Kenny Smith | blog

Sunday, May 31, 2009

This morning we had breakfast at Clary's. It was delicious, as always. Ms. Maggie waited on us, as I think she has every time we've visited there over the last four years.

That photo was my afternoon. It was a perfect day at the beach. Hot and muggy inland, maybe 10 degrees cooler at the shore and perpetually breezy.

Kids were playing, kites were flying, birds were fishing and boats were sailing. The Yankee sat in the sun and read. I sat under a nice round umbrella and read. My skin is delicate. The sun dislikes my skin and has forever been intent on turning it bright red. Picture a radish going through heat stroke, and you have me after about 20 minutes in the sun.

In fact, for a few moments this afternoon the shade got away from me. Consequently my knees and one little strip across the top of my feet are a bit on the pinkish side. Total exposure: about 90 seconds I'd say. Total time in the shade: Five wonderful hours.

Who cares!? I had the waves, the wind, the sand, the seagulls and a book. Throw in a little shade and I'm a happy guy. Otherwise pass the SPF 375.

We've always charged Wendy with the task of helping us find out of the way, local restaurants. Prior to this trip she found and suggested a little seafood cafe for dinner. It was not especially good, was a bit pricey, and generally not much for atmosphere, but you can't find the truly great places without making a few fortunate discoveries. So, Wendy, when you read this, don't be discouraged; let's keep searching! The Yankee, perhaps, said it best:
Why is the shrimp is so costly if they're really pulling it from the water out back - no shipping required!
And to sum up the joint, she said:
If you're ever tempted to try Cafe Loco on Tybee Island - don't.
Hence, they get the dreaded non-link of shame. Just as well, their website has irritating automatic bird noises. Whomever is designing websites in the greater Savannah area has convinced everyone to use sound and splash pages, annoying, well, everyone else.

Dessert was an ice cream concoction at the Sonic on Whitemarsh Island, famous for their forks. They brought us spoons with our proprietarily named treat, which was long on the ice cream and a little short on the sweet hidden nuggets of Reese's Cups. But still, it was ice cream on a steamy night that wrapped up May and set the stage for a straightforward and hot June. Sitting in the car and talking over ice cream was a great way to end the day. There are no complaints there.

I hope your weekend has been wonderful as well!

Tomorrow: We run a few important errands and then head back to Birmingham.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Another day, another whirlwind trip.

This morning I dropped my car off at the dealership for a bit of regular maintenance. The check engine sensor has been on as of late and my mechanic has thoroughly inspected it twice -- by which I mean assigning one of his employees to the task, whereby two separate computers were connected to my car for quick confabs about the problem and presumptive solutions -- and both times it came back as a bad valve in the fuel injection system.

My mechanic's employee, being a nice guy, pointed out that this particular system in my car was still under a special warranty. Finally, today -- I work and go to school and drive A LOT in between -- I've been able to drop the car off. Turns out I perhaps could have done this some time ago. While the name of the part suggested it might be buried deep within the guts of vehicle and would take some time, several curses and rather unfortunately bruised knuckles to reach, the guys at the dealership had it ready by this afternoon.

Just to be on the safe side they also replaced a thingamajiggy related to the passenger's side air bag. Seems there was a problem in some cars requiring a recall. I received the literature in the mail, dutifully read the description of the problem and symptoms, ascertained I did not have the problem and ignored it. They fixed it today because, hey, it was a beautiful Saturday and they had to be in the shop anyway.

They had all of this done just after lunch. By then I was well into Georgia, as The Yankee and I were making a quick trip to Savannah. So my car is sitting comfortably in a secured dealership lot, having received warrantied and recall work. All is well. Too late I considered asking them how much they'd charge to detail it. Someone has to do it, and if they don't, I will.

Anyway, the view above makes up about six hours of my day. I shot that on my camera phone, just to post it online immediately. I find most everything looks brighter through my sunglasses, so I filtered the lens through them when I took the picture. On the monitor it looked like a dusty, aging sepia. I ran one digital filter on it in Photoshop and now the colors remind me of a bright, optimistic 1950s photo. I'll take it.

After we made it into Savannah The Yankee and Our Friend Wendy had dinner at The Crab Shack on Tybee Island. As gift shops go, it is kitsch and smells of their many caged birds. This, however is right out of a nightmare about LV-426.

The crab was good. Salty, sweet and buttery. It took 10 minutes to park, 12 simultaneous minutes of standing in line to get on the waiting list and about 15 minutes to have a table. Took us forever to eat, but I eat crab slowly.

After dinner we watched break dancers on River Street. I shot video, which you can see here, here, here, here and here.

Later we stumbled across a lively little piano concert. Since this is south Georgia David Allan Coe wasn't far from anyone's mind. Don McLean was there in spirit as well. It was a fun night after a long stretch of day in the car.

Tomorrow: more fun of course!

Friday, May 29, 2009

I intended to include, but ultimately forgot to share, a few kitty pictures. Since it is a Friday, and I have nothing more than a few photographs, really, I'll add them here.

This one was sleeping upside down. At least until I dared disturb her.

Do you ever get the feeling a cat has designs on your fate and is just waiting until you sleep?

Meanwhile, this one sits like a lady.

Much of the day was spent fussing over a book. Classes start back again next week and I had three books delivered this week. One of them, in a bright red box on the front cover, notes that this is an international edition, not meant for North American use.

A series of not especially enlightening Emails has ensued. I wrote the seller directly, noting that, while my address does not list a CA like his, I am most definitely on the continent. He replies that he's checked the inventory and they have no North American edition.

Fair enough, I inquire about the return policy for his happy little, geographically-challenged outfit. I'm still waiting to hear back. I write Amazon, who suggests I give them a bit more time. That's fine. Meanwhile I must find another edition of the book. In my searches I find no mention of the edition of origin. I've never had this problem with a text before, but now I'm paranoid. I begin writing prospective booksellers. No replies.

I asked Twitter if anyone had any hints or tips on such a dilemma. A colleague notes that often the international and North American text are the same. This makes no sense to me -- which is why I'm not in the textbook racket business. Turns out there's a paper stock and price difference. If you say so. I look around at a few sites and find some vaguely reassuring assurances that the texts are word-for-word the same in both editions. We'll find out.

No need to mention this to the professor, so please help me keep the secret.

And that's, somehow, been the largest part of the day. Not sure how that happened. I did somehow manage to finally watch Windtalkers:
John Woo, Nicholas Cage and Christian Slater gets beheaded! Guilty pleasures abound!
The dozen word description, designed to give the kneejerk movie review, as usual, doesn't do the film justice. I like to try and count the explosions in Woo's films, and the number of times Cage changes accents or goes to the City of Angels pout in his films. And who doesn't love Slater? Otherwise, this is more of a war eh-pic.

Comparing this to the period pieces that surrounded it this felt entirely like a movie. Half the time you expect to see Cage break character and talk to the crew, a la Tropic Thunder. There was a lot of authentic gear and weaponry in the movie, so that was a nice touch. Otherwise, it seems I didn't miss much waiting for this one.

Found two great rides before Pie Day. On the way we noted this chick-magnet. Nothing says "Are you going my way? Well ... let me know when you reconsider" like a three wheeled motorcycle with a soft top. Seems like it should have ... you know ... doors ... in order to get on the interstate, but then he's probably 14 percent safer than his motorcycle driving brethren.

If that doesn't appeal, there's always the Lotus. Someone drove down from Tennessee to show off that machine, and eat delicious barbecue and pie. I told the people inside and there was a mad rush to the parking lot to see it. If you need a Lotus -- and who doesn't? -- you can pick one up for only $48-65,000.

The rest of the night, after the customary delicious pie, was spent on the ever-thrilling laundry chores. To spice things up I removed the garbage and slightly tidied up a corner of the basement. This is exciting stuff.

Tomorrow will be better. There's a car errand, and then several hours in the car for a weekend road trip. Come back for all the details. Until then, I hope your weekend is off to a wonderful start!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yesterday was a bit thin around here. Today too. Tomorrow ... well, you'll pick up on the trend. Here, then, is a random collection of things separated by paragraphs.

Rode a quick 10 mile bike sprint this morning. I think I'm tired of sprints and am going to go back to adding miles next week. We'll see what happens. Moved around a lot of weight. I considered adding it all up to have an impressive total figure to share, but since it really only moves 24 inches or so and in a repetitive up and down manner saying "four tons" isn't really that great a feat. Mostly, I kept losing track when I tried to count that high.

Ventured out to run a few errands this afternoon and, on the way, I heard Ray Charles' You Don't Know Me. If there's ever been a song that offered the ear a more authentic emotional feeling I don't know what it is. Not sure I want to hear it either.

Stopped by the rental place to check on a tuxedo. They're still there, it is still coming. I'm trying desperately to have the measuring tape show smaller dimensions. Hope with me now. Stopped by the car dealership as well where I talked with a very disinterested man about a sensor that has appeared in my console. We'll be running tests on it soon. I know what the results will be. This test has been conducted twice on different machines by my mechanic. Happily this part of the car is still under warranty and, as soon as the dealership realizes that I know that the process of free repairs can begin.

I watched yesterday's Champions League final with Barcelona and Manchester United. The perfect match they called it. It was, for 80 minutes for one team. The other team after the first few moments of the game looked as if they didn't want to be in Rome. With UEFA completed we can now bring on the World Cup qualifiers.

This afternoon my computer's monitor blinked and turned a satisfying shade of pink. One of the pins in the cable running from monitor to hard drive is bent. And while, yes, the iMac doesn't have this particular problem, I do. I straightened the pin. It helped a little, but everything is tinted to a slightly less disconcerting shade of pink. Unfortunately I can't simply replace the cord because Sampo, in addition to making what was at the time a ludicrously large monitor, also decided to make the cable a permanent one. Thanks fellas. Further tinkering led to the discover that the presence of pink is really more of an absence of green.

It was time to start shopping for a new machine anyway. This one, which has served me well, is slow, five years old and almost full of ones and zeroes. Anyone want to shop for me? Just pick one out, I mean. I'll buy it. I just don't want to have to shop for it.

Finally got frustrated with all of the things floating around on my desk. That's an occupational hazard I've apparently brought home. The fun part of cleaning your desk is rediscovering all of the things you'd forgotten you owned. Like your birth certificate -- now safely stored away -- and priceless family mementos. It is like a Christmas laden with deja vu.

When the job was done, more precisely when I got tired of the job, the desk was 74 percent cleaner and a section of office floor re-discovered. That wasn't part of the original cleaning pattern, but was one of those things where you start suddenly, it goes quickly and within a few moments you're arranging store/trash/keep handy piles. At the end of the night three boxes of things were placed in storage. Success!

The Yankee and I watched Rachel Getting Married tonight, prompting another appearance of the dozen word review, carefuly calculated to give you the impulsive response without pretending to be a film scholar or, more pretentiously, critic:
A better title: "Rachel's self-involved sister almost ruins the wedding weekend."
We rented this from Amazon through TiVo and while I knew nothing of the film other than it had earned much acclaim I found myself about 15 minutes in desperately trying to make sense of the title, what I was watching and the info screen. Particularly the use of the word "hilarious." Oh there are three or four laughs, but that's hardly hilarious. I can't blame the movie for that, but rather Tribune Services Inc., for writing the blurb.

Dear Tribune: Hilarious is defined as "marked by or causing boisterous merriment or convulsive laughter." For example, no one would say what is happening to your company is hilarious. Unless Sam Zell is somehow involved.

I asked Twitter for any bets on how long I would stay interested in the movie -- I got up and left for a few minutes, but I came back later to see if anyone would be, you know, "happy" or "real" or "less dysfunctional than a fiction writer's imagination." Here, now, are my timeline updates via Twitter:
Rachel Getting Married, 40 mins. in: Eh, like watching the pre-wedding home movie of people you don't especially care about.

Rachel Getting Married, 1 hr and 40 mins in: She's married now, is the titled dated? Is the movie over?

Rachel Getting Married, final analysis: What was the fuss about? A steadicam wouldn't hurt. The musicians were great though.
Robyn Hitchcock saves the day, you're movie is overwrought and just not that good.

Speaking of music, summer programming even impacts the stations formerly known for airing tunes. VH1 was showing Grease tonight, MTV had cheap reality programing, of course. CMT played Pauly Shore's In the Army Now without irony and Fuse -- which once marketed itself as the music television station that played, you know, music -- offered Alien 3. If those don't satisfy you can always turn to DVDs. Great news tonight: The complete five-disc set of the second season of Lifetime's smash hit Army Wives is now available.

Americans should really invent terrific things in the thousands during the summer. We have far less to distract us at night.

If you'd like some more distractions you can always check out the latest additions to the Glomerata. This is where we're studying old Auburn yearbooks to see how the city and campus has changed over time. This is a fairly short installment, but, looking ahead, we're getting close to the end of the book. In a few more weeks I'll have to unveil something else in it's place.

Not to worry, there are two more projects waiting in the wings.

Also waiting for your perusal is the May photo gallery which is finally up and running.

That's it for today. Come back tomorrow for even more of even less!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Excuse me if I'm sluggish today. After a long drive, a late night and irascible kitties there wasn't a lot of quality sleep last night, but a great deal of the necessary rest this morning and on until about noon or so. I'm typically a night owl, but I dislike sleeping so late -- the complexities of this man know no bounds! -- because I lose half the day (my grandparents were right) and I generally feel sluggish for what's left of it.

So I read in the RSS reader, working that number down to something respectable. There it sits, at the top of the screen in bold text, at the top of each Firefox tab, taunting me, this number of unread things. And there, to the left in the reader itself, is the line item version of someone's writing still demanding your attention. There's always this dilemma: Should I read from top to bottom or bottom to top? Should I read all of one author, or spread it out in order to avoid favoritism.

Cats, at 4 a.m. on the night you return home from leaving them alone, are very vocal. I'd just like to point that out.

On the way out for lunch and groceries there was the end of a fairly scary looking accident. Two police officers were there, a paramedic was closing fast, followed by three fire trucks, one of them a rescue team. It was a car and a minivan. While I'm not sure what happened the car was thoroughly damaged and the van veered off the freeway, up the side of a hill in a nice gently curve and about a quarter of the way down again.

Accidents like this make me wonder how a Smart car would hold up.

At the grocery store I found the most blatant attempt yet to sway children into a cereal brand. The generic brands don't have an army of marketeers and copy writers to bring the subtlety. Some might call it scary, but the rest of us call it delicious. And the message is all too clear: "OK son, eat your sucrose laden, generic brand cookie simulacra of chocolate chip cookies. If you don't the blue wolf dog thing will get you!"

Later, talking with the cashier and the ever-present bagger, I ask the cashier about who belongs to the car with the "I <3 Publix" bumper sticker. In what could have been the awkward moment of the day it turned out to be hers. Seems she left Kroger for Publix and the Kroger people gave her the bumper sticker on her way out. Now she sports it with pride, and hopes no one asks her about it while she's working.

A 13-year-old girl from tiny Notasulga was in the National Spelling Bee today. The 13-year-old pride of Reeltown High spelled longitude and anodyne in the first two rounds today. Unfortunately she did not advance, despite those successes. There's a written portion of the test that helps determine who advances to the semifinals and Lindsey did not get that nod this evening. Even still, she did a great job in getting that far. Commenters did their humorous part by misspelling words in their contribution to the story.

The spelling bee always reminds me of my one experience in such a contest. It was the fifth grade, my first year in a new school. I'd recently transferred from a city system to the neighboring county system and one morning the teacher, whom no one really seemed to like, mostly because she was fond of throwing erasers at us, turned off the lights and announced there would be a spelling bee.

The entire class participated, people sitting down when they missed their word. It came down to me and one other very nice girl, we'll call her Mary, who could spell all day long. The contest was a fierce one -- they're going to write an epic poem about it one day and students will learn about Gilgamesh and Enkidu and then about Mary and me.

Finally she missed a word, the details of which have been lost to the ages, but we'll call it sesquipedalian. And now, in the 94th round of overtime was my chance to clench the victory. My word was encyclopedia. With confidence and ease I spelled it out, taking great care to pronounce the word again -- this teacher, whom we all disliked, was a stickler for this sort of thing. I'd won the day and was the toast of the class, at least until lunch time.

A few weeks later it was announced that there would be a school-wide spelling bee, with one competitor from each class. The teacher, whom we all despised with all the passion that an 11-year-old can muster, selected the other girl to represent our class, despite my overwhelming and poetic victory. And I'd carried around a spelling guide for days after too in the hopes that I could advance to greater spelling glories.

Never again did stringing letters together aloud to form words seem so appealing. Which, I guess, is why I decided to study journalism, so I could spell them out privately. I no longer have the spelling guide. The teacher -- who was probably nice enough, really -- was in her last year on the job when we came to her classroom. I'm sure she'd seen and taken part in enough of pre-adolescent problems. A year or two later she died suddenly and we all felt bad for even joking that we disliked her.

In the encylcopedia, that might be found under regret, which I also spelled correctly.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Spent the day with the family. That photo is of Mom and Coco just as we were leaving. I slept the morning away, went to a few stores with Mom in the afternoon and then sat around talking and watching videos until dinnertime.

We had Chinese at a place called The Onion. Some people may not be able to take a restaurant by that name seriously, but the food was good.

After dinner The Yankee and I packed the car as my step-father did a circle around the car, mimicking his pre-flight check. He checked the pressure on my tires, found one over-filled and one under-pressured and made the car a little bit safer for the long ride home. He's a good guy like that.

I took the requisite Coco pictures, said my goodbyes and then began the drive. Made it all the way with no problem and, because of the late hour, virtually no other cars through the last quarter of Tennessee and the northernmost part of Alabama.

I've done a lot of driving the last few days and, in the other room, is my bed and my pillows. Sounds heavenly ... think I'll go get reacquainted.

Monday, May 25, 2009

And on the final day of the conference ... we hung out with our friends Diana and Brian here. The conference was winding down and so were we. We searched for a place that served brunch on a chilly Memorial Day -- there's an oddly formed modifier that should never be repeated. This morning it was 62 degrees, with the high in Chicago only reaching 64. The high at home was in the low 80s today.

For comparison, the lowest recorded temperature on this date in Birmingham was 48 degrees in 1979. Even on that day the high temperature made it above today's 62 in Chicago.

Anyway, we had breakfast at a place called Toast. The crabby eggs benedict were delicious, and so was the stuffed french toast and my pancakes. That's granola and yogurt on the top layer. It seemed odd even at the time, but made for a delicious treat.

Brian and I ventured out in the chill and overcast day to catch a showing of Terminator Salvation, and so we'll go quickly to the dozen word review:
It is Terminator. Explosions from start to finish are what you want.
If you like the Terminator series you've seen this or are on your way to the theater so I won't get into the story other than to mention the fine points of continuity toward the earlier movies.

Since I'm studiously avoiding the movie itself, here are three general ways I'd improve Skynet. First, I'd add a red eye trick feature. When the robot goes to the ground the red eyes power down. The humans think the robot is dead, they stand over it in grim victory and fall into the evil trap of the possum-playing machine. Second, the machine's ethical subroutines would be removed so that they can't change sides and help the humans. Finally, if Skynet can send an Arnold back to the 1980s, why can't it send one back to the 1950s and eliminate Sarah Connor as a child, or even her parents?

You're welcome, Skynet. Please consider my help when you launch your plans.

After the movie we said our goodbyes to our friends Brian and Diana, pictured above, who are two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. Shame they live so far away, if only because it takes two days to drive up for a visit.

We hit three toll booths at the Illinois-Indiana border. At the first toll booth I learned a valuable lesson: Don't give toll booth operators a $20. I got back a $5 and 12 singles. At the second toll both, this time in Indiana, the guy said "Hi." The lady at the booth in Illinois said nothing. Advantage: Indiana. After that we hit another toll booth at the interchange to I-65 which might be the most ridiculous interchange in America. You pay $.50 and then do a 360-degree circle to keep heading south.

Northbound was a parking lot, but we had free sailing. For a while, at least. Construction soon slowed us down to the speed of a GM dealership's sales lot. When we finally broke out we made good time to cover the length of Indiana. The Yankee found an inventive use for neck pillows.

We made it to my parents in time at 9 p.m. It was still daylight. Their longitude, western edge of the Eastern Time Zone make for interesting summer schedules. We had a delicious late dinner and then talked the night away.

Tomorrow: I finally make it back home again.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I mentioned the other day that The Yankee and I, while at this conference, are also house sitting at our friends' condo and taking care of their animals. These are the guineas, Wally and Pocket. Or Pocket and Wally. I forget which. They also have a fun cat, Olive, but you see plenty of photographs of my favorite black cat and Olive is just a bigger, more solid -- if that's possible -- version of the same animal.

Anyway, two pictures here because there's a lot of conference stuff below, followed by another fun video. Two videos in as many days! There are also two pictures here because I realized, on this next to our last day in Chicago, that I've been inside at this conference and have taken very few photographs. I've failed you, dear friendly reader, but I hope that you'll check out my August archive, that same month's photo gallery and a bunch of special treats on the audio/visual page for great stuff from our last trip to Chicago.

Now, more conference stuff. Below, a great video from this evening.

The Yankee had an early morning presentation today, her topic was self-inflicted face-ism on Facebook. If you read in this space where I was talking about my face-ism research throughout the spring semester you might recall that face-ism is a study of the facial prominence, in relation to the subject's body, in images. The essence of men, said the original research, resides in the face and head. The essence of women in their full bodies. Thus, men are typically featured with more headshots, women are generally seen from a wider perspective. Minorities have a lower face-ism index score than white males. Powerful, prominent individuals have a higher face-ism score than average people.

The original research, beginning in the early 1980s until now dealt with photographs, videos even cave art. The Yankee (and our research partner, Skye) examined photos people posted of themselves online. There are only a few online examinations of face-ism, and perhaps even fewer examinations of self-produced face-ism. So this is an interesting and unique topic.

No surprise, then, that the room was packed. Anyway, her thought was that mediated presentations have changed over the past few decades -- indeed, there have been some interesting trends of late in face-ism scoring -- hence the study. She starts out with the demographic breakdowns, taking no credit for the age scale. According to that I'm still young, since I'm under 34. Of course it also says I'll be senior at 45.

They found a few trends that go against typical face-ism theory. African-Americans displayed higher face-ism index than is seen in typical mediated presentations. Face-ism for females also yielded interesting results in that younger women displayed a higher facial prominence, but that score slid down the face-ism index as the age shifted to older women.

Comparatively, the research showed that men had a higher self-inflicted index, but only barely. This is at odds with with traditional face-ism which demonstrates a marked difference between the facial prominence of men and women in images. Minorities exhibited higher face-ism scores in the self-inflicted study, also at odds with traditional theory.

Other studies sharing time on that panel included research out of CUNY Buffalo that found photographs (especially attractive ones) are the key aspect of Facebook friending. Opposite sex friending is typically drawn to attractive pictures.

Penn State researchers has samples where students self-reported logging on at Facebook just over three times a day. That's a lot of Facebook. Their study study looked at whether facebook applications make you (you're profile) more likable. Or, in their words, "cool." Their findings suggest that more applications may not be better as they can lead to distraction. Keep that in mind, friends. They concluded with the practical: "Be cool, but be careful." They suggest this could apply to dating and other social network sites (And perhaps life -ed).

Michigan State researchers examined Facebook's marketing claim of connecting you to the people around you. Their research had a sample of 440 students averaging 81 minutes a day on Facebook. Eighty-one minutes! They discovered that the use of Facebook to find new friends was very low, maintaining friendships was higher and seeking info on strangers the highest.

And now you know a little bit more about Facebook, or at least how college students are using it.

Lucnh today was at Pizzeria Uno, told you we'd go back. The Yankee's friend Ms. Errata came over for a bite to eat. We had the barbecue chicken, which isn't the best Uno has to offer, but is still pretty good. After that I visited a panel "Mobility, media and everyday life." I figured it would be very helpful for my own own percolating ideas, but it focused more on families, interpersonal uses and ethnography. Even still, I got a few theoretical ideas that might be useful later.

For fun I visited another communication history panel, which included a presentation on a 1910 health film on the scourge of the modern world: the housefly. Also there was discussion of the rhetoric of dynamite, the importance of bells in colonial America and, most fun for me, a talk on wireless telegraphy - radio before radio - before World War I. And Wanamaker's, one of the world's first department stores. Here's a 1914 article on the first use of what was already being called a wireless telephone. Here's a page on the wireless telegraphy station's role in relaying information about the Titanic's sinking.

Finally I visited a panel where a friend was presenting a study on the Internet's impact on nonurban youth. Specifically he studied whether the web is making rural children less rural. This might have been the most international panel I've attended at this conference -- and that's saying something. At one point a Chilean asked an Estonian a question in English. You almost think they'll find another language, but then you think "What a world!"

Later we schmoozed at the children and media division's mixer. There are no children, no media, only mixing. For dinner we visited India House for a delicious meal. I had the spicy chicken curry and plenty of flat bread. If you're in downtown Chicago sometime soon you should check it out. The next time we are there we will visit it again.

I'm not especially a fan of public transportation, but it does give you the opportunity from time to time to see wonderful performers. Waiting on a platform is no fun, but these guys go a long way toward helping with the ambiance:

Our friends made it back to their condo tonight. They'd been on the east coast to see a wedding and a graduation and beat us in tonight by just a few minutes. They were very happy to see the guineas, who were very happy to see four people who could now reach into the magical box and produce the salad they so love. We spent a few minutes talking with them before bedtime. It has been a busy and long week and they've been traveling, so bedtime got here quickly for everyone.

Tomorrow: Leaving Chicago and heading toward home.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The morning and afternoon were filled with the conference. In the early evening we played. If you'd like to know about some of today's conference highlights read on, if not, skip to the video below.

I started the morning's sessions by watching a presentation on college students' motives for using social networking sites. That's not how I started the day, which began about two hours earlier and involved a bus and a train full of downtrodden, bored, nervous (or my favorite, the nervous pretending to be bored) people. Public transportation, such a joy! But I digress.

Anyway, previous research has indicated that you're online because you're either extroverted or neurotic. The absence of any qualifiers or middle ground seems either overly harsh or one of those situations where nuance has been sacrificed for a 12-minute PowerPoint demonstration. Of the students sampled by Dr. Alice Hall of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, 55 percent were mostly on Facebook, 33 percent on MySpace. No other site was mentioned by more than two participants. Motives indicated by respondents indicated passing time, information seeking, trend following, relationship development and, most importantly, relationship maintenance. She figures that while relationship maintenance may be the most common reason for students using social networking sites time-passing entertainment is a better predictor.

This is interesting because you'd think that at a certain point college students preparing themselves for the workforce would begin concentrating on networking, but that doesn't seem to be the case there.

Dr. Yi-Fan Chen of Old Dominion presented about mobile phone and socialization during this same panel. Mobile phones are a big a interest of mine, so I was curious about her research of course.

I repeated, on Twitter, her point that young people have better connections with friends, family and their networks because of cellphones, despite early fears of isolation. Some disagree with this, or argue about the degree of connectivity, but it is a serious point all the same. My research interests on mobile phones will lead me a bit away from the interpersonal aspects of this research, but this was the most important part: Even 2006 must now be considered as "back then" with respect to tech and trends in mobile phone research.

After the morning's first round of panelists, and no caffeine in more than a day, I had to kill my headache somehow. I don't drink coffee, but downstairs I found a big tall cup of hot chocolate at the in-hotel Starbucks. It was chilly in Chicago this morning and the hotel is preparing for an upcoming eskimo convention, so hot chocolate somehow seemed appropriate.

At my second panel of the day I listened as a San Diego State presenter described the nine international news programs they studied and findings that The Daily Show was the only program with an audience demonstrating a growing comprehension of the news content. That surprised everyone in the room, I think. Audience accuracy was down for Daily Show audiences, not surprisingly, but the researchers believe the show's humor component is to blame. Most surprisingly: the only significance they found regarding hands-on political involvement, was with viewers of CSPAN and CBS. And there, audiences were less involved than other networks. Everyone in the room groaned at that tidbit.

Also on that panel was a comparison of hyper-local citizen web sites and traditional media's sites, a study of anger in British disaster coverage and agenda setting at The findings there were ... we'll call them curious.

We pause for hotel complaints: Everyone at the conference can now agree the elevators are less than efficient and the designers of this hotel were distracted by things other than blueprints. You can only get to floors five, six and seven -- where 90 percent of the conference is taking place -- by a special set of elevators. Floors five and seven have escalators. If you're on one of those floors and wish to get to the sixth floor you must break out your rappelling gear. It comes standard with every post-graduate degree. The stairs, when you make your way to that corner of the hotel, are arranged in a pattern that resembles a schizophrenic double helix. I apologize to schizophrenic double helixes everywhere for that unfair comparison, but there's no other way to describe this layout. On no floor are the restrooms located in the same place and if you're on one floor and have to be on another floor in the high rise you should leave early.

Back to the conference: In the afternoon The Yankee and I, and about seven dozen other people, familiar and strangers, watched one of our (now former) professors deliver a presentation. It was not unlike his classroom lectures, so it was nice to know exactly what he was going to say. Also it was helpful to know that if he came down with sudden onset laryngitis there were people who could finish the presentation. This was a serious panel, as could be witnessed by the presentation's titles. My favorite was Effects of Sudden Audio Disappearance and Audio Complexity on Attenion and Message Recognition.

Later was a panel on role remodeling, which means "How should we research journalists? Anyone? Anyone?" Listening in there you would have received a fascinating education on Tanzania, a terrific quote from the late Claude-Jean Bertrand and implications of organizational communication and new approaches and new possibilities of research. I took notes.

I met a professor from San Diego State who's a Georgia graduate. He says he has to be close to Los Angeles for his wife's work, but he'd also go to Pakistan. The reason: his wife is producing a documentary about Westerners hiring surrogate Indian mothers. There are amazing rules at play there, ranging from the culturally acceptable surrogate mothers to the crush of Indian women trying to get into the program because of the medical care and stable diet that it provides. You learn fascinating things when you're standing around waiting for things to happen.

That's all of the scholarship for the day. I only included the highlights that might interest specific readers and kept the rest to myself. Here's how we spent the evening:

Here, meanwhile, is an historic 12seconds.

We'd walked down to Navy Pier just to ride the swings, which The Yankee and I did twice. That's just uner a mile from downtown to the lake. On the way we learned that the Navy Pier Trolley gave free rides around a certain area, which included where we had to catch the train for the night. The trolley runs every 20 minutes, or so the signs say.

The people waiting for the trolley were getting anxious. A limo driver got entrepreneurial. He had an empty limo and offered to take people for $5 a head. Sure, I said in the spirit of his offer take us to Reno! He did not. We waited a bit longer, still no trolley. Finally we gave up and began the hike back toward our train from the lake. The trolley never caught up to us.

Grossest, most painful site of the day guaranteed to keep you talking: On the bus back to our friends' condo we saw a young woman with an open shirt revealing a tattoo of the Chicago skyline across her chest. You could see at least three buildings without being conspicuous. And we're not talking outline, but the city in silhouette. Youch!

Tomorrow: More conference!

Friday, May 22, 2009

This one cell phone photograph represented today, tomorrow and Sunday. This particular panel was a discussion on media effects research and media influence, the details of which aren't especially important here right now.

What is fun to note was lunch. Just before this session The Yankee, Our Friend Andrew, his father and I visited the world famous Billy Goat Tavern. Perhaps you'll remember this SNL bit inspired by the place.

The guy running the show has a sense of timing and theater to his act. You walk in to an immediate "The line, the line, the line!" You know where to stand. You are bade to not gaze upon the aged menu hanging from the low ceiling, "I'm the menu today." He then orders cheeseburgers for you, based on your build. I was assigned a triple, but talked him down to a double. Then he gives you the opportunity to choose from a delicious Coke or Coke variant. He and I playfully bickered over water. When he finally relented he asked "Lake water or river water?" I answered in favor of the river, and so he asked why I chose that. '

Now you're in a strange conversation. Would it sound odd to say "I chose the river water because it is moving and, hence, might be cleaner. Also because the lake water choice is evocative of the great lakes and they don't all have a great track record." While that's going through your head he says "River, because it moves, eh?"

All of this, from getting inside to paying, takes about 90 seconds. No fries, chip. Before you can put your change away the cheeseburger is in your hand. You take a 90-degree turn to the condiment station for your choice of pickles, onions, relish, ketchup and mustard. You go sit down beside walls covered with Chicago's history. Oh, how impressive it must all seem if you know those faces. You eat your burger, which is delicious, because you're hungry and because it is good. It isn't the best burger you've ever had, but it is far beyond average. And, besides, you come here for the atmosphere anyway.

I went back for a second burger. They guy remembered me: "I told you, you should have gotten a triple!" I couldn't get my phone out before he got to me, but here's a brief video of him ordering for folks as the line formed behind me.

This is the sort of place I'd love to stay and soak in the dirty, crusty, delicious old atmosphere for a while. I'd like to talk to that guy -- if he ever slows down -- and shoot some photographs and make a multimedia package out of the place, but that presentation got in the way. On the bright side, that presentation gave The Yankee and I an idea for a paper for this conference for next year.

Later in the afternoon I watched The Yankee deliver her presentation on Olympic sports commentary. I've heard this maybe four times and it is still great! There was a room full of nodding heads, which is, of course, the universally accepted symbol for "Other great scholars agree."

In a communication history panel I learned about the origins and structures of South Korean television, heard a presentation on newspaper coverage of FDR's Fireside Chats and another on post-World War II radio, a very important period in American broadcast media.

Talking with a bunch of people with former Alabama ties at a conference mixer later in the evening we watched the Blackhawks score a goal in a room filled with Chicagoans before visiting the original Pizzeria Uno, the place that made it OK to eat pizza as a meal. They have a plaque and everything.

We came here last August during the AEJMC conference and I've been looking forward to this return visit. Here you order before you're seated. The cooking takes 45 minutes to an hour. On our previous visit our group got a table just as the pizza was ready. Tonight The Yankee and I got a quiet little corner seat much more quickly ... and sat and watched everyone else enjoy their meal. It took a while, waiting for deep dish is always a tough situation; it tastes so good and you want it now! We'll come back once more during this trip.

Tomorrow: A lot more conference!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

We are in Chicago for the International Communication Association conference. The Yankee and I arrived this afternoon after spending the night at my parent's home and then seeing miles and miles of the above. The view was occasionally broken by a barn, a sign or a tree, but there was a lot of this. That's a cell phone photograph, by the way.

Somewhere outside of Indianapolis the land flattens out and you're riding on the open plain. We drove on Casimir Pulaski Memorial Highway -- Revolutionary War hero and father of American calvary. He might have loved the terrain, but hated the quality of the road.

We had lunch in beautiful Crown Point, Indiana, where I spent part of my time adding additional headwear and making the city's name plural. That's the courthouse in that photograph. Here's another view. It is situated in the town square and there is a hustle to the tiny little town. We ate at Twelve Islands Restaurant where I suggest you order the sandwich named after the place. You can never go wrong with the signature dish and this family-owned Greek restaurant doesn't disappoint.

Crown Point is a suburb of Gary, which is essentially a dead suburb of Chicago. Going through Gary is spooky, even in the bright of day. We found the official northern end of I-65, had to get off the interstate and drive through the old steel town. Part of the next freeway is closed for construction, so we spent about 12 minutes surrounded by dead houses in a decaying town. When we did see people, though, they had nice cars. Foreign cars, but very nice. The empty homes, however, weren't even bored up. They were simply hollow.

We caught the Chicago traffic 10 minutes from our friends' condo. Others coming into town behind us had a much more difficult time, but you have a nice view coming into Chicago's traffic jams from the east. We were able to get to our friends' place, freshen up (isn't she pretty?) and catch the train downtown to the conference's opening mixer.

We sat with the Texas Tech people for a while -- one of Alabama's professor's is heading there, as has been discussed here -- and one of them calls us out by our Twitter names, pronouncing that the party can now begin.

It turned out to be a big party, a crush of people and two small tables of finger foods. They set this out on square tables so everyone could flock around, grab a sample of what was directly beneath them and then stare warily at one another. No one was sure which way to go and no one wanted to make the first wrong move. It wasn't the most efficient system. There were a lot of people, this is a fourth of the room. Some of them I know, others I met, many looked familiar in one way or another. One gentleman I saw could have been a Michael Dukakis lookalike.

The Yankee and one of the Alabama professors caught a late dinner at Bucca di Beppo. The family style Italian restaurant chain is right across from the conference's hotel and tempts me each time we're down there. It did in August when we visited this same hotel for AEJMC, it will do it through the weekend for ICA. We talked of child and media research -- not my area of interest, but fascinating work nonetheless -- late into the night under the Frank Sinatra shrine.

I don't understand the lava lamps' placement either, but that was the scenery in our corner booth. The professor told a story of how Sinatra was not allowed in her grandfather's home. It seems that somewhere in the 1930s the grandfather was the expected winner of a local talent contest. As the story goes, just before the award was handed over, a group of intimidating men came to the stage with a young Francis Sinatra and convinced the judges that he would sing. Later they convinced the judges that he won. The grandfather of our professor never forgave the injustice.

Having, then, the perfect story to cap a fun and busy day, we returned to the condo to feed guinea pigs. Tomorrow, the conference begins!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This is the rocket at the Alabama-Tennessee state line. Heck of a way to say "Hello." It is a cell phone picture, even. Saw it this afternoon after a morning workout and last-minute packing. The Yankee and I are headed to Chicago for the International Communication Association's annual conference.

Along the way we're staying overnight at my parent's house. It is a long drive one way, but having family in between helps a lot. We met my mother at a barbecue place just over the river from Louisville and barely into Indiana. After dinner at the house we sat quietly, wondering why we were so tired. All I've done today is drive, after all. I'll do a bit more in the coming days.

Watched The Paper again tonight. I love that movie. I wondered, on Twitter, how the big conflict between Glenn Close and Michael Keaton would happen in a 2.0 web world. A college buddy of mine theorized that no one would say "Crash the FTP," and that seemed true enough. But now I want to.

Postings will be light here for the next few days. Expect a photo and a couple of paragraphs as a good day. There will be lots of conferencing and commuting and fun, and precious little time in front of a computer. This may deprive you, my dear reader-friends, in some small way. I doubt it, but it might. And if you jump for joy at this news I'll understand. More tomorrow from Chicago.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Slept in until 11 this morning, slept hard right through to the moment where I woke up because my arms were asleep. I didn't even stay up especially late last night, but to sleep so long into the day has become an unusual thing. It is an odd habit. I'm naturally a night owl who doesn't like to sleep too late on the idea that I'm wasting the day.

Some days, though, you have to warm up the rationale machine and just say "If you slept to 11 a.m. that must mean you needed it."

So I had that conversation with myself for what little time remained of the morning. After lunch I watched a bit of television, read things online and generally watched the afternoon drift by. I stepped outside to take a few photographs for an upcoming project, talked on the phone with a friend and texted with another.

I saw a great video that pulls fans of Star Trek, Lost, Bill and Ted and Back to the Future into one room where two things happen: You laugh at Spock and then realize the fans of all of those stories are the same people. If you fit into one of those groups you should check out the video. Well worth your time.

Pork chops for dinner, washed down with an episode of Cheers. Spent a bit more time watching mindless entertainment and then started doing laundry and preparing photos for the site. It has been a slow day, but really only a half day anyway since I slept through part of it. Tomorrow will make up for today. Summer continues, but there's things to do and some of those things take place starting soon.

For now, to augment the brevity of this entry, you can check out a handful of new black and white photographs. What is this? Two weeks in a row for that section? I'm almost as surprised as you.

Finally, after some printer problems and software meshing issues today I discovered AlternativeTo:
Tell us what application you want to replace and we give you suggestions on great alternatives! Instead of listing thousands of more or less crappy applications in a category, we make each application into a category. Think of it like forever evolving blog posts about good alternatives to the software that you're not satisfied with.
Oh, this could be useful in the future.

The future! That's what we're here for. It starts tomorrow. Hope you're ready!

Monday, May 18, 2009

I told Twitter about Rick Bragg yesterday and got the usual, expected jokes. They are funny and sad and true, but to meet the guy, as I've had the good fortune to do two or three times now you tend to forget all of that and enjoy the personality. It is a big personality and it can run part of a room on size and candle power.

When he was holding court last night on the post-modern evil of cell phones a tight little group of six or seven people had gathered around. We were speaking of the virtues of the ignore features on cell phones, but someone rightly pointed out that pressing this button frequently enough could lead to your boss pressing the ignore button on his regular salary dispensing service. Bragg, though, seemed to want to silence cell phones altogether, with only a few overrides. Among them: a pet emergency, child sickness and, most importantly, if your mother needs help. Every man there nods and says "Yep." It reminded me of the Mommathon from Primary Colors.

Just at this moment The Yankee was walking through the kitchen and I motioned for her to stay close. This, I figured, could be an excellent moment to give her a little more insight into the Southern culture. This is a favorite pastime, and she is very patient in indulging me these exercise. The conversation shifted, though, and Bragg started telling a story about satellite phones and the host made a great azimuth joke. He waited until just the right moment and dropped it in the proper pause, a joke that he might get to use twice a year if he's lucky. It was brilliant. There was a lot of fun last night.

Twenty miles on the bike this morning, rode at a brisk 1:49 clip. I don't think I'll ever break 1:45, and I'm beginning to think the 1:47 effort was a fluke. I've sprinted out to 1:49 three times since, but can't break through. I'd need to cut another 90 seconds off the full time. That seems pretty daunting given the pace I'm doing well just to keep.

I set a new upper body workout though, and it seems to be moving lots of weight. Started doing mid-body work too, and I'm guessing my patience will wear thin with that pretty quickly.

Met the Crimson's new ad manager at Panera for lunch. He showed me an award-winning ad he designed in high school, I gave him an overview of what we're hoping to accomplish. We had a nice long talk and I tried to give him the general briefing without sounding too frightening. He seems very enthusiastic though. If he keeps that attitude I'm sure he can do well.

Visited the oil change place after lunch, where Joker McGiggly was running the shop. He gestured me on to the bay where three men were standing in silhouette. The guy says "One of those three will guide you in." Which one? "The one in the middle, the other two are new."

This could be a great experience. Middle of the day, no other customers in site, two new guys in addition to the rest of the crew. At one point there were six mechanics leaning in over my car. I'm certain they were trying to decide if I was a god or if I should be thrown into the volcano.

But, finally, the oil was changed, the filters were filtered. Lights were tested, fluid levels were confirmed and doors were greased. My car has a digital display just below the speedometer which indicates when my many miles are up and something is needed. It requires a special code, known only to mechanics, to reset the code. Only these guys didn't know the code. I sat, bemused, watching them wrestle with this most difficult Life Question, the answer of which was teased out in the approximate amount of time it took to change the oil.

After that I visited the movie theater to see Star Trek one more time. Why not? I chatted through parts of the movie on Friday night and this time I could settle in and find the little nuances I somehow overlooked. Besides, it is a matinee and -- wait a minute. Matinees cost six bucks now?

Guess who might have just attended their last, ever, matinee? I remain perfectly content to see most movies when they emerge at the dollar theater -- and I'll probably see Star Trek again there, but for a single, not six of them.

I visited the big blue box store after the movie, aiming to get a few items and do a little people watching. The place is always good for that, even at 6 a.m. when the clerks are just coming on shift and very grumpy, but this visit passed without incident.

I walked back to the electronics department to find some new headphones. I have four sets of the lightweight ear distractors, but three have shorts and one has a cable that is too short. Not even sure how that one came to be a part of the collection. This visit revealed only option of my preferred style of headphones, which has been discussed at great length here before. Unfortunately, this is the same brand that constitutes half of my collection at home. They all suffer from the same problem, which is beginning to reflect poorly on the Maxwell brand in my mind. I notice that these have a lifetime warranty and that may get pursued if the need arises. I'll simply add them to the stack of other faulty warranties and refunds I'm due.

Picked up new batteries for my car's key fob. It is essentially an active FM transmitter and, consequently, a replacement is due. Who knew you could get 18 months of microtransmitting out of a watch battery. I could get more, but I really don't want to be stuck in a parking lot the day I learn the battery is finally dead. So I bought two new batteries, one for each key fob. I'll keep the old batteries in reserve because you never know when a spontaneous science experiment might break out.

Got them home after reading in the manual to verify I'd purchased the right size and figured out how to solve the code of opening the thing up without shattering the device outright. Removed the old battery. Dropped in the new one, acting all the while like it was a rod of uranium, sealed the thing up and tested it from inside the house. The car recognizes the key fob. Life can continue will happiness and delight; I should not be locked out of my car anytime soon.

Tonight it was time for the satisfying conclusion of another season of 24. The Jack Bauer Hour of Power, brought to you by Basco Shower, the Sears Tower, FTD Flowers, the ghost of Dwight Eisenhower and Sisco routers. Two hours of show, but I only tweeted the sarcastic, non-spoiler parts, so here you go:
Prepared to be "blown away" by the season finale of 24 "that changes everything," etc.

"Why did you think I had your people put operatives on Kim Bauer? Just to extend the story three more hours?" -- Tony Almeida, genius

Now ... We've all had stellar gate agent experiences ... Do we really think they're prepared to get a phone call from Jack Bauer's peeps?

Now now Jack Bauer. You should always use a sterile scalpel when offing hostage-holding scientists.

Tony Almeida, television's first quadruple agent. Dear 24: *Yawn.*
Which is where, I think, I finally recognized my trouble with the show. The dialog is sometimes pretty obvious, and the timing of the twists is predictable, even if the subject is not. The problem with the show lies in the absence of any breathtaking final act. That's what the people want, and they get that in places, but not at the end of the season. That's when they try to expand on Jack Bauer's poignant character, but we're ready for guns and explosions and the general concept of revenge after all that has happened in the last day.

Feels as if we were left with that tonight as well. After Tony Almeida's little conversation in the second hour I was through with the season. It didn't have to be that way, but the script painted the writers into a tight corner and a simple arrest isn't sufficient for an audience accustomed to nuclear bombs, biting bad guy's necks out and shooting the innocent wives of criminal masterminds.

Kudos, though, for trying to tie much of the series together here in the final minutes, but it easily escapes the realm of believability. I do like that General Bethlehem from The Postman made it into the show. Can't wait to see who is pulling his strings on another mind blowing, compelling, breath-taking season that changes everything.

After eight seasons you feel obligated to be a completist.

Tomorrow: Laundry and more summer. (Best gig ever!)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Big party this evening. One of our faculty members is packing up his things and moving out west, taking his Tennessee and Indiana and Alabama paraphernalia and moving to Texas Tech. Since I was in his class last semester I got invited to the party. The Yankee had him on her comps committee, so we had to be on the invite list. It was a veritable who's who of Southern overeducation.

The party's host was also one of my professors this semester, and we'll work together this summer as well. Half a dozen master's students showed up, two recent PhDs were in attendance. The Yankee and I were the only two current doctoral students.

The great Jennings Bryant, he of the Midas research touch, stopped by. We stood in our hostess' kitchen and talked about weddings and guns and planes and the outer banks of North Carolina. There was a great deal of gun talk from one of the other guests, the husband of a woman who's just finished the program at Alabama. There's no mistaking that he's a native Texan. Johnny Sparks is leaving Alabama for Lubbock. He's with The Yankee in that picture, but he got an earful from the Texan on hand guns, shooting ranges, pistol permits and west Texas weather.

Sparks told the story, though, of recently sharing a flight from Texas with country singer and oddly notorious gunman Billy Joe Shaver.

Pulitzer prize winner Rick Bragg stopped by and told tales of being stuck in the middle of a war zone in Haiti, computer tech support problems and his disdain for cell phones. These stories, all entertaining, happened to be intertwined in his narrative. Bragg is a big, disheveled guy fond of playing up the hillbilly shtick. Why not? It has helped bring him a lot of success.

At one point we were all standing there in the kitchen, Ricky Bragg from northeast Alabama, Johnny Sparks of northeast Tennessee and me. My family reaches from northwest Alabama, and into central and northeast Tennessee. Our hosts are from New England and all points north. It is a safe bet that they'd never had so much of Appalachia in their kitchen at one time.

Lovely home, charming company. Five kids, great kids, most of them seven or younger were there. They divided their time playing Wii, sliding down the stairs and -- since they all belonged to PhDs -- doing a little research on the side. Some of those kids are smarter than I am.

Somehow I managed to be sent home with more food than I brought. (Tip: Always stay until the party winds down for the snacks.) That'll be dinner tomorrow night.

Tomorrow I'm having lunch with the Crimson's new ad manager. We'll talk strategy. Then I'll get some car maintenance and run another errand or two. It'll be a positive day. Hope your week starts off on the right foot!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Around midmorning a tropical island somewhere was missing its regular monsoon. Not to worry, the storm system was found parked directly over my house.

This was good timing as a friend was coming to pick up things he'd been storing in my basement. He and his father-in-law drove down, in a pick up and a rental truck. The in-law grabbed the washer and dryer and headed for home. Justin and I packed up a 24-foot truck -- one of those big things in which you could have lived in during college and pronounced it an improvement -- with boxes and furniture and mattresses that would have easily fit into a space a third of that size.

He'd rented a 10-footer, but the place was out. They also did not have the next size up, or the next size, so he ended up with a 24-foot truck at a 10-foot price.

The rain cooled the day nicely, though, and we sat in the back of the truck chatting about this and that for a half hour before he got back on the road. I got on the bike, pedaled only 10 miles and did weights at the gym.

After cleaning up and having a sandwich lunch I was ready for more. Who's got more on a Saturday? Turns out The Yankee did, and we headed to Kohl's to take advantage of sales and gift cards.

I could spend an hour or two in Kohl's, and I might have done it today. The placement of the clearance racks are peculiar. The placement of the store is such that you have a slightly different genre of savvy shoppers. The kind you don't mind being around for a few minutes at a time, eavesdropping on their lives and hearing inane bits of conversation and trying to place what you hear into some fabricated story. Mostly I'm mystified by the place's sale signage. They are poorly written and I'm never sure if the sale is 70 percent off the price tag or if the price tag is 70 percent off the original price.

I left with two polos. One small summer project is to replenish the short-sleeved segment of my wardrobe. Things are getting faded and comfortable, but no longer desirable for work. So today there was a dark blue and a sophisticated tan addition to my closet.

Has anyone ever said that of the color tan? Googling ... a few times, just 104 hits. Nice job, tan, keep it bland.

Walked out of the store to see an amazing site. There was a big yellow-orange ball in the sky. A quick investigation revealed that the big yellow one is, in fact, the sun.

The rest of the evening has been spent learning of technical difficulties in my Flip cameras. I didn't realize there was enough moving parts and onboard circuitry to cause a problem. We'll see what tech support says about that tomorrow I suppose. One camera isn't recognized by my computer -- and that's an OS problem on my end. The other shoots a lovely field of white and records crisp audio. It is a delightful take on the video concept.

The night itself ended with a delicious chicken parmesan -- a household favorite -- and a Cheers marathon. That's a great ending to a Saturday. Hope yours has been fun for you.

Tomorrow, there's a party to attend.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Busy day today. Long, full, fun, productive day today. It was part of a "Did that trip really only take 36 hours?" whirlwind tour.

The Yankee and I took my mother out to a belated Mother's Day lunch. We worked on wedding stuff, and then worked on more wedding stuff with my uncle, who is marrying us next month. Finished my visit with the grandparents -- and Coco -- and then hit the back roads in the afternoon to visit my great-grandmother. After sitting with her for a while we took even-further-back roads to my other grandparents' home.

We sat and watched a bit of television. I brought them the two disc set of the old Johnny Cash television show. It is narrated by Kris Kristofferson, who performs alongside Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong (a fantastic tune), Stevie Wonder, CCR, Linda Ronstadt, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, Marty Robbins, James Taylor, the ageless Pete Seeger, The Carter Family and The Statler Brothers, Mother Maybelle Carter, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and, of course, Johnny Cash.

Suddenly I think I should just introduce them to YouTube.

That's just the first disc. The second disc has more of the traditional country musicians, but my grandfather was very much interested in Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings and Mother Maybelle. Hopefully they'll remember how to use the DVD player and watch the second disc. If not, we'll see it together on the next trip.

My grandmother asked me to program her weather radio while I was there. The thing has a poorly worded instruction booklet and about three more buttons than necessary. I'm working on a PhD and it took me a while to figure it out, I see why my septuagenarian grandparents were struggling.

So it was there, listening to George Jones and trying not to sweat in a dark and too-warm house, that I realized we're marketing things poorly. The weather radio should have a complex version for people looking for all the bells and whistles, and a very simple two button system for those challenged by gadgets. (And for those that just simply want to know when to hide in the basement.)

I'm thinking of my grandparents, and yours, and I'd bet there's a lot of money to be made in the simplicity market. Consider the jitterbug cell phone. There's no reason that idea can't be modified for most any product -- with the proper copyright and patent considerations of course.

The elderly are seldom considered in marketing schemes, it seems, but I'm sure that will change as the baby boomers join the profile. Just remember: You saw the idea here first.

After leaving my grandparents The Yankee and I decided to visit my cousin's catfish restaurant. It's an unassuming little place in a town of less than 400 people. My aunt and her family have owned the place for decades. People come from across the county for the catfish -- and this is a region where the Tennessee River runs freely and the catfish joints are more common as barbecue and McDonald's.

The catfish is about as perfect as you can make it, but The Yankee swears by their shrimp. I generally eat my seafood only by the river, and my fish only by the water. There just happens to be a creek stemming from the Tennessee River tributaries that runs behind the restaurant. No one will ever convince me they don't pull the fish directly from the water and throw it on the fryer.

So, if you ever find yourself lost in Anderson, try the Fish Creel. Tell Kristen and Ginger and Geraldine I sent you. And eat all your food. (Kristen bought my dinner tonight, earning a few free plugs for a really tasty restaurant.)

After dinner The Yankee and I drove across the Tennessee Valley, racing storm clouds and fighting our way through a wall of lightning and light drizzle to meet Kelly to watch the new Star Trek, which leads us to the dozen word review:
A near perfect relaunch, as good as advertised. I am pleasantly thrilled.
Without spoiling the movie for the 38 people still waiting to check it out, there are a few things to say. In the vein of summer action films it holds up well, and better than most Trek films. There isn't an awful lot of expository dialog, a familiar character of its own in the Star Trek universe. Engineering should look like engineering, and not a factory or plant. That really hurts the environmental feel of perspective and scale of the ship. And everyone on board is in serious need of a tetanus booster because of it.

Eric Bana was a fine bad guy, Karl Urban is tremendous as McCoy, there are moments when Zachary Quinto surpasses Leonard Nimoy's best work as Spock -- and some moments where he inhabits the character fully. Chris Pine does a very nice job of taking on Kirk without taking on William Shatner. We could have done without the useless clip of Kirk as a child, but it is nice to now the Beastie Boys still have a following and Nokia is still in business in the 23rd Century (Invest now!). As for the much discussed lens flares I figured that quickly: Organians. Watch the last four minutes if you're unfamiliar with the characters.

My biggest complaint: Nimoy shouldn't have done the "Final Frontier" epilogue. That's Pine's job now. To end a new movie about the new characters with an old voice is something of a mistake.

An interesting conversation emerged on the subject this evening. Someone suggested Nimoy giving the mission speech is perfect, and is in fact a lead in to Shatner, but I hope not. That would only undo the impressive work (though I do enjoy the plot holes) that is this movie.

After a late movie there was a quick sprint down the freeway, making it home just in time to write this, wonder how I did so much in just over a day. And now, to bed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The first day of my summer break means a road trip. After 20 miles on the bike -- the first 10 more painful than the last 10, which were easily accomplished after The Yankee goaded me -- and a handful of weights I packed an overnight bag and headed to the familial root-bearing soil of northwestern Alabama.

On the way I discovered something more painful than ABBA's "Take a Chance on Me": the Moogish instrumental version. Unfortunately I can't find it online, but by dissolving the famous wall of sound they left you only with something like this tinny midi. The mind needed bleach after that, so I decided to conduct an experiment. Flipping over to the hair nation station I decided to see how long before Bon Jovi floated back into rotation. The answer: one song.

Made it safely to my grandparents' home. This is my delayed Mother's Day visit since I spent last weekend writing. My mother is here, so I get to catch all of the important people. Almost the first thing my mother does when I walk in is to show me her new favorite iPhone application. There's a dog, a cat, a rat masquerading as a dog and a guinea pig. They all repeat back what you just said in their own proprietary Apple voices. This is why people stand in lines for iPhones, friends.

The best part was making the dog bark and the cat meow, but the usefulness of the application slows down after that.

Watched the early news with my grandfather. One of the local stations is now doing a regular feature on new websites. Today's new site was Radiopaq where you can, get this, listen to radio, audio and podcasts. Not sure how frequently the television station is running this feature, but hopefully they do it at least every other day. Maybe then they'll feel like they're making progress toward finding the end of the Internet.

The Yankee, tonight, learned how to make dumplins. Somehow dinner turned into a full kitchen, big family affair. Nine people were there and we had far too much food for any day not involved with some regularly observed holiday. Later my uncle suggested we go for something called chocolate cobbler at Cracker Barrel. I had a mug of ice cream instead, but everyone had fun. Here's my mother and Lucy, one of my grandmother's lifelong friends.

And now we're at the end of a long day. Tomorrow will be just as long. There is more family to see, some work to be done, a movie to watch and more traveling. This is the beginning of my summer. Loads of fun. Hope yours is too!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today was the last day of my semester at Samford. I'm now on summer vacation!

I'll be back and forth on a few projects, but by and large I'm off until late August. After about 2 p.m. today I began wondering what I'll do with myself until then. Sure, there's classes and some consultations and the wedding and a few other things, but there will also be a lot of free time too. This is exciting stuff.

I had a meeting this morning with the departing editor and next year's editor of The Samford Crimson. We talked about her upcoming year, how to get started and staffing decisions. It can be overwhelming, at first, but I believe she'll do well.

There was also a meeting with the outgoing digital video center director. This center is two rooms stuffed with cameras and other electronic gear. I'm taking over his job this fall in addition to my other duties. He gave me a half-hour overview of the equipment and work going on there. I'll get more details next month, which is good, because the overview was impressive.

After the June meeting we're going to consider our options in the digital video center and restate its goals and objectives in the hopes of a more streamlined and effective department. And then they give me the keys and the budget. I'll hire a student work or two and we'll go about supplying equipment to students and finding a way to make this department help converge the campus' news operations. That's been one of the goals of my boss since he hired me and we're moving in that direction.

Having heard a few horror stories about where these changes were rushed we're trying to slowly move the culture along with the ideas. We want to develop a successfully integrated newsroom for the paper, site, television and perhaps the radio station as well. It is an ambitious project, but worth it if it helps give the students a beneficial experience.

I had lunch with the boss and then packed up a few things from the office and headed home. That was it; this is summer.

The first order of business, then, was to have the house's annual termite inspection. The pest people call it a termite renewal, but that's a poor choice of words on their part. It sounds as if I've run out of the wood eating critters and would like them to bring me more. The routine, though, helps keeps the insurance people happy so once a year a guy comes out, walks the perimeter of the house, studies the rafters in the basement and climbs under the floor looking for evidence of hungry bugs.

And then we discuss the out building. I have a shed on the back of the property and the bug guy insists it doesn't belong in the inspection. I know it does. We discuss it a bit and finally he goes and gives it a look, just to satisfy my need for thoroughness.

Today I refined the entire conversation down to almost that exact paragraph. He relented, checked it out and pronounced the entire property termite free.

That's always a relief. Now if I hear munching sounds in the middle of the night I'll know it is just my imagination. At least for the next year.

Had a nice long chat with Andre Natta of The Terminal this afternoon. He told me of his plans for the site. We talked about the upcoming WordCamp in Birmingham and the state of online consultation.

Andre is recruiting me into a few projects and, suddenly, my summer has disappeared. Just as well. I'd get bored with nothing to do fairly quickly. Maybe that's why there are three trips on my calendar in the next two weeks.

The journalism trend watching never stops, though. Last week there was talk of Rupert Murdoch's online difficulties. Today Jeff Jarvis says he's missed the point:
The Wall Street Journal's rules for Twitter and the internet rob the paper and its reporters of a few key benefits.


This misses the chance to make their reporting collaborative. Of course, they should discuss how an article was made. Of course, they should talk about stories as they in progress. Net natives - as WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch calls them - understand this.

Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. also provide the opportunity for reporters and editors to come out from behind the institutional voice of the paper - a voice that is less and less trusted - and to become human.
I wonder where these conversations will be come next fall. Probably about the same place they are right now. Some change happens slowly.

As for me, I'm already taking photos of still life. Also shot a video that I can't seem to upload just now. But, still, summer: I could get used to this.

Heard today: A song from Elvis Presley's first show in Las Vegas, in 1956. The DJ noted that the show was considered a dud because he had a different audience, but, he said, he was glad because there was a pristine recording of this rarely heard show. I sat in the car thinking How musically and technologically spoiled are we? I'm listening to a song recorded live 53 years ago. No big deal.

Here's a clip from Elvis in Vegas, with a narration done several years later as he returned to the city.

Tomorrow: Road trip!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I intended to go to bed at a reasonable hour last night. Really meant to. Flipping through the channels, the regular "Goodnight" to the television, I found Andy Griffith's A Face in the Crowd. What a fine movie.

It was Griffith's first movie and one of his roles on the screen, period. Andy Taylor, the signature character of a huge career, was still three years away. Lonesome Rhodes was basically an Arkansas hobo, discovered by a television lady who makes him into a star. Nothing about that clip seems right coming from the noble and decent man of Mayberry.

While he started out as a musician and pitchman he turns himself into a political influence (familiar themes abound) and, finally, a force. The movie is cynical, satirical, modern and dead on accurate.

Also it was filmed in 1957. Most everyone that was destined to be a huge film star in the next 40 years appeared in this movie. Walter Winchell and Mike Wallace are also in this movie. Wallace -- just then on his way to being a household name -- got a voiceover intro. Winchell needed none.

It is a great movie. If you don't know it, check it out soon.

Finished grades for my class today. Everyone did well, as I expected. I was fortunate to have a handful of incredibly hardworking students and the others were all very solid.

They all seemed to get use out of the class, which was a great relief since I built the curriculum last fall. They chose a topic and covered it all semester, using all the tools and techniques available for publishing on the Internet. Some found slide shows very useful, others found the video to be a useful thing. At least one said she'll keep covering her topic.

It was a lot of fun to teach, but there are a few refinements to be had. No class is perfect the first time out, and I certainly wasn't perfect, but it was a great experience. The grades are good, maybe the evaluations won't be too bad either.

I started peering into the syllabi for two of my classes this summer. You can never judge a class by a syllabus or course description. One worry: this class requires a calculator. Anyone want to help with the math this summer?

Here's some math I don't understand: losing a few pounds is not good enough of the television show Biggest Loser. The Yankee and I have done a few pieces of research in the past year having to do with television programs. We're outgrowing that sort of thing, but there's something fascinating about this show.

The finale was tonight and people are pulling huge numbers, of course. They do it on the show because they're working out full time, where losing more than 10 pounds in a week is the norm and anything less is often a disappointment. There's some effects research to be done here on perception. There's research here on body image and dysmorphia issues and a lot of longitudinal studies to be done.

But the summer is upon us. Tonight is no night to consider research.

Tonight is the night the black and white photograph section returns. Just three photos tonight, but it's a beginning, or a re-beginning. This is the section where old and forgotten photographs from dusty old collections of strangers are scanned and uploaded. If there's an obvious history it gets a moment in the sun. If it is a snapshot that becomes an excuse for creative writing. The newest additions start here.

Nice way to end a day, revisiting a pleasant hobby. It is the small things that make Tuesdays great. Hope yours has been even better!

Tomorrow, my last regular day in the office and the beginning of summer!

Monday, May 11, 2009

It is all winding down now. With the paper done last night and the policy manual handed over to the boss on Friday I'm down to one writing project and a very small handful of meetings. I'll be enjoying my summer by mid-week, though I'll still have a few things to work on then. And that's fine. Absolute freedom would be too close to anarchy. Give a man freedom and he scores two points, yawns and takes a nap. Give a man a goal and he clangs the ball off the backboard all day long, each successive last minute shot that doesn't fall characterized by the late call: He was fouled!

Spent today writing on a few things, chasing down phone calls, going through Emails and hoping for a few other Emails to set up some of those meetings. I've arranged all the old newspapers in the office for eventual recycling. They are presently fire kindling, but if you need to wrap dishes in them, stop by and we can help each other out. Otherwise they're going to the big green dumpster in the parking lot, and the recycled, reprocessed, repurposing plant in the sky.

Do you ever wonder about that? Where was this recycled thing last? Is there an inanimate object reincarnation system building here? It was a good cup. Never spilled, tore or even buckled under pressure. We're going to make it something lasting and hearty.

Opposite that there's the oh-so-noble newsprint. Sure it does a lot of good, but there's the ink to consider. If karma is involved I think they come back as those paper mats the mechanic puts in your floorboard so he doesn't grease the carpet. Seems appropriate in a full-circle sort of way.

I remember, starting out, seeking resume advice from anyone who would slow down and talk to me. You learn early on that resumes are subjective, of course, and that the career counseling people on campus have just as valuable an opinion as your professor, your neighbor and unemployed in-law.

When our students ask I go through this whole thing about subjectivity and how resumes are really an unfair device for prospective job hunters. Think of it: You spend hours writing the thing, proofing it, getting all the details and the formating just so. Your potential boss looks at it for a few seconds. In that time this person, now fully controlling your professional fate, is considering whether they should read the rest, eating into their precious time, or skip to the next candidate.

So, the spiel goes, best stuff to the top, include only the stuff relevant to this job, be realistic about what you've done, add empirical data where necessary and be prepared to get at least as many rejection letters as you get interview opportunities.

And then there's the elevator speech where you are expected to give an overview of yourself in a very brief time. And now the 12-second application.

A public relations firm in the United Kingdom came up with the idea for one of their clients, a storage rental facility, to hire an intern based on their interview on 12seconds. Here's the first applicant.

Novel idea aside, can I really gleam anything out of 12 seconds? Even for an internship? Hopefully, for the students, there's more to it, but if not, polish up your 12second speech; it could be important the next time your own the market.

Aspiring intern Rachel Ruddiman brings up another point while we're at it. Use of the word guru should no longer be used in a social media context. We're only offending people who use the word correctly.

Your daily inspirational video is a good one. It auto loads, but that's fine, you'll want to see it right away as it hints at the strength of the human spirit and the power of the rallying cry. Also there's the incredible resilience of the modern soldier and how CBS is colluded with the Kleenex industry on this story, which is a good one.

I finally found Toccoa last month, driving back from Virginia. It was a a surprise to see the sign toward Tocco and Curahee during that trip, but felt appropriate. We passed Civil War battlefields and Revolutionary War battlefields and the famed paratrooper's training ground. I've read Stephen Ambrose's book on the 502nd several times and am still awed by the production of the Band of Brothers miniseries, which is always set to record on the TiVo. To see Brian Brennan's story is all the more amazing for knowing just a fraction of the tale. Reading of his injuries in Afghanistan is horrifying. To hear how one word brought him back is remarkable.

Go watch it now. To know that incredible young man is only 23 is the all the more humbling.

Lileks said it best, naturally, on Twitter:
Dear "24" - every thought of a season called "18"? Think about it.
While I applaud the resourcefulness of the bad guys for putting agents at the airport to intercept the daughter of the one man who can foil the plan is flying hither and thither, just in case she shows up and strikes up a conversation -- yes, it is as plausible an idea as it is difficult a sentence -- the developments on 24 pretty much broke the remaining strains of credulity.

More to the point, this is why you don't make friends at the airport. They should be viewed as luggage -- you travel with yours, don't let others pack them and keep an eye on them at all times. Also like luggage at the airport: if it isn't yours it is in the way.

And, in the 24 universe, if the luggage or friends aren't yours they are probably predisposed to torturing you.

Also, Jack Bauer's daughter wasn't an especially interesting character in the first or second season. She was good in four and six, where she did not appear, but otherwise falls into the common trap of the 24 universe: being a female character written poorly.

As always the resolution of the gas canister storyline was unsatisfying. It goes poof and is contained, and yet we still have two hours to go. Umm, what's Jack's daughter doing? Ad lib!

Or, if you like, our reaction:
The Yankee: That's stupid.

Me: It's 24. It's "So compelling."

The Yankee: Except when Kim Bauer is involved.
How true.

And now, for a night of figuring out ways to trick my scanner into taking quality 3-D images ... Tomorrow: wrapping up the semester.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All semester long I've been doing face-ism research, reading up on the research, collecting data from news sites, writing a bit here and there on the topic and giving overwrought PowerPoint presentations. All of this comes down to today.

The paper was due at 9 p.m. tonight. Despite having all of the data collected, the measurements made, help with the stats and half the paper written the rest of it took all day to write.

So today was spent shoring up the introduction, literature review and the methodology sections of the paper. I had to rewrite the research questions, understand the numbers, stumble through a table, write the results and touch on a lot of ideas and limitations in the discussion.

And then the paper had to be formatted, the citations properly cited, a title page written and an abstract stuck to the front of the paper.

Basically face-ism measures the prominence of a face relative to the rest of the body displayed in a photograph. The hypothesis, by Archer et al (1983), a citation I may see in my dreams, argues that the essence of men are seen in their face and heads, women more in their bodies. By this reasoning, and many studies replicating the findings, men typically have a higher face-ism score (more face, less body) in photographs and women have a lower score (longer shots, featuring more of the body).

Later research also found some racial stereotypes. Others have pointed to prominent positions of power leading to higher face-ism. Face-ism research has been conducted on a variety of mediums over great periods of time and many cultures, but very little has been done on the Internet. Now seemed a good time to study the facial prominence of the first black president on prominent news sites, and so here we are.

Turns out the president's face-ism score trends a bit low, which disappoints the idealistic side of me. While the data considers photo composition by nature of the scale, it does not account for photojournalism's composition. Pictures of the president trying to demonstrate the grandeur of, say, the inauguration or an address before Congress, often feature a wide view which means a low face-ism index. There are photographs like that in the sample that are brilliant photographs, but they only bring down the scores.

I emailed the paper on time, just in time for a nice little back spasm to kick in and dominate the rest of the evening. This isn't the worst pain ever, and isn't bad at all when I'm not moving. It is located, of all odd places, just under my last rib and makes turning a lot of fun.

It is a small little knot, but a persistent one. Shouldn't your muscles know when the work is done and when relaxation is possible? Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the paper is decent.

So this is all very brief, and uninteresting unless you stumbled in while searching for face-ism notes. But that's been the greater part of my day. Now there's just one more writing project and a few small meetings coming this week. Anyone want to help write a script?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I don't know why I'm counting the days until summer. I love my job, obviously, and I'll probably be looking for diversions before June is over (heh). The idea of having summers again, though, is a tempting one.

In that sense I've been glancing ahead at the calendar since I started at Samford last August. The boss told me then that he'd kick me out and tell me to go to the beach, go freelance or take classes and come back to work in August. Since I started taking classes in January I'm ahead of that particular curve. I'll have nine more hours this summer, but that doesn't necessarily feel like a full load.

I had nine hours in the spring and worked at the same time, of course. I worked and studied simultaneously throughout my master's. I studied throughout the summers (and worked most of them) in undergrad too.

If we go back far enough there were summers when I didn't have a job, but that was in the eighth grade. I suddenly feel very old as I think of that. Since the summer before my ninth grade year I've been working or studying or both. Having a summer off now, almost 20 years later (See? Old.) is awfully tempting.

Oh I'll be in newsrooms and studying and taking very small trips and having a great time. It'll be over before I know it, but it'll make a great "What I did on my summer vacation" essay. There's probably a great web site idea in there somewhere. I see it involving a colorful and custom napkin from the restaurant or napkin of your choice, a good ring of your favorite beverage and a pen's scribble of your summer's greatest hits. We could scan them up and stare at them when winter returns.

Hit the gym this morning, later than usual, but made it all the same. Sprinted through 20 more miles at 1:49 per mile. The goal is now becoming clear: I must break 1:45. How escapes me just now, but I have all summer to try I suppose.

Cut the grass when I got back home. The skies looked a bit ominous, but I was already in workout clothes, so it seemed only normal. Opened the shed, moved around the stack of things that have been stacked in stacks between the door and the lawn mower. Filled it with gas, climbed on, said a prayer to the gods of lawn care for a clean cut and safety and rode out onto the turf.

We've had so much rain lately that even the lawns are confused. I had sprouts of things that have never been in my yard before. Ankle high, very fine grassy things that aspired to bean sprout status. They were so tiny that in places they were escaping the lawn mower's wrath. I think the wind from the blades was pushing them around. They'd survive a lap in random areas and I'd come back around the next time and notice the unusually shoddy job. On the subsequent lap I'd drive over them again. Sometimes they'd be chopped up, but they'd persist just as often. I lowered the blade, changed speeds, repositioned myself on the lawn mower and tried again.

So it took longer than usual, but the grass is low. I contemplated trimming the hedges, but the one right next to the door is full of honeysuckle and I can't bring myself to cutting it down. If I trimmed the rest and left that one, I rationalized, it would look odder still. I thought about washing the car, but it seemed ready to rain any minute, so that didn't happen. Instead I killed a few ant beds and busted up a stump. Now if only I can get grass to grow there.

A low shade grass seed was spread in the backyard last weekend. Fifteen minutes later the first of the monsoon's arrived. I figured the birds and the rain took care of all of that seed, but some of it is actually sprouting in the backyard. It it covered by beautiful and towering old oak trees, making it hard for anything to grow -- except for my frustrations with a rake -- but there are little sprouts offering a promising future.

It struck me as odd that most people don't really like to mow their lawns, but the first time you get a dirt patch you find yourself shuffling little husky seeds through your fingers. Absolutely no one likes raking leaves, but we'll plant trees all the day long. Planting trees, of course, is seasonal work. Those people should just come over to my place around about November. I could help them keep the arboreal dream alive.

Late lunch at Panera with The Yankee. We were dining on a gift card today. Just as well, otherwise I would have been less than ironically amused by the shrinking size of the servings.

We went to the mall after lunch and looked at rings -- white or yellow? I don't know! I did find a really nice piece that a pirate would think looked tacky. A pimp would have considered it, taken a double take, but then moved on. Words will not do it justice, and I can't find it online, but trust me when I say that it would look overdone at a costume jewelry party.

We watched people bounce on bungee straps, picked up a few small supplies and then headed to the movies. At the dollar theater we watched Taken:
Overprotective father Liam Nesson is fond of hitting people in the throat.
Aside from the incredibly gripping trailer this is what you get from this movie: the parts with "acting" could be better, the parts with the bodily harm are frenetic, but entertaining and the subject matter is such that bullets-to-the-brain don't really satisfy one's need for justice.

There were far more satisfying examples of revenge in the movie, unfortunately I can't find them online, so I'll go with a bit of Spill's review. They also liked Star Trek and showed an amazing expository clip that makes me all the more excited to see the movie.

Maybe next weekend.

At the grocery store, Publix is doing a little taunting. That's the first 12 second clip where I've been cut before I finished. Guess the internal clock needs an upgrade. But still, that's pretty funny. Almost within view is the Food World with gigantic yellow banners boasting of the Closing, Everything Must Go sale where the inventory might actually be approaching a realistic price for a change. Here, a simple sign encouraging people to transfer their prescriptions. Of course there's a CVS in between and a Target pharmacy also within the range of a good nine-iron.

When I moved out here it was 20 minutes to get to even a grocery store -- and the first pharmacy was further down. Now one is closing and that will only leave three pharmacies within four miles. It's just changed so much.

One thing that hasn't changed: the joy of unloading groceries in the rain. My neighbor was leaving while I was doing this. He stopped to roll down his window and suggest that I was getting wet.

The guy's got a classic sense of humor, but the joke's on him. His truck got damp, but I used plastic bags this time. Everything made it in safely.

Tomorrow: Mother's Day, and paper day. Should be lots of fun all the way around.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Twenty more miles on the bike this morning, and the two minute per mile barrier didn't last very long. I sprinted the entire way, averaging 1:49 a mile. My knees are scheduled to fall off later this evening, or by no later than noon tomorrow. After the ride I did a few weights and decided that maybe I should rethink my weight room approach. I could write about it, but it amounts to picking up too much of this or too little of that and finding the happy balance in between that doesn't leave one sore or achy for the rest of the day.

I wrote on Twitter this morning that I was going to be very productive today, only I didn't know it yet. I started, this morning, working on a new policy manual for The Samford Crimson's student journalists. I have been sitting on an impressive beginning to this project for some time, but finally returned to it today, re-reading what I wrote some time back and fairly impressed by some of it. "I wrote that?"

Today I added a few pages and circulated it among the faculty to see what I'd overlooked. Three things, as it turned out. They were added. Job descriptions were added. The manual is now a nice and sturdy 17 pages -- though eight pages are appendices, so hopefully it isn't too overwhelming. Most of the things listed are fairly standard journalism boilerplate so if you're one of the three readers who went to journalism school, you'd remember your early coursework if you read this manual.

It includes a wonderful note from this year's editor, and it hints at a few changes when it comes to workflow. It will not be a best seller, nor will it ever be attached to the Collected Letters of Kenny D. Smith should some really bored person ever get around to that project. It might be useful in addressing some of the typical questions faced by a student-journalist. If it helps there it was worth the near entire day it took to write, collate, edit, print, correct and re-print the thing.

Maybe it is decent enough to stay in circulation in the newsroom for a few years. If so I won't have to rewrite it next spring.

That's a significant task removed from the To Do List that stands between here and the summer. I did not get to my class paper today. That was the original plan, I had the notes ready to go, but reconsidered. It is due Sunday evening, it will be a long, prodding process and today just seemed like a day for speedy, efficient effort. So the easier project won out. Now I have a sense of progress, which was a great way to start Pie Day.

I got there first and secured the group a beeper and a table-in-waiting. Five showed up, and we Tweeted with friends having barbecue at another place. We had chicken and sandwiches and cheese biscuits and potatoes (among five people) and a nice time was had by all. And then came the pie.

We're somewhere around the four-and-a-half year mark on the Pie Day program. The barbecue is always good, the pie is always lemon and I'm always surrounded by friends or family and the happy thought that the weekend has begun.

It was here that we celebrated when I finished by master's thesis. Where I've celebrated a surprise birthday party, a graduation party, with friends and strangers and the friendly staff. This time it started with the conclusion of that policy manual. As watershed moments go this one might not get listed the next time I grow reflective about Pie Day, but next week might be included. Next time it will mark the end of some other thing from the To Do List and the beginning of summer.

It seems like I've pushed that date back in my head once or twice, but really most everything will be finished -- or in the final stages of something resembling conclusion or a resolution -- next week.

Now I've only to finish that class paper, work on a script and hold a few meetings next week. See what happens when you keep adding things to your list? Summer gets farther and farther away.

Not that I'm counting.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Some days, he said with a relaxed sigh of infinite knowing, are meant only to be staging areas for the days to come. Other days, he said with a relaxed sigh of making it up as he goes along, just don't feature a lot in the way of progress.

Today is somewhere in between, and there's probably nothing wrong with that, so long as the days to come demonstrate some productivity toward Getting Things Done.

Some things did get done today. I liken it to the light cleaning required to get into that particularly pesky back corner of the garage. The heavy lifting there will be done in the coming days. Today the emails were pondered, considered and resolved. Paperwork was moved from one stack to another. Some notes on post its were discarded. Files were found. It all had a casually efficient staging area feel to it. Not a "we're going in for the big invasion" or even "offloading supplies at Normandy D-Day plus four," but more of a relaxed position well back from the front lines of Doing Stuff.

This morning I rode 20 miles on the bike -- and I enjoy how this has become a very casual part of the day now, it makes everything else look so productive in comparison. It was a glorified sprint. Recently I found a 2:30 per mile pace and after that found myself wondering if I could ever get down to 2:15 a mile. I seemed to be plateauing at 2:17 or so. This morning, however, I got down to a 2:01 per mile average over the course of 20 miles. Now, of course, I have to try and break two minutes flat.

The morning was then spent in the aforementioned organizing of things to promote future efficiency. In the afternoon student media committee met and named new editors for two magazines and the editor and ad manager for the newspaper. It was a great paper this year, and next year has good potential. Somewhere in all of this I seized upon maybe the best aspect of the college life. Every cheerleading session from last year can be delivered again, adapted, updated and improved upon. I'm beginning to see it as a very organic process.

We're on, basically, a two year cycle. It starts with a new group of young, eager students one year, they learn and make mistakes and grow. By the second year they are doing solid work and we're all very proud to see them in action. After that they graduate or focus on internships or jobs or other activities and the process starts all over again. Next year is one of those new beginnings. It can be daunting for the students, but lots of fun. To me it is just another reminder of how great a job I have.

Blah, blah, my how fortunate to have good hours in a beautiful place and working with plenty of talented and sharp people. Well, yes. Even the graffiti is entertaining.

In the last class of the semester I watched as one of those extremely talented students edited a video towards her final project of the semester. She had some audio problems when recording, but overcame that in post production and made a fun video on the Exodus magazine's launch party. It was a lot of fun to watch her have fun making the thing and asking about the camera this and the software that. My class has officially been useful, then, for all of the students.

Lucked out there.

With that last class out of the way the momentum should really begin on getting everything wrapped up. Tomorrow will be busy, for instance. Tonight, there's a small celebration. The Yankee has defended her comprehensive examination and is now one big step closer to finishing her doctoral program. She wears bowls on her head. She also gets blinded by the "flash" on my camera phone, but the thing is not one for subtlety.

Why it is listed as a flash no one can explain. Really it is a spotlight, and it'd identify aircraft in the sky if I pointed it in that direction. It doesn't flash, it just puts the high beam of 1.21 gigawatts onto the subject.

As a camera it is a terrific phone and mobile PC type device. It is also excellent if you've dropped something on the floor of a darkened theater. The people in the next room complain about the light penetrating through the curtains and walls, but they'll get over it; you simply must find that package of Twizzlers.

Tomorrow I'm going to work on a paper for class. And I'll line up the next few days of things to work on as well. Tonight I'm going to make one more list, just to be sure I don't forget anything that must be done within the next week. After that: summer time.

Not that I'm counting.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beautiful day today, a Chamber of Commerce day for Overcasttown or their northern neighbor, Drizzlyville. Metal band Rain of Damnation might have also approved. Josef and Ursula Gust might have enjoyed the 43 mile an hour breeze.

It has been an odd May already. In seven days now we've reached half the average rainfall for the month. That doesn't even count the first day, which was rather pleasant on the whole. The temperatures have been right at their average and the humidity has been more of the veritable "danger of drowning type" rather than the "danger of suffocating your lungs one breath at a time" to which we ultimately grow accustomed. Tomorrow, a little more rain. Through the weekend there's more in the forecast.

Again, in light of the two-year-long drought we emerged from last year rain is wonderful, but if we could spread this out a bit more evenly the farmers and ornamental flower people would be ecstatic.

Today marks the last edition of the 94th volume of The Samford Crimson and basically the end of my first year at Samford. At least the daily duties; there are some projects that still require attention.

There are some stories that require your attention. An art auction raised $2,000 for mission work. Students from the business school managed some of the university's endowment (that's trust). We got a little overboard on the swine flu. But who hasn't? Actually, everyone was pretty dismissive of the larger story in the newsroom last night. It is nice to see a little critical thought in the face of media hype. It is also nice to see Sam Shade, former Alabama and NFL star, on campus as he begins his stint with the Bulldogs. You can see two videos that made the site today, one a nice feature on a pole vaulter (the conference's best) and a local program called Prayer Furnace, where we demonstrate the need for a mic screen.

Finally there's a goodbye from the Crimson's editorial staff. They've done such great work and I brag on them a lot -- here, on campus and elsewhere. They've been a pleasure to work with and to watch them grow. I was so exceedingly fortunate to start my time at Samford the same year that these student-journalists took the reins of the paper. They simply made me look good, when really all the hard work and heavy lifting was theirs.

To get a feel for the reputation of the Crimson after this year is very gratifying. Hopefully they feel the same way, they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for restoring and building upon the reputation and credibility of the paper.

How lucky am I? Before I was even offered the job at Samford last year I regularly bragged on student journalists who had deadlines, class responsibilities, a social life and the all-consuming newspaper. I'd never forgotten doing that in school myself, and my appreciation for the people that helped teach me continued to grow. When I got the Samford job I thought it'd be great to play that same role (I'd been gravitating that way professionally for some time). I knew the expectation, and some of the paper's recent history. When I started I found myself surrounded by great professors, a tremendously supportive department head and some of the most amazingly talented students possible.

This is a small school, but they benefit from those same incredible professors. The paper is small, but their hearts and their efforts are immeasurable. I get to go to work every day and talk about journalism with young adults as talented as any in the country. That's how lucky I am.

I'll miss these students a great deal, but coming up behind them will be another great crop of young people full of energy and potential and I get to do it all again. That's how lucky I am.

One of them will likely find this one day, so I'll just say "Thanks, guys, for all of your hard work. I can't wait to see what you do at your next stop."

You likely didn't show up here today expecting the sentimental pap, so we'll finish here with things that haven't been discussed yet. Yesterday I pedaled 20 miles, and I did it at a rate of one mile ever 2:01. Just the other day I was trying to break 2:15 per mile and now this. I'm not sure what happened. Also, my legs did not fall off. I was half expecting it.

Despite all that, I'm still not ready to climb Everest. Those pictures are beautiful, but it seems like everyone is at the top of the mountain. And you apparently must carry a lot of flags of various causes and organizations, so as to show your support. This will be the thing that keeps me from climbing Everest: I don't have that many flags in my life. What the colorful demonstration does, practically speaking, for those groups no one knows, but there is your logo, at a barely-breathable atmospheric level. Beautiful pictures though.

(No one give this idea to the White House. They'll buzz the mountain with Air Force One for the chance to take a photograph. It'd be far better to just send them a copy of Photoshop.)

Mindy McAdams blogged about this yesterday, and the slide show is worth seeing. Remarkable work. I get a lot of inspiration from McAdams for my class -- and I found myself linking to her a lot this semester. Here's some job seeking advice I may have to start sharing with the underclassmen, but it might be useful for anyone on the market.

Word came today that three newspaper staffers at the Baltimore Sun were fired over the phone in the press box at the Oriole's game. This particular shoddy treatment aside, no one enjoys watching the cuts at newspapers. It is heartbreaking to hear the first hand accounts -- 40 people were cut at the Sun. Sure the business is changing and, yes, the writing has been on the wall for years now, but the frustrating part for the ink-on-their-fingers working journalist is that the changes that might have been made during those years was beyond their capacity to be made. Those changes had to come from above, but most places never figured that out or refused to consider the situation. And, again, for those people who lost their jobs -- jobs they loved, that gave them odd, long hours and typically modest pay in a tough business -- I have a great deal of sympathy.

And while I don't mean to sound disrespectful, does it really take three people to cover an Oriole's game? They're something like eight games back already.

Tonight was my final for the epistemology and theory building class. This was our class, a dirty, dusty wings place in Tuscaloosa with more interesting things on the walls than on the menu. The professor, who's one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, took us all out to eat. While he's giving us back our papers from the course I hear old Radiohead playing in the restaurant. Good Radiohead and wings, it felt like undergrad all over again.

Dinner ended, the group broke up and said their goodbyes for the summer. I made it home before dark. First time that's happened in quite some time. Think I'll celebrate by going to bed early.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I bought a lot of food today, treating the newspaper staff to snacks since they've treated me so well this year. Note to self: Roly Poly is a good choice. I need to remember that for next year, if that staff is good to me as well.

Most of the newspaper's named staff will be moving on after this. The editor and managing editor graduate at the end of fall. One of the section editors is out of here in a few days. A few more will focus their energies on other projects next year. It will be a very young paper when the 95 volume of The Samford Crimson begins publishing in the fall.

But first we have the final installment of this paper. That filled the day in one way or another, wondering where the time went, wondering if the staff had useful experiences, wondering where I was going to park to pick up food from Roly Poly.

The place is in a strip mall, anchored by a kids gymnastics outfit and a suitably average suburban Mexican restaurant. Today being Cinco de Mayo the very sensible and normal people of a very sensible and normal suburb all decided to visit this very run of the mill restaurant for their authentic Mexican experience.

I have never before seen police officers working parking lot traffic, but I did this afternoon. It was insane.

Earlier in the day there was insanity on campus as the journalism students released Exodus which took on the tone of a local guide. They profiled cool shops and stores and restaurants and activities and churches and so on.

They were most excited that the magazine was perfect bound and had writing on the spine. Online they used some software that allows you to flip the pages -- with sound and everything. I'm not a big fan, but they were very pleased and that's what counts.

For the release party they were giving away t-shirts and food, proving they know their target audience. Dozens and dozens of shirts disappeared immediately, as did some 60 pizzas, several dozen boxes of doughnuts and plenty of coffee.

All of that before the rain came. Fortunately the clouds couldn't keep it together and only gave us sprinkles, so the magazine party went off without a hitch. The other magazine, not mentioned above, is called Sojourn. The site is behind, but it is one of those poetry, creative writing and photography magazines so popular on college campuses. It seems to be an exercise in font creativity and fairly intriguing photography.

That was the afternoon, which gave way to the evening and food and the night of newspapering. Last year, I'm told, they departed at 4:30 in the morning when finishing the last paper. This year they were done by 11:30. I watched them all trickle away one by one as the different sections were completed.

At the end of the night I was urging the last few people to take the last bits of this food home. The students were very happy, the last paper! Now they can have their Tuesdays back again.

While it is a weekly paper the student schedule typically devolves into the campus paper running like a daily that's published once a week. Meaning that instead of doing little bits here and little bits there throughout the week all of the layout and editing happens Tuesday nights. That's the obstacle around which the rest of their week must be built. And they've done a terrific job.

These students are very driven, top of their class types with a lot of projects constantly in motion. They excel in the classroom, in their practical experiences like this and they are remarkably well suited to coping with so many different pressures and deadlines, but they're ready for another experience. They are a very good bunch of students and young journalists and decent, hardworking people. The department will be lesser for those that are getting ready to leave, but the world beyond the Samford bubble will be a bit better for their contributions.

Some are ready to graduate, some are ready to intern over the summer; all are ready for a summer break. Me too. I walked out with the last three journalists and marveled at how much they've done this year. Now I must plan on what must be done for next year and wrap up the three or four things I must still do before my semester is completed. While going over all of this on the way to my car, at 11:30 at night mind you, I ran into my boss who was also just going home.

Seems I'm getting a new title come next fall. Another line on the vitae.

Made it home just before midnight, wide awake and tired. Tomorrow I'll start sneaking up on that final To Do List of the semester (four or six days should see it all completed, I hope), start cleaning up things in the office and head to Tuscaloosa for my epistemology and theory building final.

Wait until you hear about that tomorrow.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What we'd really like, please, is a bit more rain. After the traces Saturday and the "Gosh, we might think about drawing up Arc plans" rainfall of yesterday we got another healthy dose today.

It seemed to be precipitating in some fashion off and on all day. Rained in the early morning, turned sunny while I was at the gym, sprinkled at midday as I ran errands -- picking up awards for students -- and then rained hard at times during the afternoon.

I do think the rain gauges have been damaged throughout the region. There's no way the totals are as low as the National Weather Service is recording. Over the last two days there has surely been more than an inch-and-a-half of rain.

Not that we can really complain. There is just a lot at once. It is as if God's meteorological actuary suddenly realized his error of recent years of drought and decided to make up for it all at once. We've been out of the drought for a few months now and lately the entire state has managed to get back on the proper side of the rainfall ledger. Now we're just getting extra.

It sprinkled in the early evening as I walked across campus from my office in the student center to the Hanna Center. It was there, in a dining hall off of Samford's basketball facility, that the journalism and mass communication department held the annual awards picnic.

It is so named because it used to be a picnic. It took place a few years ago at one of the nearby state parks but has recently been retreating closer and closer to the department itself for purely logistical reasons. In the most recent times it was a picnic outdoors on campus, which was probably nice, but booking Hanna Center was a wise move tonight.

The department head thanked everyone for coming and then opened up the barbecue processional. Later individual awards were passed out. There were National Honor Society presentations. The regional journalism were impressive. One of the students won first place in the Society of Professional Journalism Mark of Excellence competition for breaking news. Another received an award for cartoon editorials. We also had a student claim first place in the SoutEast Journalism Conference for public service journalism.

There were tons of worthy magazine award winners as well. A student who recently won the Alabama Broadcaster's Association's sportscaster of the year award was also honored. He was competing against seasoned pros, but brought home the hardware. Not a bad year for little Samford.

The dean stood to deliver some of the university awards. At one point he glanced out the window and decided to stall for time. "You don't want to leave right now, I promise you." The carefully assembled Arc plans were being washed downstream.

Other awards flowed as well. I gave out a few, which was fun. The scholastic awards honored the best in each class, the best in each track -- broadcast, print and advertising/PR -- were some of the last awards from the faculty and then the seniors gave out their own honors.

It was a fun night, what was slated for 90 minutes ran about two hours, but everyone that wasn't under some sort of end-of-semester deadline was happy to linger and let the rain push through.

Tomorrow is another big day for many of the hardworking students. They'll release two magazines with great fanfare. The forecast calls for rain.

Also tomorrow is the last newspaper of the year. How did this happen? Where did the time go? We'll try to figure that out tomorrow.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

To the casual observer that has witnessed countless storms there seems to be a certain respect the weather has to geography. It is almost as if, as storms come through our tiny corner of the world, that they behave. There's the river channel here, the interstate corridor there and storms, powerful and random, tend to follow highly specific and predictable paths.

So much so that only one storm that carried a tornado has snuck into our idyllic community in 20 years. We're very fortunate to somehow be protected by prevailing winds and hills and discriminating tree lines.

Today we were under what was thought, at the time, to be a storm cell with a tornado lurking inside. It was as close as we've come to such a circumstance in many years. James Spann, the local meteorologist of record, was naming off the local streets and schools.

He's an impressive figure, standing there in his shirt sleeves and suspenders, naming off every neighborhood under the sun and dark clouds. There's no place within the sound of his voice that he doesn't know. I've heard him, in previous storms, mention restaurant owners by name, telling them specifically where to huddle ("Get down beside the southwest corner, over by the cooler.")

So it was a bit disconcerting to hear him, this afternoon fighting through laryngitis, talking about the schools near my home, the stores just three miles away. This particular cell had nice rotation, a funnel cloud had been spotted over the nearby state park and was following a northeasterly path.

The problem was that it was about three or four miles more easterly, already, than storms typically visit around here. Of course they can go where they want and no neighborhood is immune, but we're pretty comfortable around here with our spot and a quick glance of the radar showing us where the storm is and isn't. This one was a little close.

So, for the first time in my memory I scurried down to the basement. I pulled back a few things standing between frail human body and slightly more secure-feeling sub-basement and sat in there for a minute or two. That storm with rotation and a visually identified funnel cloud was then just three miles to the east and headed north; the shapes on the radar and the bending trees were all a little bit spooky.

It was over quickly -- it seemed to be the only part of a lazy storm that moved at a normal speed -- and amounted to nothing for us. I stayed in the sub-basement for a minute or two, wondering what was down there that I could scan when the storm passed. I walked back upstairs to check the radar, to sneak a bite of lunch and to glance at the sky. The storm had cleared us as quickly as it had become a potential worry. Later we learned that the funnel cloud apparently never descended, the best possible news for our neighbors.

But still, we got pummeled by rain.

And there, in nine seconds, I said everything about the above. The amount of rainfall was impressive. That culvert had two large stones dislocated from the force of the rain. So much rain fell that I'm convinced all of the area gauges malfunctioned. There's no way those low totals reflect what kept us all indoors today. This is about four minutes into the first deluge.

Meanwhile, Spann was observing how this storm cell was following the path of a tornado from May 1974. He wasn't working in this market then, and there was not much of anything in that storm's path, but he knew the storm. That's impressive and insightful; tornadoes, or possible tornadoes, don't sneak into our little area.

The power browned a few times during the worst part of the storm, but held. It reset the router. Initially I blamed the ISP, because they're so often the culprit. They suggested rebooting the router, it worked and all is back to normal.

Now, if only all of this water would seep into the ground.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

After a morning spent sweating -- 20 miles of pedaling and my share of weights -- I spent the mid-day and afternoon in the yard ... sweating.

It seemed a good day to play with the newly acquired leaf blower. Having not yet escaped it's cardboard cage, the moment was now. It is from Black & Decker. It is black and orange. It is hefty. It boasts of 240 mile per hour wind speeds. It has a bag for going from blow to suck. It is the most highly priced medium model on the market, so it must be good.

It better be good.

And all of those attributes do bring a certain authoritative effort to the random dispersal of leaves and lawn debris. But only if the said leaves loosely hanging around, loitering as they are want to do early in the evening. If they've exercised their right to assemble they are a tough gang to disband. For those small piles the old dependable rake was called upon once again.

In the collection of leaves the burn pile reached pyre proportions. Matches were procured from their comfortable resting home in the drawer of oddly assembled kitchen implements and three were put to the stack. The inferno burned for a few hours, slowly at first and then ridiculously hot and full and finally down to something more akin to signaling people across great expanses of space. I watched it smolder until I'd done all the standing anyone would want to do for one day and then dosed it thoroughly -- as I love my neighborhood, like my neighbors and want them to continue to tolerate my presence -- before heading inside to clean up.

A storm was blowing through our fair portion of our fair state. And though it missed us easily, it was significant enough to draw the attention of the local television stations. ABC 33/40, which has been the market leader for weather since the Big Meteorologist in the Sky invented the stuff, was using viewer-submitted images thrown into what looked like a Flickr slideshow to show off cloud formations and other odd weather occurrences. The shots weren't much, but I found myself thinking how useful that's going to be when a real storm blows through.

Perhaps they've been doing this for a while, but this is the first time I've noticed it. It is the first time in some time when a storm has barreled through when I wasn't asleep or on campus. A shame, really, because live weather coverage is a beautiful and amazing art to behold -- and I'm not just talking about all the radar colors that are meaningless to the rest of us -- but watching the weather people work is a lot of fun.

And I'll get to do some more of that tomorrow if the forecasts hold up.

The Yankee and I went to Mellow Mushroom tonight. I really wish we hadn't. The pizza is always delicious, and it was good again, but the service departed the 12:30 to Lacking train and immediately bordered the 1:15 to Cluelessville.

The Yankee pointed out that our waitress, who didn't realize we existed for 10 minutes, was working inside and outside. I didn't really care, except there was a 20 minute gap between being seated and having a drink. I finished a few translations of War and Peace before the food appeared, but not before making the rounds at most every other table in the place first. "Is this yours? Is this yours?"

About 40 minutes into the adventure I was offered a drink refill. (This is my favorite part.) A guy, who was not even working our section, takes the glasses of Diet Coke and tea and brings them back. The Diet Coke glass is filled. The tea glass is one-third filled (See? Not even two-thirds empty ...) To me he says, "They are brewing fresh tea. We'll bring you some out in a minute."

So instead of tea, or nothing, he's brought me a third-of-a-glass of Diet Coke.

I don't expect the rarely showered, never shaven, patchouli fan to know this, but I'll just say it for you: I haven't had a Coke in four years. Even then I didn't drink Diet Coke. That stuff is kind of nasty; please don't bring me anymore.

They have these accidents-waiting-to-happen pizza holders they are using now. This flimsy wire-framed thing elevates the pizza tray so you can scoop your slice from above shoulder height onto your plate, unless you flip the whole thing into your lap to enjoy the feel of scalding cheese. These holders are the perfect size for the glasses. I know this because when I finally did get a refill the waitress, who had to be new, shoved it directly under the pizza. Tea-flavored crust, happily, is tasty.

I asked for a box and I was given a cardboard structure with the cubic storage space of a Hot Wheels car. Only I had four slices of pizza to tuck inside. I asked for another box, because common sense has to prevail at some point.

It was all very funny, in a sad and telling way. The Yankee, I think, was concerned I was going to say something, but I save those energies for someone who can actually take something away from my message.

Which is this: Between the service and the charming reminder to wash your hands that omits restroom use I'll be avoiding the 280 store for the newly reopened Mellow Mushroom on the Southside.

And a word about that restroom sign. It seems only reasonable that you should have to remind people to wash their hands -- particularly your employees. That sign discusses raw meat and dirty dishes, both good points. However, if you feel the need to spell out the need, oughtn't you see the need to point out the need after they've gone to the restroom to do their deed?

Check please.

More storms tomorrow, as said on Twitter, while all prepare to brace for the worst I will take my cues from any of the great panic scenes in Airplane.

Friday, May 1, 2009

As the week winds down so slinks away the semester. There are a few more days to go -- one paper to put out at Samford, one more day to work with students in class, grades and a few projects to tidy up, all of that over two weeks or so, slated against one last paper to complete for Alabama -- but the hustle has bustled itself away. Everything will be slow and reflective and humorous from here on in.

I might even start trying to catch up on the website in the next few days. By then May will be in full stride, and I'll have most of the month to work on projects that aren't attached to one campus or the other. Just as I get accustomed to that, and bored, classes will start back in June.

So that's May, in a nutshell. As for wrapping up April, well it was busy and hectic and delightful. I'm still behind on the captions for the photo gallery, but there's a world of happy memories that took place this month. There was a bit of work too, which probably explains the spartan appearance of my Personal Brand online.

In April I presented at one conference, taught one class, took three, watched the newspaper's progress, traveled to Virginia and Pennsylvania and took on a few other ideas that will flesh themselves out over the summer and beyond.

I also worked out a fair amount. And rode a lot on the bike. I was tallying miles, but the math became overwhelming. No surprise there.

Today, though, I pedaled 30 miles, a new distance for me. All of the usual things occurred; warm at three miles, experiencing a peculiar ache at eight miles and enjoyed the adrenaline that kicks in at 13 miles. I was surprised when it happened again at 18 miles. By then I was thinking about finishing at 25 but felt so good I figured You might just push on. And so I did until the 30 mile mark was reached, at which point I stepped off the bike, sweating but not achy for a change, and very happy with the effort.

For the rest of the day I've avoided stairs whenever possible.

I did venture forth unto that place that is avoided except for the one, nay two, necessary trips of the year, the local mall. Oh the many stores were such a wonder as a child. And the people there such an entertainment before I could drive myself around town. Now I walk through the place noting the stores that are gone, wondering if the vacant, empty dark corners are an indicator of the local shopping habits.

The place has never been the same since the sword store and the first arcade closed. The sword store looked out over the food court, giving teenaged boys and the older guys who refused to grow up the opportunity to play with sharp pointy things for a moment. Now it is a cell phone accessory store, or some equally limited opportunity to define a moment in time. (I honestly didn't notice today.)

What sits in the arcade's old slot I haven't the first idea. I can't bring myself to walk down that wing of the mall -- mostly because there's a Ruby Tuesday's across the way. A new arcade went in elsewhere, it was above a game store and the NASCAR store, but I noticed just before Christmas -- in the Desperate Shopping Hours -- that that arcade had disappeared as well.

I did see a very nice gentleman who would have you know that some people call him the space cowboy. Other people, I'm told, call him the Gangster of Love. We bonded, for just a few nights ago I pointed out to my neighborhood that my car stereo speaks the pompatus of love.

Other similar observations of varying degrees of wit about the mall:
It is amazing anyone can part the effusive cologne smell coming from Abercrombie and Fitch. Their shoppers must have olfactory disorders.

Just crashed a Sikorsky CH-47 Sea Knight (rotor failure) at Brookstone. I don't think they'll have me back.

What bad economy? Swarovski earbuds.

Swarovski Bluetooth (only $260).

A body image research would hate this.

Million dollar mall idea: Victoria's Secret should sell Footlocker bags. These would be for men looking to hide the VS bag.
Those were all via Twitter. And aside from my obvious need to study helicopter design a bit more closely the tweeting was fun. It seems the perfect distraction for having spent a few minutes in a mall.

Later, at Pie Day with The Yankee I figured out how to harness the H1N1 virus. She pointed out what was news to me, science has already delivered us from this overhyped media sensation. A cure for the swine flu has been discovered: Oinkment.

She's there all week friends.

I finished watching that two hour Johnny Cash documentary. There's a part of the Merle Haggard interview in the second half where he's talking about joining Cash on the road and before a show Cash says "You should tell them about your time in prison." They go back and forth and finally Haggard is convinced to do it because, as Cash says "The people will forgive you."

Cash explained that addressing it took the power away from others who would use it against him. In communication theory and social psychology we call it inoculation theory, which was still being developed at the time. Here's a video of Haggard on Cash's show. Cash was right. On later appearances the whole notion was addressed with a wink and a smile.

So in explaining all of this there is an old man who's done his time for an armed robbery, worked hard and became a huge country music star and he's a heartbeat away from breaking down at a decades-old memory of forgiveness. What's not to love about a moment of documentary that's so stirring?

I get to be indirectly involved in a documentary this summer. I'll tell you about it later. But not this weekend. It seems I'll be ducking storms. May has something to say about coming in like a lion too.