Kenny Smith | blog


kennysmith.org

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bright, sunny, cold Saturday with the folks. Slept in a bit this morning, had brunch with the family, sans my step-brother who is sick. Which is just terrific. Some of us are just getting over bugs, the rest of us can ill-afford them -- but, then, is there ever a good time to be sick? -- and this joker brings one in from his campus.

I'm holding out hope that his strain of nasty bug 2009 is the same one I just conquered and that this little biological feat leaves me somehow immune. Failing that I'm holding out hope that I can shun him socially into isolation. It is his birthday weekend, and it would be unfortunate to be sick on your birthday, but some things in life you just shouldn't share.

He's slept most of the day away, so it wasn't that difficult to keep him in isolation. I took a long nap this afternoon myself, falling asleep on a sofa in the den while someone was watching the CPAC sessions. Rush Limbaugh was Rush Limbaughing his way back into the comfortable caustic minority when I dozed off. When I woke up to move into a different room he was still going strong. For the next several hours I'd hear the man's voice ringing in my head.

Much better would be Paul Harvey, whom we lost today. I'd like to say that I heard the news on the radio, or over the wire. Or failing some traditional medium I'd like to say I read about it online in a Twitter stream, but boring, predictable old cable news passed along the details. Sitting in a room away from the screen I heard the first words of the story and knew what it must be. One seldom hears mention of Paul Harvey on television. And he was supremely old. His wife died last year. It was time.

What was left of radio signed off today. If they recycled his programs (and let's put them all online while we're at it, national treasure and what not) they could probably eek a few more dollars out of the business model, but the man is taking AM with him and we should all be fine with that. He'd only given his entire life to the business, built it, shaped it, modeled its marvels and highlighted its contradictions. The master of all that dead space, the truly telling moments of his stories, took the end of an art with him. In being so iconic he maximized the business, but he cheated it too. No one else can sprinkle their voice on the airwaves in a similar fashion. No one dare tell stories of the same format. You couldn't reproduce his work if you wanted to because the bosses wouldn't let you and because everyone else would know what you were trying to do anyway.

He was your neighbor, but the one with whom you were familiar from a distance. He kept his space and he'd been doing it so long you respected the situation just as it was. He'd been your friend, but only just so. And yet you'd never wanted more. Never thought to ask.

And he was your parents' friend, and your grandparents grew up with him. Your great-grandparents, they knew about that man from middle American. They listened to him after the war, his commentary program stretched through 12 presidential administrations. Rather than serving as a barrier he was one of the few entertainment options that could bring so many generations of a family together.

No coverage this weekend will do him justice, but that's why there's always the need for the rest of a story.

Birthdays were celebrated tonight. Gifts were given. Cards were read, presents were opened. My mother enjoyed her beach-themed gifts and the many new books. She also got an iPhone -- her favorite part so far being the Koi Pond application. My step-brother received new road tires for his bike. And while he's been sick all day he perked up a bit this evening. Enough so that I could make fun of his grandiose airplane plans.

His newest vocation is airplane pilot. He currently has it figured out that he needs to buy a plane to obtain his pilot's license. (He does not.) He also admits that he, like so many college students, does not have the coin to scrape together the proverbial Powerball ticket. But he thinks he's just going to "buy" an airplane.

I can do 10 minutes on that bit of comedy standing on my head, but I skipped directly to the four minutes on delusions of grandeur and offered up a few of the best morsels. The kid is sick -- and tomorrow is his birthday -- no sense piling on. Trying to buy a plane as a college kid in the midst of a lending crisis should be enough reality anyway.

I wish there was more to tell you, but it was a quiet day of family and even some of that I managed to sleep through. We didn't go anywhere, but we didn't have to. Family weekends are usually full of frantic hustle and the occasional bustle, but we're learning to sit around and work towards the art of doing little all day.

No one wants to go outside anyway. Too cold.

Meanwhile, the snow forecast has shifted. Initially there were flakes in the forecast for this part of Indiana for today and possibly tomorrow. Now the flurries are due in Alabama overnight and tomorrow.

Who knew going north to the land of five-month winter would actually keep me out of the snow? Nice trade, that.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Greetings from Indiana, where I've come to endure the last bit of winter on top of a mountain with snow in the forecast. This is a family birthday weekend -- everyone has neatly arranged their birthdays in flights of two, to maximize the festivities, March is my mother and step-brother.

It is still very cold here. Back home we had stormy, windy, rainy weather today, but that's just for show. That lightning that kept setting off car alarms on campus? Just a piece of meteorological theater. By next weekend we'll be in the 70s for the second time this winter. Here they have another month or six weeks of winter to anticipate, and that's just cruel.

One year, I visited on my mother's March birthday and the ground was tundra. The ground was frozen solid. It did not have a layer of ice on it, but it was frozen solid.

Winter does weird things up here. My parents' neighborhood is only recently digging itself out of a freak ice storm that thinned the surrounding woods by 37 percent. I recently received photographs of layers of ice covered by layers of snow covered by layers of ice covered by layers of snow. It would have been delicious if it were a cake. Instead it was just the certain reality of living in a place where winter starts at Thanksgiving and tapers off, scampering away without fanfare in late April. No thanks.

The ground was not frozen solid tonight, but it is more than brisk here. The Yankee and I are up to celebrate birthdays, which I suspect will be tomorrow. My mother, The Yankee and I had barbecue tonight after a day on campus, braving the storms and then flying through the last of it for a briefly bumpy adventure to land on time in Louisville after a bumpy ride.

To further this convoluted tale: I was apparently breaking a rule when passing through security. It seems my 4.6 ounce tube of toothpaste, which has seen .4 ounces of use thus far, is still over the beautifully random governmentally assigned 3.6 ounce limit.

The very nice TSA lady pronounced herself "cool with it." I promised to share with the rest of the passengers should the issue come up. It seems we're now keeping the airways safe by subtle inconsistencies in our arbitrary rules. God Bless the U.S.A.

Also I had some clarification on those rules. They apply to gels, liquids and pastes -- but apparently there's some flexibility if you're dealing with the right federal employee (God Bless the U.S.A.). Solids, bring 'em all. Just buy your drink inside security, where we can safely assess the origin and threat level of your Sprite. God Bless the U.S.A.

Security, meanwhile, has gotten philosophical of late. Why, indeed.

My step-father came in late. He, the pilot, didn't ask about the flight or the adventures with security tonight. He knows I enjoy it and so he indulges me. That'll be tomorrow. He'd been in Muncie with his mother (recently in from Texas) watching my step-brother in a choir performance at Ball State. They showed up at bedtime. Hugs all around, and good night everybody.

These are night owl people, but everyone snuck away with little fuss tonight. Everyone must be tired.

I'm sleeping in the media room, which is dark, quiet and disturbed only by the sounds of machinery that power the house. Occasionally you can hear the furnace bellowing from nearby in the basement. There is some demonic clattering water filter think that always spins to life at 3:42 a.m. to scare religion into you.

I have staked out a nice place on a day bed, having thrown 41 throw pillows onto the floor and covered up with blankets and still more throw pillows. My mother went through a pillow purchasing phase. It is all very tastefully decorated. It is important for her that you know that. Classy, she says, never goes out of style.

Its a nice room. Huge television, terrific speakers. Very dark. Excellent for sleeping. I hope to do a good deal of that soon. Fairly tired.

More tomorrow from the chilly midwest!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Felt a little old, low and slow today. It has been a long week, in those mysterious ways that make the same units of time impact you differently each time out. The situation is not unique to me, most of the people in our media psychology class were operating under the same dense viscosity of brain fluid.

It showed in the conversation. No one was especially happy with it. The Yankee has joined that class and we did not impress with our efforts today. I'll blame the rain and fighting off the last of the bug.

I'd fight off the damp and chill from the rain for the rest of the day.

Still coughing a lot, but feeling much better, thank you. The worst part is the general fatigue. Walking too and fro is wearing me out. I'm blaming the medication because, happily, this is a unique condition and not something to which I'm accustomed.

So my class as a student wasn't very grand today. The professor, a man with a revival tent personality tried mightily, but we came up short today.

It made me worry about my own class this afternoon, but I rallied after a bit of food and then had a brilliant idea on the way to class.

We all took turns looking at one another's photographs as part of the photojournalism assignment they are required today. That turned into a very nice brainstorming session when all those creative minds started launching ideas at one another about things to cover, people to interview and things to shoot. Everyone finished with a half dozen new ideas. It was, I felt, very rewarding.

We talked, briefly, about photo editing. There will be more of that next week. I showed them the easiest way I know how to make a slideshow given the tools at hand. It isn't elegant, but it is ridiculously simple and will work. They marveled at the thought of it.

It reminded me of my favorite moment of giving speeches. I'd wind the crowd off on some dangerous tangent on the sheer belief that I could bring them all back with me to a terrific point. I overestimated my abilities as a speaker from time to time, but it was a fun challenge: Confuse them, and then let them find their own light bulb. Sometimes it could light up the room.

One of my students had such a moment this evening, taking a little extra thing and figuring out how to make it work. You could see the look cross the face "That's how I do that, and ... Oooh ... This is what it will let me do ... "

I really am enjoying teaching; I hope I'm doing it well. That was a fun little moment and, I hope, validation for what I ask of the students.

After dinner, which was just across the line of so-so, I spent the evening refereeing conference papers. It is a good experience, helps the conference and adds a line to the vitae. I need all the lines I can get. And also the experience.

The two I read tonight were very interesting. One of them cited a name we utter a lot in our program at Alabama. The other was on a topic that, initially, left me thinking I was unqualified to read the subject matter. The paper was so well-written that I felt like an expert by the end, much to the author's credit. I have to read one more paper tomorrow, when my reviews are due.

I visited one of the many fine local malls where it was both 8 p.m. and a Thursday. The place was only vaguely populated. In my mind, I suppose, malls always look like they do at the holidays. This just goes to show how much time I spend in malls. Every time I find myself there with more than four square feet to call my own I'm stunned at the emptiness of the place. Tonight was about as busy as the early morning hours at the mall, only with fewer senior citizens doing laps.

I'm looking for gifts for my mother, but she is a hard person to shop for. I had a great idea on my way out of the mall, where I spent no money. I also made no video. Had a great idea, but the mall security was standing at precisely the key spot. He was walking with good posture and pride, no doubt bolstered by the idea that he was not Paul Blart and that that movie has made $128 million.

So I did not make my movie, which was going to be a sophisticated camera shot and a one-line joke formulated around the idea of a bad economy and an empty mall. It didn't seem the sort of thing the mall managers would enjoy.

Stopped off at a store on the way home, but that store closes at 8 p.m. It was 8:30. The parking lot was empty, just me, my car and the floating, fluttering debris. It was a dark parking lot, benefiting from ambient light of undetermined origin, but with plenty of shadows.

It felt like a 1970s dystopian take on noir films. I left immediately.

And then at home I started doing laundry. Tomorrow morning I must pack a bag. Packing on the day of the trip, I've found, helps prevent overpacking. It is much easier to deal with when you're already wearing that day's pair of socks.

But that's a tale for tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fairly late night last night. Reasonably early (for me) morning today.

I've been trying to shift my schedule a bit so that I am present when Samford's student-journalists might come looking for me. After the fall semester I realized they are all asleep or in classes first thing in the morning. So if someone thinks up a question or has a problem it will come in the afternoons or evenings. This has worked out well so far.

Also, in addition to hanging around the newsroom late on Tuesday nights I'm pretty slow to adjust to Wednesdays. But this morning I was wide awake and a wiseacre for a 9 a.m. class. I'd been invited to take part in a crisis communication demonstration. The professor gave a team of his students a nightmarish scenario and they had to face the media -- which were the other students and assembled professor types.

So the PR team gets their situation and it is a doozy, 19 people, including eight infants are being held hostage at the local hospital by a disgruntled former employee. The students come back into the classroom after a few minutes privately preparing and give "the media" their brief statement. I'm taking pictures and shooting video, just to see if I could throw them off a bit, but they were pretty good in the early going.

We started asking questions and it got ugly in a hurry. The former employee had a violent past, he'd been there for a long time but it apparently took a lot to get him fired. He had obvious and easy access into the hospital which knew they had big security problems, and so on.

One of of the people taking part in the mock press release is a very nice lady here in town who does crisis communication every day. To her it all comes down to body language, and she had lots of tips for them. They did a nice job though considering what they were up against. I made the mock CEO giggle, which is never a good sign, but the lead guy was almost unflappable. He never deferred to the police, however.

It was a fun exercise and hopefully useful for the class. Better to giggle in class than during the real thing, after all.

The rest of my day was spent in meetings, dealing with a little paperwork here, an Email there and teaching myself software. I'm trying to work out a solution for my web journalism class. It isn't elegant, but it is simple and that's what I'm aiming for here. My shortcomings stem strictly from my Mac learning curve, I'm fairly certain.

I spent a little time blogging, too, about writing style and slideshows and the like. Did you know that the big traffic was on the day after the inauguration, rather than that historic day itself? That was the case at The New York Times at least, where they credit their excellent slideshows for much of that success.

At Alabama during tonight's epistemology class someone coined the term "puratement." My estimate of my classmate soared as it was explained to be a word about the purity of a statement. This was during a theory building exercise, where we went through the steps of said process using some written dialogue. I mention all of this because the internet does not yet know a use of the word puratement and, this way, I can be the top hit.

Dinner was at Newk's, where I had the pizza, which is fairly good for such a fast food type establishment. It is no California Pizza Kitchen, where the pizza comes from neither California nor a Kitchen, but rather a microwave -- and that's whether you buy it in the store or at their kitschy high priced restaurant -- but it will do just fine.

Tonight there's this video:


In the dark of night on 12seconds.tv

There's also homework, bracing against an internet outage hiccup -- Brighthouse, for all of my many complaints, weathered this particular problem nicely -- and not watching Life on Mars. Brighthouse, bragged about in the last sentence, returns to their default setting of general seething over their inept cable box, which is the only appliance in my home not smart enough to turn itself back on after the power blinks.

And these are the complaints of the early part of the 21st Century. "The power blinked. The magic box where all the magic television lives didn't turn itself back on. The other magic box which catches the magic of magical television couldn't record my program."

Life is so great. People of different times would be embarrassed for us in hearing our complaints.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back to school today, feeling much better, thanks, though it doesn't sound like it. I have a huge, attention scattering cough and I sound nice and congested, meaning my normal voice defaults to an even softer sound as compensation.

This was not the day for that as I'd been asked to lecture to a class about radio news. People in the building concerned with radio always view their voice as an instrument and that distance between tongue and microphone as the location of a magical little dance. I was only good enough to try and sound strong and authoritative. Today I didn't even have that, because of the cough and the sniffles.

As always, however, I have the ability to craft two moments where I own the room. I used the first one early, talking of long hours and the need for a passion for the business as that would be worth more than the pay check. This opens eyes. The students must have been thinking that even the radio folk are paid well and live glamorous lifestyles. At least two of them leaned back from the force of their eyes opening so widely at the idea of having to choose between buying groceries and getting car work done.

But that's radio, unless you're one of those immensely talented and incredibly lucky few who have both ratings and compromising photos of the boss.

At the end of the conversation I pointed out how much money I made in my first job out of college. I was working from prior to sunrise until after sunset, going from job to job to job, six and seven days a week and loving it. I worked 70 hours a week, not counting the commute, and I made $14,000 a year if you annualized the money.

The students didn't blink, which makes me think they don't really have an appreciation for real world economic concerns. Or they're used to hearing about this. Or they're so accustomed to living on nothing now that $14,000 sounds like a great some of money. But it was not then and it certainly isn't now.

I talked about writing for radio, smiling at some of the old lessons I've learned from some great teachers and the things I learned by experimenting without too much pesky oversight. I talked about sound, explaining the differences in natural sound and interviews and their own reports and weaving it all together. I talked about the description of a radio news person's life in their text -- remarkably accurate, but with no mention of money -- and how much work I did in my most productive newsroom. It still impresses. And I told them to write in the active voice, trying to drill in the difference between news and history, now and past.

Three of them stayed to shake hands after I'd finished. Maybe I ran some of them off, the bit about being with your family when it snows or working on holidays is sometimes hard to take, but if you don't learn it in an introductory class you'll have wasted a lot of time in your curriculum, or worse, your career, before you figure out it isn't for you.

I look back on my radio career with happy nostalgia, but that's been several years gone. It helped get me into online news where it took no time at all to realize how that was such a positive step. All that time at al.com, saw me through graduate school, met my fiance and ultimately helped push me to Samford. Now I'm precisely where I want to be and working toward a doctorate. I'm a blessed guy like that.

This afternoon in my media and body class we discussed, you'll be shocked to learn, topics relating to both media and the body. And while it is not my area of research interest it is something of an interesting topic, how our minds let the sense of self be swayed in such a way is a curious mystery. The class, though, is an excellent primer on how to do better research and that's probably one of those subjects where most everyone can benefit.

The evening was spent at Samford, where I watched the State of the Union over a computer, listened to the students putting the paper together and stayed helpful and yet not overbearing and in their way. They put together a nice paper each week and I'm sure that will be the case tomorrow morning as well.

I can't wait to see it, as that only means I've slept sometime between now and then. When evening threatened to turn into morning I excused myself from the fun, concerned as I was about staying awake for the drive home. While I am feeling better, the worst part of feeling bad these past few days has been feeling exhausted. I've about had enough of that, and the heavy eyelids and burning eyeballs were beginning to agree.

When I got home? Wide awake. And coughing.

But otherwise pleased about the day and excited about tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I woke up this morning with no cover, my arms folded and my legs dangling over the bed, threatening to pull the rest of me to the floor. It must have been an odd dream.

Especially given the fever, which has continued. I wake up cold every morning, even in the summer. If I were in direct sunlight I'd probably still be a bit chilled, but not today. I was obviously warm. So much so that I dug up the thermometer -- the old mercury model from the early 1980s -- it still has coupons inside the packaging offering $.15 off various accessories, $.15! That's some savings, from a simpler, cheaper, less inflated time.

That or thermometer coupons could be penny pinchers and flaunt it in your face, not caring about your fever-induced reaction. "Laugh at us? We've convinced you to buy a mercury thermometer! Laugh at yourself!"

I still use it, something solid and comforting about the old tradition of standing in the light and spinning the thing. I'm told, anecdotally, of brand new nurses unable to read the old thermometer style. This is frightening, but also entertaining, knowing I have an ability for which years of nursing school hasn't prepared them.

And then I never want to see these people in a professional capacity because, really.

Anyway. My fever this morning was 101. That's probably the spike. I've been warm and hot and shivery and frigid and fine over the last two days. The fever has broken at least twice, only to return again. And so today it is back and I figured better to stay home than spread my germs around campus.

I hate the idea of being home. I feel fine, really, but even if I didn't feel wonderful I'd much rather be at work trying to be productive than just sitting on the sofa, dozing through the day as I've done. Much better to be at work than to send apology notes to the boss, which is what I did this morning.

Better still, though, to not spread the coughing, stuffed sinus, high fever symptoms among others.

My fever broke late in the day. I felt fine all day, really, but even better after that. The coughing is still fairly impressive, but otherwise I'm in good shape. As sickness goes this one hasn't been too impressive, and I'm fine with that.

So I took today off. Tomorrow I'll return to the normal schedule. We'll see how that holds up.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Day two of being sick and feeling better already!

As I noted elsewhere, "When properly medicated today I merely feel "blergh." Now if I only could only stop the marrow-contorting coughing."

The coughing is the worst of it. Those little muscles near the ribs are enspasming in such a way as to leave me temporarily cramped after long bouts of the full-body quakes. Without the coughing my throat would fill a bit better and I could handle the fever and slight sinus discomfort easily.

But, instead I'm coughing. Even still, as sickness goes this one isn't that bad. You've had worse. You'll take this each time the body needs to selfishly draw attention to itself.

It's reward for such treachery? A quick trip to the grocery store, where shopping is a pleasure. Unless you are a koala and you find all of this winter business to be less than desirable. Someone get that koala a snuggie. In the produce section, Disney has now touched their magic wand upon the egg cartoons, so that children might dine satisfied with the knowledge that they are enjoying Mickey's eggs.

Worry not over the biological questions involved. Spend not your time considering the advertising questions which now come to mind. These eggs taste like mice. Now eat up, and enjoy your day at school, honey.

You might also note, with a close look at that label, that the cast from Cars and Toy Story are a little closer to Mickey than Tiger and Pooh. One of the big early success stories and now they're getting edged out to the margins. Pooh's tummy is grumbly for more than one reason these days.

I just noticed, in that picture, that the implication is the characters are stamped on the eggs. I'll verify this on the next trip, but it can only serve to insure years of therapy for the neurotics of tomorrow. "And then Wall-E was on the egg and then my mother broke it!"

Most of the day was spent on the sofa, alternately pretending to feel sick and pretending to feel better. It is a weird little bug like that. There was a MacGyver marathon on something called Sleuth TV. This seems to be a digital cable station and if you like mystery and crime -- and MacGyver -- this station could be for you. The episodes for this marathon were from early on in the show. Most of the opening credits' took place in these first season episodes.

About halfway through the first episode I realized the power of modern technology. You see the good guys had been called away on a ruse by the bad guys. MacGyver watched it happen, but even he was powerless to keep his backup in place. If only he'd had a cell phone. Modern action/adventure tales are far different because of the things we take for granted. If we don't find out in later years that MacGyver invented (at least) the belt holster for a cell phone I'll be disappointed. Just think of what he could have done with a smart phone ...

This afternoon, still feeling a bit sickly and with little else to motivate me I started googling family names. Some time back my grandparents drove me around to all the cemeteries where the family is buried. Most are in city or church graveyards, a few in those random old hillside lots you occasionally encounter. Still a few more where on a strip of land that the forest has reclaimed. I dutifully jotted down notes on directions to the cemeteries and then the names and important dates and the person's relationship to the family as I know it.

One of the things I've since wanted to do is look up the family online. Finding the genealogical work of others is easy -- compared to doing the firsthand work yourself -- and so it was today that I found mention of my great-grandmother's great-great-great-grandfather, born right around the Revolutionary War in Georgia.

The names, past a certain point, hold little relevance, but should you happen upon photographs holding familiar images, or hear of their lives, that's worth a stroll through history. Most of what I found today were just the names and dates, but there are a dozen starting places in just that information. One day, he said with a grin, when I'm not busy I plan on following up on all of them.

Most of my family comes from Georgia or Tennessee or the Carolinas, all of them pretty typical farmers and members of their places in history. Somewhere in her memoirs that same great-grandmother of mine had it figured out that one of the young men that came off the Mayflower is a distant relative. He wasn't a pilgrim, but he knew them.

I didn't find his name today, but I did find a letter written by my great-great-grandfather, giving out tantalizing morsels of family history. He died in 1959 and I've no idea how old the letter is, or who published it online, but I'm glad it is there.

From this particular branch of the tree the family has a Dutch origin and settled in upper Tennessee before moving south. One of those early Americans served in the Georgia infantry and eventually moved west. He was never heard from again by the family, but there is a thought that he might have been a prominent Washington State settler. Others also served in the Civil War, some of them heading to Texas and Oklahoma around the beginning of the 20th Century.

One north Georgia native moved into north Alabama somewhere in the 1830s or 1840s. The name of the area hasn't changed since then, and my family has lived off those waters ever since. They've been there for more than a century-and-a-half.

One of his sons married into a family where the names finally become familiar to me based on prominent names in area churches, but that particular line soon dries up on the genealogy sites. Back to the letter then ...

Another branch of the family, on my great-great-grandfathers' grandmother's side. His mother's mother's second husband had three children. One of them was captured "by Rebel soldiers" in north Alabama. Mr. Quillen's letter says the family heard from the prisoner prior to a battle in Tullahoma, Tenn., but that he was never heard from after that. Another genealogy site, meanwhile, shows that same person dying in Tennessee during World War I. Who's right?

While that mystery remains there's the curious note of his brothers who, tired of hiding out from the war and moved down the Tennessee River soliciting volunteers. When they reached Florence the company was mustered into the Union army. (That part of Alabama had plenty of northern sympathies.) He was a first Sergeant and a cobbler. He drowned in 1877.

My great-great-grandfather notes two great-uncles who were "highly educated" for the time, meaning the middle of the 19th Century. They were both teachers and deguerrotype photographers. One of them, on a trip home from Arkansas, caught pneumonia. He died three days later in the room where he was born.

Someone I don't know compiled, corrected and filled in a few blanks on the letter that was written by a man who's been dead now for half a century. The internet has been holding that tale, just waiting for today. The internet and all of its dusty little corners are worth a mint.

The Oscars are on. More appropriately, the red carpet ceremonies. You know the red carpet goes on to long when the accountants get air time. Similarly, you know Barbara Walters knows the ride of serious broadcasting has long passed her by when she asks for a lap dance.

Happily, Patton is on AMC. That's perfect Oscar's programming. So, if you'll excuse me I'm going to go watch him win the war again, while complaining about only needing a few more gallons of gas, with which to make it into Berlin.

If my antibodies are so gung ho I should be on the road to recovery tomorrow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Woke up this morning with a cough and a fever, which was more than I had last night.

Last night, I simply felt tired and ragged. Today I know why.

And so it was that I packed myself in the car and drove down for a pancake breakfast with The Yankee and the Tuscaloosa Kiwanis at Central Tuscaloosa High School.

So as not to dampen the atmosphere they've unplugged and moved the metal detectors off to the side. But security was ably handled by the folks from the Mayberry Police Department. Odd, since no town around Tuscaloosa really resembles Mayberry. A county or two over, perhaps, but none of the nearby towns.

The car was brought by the folks from Mayberry.com, The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club. They had a little ad on the pancake breakfast place mats. From the ad I'm guessing they have impersonators in their troupe, though we saw none today. There was an Opie, a Floyd and an Otis. None of the more iconic characters, which is probably a smart play. You could pass off a borderline Barney at a kid's party, or maybe to a family function where he's just the sideline attraction. You bring a weak Barney to the Kiwanis club at Central High and there will be problems.

Meanwhile. This way for pancakes. Long line, but it moved quickly. A very nice lady took our tickets, which were a gift from my epistemology professor. He only asked that we actually attend if we took the tickets. And that we remember this come evaluation time. Neither seemed like unreasonable requests.

They're panning the cakes up on a couple of different griddles. I'm normally a three pancake guy, and the last part of that third one is usually eaten with regret. Today I ate four. And while sick, too.

The kids from the local children's theater were on hand to entertain. They have an upcoming show of Annie Jr. which, as far as anyone can guess, is way to explain how Daddy Warbucks is portrayed by a guy all of 16. Even then he's old compared to the little girl belting out tomorrow. She was pretty good, and enthusiastic. One problem: long blonde hair.

After breakfast The Yankee and I visited the Tuscaloosa library to check out their regular book sale. You can get a paper sack full of books for $10. She got armfuls, I made a careful selection of hardbacks and, together, we neatly filled a sack. Ten bucks bought us 25 books.

Next month the price is being hiked to $15. Even the ladies working the counter didn't like the idea of it. I was all set to make jokes about "The Man" or "Fuel prices" until I realized a bag of reading material for $15 is still a good deal.

The encyclopedias were listed as $10 a set. None of them were moving. The point of the entire industry seems to have disappeared. I wonder, now, what the entry for encyclopedia says. I could go back and look, but you know it'd be a dated version.

Wikipedia then.

Wow, that passage seems overly -- what's the word? -- encyclopedic for Wikipedia. And stuffy. And there's no mention there of the continuing death match between the publishers of the handsome old leatherbound books and the fancy ones and zeros version of populist reference material. I wonder how they've managed to avoid that.

The rest of the day has been spent nursing this bug from the safety and warmth and comfort of the sofa. I watched last night's Battlestar Galactica. Not to spoil it, but Racetrack had the best line. "How many dead chicks are out there?"

How many, indeed.

I'm not a big fan of the Ellen Tigh character. I don't hate her, or love to hate her, I just don't particularly enjoy her time on screen. The actress is great, but her character does little for me.

And so this episode gets a qualified "Meh" from me.

Saul Tigh is still intriguing, this slow burn of a story arc they have with the goo and the ship is leading to a great payoff and Baltar's religion actually had a moment that wasn't tiresome.

Next week's episode, however, looks great.

The rest of the day has been full of shivering and coughing and taking medicine. At dinner I heard a brief bit of "Three Steps," which led to the oddest part of the night. When the chorus arrived I suddenly stopped coughing and could breathe again. This virus I said with glee is scared of Lynyrd Skynyrd!

Alas, it was not to last.

I've been far more sick than this, though, and if this is as bad as this particular bug gets I'll take it.

And now, I'll take some time to read the blogs my students are writing. They're all off to promising starts. Next week I'll introduce you to them and ask you to pay them a few visits.

For now, I'll try not to cough or sneeze in your general direction.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Quiet day. Very quiet. It was as if the world had taken leave of itself for a day at the fishing hole rather than the office. I half-expected people at the radio station next door to my office to break into programming and offer a gesundheit when I sneezed.

It wasn't that I sneeze so loud in general, or that that particular tickle of the nose caused an unusually load explosion into the world, but rather everything around us had been so quiet for so long a sneeze could have carried the weight of a divinely purposed big bang.

Maybe that's where we've got the whole thing wrong. Maybe it was a Big Achoo. That could explain a lot about the ever expanding nature of the universe, the colors, the variance.

In the beginning there would have been no one there to say "God Bless You" though, and that would be a shame. And if that's the reason why we're all here, to sing out a chorus of Bless Yous at the next celestial sneeze, you have to admire our general ambition at other projects.

It was so quiet today that it created a cumulative effect. By the end of Pie Day I was exhausted. But everyone was. Usually we linger a bit more, chatting at the table over checks and dirty dishes, but everyone felt like getting back to their respective homes and into slouchy weekend clothes and wrapped up in the night's blankets and quilts.

Did not occur to me to check the time. When I climbed into the car I noted how we're getting old. It was all of 8:15.

Sometimes you have one of those simple moments that reminds you of that short period when you were still young enough to think parents knew everything -- not to be confused with those years in which your parents know nothing or those years in which you wished you knew half as much as your parents, which might be most everything. The answer tonight was one of simple repetition.

Taylor, in addition to having Jersey Hair and the now ubiquitous headphones, brought the trick gum to Pie Day. Remember that gimmick? It exists in the shadowy world of kindergarten through the second grade.

It catches us all at different times, but you only get smacked by that swinging piece of metal once before you learn to be wary of friends offering their last stick of an off brand. "Fruity Juice" might sound delicious after recess, but you're only getting a welp just below the cuticle line.

She offered me a piece of gum before dinner, but I declined since we were about to eat. Her first mistake. She insisted and I got the knowing nod from her parents, which tipped me off to the game, prompting that old flashback.

So I grabbed the gum by the sides, and pulled slowly. Because I'm old and know things.

I was disappointed to see that the little metal arm has been replaced by a plastic tab, designed not to hurt at all, but rather share a moral to the tale: I could have gotten you, if only we didn't live in such an overly safety conscious time that replaces a momentary sting in favor of a mild thumb.

Also, this gum had a plastic bug attached to the end. It felt like the cracker jack prize in the gum, as if the makers were apologizing for having to remove the stinging sensation aspect of the toy because some suburban mom in Sacramento got all bent out of shape by the little piece of wire that left a dimpled impression on her darling son's fleshy fingers because he kept pinching himself with it, counter to the toy's intention.

People my age, and those just a few years younger, were the last group to really enjoy childhood in a slightly risky way. There was a modicum of safety then, and we all managed to survive -- unless you're one of those few Zombie Yuppies who read the site, in which case, welcome to the Undead! -- but most importantly there was a sensation of danger in some of our activities.

And also, we could play dodgeball, that last great game to define wheat and chaff in the athletic pecking order, without fear of social stigma or broken orbital bones. Kids these days don't have the opportunity for adrenaline soaked fun in nearly the same ways we did.

I believe that is my first official "kids these days." Even if it wasn't said with scorn it marks a turning point. As if the being ready for bed at 8:15 on a Friday night didn't give you enough of a hint. By next week I'll be yelling at kids to stay off my lawn. Already I find myself fighting the daily urge to wear shorts with black socks.

The downhill trip is fast. Or would be, if that last part were true. Fortunately I imagine being a little more cautious with my sock - short scheme. And, also, last weekend I wanted the neighborhood kids to come play on my lawn, if only so I could play football with them.

So see? I'm still young! I'm -- yawn.

On my way home tonight a series of things coincided that really don't help this argument. I turned across the front of my old high school just as Mellencamp's Small Town came on the radio. I noticed the flashing, blinking neon sign announcing prom details. And then I did the math. Fourteen years ago?

Finally, what about this picture seems wrong? If you answered "Everything" you are correct.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

After a night of no class last night I feel like a new man. A man that must still attend a class this morning and teach one this afternoon.

Every bit of it is wonderful fun. In media psychology today I found myself understanding a little bit more this week than I did last week. The whole class is based on the Limited Capacity Model of Motivated Mediated Message Processing (LC4MP), which I've mentioned only in passing here. My professor is an academic disciple of the woman that created the theory, which is compelling stuff.

Dr. Annie Lang, in her own words:
My research focuses on studying motivated cognition and media. The long term goal is to better understand the interplay among parts of the dynamic system comprised of the embodied mind and the mediated message. My theoretical work focuses on extending the scope of LC4MP which seeks to identify structural and content aspects of all media which elicit automatic motivational and cognitive responses in media users and understand the interaction, over time, of those automatic processes with the motivated cognitive system, the individual differences embodied in media users and the user's long term and momentary goals and intentions.
All of which means in class we talk about areas of the brain, eye twitches, ear muscles and elemental level reactions to stimulus as we try to assess danger or pleasure. The basic question is always "Is it food, foe or mate?" We build up from there.

How can this be used to persuade and build awareness? Ultimately that's the practical application of the theory. What motivates? These are all interesting, but large questions.

Sometimes the professor thinks I have it all figured out; other times I prove him wrong about that.

Left Alabama after two-and-a-half hours on that subject and made my way back to Samford where I finished my notes on today's lecture in the web journalism class -- that sounds so very SpiderMan, doesn't it? Today we talked about photojournalism.

There is an extremely talented photographer in the class and a few others who are on their way, so this isn't a tough piece of the subject matter. The class went well, I thought. Hopefully they think so too.

Just before dinner I found this extraordinary page, where a key sentence from President Obama's recent press conference has been diagrammed. Remember doing that in elementary school? Garth Risk Hallberg remembers how to do it and finds some very interesting insights in the process.

If you're a word nerd you really need to try that link and read the entire post.

Dinner was breakfast, and there's nothing wrong with that. Big plate of eggs, a regrettable attempt at sausage and some juice, all courtesy of the cafeteria, which should try pork one day less and this one day more.

Breakfast for dinner would still be special if it happened more than once a year. I conducted an informal survey and the respondents were overwhelmingly in favor of my having the opportunity for eggs and bacon after dark. The people have spoken!

Signed, Me, the people.

It would have been great to have this at the table tonight. Woot is currently selling bacon salt. "Zero calorie, zero fat, safe for vegetarians and Kosher certified seasoning salt that tastes like real bacon."

I am skeptical, but will try most anything in the interests of bacon science.

Bacon motivates. I'll have to remember that one for class.

(Here's where the academics kick in and I can't even leave that sad little joke alone. Bacon would be the food, activating the appetitive motivational systems. The differential activation impacts higher order emotional and cognitive processing of media and media messages meaning I really want some bacon. Wish they'd had that at dinner.)

Sparky, my professor, would be so proud of this post.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No class at Alabama this evening, the professor has skipped town for a planned visit to meet his new grandchild. For me it means no hour-long commute, two hours in epistemological confusion and then half-an-hour back home.

Also it has the most remarkable impact on the week. The evening off provides a logistical buffer from the Tuesday and Thursday classes, of course, and saves gas mileage, too. The class only requires a reading and conversation, so it is entirely a mental perception that the week off feels like a great workload reprieve.

With that in mind the day went like this: Wake up, gym, work, home.

Decided to add the bikes into the gym routine. Spontaneously of course. I pedaled off three miles before I realized it. It seemed easy enough that, upon reflection, I was surely doing something wrong.

There was a minor advertising controversy at work today, but after a few phone calls the proper wheels were put in the proper motion to solve the problem.

Logos, it seems, can be problematic

The ad problem led to an offending pronoun issue, which was resolved quickly enough. Altogether it provided entertainment into the early part of the afternoon.

The rest of the day was spent writing in work blogs, making a slideshow and looking for slideshow hosting sites online. I need something free and that will let me upload my own sound. I asked Twitter and got five responses in a few minutes, which was great. Some of the suggested sites were very close, but none fit the whole bill.

This is for a classroom project, so any ideas you have, let me know by this time next week.

At home, with no class and after only a brief amount of work necessary for tomorrow's class I turned to the television and did that rarest of things: watched a show live.

Commercials take up a lot of time. How did we ever tolerate this intrusion on our ambition to maximize the efficiency of our teevee viewing to soften or simmering our head meat into a bubbling fondue.

Someone realized their life's ambition in writing those spots. Commercial television realized its ambition in airing those ads. Watching them back-to-back is a happy sort of nirvana.

So you can watch Life on Mars via Hulu and without all those pesky commercials that kept getting in my way.

I officially decided, last week, that I actually like the show. It took 10 episodes to make me jump on the bandwagon, but I'm there. They are all very tantalizing in small ways.

The setting was the big initial turnoff for me. we're already seeing too much of the 1970s return; I don't need to see it in contemporary television too. The music they've chosen has been quality, obscure and not overwrought. The styles haven't been a big storyline -- though they do love showing Harvey Keitel in white patent leather shoes.

But I'll take it. If you like your clues in small, sporadic doses it is a fun show.

Still not sure how they're going to resolve the whole thing, but I'll come up with my own solution before we see one on television.

Reading back through this ... See? Nice and easy day. Nothing to it. Think I can convince that professor to cancel a few more classes?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Finished my lit review this morning, which is a good thing since it was due about an hour minutes later. I cobbled together the material I had on face-ism, thumbed through a few tidbits suggested by others and found myself at a point where I'd reached the end of the literature.

At almost five pages of, hopefully, reasonable quality I was down to "this study duplicated the findings of that first study" and "these researchers again confirmed the initial hypothesis." This is liberating in the sense of doing some fairly unique research, which is always the goal. It is a bit intimidating to know you've quickly found the finite efforts on the subject.

It is a bit like leaving your flank exposed in combat, or realizing you don't have an infielder covering third to make the play. Except with red professor ink instead of
people shooting at you and books instead of base runners. Otherwise it is like that.

For lunch I celebrated with The Yankee and Our Friend Jason at Northport's City Cafe. It gets rave reviews, both of the anonymous internet variety and the "I know you, we're friends, you will evaluate me based on my assessment of the restaurant and whether they can duplicate the quality of a meal I enjoyed there" variety. Clearly there's a lot more riding on those internet reviews.

Hank Jr. agrees: the place is good. That blurry photo features Bochepus and the Cafe's owner. And a duck. You see that as you walk the serpentine line to be seated. The line goes out the door some days -- thankfully it did not today as the sky threatened rain -- but it moves quickly. You sit in thin little booths not unlike a fast food experience, but the food is a homestyle meat-and-three cuisine.

Also you have a shelf full of hot sauces to choose from, including Alabama Sunshine which boasts of a particularly zesty flavor that offers plenty of solar flares, if you get their meaning. It is made in Fayette, known to the locals as F'et, which should give you all the credibility you need when considering things of authentic taste.

The food was good. And, happily, inexpensive. I had a meat, three veggies and a drink and paid six bucks. There are better meat-and-threes, though probably not in Northport.

Class was fun, and I happily avoided the heavy-food coma. We talked about a lot of things probably not on the professor's typically well prepared agenda, but it became one of those situations where we still ultimately hit on most of the things she was hoping for anyway and it made for a better class.

Maybe I should try that with my students one day.

I had to change my Facebook profile photo because of that class today though. We found ourselves talking about materialism and labels and keeping up with the Joneses and something along those lines and I said "And that's why I have a photo of me test driving a Mercedes as my profile picture." I did not buy that car, obviously. And everyone laughed at the absurdity of it. And laughter, friends, changes photographs.

This evening has been spent at the newspaper, where the students are quietly going about the business of putting together tomorrow's edition. Sometimes they are conversational, sometimes chatty. Always they seem pretty happy -- they are a nice and fun group of people. Occasionally it gets very quiet. I round the corner from my office just to see if anyone is still around and ... there are eight people in the newsroom. Nothing like the rooms I worked in, which was also nothing like the rooms portrayed in movies.

Meanwhile, the jazz station is next door. My office shares a wall with their primary studio. They left earlier in the night with the monitors turned up loud. At least the rotation has been good. The night on campus ended, as these often do, by talking with the web editor and dreaming up big, future ideas with which to take over the world.

Finishing a literature review and dreaming of big ambitious plans are nice bookends for the day. Everything else is just cake. Delicious, moist cake.

Monday, February 16, 2009

After a nice day reading and typing in the office I left for home to do more reading and typing. But first there were errands to run.

I stopped by the hair cutting shop, where I made two great jokes heard by no one owing to technical difficulties. Oh, sure, we can put probes on Mars and have them work years beyond their life expectancy, but AT&T can't upload a tiny packet of ones and zeroes in a timely fashion. Thank you, the people with more bars.

I had a long, torturous conversation about this yesterday and ended up having to send one particular message three times before it reached its destination. On Saturday a message arrived hours after deliver -- the same thing happened to me a week ago. And, as of this writing, AT&T has gone oh-for-nine tonight in sending my messages to Twitter.

(Note: This is the only thing of which I can complain about. Life is grand.)

And so the Internet has missed out on such gems as:
Now headed to the Follicle Removal Institute. (Cheer: FRI! FRI! We won't get hair clippings in your eye!)

Cars should have LED signs showing your music. People would know if the music was too aggressive for tailgating.
As in, "Whoa. He's listening to speed metal. I should change lanes and not follow so closely."
Too many people at the Little Shop of Barbers. Another time then. On to fun with the fine folks at AT&T.

And since my phone managed to (somehow) fix itself ... On to donate to Goodwill!
The AT&T problem mentioned there has to do with the ALT key on my phone. I literally walked into the store and it fixed itself. The phone, like your pet, knows when you're taking it to a place it doesn't want to be.

Veterinarian, cell phone stand alone store. Same difference, really. Asimov warned us about this sort of thing. And now, suddenly, I seem to have a stubborn arm of Skynet in my pocket.

But all of this makes the errands efficient. No haircut, no need to wait in lines for the AT&T guy, no problem dropping off boxes at the donation spot. Someone was donating a nice recliner.

The absence of errands let me stop by the local Goody's, yet another retailer going out of business. Everything must go! See manager about fixtures!

I want to know about the interesting things they have stowed in the back. No slacks there. None that fit, anyway. If you're a size 34 they're waiting on you, however.

Plenty of t-shirts, but that's about it. Even the crowd of shopping vultures was thin tonight, but they were making savvy purchases. The music on the PA system was disproportionately upbeat. No one that works at Goody's and was staring at the manifestation of lost jobs -- and people asking "When are you closing?" in the hopes of finding even more desperate sales -- did not feel like hearing Katrina and the Waves.

In the car there was no Walking on Sunshine. But there was a chance to make this little video in the parking lot.


via 12seconds.tv

On 24 tonight we learned that Chloe and Miles procreated and are presently living in a Hyundai commercial. That was just bad, people. A long, loving look at the in-dash digital readouts, comments on roominess, a discussion on APR and a nice shot of the trunk and logo, all in one dramatic scene where Chloe goes to work for the FBI.

Also, it seems, their child has more social skills than both parents, so there is hope for anyone feeling uncomfortable about passing their awkward traits to progeny.

Jack, meanwhile, has to tell the president that her husband has been shot. She rushes to the hospital and it plays out like a scene from The Day Reagan Was Shot. The surgeon there even favored the one here. He warned the president that the procedure would take hours and then used that great line they teach on the first day in medical school for how to avoid uncomfortable conversations, "I need to scrub."

So the president is content to stand in the window and watch the surgery for the next five hours and episodes. No pressure, doctor.

Jack's chasing the bad guy, whom we now know to be a star crossed mercenary for hire. Having played out his hand he's aiming to retire to Belize and take his D.C. girlfriend with him. But Jack and the FBI agent not named Scully find her first, tell the poor woman who she's been dating -- "Back home they call him The Butcher" -- and then convince her to help them. Everyone is cool with this, especially the writers who need the help making it to the next scene, but it hardly seems plausible.

By the end of the episode the bad guy knows his time is running out. And the promo for next week looks far more explosive than this episode.

Also we learned the identity of the bad guy in the FBI office. This seems a problematic storyline. And by problematic I mean "happens every season." One happier piece of continuity was the return of Aaron Pierce, looking well rested in his role as a retired Secret Service agent. About time we had someone of moral credibility to return the honor of that agency. If he doesn't save the day, or the season, we'll be gravely disappointed, if only because they've discussed this season as a reboot of the show, but it feels pretty normal, or maybe even subdued, nine hours in.

I say that without having checked Bauer Count, which tells me he's quietly shuffled 13 people off the payroll so far. The police will have to let him go, though, before he can get back to business. Stacked up against his other Really Bad Days, 13 in nine hours has only been bested once and tied one other time. Maybe it isn't so subdued after all. Maybe we just need to see inventive ways for people to meet their demise.

Which would be a great writer's meeting. "OK guys, how do we get Dubaku killed by peanut butter? And no, you can't do the allergy thing. House did that last season."

After 24, Trust Me was on TNT, the show where the ad guy is constantly in danger of losing his campaign to the wicked, evil ad guy who works in the same company. Middle America had no idea that advertising was so internally cutthroat. But at least they are remembering how funny Tom Cavanagh can be.

I'm at a line-in-the-sand point with this show. Next week's looks promising, but if it is all hype in the promo and no substance in the episode I'll have spent the last six weeks watching the same episode: this guy frets, that guy is funny and childlike and together, they find themselves getting into and out of situations without the boss' awareness.

I disliked The Office for similar reasons. The neuroses weren't going anywhere.

There's a literature review to write anyway. How much can be said about facial prominence and face-ism in pictures?

...

Much later: Regarding the aspect of face-ism that my study is interested in, the answer to that question is "not quite five pages."

Much of face-ism research has to do with gender comparison, which is all very interesting. My study is on President Obama's facial prominence on websites. That's the other thing, there seems to have been exactly two studies conducted that deal with face-ism, and only one of those really fits the bill.

So, the good news is that my paper will be original. The bad news is ... there really isn't any.

That's the end of the night, and a full day too. Tomorrow I'll present that body image paper, clean up this face-ism review, have class, go to Samford as the students put the paper to bed ... another full, great day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today it can be said that I've done my part. I stimulated the depressed laundry situation at home, running a few loads through the washing and drying cycle of life. I have not yet stimulated the stagnant storage of said clean clothes. My flunkies will be along shortly to earn their patronage in that regard.

Also did my part to stimulate the actual economy, going to the big box store of the blue persuasion -- which is apparently earning worker benefit points with better insurance these days. They're also regaining retail market share, which you'd expect in a slow economic period. I visited them today, over the big box store of the red persuasion because they have a garden center.

And today we dig!

I purchased a new shovel. The old one, one with the square face, has gone missing. It was barely effective anyway for slicing through the earth's crust. Here's your rule of thumb: square shovels are good for moving loose material, pointed ones are needed for turning earth.

I noted, with dismay, that the shovel was made in China. Remember when everything at the big box store was still made in the U.S. Remember when that was part of the marketing? But pre-formed metal and a stick? That must now be shipped from around the world.

At least the shovel has a nice rubber grip on the end, and the handle is painted a fancy red. You know, like China. And the store I didn't visit.

So I put on the yard gloves, which mean serious business -- and snickers from the neighborhood children -- and began digging. The gloves, by the way, were made in Pakistan. Somewhere over there, as you read this, someone is making sure that someone like me doesn't get blisters on their hands. The gloves, though, do not keep you from cutting up your hands when you run them into brick walls. On the pinkie knuckle I now have two such cuts. Design flaw.

I dug up an annoying little tree/bush thing that's pretty for about 15 minutes, sprouts weedy seedlings everywhere and then manages to actually smell foul for the last few weeks of its green season. Never liked the thing. It is gone.

In its place is what is supposedly a sturdy rose bush. I've dealt with rose bushes enough -- which is to say once -- to know better, but we'll see.

In the digging process I unearthed the hints of previous civilization. Whomever left the evidence was fairly industrial. There was an old skill saw blade and this unknown tool. Drill bit? Heavy duty chisel? Over-the-top paint stirrer? Clearly we're dealing with an advanced people here.

Other shrubberies also went into the ground. Now instead of empty spots I have drastic height differences. This means radical hedge trimming, but not today.

For today there is lawn work. Which, ultimately, means cleaning out the shed. Several boxes of various detritus has been removed. All of it from the rafters and the back corner, so despite the effort the building looks no cleaner. I did find interesting things though, like this shiny box of network connectors.

All of that was done to find bolts and nuts that would compliment one another for a minor lawn mower repair project. I got distracted with the cleaning until I finally found the proper sized bolt.

And so I fixed the lawnmower. Filled it up with gas. Cranked it, drove it around, made three laps and realized My fix didn't really fix anything. I can't tell this to the neighborhood kids, because they would surely laugh then.

The problem is a protective piece of metal that sits just below the left foot over the blade cover. The piece hides the belt and pullet system to keep fingers and debris from working their way inside. I can't keep that particular piece of metal in place -- the vibration from the engine and spinning, whirring blades rotates the nuts from the bolts.

Also, it is frighteningly loud when that cover is removed.

I was hoping to chop leaves, but the lawn mower isn't cooperating. I have mini-leaf piles in the front lawn and figured that I may as well move them around. So I spent the next 20 minutes or so perfecting my arboreal distribution network. This involves a very large raking, repetitive motion not unlike one of the ab machines at the gym and a very large tarp to drag the leaves to their eventual funeral pyre.

But that's next weekend. Darkness was falling at this point, so all of the day's tools were properly stowed, a hasty donation plan was designed for stuff suddenly free from the shed. Muddy socks and dirty shoes were removed, a proper cleaning regime was put into effect. It was time for pizza.

Later there was an article review. I have to present a critique on Tuesday in my media and body class. I've chosen "The Impact of Media Exposure on Males' Body Image" by Agliata and Tantleff-Dunn who, in 2004, noted the sparse research conducted with male subjects, had to use a body of research almost entirely concentrating on women and then conducted what appears to be a very thorough study on body dissatisfaction in college aged men through television commercials.

From the reading you can learn that action figures are now based on dimensions that are, apparently, biologically unobtainable. Also, they placed their commercials in Family Feud (with original host Richard Dawson) chosen, the authors note, "because of its neutral body image content and absence of references to sociocultural ideals."

Not the Richard Dawson I recall.

They used words like anger and depression a lot, but otherwise it strikes you as a good study. And then, at the end, they conclude that all of this is wrong, because men internalize things differently and all of the research, interpretation and even the test themselves are derived for women.

It is an interesting piece. Happily I distilled it here to three paragraphs. For class I'll discuss it in about two pages.

I also have to draft a literature review for that class, but you'll hear all about that tomorrow.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Watched last night's version of Battlestar Galactica this morning. It was my breakfast accompaniment. The episode turned into such a gripper, philosophical, what-the-heck-are-they-doing here thing that I ended up eating seven bowls of cereal to justify sitting there and watching the fuel episode.

Or maybe it was two bowls. It is hard to tell with Cheerios.

The theology is moving quickly in that show now. The only reasonable conclusion left is that we are the one true god we've been waiting for. Which, I suppose, would make us nihilists. The plurality of which is a neat trick, if you think about it, since following nihilism to the far end gets you into an argument of the presence of an absence of existence. If you, as a nihilist can't really exist, how could two of you do it?

And that's where the show is going. "Here's your gripping human drama, the occasional epic firefight, stunning visuals and your love of Starbuck turned to 11. Oh, and by the way. None of it exists."

Or Priscilla Presley wakes up and Patrick Duffy is standing there, smiling in the shower.

So nihilism doesn't look so bad.

On the other end of the guilty pleasure spectrum I found Real Genius playing on one of the cable channels. I learned this morning that this is one of those movies you can't turn away from. I always learned that Lazlo Hollyfeld, he of the closet, steam tunnel people, was Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite.

Right then I should have crawled back into bed. What could top such deliciously ridiculous news? A bit player in a teen movie -- and to head off the Email, let's have this discussion now: He lived in the steam tunnels, the epitome of quirky bit player -- would two decades later be a bit player in another teen movie. He's worked constantly, lots of guest spots on prominent television shows, the occasional bit in movies you've watched, but these are the biggest marks in a nice, ongoing career.

If two generations of teenagers found your work worth noting, and then the two concepts had to clash, who comes out on top? Uncle Rico was thick in a charmingly stupid way. Lazlo was removed, antisocial and ultimately able to make himself successful. Someone will find a Rorschach test in there somewhere.

So the tiniest bit of yard work today. Nothing worth noting, indeed it is already forgotten, but there will be more tomorrow. Most of today, aside from considering soaring science fiction rhetoric, was spent doing research for next week's classes. (You see, if I emphasized this over the TV you might imagine me a promising academic. Unless you're one of those types who find studying on a Saturday sad; these people can never be won over.)

And now the Valentine's Day story of humor and futility.

(This story is also called "Being Easygoing People is Best.")

I took The Yankee to Ichiban's, which is one of her favorite places in town. We go about three times a year, usually centered around birthdays or celebrations of something or other. Tonight we picked Valentine's. When you figure out where this story is going you'll reshape your views about my intelligence.

Called my mother late in the evening to wish her a happy Valentine's Day and chit chat. I asked her plans, she asked mine. Ichiban's was mentioned. She replied that she heard -- she listens to a local radio show via Internet, despite having lived out of the market for seven years -- the Ichiban folks on the air last week suggesting that the Japanese steakhouse is a perfect Valentine destination, but bring your reservation.

I scoffed at that, because I can make the impossible happen.

And I did, such as running over a lawn chair on the interstate and then parking almost directly in front of the restaurant.

The luck ended there, though, because the line was out the door. The crowd indoors was a fire hazard. The crowd was a choice bunch, dressed up in their finest camouflage hats -- the moral formal guests chose the sun visor for the evening's festivities. I counted two nose rings and one in the lip and lost track of the colorful use of colorful language on this night of love.

And that's just a glimpse of the ladies waiting to eat.

We finally worked our way inside, desperately clutching the slip of paper with our number and pretending to ignore the hopeless concept of a 30-45 minute wait. Some people received letters, others numbers, no one could make sense of the process. It isn't an easy one to be sure; you aren't just waiting for a table, but you have to place all of the festive people in such a configuration as to surround the guy with flying knives and flaming stove.

Ultimately we settled down in the hallway across from a very nice yuppie couple. He was a former military man now in pharmaceuticals. His wife's job was to look pretty. He talked of his son's soccer game and breaking jeeps in the military. They had one daughter with them, another waiting in the car. They were funny, cordial and patient.

The little old lady that runs the show used to flirt with me, but I've either been forgotten or grown unattractive. So I settled for helpful. She's a very small Korean lady, demure as you might expect of the culture, but was surrounded by dozens of hungry Americans who couldn't hear her meekly call out their letters and numbers in her little voice. I started belting out the numbers thinking it would help step up the inefficient process somehow and curry favor for offering up my help.

This goes on forever. Our new friends liberated some Hershey's Kisses from somewhere around the bar. I found a handful of fortune cookies and passed them around. Someone gave us an extra slip with a new number on it, increasing our odds. At this point you'll take whatever talisman you can get. People with reservations found themselves waiting 45 minutes to an hour beyond what they'd expected. Those who'd already finished their meal were perfectly willing to linger while we delivered hate beams with our eyes and changed the harmonics of the room with grumbling tummies.

Two hours or so after we arrived one of our numbers was called. Not our original number but the one that had just been given to us by other customers. We ended up sitting next to them -- they upgraded when someone else gave up and gave them their ticket.

Now we're sitting, but I feel bad. Our nice new friends, who'd somehow managed to be here longer than us were still waiting. Their daughter sat with us in an empty seat and announced herself adopted.

I'd like to introduce you to my 13-year-old, Victoria. We invited her to sit with us since she was a nice, fun person. We even made space for her mother, who considered it heavily. But they decided to take their business elsewhere after enduring such a long wait. But not before I sent that picture to my mother. (Update: Hoping for a reaction, or a good joke, I was disappointed to learn she wouldn't get the message for three hours. AT&T, it seems, has more bars for photographs to needlessly navigate through before reaching their final destination.)

Since I'd created two spots on the table for new friends, but now had empty chairs next to us, I went back out into the hallway and found another couple who wanted to eat. My first question was "Are you nice?" The next question "Is your boyfriend nice?"

We'll have no drama after waiting for two hours. She said yes -- and the poor girl was drinking ginger sauce straight from the bowl.

So they came to eat with us. He's an aspiring musician, she's on break from college. They both work at a restaurant not far from my house -- where the wait was surely not two hours tonight.

The food, when the cook finally arrived, was delicious. For my third consecutive visit to a Japanese steakhouse the cook has been Hispanic.

We noted that the prices continue to go up and the servings are getting smaller. But you receive a lot more of that delicious, filling rice at the beginning of your meal.

The old lady wandered over at the end of our meal and began talking of her long and busy night. The rice wine had kicked in. Her words were slurred just a bit, and she rocked in tiny, slow circles. And talked a lot, the essence of it all being about how great our country is, how we'd all got along even though there was a ridiculous problem getting in the restaurant, how great our country is and the general swellness of our country, which is a pretty nice place when you get right down to it, swell even.

I'd hoped to take The Yankee to a movie at the end of the night. Because nothing, to me, says charming like sitting through a teen vampire movie for the second time just because the other person likes the story.

I had plenty of time, I figured, leaving home before 6:30 to eat and make a 9:40 movie. The cook was turning on the stove at about that time.

It was a perfect Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

My cell phone seems to be breaking. This is a shame since it is wholly two months old. And also because, for once, I actually like the thing.

I like it because it is more than a phone, and less of a phone. I seldom talk to people on it. I far more frequently text people. I consult Wikipedia, the god of populist information when proving points of pop culture or sticky trivia. I Email on it, which was the original selling point. With so much commuting, and a need to be reachable by any method at any time an upgrade was needed, hence the phone of the future, now in the palm of my hand.

Or, just to the side of the keyboard as I type.

It was in the Email function that it started acting flaky yesterday. I had to squeeze the buttons hard and hope it would respond. There was a timely Email to consider and I could not Email. I rebooted the phone -- because the magic power button fixes everything -- but it did nothing. I struggled through, after great frustration, in sending the important Email reply. The problem, I figured, was in my location. I was in a place between Nowhere and East Nothing. That surely had something to do with it.

The nerve of such a thing. To expect that the phone could die on me in a place so obscure that it remains untouched even by industries given a free pass for unfettered environmental oversights. Doesn't this phone know what year it is? (Yes.) Doesn't it know where I am? (According to the many GPS acquisitions it makes, yes.) Doesn't it know how important that Email was? (Yes, that's why it arrived in gold text.) Can't it hear my frustrated plea for it to work? (Only if you speak directly into the receiver.)

Today it just got worse. I woke up to the phone dead. I charged it for a bit, but the buttons were lifeless. I charged it at the office over the course of the entire day and finally it all came back to life. The problem, it seems, was less operating system, less hardware and purely user error.

Just so we're clear: there's max power, medium power, low power, "Charge this thing or lose data," digital vegetable and, finally, black screen that hints at the hereafter.

Late in the day I gave a quick first glance at one of the readings scheduled for next week. It looks like promising material, "Where Psychophysiology Meets the Media: Taking the Effects out of Mass Media Research." The book at that link was edited by the dean of our department. We are truly in the land of heavy hitters, here.

The author was my professor's mentor, who's reputation is as good as they come. My professor, who knows this stuff more than a little, would topple governments for her. And if you're into the chemical and biological explanations for how we do things, this stuff is for you. It is fascinating and, in this read, very accessible. I've seen at least one exclamation point so far -- highly unusual -- and crisp, clear definitive writing.

Which is probably more about communication theory than you wanted to hear about for a Friday. So we'll talk about barbecue, where The Yankee and I visited the original Dreamland again tonight. When in Tuscaloosa, have the pudding.

That's a rather lousy cell phone pic, but it was taken in a dimly lit indoor setting. Lousy is the default mode for the camera, no matter how well the rest of the phone is working. And I could have trotted out the 35mm for that shot, but the camera -- in all of its 8,000,000 dots per inch glory -- can't upload to the internet. So I'm torn you see.

At least I didn't get barbecue sauce on my shirt tonight. Last week I was wearing a brand new sweater and got two little drops right over the left side. After dutiful attention and pre-treatment the spots came out; the crisis was averted.

No such problems tonight as we headed over to the coliseum to watch Alabama host LSU. My favorite shots range from the prosaic, to the happy, to the unusual, to the beam.

LSU, ranked 11th in the nation, upset the number five Tide. They led all night, but it came down to the final beam performance. LSU hadn't won in Tuscaloosa in more than 20 years. The scoreboard guy flashed the final score, but killed the power to those screens before the bulbs got warm. It has been a long time since Alabama gymnastics was upset at home.

It was a good meet, just not Alabama's night. More pictures are in the gallery.

And that's how the weekend starts. A broken, but self healing phone, walking across campus and skimming research, barbecue, gymnastics and pictures. How do you improve on that? Valentine's day! And yard work.

See you tomorrow, bring your own hand tools.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Last night seemed to be the worst of the remaining sore throat problem. Things are a better today, though eating brings a reminder of the swallowing pain so quickly forgotten.

The larger pains of the day are in my head. And in my phone.

In the media psych class we discussed physiopsychology, which is even more fun to contemplate than it is to say. Everyone in the room was tired, even the professor. There was one copy of the week's readings between us all since the online PDF was protected from those evildoers that would use printers to better study the sweeping and credible work of brilliant men and women.

So at times the conversation was a bit slower than normal, but no less fun. At times the chat was a bit more over my head than normal, but hopefully I recovered nicely by the end of the class.

Later I thought of my head as the science fiction treatment of a wormhole.

I should watch that again soon. Maybe it will twist my brain out the other way after today's classroom conversation.

At Samford the classroom conversation was a bit thin. The downside to Step Sing is how it tends to take over every facet of campus, including the larger classroom purposes. My class is fairly small, but still 40 percent of the group was absent because of the opening show tonight.

I wondered about how to carry on. The students missing from class are very good students with excellent reputations. It isn't as if they're in the habit of skipping classes. Today's lecture covered about half of the notes I jotted down in preparation. Next week we'll cover all of them again and start on new topics as well.

Next week no one leaves early. MUHAHA.

The Yankee and I watched Step Sing's opening night show from the right side of the orchestra seating at the Wright Center. The show's origins go back almost six decades to an impromptu musical performance contest. It has evolved over that time into a costumed, prop-oriented song and dance contest between several of the Greek groups and a few other loosely gathered groups around campus.

This is a big deal for the students. They raise money, award scholarships and of course they name champions for the year. Upperclassmen remember with great clarity shows from several years before. They spend a lot of time preparing and performing and it shows in the finished product.

I wanted to tape the show, but they asked nicely that no one shoot video. So I did not, but I wish I had.

The sororities sounded great, the independent ladies were entertaining and the fraternities -- and even the independent guys -- put on show stealing performances. The ladies seemed more song and choreography rooted. The guys were a bit shorter on the singing and, while they are also choreographed, a lot of it just feels like antics, and thus funny.

YouTube has a few performances from the last few years. This was the 2007 winner. These aren't what we saw tonight, but you'll get an idea of the atmosphere.

So there were fierce freshmen ladies, patriotic ladies, a go green group and a show themed on the Clue game. The men featured William Wallace -- or as they called it, Braveheart in six minutes, with song and dance -- another show was an homage to truck drivers, clowns and the typical office life.

The tickets cost $14 each. The show lasted three hours. At one point I gave myself teary-eyed laugh. It was a good night of entertainment.

And after shows tomorrow and Saturday all of the students can return to class.

I chuckled the first time a professor suggested that Step Sing takes over campus for the first part of February, but it's true.

Today was a great Thursday, which promises to be followed by a great Friday. Tomorrow there will be more research, campus, gymnastics and barbecue. Also, my throat will feel better.

May we all be healthy and happy as we head into the weekend!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The new edition of the Crimson is out. There's great coverage of the death of Dr. Thomas Corts, the university's retired president. And video. We're getting high tech there.

Miss Alabama has returned to campus. The story doesn't say if Amanda Tapley is back in classes, or just here visiting. There's also no insight into whether she wears that crown constantly. You could lose an eye around her if she turned too quickly.

While she didn't win the Miss America pageant, she made us all proud, making the finals where the shenanigans were clearly on display. The choice was obvious, but the judges erred in not selecting Tapley for the honor.

And, of course, there's the Step Sing slideshow shot around dress rehearsals. The actual performances begin tomorrow night. Looks like fun so far.

The sore throat is less fun. Feels a little more prickly, stabby and raw tonight. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel though. I made fun of this yesterday, because that's all it is worth. It is no more than a little unpleasantness, but a bum throat will throw you off your game.

It reminded me, this morning, of a time not too long after I got out of college and worked for about a week with strep throat. The place where I was broadcasting was not cutthroat, but you weren't especially paranoid if you thought of it in that way. It didn't seem like a good idea to skip a day or three to recover.

And so I'd open the microphone, do my spiel, close the mic and then wince and flinch and sometimes want to bang my head into the desk. That hurt. This is nothing in comparison -- and certainly not strep. This is merely unpleasant.

Class tonight was loud and fun. We discussed creating theories, which is good as the class is called epistemology and theory building. They are a pretty sharp bunch, so it is fun to listen to them talk for two hours, even in the parts that can go over your head.

The Yankee and I had dinner at some burrito shack in Tuscaloosa. It was very tasty, but still a bit painful to eat. I'll feel better soon, but for now my throat is conspiring to ruin good meals.

Anyway, The Yankee was thinking aloud about a conversation she'd had in a political seminar today. Her Wednesday professor is also my Wednesday professor, but for a different class. They had a guest speaker today, a faculty member at Alabama who happens to be the wife of the politician that was the focus of my master's thesis.

Small world, no?

So The Yankee is coining phrases (The Fast Forward Generation was a good one), I'm trying to gamely swallow what is a tasty and fresh burrito and over the restaurant's speakers comes a female voice singing a Spanish version of U2's Mysterious Ways.

Wish I could find a copy of that online to share, it was actually pretty good.

What does it all mean? I don't know. I still have homework today for tomorrow's class. And there's an application for competitive reading -- if only that were a contest, we'd all be pros -- to be filled out.

And an episode of Life on Mars to watch. And sleep to consider.

At just after 10 p.m. I've arrived home and still have a full night to consider. At least it keeps me out of trouble.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It is possible that I'm coming down with something. As such the typical application of personal space will be enlargenated until the viral threat has passed.

My throat hurts. It burns to swallow and feels like there's a lump just off the side of my neck. There's no actual lump, that's just what the irritated portion feels like. In every other way I feel fine, I'm just trying not to swallow. Which means talking a bit less, because swallowing goes hand in hand with talking, something you don't realize until one or the other become difficult.

Throat pains are second only to breathing difficulties, back pains, foot pains, assorted joint maladies, severe headaches or any other general discomfort of the moment. As I have none of those, a sore throat goes to the front of the class for pain and pitifulness. I'll make it through somehow.

I had a sandwich for lunch at a cafe that was decorated to look like a Mexican joint. Except for the random wagon wheel on the wall and cello hanging from the ceiling it held that theme, and a coffee scent, throughout. The sandwich would have been much better if eating it didn't seem so deliberately painful. (For dinner I chose a vegetable plate, fearing the meat selections would hurt more. I'm calculating individual when ill.)

Shared a lunch table with a friend in the doctoral program at Alabama, also a former journalist. He was a print guy for many years in Florida and has his own share of tales to tell. We've exchanged greatest hits before, but I heard a lot more about his former beats and some of his anecdotes today until, finally, I asked if he missed it.

He does not. And he can say it without missing a beat. He thought about it for a moment afterward and said "There are parts of it I miss, but I don't miss it." And those parts aren't big enough or important enough to send him back to a newsroom. I hear that from more than a few recovering journalists.

Class on media and the body today. I tried to not speak, see above, and hoped the throat lozenges I had just purchased would carry me through the day. All went well. I'm told we'll soon transition from women's studies to men and their body image disorders. All of this is interesting in a distant sort of way. My research interests aren't especially related to the material, but it seems in every class we discuss something that I have a hard time imagining.

For instance, today one classmate shared a printed copy of a pro-anorexia site. It is so ridiculous that I thought it must be a parody. She assured us it was not. She then said you can't find these sites via Google, because they're hoping we all eat healthily. So if you're morbidly curious -- and here's to hoping you're fine with your body type -- you'll have to use a different search engine.

And then another classmate pointed out how similar the tips on the pro-anorexia site look in comparison to typical dieting advice.

In moderation I argued. Any diet advice that suggests you have a chicken bouillon for dinner because it would only mean five calories is advice you'd know to avoid.

The original presentation featuring the pro-anorexia site continued with discussion of a survey done by researchers in Missouri. They created and showed a series of sites, anorexia, "fashion" and so on to female subjects. This was done in a 25-minute exposure, at the end of which, the researchers had to share eating disorder phone numbers in case they'd caused undo damage.

My first question: It only takes 25 minutes of exposure? Really?

The answer, which I can only take on faith that they're telling me the truth, is "For impressionable young women of the age group involved (18-22), yes."

I'm also curious about scientific impact concerns. If 25 minutes is this potent, who are we as social scientists to be subjecting individuals to such things? Of course the researchers here had the proper oversight approval, but there are still questions at play. It is an interesting conversation, in a mind boggling way.

Even still, I leave class ready to watch football, or a movie with explosions and car chases as a balancing precaution.

This was part of the front page of the Crimson White, the Alabama paper. That's generally a good paper and this edition is no exception to that, but there's no real reason for this story. I love history -- even as past socio-cultural problems look so wretched through a contemporary lens -- and that's what this is, a history lesson. It is a nice historical piece, but there's no news here other than the headline aimed at ginning up a contemporary controversy to gain extra attention.

Now, if they ran a special edition full of period news and modern analysis, pulling in their many historical resources to document dark days and the journey forward in a multimedia extravaganza they'd earn themselves well-deserved attention, and a positive conversation builder. Maybe they'll hit on that idea before long.

The student-journalists at Samford are hard at work putting their paper together for tomorrow. This week Step Sing takes over the campus, the song and dance entertainment feature of the semester has everyone's attention. The secret themes have been announced, and the dress rehearsals have begun, so some of the groups know what their competition is like. This is THE big event, and it will be reflected in the paper's coverage tomorrow as well.

Most of the paper's staff is taking part in Step Sing this year, so there are a few hours, even as they're trying to put the paper to bed, when they all disappear to parts unknown for practice. It is all pretty funny in its own way, though some of the students are, after two weeks of preparation, ready to be done with the thing.

I'm going to one of the shows later in the week for my first Step Sing experience. After seeing art tonight from one of the paper's photographers detailing some of the costumes I'm even more curious about the show.

But that's toward the end of the week. And this one only just feels as if it is beginning. And my throat hurts. Poor, pitiful me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I seldom remember dreams. I'm certain I have them, but they disappear through some vaporous environment between sleeping and waking moments. A few times a year I might remember something that took place in a dream, and then only fleetingly. I've long thought it to be an issue of not sleeping enough or somehow sleeping incorrectly.

And I've now decided, after my dream this early morning, that I'll just continue on sleeping incorrectly. At least I'd sleep well.

So I'm in this overly large and dilapidated strip mall at a restaurant of some sort. They serve buffet style and charge for drinks by the glass. The people I'm dining with I only vaguely know in the dream. It occurs to me that they're on the periphery of a church group, or friends of my friends from some church group. They have two kids, young teens, and they wisely grab two glasses each for their drinks, saving the inevitable return trip for a refill.

The brutish person in charge of watching the tables and assigning prices notes this and charges me for four drinks between the two kids -- whom, again, I barely know at all. I have a long discussion with the guy, explaining that I hardly know them, the stupidity of his pricing policy and the pure profit margin it provides. Ultimately I go back and forth from threatening to never to return to one of my favorite restaurants again to badmouthing my meal companions, suggesting I come here all the time, but I won't be coming back here with them. As if that will solve the problem.

About this time the person that I know that knows my double dipping drinkers finally shows up. I must now cease badmouthing the friends of friends and convince the restauranteer to do the same. The high sign is used, which involves big eye gestures and the miniature throat cutting signal.

Somehow this leads me to leaving the restaurant to go find ... something. Time passes in the dream and after about 45 minutes I return and the place has become a parking nightmare. Not in the can't-find-a-space sense, or the raining-hard-and-I-parked-way-off-and-have-no-umbrella sense. The parking lot is full of double and triple parkers, and unconventional spots that I can't figure out or navigate. Ultimately I somehow left the parking lot and, desperate, got back on the road to try the entire process again. Whereby I missed the parking lot entrance.

I'm glad I seldom remember dreams.

The unfortunate part of all this being that I woke up exhausted. Two things that keep me from being well rested, it seems, are dreams and waking up a bunch over the course of the nap. Today the former happened and I've been yawning ever since. Hopefully this won't set the tone for the week.

But beyond the weird dream the day has been grand. Hit the gym this morning, worked out fairly well. Got in a few exercises I haven't done in a while and felt pretty good about the whole experience.

Some of the students were in and out of the newsroom today in advance of this week's paper. It was beautiful and warm outside and happily nice in the office as well -- they seldom match up the seasonally appropriate thermostat settings.

There will probably be a nice spread in the paper on Dr. Corts this week. The former university president died suddenly late last week. There was a prayer service that day and a more formal memorial over the weekend. Today the university put these pictures together.

He was here for more than two decades as president, which is a long time to hold that job. Those slides show him impossibly young when he first arrived, with Gerald Ford, Margaret Thatcher and, improbably, dressed as a gangster for some costume event. It is a nice little slide show for a man who, at 68, had served his community, state and the nation, but still didn't find his job here complete. He was still doing important work and guest lectures, even in retirement.

I love that last photograph in the slideshow. He's sitting next to a statue of Ralph Waldo Beeson, a 20th Century insurance tycoon who donated somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million to Samford over the years, most of that toward the end of his life. As you might imagine there are more than a few things around campus named after the Beeson family. Every university has one, most people at the place don't know enough about the person.

And while I don't have $100 million to give, I did have $3.08 on my desk today. For that much money I could have bought three shares of an in-state bank this afternoon. I could have had a slender slice of another one of the region's prominent names and still had enough change to buy a stamp and tell someone about it.

The 52 week high for that bank was Ralph $14.04 a share. Now it is trading at $.88 a share. And that's after a rally. Ouch.

I'd share the name of the place, but I don't want to make the markets tremble any further. Clearly the organization is volatile enough -- in the negative sense -- as it is.

And so with that in mind I caught the last few minutes of President Obama's press conference tonight. I noted, as you did, how he threw his vice president under the bus and how the assembled reporters laughed their knowing laugh. I noted, as you might have, how the many is just full of verbal fillers when he isn't using his stump speech. This is not a crime; it can be hard saying something that says nothing. His predecessor taught us that.

And then, sadly, he ended on ideology. Sigh. Last week he spoke of the need for debate in the same sentence as he spoke of the need for the other party to shut up and vote aye. It'll be an interesting administration.

But he has to get off the air because 24 was coming on. It is hard to imagine FDR, since we are so Depression-centric in our conversations these days, carrying on with his fireside chats with Jack Bauer was waiting in the wings for his regularly scheduled radio program.

It is easier to imagine 24 as a radio show, actually. I bet that would have worked out well, provided you could get the beeping clock worked into the story somehow. And now, without further ado, here's my Twitter feed from tonight's episode of 24, because everything has to have a gimmick, and I liek this one.
We need a uniter, not a divider. We need Jack Bauer!

Obama has better gravitas than the president. It is a bit odd to see the real one next to a teevee one.

Bauer: I can find your hubby. Pres: Where do your loyalties lie? Bauer: Ask around. Most awkward presidential conversation ever?

What if (FBI agent) Larry's the source?

Bauer has no moral equivalence, he just has an iron will. Also 24 would have us believe FBI agents have no concept of coercive deception.

Bauer kills a special forces vet with one stab wound and then jacks a caddy. That's how he rolls.

More awkwardness; "Sorry for breaking into your house like this ... And threatening you and your adorable child ... I'm gonna go."

Bauer slides into third and capped that guy, but the bad guy shot the first gentleman in the liver, affecting Jack's permanent record.
Which is just great. Now he's got to stop the bleeding -- for an entire week, even -- and it is getting late in his afternoon, so you know he's starting to get hungry.

Remember last season when he bit that guy's neck in half? And how Kiefer Sutherland was previously cast as a vampire in Lost Boys? The first gentleman's bullet wound and recent chemical paralysis are the least of his worries. I'm just saying.

After that was an episode of the TNT advertising show, Trust Me. It's like a contemporary ad men, starring the guy from Will and Grace, who's playing basically the same character, but more straight and worrisome. He's opposite the guy from Ed, who's just as great as he's ever been.

Something better happen in the next episode or two of that show, though, or we're going to catch on that there's not much there.

Tomorrow: I have a class, and a paper. Tuesdays are long. I'm going to try and make it through with as few dreamlike parking problems as possible.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

As usually happen this time of year, the hot tub got a little extra attention today. Typically it sits quietly, in use or patiently waiting. Today a big cleaning was scheduled. The weather was mild and the leaves could be avoided -- they'll lose their dominion over the lawn next weekend -- and so the hot tub had the lid flipped, the water drained and an overly thorough cleaning scheduled.

If only it were that easy.

The last bit of irregular maintenance the tub required was the replacement of a busted drainage valve last winter. Ice busts plastic in roshambo after all. I found a new valve with little problem and a cap to go on the end, ensuring that the water could not animate itself, reach under the tub, open the valve and then escape into the yard.

The stopper apparatus, I learned today, is neither stainless nor rustless. And it is attached with conviction.

Since it needed cleaning anyway, I decided to start bailing. I found a five gallon bucket, resigned myself to the idea that this would take a while and started hauling water. It'll be fun I unconvincingly told myself. After 95 gallons my back started telling my mind to think up a second plan, which was when it finally occurred to try siphoning the water from the top.

So it was that I ran a hose from in the fiberglass basin, over the side, through the deck railing and out into the yard. Two siphons work just as well as one, so I started another line off the other side. It probably drained the thing as quickly as the attached valve and let me, happily, walk away from the job.

The question is: was it smart to think of the siphon or a little dense that it took so long to think of the siphon?

Going outside to check on gravity's progress as evening fell I noticed the first sign of spring: insects have moved back into the neighborhood. I can hear them in the woods down the street. Ode to spring, ode to spring, oh, dear spring you're finally on your way.

Now let's see about getting some leaves up in the trees. Staring at twigs isn't doing much for me.

The rest of my day has been research or a handful of this and a dash of that. Nothing exotic or special. So, instead, we'll just live vicariously through the idea of this brave gentleman:
(Lt. Col John Burson) will go through a mini boot camp at Fort Benning before boarding a plane for Afghanistan. It will be his third overseas deployment — Burson did a second stint in Iraq in 2007.

The doctor acknowledged the deployment to Afghanistan would be particularly challenging because he asked to be assigned to an infantry unit in the storied 101st Airborne Division.
He's 74 years old and my new hero.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to go do some heavy lifting without complaining about it for a while. Bailing water, suddenly, just won't cut it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

In no particular order of anything, I watched a view suggested recordings from the TiVo last night. One had to do with a particular period in history, another had to do with something less interesting. But the title was interesting and that's how the TiVo sucks you in. That, and the glowing light in the front of the machine, is why it is referred to as the EvIl eye.

I haven't used that name for it in some time now. Mostly because it asks so little of me. It seems I have four hours of appointment viewing per week, all evenly spread out through the week. It can serve as a nice break from staring at the computer, a buffer between the work desk and the home office desk or a nice end to the night, but it doesn't take over the day.

Not like those early days when I first bought the thing and it vigilantly recorded everything. Back then, if it was on the machine I had to watch it. (I had a lot more free time then.) And I had to watch it quickly, so the 80 hour memory wouldn't be absorbed in long marathons of some regrettable show the EvIl taped of its own initiative. But I've overcome that problem. We've talked, the TiVo and I, and it has refined its recording habits.

Anyway. I watched the episode of The First 48 that was filmed in Birmingham. The show follows around homicide detectives under the premise that their odds for solving a crime are cut in half if they don't have a suspect within the first two days. The producers of the show go around the country harassing detectives with egg timers and big sundials and ticking noises while they try to make their streets a bit safer.

Last night was Birmingham's turn to be on the show. The episode was a long time in coming. First the former mayor agreed. And then he disagreed. And then he got voted out of office (but not because of this show). He got eight percent of the vote. The man that defeated him is now facing a 101-count indictment.

But this show is about homicides and while Birmingham, unfortunately, has far too many of them, the mayor hasn't been implicated in anything of that sort.

The First 48 pairs up two cities and splits the program between them. There was a bizarre and violent murder in Tuscon and then one of the more crumbly pillars of the Birmingham community pulled out a gun in front of a crowd of people and shot a teenager.

I fast forwarded through the Tuscon story -- the show is an interesting idea on its face, but after a while you're following yet another murder, the appeal here is when it is in your town -- and watched the investigators begin their efforts in Birmingham.

The detectives, who just seek out a conversation with everyone, had a fairly easy investigation as these things go. There were lots of witnesses to the crime. The bad guy was apparently going around and threatening anyone that talked. The police had to find someone courageous enough, or as yet unthreatened, that could help them find their man.

And they did, picking him up and interrogating him downtown for a few hours. Ultimately he cracked and confessed because he didn't want to go back to jail. The guy had just been released 30 days prior after an armed robbery prior. The detectives had their confession in under 48 hours.

The best part about the show was in how they handled the detectives. They came across as hardworking, likable, empathetic types. You never know how you'll be portrayed, but they were shown here in a positive light doing a difficult job and we're all a bit safer.

The bad guy is presumed innocent, and so on. He's in jail without bond awaiting a capital murder trial.

Last night's Battlestar Galactica then. On the off chance that you're reading this and haven't watched that yet I will only say this. Whoa.

The darkest show on television, I noted on Twitter, just discovered three new shades of black.

Can they keep up this pace? Will it build from here going out? Do I even care about that pesky last Cylon plot point anymore?

Is it OK that I don't? Because after this episode I'm distracted by these goings on.

Visited the grocery store, where I distracted myself with cell phone pictures.

What is G? A lousy advertising campaign. And unfortunate graphics too. Buy this! You'll have No Exc or Uses.

Love this one, Oh! Boy Syrup which features a great logo, several varying opinions online, happy reminiscences but nothing in the way of product history.

Who was that cartoon boy? Is the syrup truly so delicious that it causes tasters to misplace their punctuation? Did Aunt Jemima steal the market share? We may never know. Unless you know, of course. And if you do, send an Email to the usual place.

From the same aisle, when your syrup imitates a whiskey bottle you're just a gateway condiment. This is merely promoting alcoholism one pancake at a time. And don't get me started on the waffles. One day the new kid in town comes over, bored and looking for trouble, and talks you into trying a waffle "With the Spring Tree sauce!"

Spring Tree doesn't play around. They brag of 42 percent of the market, that's peer pressure.

And, finally, there's water, made from babies.

Amazing what you can find at the grocery store when you pull out the cell phone camera.

That's most of the day. Tonight I watched Apollo 13 on the American Movie Classics channel and found I was too young for this programming. The commercial breaks featured ads for E.D., blood pressure or cholesterol. The tipping point was the Golden Corral spot.

Still, Apollo 13 has to be watched. Will they make it back to earth? Will Ken Mattingly, Auburn man, save the day? How long will that radio silence through the atmosphere last this time?

I'm not convinced they don't vary that scene's length for dramatic purposes. Soon they'll start inserting commercials. "And now this message from Lipitor."

Oddly the next movie was Clint Eastwood, playing an old man. I changed the channel.

Tomorrow: I'm doing productive things.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sweet, sweet Fridays. Devil may care days. Two dollar lunch days. Three classes as a student and one as a teacher are over days. Seemingly no one in the building, and the ones that are look as if they're moving through a silent film days.

People love Fridays for a lot of different reasons. I'm at a point where I love all the days because -- I'll be corny and say it all again -- all of this is a great joy and blessing to do. But Fridays are becoming an extenuation of the reflective portion of Thursday evenings.

I paid some bills, tried to figure out where I might have gone wrong and where I might have gone right in my journalism class and started dreaming up ways to improve upon that next week.

My students are writing blogs as part of their coursework. One has already starting putting stuff in his and it is a promising and interesting read. Later I get to come back and comment on all of these things and offer ideas and encouragement. This, as they say in some tropical and cruise commercials, is the life.

Soon my students will be writing and shooting photography, their workload will pick up a bit from there as well. They are a really bright bunch and I'm excited to see what they put together as we spread out the skill sets. But that's later. This is Friday, which ends on time because there's barbecue to eat and flipping to watch.

So The Yankee and I have ribs at Dreamland. Where I managed to put exactly two drops of sauce on a beautiful sweater that I'd opened for the first time this morning. Someone went out and, assuredly, spent more money than they needed to and I wear the thing and put two little circular drops on the left pectoral side.

I'll be washing that out tonight and tomorrow.

After ribs and pudding we headed to Coleman Coliseum to watch Alabama host Denver. I finally got a nice vault shot and promptly gave up on trying that ever again. Vault is tremendously hard to catch from the stands. They move too fast, cover a great vertical distance, the light is just not quite right and the place you'd really want to be is filled with students.

Shooting vault is an exercise in frustration.

Never I mind. Somewhere about halfway through the meet I begin tinkering with shooting different things anyway. I expect I've captured in the last three or four years, most everything I'll be able to shoot at a gymnastics meet. I've concentrated on big aerial flips and freezing gymnasts in the middle of impossible looking feats and now I'm zooming in a bit more.

I blame this cute child. More than his expressions I got interested in his hands playing with his grandmother's fingers. That led to gymnasts' hands on bars, feet on beam, concentration and more, which can be found in the now current February photo gallery.

After the meet one of our professors gave us his tickets to the medalist club. Presumably this is for the high rolling season ticket holders. There's an unfortunate food spread, mingling and later the coach comes up to say a few words and rah rah about next week's big meet. The gymnasts wander through the crowd signing autographs and playing with kids. It's a nice little event.

So Alabama defeated Denver easily. They've been struggling this season, but did it right tonight, just in time for an upstart LSU team's visit next week. It'll come down to the last event in the words of the coaches. And also rah, rah. There will surely have pictures to share.

For now I'm going to catch up on what the TiVo has in store for me. That's blog fodder for tomorrow. Hope you're planning a great weekend!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On the way to Tuscaloosa I saw a bicycle with a motor. I was later told they have great gas mileage. So does peddling, but then it won't have a cool weed eater motor strapped on the back of it, would it?

In class we talked of Phineas Cage, mentioned here yesterday, and his railroad spike of personality altering doom. We also talked about the blink of your eye to loud sounds, and the twitch of a muscle behind the ear to the same stimulus.

This is all down the professor's alley. He may be on his way to becoming one of those world's-top-scholar types in the biological response to communication. It is a field that drills way beyond the cultural, passed the psychological and everything else right down to the neurological chemicals and neurons firing in the brain.

As biology all of this stuff is fascinating to consider and amazing to talk about. I watch the documentaries and read the stories on this sort of thing when I can, but the science of it probably isn't for me. Unless I could figure out some way to justify wiring people to monitors for journalistic purposes. I might like to work on that study. Until then, though, I'll just hear about it from others.

After class at Alabama it was time to hop in the car and drive back to Birmingham for an evening at Samford. I have a class to teach too, ya know.

In my class we talked of the topics the students will cover the rest of the semester and blogs and writing styles. I have two students that want to learn about stuff I didn't even put in the syllabus. I love this place.

After class -- and because I had no lunch -- I was ready for dinner in the cafeteria. The place is decked out with banners for Step Sing, the big festivus coming up next weekend. This is my favorite one.

After dinner there was the quiet part of Thursday, where I spent my time trying to make next week's class better than this week's meeting. I love this part of Thursdays, on the downhill of the week and in a still building, it is a very nice, calm idea.

At home I watched the latest Life on Mars. It was a good episode where they finally returned to the mid-season cliffhanger. I suppose they didn't want to alienate any new audience last week with plots and conspiracies and supernatural teases. That episode was pretty basic, and we're all the lesser for it.

This episode featured the return of the ominous phone voice, more stuff that makes no sense to anyone and a furthering along of a plot that we can't easily predict.

The British version of the show, I understand, didn't have a comparable episode. We're all in 1973, not knowing what will happen next. And then the large, red, burned man walks into the police station with a machete and a confession.

The network apparently likes Life on Mars, but it was getting no traction in its previous slot in the fall. Moving this show behind Lost, which I do not watch, was probably a good idea. Maybe the numbers will make that move worthwhile.

Either way it is one of those shows that you hope runs its course before it goes off the air. It'd be a shame to not see a resolution. If you're interested at all in the program now's the time to jump in. So far here's your plot: Cop gets hit by an SUV in modern New York and somehow this moves him back to 1973 New York. He thinks he's alive, thinks he's in a coma and figures solving crimes in the 70s can somehow get him home. Now you're caught up. The tease tonight foretold of twists and turns beyond that which may need your close attention in the future.

Distraction: Check out this terrific gigapan of Obama's inauguration. That's from Kelly, who proudly found Aretha Franklin's hat. I found everyone to be blinking. And also, there are a few places behind the president where the images merged and people have two faces. I choose not to dwell on this, but should weird things begin to emerge from this administration I will point to this moment as the one where we could prove problems were on the horizon. "Alien two faced creatures in our government at the highest levels! What do we do!?"

That's next week, on ABC.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Today is National Signing Day for college football. All the promising young stars of the high school game can now formally join the college of their choice. Previously they could only verbally commit (and waffle as they saw fit) but today the brilliant young athletes of America learn about the concept of binding contracts.

This is, of course, a huge event for football fans. It is a cash crop for sports journalism to cover the capricious whims of starstruck 17-year-old boys -- and may they all be successful on the field and in the classroom.

It is said in Alabama there is no off season. There is regular season, the post season and the recruiting season. With an off season we might find more hobbies, but we generally find that we're OK with the ones we have, thank you very much.

I'm one of those heretics who cares not for Signing Day and all of the many stories before it's arrival. It is a grand moment, to be sure, for the young men who are suddenly surrounded by glitz and glamor. It is a proud moment for their families who are grateful for all of the opportunities a free ride can provide.

The Media and fan attention for all of this makes me a little uncomfortable. Listening to the recruiting talk on my own station when I worked as a sports reporter was troubling enough. It seemed more than a little odd to hear a grown man speak with a clear "I was there!" memory of both a 1971 contest against Tennessee and the intentions of a 17-year-old kid from Valley High in the same conversation. It was that caller that made me realize I had no desire to be a sports reporter; being in my 50s and worrying about teenagers not related to my family was ridiculous, then as now.

There are two truths here: 1.) football is important 2.) teenagers holding press conferences should be kept to a minimum. The obsession of which hat or jersey the guy will reveal is odd, at best, scary at its most unrefined. But congratulations to those guys blessed with talent and dedication to earn your way. Make the most of it. Happily I'm not covering any of it.

There was sad news to cover today within the Samford community. Dr. Thomas Corts, the president emeritus of the university, died suddenly this morning. I got the first email at lunch while reading today's paper, left there, trying to track down reporters and others on what will be the important story of the next week.

Through the afternoon reporters were assigned, press releases issued, quotes distributed and the student-journalists had a story on their website with an hour or so of the news going public. That was a nice workflow considering much of the paper's leadership was stuck in classes during that period.

It will be a new experience for the students that end up covering the memorial story in the next week. Already we're discussing the taste and procedure of such a delicate and personal thing. I've covered tragic police deaths, high profile murder funerals, the death of congressional hunting dogs, military funerals and so on. It never is easy -- except for the hunting dog. My news director made me call the Congressman for a quote and he was as perplexed by that as I -- but often necessary as a news event.

I'm glad that the students are thoughtful enough to ask these questions. I'm even more humbled that I get to help them figure out the best way to handle it.

Something a bit lighter: A creature was scurrying around in the attic space above my office today. You could hear it clattering and scratching around, moving quickly back and forth.

This doesn't concern me, except if it is a squirrel I know they will chew on things. The radio station that's next door to the newspaper has some cable running through the attic and that could be a problem.

So I called the building facility people, mentioned the invasion and asked if that's the sort of thing they'd like to be informed about.

Of course by the time one of the inspectors arrived the critter was quiet and still. He, too, suspect squirrel. He said they fight them all winter as they try to come inside and find warm places to hide. "If they come back" he said, "give us a call and we'll set up a live trap."

I made jokes about how the squirrel wasn't bothering me, especially -- you don't want to be That Guy with the facilities people -- and asked him to not hold it all against me. As soon as he left one of the students in the newsroom said he could hear the running overhead too.

Sometimes you can't win. And I'm sure I am now That Guy to the facilities people. They have walkie talkies and speak in code, so you know what's going on, even if you don't get the punchline of the little jokes they make about you.

"Oh a squirrel in the attic, huh? Well, when he calls with some problem in the spring I'll just take my leisurely time in getting there."

I can't imagine them really doing that. They seem generally on top of things, but you never know when you're reputation changes and you become the "Get there when I feel like it ... If I remember it ... " caller.

In epistemology this evening we discussed Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Oft quoted, oft criticized, seldom understood for better or worse. History, science, philosophy, he faced loud voices from all sides. Especially in that little niche where the three occasion to meet. (On the other hand, it gave him something to write about for the next few decades and anything that sustainable has to be a worthy achievement.)

After enduring eight years of criticism and wordplay Kuhn reshaped how he thought about the process he'd described. (Anything, a cynic might say, to sell new editions.) The postscript is interesting in that he does radically change his position on radically changing positions. Our professor is convinced that this is one of the most cited, but least read works in contemporary social science. People, our professor says, want to associate themselves with the concept but don't know about the new ending.

And so it was that we spent the evening discussing the semantics of the scientific semantic king.

I read this in graduate school at UAB for a models class. It made more sense this time around, so that's progress.

Dinner tonight at Logans, because on Mondays through Wednesdays you can eat for peanuts.

Here I'd like to brag upon the consumer affairs aspect of Twitter. I sent that photograph and made the "I'm being risky eating peanuts, come and get me salmonella!" pun. A few moments later I had polite notes pointing out that "The risk was in processed peanut past, not the peanuts."

And so I shelled peanuts without fear, waiting on my dinner to arrive, sans potato. Because the potato had been 86ed for the night. So I asked for a sweet potato, and made mental notes about all of this.

Later the waiter brought out a regular baked potato. He'd found some in the back they were cooking, he said. I inspected the spud for telltale signs that the tuber had been recently recovered from a dumpster. He laughed and blamed new kitchen staff. But he didn't really deny it ... hmmm. I let him escape with a joke that they ran to the publix next door and picked up some fresh veggies.

The food was delicious, even if the potato was delayed.

And home, now, I'm all set to try to answer questions about assumptions offered in Descartes' Error.

That's right, the father of modern philosophy. He erred, according to behavioral neurologist Antonio Damasio, head of USC's Brain and Creativity Institute. Nothing like a little light reading at 10 p.m.

I see Phineas Gage in the copy. This could actually be fun. Let you know tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Another day, another effort to bend the constraints of space and time to let me do everything at once, lest I have to do things one at a time. Ordinarily this isn't a bad thing at all. But when you open your eyes at 7 or so and plan to spend pretty much a full day and night at places other than here you might find it useful to be two places at once, doing three things at a time.

Alas, it is not to be. And when particle physicists give us such grand technology I hope to be one of the beta testers. There are lots of useful things you could do with such abilities.

Spent the morning and afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Wrote on the first part of my face-ism paper for one class. The Yankee, Our Friend Andrew and I went to an Indian place tucked neatly into an exhausted strip mall. With a name like Maharaja of India it has to authentic and original.

I say that in jest walking into the place, but there's no escaping the delicious lunch. I'm glad I suggested that last week, and I see why everyone so quickly agreed to go there. Lunch is buffet style, uncrowded and you're surrounded by a floating staff of very attentive employees. Also, they made their cauliflower spicy. That place is good. We'll be back.

After lunch I had a chat with the journalism department head at Alabama. We discussed the sweeping strategies of journalism in her department and how it might shape the students of tomorrow.

It was nothing so grand, really, but it is always nice to hear what others are doing, what they are planning and considering. Most journalism programs are stretched out somewhere along the same timeline toward keeping their curriculum up to date with a changing industry. Some are in the curve, some are behind it. Some are moving along merrily, others are being drug kicking and screaming.

The question that all of them have considered: How does one make institutional changes in an environment that tends to move a bit slowly when trying to adjust for an industry in the middle of rapid flux? It is a fascinating thing to see.

Class, class and more class. Media and the body met today. We're all taking turns summarizing research journal articles. Three of those were heard today. One skewered an article, another article was well received and a third was gushed over. At the end of all of this we get one page summaries of the critiques and a copy of the article itself, the idea being that we'll have a modest collection of randomly assorted media and body image research by the end of the semester. This is not an uncommon idea, and it is fairly useful in the original intention and also gives some insight into what your colleagues are doing in their own research.

The class is just a parking lot away from the football stadium. Big gusts of wind were blowing in from the west today and circling through the walkway ramps to the upper levels of the stadium. Everything around here is brick, so nothing is shuddering, but the moans of the wind were delightful.

On the other side of the stadium is a city cemetery. Not sure whether the sounds we heard were municipal ghosts or legends from the field. In this part of the world, though, ghosts are out of central casting for the Civil War or in a three-point stance.

Anyway. The professor, who's about as organized as they come, then hands out her itemized notes for the day. We discuss many of those topics and others she has put on a Powerpoint display. As I said, she's very organized.

It is a good class, though sometimes I feel as if I should rush home and watch football or do some other socially constructed masculine activities. But it is a good class.

After driving back from Tuscaloosa I'm spending the evening at Samford where the students are laboring on this week's paper. When they aren't at Step Sing practice. That's one of the big social experiences on campus here.

It is mentioned year 'round, but is the basis of every third conversation in January and February. Thought, decoration and practice dominate everything through Valentine's Day. I'll go see one of their performances next week, just to learn what all the discussion is about. After that life will get back to normal, but for the next two weeks this is the star around which we all orbit to lesser or greater degrees.

One problem resolved tonight was finding a conversion for PMS color to CMYK. I found the appropriate number in the Pantone chart but was told "too brown." Which it was. After the second chart -- Pantone sneakily changes their scheme every so often so you have to purchase the updated literature -- also showed too much brown I began to suspect someone was misreading the number.

They were. The proper PMS code was found, the corresponding CMYK formula was discovered. All the world will be covered in a beautiful red tomorrow. Score one for us.

So, with a night full of chatting with the student-journalists about this and that I'll wrap this up for now and see if we can all escape the newsroom before the wee hours of the morning.

Monday, February 2, 2009

It was supposed to snow today. The forecast, heading into the weekend at least, called for flurries today and accumulation tomorrow. We're getting rain instead. Everyone's fine with that.

Had lunch with an old friend today. We chat via phone or email occasionally, but we've been face-to-face twice in the last year or so. We went to grad school together, he came and worked at al.com for a time. After a few other stops he's now in a nice government job. He looks well, likes his work and seems enthused about his opportunity there.

We're going to start sending a few Samford students his way as interns. We talked about that and our jobs and families over hamburger steak and gumbo as the last of the rain dripped down from the awning to the sidewalk outside. It was a great little visit. By the time we were done the clouds were scattering.

After that I spent the afternoon in the office doing office things, neatly organizing files and pens and considering the week's paper and classes. They're trying to freeze me out of my office, I think, but otherwise it was another wonderful day on campus.

Late in the evening when the gumbo wore off I walked down to the food court for a fruit snack. The kid at the register calculates my selection and then catches my eye with his and then glances up at the price screen. I fish a few bucks out of my wallet and he digs into the cash register to make change. He passes over the few coins without so much as a grunt.

And there it was, my first wordless transaction. He didn't care how my day was going, so I didn't ask about his afternoon. It didn't matter to him whether I found everything I wanted so I did not tell him that I, in fact, did not find everything I wanted.

The kid looked at me and then glanced at the price. Didn't even point or spin that little screen, just flicked his eyes up there. I suppose I should have felt guilty for not providing exact change, lest he have to work. But instead I moved along thinking Next time I'm making that kid chat about the weather. And car insurance.

And now, to end the night, it is another Jack Bauer Hour of Power, brought to you by Trump Towers and my Twitter feed. When we left the action the bad guys were about to do bad things with bad chemicals somewhere in Ohio ... :
If only that suddenly vulnerable tank had a manual handcrank preventing the highly toxic pesticide from reaching the atmosphere...

That bad guy is smart to duck Jack Bauer and Tony Almeida, but it is only a matter of time, of which the bad guy has little.

Finally, Jack Bauer's bloodlust has been quenched. And Jack's looking outside. For a sandwich.

Earlier we heard the Geico version of "Somebody's watching me." It's Jack Bauer, via his cool night vision scope.

Wasn't Bill Buchanan a bureaucrat? Is he checked out on that hardware?
The guy running Jack Bauer's Twitter wrote to reply that he'd given Buchanan a crash course. I later asked him about his opinion of the president and first gentleman. He said he'd let us know when he met them. But he knew one thing for sure: they should not try to pass their stimulus bill off on him.

Later in the show:
If the bad guy had a PR firm he'd have a much easier time of it. He might not have to resort to extortion. Be a less exciting show though.

See friends, in a black and white world like Jack Bauer's a handshake and word of honor still mean something.

Secret service is getting a bad rap in this season of 24 I disapprove.
They can't all be funny. This particular bit about rogue agents is less so. We've got at least two secret service guys on the take here, which is a shame. I've met many of these men and women who serve with dedication and selfless honor and it always makes me cringe to see them reflected in this way for a plot point.

What's more, this is almost ripping off the plot from The Sentinel, starring that Kiefer Sutherland guy. He's no Jack Bauer.

OK, time for a bit of face-ism research, and then wind down the night with tools of winding, and an easily compliant night.

More tomorrow, as I go to class and have an early look at the first paper of the semester. Tuesdays are long, and fulfilling and fun and -- I'm enjoying all of this way too much. Mondays are pretty great too. Hope yours has been worth your effort and enjoyment. Hope your tomorrow is even better!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

And now my super Super Bowl entry (that isn't especially super, nor of the same dramatic quality the game provided). From my Twitter feed:
Who's singing the national anthem? I'm guessing it's not Faith Hill or the Boss. The Yankee notes it will also not be an American Idol winner.

(Unless it is.)

And I love the acting out of the lip synching.

F. Scott Fitzgerand? At a football game? Great Gatsby! Also, (the sideline reporter) didn't really offer a lot new.

That Jack Black movie? Well ... Hope he made a lot of money on Nacho Libre. Yeesh.

The Mr. Potato Head Bridgestone is the best commercial so far. Doubt I'll buy tires because of it though.

Shame Danica Patrick's racing career hasn't been more succesful thus far.

Even if you could tell me who were in the white masks, I'd still say the "What is G?" campaign is an unfortunate one.

Saw a story that inBev might make Bud cut back on the marketing. Maybe it is time.

Karlos Dansby! (He grabbed an interception. He's from Auburn.)

That cameraman is suing the Boss for the shattered orbital bone.

Alright, what's the fourth song Bruce has to play at a concert, lest there be riots? Born to run, Born in the USA, Glory Days and ...

Is the cowbell guy on stage left even mic'ed?

Bruce! You always know you'll get high energy. But no Born in the USA? I thought we could feel good about ourselves again ...

OK, the Coke Zero not-Mean-Joe-Green spot was the best one of the night.

No one in 1992 could have imagined Jump Around would be a Super Bowl theme. Another fun Bridgestone ad though. Aliens=thieves.

The Immigrant Clydesdale was a nice ad, best of Bud's efforts. But why did the third generation horse have a horribly fake Scottish accent?

Two nice Coke spots - the insect one being better than the icon one. Excited at the idea of another Special FX-laden Transformers movie.

I did not realize that Richard Dean Anderson had fallen upon such hard times. Guesting in a bad Pepsi commercial that spoofs you? Yeesh.

For a change, and to everyone's surprise, the game is better than the commercials. As it should be.

I really am ready to be convinced the league has been rigging finishes this season. There's been a lot of drama this season.

I'm now willing to entertain nominations for better Super Bowls than this one. Anyone got a good one? (Besides SBIII?)

Incredible game. And the NBCee It feature is still a great toy.

Go Steelers! (Think I'll ask the boss for a raise tomorrow. Hehe.)
The Steelers, my boss' team, should have put this game much earlier. In that sense it wasn't the best game, but it was long on drama.

The day was about counting down to the Super Bowl, the commercials, Springsteen and the big finish. There's no game to count down toward next weekend -- no one counts down to the Pro Bowl -- so we'll all just start counting the days until August.

Hope you enjoyed your Super Sunday!