Friday, January 23, 2009

I Hope I'm Wrong About This

We're taking our kids to the open house for the Draper, Utah LDS temple. I'm really apprehensive about this. Our children have a difficult time staying close to their parents during the twenty-yard walk from the entrance to the chapel when we go to church. They have a tendency to run down the wrong hallway when they notice that Mom and Dad are sufficiently occupied with some task that will prevent them from stopping their wayward wandering. Or they sprint down the hall and into the chapel, far enough ahead of their parents that they have time to walk up and down the aisles several times before they're apprehended. Inevitably this happens more often than not after the sacrament service has already started.

So I don't have particularly high hopes of them behaving properly while we tour the open-house. My imagination keeps giving me visions of them trying to run ahead of the line, climbing on the furniture, and generally causing mayhem. This will lead to me holding one or both of the two oldest by the arm tightly enough to keep them from running around, which will of course cause one or both of them to start proclaiming for all the world that I should "Let go!" because "You're hurting me!"

Of course we'll explain to them before we get there that we expect them to be on their best behavior. But my children don't seem to be able to understand what best behavior means. Whenever I try to to explain the idea to them they smile and nod and say "Yes Dad" and immediately begin looking for a piece of furniture to use as part of a gymnastics routine.

Did I say I'm feeling apprehensive about today's outing?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Here's a recent email exchange I had:

Timothy Young to scragun* Jan 14 (7 days ago)


I graduated from WSU's MAcc program in '07. I've been working as an auditor in public accounting since then. I got laid-off in October due to a reduction in force at the firm where I was working. Now I'm looking for a new job. I've had a lot of interviews, but no offers.

While I was in school I was on your mailing list and it seemed like I got job announcements all the time. Could you please put me back on your mailing list so I can find out about jobs that I'm qualified for?

Tim Young

Susie Cragun to me Jan 15 (7 days ago)


I will be happy to do so. I haven't had any openings, either, for quite awhile but I anticipate that after the inauguration next Tuesday, things will settle into place and employers will begin to hire, once again.

Think positive!


Here's the reply I would have sent, if not for my keen sense of t


I already have my palm leaves ready because I, too, anticipate that all the wrongs of the world will be righted once we coronate our blessed messiah.

Peace be with you,

Ironic then, don't you think, that I recieved a job offer today.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of Obamites

Friday, January 16, 2009

Who Are We Fooling?

"As difficult as deciding which of your children is your favorite."

I don't know how many times I've heard that. But whoever believes there's truth in it either has never had children of their own, or has never paid much attention to them.

Of course, saying it and believing it are two different things. I imagine there've been plenty of people who have voiced similar sentiment with the intention of maintaining goodwill and brotherly love within their families, all the while knowing perfectly well there wasn't an ounce of truth in it.

Would I should follow such wise examples.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Switching Chocolates

I wrote a new story and I would love for you to read it. Here's the first two paragraphs. If you want to read the rest just let me know and I'll send it to you by email.

Switching Chocolates

Cayden could still feel the cold seat through his pants. When his dad first bought the Ford Expedition Cayden complained about how the seats were always cold in the winter. Why couldn’t it have regular cloth seats like their Suburban used to have? And in the summer the seats were always hot. Especially after shopping at Walmart, where there was never any shade to park in. But Cayden didn’t complain about the seats anymore. It never did any good- just made Dad ornery. And the drive to Grandma Peterson’s house was too long for Dad to be ornery this soon. So Cayden didn’t say anything about the cold seats. They’d get warm soon enough anyway.

By the time they were on the freeway Cayden had gone over his plan three times. It was a good plan and it would work- even better than his April fools joke when he tricked Mom into thinking that McKenzie had gotten detention. And he couldn’t wait to see what everyone did when he told them what he had done. They’d finally realize how dumb they all were for getting so excited about Grandma’s chocolates.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'd like to be less selfish, except that I can't really see any immediate benefits to it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

I find myself referencing Wikipedia in my day-to-day conversations more often than I care to admit.

Whenever I share what I've learned from reading Wikipedia I'm usually careful to preface it with a qualifying statement along the lines of, "According to Wikipedia..." or, "I read on Wikipedia that...". I figure that's a sufficient means of safeguarding my reputation as someone who is wise and knowledgeable.

You know- it keeps me from looking like a complete fool if I were to say something like, "Did you know that Kevin Bacon, the famous actor, was a former principal of Weber High School in Pleasant View, Utah?", because, when someone points out that such a statement is demonstrably false, I can just pass the buck by replying that it was only something I read on Wikipedia. Thus, my reputation as a sage of wisdom and knowledge remains intact.

(Someday some do-gooder will fix that link and it won't be funny anymore. So, in the spirit of preserving important pieces of history for our posterity, I've included a screenshot of the article right here.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Annoying Lyrics

I realized something the other day. I had always known it, I just never knew I knew it.

I don't like ambiguous song lyrics. They annoy me.

I remember reading, or hearing, or coming to know through some other medium, that U2's Bono said that he intentionally makes his lyrics ambiguous so that more people can relate to them- attach their own meanings to them. What a crock. Making the lyrics ambiguous doesn't help me relate to them. It just leaves me wondering what the song is about.

Good song lyrics are enlightening. Or at least informative. They tell you something you didn't already know. Or they help you better understand something you did already know. Or they reafirm something you already believe. Or, if you disagree with the underlying message, they at least present that message in an understandable manner. Mr. Bono certainly never followed that philosophy.

I came to this realization the other day while listening to Doug Fabrizio's talk radio show Radio West. He was interviewing Paul Muldoon, poetry editor of The New Yorker Magazine. I tuned in just in time to hear Mr. Muldoon recite a piece written by the much lauded Bob Dylan titled, simply, 17. Here it is:

after crashin the sportscar
into the chandelier
i ran out t the phone booth
made a call t my wife. she wasnt home.
i panicked. i called up my best friend
but the line was busy
then i went t a party but couldnt find a chair
somebody wiped their feet on me
so i decided t leave
i felt awful. my mouth was puckered.
arms were stickin thru my neck
my stomach was stuffed an bloated
dogs licked my face
people stared at me an said
“what’s wrong with you?”
passin two successful friends of mine
i stopped t talk.
they knew i was feelin bad
an gave me some pills
i went home an began writin
a suicide note
it was then that i saw
that crowd comin down
the street
i really have nothing
marlon brando

© September 22, 2008 The New Yorker Magazine

There is nothing elightening about that. Nothing informative. No increased understanding was achieved. What it does accomplish is to leave me wondering how anyone can manage to convince themselves that there is something important here- either conveyed by the words themselves or acheived by the poem as a whole. What these words, combined in this order do achieve is the antithesis of important. They are nonsense.

There is enough nonsense seemingly going on spontaneously in the world. Let's not encourage it by heaping praises onto this type of stuff.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brush With Bigotry

A few weeks back I had a mild taste of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of racial discrimination.

My car had a flat tire, so I took it in to get fixed. The first shop I took it to couldn't help me. They told me that although the tire was flat because of a nail, its tread was too worn for them to repair it; and they couldn't replace it because they didn't have a replacement in stock. They suggested I check a used tire store.

So I went to the nearest place that I expected would sell used tires- El Dorado Tires on 450 N and Main in Clearfield. El Dorado is run by, and caters to, Latinos. It looks like a shop you would see in latin america, with the name of the store, and the products it sells, hand-painted in bright colors onto the exterior of the building rather than displayed with a conventional sign.

I pulled into the parking lot and carried my tire up to the garage. There were about five or six guys in there. Some were working, some were watching, all were Latino. But I couldn't tell for sure which ones were employees because none of them were wearing uniforms. So I stood there and waited for someone to come talk to me- ask me what I needed. No one did.

I may have waited five minutes, or it might have only been two. The uncomfortableness of standing there with five guys repeatedly glancing at me, but none of them approaching me, made it feel like hours. And a niggling little feeling started creeping up in the back of my mind- were these guys deliberately ignoring me because I was white?

Eventually I convinced myself that, rather than ignoring me because they didn't like me, they must have had some sort of policy against talking to customers in the garage area. So I set my tire down and went into the office. One of the guys from the garage entered the office the same time I did. He started explaining to the girl behind the counter about some parts he needed her to order. When he was done he went back into the garage and the girl asked if she could help me. I told her that I needed a new tire. When I finished telling her what I needed she said something- in Spanish- to another man who had come in from the garage. (My Spanish is ok, but I couldn't tell what she said to him.)

My past experiences at auto shops suggested that at this point the man that the girl behind the counter had spoken to would ask me for a little more information about what I needed. He didn't. Instead, he went back into the garage- not out front to where I had left my tire, just straight back to the garage. Nevertheless, I assumed that the exchange he had had with the girl meant that he was going to take care of my tire, so I sat down on the couch.

He came back into the office several more times. Each time he spoke to customers- in Spanish- who had come in after me. Each time this happened I couldn't help but wonder whether he was attending to the requests of these new customers before taking care of my tire. After all, why was he, the mechanic, attending to them, rather than the girl behind the counter? Was he just blowing me off? Were they putting the newly arrived customers ahead of me because these customers were fellow Latinos and the business of fellow Latinos was valued more than mine? Was I going to have to wait to have my tire worked on until there was no work to do for the Latino customers?

This was frustrating, and the frustration was beginning to make me feel angry. Then I realized something. I could leave the store and take my tire elsewhere. To any number of other shops, where all the employees would likely be Caucasian and certainly would be fluent in English. In any case, I'd be able to get a clear idea of whether the shop would be able to provide the service I needed, just like at the first shop. There would be no wondering, no speculating as to whether I was being ignored or mistreated because of my race or my ethnic appearance or the language I spoke. I didn't need to stick around at this tire shop and accept the way they were treating me.

But what if the roles were reversed? What if, instead of being a member of the ethnic and linguistic majority who was patronizing a business run by an ethnic and linguistic minority, I were in the minority and were attempting to get my tire fixed at a shop run by an ethnic majority who didn't speak my language and didn't share my same cultural background? How would it feel if I knew that the disrespect I was perceiving in the way they were treating me would be repeated at every other shop I could find? How would I feel if I knew that any time I went to a place of business, not just to get a flat tire replaced, but for any kind of service, or to buy anything else, this is how I could expect to be treated?

That line of reasoning replaced the smoldering heat of anger in my heart with something else- sorrow. The sorrow washed over me and left me feeling like I'd had the wind knocked out of me. After all, this would likely be a one-time experience for me. But for much of our country's history this kind of experience was a constant part of life for many people. For them, there were no "other shops". They didn't have the assurance of knowing that they could simply walk out and go somewhere else if a business decided to treat them with disrespect because of their race.

Wait a minute- it's dumb for me to be talking about this like it doesn't happen anymore. Even though it's true that someone being discriminated against like I thought I was most likely would be able to walk out and find a similar business that didn't treat them disrespectfully, that doesn't change the fact that there are people who have no qualms about openly displaying exactly the kind of bigotry I’ve described. And I suspect that it doesn't make it any less hurtful or maddening for those on the receiving end.

You might be wondering what I ended up doing about not being helped.

I got fed up. I left the office and went outside to get my tire. But it wasn't where I had left it. I asked some of the guys milling around outside if they knew what had happened to it. No one seemed to know. So I went back inside the office, feeling frustrated and angry again. But it wasn't long before the guy from the garage came back into the office and told me, in broken English, and with a smile on his face, that he had repaired my tire- he was happy to show me where it had been punctured by a nail. I thanked him and paid for the repair. Then I left.

I felt foolish for having assumed that I had been ignored. I also felt grateful for having had an experience that gave me a brief glimpse of what it feels like to be discriminated against based on my race.

Yes, it’s true that what had happened wasn’t discrimination at all- just a matter of miscommunication- but it doesn’t change what I perceived to be happening. Our emotions don’t always come from what’s real; they’re fueled by what we believe to be real, which are often two different things.

I hope I’ll remember the way I felt when I thought I was being discriminated against- the anger, the sense of injustice. I hope that it will make me more aware of the biases that I harbor, however unintentionally, and the consequences that letting them dictate my actions can have. And I hope that it will spur me to be more conscientious in treating others with dignity and respect.

Oh, and if you need to get a flat tire repaired, don’t hesitate to take it to El Dorado Tires. They’ll fix it for cheap, and you can brush up on your Spanish while you’re there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Even Bus Drivers Can Make A Difference

Most of what I do at work is pretty boring.

But every now and then my mundane tasks are punctuated with entertaining bits of fun and excitement.

Earlier this week I was assigned to search the minutes of the meetings of the board of directors of the Weber School District to find information pertinent to the district's financial statements.
Buried in the depths of the minutes of the February 6, 2008 meeting is a description of Bus Driver Steve, bus driver extraordinaire.

My apologies for making you navigate to the school district's website. Even though this is public information, posted on the www for anyone in the world to see, I worry just a bit about potential repercussions at work for having posted something here that I discovered while performing an audit. So take the extra effort to click on this link. When you get there, scroll down to Agendum Item #2- Recognitions and read about the Extra Mile Award given to an over-achieving bus driver from Weber County.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not Strange, Cool!

Now and then my wife tells me she thinks I'm strange because I think things like this indo-european language tree and this english language tree I found today are cool.

How Many Books of Mormons?

Suppose you're looking at a table with two copies of the Latter Day Saint book of scripture known as The Book of Mormon sitting on it. Do you refer to the two books as Books of Mormon or Book of Mormons? Or is there some other way of succinctly referring to the plurality of the items resting on the table?

According to my boss the grammatically correct reference is Book of Mormons because, as she puts it, the book is only one book, no matter how many copies of it there are, and it's the title that's being pluralized, not the Mormons.

I generally try to say Books of Mormon because the other term makes it sound like a book that the Mormons use. That, or that it was compiled by more than one person named Mormon. But, is my way the proper way? If so, then the plural of terms like power of attorney becomes powers of attorney which would imply more than one power, thus rendering the phrase technically inaccurate. I think.

What a conundrum. Maybe the answer lies in the very first sentence of this post. It just might be best to refer to them as copies of the Book of Mormon. Except that doesn't solve the powers of attorney problem. Then again, maybe I've incorrectly identified it as a problem.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Children's Cultural Awareness

Awareness of the principal elements that combine to form's one's native culture is an important element in a child's social development. So when I was left home to take care of the kids while my wife spent the evening watching her kid brother play football I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and treat my two oldest kids to an in-home viewing of one of the cinematic classics of contemporary American culture-- Star Wars.

They were playing on the swing set in the backyard when I broke the news.

"Oh Dad, you're the sweetest dad!" was my five-year-old daughter's response, her voice the very essence of exuberance and excitement.

"Star Wars! Star Wars! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" was all my three-year-old son could manage to verbalize as he dismounted the swing and ran, nearly falling over himself, toward the back door.

Yes, Star Wars, that classic of American science-fiction cinema.

Although I do so somewhat sheepishly, I have to admit that there's a soft spot in my heart for that movie and its sequels. There are plenty of films that do everything Star Wars did better than Star Wars did it, but none of them tug at my heart-strings the way Star Wars does.

I think that's because I never watched any of them on network television over Thanksgiving break when I was 7, 8, 9, and 10 years old. Sitting there in front of the TV [most likely] with a plate of left-over pumpkin pie and a glass of egg-nog, I was absolutely captivated by the Star Wars universe. The absurdities of things like the development of relationships between the characters and their inane dialogue went completely unnoticed by my young self, while the wonders and possibilities of an unknown universe filled my mind with awe and excitement. Sitting in the family room watching Star Wars on a small TV screen, with the constant threat of a commercial break looming just around the corner, was pure fun. And that's truly the forte of the Star War's franchise- the films are fun.

So, for the same reason that I take my kids camping and play games with them and read them stories and teach them to ride a bike, I watched Star Wars with them in my living room on Friday night- because it's a fun thing for a dad to do with his kids.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Where the Heck did Hank Come From?

I got the idea for A Trip to the Redbox when I was standing in line at my local redbox. I was standing there watching the guy in front of me (who, as far as I can remember, was not a jerk at all) get his movie and I started thinking about how funny it would be if I grabbed his movie before he did and chucked it as far as I could and then took off running. The sheer absurdity of that idea made me chuckle inside.

That's what I imagined Hank doing when I started writing his story. But the more I wrote about Hank and the closer I got to the part where he watched the muscle-bound guy in front of him get his movie, the more I realized how untrue that ending would be. So instead of letting Hank have the Napoleon Dynamite ending that I initially imagined I gave him the true ending and that felt a lot better to me.

Oh yeah. In case you haven't noticed, I can't seem to decide whether or not to capitalize the name redbox. The official company logo is uncapitalized. Nevertheless, it's a proper noun, so seventh grade grammar demands that when I include it in what I'm writing about I capitalize it. Now I know why my wife gets so upset everytime she sees a proper noun that isn't capitalized.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Trip to the Redbox

The sun went down fifteen minutes before Hank drove into the Macey’s parking lot. It was about half full, just like usual. When it came to finding a parking space, Hank was always optimistic. He followed his optimism all the way down one aisle of cars, all the way back up another and down a third. Each time he reached the end of an aisle closest to the grocery store his hopes of finding an awesome parking spot lifted, then got smashed, by the empty “senior citizen” and “expectant mothers” stalls.

The handicapped stalls never gave him that kind of trouble. He could always spot them from a good 20 feet off ‘cause of their blue lines. But those dang fake out stalls were always such a let down.

He hadn’t ever heard of anyone actually getting a ticket for parking in one, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t. Isn’t that the way things usually worked out?- no one else ever ended up getting caught doing somthin’ stupid like that, but it’d be just his luck to have some self-righteous Clearfield police officer stop at the Macey’s on his coffee break while Hank was gettin’ himself a video from the RedBox, his car parked in a space with a sign if front that said “This Stall Reserved for Expectant Mothers”.

He imagined exactly how it would happen. He’d get back to his car while the policeman was still writing him a ticket. The policeman would make some joke about Hank not looking like he was “very far along” right when someone he knew came walking by- somebody from work or church or something. Then he’d never live it down. They’d be making jokes about Hank being pregnant for the next three years. And of course there’d be the fine to pay.

No, it wasn’t worth it. Better to park down at the far end of the aisle, where there were a bunch of empty spaces without signs on them.

When he walked up to the Red Box there were six other people standing there. Some dude and his girlfriend were at the front of the line. She was standing so close to him it looked like they’d been stuck together with Krazy Glue- her arm was wrapped around his waist; his left hand was stuffed down her back pocket and his right hand was pressing buttons on the screen. Hank thought it’d be kinda nice to have a girl like that stand that close to him.

There were two guys behind them. It was obvious that they were going to each rent their own movie- they weren’t standing next to each other, they were standing one behind the other. Plus, what kind of guys would stand together in line at the RedBox? Not any guys that Hank new.

Last was a mom with a kid. Or at least, sometimes it was a mom with a kid, and sometimes it was just a mom. The kid kept running over to the automatic doors that went into the store. He would stand in front of them just to make them open. Then somebody would come walking out of the store, pushing a cart full of groceries and his mom would yell at him to “get back over here Freddy!”

Six people, but they were only going to make four purchases. If each one took as long as the dude and his girlfriend were taking he’d have to wait in line a long stinkin’ time before it was his turn. But they might not take that long. Hank didn’t usually take that long, so why should they? And besides, some of these people might just be returning movies instead of renting them, right? That usually didn’t take very long at all. Unless the person doing the returning didn’t know how to do it.

The kid was standing by the doors again. But this time the door wouldn’t open for him. Dumb kid was standing too close. The heat sensor at the top, or whatever it was, couldn’t see him. So he walked over in front of the other door. His mom wasn’t watching him. She was talking to somebody on her cell phone saying something about “what time were you going to be home and no she wasn’t going to get Transformers because it was a stupid action movie and they watched a stupid action movie last time and this time she was getting something with some romance in it…”

The kid finally got the door to open. No, somebody inside the store with a cart full of groceries got it to open which meant that it was an exit door which meant that… when it opened it smacked the kid and knocked him over. How dumb do you have to be to stand there and let a door that slow smack you in the face? Now he was crying and rubbing his forehead where the door hit it and sitting right in front of the person with the cart full of groceries making it so she couldn’t get past. His mom was still talking on the phone saying something about how “he really is a nice dad he’s just tired when he comes home from work and that makes him a little cranky and he probably would be nicer to the kids if they would just do what they were told once in a while…”
Wasn’t she going to go over there and get her kid out of the way?

“Hey, your kid…” Hank started to say. She just kept blabbing on her phone. She didn’t hear what Hank said. That seemed to happen to Hank a lot.

“Hey, your kid just got smacked in the head.”

He said it a little louder this time, but there was a Honda with a loud exhaust pipe driving past which meant that she still didn’t notice that he was talking to her.

The person with the cart full of groceries was telling the person behind her that if he would just back up so that she could back up she could help that poor little boy out of the way and then they could both get through the door. But the guy behind her was being a real dork and instead of just taking her word for it he had to see for himself whether there was really a kid sitting on the ground in front of her cart which meant he had to leave his cart where it was and stand right behind her cart while he leaned forward as far as he could…

So Hank walked over and picked the kid up himself. As soon as he lifted the kid up the kid stopped crying and just looked at Hank. He wasn’t sure exactly what the best way was to hold a kid, so he kinda just held on to the kid under his arms with his own arms kinda stretched out while the kid stared at him. He still wasn’t crying when Hank put him down next to his mom. She looked at Hank sorta funny, like she wasn’t sure if she should say “what the hell are doing with my kid?” or “thanks.”

“He got smacked by the door.” Hank said.

She didn’t say anything else. She just grabbed hold of the kid’s hand and turned back around so she was facing the RedBox.

It didn’t seem like there was really anything else to do or say. So he decided to just get back in line behind the mom where he had been before. Except right then some guy with arms that were a little too big for their sleeves walked up and stood behind her.
He looked right at Hank with a face that Hank had seen before. Well, Hank hadn’t actually seen this guy’s face before. But he had seen the look on that face before. He had seen it on girls faces at the dances back in high school. He had seen it on the faces of people driving next to him during rush hour. He had seen it when he was thirteen and the kids at the house next to his would let him play basketball because they thought that because he was five inches taller than any of them he might actually be good. And it didn’t always say exactly the same thing, but the different things it said weren’t really that different from one another. This time it said, “Yeah, I know you were standing in line here, but now I am, so what are you going to do about it, dork?”

And it was right. There wasn’t anything that he would do about it. He would just get in line behind the guy and that would be it. He sure as heck wasn’t going to try and fight this guy, or anyone else for that matter. Wasn’t worth it. Getting his nose busted up and looking like a fool, what good would that do? Better to let this guy go around thinking he’s real tough, than to make something of it and get his teeth knocked in. Besides, he’d only have to wait a few extra minutes, so it really didn’t matter.

At least that’s what Hank tried to tell himself. But as the minutes passed and he inched his way closer to the RedBox, the fact that this jerk in front of him had stolen his place in line- like some fifth grader at the drinking fountain on his way in from recess- worked it’s way under his skin. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why did people like this guy think it was ok to act like such jerks? And why did he let people act that way- to him especially- without letting them know that they were jerks?

While the jerk-with-muscles was swiping his credit card a scenario began playing itself out in Hank’s mind. It was sort of like when Napoleon Dynamite asked his own personal jerk, Don, for a Summer-Wheatley-for-President button and then as soon as the guy gave it to him, he chucked it down the hall just to show him what he thought of the guy. Only instead of a high school election pin, Hank imagined himself grabbing the guy’s movie as soon as it slid out of the slot and chucking it as far as could. He imagined it bouncing off the pavement and doing little cartwheels before the case split open and the disc popped out and slid along the asphalt and got all scratched up. He imagined the jerk staring at him, not quite believing what had just happened. He imagined himself running away just like Napoleon had, running across the parking lot as fast as he could, then jumping like Michael J. Fox into the bed of some lucky truck as it pulled out of the parking lot, with the jerk dude slowing to a stop behind him, waving away a cloud of smoke that the truck had left behind.

It would be hilarious! The disc was sliding out of the slot and the guy hadn’t even noticed yet- he was checking out some teenage girl as she walked into the store. The opportunity was there. It would be so awesome. It would be so…


That guy would probably catch him before he took five steps, if he didn’t just lay him flat the moment he grabbed at his movie. Besides, how would acting like a jerk do anything to get another jerk to stop acting like a jerk?

The jerk was walking away now. Hank could see which movie he had rented. It was the same one he was going to rent. Hank stepped up to the Redbox and made his selection. The RedBox told him that that selection was temporarily unavailable- it had been rented out.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Exfoliate Byzantine

I read somewhere about a little game you can play with Google. I forgot what it's called, but the rules are pretty easy to remember. Think of two words. Enter them both into Google at the same time. If the search brings back exactly one result, you win!

Like I said, the rules are simple, but the game is pretty stinkin' hard. I came came up with a winning combination a few months back, but I don't remember what it was. I think one of the words may have been redhead, or one of its variations.

I came up with another one today- edwardian plastocine. This one actually didn't take me all that long. I suppose the game might be easier for someone who's familiar with many obscure words or technical terms that really have no use outside of their technical context.

I don't play it all that much. After all, it's not very exciting. But the challenge definately maintains its appeal for at least a few minutes. For me anyway. And it can be interesting to discover just how many sites contain two words that you otherwise would have been certain had nothing to do with eachother. Not to mention finding out what the heck those sites actually contain.

Give it a try. See what you can come up with. But don't blame me if you end up asking yourself, "Why did I just spend the last half hour typing byzantine and exfoliate into Google?"

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My Daughter's Pictures

I came home the other day and saw a stack of pictures sitting in the kitchen that my 4 year old daughter had drawn. At the risk of sounding like a gloating parent, I have to say that I was quite impressed with what she had drawn. Have a look.

I asked her about them. She said, "This grandma (right) wants a grandma (left)."

When I asked about this one she said, "He's frowning because his friends don't want to play with him."

These two didn't have hair when I first saw them. But after I started writing her comments on the pages she wanted to get into the action. She said they needed hair. What could I say? So now they have hair (and beards too, I guess). And eyebrows.

Her comments for this one were brief. "His name is Smiley Happyface" she said.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Nature of Sparkly Dresses
My 4 year old daughter was watching the Disney Cinderalla movie. I asked her why Cinderella's dress sparkled. She told me, "It's because the fairy gottamer bipetty-bopittied her with her wand and made her dress sparkle."

Smashed Bird
I was standing in the median of 300 West, waiting to cross the south-bound side before entering the building where I work. Traffic was busier than normal. While I was waiting I saw a bird fall into the street three or four feet from where I was standing. It's a strange thing to see a bird fall. It was in my peripheral vision, so I thought it was a falling leaf- it was spinning and falling slower than denser things might.

I'm not sure why I didn't just assume it was a leaf and ingore it. But when it hit the ground I looked at it. It was in the lane nearest me, sitting pretty much right where it needed to be to get run over by the driver's side wheels of the oncoming traffic. It wasn't laying on the ground like a dead bird. It was standing, or maybe crouching. But it wasn't moving, so I wasn't sure if it was alive. After all, why would a living bird fall into a busy street?

The outer edge of the tires of the first car that passed missed the bird by what seemed like less than an inch. That's when I knew it was alive because after the car had passed it hopped away from where the tires had been. That's also when I decided that it wasn't flying away because it was probably too young to know how to fly well. At least, that's the best guess I could come up with. Another car passed, again just missing the bird. The next car was closer to the median. When it drove by the bird was in bewteen it's wheels. The bird took a hop or two closer to the median, then sat still.

It occurred to me that I could pick the bird up and move it out of harm's way. I felt some pitty for it, given the imminent distaster presented by the situation. Unfortunately for the bird, its well-being held little sway when I weighed it against my own. To be able to pick the bird up I would have to step out into busy traffic. True, there were breaks in the traffic that would have given me enough time to do it. But only just barely. If I were to misplace my grip, or if the bird were to hop out of my reach, I probably woudln't have enough time to try again before having to jump back out of the way of the traffic.

There was a part of me that continued considering whether or not to try to save the bird. But that part of me was quickly shouted down by another, more practical part that asked me to consider what would happen to the bird after I moved it out of the road. "That bird doesn't even have the sense to move out of the way when faced with imminent doom" it said. "Even if you were to get it into the median without getting yourself killed, what then? It can't fly and it's survival instinct seems to be malfunctioning. It won't last two days after you leave. If it doesn't get smashed or eaten by a cat it will die of starvation or dehydration. You'll have risked your life to extend this miserable creature's life by a few extra hours or days."

As this argument was meandering through my brain cars continued driving by, each time missing the bird by just a few inches. The traffic thinned a little. Then I saw the vehicle that would kill it. It was a dump truck. The kind with those tires that are 12 inches wide. From a hundred feet away I could tell that those tires were going to roll right over top of the bird. They did.

If this were a novel maybe I would describe the sound the bird's body made when it was smashed as 'sickening' or something to like that. But it wasn't sickening. It made one quick snapping noise. If I had heard it out of context I might have thought it was the sound of a single packing bubble getting popped. Then, instead of being a normal greyish-brown bird shape, it was a flat, indistinguishable greyish-brown and pink shape. A gap in the traffic big enough for me to run across the street opened up, so I ran.

Definition Correction
Am I the only one who thinks it would be a little bit foolish to correct a highly renowned professional author on the proper use of a particular word? I mean, wouldn't that sort of be like walking into a mechanic's shop while he's rebuilding a carbeurator and telling him he's using the wrong tool for the job? Who am to tell an auto-mechanic how to do his job? But what if the mechanic were using a dentist's sickle probe to scrape carbon off the carbeurator? And what if I were a dentist? Maybe then it wouldn't be so foolish for me to tell him that he wasn't really using the tool the way it was meant to be used.

I've pretty much given up on tyring to make people think I'm not a fool, and I don't think I'll be returning to the practice any time soon. I'm a pretty regular reader of Orson Scott Card's blogs. In the May 27 edition of Uncle Orson Reviews Everything he discusses the challenges of producing audiobooks. He says that when the market for a particular title isn't very big, the costs of recording the audiobook have to be "amortized over only a few hundred or a few thousand sets of tapes." Now, given his status as a highly renowned professional author, and my status as not-an-author-at-all, I normally wouldn't even consider correcting him on the use of a word. But I am an accountant, so I do know that when it is used in an accounting context, the word amortize has a very specific meaning. It's not the word he should have used. He should have used allocate. Or he could have said spread over.

He's talking about a manufacturing scenario that accounting students are introduced to in their fist year of study. He's refering to the fact that when someone produces a tangible product (e.g.- audiobooks) there are certain 'up front' costs (actually, the term is fixed costs) that do not fluctuate as the rate of production changes. In this particular scenario the cost of recording the audio book is a fixed cost. It doesn't matter how many copies of the audiobook the producer decides to make; the cost of recording remains the same. To make a profit the producer has to pass those costs on to the customer. The amount of the cost borne by the customer is inversely related to the number of units produced and sold to the customer. In other words, the more audiobooks you sell, the less each customer has to pay for the cost of recording the audiobook because that cost is allocated to the individual audiobooks in an increasingly smaller (how's that for poor word choice) amount as the number of audiobooks increases. It's like spreading a fixed amount of butter over slices of bread. If you have one stick of butter and one slice of bread, you'll have a whole lot of butter on your bread. But if you're trying to spread that stick over ten loaves worth of sliced bread, the butter will be spread so thin you might not even notice it's there.

Amortization is what happens when a company purchases an intangible asset (as opposed to incurring production costs) such as a patent, or a copyright. The cost of the purchase doesn't hit the bottom line all at once. Instead, accountants try to match that cost to the benefits the asset provides during the entire time it's used by the company. So we recognize a little bit of the cost in each time period (month, quarter, year, etc.) that the asset is used by the company. This process is called amortization.

So Mr. Card, if you ever read this, I hope this criticism is as constructive as I meant it to be, and I hope I don't seem as pretentious as I sound to myself.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nostalgic Video Clip and Celebrity Encounters

Sometimes I get funny little surprises in my life. During my online wanderings recently I stumbled across this old video clip from the Muppet Show. I had never seen it before in my life. But I knew exactly what it was within five seconds of clicking on play. I recognized it because my wife was singing this song the first night I met her. “What’s so impressive about that?” you’re saying. “Songs are easy enough to recognize.” I’ll give you that. But this song doesn’t have any words. Well not real words. Anyway, If I had intentionally set out to find this clip I don’t know if I ever would have succeeded. But last night there it was, staring at me from my computer screen. I chuckled when I realized that I knew what it was. Then I went and showed it to my wife and she laughed too.

When it was over I clicked on one of the ‘similar clips’ that YouTube offered and found this hilarious muppet rendition of Danny Boy. If you haven’t already seen this, it will probably make you laugh too.

Celebrity Encounters

I recently found out about a new fantasy book that’s getting loads of enthusiastic reviews. I had a gift certificate to Amazon burning a hole in my pocket, so I bought it. This is a debut novel which means the author isn’t all that famous yet. So I really shouldn’t call this a celebrity encounter. Semi-celebrity encounter maybe? Sort-of-celebrity encounter? Anyway, I went to the website for the book and it had a “contact the author” page. So did. I sent him a message in which I… well, here’s the transcript:


I got your book in the mail last week along with The Children of Hurin. I haven't started on yours yet because I'm still working on the other one. But I did take a look at the map and I noticed something almost right away. That road is pretty much straight. So now I'm anxious to find out how such a road came to be.Of course that's in addition to all the anticipation I've built up after reading about a bazillion raving reviews. In fact, I have such high hopes for your book that I decided to read Children of Hurin first in hopes of being able to move on to something even better aftward- you know, save the best for last and all that.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to it.

Tim Young

To which he responded:


Heh. I'm glad you noticed the oddily (sic) of the road. You're actually the first one to comment on it.I hope I do a good job of following up after Tolkien....


I should have been content with that response. But instead I thought to myself, “Wow, a sort-of famous person just sent me an email. This is my big chance to become buddies with a sort-of famous person who might one day become a famous person. So I wrote him back:

I started your book last night. I loved the chapter where Chronicler gets robbed. Great stuff. Not that I enjoy reading about people getting robbed, of course. But I did enjoy watching how he dealt with it. I'm curious about the skraelings- eager to find out what the heck they are. (Animal, mineral or vegetable...? heh heh) No, I don't want you to tell me. Not here I mean.

I really appreciate the ways you introduce information about the world without it seeming like I'm getting spoon fed.

Can't wait to get home and read more.

Tim Young

That was two days ago. He hasn’t responded.

Ok, so I pretty much presented myself as one of those crazy gibbering fans you might see on a movie or the news or something. And I feel sort of sheepish about it. The real embarrassing thing though is that this isn’t the first time I’ve done something like this. (Which probably means I am one of those crazy gibbering fans.)

This will take some explaining. There’s a website called Snowdays where you can make your own snowflake and add a message. Other people can read your message and respond to it when they look at your snowflake. I found out about the site from Orson Scott Card’s blog. Immediately upon reading about it I went to the site and did a search for his name. Sure enough, there were about sixty little snowflakes with his name on them. So what did I do? I responded to one of his messages of course—what else? He had made one that looked like a naval contact mine. If you haven’t read his book Ender’s Game, some background information is in order. In the book the protagonists have a weapon that’s capable of destroying entire planets. It’s called a Molecular Disruption Device. Since the first two initials are MD they sometimes call it an M.D. Device, or the Dr. Device or the Little Doctor.

Anyway, here’s the link if you want to read the silly little conversation I had with him about his snowflake that looked like a mine. (If you decided to follow the link, be sure to wait until you see the flake that looks like a mine. It will have an arrow pointing to it that says "your friend's".)

If you like, you can also read the other conversation I had with him about swimming in cold water at scout camp.