxiety over the mistake-makings of their peers. As I remind them I’m not a fan of group work myself, I also mention, casually – about half of what I do in my full-time job as a technical writer involves working with groups. Work doesn’t have to be pleasant to be necessary.
    A game with a purpose.
    Preparing students for lifelong learning.
    One hand complementing the other.

    Thursday, November 28, 2013

    Too Abrupt?

    NOTE: So, I'm concerned this ending chapter is a bit too abrupt. Thoughts? (I know it's a challenge, reading this without the rest of the novel in context. Anyway . . .

    Chapter Seventy-Four: The Waters Rise 

    Starlings chased rabbits and moles into their holes. They grabbed at mice and shrews and voles, carrying some up into the sky to toss back and forth as they squealed. 

    Where the Lady slithered, tendrils shot into the ground, seeking those that burrowed. Where the Lady slithered, tendrils shot into the air, seeking those that flew. Her color darkened as the fear and panic spread. 

    And deeper she probed. 

    She felt the strength lying there, somewhere underground. 

    The tendrils probed and searched. 

    She would find it. 

    This and That cowered in the truck. As it was a human machine, the Lady and the starlings ignored it. Even when its engine turned over and the truck began to back out of the clearing. 

    “That’s a close thing,” That said, jerking at the rods that turned the steering wheel. 

    “Where are we going?” This asked from the floor. 

    “Away, away for now. Perhaps back to the shepherd’s shack. That would be best, until the Lady is gone.” 

    “Is she going?” This asked. “For a long time, the box canyon has been hers. Now she is here.” 

    “Doomed, doomed,” That whistled to himself. 

    Father Marmot did not see the truck leave. He was the first the tendrils took. As he wandered the wood, he nurtured his hatred. Hatred of Jarrod and Aloysius who had brought the beavers down from the canyon. So industrious, they were. Already felling trees and packing mud, he saw. Treacherous creatures. And dangerous, he knew. He remembered from the last time. 

    Tendrils stopped up his ears, closed his eyes. Time, he felt, like molasses on his skin. He imagined the sun rose and set, rose and set, rose and set. He felt the tendrils caress him, feed his hatred, bring him stores of rumors and talk and imagined actions to feed the bubbling mudpot of anger inside his soul. 

    The Lady gorged on his hatred, and grew. She snared other marmots, who went into holes to brood and drown as water from the creek poured into their tunnels. She found others, and others. And grew and grew.

    She sensed Jarrod and Aloysius. Not far. Not far. First the appetizers, she thought. Then the feast.

    Her starlings fled. 

    Her starlings fled.

    And the sky grew dark with sparrows. 

    On the edge of the clearing, the magpie and the badger. 

    The magpie rode the badger, perched on its low back, claws digging in as the badger ran. She turned to meet them and slithered through mud where once there had been dry ground. 

    The magpie had in its claw, braced on the badger’s back, a bit of rock. 

    The badger climbed a tree, the magpie hopping from branch to branch. They fled the water that carried the flotsam of the forest floor in eddies and whirlpools inching up the tree trunks, up the sides of the hills. 

    She splashed through the water and coiled ‘round the tree the two had climbed. 

    “Oh, I taste the both of you, both of you through this tree,” she hissed. The tree shed its leaves. Its branches grew brittle. Aloysius grabbed a branch and it snapped off in his hand, where moments ago the branch had been green. “Let me come, and we will sup together.” 

    From Jarrod: silence. 

    From Aloysius: the same. 

    Her tendrils reached them, but hesitated. Where they had always found channels, or cracks, or breaks or tears or leaks, there was nothing but feathers. Nothing but fur. 

    And the sky was full of sparrows. 

    A hammer blow, they fell. And they too, were silent save the ruffling of their wings. 

    The Lady screamed as they pierced her skin with their tiny claws, jabbed at her with tens of thousands of beaks. 

    And the waters rose.

    This and That abandoned the truck, its engine flooded with water. They swam through the flood, found a tree, and climbed. 

    The Lady squeezed the tree, which creaked under the strain. Then she fell. She fell with  a great splash in the water and lay still. The sparrows swarmed around her, diving in and out of the water in their speed, wrapping her in a coil of bone and feather. 

    Silence from Jarrod and Aloysius. 

    Silence from the sparrows. 

    A great gust of wind scattered the swirling birds which fled to the four corners. 

    Bits of wood and pumice and plant and stuff bobbed in the water. 

    Sparrows and the Lady gone. 

    Aloysius collapsed in tree fork, muttered. He gave Jarrod a nod. The bird hopped over, landed on the badger’s back, folded its wings and tucked its head down. 

    Both creatures slept.

    Wednesday, November 27, 2013

    Dragon Tryptich

    I have a dragon-loving daughter I was trying to amuse at church a few weeks ago. She wasn't terribly amused, but I had fun. I'm particularly proud of the first one.

    Sunday, November 24, 2013

    Gorilla Detecting

    NOTE: A little something I wrote for my BYU-Idaho writing students. I think it's a fair, concise shake at showing what you ought to do in a research proposal. And that it features the Muppets, so much the better. Alan Murray would be so proud.

    Gorilla detecting. It's gonna be big. 

    And how does detecting gorillas apply to writing your research proposal (due this week)? 

    Have you presented us with a problem that needs to be solved? Dr. Bunsen Honeydew has: How many times have you awakened at night in the dark and said to yourself: Is there a gorilla in here? 

    So be sure to state the problem you're addressing. And if the problem you're addressing isn't quite, word-for-word, what you signed up for, that's fine. Just make sure you're clear in presenting your problem. 

    Next, set the stage. Tell us why this your problem is worthy of solving. Dr. Honeydew does: How many family vacations have been ruined by undetected gorillas. Who wants a vacation ruined by gorillas, undetected or not? Clearly, you're at the beach -- I'm thinking Cannon Beach in Oregon -- and you don't want your playing in the surf or gazing at Haystack Rock to be marred by a gorilla attack. So you've got my attention. What's your solution? 

    Yes, present your solution to that problem. Dr. Honeydew does: The solid-state gorilla detector. 

    Now, you're not done. Someone may object to your solution. It may have its flaws -- the gorilla detector certainly didn't work as advertised. So explain why your solution is a good'un, if not the best. Present clear evidence, by once again turning to setting the stage: Tell and show us why your solution is the best. Do better than Dr. Honeydew, please . .  . 

    SCHEDULE for the week: Try to have your rough draft in your writing groups by WEDNESDAY, rather than MONDAY. I don't think it's fair to dump that on you first thing Monday morning. Please finish your commenting by midnight FRIDAY, then turn in your proposals by midnight SATURDAY.

    Thursday, November 21, 2013

    Doleful Creatures: 45,000 Words In

    Chapter Sixty-One: Upstream Side 

    Jarrod flew, clinging to the bit of rock in his claws. The rock was lighter than he dared hope, filled as it was with bubbles of air left over from when the basaltic rock cooled long ago. 

    “Fly far from the creek, kind Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, speaking from the bit in Jarrod’s feet. “The creek I will see afore long; I desire to go further afield.” 

    “Pardon my indulgence,” Jarrod said. “Trust me a bit further as we follow the creek. I have things on its shoreline to show you. We at least travel upstream, where you are not likely to follow.” 

    They flew northeast, where the canyon opened up a bit after the narrows at man in the rock. Here the creek split in two, one branch continuing northeast and the beaver lodges, the other to the northwest and the lake where Nimble and her kind found home. Here and there, rapids and waterfalls, as the creek descended out of the box canyon. 

    Below, the creek wound through a narrow valley, a tumble of rock really from the mouth of the canyon. Soon the canyon widened and its bottom flattened into a gentle U-shape. Tiny ponds and lakes appeared, linked by the creek as if on a grey-blue rope. Jarrod descended and flew low over the creek, whistling and grunting in a mix of magpie and beaver tongues.

    A young beaver mending a portion of a dam heard Jarrod’s calls and slapped the water with his tail. From holes and bushes and out of the nearby wood, beaver faces emerged, peering first at the water, then at the sky. 

    Jarrod started a gentle glide down to the pond shore, then the starlings were upon him. Several flew at his face while others came from behind, raking his eyes and wings with their bony feet. Jarrod folded his wings and dropped, avoiding a third barrage, opening his wings just in time to stop himself from falling into the water. 

    “Kill!” the starlings screamed. “Kill!” 

    Jarrod surged back into the sky. 

    Below, the surface of the pond roiled. Beavers leaped from the water and their dam, fleeing with their youngsters into the wood as the water surged and boiled. A whirlpool formed near its center, occasionally gouting spouts of foam and water and mud. A terrible head on a long neck, dripping mud and scum from the bottom of the pond, shot out of the whirlpool and bolted into the sky. 

    The starlings screamed with joy. “The Lady! The Lady emerges to fight with us!” 

    In a whirl, clouds of starlings shot from the sky and from the strees and seemingly from holes in the ground to fly in a twisting knot around the Lady’s leering, toothed head. 

    “Jarrod!” the Lady screamed. Spittle dropped from her mouth and caused the surface of the pond to smoke. “Jarrod! Once you were mine, and you will be mine again. And to the beavers” – she lowered her head to shout into the wood – “if you desire to help this one, so be it. But remember the massacre. For if you help him today, you will wish for the blessings of that day, when so many died!” She roared and the trees in the full gust of her breath withered, their leaves turning to dust before they hit the ground. 

    “Oh,” the man in the rock said. “This I have seen. This I have seen before.” 

    “Fight!” the Lady bellowed. 

    In a single cloud, the starlings barreled through the air to Jarrod, alone in the sky. 

    “Fly higher, fly higher,” Jarrod said to himself, pumping his torn wings. He flew away from the pond, seeking a rising thermal as Nimble the hawk had shown him. This early in the day, one might be hard to find, but he had to look . . . there! He felt the wind bearing him up. The starlings, too, would find the rising air and follow, he knew, but perhaps they were not used to flying so high. He shifted his grasp on the bit of rock in his claws. 

    “Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, “you must descend. Fly over the water. Fly back to her.” 

    Jarrod flew higher, his heart thumping. 

    “Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, “how long have we known each other?” 

    “A long time.” 

    “And do we call each other friend?” 

    “Yes . . . friend,” Jarrod said, slowing his flight. Below, the starlings’ screams approached. 

    “Descend. Fly over the water. And when I tell you, drop me.” 

    “But what –“ 

    “I have seen it before,” the man in the rock said. “I know what is to be done. But be cautious. This will be only a temporary stop to her. She will find you again, and soon. In the meantime, fly to your friends.” 

    “The crows,” Jarrod said. The starlings screamed. The starlings screamed. 

    “No, to the hawks,” the man in the rock said. “The crows are noble birds, but the hawks; but Nimble. She will know what to do. In a way, she has already told you.” 

    Jarrod swallowed, then folded his wings. 

    He dropped like a stone, still carrying the rock in his feet.

    He fell through the cloud of starlings, knocking several from their flight. His fall was too fast for them to do anything but dodge. Below them, he spread his wings again, righted himself, then folded his wings again, aiming for the roiling pond and the leering head staring up at him, mouth agape, withering breath bellowing a putrid heat into the clouding sky. 

    Over the whistle of the wind, he heard the Lady’s familiar voice. 

    “Ah, you are coming after all, once again into my embrace,” she said, licking her lips with a slimy tongue. “Sweet Jarrod, so full of fear and guilt. You have grown more bitter these past few weeks, but we will make you sweet once again.” Tentacles shot out of the pond and beat upon the water, sending waves over the muddy shores and into the wood where the beavers had fled. Other tentacles smashed the lodges, uprooted trees and flattened the dam, sending brown water boiling downstream. 

    But as Jarrod dropped, the smile faded on the Lady’s lips, the shine in her eyes dimmed a little. There was something. Something. Something she could not follow. Something wrong. Something wrong. 

    “Now, Jarrod,” the man in the rock said. “Drop me. Drop me before the water is gone.” 

    Jarrod released the stone. 

    It fell and landed in the water with a plop so tiny among the waves and flailing tentacles that it could not be heard. 

    The water was black and full of clinging ichors, but to an eye that could see through rock, such obstructions were of little consequence. The man in the rock tumbled through the water, falling closer and closer to the sucking hole through which the Lady was forcing her body. He fell between her and the rock the flailing and churning had exposed, and during an undulation, slipped into the darkness below. 

    The Lady paid no mind. She continued to stare into the sky, wide-eyed, as Jarrod flew away, higher and further, and as her starlings quivered at her wails of despair.

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013


    This, my friends (if it worked correctly, it does require Java after all) is a Wordle of "Doleful Creatures" in its current state. It'll be interesting to see if things change over the next 10,000 words. But I doubt it.

    Lots of character names here. And some words that surprise me. Know? Really? One I understand -- many of my minor characters are nameless. And the Lady is mentioned far less than I expected, as are the sparrows. And maybe that's fine. Marmot (or a derivative) three times. That I understand, one of my marmots is named Father Marmot, so that's going to show up a lot.

    Doleful Creatures: Coming Together At Last

    Earlier this week, this happened:

    It is, in fact, a very rough outline of the rest of "Doleful Creatures," which I'm hoping should consume another 8,000 words or so, but we'll see. There are other bits of the novel that need re-working, or re-re-working and that may take more words (or fewer) but progress is being made. And it's s far sight better than the novel it was this time six months ago, when I'd pretty much given up one it.

    And today, this happened:

    I like to do a map, mostly because I like to do maps, but also because it works like a kind of visual outline and reminder of things that happened, and things that still need to happen.

    So I'm excited about this one. Again. The plot-within-a-plot is working well, and I hope to have things tied up soon.

    Monday, November 18, 2013

    Gratitude, Part III

    20. . . .to the producers of “JFK – 3 Shots that Changed America,” for producing such a fine, factual documentary on the assassination, by sharing a link to it here.

    And then freaking out when Mr. Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” offers a Kennedy tribute at about 1.13:00 into the film.
    Don’t forget Part 2.
    19. . . .to Jim Bishop, who wrote “The Day Kennedy Was Shot,” a fine piece of historical journalism, by plugging his book here to anyone interested in this bit of history.
    18. . . .to Art Flores, who took a chance on a washed-up journalist and hired him as a technical writer at the Idaho national Laboratory, by manning the RWMC as the sole tech writer now, where there were five before.
    17. . . .to Jilene Burger, who ran for some kind of elected office in Idaho Falls and who has left some of her campaign signs up, by imitating Homer Simpson saying “Mmm . . . burger,” every time I see one of her signs.
    16. . . .to Pat Perry, ops manager at RWMC, who trusts me on procedure writing methods enough to ask for help, by being honest in defending the other writers when they’re right, and questioning when I think they might be wrong.
    15. . . .to Dan “Gunga Dan” Rather, the last entertaining evening newscaster this nation ever had, by calling him “Gunga Dan.”
    14. . . .to Danny Raschke, my writing supervisor, who trusts me enough to do my work to leave me alone at RWMC, by doing my work as it should be done.
    13. . . .to Walter Wangerin Jr., whose book “The Book of the Dun Cow” affected me greatly, by writing a book that’s even a shadow as good as his.
    12. . . . to Tony Lanzio whose gonzo approach to speaking combined his native Italian with English, French, and German, by learning French as a missionary so in part it was easier to understand him (he was one of my Dad’s friends).
    11. . . . to Tony Lanzio, for letting us know that CAL Ranch has nice shiny buckets, by promising to buy one of them, someday.
    10. . . . to Mr. Beddingfield, who taught us pinochle in junior high school, by continually looking for people who’ll play it with me. Anyone? Really?
    9. . . . To Jeff Bezos, who is giving Apple a run in the tablet market, by owning two Kindle Fires to balance out the iPad and the iPad Mini my wife has.
    8. . . . to Steve Martin, for being a ramblin’ man, by sharing this:

    7. . . .to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, for their rendition of “Give Said the Little Stream” and how it makes me bawl like Flick every time I see it, for sharing this, while I cry some more:

    6. . . . to Charles Schulz, for insisting that this scene be included in his first Peanuts TV special:

    5. . . . to Richard Thompson, for bringing us characters like Ernesto Lacuna and Petey Otterloop Jr. (and Sr.), and for his current battle against Parkinson’s Disease, by encouraging everyone to read his comic strip.

    4. . . .to Scott Adams, for making me want to emulate Wally far more than is healthy for a good employer-employee relationship, by secretly idolizing Wally while trying to achieve competence at work.
    3. . . .to Groundskeeper Willie, for reminding us that there’s nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman, by shouting “Make way for Willie” whenever I do something I thought was physically beyond my ken.
    2. . . .the prophet Enos, who taught us that even if you’re a smelly hunter, you can still be in touch with God, by being a smelly writer who tries to be in touch with God as much as I can.
    1. . . .to Nephi, who reminds us of this: Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy. By being joyful.

    Sunday, November 17, 2013

    Gratitude, Part II

    49. . . .to my younger brother who showed me the way to put a sprinkler system in by not only finishing (well, almost) what he started at my house but also by maintaining what he's done at Mom's.

    48. . . .to my mother who, well, put up with everything I did, ever, with a smile, by putting up with what silly little things she does now, such as telling her doctor that she's OK with going without oxygen when we visit because we have boring conversations and she can sleep through them.

    47. . . .to my mother again who doesn't mind if we bring our dogs over to visit, by visiting often.

    46. . . .to CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, Richard Adams, Sinclair Lewis and so many other authors for writing such excellent books, by re-reading them again and again.

    45. . . .to my long-suffering wife who plays Santa Claus so well for our children (rivaling the real guy) by playing Santa Claus to her with more than what she buys for herself and gives to me while saying "Here, surprise me for Christmas."

    44. . . .to the folks at Read Write Web, who write so many goofy articles, by making fun of their articles every chance I get.

    43. . . .to the City of Ammon Utility Department, which does such a fine job of collecting our trash every week, by not putting anything in the can that's not authorized.

    42. . . .to grammar slobs all over the Internet, by giving up my Grammar Nazi bent for Lent.

    41. . . .to our dogs Dottie and Daisy, who make life that much more exciting having two furry children in the house, by racing around the staircase in the basement, alternately chasing them or being chased by them.

    40. . . .to Monkey, mom's cat, who hides when we come to visit, by bringing our dogs, who flush her out and give her some exercise.

    39. . . .to my cat-loving sisters, who take care of the orphans and strays, by showing them Crazy Cat Lady videos from the Simpsons whenever I can. And by letting them call me the Crazy Weenie Dog Man.

    38. . . .to whoever it was who Photoshopped my brother Al to look like the happiest Grim Reaper ever, by sharing this photo.

    37. . . .to Ebeneezer Beesley, who wrote so many wonderful bits of music to accompany Mormon hymns, by singing "High on the mountain top, a badger chased a squirrel . . ."

    36. . . .to the ladybugs who winter in my woodpile, by shooing them out of the wood before I throw it into the firebowl.

    35. . . .to my quick-witted brother Al (same guy in the photo above) who, when he hit me in the side of the head with the stub from the carrot he was eating, was smart enough to reply that I was among the "wortle-y wounded," by sharing this joke. And having to explain that "wortle" is Dutch for carrot. We're half-Dutch, see.

    34. . .to my Dutch ancestry which makes me more quietly stubborn than others, by being quietly stubborn.

    33. . . .to those Dutch ancestors who got kicked out of their synagogue because they wouldn't relinquish the front  pew that the rich guy paid to sit in, by not really caring where I sit in the chapel as long as I can doze there.

    32. . . .to those Dutch relatives who hid Jews on their farms during World War II, by honoring the memory of those who were not able to remain hidden.

    31. . . .to Dad who took us out of school for a few weeks to visit The Netherlands so we'd connect better with our heritage, by remembering there's a whole nation of people across the sea who might appreciate some of the Dutch jokes Dad told us.

    30. . . .to my Aunt Sharon, one of only two people I'll allow to kiss me on the lips, by letting her kiss me on the lips.

    29. . . .to my Aunt Sharon again, who made me those wonderful plaid "Aunt Sharon pants" when I was a kid (Sorry, it was the '70s), by letting my kids occasionally wear something I find blindingly objectionable.

    28. . . .to Mike Henneke, who put up with my joke about Forks, Washington, by vowing not to repeat it. At least today.

    27. . . .to whomever it is who currently owns my 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais, by remembering what a wonderful car it was, despite its cosmetic warts.

    26. . . .to Steve Martin, who wrote such wonderful modern screenplays to the likes of Silas Marner and Cyrano de Bergerac, by repeating often, with my wife, the line "Boys, the ladder is up. Boys, the ladder is up. BOYS! The LADDER! IS UP!"

    25. . . .to the crooners and balladeers of the 1950s and 1960s, for recording so much wonderful Christmas music, by playing it year-round, no matter who thinks I'm insane.

    24. . . .to my children, who steal my pens and then act shocked when they discover three or five of them in their bedrooms, by not getting mad when I take them. And when they steal them again.

    23. . . .to Brigham Young, who said "This is the place" and then had the gumption to stick it out when things got bad and people got complainey, by not wondering why Dad decided Idaho would be a good place to settle as an immigrant in the 1950s.

    22. . . .to the manufacturer of this computer desk who chose such a fine imitation wood grain laminate for the surface, by covering as much of the surface as I can with books and paperwork.

    21. . . .to the guys who installed our gas furnace in 2012, by staying warm in our house and taking the heat for granted, until I remember how inexpensive gas is compared to electric heat.

    OK. Top 20 tomorrow. Or at least an additional 20. I've been doing them in no particular order.


    100. . . .to one of my scouts who got up early on a windy, snowy morning and started a fire by blowing on the coals from last night's fire, for a half hour, by praising him in front of the troop and then buying him a doughnut.

    99. . . .to my assistant scoutmaster who took time out of his weekend to camp with the scouts by letting him work with a struggling scout to complete the bookwork for his Physical Fitness merit badge.

    98. . . .to another scout for teaching a new scout the oath, law, motto, and slogan using the EDGE method by praising him in front of the group and then telling him he'd passed off a Life rank requirement doing so.

    97.  . . .to the professional scouter taking notes on the Targhee District pow-wow by sending the clear message that the pow-wow was a welcome event, that the $10 per scout charge was reasonable and that we'd help out next year teaching courses to help ease the instructor shortage.

    96. . . .to my wife for letting us go camping while she stayed at home with two demanding children and two demanding dogs by cooking Sunday dinner.

    95. . . .to my daughter for writing me a guilty note chastising me for not reading to her at night by starting "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."

    94. . . .to my youngest son for being "man of the house" while we were camping with the scouts by bringing him a pow-wow patch for his collection.

    93. . . .to my wife for doing all of our laundry by putting my clean clothes away.

    92. . . .to a scout mom when she came to collect her son's gear by saying he's a fun kid to be around, and thoughtful too for bringing cookies to the campout to help celebrate another scout's birthday.

    91. . . .to the father of a new scout by letting him know in a letter what progress his son has made on his Tenderfoot rank, and getting him involved by showing what he and his son can do together to finish things up.

    90. . . .to the Idaho Transportation Department for clearing Highway 20 of its first snow in a manner that made it safe for me to drive scouts home by obeying the speed limit and not causing mayhem on the roads.

    89. . . .to one of my Brigham Young University-Idaho students who wrote a funny essay profiling a friend by showing us what he admired about his work ethic through the eyes of the Subway sandwich shop security camera by giving him an A+, and then telling him he made me feel like the teacher from "A Christmas Story" when I got to give him that grade.

    88. . . .to my mentors at BYU-Idaho who work hard with instructors who are not professionally trained as teachers by posting my self-evaluation on schedule and with answers that were thought out and, above all, honest.

    87. . . .to my son who worked hard this weekend in cleaning his room by reminding him that we put that extra shelf up in his closet so he'd have a place to stow his LEGOs.

    86.  . . .to my father- and mother-in-law for raising such a wonderful daughter by telling them in word and action that I do still love her very much after 16 years of marriage.

    85.  . . .to my neighbor who got a little worried last year that I let the weeds by the "junky" side of the house grow too tall by keeping them cleaned up all summer long.

    84. . . .to the city council candidate who came by our house shortly before the election to see what was on my mind, by having a sincere, neighborhood-wide concern to share with him, rather than just saying, "Oh, everything's fine." (He won, by the way. Hopefully we'll see that storm drain cleaned out so the flooding stops on Tiebreaker Drive.)

    83.  . . .to my Father in Heaven for a blessed life in which I have seen many examples of how he knows what is troubling me by working on a novel that shares that message.

    82. . . .to my employers who put up with my occasional crankiness and sometimes gonzo approach to work by putting in a full day's work for a full day's pay.

    81. . . .to the bishopric member who called me to scouting by completing the first tour and trip plan he's seen in the last few years.

    80. . . .to the former scoutmaster, whose shoes are enormous to fill, by ensuring that the four scouts he's got close to earning their Life rank will earn that rank, three of them in December.

    79. . . .to the ward member who several years ago got us a deal on a new Springbar tent for the scouts by hanging it in my garage all weekend so it can dry out and not go moldy.

    78. . . .to the parents of at least half of the scouts in my troop (and the other half will come soon) by meeting with them and their scouts to find out what they want out of scouting and out of their scoutmaster.

    77. . . .to my brother who is in jail for mistakes he knows he made and wants to fix by writing letters of encouragement to him as often as I can.

    76. . . .to my employer who wants to make sure I'm adequately trained for the job I'm doing by taking the training in an expeditious manner so they don't have to nag me to get it done.

    75.  . . .to our financial adviser who is helping us plan for retirement by listening to what he says and taking it seriously, and then joking that we'd like him to find us a Ponzi scheme in which we can get into early.

    74. . . .my wife who wants to be able to spend retirement with me by following up when she asked if I was putting the maximum contribution into my 401k. I was not. But I am now.

    73. . . .to Cecelia Fife, who enjoyed what I wrote in a high school creative writing class, by still working on creative writing endeavors.

    72. . . .to the instructors I had at Utah State University in the technical writing program by remembering what they taught me as I perform my duties at work and by striving to maintain a habit of lifelong learning.

    71.  . . .to my brothers and sisters who love me by loving them back, even if that loving sometimes takes the form of goofy Facebook posts.

    70. . . .to Robert Schultz who wrote a terrific book by being sincere in my comments as I beta read so this terrific book he's written is even better.

    69. . . .to my BYU-Idaho students who turn their papers in on time by grading them on time.

    68. . . .to my father (may he rest in peace) who collected bucketsful of nails, screws, and other whatnots against a time of need by doing the same thing, and actually using what I collect.

    67. . . .to my father who taught me how to work by teaching my children how to work.

    66. . . .to Kevin Korth, by Wood Badge troop guide, who worked us hard to write our goals, by actually working on those goals.

    65. . . .to Andy Hurd, who gave us a puppy, by loving that little ball of fur (the puppy).

    64. . . .to my mother who taught us by example to love animals even if you don't want to (my favorite quote: "No, I don't want to hold it [a kitten]! I don't want to hold it! I don't want . . . oh, it's purring.") by loving the animals we have.

    63. . . .to my Father in Heaven who gave us "dominion" over the earth by remembering that dominion is not a synonym for "do whatever the heck I want with it."

    62. . . .to Bob Clark, director of "A Christmas Story," who helped bring to the screen one of my favorite films, by watching it every Christmas.

    61. . . .to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, by lighting a candle every 8 June 1955.

    60. . . .to Carl Sagan, whose show Cosmos inspired me into a life-long love of the universe, by buying a telescope for my oldest son and going stargazing with him.

    59. . . .to my oldest son who loves to learn, by learning right alongside him.

    58. . . .to Jesus Christ, who paid for my sins, by trying as hard as I know how to be good. And more than in just a Santa Claus way.

    57. . . .to the inventors of Diet Coke, by drinking their wonderful elixir. But not to excess.

    56. . . .to Dieter F. Uchtdorf, apostle of God, who shares stories of growing up impoverished yet ambitious in East Germany, by saying "Danke Deiter" every time he speaks at General Conference.

    55. . . .to Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, who listened to God as a small boy, by singing "Joseph Smith's First Prayer" with gusto.

    54. . . .to my wife, who is turning into a lifelong Scouter, by trying to latch on to her coattails as I enter Scouting myself.

    53. . . .to my father who showed me how to plaster a wall with a trowel and mortar, so when it came time to plaster my own walls with actual plaster, I knew what I was doing.

    52. . . .to my father, who took good care of his tools, by using the tools I inherited from him when I work around the house. including that plaster trowel. I think of him every time I use it.

    51. . . .to my mother, who loves me unconditionally, by bawling like Flick whenever I watch the "Baby Mine" sequence from Dumbo.

    50. . . .to Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, funnymen from the 50s who taught me how to address the ball, by saying "Hello, ball," every time I see a ball. And then chuckling for hours afterwards.

    I'm halfway there. I have to move on to other things. But there will be more to come.