Thursday, December 27, 2007

Consider this blog adjourned. (“Adjourned” may be pretentious, but it’s not just pretentious. I don’t want to call this “closed” because it’s still available to be read and I’ll still use it as a home page to keep links, and I don’t call it “ended” because that implies finality.)

I haven’t posted in over a month now. I’ve taken similar breaks before, and for similar reasons: my life was routine, but was going pretty well overall. So I had very little to write about — no advice to request or tears that were looking for shoulders, but also no interesting or exciting stories to tell.

Procrastination aside, I still write plenty for work. I get to expand my horizons with non-news writing whenever it's my turn to do the Clippings column. And it's not like I've done much of that here in a while, and there's no reason I couldn't start again if I want, here or elsewhere.

And some interesting things have happened in the past couple weeks, but they’re not the sort of thing I’ve wanted to write about in real-time detail in a public way. I've mentioned this more than once before, and I realize it’s a pretty irrational concern, but still. I realize that it might not be good to present different "selves" to one family member or friend and another, but I think it's entirely reasonable to present one self to friends and family and another to anyone who might happen to Google me. An on-again, off-again flirtation with a co-worker over the past few months, for example - yes, I realize it probably is unhealthy that I'd be willing to tell one friend about it but not another, equally-good friend, but not wanting to put it out here where anyone could find it seems more reasonable. So I might start another blog about personal stuff, but in a more secure way.

You know, this whole set of restrictions in my head is really fucked up. I write almost nothing that could offend my friends, almost nothing that would get peoples' hopes up on my behalf unless it's a sure thing, really nothing that could possibly offend someone who knows me through work, and so on. Those are the habits of ... well, I'll give up on trying to find the perfect metaphor and just say those are the habits of a pretty disturbed person. Maybe it would be easier to keep a journal that's not public, but if I start another blog, I definitely won't be so paranoid. If total anonymity is the only way to bring myself to do that, the extra hassle is worth it.

So this blog might come back or I might start one elsewhere, if I get more comfortable writing about my life or if I want to do more writing than just news. And I'll definitely keep on using it to follow links to comics and other blogs I like or remind myself exactly when something happened in recent years, like a journal. And everyone is welcome to do the same. But if you find my writing entertaining, ask me to recommend something out of the links to the right. And if you're a friend and you've been using this blog to keep track of what's been going on with me, well, you'll just have to pick up the phone.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The state's paper of record (at least, the daily paper in the state's most populous area) recently published an article on the controversy I complained about here. Since they have covered the topic much less than I, the article on it is much more of a general overview, but the hook of its story is a site visit on Monday morning, which I went to as well. I expected the visit was only for information and a better understanding of the situation, but I was asked afterwards to write about it, so I did.

But my story was not usable, my editor said. I'm hoping he doesn't notice the other story, at least not for a few days, especially since it's written by a freelancer who works for him sometimes.

And yet, I'm really not bothered about being upstaged. Partly because things really are going well here otherwise. Also, partly because it's comparing apples and oranges. The site visit Monday was a time when all the main actors were in one place, so it was useful for an article, but no actual news was generated. Instead, the linked article covered the ongoing controversy, and happened to use the visit to get perspective and a face-to-face talk with people. But as for me, I covered the attempt to change the plan and the meeting last month and I'm going to the one in a couple weeks and everyone's still waiting for a court date, so if I wrote a news article about Monday's visit, there would have been nothing new in it.

So instead, I wrote a detailed description of the site. I didn't actually know much about it, so we figure most other people don't either. How do you get there, where can it be seen from, what will it look like after the project has started, etc. My story wasn't in the first person, but it might as well have been. Neither the tour nor my written account of it seemed much like my boss expected, but it was still pretty good — the ways it wasn't what he expected were not a matter of me forgetting to include X, it's just that Y is what people really cared about — and I think the article turned out to be pretty informative.

But not actually newsworthy, apparently. So, oh well. He thought there would be news material here, but there wasn't, unless some cleverly phrased cutting remarks in an ongoing feud qualify. This article won't get published, but my future articles on the subject will be able to be much more detailed. And... that's it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

One of the many complaints about America's electoral process is the nonsensical choice of election day. Why on a constantly shifting day rather than a fixed date, and why during the week when most people are working? The explanation I've heard is that it's on Tuesday because back in the 18th century it could take a full day to get to a polling place and back in rural America, so it had to be on a day that was neither market day nor Sunday, and Tuesday was sufficiently removed from either. This, via Sullivan, gives an explanation (which admittedly might be apocryphal, since it doesn't cite a source for the Election Day connection) for having elections in early November, but it caught my attention just because it was moving.

But today Britons have a take on Guy Fawkes that is much at odds with the historical one. Once Fawkes was a symbol of the traitor within. The people were called to be on guard against his like. No longer. Today Guy Fawkes is increasingly viewed as the heroic figure prepared to stand against an unjust and oppressive state, as a martyr and a victim of torture.
For (George Washington), America was involved in a struggle for its liberty, and the commemoration of Guy Fawkes stood for the opposite: government by fear, oppression of a minority, a celebration of arbitrary power. Guy Fawkes Day was the abnegation of the essential values of the Revolution. So the original George W. put it in an order: No more Guy Fawkes Day.
America, it was settled, having abolished Guy Fawkes Day would mark that week with a new tradition: the exercise of the democratic franchise. It was to be the time in which the rulers are held accountable to the people.

My knowledge of Guy Fawkes Day is no better than that of most Americans: it was a paragraph or two in history class. I know the traditional costume of Guy Fawkes, and the first few lines of the rhyme, from the "V for Vendetta" graphic novel. To the extent I thought about it at all, I thought Guy Fawkes Day seemed kinda barbaric — a national holiday to celebrate killing a failed revolutionary? Isn't that sort of kicking them when they're down? — but minor and harmless — it was 400 years ago; you might as well refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving because its popular portrayal whitewashes manifest destiny. Reading this, though, it's kind of a nice surprise that British comic book readers aren't the only people with an alternate view of the holiday, and it's a great surprise to see that the holiday actually is celebrated in America. In a way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aaargh. I hate this stupid gra/vel pit issue. (Yes, it's controversial enough in the area, and I'm gunshy enough, that I want to Google-proof it.) This one ongoing story is easily my least favorite part of the job. It began years before I got here, and I believe it has been awaiting a court date for almost a year, and even when that trial happens it won't be the end of things.

On one side of the issue, we have someone who has at least somewhat rational reasons for disliking the business where I work, but the guy is generally an asshole. He's only spoken to me once despite literally a dozen calls I have made and that one time was to harangue me and offer me his pet nickname for the paper ("the Addison Idiot"). Apparently it runs in the family, because his brother tried to bribe me by offering to buy advertising from the paper (immoral and stupid — even if I were inclined to take a bribe, from someone I barely know over the phone while sitting in the office, what benefit do I get from him buying advertising?)

On the other side of the issue there's a guy who used to work here, so he knows people pretty well and stuff, but he won't shut up. I mean, he literally cannot be made to be quiet. He invited me to have a beer after a meeting one time, and we were at the bar for about an hour, and my side of the conversation was limited entirely to "uh huh," and "well, I'm obviously no expert," and stuff like that. That was it. At a recent public hearing, members of the public were given three minutes each to speak about the issue. I timed him: he spent 80 seconds complaining that they weren't given more time.

And the issue itself? As far as the general welfare of the town goes, the talkative guy is almost certainly on the right side, although I get the feeling that he overstates his case in a thousand little ways. But on the legal and technical side of things, I was becoming more and more convinced that the asshole was right. The whole four-years-and-counting saga revolves around two parts in the town's regulations which are inconsistent and unclear. When I read it, I have to really strain to see how the talkative guys' interpretation of the regulation makes sense, but it's not hard at all to get the asshole's interpretation out of it. As much as people might not like this, and as much as that might be justified, it sure looks legal to me.

I say I was becoming more and more convinced, that is, because two months ago he went and did something that seemed underhanded and dumb and arrogant. He proposes a change which might (or might not) fix some of the problems, and very probably has a couple problems of its own, and in return he asks to roughly double another problem? The talkative guy's lawyer also argues that this proposal legally cannot be made to the friendly regulatory body he made it to, and this time, I don't have any problems understanding the interpretation.

Because of all this, I can't write about it to save my life. The story I just finished was better than the one I did a week ago, but even so, was missing some pretty important details, as the editor pointed out to me. (After talking to the talkative guy.) I'll have to write another story or two in a month. How to do it? Hmmm, maybe if I choose one particular detail to focus and really hammer on, I can get away with glossing over the rest.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My ex-girlfriend is a very distant relative of the president, I'm told. 11th cousins once removed or something. The relationship is through her mother, whose maiden name is Pierce (or maybe her grandmother's maiden name?), and that's also Barbara Bush's maiden name.

She never liked it even though she didn't follow politics as much as I did, and I occasionally gave her a hard time about it. But as I just read at Andrew Sullivan's blog, she can take comfort in one thing: it could be worse. I mean, at least she's not running for president.

Also, my pessimism in the previous post may have been premature.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

OK, here's another mistake that I can wallow in self-pity and beat myself up over: if there's a girl at work I'm attracted to and have a fair amount in common with, and one day she's all depressed because her boyfriend left her, and after 10 that night she calls me to say thanks for cheering her up earlier and she's feeling much better now and she's confident she'll find someone else eventually, and we get to talking and it turns out that hey, she kinda had a minor crush on me too, and whaddaya know, I'm single, and she asks if she can come over... If all that happens, I should say yes.

This is not what I did. Instead, I said I wanted to get a good night's sleep, but we could definitely get together later in the week.

All that was Monday. By the time I spoke to her Tuesday night, she had got back together with her boyfriend. I reacted by telling myself that this is what happens when I let myself get optimistic, and by drinking the last of the beer in my apartment. (Which was only two bottles. Don't worry too much.) This morning, though, I figured out that, ya know, maybe there's something I should have done a little differently Monday night. Hell, the absolute worst-case scenario would have been we spend hours talking until one of us learns something repulsive about the other or she decides she was meant for him after all. But some kind of better result would have been much more likely, and as for the best-case scenario, who knows?

So why didn't I invite her over? Looking back, there were three reasons: partly because I genuinely did want to get a good night's sleep, partly because I was afraid she would think less of me because of the mess of my apartment, and partly because I didn't want to rush things, either in appearance or in actual fact.

Yes, I realize there's no end to the list of reasons those concerns are very, very stupid.

It's things like this that sometimes make me think I really do have no chance at all of a happy relationship. It took me more than a day to figure out where I screwed up and exactly how bad the reasons for it were. Why should I expect to be any quicker on the uptake next time? Hell, this is at most the second time something like this has happened in my life, so what makes me think there will be a next time?

And yeah, I know this is an unhealthy attitude. Blah blah selfish manipulative arguably sexist blah. But given that it is my attitude, I should at least learn the rules of it and how to function socially with it, and I can't even manage that.
A while back, I remember reading a facetious list of jargon definitions. It's one of those things that seemed, to me at least, to make up most of the content of the Internet in the 1990s; jokes. What I'm thinking of was basically an ironic or parodic version of this. What I remember was about academic jargon you'd hear from a college professor. This isn't an exact entry, but it's the general idea:

What the professor saysWhat the professor means
"It's controversial""I disagree with what 90 percent of the experts in this field have said."

Well, a while ago I was working on a story about an artist whose work would be on display in the area. The story came out pretty well, actually, but when I reread it after it was published I noticed that a phrase I had used to describe something she said about patterns of light didn't actually mean much. I thought what I wrote was funny, and reminded me of one of those "what he says"/"what he means" lists. So if there's any such list out there for newspaper articles, I hope it has an entry for this phrase, or maybe I should just start a list of my own.

What the writer saysWhat the writer means
"subtle interaction""I didn't understand it, but it seemed important"

While I'm at it, I couldn't figure out how to find an example of the kind of list I was talking about, and finally gave up. (I started writing this way back in August and forgot about it and decided to post it now.) Googling stuff like academic translation humor gave me lots of stuff about the difficulty of translating humor between languages. Similar searches gave me stuff that might have been helpful, but I didn't want to check at work.

So I tried to remember an exact phrase from one particular entry, arriving at the example I used for "It's controversial" I used above. I tried Googling that last exact phrase, but found nothing, literally zero matches found. I kept on paring it down, removing words one at a time or putting some of it outside the quotes.

When I finally got matches, it was for things like "most of the experts" disagree or "half of the experts" disagree, but almost all the hits were for pages about America's foreign policy, in Iraq or Kazakstan or an NPR poll on the war on terror. And for good measure, there was a global warming page or two in there. I don't know if I should be amused or cynical or depressed that there's so much disagreement about those things, but I thought it was interesting. (And, on reflection, it's not that surprising. Of course there is more disagreement, especially more publically disseminated disagreement, about politically controversial topics than about scientific research or something. And there were some non-political topics among the top 10 hits for these searches as well.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

One nice thing about this vacation is that I'm catching up on my reading a bit. I have probably about 10 books in my apartment which I've never read. Several of them were gifts, whether directly or as gift certificates. A few more books I don't particularly care about came bundled with things I bought that I actually did want, like some Magic: the Gathering novelizations. And the rest, I bought to expand my horizons or simply out of habit. As a teen and in the first few years of college, I read a whole lot, but between a full-time job and hobbies like World of Warcraft, not so much lately. So when I'd find myself in a bookstore to get a comic book, or the latest installment of a series I liked like 1632 or the Dresden Files, I'd get something else too that looked new and kinda interesting, and just never get around to reading it.

So I brought three as-yet-unread books with me. So far I've finished one, "Mirrorshades," a collection of cyberpunk short stories; and I'm nearly finished with Distraction, by Bruce Sterling; and I plan to read the collection of essays about modern political freedom next. Maybe I should have even brought more, since I've finished a Western novel of my aunt's as well, but sooner or later I would have run into the limits of what I could fit in my backpack anyway.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blogging from New Mexico, at my uncle Mark and aunt Susan's house while on vacation. Good times. Saturday was just travel and recovering from it. Sunday was a hike through some state land (we picked prickly pears from a cactus my uncle Mark had found a few days before; I was the only person who didn't wind up bleeding), and we planned on going to a fundraiser for a local nonprofit at a wine bar in the evening, but decided to take it easy instead. Yesterday Mark and I drove a couple hours, stopping at a store on the way where I got a couple souvenirs, to a park with some cliff dwellings from around 1200 AD or so, which was also quite a hike, and had a leisurely evening and watched "Good Night and Good Luck," which Mark and Susan own. Good movie; I hadn't seen it before. It was good and informative and stuff, but the part that I'd call the most "fun" was the part about Liberace trying to act heterosexual. I guess that makes me a bad political enthusiast.

Also, I have found yet another unconventional source of my news: I learned here that Robert Jordan died. (When the next comic is posted to that page that link won't work, of course. In case I forget to fix it, it's the Sept. 18 comic.) To be clear, it's true according to Google News, but I found out about it through the comic strip, which I thought was funny. This is sad, obviously, but Randy (Something Positive author/artist) had the right idea: fans are justified in freaking out. I'm not, partly because I'm reasonably confident in those "precautions," but mostly because I'm jaded.

Also, remember this? Well, I did some cooking. It didn't turn out the way I wanted, unfortunately. I wanted to make an apple crisp sort of thing, but I messed up the recipe and it turned out to be more like an apple pie with no crust. But it tasted fine, and it was a good first try (not first time cooking, of course, but first time baking something by myself? probably), so overall: yay me!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Here in Vermont, it seems that, say, a quarter of all households have gardens, to pull a fraction out of my ass. However, the tomatoes produced by those gardens only stay good for a week, maybe two. Therefore, unless the gardens are very small, or people in the house really like cooking and like recipes that use tomatoes, a lot more tomatoes will be produced than their producers can eat.

This is why there is more fresh produce in my apartment today than at any point since last fall. My parents gave me a bowl full of cherry tomatoes when I left their house yesterday (a small fraction of their total yield) which I have been eating as snacks, and I have also had to politely refuse offers from the guy in the other apartment and someone at work because, come on, when would I eat them? Maybe I should cook more than I do, but not in Martha Stewart's wildest dreams would a single guy be able to go through 20 beefsteak tomatoes in a week without getting sick of them. Or even four or five. (Why not one or two, then? Well, to that I have to confess to laziness, I guess.)

Actually, though, I have to correct two parts of that last post. A bowl full of cherry tomatoes would not be the most fresh produce in a year for me by itself. The peck of apples I picked yesterday afternoon, almost on a whim after biking by an orchard and being surprised to see it was open on Labor Day, is a lot more, at least by weight. And while I haven't done it yet, I plan to do some kind of cooking with that. Maybe I'll never get around to it, etc., but don't count it out yet.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A couple weeks ago, I was annoyed by the expectation that I would submit some articles for consideration in various categories for the upcoming state press association conference. What's the point? I'd go through the minor-to-moderate hassle of pawing through old papers and digging up physical copies, get caught up debating with myself whether the obvious-in-hindsight flaws in something I wrote six months ago outweighed its good points, and be one of probably over a hundred writers competing for the few "best of" categories I was even eligible for. But entering was expected of me (not required, people would just have been disappointed and curious if I didn't), so I did it anyway. I put it off until after 5 p.m. the day before they had to be mailed off and prepared two not-horrible submissions. Oh well.

While getting those ready, though, I kind of had a change of heart. I've had compliments on my work before, it's not like there's nothing good out there. Why not enter? It's not like it'll take all that long, and I win it would look great on my résumé. So rather than just searching through my hard drive in chronological order, I remembered what some of those good stories were and tracked them down.

And they were all outside the time period covered by the award. Crap. The detailed story about the town government in dire straits was published just recently, two weeks after the period allowed; the rural Internet story, which I didn't think much of at first but later on several people said it was interesting, was one week after the period allowed; the heartwarming story about the cool elementary school principal was way back a month or two before the award period... that's not to say I did nothing worth mentioning for a 13-month period, but it was frustrating that the top three or four I could think of were all unsuitable.

I'm reminded of all this today because I just wrote a headline for another story which I think would qualify. It was a pretty good human interest story, and during the interview, the subject said something like "no one's ever asked me that before." Which sounded like a good sign to me. So, well, maybe this post will help me find all these when next year comes around...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Actually, the experience of working without Internet this morning — it came back some time while I was at lunch — was sort of interesting. When the server is inaccessible but not my own computer, it's a pretty minor problem. When my own computer is down, or when the power is out, it's a big problem, but in a boring way. If it happens close to deadline then laptops get pooled and rationed out to the writers who really need them, but other than that, there's just very nearly nothing that can be done.

But when the Internet is down, it seems I can work, but I have to do it differently. I think my job becomes a lot like it would have been 20 years ago or so. There are a few differences of course. I would have been on a typewriter or maybe a really primitive computer back then, and an archive search would work by physically going through a filing cabinet instead of using the "search" window on this Mac. But still — typing, archive searches and calling people on the phone.

The difference I noticed this morning when I talked to someone was in information gathering. I'll often ask people if there is anyone else I should talk to about whatever the subject is, but it's often not worth the trouble to ask for contact information. If I ask some elected official or volunteer at home how to reach a consultant, for example, they'd rely on the phone book just like me. If I can't find them because they aren't in the phone book then the elected official sitting at home probably couldn't either, and if I Google the consultant, not only will I find their number but I'll probably find a fair amount more about them too. (Where is he located? Is he well-known or obscure? Straightforward or cutting-edge or a crank?)

But that doesn't work so well when Google is unavailable and I find myself reduced to the Stone Age practice of asking questions about stuff and knowing things on my own beforehand. Damn. (Yes, I'm kidding.) Well, my current system works fine most of the time, I just have to remember to ask for more details when the Internet is down...
I’m writing this at 9:30 a.m. on Monday in a Word document, which I will have to copy and paste to post because at the office this morning, we’re having a rare kind of technical difficulty: the Internet is down. Apparently some/many/all clients of our ISP are having the same problem.

I have the impression this is pretty rare. We lose power occasionally, which is catastrophic for getting stuff done, or my or someone else’s computer itself goes down, which is bad for that person or for the whole newsroom if it’s the news server, but I don’t think I can remember a time longer than a few minutes when our computers and our internal network were working, but not the Internet.

It seems calculated to make me productive. I still have my phone and Microsoft Word, but I can’t go online to read blogs (although, hah, that’s obviously not stopping me from writing this) with the links and the current events and the long, long comment threads. What else am I going to do with my time? Oh well, I guess I’d better call people for a story or something.

Other news: I saw Jo again on Sunday. It was fun. I hadn’t seen her in like six months, for no really good reason. For like a month on either side of that there was genuinely little or no chance to spend a full afternoon/evening down in Rutland, but still, shame on me.

And, World of Warcraft news: my night elf druid is enjoying the occasional heroic instance and is off-tanking Karazhan, even though it’s not always easy to fit raids with my guild into my schedule. And I finally got my undead warlock to level 60 and into Outland. Yay! She’s my highest-level Horde character (for that matter, my only active one), and I’m liking it. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe I would feel the same way about any toon I got past level 50 or so, but warlocks and druids seem like the fun classes.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I was at the county fair yesterday and I happened to spend quite a bit of time in the children's barn, with all the bunnies and miniature horses and educational exhibits involving chicks hatching. There were two reasons: according to the schedule there was an event going on there that I thought would be worth writing about (although either the schedule was wrong or I was wrong that it was newsworthy; I couldn't find it and no one knew about it), and I just like small cute animals. As I finally get close to the popular pen with a mother pig and a bunch of week-old piglets running around, a woman and three kids were standing next to me. I'd estimate that the oldest was 10 or 12, and there were two others, only six or eight or so.

“They’re cute when they’re small,” said the tallest of the three. “Look, they’re butting their heads together.”
And then, the smallest of the three girls, who happened to be the one standing closest to me, said, “I think they kill the smallest."

Maybe I'm contagious.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

But it's damn annoying when I want to get a few simple facts out of someone for a news story and call it a night, but first I have to figure out how to respond to hearing that she already has heard so much about me, and my parents are so proud, and would I like to go to the party they're having on Saturday?

Hmmm. I feel like I should expand on that from the last post. After all, one might think, what is so hard to figure out there? Well, what I actually wound up doing was being cool but polite. Smiling and stuff, but not as effusive as her, and not ruling Saturday out but not committing to it either. A similar greeting with a few details different might have earned a very different reaction from me. If she had been someone I was interested in getting to know rather than just quote in an article, or if she had acknowledged knowing me but been less personal about it ("Your parents have told me so much about you") or if I had known about it in advance rather than being caught flatfooted, I might have openly, maybe even genuinely, returned the sentiment.

All this kind of ties in to something I've been thinking about for the past week. My job is good overall, yeah, but I'm not doing myself any favors if I imagine it's the best I could hope for, and one thing I've noticed relatively recently is that I can't help taking my work home with me. If I were really disciplined and devoted to it* or if I had natural advantages like a decade of experience or living in my coverage area then this problem would be practically unnoticeable, but I'm not and I don't.

Examples? I have night meetings at varying times that change from week to week; they don't take up much time, but I have to block off certain nights just in case. (For example, I can't commit to raiding with my guild on Tuesdays because the school board meets on Tuesdays and I sometimes have to go to those meetings... now that I think of it, this is dumb; I've been going to that so rarely that I could get into the raiding rotation. Well, let's shoot for next week.) I thought I had to go to a public informational meeting tonight, which would have meant no Drinking Liberally. I get calls back after work or on my lunch break relatively often. I can't just relax when I'm passing through my towns because I have to keep my ears open for anything newsworthy. And, of course, there's all the stuff with meeting people who know my parents.

Yeah, some of this stuff is really minor, and on the whole I have a good job, and night meetings have a flip side in that the job has flexible hours. But this is related to the "my social life sucks" complaint that I make so often: in addition to keeping half an eye open for a job in a larger city, I should also lean towards avoiding a job that follows me home.

* What do I mean by this? Not blogging during work, for example. :)
Argh. Bleh. This happened again last night.

I attended a meeting last night about getting Bristol (the center and largest town of my beat) involved in a certain federal health care program*. I recognized about half a dozen of the 20-30 people in the room. One of those half a dozen was a member of the largest school board in my beat, who also works at the same place as my mother and knows her pretty well. I don't think I've ever complained about that dual relationship because I don't think I've ever had to quote him; fine, I didn't have to here either. Afterwards, though, I went up to one of the women who had led the meeting, and when I introduced myself, she gushed about how great it was to finally meet me. At first I thought, "Someone reads the paper and notices my byline? Wow," but it turned out that she was happy to meet me because she has heard about me from my parents. She's the school board member's wife or something; they don't have the same last name and I didn't pry.

Sure, I know people and they know me. Wow, how horrible. And it's not like there's a genuine danger to professionalism here; it's almost always** a distant relationship. My parents' former co-worker, a kid whose guidance counselor is my mother — as the risk of conflicting loyalties go, compared to working with some bureaucrat or town official for years as a source, this is nothing. It's not like my job gets in the way of my parents talking candidly with me, either. They already took school confidentiality rules pretty seriously; two years ago they would talk to me about what caused the headache of the day at work, but they would be careful to leave out any names or sensitive details, and today the only real difference is that they add reminders that it's not for publication.

But it's damn annoying when I want to get a few simple facts out of someone for a news story and call it a night, but first I have to figure out how to respond to hearing that she already has heard so much about me, and my parents are so proud, and would I like to go to the party they're having on Saturday***?

* Treat this as an example of how idiosyncratic reporting can be: Sen. Bernie Sa/nders was at the meeting, is at least moderately involved with the federal program, and he did most of the talking that night, or at least, more than anyone else. He will probably be the news hook. But all that's worth blogging about is my mother's co-worker's wife.

** Looking back to write this post, though, I was surprised to see I never blogged about the one time I quoted my father in an article. There was a fire at his school, and the reporter who usually covers that region was on vacation that week so it fell into my lap. I got most of the story done by talking to other people, but I still had to quote him on one detail and refer to him on another. That wasn't fun.

*** I probably will, for what it's worth. My parents had invited me last weekend and I had been wavering, and this incident may have been annoying, but reminded me that it probably would be good for me and all that.

Monday, August 06, 2007

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was bombed. It was the first use of an atomic bomb in war, and along with the bombing of Nagasaki three days later it was the only one. 70,000 people died practically instantly, and over 200,000 more died of cancer, burns, or other injuries over the following years.

On August 6, 1982, I was born.

As for more detailed blogging about how I spent the last couple days, consider it outsourced. It's not 100 percent accurate simply because it's from the point of view of someone who isn't me, but it's pretty close. The two posts before that and the two after it are relevant as well. Maybe I should be writing about that myself, but I have a pretty hard time talking about my feelings on a good day, so it would be especially tough today.

Thursday was good, though. Fun and deep thoughts too, and I came this close to doing something good with/for myself. I'll try to write about it some time when I'm more, well, in the mood.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No, it's just bad
If you were an editor at a publishing company focused on fiction novels for mass markets, how would you react if you received a manuscript from an unknown author that began like this?
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

"My dear Mr Barnett," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Weatherfield Manor is let at last?"

I know how I'd react. Based both on the word of a teacher with a blog and on my impression of how I wrote years and years ago, the "history of the world" introduction is a pretty reliable sign of amateurish writing. Next I'd notice the very antiquated prose. Unfortunately for the author, the English language evolves. To be fair, there could easily be a good reason for such a style in quoted speech, and I guess there might be an acceptable reason for it in the author's own voice. What if an author wanted to set a book in the past but deal with themes that got swept under the rug in that period, like class or race issues? Using an old-fashioned style with a modern story, or modern theme, might be a jarring and effective way to do it.

However, the reader needs to have some hint that there's a reason for the unfamiliar style. A brief reversion to modern prose, a quick segue into a plot ripped from the headlines rather than the staid talk about society life which is the only fiction we've read in this style, something. Seeing nothing like that, I'd reject the book with a clear conscience. Very, very few people would read it for fun in its current state, and as fiction from an unknown author it has no apparent cultural or historical significance to pull in readers. Even if there are pearls of insight in there, it would take too much editing to polish them, so it just wouldn't be worth the trouble.

At this point I really don't need to Google phrases from the manuscript to check for plagiarism, but if I decided to for some reason, I would find that first sentence is very well known even though I myself have never read Pride and Prejudice, so that would be another reason to reject it too.

All this is a long-winded way of saying to Austen enthusiast David Lassman, and to Andrew Sullivan as well, "no shit." I don't dispute the accuracy of Sullivan's recent anecdotes about the horrible state of the publishing industry, but seriously, it reflects badly on modern publishers that they wouldn't buy a 200-year-old book? Really? No, sorry, they suck because the editors didn't recognize the classic novel. Well, one did, but only one. Well, only one made a point to say so in the rejection letter, but other publishers say they recognized it and simply sent form letters. (And how much time, exactly, do you expect them to waste on what they have already decided is definitely not publishable?) But the publishing industry sucks because of all those, um, other editors.

There's a very interesting discussion to have about how and why language evolves. Is it really the result of a "dumbing down" of culture? Just for starters, I read somewhere or other that 200-year-old prose may seem incredibly dense to you or me but actually makes perfect sense if you read it out loud, or have it read to you; is that really true? I almost feel obligated to go to grad school, lest the subject receive no more serious commentary than Sullivan's version of "Hey! You kids get off my lawn!"

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

In other thoughts about work, I've been meaning to write a post about what it's like to write "annual" stories for the second time. I talked about this a little bit back here, but it's happened here and there since March.

It's an interesting contrast. Sometimes, like in the links above, I can see noticeable improvements in my writing style. Other times over the past few months, though, I've approached an event and when I looked back at last year's story on it, it seemed that I was phoning this version in. Maybe it's because of a change in my mood or motivation or getting complacent now that I know what the "real" boundaries are and when I can push them. Or maybe it's a first-year thing, and anyone would take a very detailed look at their first stories about local culture even though it's not really needed. For example, I remember getting talked to by my boss once about a business story that was unnecessarily wordy and explained too much, mostly because even though I had been here for a while, I hadn't done it before and that exposition would have been needed for me; maybe the same thing went on with local interest stories. I think my interviewing has got better, although that's a much harder thing to examine.

And on the strictly positive side, something I noticed when I went back to find early posts about work, we have one aspect of the first month: deadlines. On March 15, did I seriously struggle to get one and a half stories done on a Wednesday, and not finish until 2:30? Wow. Well, by the numbers I guess I didn't do too much better than that today, and I don't know what Monday and Tuesday were like that week more than a year ago, but that sounds pretty bad. "Don't compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to yourself" — this week, I was indeed much better about planning and managing articles and juggling interviews than I was two weeks after I started at the place. Faint praise and all that, but still, yay me.
I often give myself a hard time about my French-speaking ability. In the summer of 2001 I was fluent and could hold down a casual conversation, albeit with a noticeable American accent, or read a book or newspaper article only slightly more slowly than I would in English. I found Le Mariage de Figaro easier than I remembered Shakespeare was. Six years later, after no practice other than two easy college classes and one or two American movies dubbed into French as I channel surfed past the Canadian cable channels*, I'm worse. My accent would be more noticeable, my vocabulary more limited, my slang outdated, and my reading comprehension at a less advanced level.

But today I was amused to find that maybe I've been underestimating myself. This morning I was stuck for a word in an article, to contrast one looming problem at a local institution with some renovation projects recently completed. How to describe them all? "Changes"? Way too generic. "Improvements"? Too biased, and besides, it only really applies to half of the stuff I'm talking about. "Restructuring"? Too much of a business buzzword, and anyways, it's also not all that accurate. I finally came up with another word: "bouleversement"? Perfect even though it sounds kinda formal, exactly what I mean, applicable to both the recently-passed examples and the future one, it's just in the wrong damn language! So I went over to and typed in "bouleversement" and it gave me back "upheaval." Huh. Sure enough, it fits the context fine. There it goes, into the article.

For whatever reason this happened, I thought it was funny that the only appropriate word I could think of for a story was in the wrong language, and I needed help to translate it to English.

Maybe I should have asked the other French-speaking reporter instead of looking it up, though. I would have earned a quality funny look.

* And being roped into helping my sister with her French homework for both high school and college classes. And talking to people in my guild in World of Warcraft whose first language is French. So, not as out of practice as I normally think of it. And to be clear, this is just something that kinda bugs me. There are some things I really beat myself up about, and this is not one. I've tended to think that I could get back to my peak of French fluency with just, say, two weeks really immersed in a French-speaking environment.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Amusingly enough, this comic from way back in February was surprisingly accurate.

Well, okay, it's not that accurate. Harry Potter does not, in fact, "sell Hermione to a nunnery." And Harry's final confrontation with Voldemort doesn't take place in a graveyard. But other than that...

One thing I thought was interesting was the Christian imagery in this book. Maybe I was primed to read that sort of thing into the book whether it was actually there or not after six books of talk about love and sacrifice and death, and also talk about backlash against the books by religious groups (this is a more amusing example than the well-known Christian ones), or maybe I noticed it because it actually was there. When an important sword with virtuous connotations is described as a "silver cross," well, that might be Christian but then again it might be Arthurian, since the sword was under water at the time.

On the other hand, there's a scene where Harry assumes that a reference to life after death is talking about Voldemort's style of necromancy, and he has to be tenderly reminded that it means something more positive for most people. It was a vivid reminder of the bleak kind of life that Harry has lived. "Wow, this kid has had such a rough life that he assumes a bit of ceremonial deism, a very common idea even if oddly phrased in this particular case, means the same thing as the Dark Lord's goal? Ouch."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I finished reading Harry Potter!

That is all. Details will follow later - good book, I like what she did there, holy shit I can't believe it, etc.

Predictions that were made: well, I guess it wouldn't be kind to spoil it. I can say two things, though: my personal guess for the number of main characters to die turned out to be exactly right, and I thought that Snape and/or Draco would have bigger roles than they did at the climax. I mean, they did have big roles, but they weren't... well, I should stop.

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's interesting how easy it is to not think about things correctly. I don't just mean forgetting stuff; I mean knowing something and not being aware of it, maybe. Knowing it but not thinking about what it actually means. To be slightly more specific*, last week I had a problem of general type M, and I thought of it as if it like I would think of any problem of that very general type, even though the details of this particular problem made the "usual way" downright counterproductive.

Here's what happened. This past week I was having a money problem, as a result of the bad weekend. Thursday I went up to Burlington, like usual. I stopped at the comic book shop and planned to go shopping for a new wallet before going to Drinking Liberally, and on the way home afterwards, stop by the gas station for beer (I was out) and coffee (just so I wouldn't fall asleep at the wheel). I knew all along about the money problem, so I counted the cash in my pocket carefully when paying for my comics, and calculated that I only had enough cash for only one or at most two of the things on my agenda, so I should go by the ATM next. Simple enough. I headed up there, walking a block or so out of my way, and I waited for the guy in front of me to finish up, and then I stepped up to the ATM and put my hand in my pocket and stopped in my tracks because my debit card was not in my pocket, of course, it was last seen in my wallet, and I had LOST MY FUCKING WALLET.


Losing my wallet was a big part of why the weekend of July 6-8 was bad, but not the only part. The week leading up to it was pretty depressing too, but I had forgotten about the wedding until I was reminded just a couple days before. In addition to stuff I had planned for the weekend which I would now have less time to do, I also had to cancel an interview scheduled for Friday. The secretary of the guy was on vacation that week, so I had no easy way to get the message through that I needed to change or cancel it.

He called me eventually and seemed understanding enough, but that was one more thing to take care of on Friday morning. After rushing through writing my stories on Friday, I rushed through packing in time for my parents to pick me up, and spent roughly the next six hours in my parents' van as we drove to Maine, where the wedding would be. After we finally got there, most of my mom's branch of the family was sharing a hotel, so Friday evening we got to hang out with familiar faces and stuff. Seeing the cousins was fun, yes. I was amused that Anne was asked to read a list of "dorky" quotes, from people like Mal Reynolds and Mikey in "The Goonies." The C.S. Lewis quote used in the title of this felt especially appropriate and bittersweet for me.

However, that night didn't go well. My aunt (my mom's cousin's wife, technically) has taken Tae Kwon Do, or maybe is still taking it now, I don't remember. I studied Tae Kwon Do myself, and when someone mentioned it, we jokingly went into fighting stances and threw a few punches and kicks. It ended abruptly when she punched me in the nose. I spent the next hour or so wiping blood off my face and holding ice in a washcloth around my nose. It started to swell, but the ice did the trick; it was not visible by the following morning. The incident sure didn't help my mood, though.

Saturday, the day of the wedding, was fun enough. Our branch of the family took over a tiny diner for breakfast, the next generation got to run around the beach collecting weird rocks, etc. The wedding itself was short and sweet, and on top of a mountain. The reception afterwards went well too, for a while. Good food, open bar, new and interesting people to talk to. Unfortunately, I took too much advantage of the open bar. Way too much. I'm impressed by the cleanup efforts that my family went through, but hated myself for putting them in that position.

Sunday, I couldn't find my wallet. I kept saying that someone at the wedding must have stolen it, which my parents insist was needlessly negative and it just fell out of my pocket at some point after I got hammered, but then, I was obviously not in a cheerful frame of mind. Sunday evening after we got back and Monday I made the calls to cancel my credit and debit cards. No charges had been made to them, luckily.

This past Thursday or Friday, I got the new credit card in the mail, earlier than expected. Lucky me. Still waiting to be replaced: my debit card, which I ordered and just hasn't arrived yet, and my driver's license, which I didn't get around to last week. Probably irreplacable: an old driver's license which I kept around as a conversation piece to show people what I looked like with longer hair and a beard, and my black belt certificate wallet card. Not that I need either of those — to be unrealistically self-critical, I'm so out of practice I don't deserve the black belt certificate, but also, I will probably want to start a different style anew if I ever go back to martial arts at all — but I'll miss having them and it's annoying losing them.

So: a rushed couple days getting ready for a wedding at which I got punched in the nose, had too much to drink and got sick, and lost my wallet. I have another wedding coming up in a couple weeks, for a cousin of the same branch of the family, and I reserve the right to be at least a little grouchy.

* Yes, only slightly more specific, I admit it'll take me about another hundred words to get to the point — mea culpa. But that's because I wanted the revelation of what actually happened last weekend to be dramatic; give me a break here, let me have a little fun!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Two jeers and a cheer* today: my neighbors suck. Why were those guys up at three in the morning on a Thursday in a residential neighborhood? Especially when our co-tenant has spoken to them before about being loud late at night?

When I got home at 10 last night, four tiki torches were burning over a beer-pong table propped up by our garbage cans (which I wanted to get into, by the way, but whatever), and a car was running with the door open and the stereo on, but no one was around. I hadn't seen any person in the area by 11 p.m., so I put out the torches, turned the stereo off, and went to bed. At 2 a.m., the partygoers came back, presumably from the bar across the yard. They were up and at it until 3 at least. I didn't say anything then, partly because I was already in bed and also because my restlessness could have just been because I had had coffee at 9 p.m. so I didn't want to blame them but mostly because, duh, I don't like being the adult and making the scene, so I just made plans to talk to them today or this weekend. However, the little old lady in the third apartment told me this morning that she had called the police about the noise, and I can't blame her a bit.

Other jeer: what the hell is with private Web sites that try to take the place of public ones?, for example, and the lack of the link is intentional. As far as I can tell it's a company — probably just some guy running a dozen such Web sites — trying to make money by selling ad space to insurance companies. If you look around there for any useful information, they just make you click a few precious links before sending you to the real state Web site. Yeah, it's a minor annoyance, but still.

But a CHEER to important people getting sick. Um, that came out wrong, especially since the hospital administrator in question is a nice guy and all that. I certainly have nothing against him personally. But when his secretary called me an hour or so ago I was guiltily relieved, just because it meant I didn't have to do an interview I'm only half-prepared for. It would have been even worse because of the lack of sleep and other annoyances. So I get to put it off until Tuesday. Which is kinda funny, though, because it was already rescheduled once, because I had forgot I had something else going on.

That promised post about my bad weekend is coming up, and I think I even have an interesting way to tell the story. Just putting it off again.

* That phrasing of "cheers and jeers" for a list of stuff you simply like or don't like sounds pretty dumb, I think. But I had a hard time thinking of a better word for the positive side, and that kind of locked me into the rhyming negative side. Oh well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Personally, I'd rather be human than perfect." Well, no I wouldn't. I'd probably be a better and/or happier person if I agreed with that statement, but at the moment, I'd say I do not. I would eagerly choose an emotionless shell I can take down when it's convenient to open up to a selected person or people, instead of the more human alternative.

I've been meaning to write a post about just how horrible the wedding I went to over the weekend was. Not that horrible in a particularly interesting way — no one got arrested that I know of, no one broke any bones, the bride and groom both showed up — just horrible in the sense that I had a bad weekend. And I probably will write the post, but I want to get some work done this morning, and this brief commentary on something else seemed easier than writing a sardonic, justifiably-whining, amusing-from-a-safe-distance post about the wedding. In other words, I want to do it justice.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Your linguistic trivia for the day, via, of course, Unfogged. I've always been aware of that class of words that are their own opposites ever since reading something in Reader's Digest as a kid or teen, but I couldn't remember the exact term for them, and the only example I could ever think of was "buckle."

Yes, I read Reader's Digest as a kid. Don't judge me! My parents had a subscription, and I read it mostly just for the jokes. To the extent that I ever flirted with right-wing ideas, I blame mostly that magazine, but it was partly P.J. O'Rourke's fault too.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Via. The koala video is cute too, of course. One thing I like in the comments there is the use of the name "Steve Erwin" as a verb. It means "to harass an exotic animal which might or might not be harmless." How appropriate.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Via Yglesias, it's a long and in-depth New York Times Magazine article for a general audience about gold farming. We live in strange times indeed.

Commenters like this guy and several others in the thread following Yglesias' post make valid points, and have a lot of interesting stuff to say about the allure of the game. (WoW quiz: how long did it take you to recognize what that commenter was referring to? I think I had got it by the sentence "I found his son, and told him his father was still alive!") Even so, a lot of the game is, say, repetitive, but I'd say there are three main draws to games like WoW. (For me. Other players get other things out of it.) There's the storyline, like the previous example. There's also the challenge of getting a character "finished," with the best gear available for that type of character. The game is nowhere near so linear or directed as the word "finished" implies, but there's still a certain hierarchy, and being one of the first or most advanced still has something to it. Trophies, so to speak. "See that 12-pointer there? I bagged him on my first hunting trip with my nephew. He was so excited to be hunting with the guys. The buck almost got away, too. My first shot missed, but the second one got him just before he ran out of sight..." Same basic idea, but with a complete set of virtual armor or a sword that only drops from a really tough boss or something.

And the other draw to it is something that we don't expect gold farmers to have a chance at, but apparently, a few did:
There was a lot of shouting involved, at least in the beginning. Besides the orders called out by the supervisors, there were loud attempts at coordination among the team members themselves. “But then we developed a sense of cooperation, and the shouting grew rarer,” Min said. “By the end, nothing needed to be said.” They moved through the dungeons in silent harmony, 40 intricately interdependent players, each the master of his part. For every fight in every dungeon, the hunters knew without asking exactly when to shoot and at what range; the priests had their healing spells down to a rhythm; wizards knew just how much damage to put in their combat spells.
And Min’s role? The translator struggled for a moment to find the word in English, and when I hazarded a guess, Min turned directly to me and repeated it, the only English I ever heard him speak. “Tank,” he said, breaking into a rare, slow smile, and why wouldn’t he? The tank — the heavily armored warrior character who holds the attention of the most powerful enemy in the fight, taking all its blows — is the linchpin of any raid. If the tank dies, everybody else will soon die too, as a rule.
“Working together, playing together, it felt nice,” Min said. “Very . . . shuang.” The word means “open, clear, exhilarating.”

Three more thoughts: first, I never regret my decision to abandon my characters on a pvp server (player versus player, where other players can attack you or be attacked almost anywhere, as opposed to "pve", player versus environment, where such combat happens only in limited circumstances). I tried it out of curiosity, but quickly got frustrated, and I can't imagine how much worse it would be if I were playing to make my living, and many if not most players got vindictive about people like me.

Second, I got a very wry amusement as I read the article from seeing all the jargon of the game — gold farmer, grind, raid, wipe, and making it clear that the attacks were "computer-animated" — spelled out carefully for a general audience.

Third, though, I was half-wondering about the economics of it. It seems to me that making money is much easier since Patch 2.1 came out and they introduced daily quests, most of which have pretty good rewards. Before the patch I know my main character made money only very slowly, but now it's much easier. Is this causing inflation in the game? (None of my high-level characters have very marketable skills, so I can't tell too well.) Is it making it harder for gold farmers to do their thing? But on the other hand, most of those daily quests require already having saved and spent a lot of money for epic mount training, so maybe it doesn't affect nearly as many people as it seems just based on my own guild.

Friday, June 15, 2007

So I'm writing a story about some cool thing a local second grade class did. I talked to the teacher, and he offered to call me back with names and contact information for a few of his students who were very involved with it, and/or are more articulate than the average second grader. The message he left on my voice mail ended as follows: “Just so you know, I called all the parents and told them that there might be a strange man calling their homes to speak to their children.”

It's not that I try to be creepy, it just sort of happens...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In the corner of the blogosphere I frequent, a set of military guidelines for U.S. soldiers in Iraq during World War II has been making the rounds, and (Andrew Sullivan has referred to it and its modern counterpart a few times, and John at Dymaxion World gets into it and links to LGM.)

They've done the legwork of making the necessary "Hah, those boneheads in charge of the U.S. sure have regressed!" commentary so there's no need for me to get out a thesaurus. The thing about it that seems most interesting to me besides that is the language used 60 years ago in an official government document. It jumps out at me, because even though all the words are the same (for the most part — "Muslim" is rarely if ever spelled with an o these days), even ignoring how the current Mess O'Potamia is going, it's obvious from looking at the pamphlet that it was written in the first half of this century (the first half of the twentieth century, of course... we're in the first half of "this century"). Just read it, and you can practially hear it being recited from a radio studio by a deep, accentless male voice with carefully controlled tone and no background noise except maybe some faint static.

My first thought on reading the bulleted list LGM found was, "No one really talks like that." But, no, that's exactly how people talk, it's just not how people write.

The non-political part of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" seems relevant here. I tend to think of stuff like this as lazy writing, or writing by people with inadequate experience or training, rather than anything particularly totalitarian. Sure, we see plenty of news reports that suspiciously resemble press releases, but we also see plenty of management jargon that confuses more than it illuminates. (I think this means I've been corrupted by "The Man," but I'm not sure. I do see a whole lot of what Orwell complained about in really banal situations in my job, on the hopefully rare occasions that I generate it the reason usually is laziness... Besides, where I work, "The Man" wanders around musing about how great it was when people said and seriously meant "don't trust anyone over 30," so I don't feel too threatened by him particularly.) In addition to the hundreds of Google hits that simply aggregated jokes about it, this seems like one of a relative few that take it seriously, so it was kind of interesting.

And cultural references? Fughetaboudit!

Well, no, I don't. "Lawrence of Arabia" was released 20 years before I was born.

In an appropriate coincidence, talk turned to "Moby Dick" for a while at work today. Consensus was that it was boring, but someone pointed out something I never thought about too much: the multi-page passages of description of life on a boat weren't included because he was paid by the word like Dickens, or because Melville was sleeping with his editor like Robert Jordan, but quite simply because people didn't have TVs. Or for that matter, any kind of visual media that could be created in less than eight hours. As much as it makes me pity those poor primitives in the 19th century, the pages of description of whale fat were essential to readers who didn't live within walking distance of a harbor.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

THE VERDICT: better than last year's graduation story, I think it's safe to say. However, not as good as the story another reporter wrote about a different ceremony. I wouldn't even mention it — one good piece of advice I've heard in the past is "Don't compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to yourself" — if not for the fact that there were a few similarities in content. I probably wouldn't have led with that angle anyway, but it was annoying when my editor gave me a copy of his story to give me some general ideas, only to think "Oh wait, I can't do this, he already did!"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

This morning I noticed an example of how my writing has changed over the past year. I'm getting ready to write the article about the graduation ceremony at the local high school, and that's a kind of story I've only written once before. So I went into the archives on the network and found the one I wrote last year, and I was struck by the previous story and how I think my writing has improved since then.

And by "struck by," I mean, "good God, it sucked."

For example, here's the first sentence of the article I wrote last year. "At commencement for Mid/dlebury Un/ion High School’s class of 20/06* on Saturday, speakers urged the graduates to take an active role in their communities and to make the world a better place." Make the world a better place? Wow, now that's surprising. Who would ever expect to see that happen at a graduation? And the rest of the piece doesn't get much better. I can imagine myself signing off on that story, because we write on deadlines and who expects great journalism on something like this anyway, but it's definitely not one I'll use as a writing sample.

Unfortunately... the current year's graduation story isn't shaping up to be much better, because it seems like I have less to work with in writing the story. But it probably didn't help that I was in a shitty mood that morning because I had just been told by a mutual friend that my ex-girlfriend was engaged — I screwed things up with her so thoroughly that I only found out that way, she's at that point in her life and I'm not, woe is me — so the platitudes fell on deaf ears. But it seemed like there were a whole lot of them, and so on.

Ah well. As long as I don't put writing it off until tomorrow morning, that seems to be the main thing. I'm not sure that's what I did last year or not, but it certainly wouldn't help.

* At the blog Unfogged, I learn clever tricks like Google-traps — that is, writing with a specific misspelling or turn of phrase that you can later search for to find anyone who quotes what you wrote — and Google-proofing like right here, breaking up words that someone might search for. While I've decided to be less paranoid about most of what I write, it could still, let's just say, reflect badly on me if someone tries to look up their own graduation and finds the local reporter complaining about how boring it was and how he did a half-assed job reporting on it. So I'm obviously still of two minds about blog security, and I'll probably continue to be as long as I'm at a semi-public job, working for someone else, etc. etc. etc. And, disclaimer: if one of the speakers reads this somehow, don't worry, you did fine. It's not you, it's me. Like I said, I was in a bad mood that morning.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Oh well. It was a good episode overall. Hiro was a hero, Nathan did the right thing when he really had to choose, Niki and Jessica worked together well, and Molly and Micah were indeed cute. A bit anticlimactic, but most of the complaints I've read don't hold water. Why did Sylar just stand still at the end? Because he didn't think Hiro would go all the way. He had already tried and failed once, after all. If we're going to complain about villains gloating and overestimating their enemies, "Heroes" is not the first nor the worst offender. Why didn't Peter fly away on his own? Because it was taking all his concentration just to contain the blast. How did he talk to Charles Deveaux? Ah, well, in addition to the powers he's adopted from known characters, he's also demonstrated another ability, even if he doesn't think of it like that. Call it "true dreaming", because he's seem the present or recent past in detail, and the future in broad outline or just in terms of potential. I've assumed he got the ability from his mother, to the extent I've tried to figure it out at all, but I read this episode as stating implicitly that it came from Charles, if it matters.

The only thing I would have changed is to have a longer fight scene at the end there. What, Peter never uses telekinesis? Niki only takes one whack at Sylar with the parking meter? What a waste.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Here's my own prediction about the season finale of Heroes, which will air in about three hours: the visions of the future that we the viewers have seen will not be changed in any substantial way.

In some senses, that's a pretty tame prediction. ("News flash: in fantasy/sci-fi series, characters who think they can see the future, actually can! Wow!") And it's not like there haven't been hints, such as this not-quite-as-straightforward-as-it-sounds statement that I read this morning. (That's a spoiler, by the way, so if you watch the show and don't like spoilers, don't click the link like I was dumb enough to do.) But on the other hand, no one wants the horrific dreams, paintings, and prophesies to be true, and there's been plenty of wiggle room in all of them, so there's reasonable doubt about what will happen.

I think the episode "Five Years Gone" will turn out to be accurate, though, at least through tonight's season finale. A glimpse of a grim and scary America ruled by a psycho, a glimpse which ends abruptly when two nigh-omnipotent people get into a battle that looks likely to take a city if not the world down with them - if the "heroes" have any way to avert that, we haven't seen it yet.

Part of what I find interesting about that future is the timeline. Five years may be just a storyline choice by the writers, of course - the soonest things could plausibly get that dire, long enough for characters to have changed a lot mentally but not much physically, etc. But it happens that 100 episodes is the amount of time generally needed for syndication, and of course is a nice, large, round, impressive, milestone number, which is usually reached during the fifth year of a TV show. So I got to thinking earlier today, what if that's not a coincidence? What if at some point along the line, the writers decided they wanted to show a future through time travel, have it happen, and revisit it after the normal passage of time on some appropriate milestone?

What all that boils down to is, if this TV series has set up a story line that takes five years to tell, if these specific characters will have to work and fight for five years to avert an epic disaster, if a possible, still-unreal future is revisited from the point of view of the people living in it... that would be the most awesome thing I can imagine on television.

This would be more appropriate on one of the many fan sites for the show, and just hours before the show comes out, it matters even less than usual, but it's just something I thought was interesting.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Argh. I was just talking to my dad on the phone, and since he just got back from a trip to China recently, the conversation was mostly me asking him questions, and at one point I caught myself reaching for a pen and notepad because he had said a couple sentences that sounded especially quotable. As if I were writing an article. About my dad. And I caught myself thinking in those terms later on as well, just repeating key phrases to myself or something. Either I got way too little sleep last night, or I've been working way too hard.

And I should elaborate on that. Working "too hard" may sound weird in light of how I'm so often worrying about procrastination. But I do put in long hours, regardless of whether the work during that time is intense or not. This very morning, for example, I was with the selectboard and a town road guy from about 8 a.m. to about noon. I wouldn't even wonder if this quirk was caused by too little sleep, if not for the fact that the actual work this morning was very little like an interview over the phone.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The previous post was kind of a wake-up call about just how pointless my anonymity habit is. I've pretty much always blogged in such a way that someone could get from the blog to my real-life identity pretty easily, mostly just because avoiding that would be a whole lot of effort to avoid what is really a very tiny risk. I would have to redact every single identifying detail, and/or just not post on personal matters at all. What's the point? This blog is used for thinking out loud, for personal writing rather than work-related styles and topics, and for keeping friends up-to-date about what's going on in my life, sort of. If I were going to write so restrictively that some troll who disagreed with one of my rare political posts couldn't find me, or some rival in a flamewar on another blog like I mentioned in the last post, there would be no point in writing at all. Both of which are pretty unlikely in the first place, of course.

However, it feels like I've read a lot of articles about applying for a job and the prospective employer simply Googles the hapless applicant and finds a "Girls Gone Wild" picture or a incoherent hateful rant on a blog. Or, more relevantly, just a personal post to get something off his chest that a person might reasonably write, but that he might reasonably not want a boss to read, and I've taken pretty much all possible precautions against that. So the point of all this is, it's easy to figure out who I am from details around this blog, but I've tried to make sure it's difficult (though admittedly not impossible) to meet me in real life, or read something printed under my real name, and then find this blog. A week ago, Googling any version of my name would have turned up a whole lot of stuff I've written for publication, a story or two about my family or from the local paper back when I was in high school, and some stuff posted to USENET, but it did not find this blog.

But when I started the previous post, it would have been a major pain to fix the fake press release. Take out all instances of my dad's name, and ideally replace it with something related to his real name but not actually it, and then check to make sure that I don't have to take out any of the other "Vermont" details, and then explain for clarity's sake that the name in this blog's version of the press release is a pseudonym - it would have been ridiculous. And it would be all the more ridiculous because I rarely post anything remotely inflammatory here. I can't say I never will, but on the whole, it's just not worth the effort.
In Which I Wonder If I'm too Gullible
This is a press release that my editor forwarded to me this morning.

Poet, Former NPR Commentator Dana Cole-Levesque* to Give Reading at Green Mountain College

Poultney, Vermont -- The public is invited to an evening of "Poetry, Music, and Politics" with writer and school administrator Dana Cole-Levesque at Green Mountain College on Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m. in The Gorge of Withey Hall. Cole-Levesque is author of seven books of poems, eight plays, a novel, a collection of short stories, a picture book for children, dozens of essays, introductions, speeches and book reviews, the libretto for an opera and is a performance poet on two CDs, plus the father of two children - one particularly intelligent. He was for a time a commentator on National Public Radio's All Things Considered and his poems are frequently read by Garrison Keillor on the NPR feature, The Writer's Almanac.
Cole-Levesque tours occasionally with avant-garde bassist and composer, William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake. In 2003 the three released, Songs for a Suffering World: A Prayer for Peace, a Protest Against War. William Parker and Cole-Levesque also released in 1999, Zen Mountains-Zen Streets: A Duet for Poet and Improvised Bass, a two-CD set of a live performance which is available on the Boxholder Records label.
This event is free and open to the public.

My father has been a bureaucrat and a school principal, and has made a few appearances on the news in those two jobs, and he has worked in several other careers as well. And that's just in my memory: I've heard about jobs he did before I was born, so if it turned out that there were a couple more on his résumé that I didn't know about, I would not be surprised.

However, I'm pretty sure he has never ever been in an opera, I've never heard of William Parker and Hamid Drake in my life, and while one or two poems or a short book written in the late '70s could easily have slipped under my radar, eight plays and "dozens of essays" would have been pushing it. And, of course, a commentary on the intelligence of the guy's children would stick out like a sore thumb in a real press release. So why did I have to scrutinize the picture that came with the press release before definitively saying that this was a joke?

What really happened was, my editor got a press release about a public appearance by some David Budbill, and he thought Budbill looked a lot like my dad, so he forwarded it to me after substituting all instances of Budbill's name for my father's and adding one or two details specific to my dad. I was laughing before I finished reading the press release, and if I had paid more attention to detail I would have noticed that it couldn't be him — I'm pretty sure he won't be around that Thursday, and I barely read the second paragraph at all — but the only clincher was the fact that my dad's nose is crooked where he broke it playing basketball as a teen, but Budbill's nose isn't.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I've kind of taken my blog-reading habits for granted at work. Sure, I procrastinate, but so what? I get everything done in the end, and my bosses have complained to me about some problems when they have come up, so if they haven't said anything about deadlines recently, I can assume they don't think procrastination is serious. I suppose waiting until it gets to the point of being a problem is the wrong attitude, but that's life. Sometimes I see the seasoned professionals reading sports news, or the eager rookie (admittedly, only slightly more junior than me) reporter writing e-mails on a personal account; if they can do that, I certainly can read political blogs at least a bit.

That's my attitude towards blogs as a procrastination enabler, buuut earlier today I got a wake-up call about a different problem. I was reading a comment thread on the Magic: the Gathering Web page responding to an article previewing a card from the upcoming set*. And some of the comments just blew my mind. They** were calling the writer a sellout for uncritically hyping this card. A weekly columnist for the company that makes these cards writes about the impressive aspects of a certain card on the company's Web site... and for this, he's a sellout. What the hell did those children expect? Some others were quick to pronounce this card far too overpowered and therefore bad for the game, within an hour of first seeing it***, but that "sellout" comment is what really stood out to me.

Stupidity is no surprise, of course, online or off. But I've been commenting on blogs less recently, partly because of how the threads go on the blogs I read most often. On some blogs, almost everyone agrees, so there's not much fun. On others, there are plenty of people who disagree with me, but they never change their minds or have good arguments of their own, so arguing with them is little more than looking for an opening for zingers. Except for on some blogs, where they are better at it than me. So I've slowly been losing interest in most of such discussions on blogs, and seeing a columnist get called a sellout for writing a column — "He's not being true to the art of what it really means to play the game!" — wow.

"Hi, I'm Cyrus, and I'm a textbook case of that joke about arguing on the Internet." Thankfully, I don't think I'll ever have to go to a Commentariat Anonymous meeting, but let's just say that a month ago it was more likely than it was yesterday, and yesterday it was more likely than it is today.

EDIT: Hmmm. This is the preview article and this is the comment thread, but I only see one ad hominem attack on the author, and it's accusing him of laziness, not a lack of integrity. The only sign of what I thought I saw was this comment by a moderator saying that he has deleted "many" posts that were not "polite, respectful, and on-topic."

Well, not that it matters, and for all I know, the commenter(s) is(are) perfectly nice in real life, or I may have imagined the whole thing. At this point, it's only worth the update in case any of my Magic-playing friends are curious about the card that set this whole thing off.

* I'll try to remember to link to it after work, but that seems too non-work related for even me to go to while at my desk.
** I think I remember at least two people saying something like this on that thread, though it might have been only one with this specific complaint.
*** Forget theory, how does it play? It is indeed similar to a famous and powerful card, but there's a big difference; exactly how important is that difference? What is the rest of the set like? Hell, what is the set following this one like?

Monday, April 02, 2007

1) A relationship founded on guilt is a bad idea.
2) "Normal" is a tough thing to define, it's nearly impossible to seek out, and doing so is often not worth the price of trying. Despite all that, specific kinds of non-normal situations are just plain untenable. EDIT: Maybe the problem is just the reliance on the word "normal," then. After all, that makes it sound like this particular problem is just a failure to fit an accepted social role straight out of a sitcom, but that's not it at all.
3) It was an interesting weekend. By the straightforward measures, it was a bad one, but there's been a ray of hope or two.
4) Being cautiously optimistic is a very unfamiliar feeling, so much so that it was almost uncomfortable. I'm not sure if that's how I'd describe my mood this minute, but it fit me a week or two ago. And to be clear, it's not just optimism that was unfamiliar — if that were the case, yes, it would be extremely sad — but that specific kind of it. In the past, I've been either pessimistic (Think of it as a time when I would say "Things aren't that great right now, and they'll probably get worse") or optimistic (A time when I'd say "Things are pretty good right now, and they'll probably get better"), but it's been five years at least since I've been able to say "Sure, things aren't that great right now, but they'll probably get better."

Friday, March 30, 2007

It's been interesting and unusual at work for the past month or so.

First of all, I kinda regret this post. It almost seems like saying "How could things get worse?" after a relatively minor accident, only to see it immediately start pouring rain, comic book-style. A story I'm writing this morning is about someone who won an award, and she used to work with my father. About two weeks ago or so, I talked to someone for a different story, and her high school guidance counselor is my mother. And around Town Meeting Day my dad came to me with a vague story idea, which I worked on a bit, doing some of the online research and calling some people in government. I worked on it long enough to figure out two things: it really was definitely story-worthy, and we might even be able to break state news, which very rarely happens since we aren't a daily paper; and my dad's school is the only one in the county affected by it, so I reeeally couldn't write it. In the end I passed some detailed notes off to another reporter and had a note at the end of the story that I contributed to it, and was relieved to see that my part turned out to be pretty minor in the end.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The way my editor eats, he makes a 50-year-old with food allergies look like a college student during finals.

I just watched him pull a pepper out of his jacket pocket. Not in a plastic bag or anything, just a section of about a third of a green bell pepper. He said he had it because he or his wife had cut too much for their daughter's lunch or something and since his daughter wouldn't eat it, he figured it would go well with his liverwurst later today, so he stuck it in his pocket. I've seen him eat things that I wouldn't consider putting in my mouth, and I don't generally think of myself as picky. And let's be clear: I wouldn't eat this stuff not because it's bad for you or because it tastes bad, but because it's damn gross. The pepper in a pocket that inspired the post just happened five minutes ago, but the quintessential example was a banana so black that it was bent almost double without breaking the peel. That thing was probably fermented.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Heh, um, is this really front-page news?
Workers dismantle Herald press
March 19, 2007
By Gordon Dritschilo Herald Staff
It is the end of an era. More than a year after being shut down, the Rutland Herald's press is being carted away.

Workers arrived Sunday morning to begin disassembling the sprawling machine that has occupied the Herald's basement for decades, making way for a planned distribution center. The six-unit Urbanite press was installed in the mid-1960s and put out millions of news pages in its time.

Front-page, above the fold, with a four-column picture in today's Rutland Herald. Impressive treatment for, you know, a change in their own office machinery.

I dunno, I shouldn't make too much out of this. There's a little in there about changing trends in publishing, and it's not actually a bad story; I've written worse. (Mine rarely get the front-page treatment, though.) There's no reason a paper can't do anything for themselves, like running a half-page feature on a retiring staff member or something. It's just that my gut reaction on seeing that on their front page was, "Slow news day?" Followed closely by "Now why don't I ever get story assignments that easy?"

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I'm really having doubts about living in Middlebury. It has its good points, obviously: great apartment, good job (the money could be better, but hey, I'm an English major:) ), and living about a mile from my parents is convenient for both of us in a lot of little ways.

But right now, it seems like my coworkers Megan and Kara and I make up the entire population of Middlebury between 24 and 42.

Exagerration, of course; especially since there's Middlebury College. But for comparison, I looked up this post again*. The thing that's kinda bugging me at the moment is not the inadequacy of my social life. What's bugging me is, quite simply, I do have friends and a social life, but it takes place an hour's drive away.

Multiple times over the past year I've passed up invitations to do something or other because I'd have to drive home afterwards. Overall I'm not spending too much on gas money, but when I make three 80-mile round trips in as many days, it sure seems that way. I wind up limiting myself to only seeing friends on weekends, because as annoying as a late drive home is on Friday night, it would be much worse when I actually have to get up in the morning. And I just now noticed that I try to schedule only one thing, at most two, for a weekend. My dad's birthday vs. a date vs. hanging out with a friend vs. some overdue work - well, wait a minute, why do I only want to do stuff on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, why can't I make a lunch date the same day as my dad's birthday and stuff? Answer: because I don't have the patience to spend seven hours out of two days just driving all over the place.**

Well, I've made some very perfunctory attempts to find work in the Burlington area, or alternately, a social scene I'd enjoy in Middlebury. Unless something really remarkable happens, then those attempts will become much less perfunctory by my 25th birthday.

*And once I found it, I was a little amused to see that it was almost exactly a year ago. Since then I've killed Onyxia a dozen times and am well into Outland, I probably play about the same amount as back then - possibly even more, without my parents looking over my shoulder these days - but my "main" character is now a different one and I'm in a more serious guild, I go to Drinking Liberally less often but still now and then, I've had date-like events with two different women and used the word "love" in a semi-coherent state regarding a third, I haven't spoken to Gretchen in probably more than six months... not to have a general "year in review," but specific parts of that last post jumped out at me and demanded to be addressed.

** I could always skip Friday Night Magic in this example, of course. And moving wouldn't solve this particular problem entirely, since it just seems to be about wanting more time to myself than I need. But it sure wouldn't hurt.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

They're predicting six to 12 inches of snow between right now and tomorrow night? WTF? At this rate, I'll be a complete stranger by the time I can finally make it up to Friday Night Magic again. Or rather, I'll miss all of Planar Chaos. Three weeks ago, I couldn't go because I was at the New England Press Association conference in Boston. Two weeks ago I maybe could have gone, but it was within two days of the Valentine's Day blizzard, so I wasn't sure roads would be up to snuff and parking lots would be cleared. Last week I almost decided to go, but I had had a late night on Thursday and I was expecting a late night on Saturday, and I wanted to get my sleep* at least one night out of the three. And now, another snowstorm expected? Well, let's hope it's not that bad, and/or it's over with soon. It's good for my wallet that I'm not driving an extra 80 miles a week, I guess, but when I spend 36 hours straight sitting at my computer in my pajamas, the neighbors start to stare**.

* If you think this sounds like an old geezer, especially considering that a "late night" merely means "ready for bed around midnight," well, you're not alone; I've noticed the same thing. On the other hand, though, I'm in the habit of waking up well before work starts at 8:30. And my "late nights" take place roughly an hour's drive away, so I need to be more alert than the average college student. So... meh.

** Joking, of course.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

One thing I'm never sure about is how to handle meeting people through work who know my parents. If I let them know who my parents are, does it make them more likely to open up to me if I'm not a complete stranger after all, or does it cement me in their heads as young and inexperienced, or... what?

This has happened less and less lately, and wasn't a huge problem even when I was new at the paper, just an annoyance. But on the other hand, I think it's worth mentioning just because my situation seems pretty unique. I'm not in a rural area where I've spent all my life and everyone knows practically everyone else, but nor am I in an urban area and/or a place where I'm a complete newcomer. My family moved here in 2000. My sister went to high school here and my parents have jobs in the area; in my dad's case, a relatively prominent one. From 2000 to 2005, though, I spent almost all my time going to school out of state, all my friends were either from college or the community where I went to high school, and I worked out of state for one summer. So my family is much better known around here than me.

I'm reminded of this just because I was talking to Rep. Peter Welch yesterday - a bad day overall, but anyways - and he's from the county where I grew up. This isn't what I'm talking about because I didn't expect him to know my parents, but similar enough that it reminded me.

Example from just a couple months after I started working here: I interviewed the superintendent of a neighboring school district - my dad's boss. We were chatting before we got down to business, and he asked where I'm from, and instead of naming a place I decided to just tell him my full last name. Which was enough to tell him where I'm from, who my parents are, etc.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A letter to the editor has led to me needing to make a correction… and yet I’m relieved about it, because it’s not the problem with the article I had expected.

An article I wrote for the paper a week ago was long, technical, and wound up being sort of rushed. As I was working on it Wednesday morning I noticed a discrepancy in two sets of budget percentage increases, and despite two phone calls I didn’t get an explanation that made sense to me. Both people in the superintendent’s office I talked to agreed about which set of numbers I should use and rely on, but they couldn’t adequately explain what the other meant.

But it was a timely story, so even apart from what to do with the space otherwise (a significant problem on its own, of course), my editor had to run it almost no matter what. I filed it, and I was careful with the language and he knew I was trying to be careful, but that was about it. I left on Wednesday worried that the article was greatly misleading, or that I had misunderstood something really important. Budget fraud I failed to catch? Or a really simple, stupid misunderstanding that’s obvious to everyone else? And in either case, something I should have made clear and explicit to my editor — but didn’t? Uh oh.

Today, my editor forwarded to me a letter to the editor about one of my schools that mentioned a different set of tax rates than the ones I had used. After a few minutes checking, it turns out that this has nothing to do with the budget percentages that I was worried about. He said it’s a big problem, and writing a correction will be the next thing I do after this, but it was definitely a relief that it wasn’t the problem I had built up in my head.

Then again, though, my relief may just be because he’s so casual about it. He barely seems to care about this. I mean, we’re running a correction, and accurate tax rates are, in fact, pretty important details to an article, but he’s casual about it, so I can be too. The only problem with the article (so far :)) is an honest mistake, not anything really incompetent or unethical.