Monday, September 30, 2013

Fiddling While Rome Burns

I could temporarily be out of a job in mid-October if Congress shuts the government down.

Got this mass email today from the powers that be at CWI:
As many of you are aware, annual funding for the government expires at midnight tonight.      If the Continuing Resolution or other stopgap funding legislation is not signed into law, a government shutdown will be necessary.
CWI anticipates it has sufficient carry-over funding to maintain current operations through mid-October, thus all CWI personnel shall report to work on October 1 and continue as scheduled unless directed otherwise.
Thank you for your continued focus on safety, hard work and patience through this process.  I will keep you notified of any new developments.
Let me put it simply, Congress: I can’t afford to go without this job. Who could? I do have a part-time job right now, but that’s supplemental income, not core.

I won’t pretend to have any solutions to this mess, nosir. I don’t like the idea of our government spending in debt, but I don’t like the idea of it shutting down either. I do know I don’t like Congress dickering over this mess, holding things hostage over Obamacare. If you haven’t settled that issue separately, what do you think messing about with it in conjunction with making things even worse for those of us who work for a living is going to make everything better?
I don’t anticipate the government will shut down. I believe the Republicans will blink. I also believe Congress should forego pay, vacation, and benefits until they get their heads screwed on straight.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Note: A little more novel babbling. Inspiration from being lost with the Scouts earlier this weekend.

Months lost, wandering over the ice. That is why I have so many refuges, crude but habitable, scattered over this battered globe.

You bring compasses and global positioning devices. Then you realize the compass points Saturn not north and the programmers of the GPS know nothing of the Voyager Mountains nor the ice and wax rills of Cassini Regio.
Circles. Walking in circles. Circles upon circles, following the wandering trails of the deer and moose. Recalling that when a bull or a buck is tired, they lower their heads and push through the brush. Pushing, pushing. Pushing through the cottonwoods that wobble as they pass and through the creepers that climb them and through the bramble of thorny paper bushes and rose hips and the purple berries that taste like burning.
You throw a spongy cottonwood log across a stream and find you're on a peninsula between two streams, the one now in your way far wider than the one you just crossed.
Somewhere not far is the road.
Somewhere not far is the road.
Do you track back to the river, trying not to make circles as you go, or do you press forward, hoping there are no circles to make as you go, maybe towards the road, maybe parallel to it, maybe, someday, bound to cross.
I have been lost for hours in the cottonwood river bottoms of the Snake. I have made circles over the lava fields, scanning for the, painted poles, thinking that if I climb that final ridge I will see the civility of a field of sage brush smooth, unbroken, and the truck - the friendly truck - waiting for me to come.
To go home.
To be lost on Iapetus is not a novel thing. Nor am I much frightened by it. Any more.
Again, Kleinman: Space is small; only the planets are big.
Ice is ice on Iapetus. Rock is rock. There are no dainty prints of deer, commanding prints of moose to follow. The only game trails off through the brambles or off over the cracked basalt at the base of that distant volcano are the ones you have made and when you are lost and you cross one of your own trails you freeze not knowing if when you made those tracks you were lost or aware of where you were going.
But then the truck has a flat tire, you have no jack and it doesn’t matter because you can’t get the spare tire released from its cage underneath the bed. And thus is life – from one sort of difficulty to the next.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


If ever you needed convincing that the cover of your ebook should not be a last-minute thing, the folks over at have lots of evidence for you.

The old saw that says we shouldn't judge a book by its cover comes with an element of irony to it -- because we always judge things by their appearance. And if the appearance of the covers featured at this site -- which also offers some balm in lots of good advice on how to design at least an acceptable cover if you're not willing to pay a professional to do so -- books these days ought to be judged pretty harshly.

I'm lucky in that I know a handful of professional artists and designers who I can ask for advice when it comes to covers -- and I mean artists and designers who have gone to school for such and actually sold works of art and design, not just my auntie who happens to be pretty good with the watercolors.

I have taken a few stabs at creating my own book covers -- and I know my limitations. I have some good ideas, or so I've been told, but it's the execution that is sometimes lacking.

Still, some of these covers are just painful.

I don't understand it. Obviously, these people put a lot of work into their books. I know I do. I've got several I've written, but I'm realistic enough to know that, in their current state, none of them are ready for publication, and that's based on the words and story alone, not just the lack of an acceptable cover. But when I do have something close to ready, I'm not going to be satisfied with the mediocre or acceptable. I want something good -- because I expect nothing less out of the words and story I write.

Good books should have good covers. And it can be done. I look at Bob Brooks' "Tales from the Glades of Ballymore," where he found a professional illustrator to collaborate with. The drawings and story go so well together the book doesn't have that "I just whipped this out in fifteen minutes" feel. But there's the rub -- for many, the rush of getting the book done means an even more harried rush to get a cover done, even if it looks like, well, crap. Not going to be me.

Addendum: Read this today from Nathan Shumate, curator of, and it seems very appropriate for anyone who wants to be a good writer:

"The writer-publisher with a stunningly bad book cover obviously has no one in his trusted circle who can turn a critical eye on prospective cover design and point out its deficiencies; it would be reasonable for us to assume, therefore, that said writer-publisher similarly has a blind spot in her regard for her own prose, and has no friends competent or willing to point out substandard storytelling."

Ouch. But it's the truth. Any writer who plunges forward without getting input and implementing it is just shooting himself or herself in the foot. With a bazooka.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Now If I Can Only Decode It . . .

I hated the first weekend of Wood Badge.

I’m a shy person, suddenly thrust into a milieu where I’m expected to be loud, boisterous, spontaneous, a quick read of hastily-taught and hastily-read material presented by a variety of individuals who had a common goal but used different metaphors, analogies, and approaches to teach the material.
Worse yet, I was expected to apply what I was learning in an environment where I was sure I was being deliberately set up for failure. Maybe failure is too harsh a term. Set up to making many, many embarrassing public mistakes is more apt. All under the guise of “Hey, guys, isn’t this a lot of fun?”
I went back to my tent each night exhausted, only to be blasted out of bed after too few hours of sleep by a madman playing a bugler, inviting me to another round of silliness, personal mortification, forced association with people I hardly knew and had not been around long enough to trust, crocodile smiles and the assurance that the mistakes I made the day previous were bound to be topped today.
I wanted to go home.
I wanted, at 41 years old, my mommy.
Then it hit me like that proverbial ton of bricks: This is what new Scouts feel like. Thrust from the more secure cocoons of home, school, Cub Scouts, and Primary, they were suddenly required to perform in front of their peers – notoriously critical individuals to a man – and adults they maybe had seen in passing in the hallway at church, but hardly in a capacity where they knew they could trust them. And the adults were tricky, too – making them tie knots and set up tents and recite things like the Scout Law and make them do things like CPR and winter camping. This is aside from all the challenges they’re getting as they get into algebra at school, puberty with their bodies and minds, and everything else they face.
They knew they were going to make a lot of mistakes. And they knew their peers might laugh at them. Their leaders might be scornful. They’re out of their element, afraid, forced into doing things they were not entirely comfortable with, all under the guise of “Hey, boys, isn’t this a lot of fun?”
So that’s the key, A key, at least. There are many keys at Wood Badge: Those Scouts are being thrown into the deep end of the pool. They’ve got a lot they have to learn quickly, in a social situation that makes many of them uncomfortable. They’re going to make mistakes.
But with the right kind of leadership – from both boys and men – they could make it through the rough times. They could stick it out. They could have fun. And learn. They’d still make mistakes, but in a way that would help them learn more, not feel humiliated.
This is, by extension, how participants in out online classes feel. We’re starting to see veterans of the Pathway program come into our courses, but there’s still some apprehension. ESL students anxious over how their English will be accepted by their peers and their new instructor. New assignments to deal with, along with new technologies.  Mistakes will be made, and humiliation felt (if I can use President Monson’s speaking style).
So what’s the application? How can I use Wood Badge training to help my online students?
First, a recap of what I thought was the most important things I learned:
Groups take time to form.
We were recently asked in our online community whether we’d like to retain the group project in English 101, or see it removed from the course.
Though it is a major source of stress among my students, I think the assignment should be retained. Learning to work as part of a team is vital. That’s practically all I do at my full-time job; I rarely can complete an assignment without input from others. I think what’s going on with our groups is that we’re not forming them early enough to help students get to know each other in more than the “social” setting of the classroom.
We learn at Wood Badge that teams go through four stages: Forming, when they’re coming together, productivity is low but morale is high; Storming, where teams begin working but lack a common focus or have strong differences of opinion, where productivity falls even lower and morale drops to join it; Norming, where the group members begin to resolve their differences and recognize they all want to accomplish the same thing and just need to agree on how to do so, where productivity and morale rise; and Performing, where they have built up trust and are working together towards accomplishing their goal and productivity and morale soar.
The assignment we have for the group project is fine. We’re just not letting the groups form early enough and work on simpler assignments together before they’re called on to perform. That’s why there’s so much frustration – We’re expecting performance out of a team that’s still forming and learning to trust one another.
Group dynamics can be fragile.
Some groups will form and storm rather longer than others. Some won’t storm long at all. Others may enter the latter stages and then, with a change – a new team member, the absence of a constant member – they may slip into storming once again. They may become performing teams more quickly than the first round – or not, depending on how much disruption occurs.
I saw this happen with my own patrol – the Owls – at Wood Badge. Even after the second week when we were working better together, I don’t think we hit the performing stage. We were norming, which helped immensely, but we weren’t performing yet. Ours is a group that needed more time for the process to complete.
To apply this concept, we could form our project groups earlier. Students are already called on in class to read and comment on the rough drafts their peers submit; we could simply cordon the class off into groups, monitoring for the inevitable formation of groups where most are not participating at an acceptable level, and shuffling groups until all of them have a relatively constant participation level. This could be done quickly, within the first three weeks of class, rather than waiting until week seven – giving the groups an extra month – to storm, norm, and perform. Some simple group work could be assigned as time progresses, building up to the larger production starting at week seven. No real change in the course would be necessary, just a change in the approach to existing assignments.
This is just a part of what I’d like to say. But I’m still absorbing a lot of stuff yet. More to come.

Wood Badge, Week Two

The Mighty Owl Patrol

So I have completed Wood Badge.

Well, the part of Wood Badge that involves cheers and skits and flag ceremonies and other pageantry squeezed between a lot of fast little learning bits on leadership. Now the hard part – synthesis of what’s been learned and application of it to daily life – must begin.
First, my ticket items. We have to complete these five items – customized to each Wood Badge participant – within 18 months. Our patrol has the goal of doing so in six.
  1. Meet with scouts and their parents to find out what they want out of scouting and determine what we can do, via scheduling and leadership opportunities, to get them there.
  2. Divide the troop of eight scouts into two patrols, provide leadership training, have scouts elect leaders, put together flags, etc.
  3. Meet with current adult Scout troop leadership to get a picture of what’s going on in the troop now, and incorporate what is learned into future planning.
  4. Create a blog/Facebook page/newsletter for the troop, driven by the scouts, to offer reminders on upcoming events, trips, merit badge and advancement work, etc.
  5. Create quarterly calendars for the troop.
Those are the goals synthesized, in brief, and done from memory. They all appear doable within the next six months.
This is, of course, contingent on a few things that have not yet come to pass but are heavily hinted throughout this post. No matter. Those who need to know know already and those smart enough to figure it out are also smart enough to keep their mouths shut, at least when they’re visiting the Ammon 11th Ward.
Second, further application of what was learned. I can tell already I’m going to drive my fellow instructors at BYU-Idaho nuts when it comes to Wood Badge application. Just over the weekend, I used some of what I learned to defend a group assignment we do in Foundations English, urging myself (and the rest of them) to look for ways to form the groups for those assignments earlier on in the semester and put the teams to work before the big assignment so they can get through the less productive stages of team-building and on to production once the big assignment is there. I’ve also been asked to summarize my Wood Badge takeaways and provide a post for our online instructors community. I’ll start work on that as soon as I’m done with this post.
I’m most excited about the leadership opportunities for the boys. I know they need it – I know my son needs it. Having that kind of responsibility and follow-up through a senior patrol leader to the scoutmasters will be valuable learning for him.
If you haven’t gone to Wood Badge, you should. It’s excellent, introspective leadership training – by far the most valuable training I’ve received on a church calling outside of the Missionary Training Center. It’s excellent for non-scouters. Hopefully, in the post I share next, I’ll grab you with the reasons why.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013



A ripple of water.
A sniffle of wind that pushes the shore grass, emulating the waves from the ocean crashing on the beach.
It is cool here. And dark. And quiet. The concrete soaks up the cool of the evening. There are lights nearby that attract bugs who fly in and out of its beam like ballerinas. Occasionally they fly low over the pond, a feast for the frogs.
It is hard to write the sound of frogs, because the sound of frogs overlaps and echoes and bounces off the water. They are rarely in sync, but always in chorus.
Some hide in the grass on the shore of the pond beneath the structure of concrete and metal. Others squat in the mud where the shore lies bare. Others still, drawn by the mass of bugs circling the lights above, crawl up the concrete bowl that hangs over their pond to sit on the edge of the light, feasting, feasting.
The rocket is there, above.
The frogs don’t know what it is. They do know since it came there are more lights, and more bugs, and more feasting.
There is more noise tonight. More activity. But the frogs don’t mind. The humans may walk on the concrete or the metal above the bowl, but they do not come down to the pond. Frightened frogs can easily leap from their perches on the concrete by the light and bugs into the cool, deep water below, with the splash being the only thing the human hears, the only thing they see.
A rumble and a flash and a blast of air which dimples the surface of the pond. Then fire and smoke  which snatches air from the bowl and lungs and vaporizes the bugs and dims the lights and blasts the hapless from the edges of the bowl into the air, tumbling, tumbling.
Perhaps he closed his eyes as he flew and felt with his limbs as the air passed for some handhold, some foothold. Perhaps he remained alive. We do not know.
But the next night, after the quiet that followed the blast and the departure of the thing above, the frogs and the bugs returned.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Given what happened today at the Washington Navy Yard, we can be sure as anything that we’ll see many reminders out at work to keep our ID badges close to our hearts.

Preliminary reports say the individual who killed at least 13 people at the Navy yard likely had an accomplice who gave him an ID card or had a stolen card he used to gain entry to the facility.
We could indeed see more than just reminders – we may see physical changes.
A few months ago, the place where I work dropped the requirement that we show our badges to security officers before we went through the turnstyles. And by show, I mean hold them up in our hands as we walk briskly by the security desk before going in to work.
Other places at the Idaho National Laboratory, of which I’m familiar, had more stringent entry procedures. One spot in particular required the guards to physically touch the badge, comparing photo to the person holding it. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, so I’m not sure if that procedure is still in place.
It’s likely we’ll be headed back that direction.
I’ll wager we not only go back to physical badge checks, but that the badges are also checked up close in a way to determine whether or not the badge holder matches the badge.
We’re not necessarily a top-secret installation, but for those bent on mayhem, top secret isn’t required. Nor, really, is an ID badge, since we now walk past the desk without showing our badges, and leaping over the turnstyles would be simple enough to accomplish.
Another side note: It’s pretty clear that armed guards and Washington DC police in the area, who returned fire with the shooter, saved lives. ABC News reports that Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier said “I think the actions by the police officers, without question, helped to reduce the number of lives lost.” Both sides of the gun control debate are likely to chew on that bone for a long while.

A Report on "Report"

I make fun of formulaic writing -- you know the type: You pretty much know what's going to happen because you've seen it done a thousand times before, and, by golly you're right.

Then there's formulaic writing that's so damn good you don't. Notice. The formula.

That's how I feel after reading Robert C. O'Brien's "A Report from Group 17," a taut, adult thriller that kept me reading right to the end where I deliberately had to slow myself down so I wouldn't skip paragraphs to get to the end to see what happened.

And you know what? He doesn't let you off the hook. Well, off of one hook, but clearly not off the other. I won't go into further details so as not to spoil the story if you've never read it before.

This book is better than "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH," which I read as a child and constantly re-read. I never thought I'd say that about an O'Brien book (pity he only wrote four, and thanks to the Idaho Youth Ranch Thrift Store, I've now read all four of them). The sciencey bits are there in tons (even if the science is outdated; polywater, once heavily believed in and used as a plot device in no fewer than TWO Star Trek episodes, does not exist). But at the time it was plausible, and O'Brien's way of writing this into a formulaic science fiction mystery story is fresh as a daisy.

Yes, I enjoyed this book. On at least two levels. First and foremost, for the story. But secondarily, it's a wonderful exercise in how taut writing, an ear for detail, and a willingness to let the reader be one step ahead of the heroes but not so far ahead that they know what's going to happen turns formulaic writing into magic. O'Brien also follows the tenet of writing what you know, or at least what fascinates you, which is pretty much the same thing. He presents enough science to make the story eerily plausible; I haven't been this pleased with science in science fiction since I read Frank Herbert's "The White Plague."

So seriously, go read this book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wood Badge and the Stubborn Dutchman

I got back from the first of two Wood Badge weekends about 24 hours ago, having had every single button pushed. Additionally, buttons I was not even aware I had had been pushed. I know it's supposed to work this way -- Wood Badge is leadership training put on by the Boy Scouts of America that is meant to throw we leaders out of our comfort zones so we can build empathy for the oboys in our care who are experiencing the same thing. That being said, it doesn't mean my buttons weren't pushed.

By the time we all left Saturday afternoon, I was headachy and a bit short-tempered. Part of that is due to physiology -- I have a personality type that requires great expenditures of energy when I'm required to connect with and be around lots of other people. The only way I recharge is to be alone, and that's pretty tough to do at Wood Badge, both due to the scheduling of as little decompression time as possible and to the fact you can't wander off for long because there's always someone looking for you because you've got places to be. I took to hiding in the toilet because that was the only place you could conceivably find a bit of privacy and have it understood you didn't want to be disturbed for a little while.

Also, I'm not a competitive person. Or a demonstrative person. SO to set me up in times and places where I have to be competitive and then compete with others when there's an aspect of non-competitiveness to be seen is frustrating. And then I'm supposed to cheer and hoot and holler? Oh goodness. LEt me run off screaming into the night. So I can decompress, find energy again, and not have to stand there thinking ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh I have to come up with something spontaneous and filed with energy when IT'S MY TURN AND I'M NOT READY! HELP!

I'm doing better now.

I can see how what we learn at Wood Badge will be beneficial. Seeing how teams form and work and try to get together will be of immense help as I work with teams in the BYU-Idaho online classes I teach. I'm going to have to set up teams quite early and get them working on an unofficial assignment together before they're required to work together on their graded assignment.

But here's the thing: This takes time to sink in. Time to implement. In some ways, it's come too late for this semester ideally, meaning I'll have to find ways to use this new training in less than ideal situations. But that's life: Less than ideal situations.

So I'll be going back to Gilwell, happy land, next week. The stubborn Dutchman in me won't allow anything but that to happen. There is of course that part of me that sees the value, and that part is helping the stubborn Dutchman get there too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Is Jargon Always Bad?

I am not, by any means, a perfect writer.

But I do know bad writing when I see it.

And not only bad writing, but confusing organization that leaves one trying to figure out where to go with what’s been offered.

For example, out at work today we were sent a survey from the Department of Energy. They want to know about our commuting habits – how do we get to work each day, and how much carbon are we (and the complex as a whole) pooping out each day to do so.

Here’s their form. It’s a bit confusing, as my redline shows. (First page only, Vasili.)
Because I’m a technical writer with time on my hands, I rearranged things and fixed things. See what you think. Hopefully, this is less confusing. I won’t say it’s perfect because it’s not been peer reviewed (which sometimes helps and sometimes does not) but to the way I think, it’s easier to understand. (Again, first page only.)
I broke a big rule: I introduced jargon – speaking of “legs” of a journey. That’s my revision’s biggest flat, I think. But sometimes in avoiding jargon, we drift further away from clarity than the jargon implies. Because to me, the “first leg” of the journey implies going from home to the bus or vehicle pool pickup location (or stop). Getting to the work location (first), for me, requires two different legs – one from home to the bus stop via single passenger vehicle, the next via bus. I think the form as I put it together is better.

What think you?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

[Bonk! Kabonk! Kabonk!]

The dialogue in this film hurts – which is why the folks at MST3K make fun of it. (Note, whoever wrote this is not familiar with Elmore Leonard’s rules on writing – they have a character say “all hell will break loose. Literally.” Eek.
I hope my dialogue doesn’t sound like this.
Here’s where reading what we write aloud counts, and counts hard.
The best writing doesn’t sound written. It should sound natural. If you can read what you write and it sounds written, you’ve got to start over again.
This is why I struggle with dialogue, and why the Hermit of Iapetus is sparse on dialogue – except for what’s spoken mostly in the hermit’s head. But that’s a flaw as well, because I know as a reader I find good dialogue interesting, and if I’m bogged down in a book I’ll skip ahead until I see those inevitable quote marks. It’s rare that I skip dialogue, unless it’s bad. Then I shelve the book.
This is where writing becomes hard work.
Here’s a sample from the Hermit, and it’s hideous:
“Could he survive this?” he asked. 

“Will we?” asked another. “He’s one person. We’re an entire colony.” 

“That may be true, Mister North, but he’s in the thick of it. We’ll see a thousandth of the poison he’s getting. We’ve had to ground shuttles since we lost the seventeen aboard the Wilbur Wright, and the poison only got inside in trace amounts,” said a third. “Lucky we’ve got that atmosphere protecting the colony. We’re cut off for a while, until the cloud settles. He’s got nothing.” 

“Both the Solar Settlers and the IAU warned him he was out of bounds,” Mister North said. “Both said no aid would be forthcoming in the vent of illness or disaster. Many of your spacers have ignored that agreement and offered him aid, setting a precedent, mind you, that has caused us trouble on Phobos, Apophis and, if the rumors are to be believed, soon enough on Charon. Charon! Yes, some idiot, inspired by Hoagland’s Angel, aims to be the first to settle on Charon. It’s a leelte out of our territory, but their sympathizers on Earth are gunning to make these Outliers our responsibility. And it’s not in the budget, Artur. It’s not.” 

There’s something to work with there, yes, but Mister North sounds, as Terry Pratchett might put it, like his bum is stuffed with tweed. It’s going to need a fix:
“Could he survive this?” he asked.
“I’m more worried about us.” 

“Oh, we’ll struggle for a bit. But we’ll be fine. We’ll see a thousandth of the poison he’s getting. We’ve grounded the shuttles since we lost the Wilbur Wright,” said a third. “but we’ve got atmosphere protecting the colony. We’re cut off for a while, until the cloud settles. He’s got nothing.” 

“Both the Solar Settlers and the IAU warned him he was out of bounds,” Mister North said. “If you call for help, no one will come. He gets help anyway – your spacers ignore our advice and help him out. And he’s set a precedent. We’ve got squatters on Phobos and Aphohis, and, if the rumors are true, soon enough on Charon. Charon! It’s a leetle out of our territory, but their sympathizers on Earth are gunning to make these Outliers our responsibility. And it’s not in the budget, Artur. It’s not.” 

Here’s something interesting. It’s better – not perfect – and it’s shorter. That’s 154 words versus 200 words. I don’t get lost as much in the conversation. There’s less said, less detail offered, but what detail is left out either isn’t necessary or can be guessed by the gist of the conversation. Further versions may be shorter still, or at least broken up into shorter paragraphs, making them easier to digest.
So, progress continues apace.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Way back in the third grade, I read Robert C. O'Brien's "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" in Mrs. Barrett's classroom because, well, I liked the look of the cover.

For years after that, I looked for mice peeping out of fence posts as we walked and wandered and played in our neighborhood. It's from this book the desire within me began to grow to write books of my own (an as-yet unfulfilled desire, but at least I've got books written and being edited right now, though not yet published). Something about that little face, peering out at the world, trying to live in it, trying to understand it, just grips a part of my mind that won't let it go.

To me, it's a powerful book. I can't even take it off the shelf without feeling inadequate or in awe, knowing as an author I've got a lot to live up to.

Because of this power, I've kept an eye open for O'Brien's other books, and this week at the Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store, found the only one missing from y collection: "A Report from Group 17." For sixty-five cents, I was back in the third grade, sitting in that desk by the bookshelves in the back of the room, blissful, happy, not caring that recess would soon be there and I'd have to wander the playground alone far from that magical bookshelf.

I'm going slow through it. I'm already committed to two other books. But it's just as good as NIMH. More for me to aspire to.

There are other books I long to collect: E.W. Hildick's complete McGurk Mysteries series. A book whose title and author I've forgotten, but who wrote about boys battling a sinister takeover of the world by the girls in their school. I'll find it, one of these days.

Friday, September 6, 2013

An Eclipse on Mars

So. Something else for the Hermit of Iapetus to see, ponder, get freaked out by.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Establishing a Digital Heritage? Really?

My wife and I have a few rules when it comes to talking about our kids online.

No names, no ages. A minimal number of photos. Past sins and breakings of these rules (mostly by me; who am I kidding, all by me) have been corrected, as far as the Internet will let us correct them.
And we don’t babble about our kids incessantly online. If there’s trouble, we discuss it in person, face-to-face, only bringing in outside help when needed or required. Our lives are not an open book online.
So I agree with some of what Amy Webb writes at about mentioning nothing of her daughter online.
Part of me thinks, however, that much of what Webb writes about is borne of paranoia, rather than good parenting.
Check this out:
The process started in earnest as we were selecting her name. We’d narrowed the list down to a few alternatives and ran each (and their variants) through domain and keyword searches to see what was available. Next, we crawled through Google to see what content had been posted with those name combinations, and we also looked to see if a Gmail address was open.
With her name decided, we spent several hours registering her URL and a vast array of social media sites. All of that tied back to a single email account, which would act as a primary access key. We listed my permanent email address as a secondary—just as you’d fill out financial paperwork for a minor at a bank. We built a password management system for her to store all of her login information.
On the day of her birth, our daughter already had accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Github. And to this day, we’ve never posted any content.
Really? We’re so paranoid about online personae we’re Googling names and email handles and such even before the kid is born – and we’re letting the results of those searches dictate what name our kid is known by? I suppose that would be a good thing if, say, your last name were Cyrus and you were toying with the idea of naming your daughter Miley, but even then – if the name Miley Cyrus means a lot to you, has a history in your family for good, why let that twerking twerp’s online presence convince you to name the tot Clementine?
This also assumes things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other services are going to be around when the child wants to become socially engaged online. By that time, Facebook’s core of early adopters is going to be in the nursing home, talking about how the Internet was a lot brighter and easier to read when they were kids and bragging about the new onions they have hanging from their belts. We’re sure nothing new is going to come along to replace the whiz-bang of today’s Internet with something even flashier? My Dad was a Ford man, and we knew that growing up. Right now, I own a Honda and a Toyota. Things change, folks.
I understand the desire to keep things private, especially in today’s world of open everything. But striking a middle ground, where children are not taboo subjects online, seems more sensible to me.
I also have to wonder – will this parenting also forbid possibly embarrassing yearbook pictures? Will birthday party hosts cower in fear when the Mean Internet Mommy descends upon them with thunderbolts when they dare post a photo of their daughter attending another child’s birthday party? Or photos from a school outing? Not everyone is going to have your safety-minded but paranoia-fueled Internet world view, but they do know what happens when you stir a big cauldron of crazy. The innocents of the Internet have a lot more to fear from the Wrath of Mom than they have from any facial recognition algorithms or corporate data mining.
It’s great to want to protect your kids. I hope at the same time you’re protecting them that you’re teaching them about the Internet, showing them your own Facebook and discussing what is and what is not appropriate to post online, so when you hand over that envelope (and they don’t look at it as if you’ve just handed them gift certificates for sauerkraut candy) that they understand your concerns and are driven by curiosity, not fear or an explosion of oversharing because they’ve finally been given the keys to the car.
Just out of curiosity, I Googled myself, and my oldest boy. Of me, there is a grand total of one photo available on the Internet, along with two other images currently associated with my Facebook account. Of my son, there are none. My Facebook and LinkedIn profiles turn up as the top two results in the Google search of just my name. My son is nowhere to be found. A more nuanced search turns up one photo of my son, with his face mostly obscured by a camera he’s holding. I’m not too worried about that.

Post No. 2,501

Because big, round numbers are to be celebrated in this society, allow me to note that the previous post on this blog is No. 2,500. Twenty-five hundred posts. I've been babbling on BlogSpot for five years now.

And that 2,500 counts only the posts on this blog -- not to forget the four other blogs I've got. That's high-caliber babbling.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Getting Past the Undesireable Chairs


After nearly a year farting about with things, I’ve finally started revising “The Hermit of Iapetus.”
In part, I’m reluctant to do so because I’m certain I’ll find out just how bad it is. But at the same time, that’s good news, as letting this much time pass has thrown in some emotional distance from the story and I can see where it needs help. Lots of it. Now.
I still need a strategy, though. I’ve taken notes. Lots of notes on things I want to fix. And I’ve got a lot of mental notes as well, including doing a lot more research, particularly in reading Roald Amundsen’s journals from his Antarctic voyage in full before proceeding too far.
But I’m making progress. Progress is good.
I’m at a crossroads with my writing. I want to finish something, particularly with only two months now before NaNoWriMo 2013 starts. I’m indecisive on whether to participate this year. Part of me really wants to write another novel this year. Another part says, um, you’ve got at least four novels for which you’ve done the first draft, and nothing’s come of any of them. Maybe finishing one of them before you start another is a good idea. But then it hits me: Writing one while editing another might also be a good thing.
Add to that I’m teaching two classes again this semester.
Add to that I’m changing church callings (more on that in a few weeks) and it’s not going from something tough to something easy, let me tell you. Though it is going from something uncomfortable to something more preferable. No undesirable chairs here.
So I’ll soldier on with the edits, and, I think, participate this November as well. Might as well stay busy, right?

"Erm . . . Stupid Man."

(Salty language warning.)
It’s probably dangerous to get your foreign policy foundations from Eddie Izzard, but comedians have this certain knack of putting things rather simply.
So when I think of Syria, possible US intervention there, and how most of the rest of the world is turning their backs on what’s going on there, Eddie Izzard comes to mind:
There were other mass murderers who got away with it. And the reason we let them get away with it is because they killed their own people. And we’re fine with that. “Oh, help yourself!” We’ve been trying to kill you for ages.” Hitler killed people next door. “Erm . . . Stupid man. After a couple of years we won’t stand for that, will we?”
Bashir al-Assad is in the killing his own people phase, and most of the world seems fine with that. Well, not necessarily fine, but fine enough that they don’t want to do anything to stop what’s going on. There are folks like Russia and China turning a blind eye to the evidence. But I’m not sure that’s worse than those who see the evidence and yet do nothing at all about it.
But doing something. That’s the scary thing. Post-9/11, we spent a lot of time doing something, and not many would agree that all that something we did turned out well.
But doing nothing? That’s worse than doing something that incites a lot of political disagreement over the goodness of the results.
If only things worked as simply as Mister Izzard suggests:
I just think Japan and Germany should be the peacekeepers of the world. They should be parachuted in. Something breaks in, parachute in the Germans and Japanese . “Look, we’ve done this before, we’ve done the killing, take it from us, just chill out.” They could organize peace really quickly.
Interesting bits and bobs in the news. Secretary of State John Kerry has been adamant that any attack on Syria “won’t be like Iraq.” President Obama has said unequivocally that “This is not Afghanistan. This is not Iraq.”
Meaning, of course, that it is.
Where are the Japanese and Germans when you need them?