Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Best Part: "Flying Dutch," by Tom Holt

“Have you ever actually asked yourself what’s so utterly terrible about Montalban’s conspiracy, or whatever it is?” [Jane asked]

Danny stared. “Are you serious?” he said. “It’s a conspiracy. It’s a fundamental threat to the liberty of the free world. It’s . . .” 

“It’s the way things have been run for the last three hundred odd years,” Jane said thoughtfully. “True, I never liked it much myself, but I don’t think the fact that it’s an organized scheme by a really quite pleasant old Spanish gentleman in Cirencester, rather than the accumulated megalomania and negligence of generations or world statesman, makes it any the more terrible, do you? I mean, Montalban isn’t planning to overthrow democracy or annexe the Sudetenland, he’s just trying to get rid of a smell. Will it really be so awful if he succeeds?” 

“But . . ." Danny spluttered. He knew exactly why it was so pernicious and so wrong, but he couldn’t quite find the words. “But he’s just one man, one selfish individual, and he’s controlling the lives of millions and millions of people. You can’t do that. It’s not right.”

“I see,” Jane said. “So if we have third-world poverty and nuclear weapons and East-West hostility and economic depressions, but all brought about by means of the democratic process, then that’s all right, but if just one man is responsible then it’s tyranny. Sorry, I never did history at school, I don’t understand these things.” 

“Don’t be stupid,” Danny said, “you entirely fail to grasp . . .” 

“Very likely,” Jane said sweetly. “But before you found out about Montalban, you would have given your life to defend the fundamental basics of our society and our way of life against the Montalbans of this world; the status quo, you’d probably call it. And now it turns out to be all his doing, you suddenly realise it’s evil and it’s got to go. Please explain.”

Danny glared at her and drew in a deep breath. “So you’re on his side now, are you? I see.” 

Jane shook her head. “I’m not on anybody’s side. You make it all sound like hockey matches at school. I don’t care at all whether Montalban gets rid of his smell or not – or rather, I do; I think it must be rather awful to smell and besides, if he finds a cure for it then Vanderdecker will be cured too, and I . . . well, I like him. And I also don’t want to see some sort of dreadful Wall Street Crash, and everybody jumping out of windows the length and breadth of King William Street, because that isn’t going to help anyone, now is it? Whereas – “ Jane suddenly realized that she’d just used the word ‘whereas’ in conversation, and didn’t know whether to feel ashamed or proud – “whereas if everybody’s sensible and we all act like grown-ups, we can all sort things out and everyone can have what they want.”

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Missed it by *That* Much

Remember this?

Well, I ain't on the list. And that's good.


Living the Peter Principle

I last read Dr. Laurence J. Peter’s “The Peter Principle” back in 2009 and made a vague reference in a blog post about the book to stretching/breaking myself in a new position. It took me a minute to remember what I was hinting at back then, but that was also the same year I began teaching at BYU-Idaho, so that’s got to be it. 

My conclusions, eight years on:
  1.  I certainly did hit my level of incompetence as a newspaper editor. Never again.
  2. I have not yet hit my level of incompetence as a technical writer, even after I was left as the sole writer at RWMC making me the de facto lead.
  3. HOWEVER – No. 2 being said, I was leading a department of one. Myself. Me, myself, and I. Had there been others, well . . . I’m pretty sure I would not be reporting things as rosy.
  4. I have reached my level of incompetence teaching at BYU-Idaho. I won’t be moving on to any higher position in Online Learning or anything else.
Final assessment: I’m OK with this.

I’m happy. I’m earning a good living. I am close, still to that level of creative incompetence I talk about in my Goodreads review of the book.

I feel a lot more optimistic about things now, now that we’re past the bloated many writers stage at RWMC, now that the successive rounds of layoffs are over. I feel like I’m doing good work – a clear sign I have not yet reached that level of incompetence.

So today I was asked who the “lead” writer is at RWMC, a pertinent question now that we have merged with AMWTP and their bevy of writers, plus one from INTEC, are moving into the same building I’m in. I had to answer “I don’t know.”

This tells me a few things:
  1. It’s not me. If It were me, I’m sure I *would* know.
  2. I don’t really care who it is.
I took on the mantle of acting lead writer simply because there was no one left to hand it to. If Danny – who succeeded Greg as lead of the technical writers at the Site just about a month ago – sees fit to give the title to someone else, I’m not going to protest. I’m happy doing what I’m doing right now.*

*Side note: A little black beetle either just fell out of the ceiling or just popped out of my keyboard. I’m not sure which. Not sure I want to know, either. It’s now crawling happily along the cord to my mouse.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Statehood Day!


Penny Lane



You have to know, first of all, I don’t care much for The Beatles.

Oh, sure I enjoy watching Ringo Starr in “Caveman.” And their song “Yesterday,” well I like that one quite a bit. But generally, their music is pretty insipid (their songs make about as much sense to me as the video embedded below). And they’re oh-so-stuck on themselves.

But there’s no song that conjures more memories of elementary school for me than The Beatles’ “Penny Lane.”


I only need to hear the opening bars of this tune and I’m at Lincoln Elementary near Idaho Falls, Idaho. Stinkin’ Lincoln, our enemies in Ucon and Iona called it, due to its proximity to the sugar factory that snowed our playground with ash and the stink-sweet mixture of wildflowers and burnt sugar.

More specifically, I’d be in the combination gym/cafeteria at Stinkin’ Lincoln. Drawing a series of concentric circles on a chalkboard. Or attempting to jump rope. Or performing other feats meant to help us refine our fine motor skills.

And we couldn’t stop until The Beatles had finished wailing out “Penny Lane.”

Sometimes the record – brought in by one of the teachers or aides, I never knew – would skip:

In the pouring rain, very strange. Very strange. Very strange. Very strange. Very strange. Very stra –

And one of the aides would wrench the needle across the record to a new groove, and The Beatles would continue singing and we’d continue jumping or drawing circles and then this nonsense song about the pouring rain and selling poppies and fish pie and blue skies and that fireman with a picture of the Queen in his pocket would end, and we’d go back to class.

Second grade, I think. The year I was with Miss Kidd, in the “old building” at Lincoln – we had a campus, consisting of the “old building,” with offices, classrooms, gym/cafeteria and a second floor fire escape that was a slide and we were NEVER to use it unless a fire was burning; a “new” building with four classrooms and a little library tucked between them; and later on the district bought the neighboring LDS Church building and converted it into more classrooms. I’d gone there to church as a kid, so I knew all the neat places to hide. There was one classroom you could get to via a flight of stairs, and the only way out was down the stairs or out a window and the windows didn’t open, so the school didn’t use that classroom and they blocked the stairwell but sometimes we’d try to sneak up the stairs but someone was always watching.

Mrs. Kidd. There’s another lady connected to a song:

Wishy-wahsy, wishy-washy, we get the clothes so clean!

She’d sing this, arms akimbo, and we’d follow enthusiastically because we were second graders and we loved to sing and we loved Miss Kidd and we loved the wishy-washy song. The rest of the words are lost. But there is a tune. Not by The Beatles, fortunately.
And so on. I could probably go on for pages.

But all of that is triggered by one song – Penny Lane. Just imagine what you can do with your writing and memory if you sit down with a box of photos, a little music, a trinket or two, as you begin to write your personal essays. You’ll have a lot of memories to pick from.

That Lonely Hermit





There are days nothing comes out.

And I could say I feel empty, but there is something there. The stomach gurgles. The liver does what livers do. The heart pumps and the blood circulates and the brain, oh, the brain is never empty. The brain is a cavalcade of cartoons I watched when I was five, six, seven. Random bits of high school ephemera – Hey everyone! I’m reliving the day I failed that test in chemistry, watch as I fail to place more than 20 elements in the correct position on the periodic table!

Hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon . . . then something about the noble gases in a column. Argon and xenon and such. And forget the transuranic elements in their neat, out-of-place rows. I certainly did.

The brain is never empty.

It’s a replay. It’s “What’s My Line.”

Why was Dorothy Kilgallen famous anyway?

Columnist, journalist, and game show panelist. A reality star before reality television.
She’s now a rising star in my post-reality television show, scrolling endlessly in my brain.
If you want time to pass slowly, be alone.

Have plenty of things to do. Because in ideless, being alone doesn’t make time pass faster.
Have things to do. And do them. You’ll get them done, alone.

And time will pass slowly.

There’s never enough to do when you’re alone. So you invent things to do, often to the detriment of the things you should do. That’s why, in part, some of my refuges have crumbled and are no longer habitable. But I am the best organizer of unimportant paperwork in the outer solar system.

Oh, paperwork finds you, even in the digital age. And just like the transuranic elements, they cry to be ordered properly in the ur-space where they should not exist lest they push radon and the supposed oganesson out of their tidy columns. Organize your papers, you organize the universe. Einstein said that. Or at least should have.

Or maybe it was Mr. Waite, the chemistry teacher, who said it. He may have said it to me, after grading that quiz on the periodic table.

See me now, Mr. Waite. My life depends on others’ knowledge of chemistry in making the machines that make my food and air. And lucky I am that they knew where to keep their transuranic elements. But I repair the machines and sometimes tweak the code, trying to find that right mix of chemicals to feed me but not give me space-gas, which I’m told is a problem not uncommon in the outer solar system where I live.

I owe a great deal to Wally. Wally lives on Titan, and repairs the food replicators there. He passes on to me bits of code of his own invention, and updates from the corporate mongrels who refuse to help me because I stole one of their machines rather than bought it. He speculated the deuterium-heavy water I produce on Iapetus may contribute to my excessive gassiness. But he is no chemist. He is a fiddler, a coder, and tinkerer, and organizer of paperwork like me, except he falls to either side of the crack, not into it to dwell with me.

“There are worse things to smell than fart,” he reminds me.

Yet there are still days nothing comes out.

“It’s all in the code,” Wally says. “Sometimes the best thing you can do with the code is to futz with the numbers. It’s only food, so what can go wrong? Get too farty, unload the Sulphur, or stop eating the eggs.”

He also sent me Hanna Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. “You’re in danger of becoming a cult of one,” he said. Though he didn’t say why. Because I have not cut myself off from others. Except by distance.

And there’s that pesky matter of time.

Because even Wally, not far distant on Titan, is still millions of miles away physically. But save he construct or commandeer a craft, he may as well be in the Trappist system, orbiting Betelgeuese, or in heaven or hell for that matter. He cannot get to me except via radio waves, which still take minutes to arrive.

And they limit his free radio time.

I point out he’s likely member of a cult, too.

“At least my air doesn’t smell like a fart,” he replied. “Most days.”

Loneliness, Arendt says: “the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”

Yet I was alone on a planet populated by billions.