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.

Friday, February 16, 2007

This article is long and complicated and multi-sourced, but it boils down to a simple and very important message that I think can be summarized: "'This is very good', even if true, is often mutually exclusive with 'You can do better.'"

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sweet fancy Moses, it's ugly out there. If this isn't the most severe snowstorm I've seen, it's in the top three. I'm sure some people can chime in to say that a foot of snow in a day isn't that surprising, and some people I know have lived in Vermont longer and/or seen some recent winters that I missed when I was elsewhere, but still... damn. At some point yesterday, predicted 10 to 15 inches for Middlebury over the course of today. We have at least that much already, and now predicts 8 to 12 inches more.

I can't avoid working tomorrow (but then, if people will be taking snow days everywhere else, which seems at least halfway likely, then what will there be for me to do?), but I'll seriously consider working from right here at home. If I can get one file e-mailed to me, and one e-mail in my work account forwarded to my personal address, then...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I love “Heroes,” NBC's new show with the tagline “Ordinary people. Extraordinary abilities,” but unfortunately, it seems to belong squarely in the “Coffee Tables Cure Cancer” genre of fiction. Other choice examples are the Wheel of Time series, and some of the conflicts on “Smallville,” and probably many more that I just don't happen to be familiar with.

Conflict in fiction generally comes from different motivations - good or not, plausible or not, significant immediately or not - of the characters. (Duh.) Sometimes, though, it comes from incomplete or inaccurate information; the perfect example is the end of Romeo and Juliet. And that works here and there, but when it becomes the main or only force driving a plot, it really sucks.

"The Wheel of Time” fantasy novels are the obvious example. If half a dozen characters in that series were to sit down around a coffee table and spend an hour catching up, it would solve almost every one of their problems, and indeed most major problems in that whole fictional world. They get along, they have common goals all the way, they aren’t generally stupid, between them they influence or outright control most of the major powers of Randland...

But they’re butting heads because they have the wrong idea about what the others are doing or no idea at all. They have no idea because they rely on spotty communications and dubious allies to find out. And they rely on those sources, at least half the time, because of serious psychological issues or just contrived chance. Argh.

And "Heroes," unfortunately, seems like that a fair amount. Matt Parkman MILD SPOILERS could tell Claire Bennett a lot about her father’s secrets, but he was thrown off the case, so at this rate he’ll probably never meet her. He could straighten out Niki’s mental problems (that is, if his powers were more developed. At the very least, he could warn her family that Jessica is in charge), but it looks to him like she’s a hitman. Niki, Nathan and Hiro could show each other that there’s a lot more to Linderman than meets the eye, but Hiro has never met Niki and Nathan is avoiding them both. If Nathan talked to Claire, which he refused to do, it would be a safe and easy way for her to find Peter again. And so on. And these are not small points; they’re half of the storylines on the show.

Despite this, I like the show, really. It’s got clever writing, and it has a few really interesting, compelling characters. Plus, of course, the totally airwolf superhero/science fiction stuff. Episodes where it seems like nothing happens are a bigger problem than this, and even those are the minority. I just got to thinking about all of this because when I try to guess the exciting, fan-pleasing denouement to last night’s cliffhanger, it felt weird to picture something as mundane as two characters getting locked in a closet and having a long talk.