Kenny Smith | blog

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

All that homework? I've pretty much been buried under it today. Part of the day, and all of the night. We're talking a serious investment of hours here.

I have a stats assignment to turn in tomorrow and, what's more, a stats midterm for which to prepare. Also I missed a stats class recently on account of going out of town and getting married. The night the teacher threw her probability formulas on the board and ran through sample problems to ensure everyone grasped the intricacies involved was a night I missed.

I was on River Street with friends. It was a good trade off.

Fortunately I've been able to procure the probability notes from a friend who's been in this class. And another set from two dear, sweet ladies in my class will be delivered tomorrow.

So I'm working my way through problems and this has become the central focus of the world, somehow. Odd as I'm not an especially proficient math student. Anything beyond Alegbra II and non-Euclidean geometry just seem like so many randomly made up principles to me anyway. Numbers in pre-cal and trigonometry always seemed official and important, no matter if the answer was right. And now I'm going through homework and trying to find similar problems in the text, notes and elsewhere so that I might find the answer and try to reverse-engineer the things ...

Such is my day, and it continues still. If it were anything but math I'd think it a marvelous way to spend a beautiful summer day. Homework! This is my job for the day! How delightful! Since it is math it receives a qualified meh.

On, then, to the blog filler. Internet ahoy! First, a remarkable tale of odd book marketing:
The cover is printed in a double layer of standard black ink, with an incrementally screened overlay masking the nine words. Exposed over time to ultraviolet light, the words will be appear at different rates, supposedly one per century.
Jason Kottke solves the riddle for impatient readers, "A UV source much stronger than the Sun should do the trick."

Every ad on Times Square was photographed in January. It was an outdated collection the very next day. However, if the government returns to a WPA mentality and employs people to do citizen curation of the culture this sort of site could become very popular.

Also from the Department of Hands, on Which There is a Lot of Time, The Human Clock project. People and settings posed with the time of the day, conceptual art at its most useful.

This makes two days in a row for a new irregular feature link, but: Things your parents never taught you, but the Internet did.

Tomorrow, class once again and a dinner date with Team Atticus!

Monday, June 29, 2009

We had a dinner date tonight, but bloodwork for the coolest three-year-old I know put those plans on hold for a few days. We'll do that Wednesday night now. Instead, we ate after class at a steakhouse, searching for deals and nice staff.

This is one of those carefully calculated places, designed to feel authentic and rustic and homey. After a while you begin to feel sorry for the girls sweeping the floor and the staff that must come out and yeehaw at the notion of someone celebrating their 20th birthday there. We offered to our waitress to come hide at our table if there were any more birthday parties. She took that as an invitation to stand over us as we at almost the entire meal. She was nice, and full of tales of other restaurants where she'd worked.

In class tonight -- this being the meeting of the quantitatively inclined -- there was a great deal of discussion about citations and plagiarism. Each professor touches on this, some more than others and this professor is dutifully exhaustive on the subject. Everyone has personal anecdotes and most of them sound the same. That definitions and consequences are still spelled out makes one question what students everywhere are being taught about research styles and no-nos. At the doctorate or master's level students -- a room full of teachers, this bunch -- should all have a fair grasp on the implications.

My favorite anecdote about plagiarism is actually someone else's story. A professor caught a student ripping off work in an undergraduate class. The victimized author was the professor himself. There was, apparently, no arguing his way out of that one. I am careful to credit that professor in the telling of the story so I do not commit meta-plagiarism.

The Yankee threatened to turn me into a case study this morning at the gym as I boasted of riding only 20 miles on the bike. Twenty miles isn't especially long, but the qualifier in front of it is, to me, rather impressive. I did 20 miles because we've grafted our way into this horizontal training class which is a 45-minute session based on ridiculous poses and balance stemming from the plank position. It is all designed to strengthen your core and, in my case, make you sweat a lot. As I have no core strength the class is a difficult one for me. As I had no balance this morning, for whatever reason, the class was almost impossible today.

The teacher has learned this program from a fitness guru in the area who took yoga, aerobics and special operations training and put it together for people with extra time at the gym. The upside to the program is that it changes every week. And while Monday is said to be hard, by Friday you'll have this stuff down to a science. I dispute that claim, and look forward to disproving it on Friday. Either way, next Monday the entire thing changes again.

In other news school is becoming the other news. I have a portion of a literature review due next week in the quantitative class, homework and a midterm in the stats class and research to absorb for my independent study. If you need me I'll be the one with a furrowed brow.

And now, internet filler, because it fills the internet and helps me complete my obligation to add more fluff to the fluff flying about the place.

As we all knew, or have learned once again, things righteously discussed on the campaign trail look different when seen from the seat of power. This post is titled, So, The Daily Show ruined White House transparency for all of us, but that's a tongue-in-cheek denotation of the overreaction of bureaucrats. "'People might tease me' is not a valid reason to reject a subpoena" is a good quote from this video, but the best stuff is around 3:45 and on.

A south Alabama physician has not found, but wonders why no one is talking about the supposed cure for HIV. At first you're left to wonder why you'd hear about this from a clinician in the tiny town that boasts itself as the home of Jimmy Buffett, but then you realize it wasn't him, he's just curious how a conference presentation he witnessed hasn't gotten more sway:
My guess is that most scientific researchers are somewhat stunned that a clinician — not a research scientist — has been able to come up with the cure. Most of the big research money and big name American institutions are somewhat embarrassed to acknowledge that the very first case of HIV cure is not coming from their institutions.
Because we've been busy talking about Michael Jackson? I'm tired of the story -- that actually happened about 10 minutes after the news was confirmed -- but nevertheless the final mystery of the man, the Smooth Criminal lean has been solved:
He did it with special shoes that quickly slid into pegs that rise out of the floor at just the right moment. Also helping the effect were rigid anklets that worked like ski boots, supporting Jackson and his entourage of dancers as they leaned forward at that magic angle.
That never seemed humanly possible -- indeed, the video used wires and harnesses -- and that's fine, I just wanted to know how they did it. Now his story, triumphs, philanthropy and shortcomings, can all be laid to rest.

And, finally, a new irregular feature link: Things your parents never taught you, but YouTube did.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

At the gym this morning we tried this embarrassingly brutal new thing called horizontal training. It is all about balance and weight distribution and agility and core strength. At least two of these aren't my strongest attribute.

So there I was, feeling as if I'd hurt something, straining and quivering and yet congratulating the woman who'd just told us she'd lost a dress size in two weeks because of this horizontal training program. The regulars in the class had just finished their 30 minutes on the bike, I'd pedaled through 20 miles and then decided to move up a set of weights in the normal workout. This leads to fatigued limbs, sweaty skin and, oddly enough, Michael Jackson on everyone's mind.

The ladies there were discussing his best music or moves or his best cosmological look. Someone said there would be a marathon of his videos on television tonight. One of the local stations was playing a marathon of his hits. In Minneapolis, James Lileks reported, the City Hall bells were holding a Michael Jackson concert at noon.

It all seems a bit much, to me. Even as a member of the generation that thinks of him as a performer rather than a sideshow or a cautionary tale, I can only marvel at everyone's preoccupation with the man. An excellent entertainer, yes, even a proven humanitarian, but the hoopla still seems overboard. The media went overboard with Jackson during his criminal and civil troubles, but people tuned out long before cable news got the memo. How long will the audience stay interested this time? Anyone's guess, but online the impact is tangible.

As I said on Twitter, he is the first to pass of the last generation that could command such attention on his death. As of this writing four of the six supposed music channels my television receives are running Michael Jackson marathons. Who else will get such precious air time? Madonna? Maybe Prince? From the late 1980s on the entertainment industry became too fractured to allow personalities that permeated everything. Those people (and the likes of Elvis and the Beatles and a few others) were unavoidable. Technology has let you pick and choose your delights with much more flexibility and those much less potent stars. Even Elvis might not have been Elvis if he'd come along in our present media environment.

I've watched a few of Jackson's videos tonight, recalling how their debuts were events and remembering how the man could move, but even there a pattern emerges. A lot of the steps begin to repeat themselves -- which is fine, how many different ways can the body be contorted, anyway? Also, I'm detecting a theme in the videos "I am tough, and must act it, and I'll prove it with dance!"

Perhaps Michael Jackson's biggest failure, entertainment-wise, was his inability to bring the fedora back into widespread use. At least he's given the people the ability to do countless renditions of the Thriller dance.

Aside from the mystery of why Jennifer Anniston can't keep a boyfriend -- she has money and is widely considered one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, so what is the problem? -- celebrity news does nothing for me. Or almost nothing. I recall in 2001 considering music to play as I announced George Harrison's death on the air. Ever since I've always considered the biggest stars and wondered What is their obituary song?

I used "Here Comes the Sun" for Harrison. It seemed the most hopeful choice.

Otherwise, celebrity news doesn't do anything for me.

The Yankee and I returned to Samford today for two-buck lunch. Samford employee's get a cheap lunch on Fridays, and you can't not take advantage of that little perk. We just did beat the lady basketball campers into the cafeteria. They were doing a one day competition camp on campus and were all released, several hundred of them at once, on an unsuspecting lunchroom.

We ran into one of the members of my department while on campus and I had the chance to introduce my wife. He's met her several times before, of course, but she had a different name then. In a way that was the motivation for the trip. We had to get her placed on my insurance package, which means a healthy dose of HR paperwork with the friendly folks in the administration building.

I love Samford, everyone is always smiling, the campus is beautiful and they send the most polite, almost apologetic Emails from the human resources department when they realize that you've forgotten to sign an important form.

So I'll go back next week, too.

We stopped by the bank, where I took part in this witty conversation:
Me: "Wow, this bank is closed on the 6th of July. I should work here."

The Yankee: "We're off all summer."

Me: "Oh yeah."
Even still, getting Monday off after Saturday night festivities is a nice perk if you can get it. And you can get it, if you work for that bank.

This evening, after strategizing about important things like thank you cards and an exciting new friendship festivus idea it was time for Pie Day. Ward had a table officially listed as "Everyone who did not attend the last incarnation of the now-defunct City Stages" (or maybe it was a reunion of 45, whichever comes first) so we had another very nice guy, Eric, at our table for five.

He asked "Do we do pie?"

It was very funny.

Hope your weekend is off to a nice start and that your tomorrow is even better!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

People will, of course, talk almost exclusively about Michael Jackson for the next few days to come. That's the sad nature of the entertainment culture, pop star, surprising death and so on. If we must discuss entertainers -- and, oh, how I am fine not doing that -- we should talk about the generous Stevie Wonder. The man wrote Songs In the Key of Life, but his most recent beautiful accomplishment:
My wife works at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta on the AFLAC Cancer Center. One of her patients is Leo, an 18-year-old kid with terminal cancer, and his dad told her early on that Leo is a huge Stevie Wonder fan.

Beth (the wife) works with Rock Against Cancer, and through their local volunteer and the Atlanta NBC station, she got in touch with Stevie's management ahead of the concert he played here last night. Leo and his family got to meet with Stevie before the show, and not only did Stevie walk out and dedicate the show to Leo, he brought the kid out onstage, sat him down on the piano bench next to him, and kept him there the entire show. We were up on the lawn (the Ampitheater at Encore Park in Alpharetta), and you could literally see the grin on the kid's face from way back there. They also had dinner together after the show.

After the concert Leo's family invited Beth to the after-show party backstage (I tagged along shamelessly), where Stevie played keyboards and harmonica for a good hour, but spent most of his time hanging around with Leo, who by then was walking about six feet off the ground (and on an entirely personal note, watching Stevie Wonder play "Overjoyed" to a small room from a yard away pretty much pegs the cool meter).
That's from Will Collier, Auburn man and sharer of a wonderful moment.

Had a few meetings today, a nice chat with the boss and more meetings tomorrow. It's nice to be able to get a little work done while on summer break. Maybe it makes me look useful.

I also spent two hours with the very nice people at the local cell phone store. It seems there were some clerical errors on the account which produced an outrageously large bill. The gentleman in the store was great, and I decided he must possess an incredible amount of patience.

It is comforting to note, in a way, that the employees of the company must also wade through the same hold menus and customer service people on the phone as you and I. He spent two hours on the phone for me before finally being put in touch with someone that could fix the problem. Whatever they pay the in-store guys it isn't enough.

But, after they let us out of the store -- they'd locked us in and closed 45 minutes earlier -- we finally had a supervisor who was sending a detailed Email with the errors, corrections and credits.

And while Congress, glaciers and foreign independent films all move faster than AT&T when they've erred and owe you money, it was nice to think of the amount saved with only two hours of effort. I hope young Tommie -- who was kind, polite and as exasperated as I was about the problem -- managed to get next door for Chick-fil-A's free sandwich promotion before time expired.

At least we were inside. One hundred degrees just before 8 p.m. Even if the car's thermometer gets a bit too excited about three-digit temperatures the idea seems somehow unfair.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hello, my name is Kenny and I ... I ... tonight I ... *sniff* I enjoyed my statistics class.

No one is more surprised than I am, let me assure you. As has been discussed, I'm the type of person that prefers words over numbers. Even as those delicious digits play an important role in life I'm more comfortable in nouns and verbs than decimal places. Tonight, however, I found myself enjoying the central limit theorem and normal distribution. Also, right now, I have an A in the class. Ask me again after next week's midterm how I feel about statistics, but for now I like it.

The last math class I had was freshman year at Auburn, so 13 years ago now. And I didn't have an A in that class either. Today I'm taking the small victories where I can get them. Class counts.

This afternoon I had to make a return visit to Best Buy. At the beginning of the month I purchased a new scientific calculator for this class. I bought the thing, did a simple seven-minus-two-equals-five test and assumed it would work. Later I discovered that the addition key and the three key were more decoration than useful. Of course the receipt has been misplaced, but Best Buy was able to check the purchase against the card and allowed for a simple exchange.

In the parking lot I discovered that, on this new calculator, the subtraction key is merely a gray plastic key on which you may act out your frustrations, but not mathematical procedures. So back inside to see the same customer service worker, who seemed bemused, but untroubled by my return. I picked up the last model of calculator off the shelf, pressed every button and hoped against hope that the thing would work through July. Otherwise I might have to send a note to Texas Instruments.

I have this theory, born of years of calculus and trigonometry frustrations, that when I get a question wrong it is more often than not the book that is in error. It is comforting to consider typos in textbooks opposed to my inability to solve a problem. The book for this class, however, cops to it.

"The proof is beyond the scope of this textbook."

At this point it doesn't even matter what the book can't prove, the admittance that the book can't do something is gratifying enough. Told you, small victories in stats class.

The June photo gallery has been updated, now with happy memories and a few wedding photographs too.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Slept in a bit today and then ran errands. Domestic life and a day off, not bad, eh?

The Yankee and I visited our friend Stephen to pick up things I'd sent home with him after the wedding. He had the dress, a suitcase, golf clubs and a few small boxes. Good thing too, because there was no way any of that stuff was getting back home with us.

Returned the tuxedo. The nice lady who took it from me was confused and thought it was due back Sunday, but we looked it up in their computer system and found that today was the correct date. Men's Wearhouse, though, has always been good to me for all my shopping needs. They, like everyone else I've from whom I've rented a tuxedo, have never looked inside the garment bag when it is returned.

You wonder if anyone has ever returned a pair of blue jeans and a frayed old coat to simulate the weight. Of course the person that did that could never be comfortable at formal events. You'd see him casting furtive glances about the room. It wouldn't be Bondian, but paranoia. "Are they on to me? They're on to me. Keep it cool. Sip your drink, enjoy your finger food. You can ditch the jacket when you excuse yourself for a breath of fresh air."

Visited the grocery store, for groceries. I did not take photographs of interesting labels to share with the Internet, and so the Internet is a slightly lesser place today. Fortunately someone else, somewhere, is picking up the slack.

I'm picking up dirty clothes and putting away stuff from the week out of town and editing photos from the trip. That's been the evening. As the week progresses more interesting things will happen. For now, I'm just happy to be out of the Savannah heatwave.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Back at home ...

Or, if you prefer the non-traditional ...

Left Savannah late this morning and braved an incredibly powerful little storm somewhere between Macon and Atlanta. I've never seen such headwind in a car, or free-flowing debris on the freeway.

I had a quantitative class in exotic and lovely Gadsden, Ala. tonight. It is everything of which you could hope and dream, spending one of your first married evenings in Gadsden. Finally, sometime well after 10 p.m. we made it home and unpacked.

It was a great, wonderful, terrific trip. We'd hoped that everyone would be able to come make a vacation and that seemed to be the case. I learned there's no time at a wedding, even a long-running celebration like this, to really get to visit with everyone like you'd want to. There's a great deal of hustle and bustle and rush -- and sweating, if your in Savannah in June -- but everywhere we turned we had a view of the familiar faces of loved ones, and that was a tremendous wedding gift.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Yankee and I asked our friends Brian and Elizabeth, the McAlisters, to Twitter the wedding and they did a great job. Brian did the pictures and Elizabeth chimed in with text updates as we hoped for the first live-Twitter wedding. Here are some of their highlights:
The groom in waiting. 30 minutes until go time.

Where the magic will be happening. Thirteen minutes and counting.

And the groom is in place!

The groom awaits ...

Here comes the bride. Beautiful.

And the bride looks like a princess! As it should be on every woman's wedding day. And they both looked giddy!

Bride's friends do the readings. Did I hear a voice crack? It is very sweet. I Corinthians 13. Nicely done!

Interesting. Impromptu trumpet solo by a street musician, I think. One never knows what to expect at an outdoor wedding.

She gets her ring.

Kenny's I do was louder than Lauren's but they both did it! And the ring is on the bride, vows spoken from him to her.

He gets his ring.

Ring is on the groom's finger and vows spoken. Aww! Bride cries but is able to finish.

Tearing up during her vows.

You may kiss the bride.

And with the kiss it's official!!

Presenting Mr. and Mrs. Kenny Smith.

Ren, a.k.a Mrs. Kenny Smith.

Bride and groom are taking pictures. Dinner when they're done.

Arriving for dinner.

Bride and groom share a kiss at dinner.

Bride and groom share cake and kisses.
My own Twitter feed yesterday included such gems as:
Today is brought to you by the letter M.

Just had brunch with Mom. (Creole omelet from Huey's FTW.)

The heat index for today is now forecast at 115. Nothing seems to be freezing over. #hmm

I'll be under this canopy in three hours.

I think we have to call her Mrs. Ren now ...

The beautiful bride and her parents.
It was a great afternoon. Incredibly, incredibly hot. And the humidity intensified throughout the evening. If you clicked through all of those photographs you also noticed my uncle, who officiated the wedding. We were so honored that he agreed to do that, and he did a terrific job.

Today we rented scooters and drove them around Savannah. Here's The Yankee and her fierce Vespa pose. The adventure was Elisabeth's idea. Together she helped us make an impressive looking gang.

Until we saw a guy on a Harley. And, later, a guy on a speed bike. I was opposite him at a red light and when the green lit he disappeared and I ... slowly revved up to about 40 miles an hour. I caught up with him later -- he had to slow down to turn -- and we shared a nice wave.

I spent the evening thanking people for their congratulations online and trying to work on homework. Even better: Tomorrow night I'll honeymoon in a quantitative class.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Before ...

After ...

My uncle married us. The Yankee's lifelong friends did a reading. She was so beautiful coming down the aisle with her father and I was so proud to shake his hand. I wish, now, that I'd thought to give the mothers a little kiss. Mostly I heard white noise from walking down the aisle myself until we walked back inside, where The Yankee said, "Ahhh, thank goodness! Cold."

The heat index flirted with 115 degrees.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The friends, or part of them. Some had disappeared by the time this photograph was taken, but we all had great fun.

The day started for me with a family brunch at Clary's. My grandfather wore a floral print shirt, which you'd never expect to see him in, but it looked great!

Elisabeth and I drove around and spent some time catching up this afternoon. That was terrific and long overdue. We visited Tybee Island and hid in the shade of one of the buildings and then made it back in time for dinner.

Since there is no rehearsal there is no rehearsal dinner. There was, however, an out-of-towners' dinner. We even let Wendy, who lives in Savannah, hang out with us at Lady and Sons. My favorite Kelly made it in town for dinner, as did the photographer and Stephen and a few other people. We exchanged hellos while counting people so we could take our reservation.

One of the things that no one tells you (or me, anyway) about weddings is that everything goes so quickly. You never get the feeling you've been able to see anyone. It is an odd thing: Here are the most important friends and family in your life, ready to watch you do this important thing and the whole thing feels breathless and limited.

We've made everyone travel, hence the out-of-towners' dinner, and most everyone has treated this as an opportunity to take a vacation with a wedding in the middle of it. Hopefully everyone is having fun. I'm having a blast.

Now ... no one give me a countdown.

Tomorrow's the big day!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Elizabeth, Brian and Elisabeth each made it in today. As did the North Alabama Four -- my grandparents, aunt and uncle (who's officiating the wedding) -- along with the Pennsylvania Five and a pair from New Jersey.

My family had an impromptu and only slightly belated birthday dinner for Elisabeth. The heat is hot, and only going to get hotter.

I mean more memorable. I'm only wearing black wool and the forecast calls for a higher Saturday temperature the closer we get.

I've spent the past two days in a strange gym. It is one of those places that looks like a temporary church building, cheap aluminum everywhere. The people are incredibly nice and the gear a little out of my ordinary. It is amazing how you can get used to a weight system, and how something different throws off your routine. Also, there's a sign on the door that boasts they now have air conditioning, but they should check on the system; it isn't exactly cooling the place down.

I'm working out because of the food. Crab Shack last night, Mrs. Wilkes (see the line, 20 minutes before they open) for lunch today, barbecue for dinner, tomorrow there's Clary's and Lady and Sons. I need to hit the weights after merely typing the names of the places.

Tomorrow, more friends and family arrive as the excitement grows.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My folks and The Yankee's parents, as we began our haunted hearse tour tonight.

The Yankee's parent's arrived in time for lunch. Mine made it in in time for dinner. We distributed gift bags, had some room reservation problems to overcome and then let Luis show us around town. Haunted tours are great. You never get the same show twice. We've been on two or three before this one, but most of these stories were new to us. This one was also particularly interesting.

You'll find more videos from the tour on the A/V page.

Tomorrow: More friends and family pour into town, and we have Mrs. Wilkes' for lunch. Yum!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Picked up the tuxedo, packed up the car and made it to Savannah for a big weekend!

This shot is somewhere around the Georgia line. We're just off the coast now, picked up Wendy for dinner at Carey Hilliards, a barbecue and seafood place outfitted for casual family dining.

I asked the manager about Hilliard. There's a chain of his stores complete with exotic roadside signage. We've seen two, but there are several more in the area. Hilliard died in his 40s in the early 1980s in a plane crash. His son and nephew apparently run the chain now. The son will be in this store tomorrow. Tell him we said hello, then.

The first time we visited there years ago I asked the waitress about Carey Hilliard, figuring he was a local celebrity, maybe an old Georgia football player who'd been able to cash in on his name.

"He dead."

That's all I got. The food's good there. You should try it.

Late into the evening we set up an assembly line for gift bags. Tomorrow we'll start greeting people coming into town. Fun!

Monday, June 15, 2009

I am now accepting ideas for ways to amuse myself on the bike. I've been playing timing games with the big long sprint and this morning I officially ran out of ideas, having now reached my most elusive, attainable goal.

I'd bumped my head for a week or more, averaging a 1:47 mile over my 30 mile ride. Friday I finally hit 1:46, but still felt confident I couldn't get to 1:45. This morning, though, I had a really nice ride. My first 15 miles were easy and so I decided to try for besting that time on the last 15 miles and did so by about four minutes. When I eclipsed 30 miles this morning I'd finally broken the 1:45 barrier. My personal and utterly useless best time is now averaging a 1:44 mile.

So you see, I need new goals. I'd settle for simply riding more miles, but that would just mean waking up earlier.

It was a fairly productive day after the gym. I put away laundry, neatly sorting and folding, except for those things that could be haphazardly folded into one big pile. All of my clothes are clean for once. (That's my plan for helping to thwart the Mayan calendar's 2012 ending: I'll simply never finish my laundry, thereby preventing the end of the world.)

With a few mutterings and much help I finished an assignment for class. Now, suddenly, most of the class has quickly shaped up. I like how that works. I only have to do it for two more classes this semester now. I wrote and submitted an abstract for a convergence journalism conference. My paper, actually, will satisfy one of the other two classes for the semester.

Suddenly the last few days have seemed busy for a guy that's enjoying a summer off.

There was a qualitative class this evening in Gadsden. Drove up there, counting the number of people who were more than happy to attempt the interstate's minimum speed in the left lane. I lost count at ARGHH!

For class we sat with computers and the professor gave us a data set and we explored SPSS. We did all the basic analyses on practice material and then moved on. Such an exercise does tell you where a few of the important buttons and menu options are, but that seems hardly worth the tuition.

We then did our own analyses from data sets that the professor delivered as an assignment. So there we were, typing feverishly, all feeling so proud of our keenly honed data entry skills, all wondering what happens if we click this button instead of that one. For most people fear wins out when you have no real idea about the buttons. In that case you simply push the button you were told about, pretending the rest were not there. That's not learning software; that's pretending to be a chimp.

We then got the tables of results, each different, each mysterious because we haven't yet discussed these numbers. One assumes we will. Otherwise I'll have to say this isn't stats or quantitative; it's pretending to be a chimp twice in the same exercise.

One of the professors at Samford told me the other day that he had a little book that explained all of the things that SPSS does. He had to have it, he said, because he's a tinkerer and wants to know how things work. Ordinarily I'd be fine with letting the machine do the thinking, but considering so much of one's research comes down to which button you push -- and which ones you're scared of -- maybe I should borrow that little guide and try to figure it out. It may be frustrating, I'm not a numbers guy, but at the end of the day I might be more than a trained chimp.

I stopped by the Books-A-Million in Gadsden on my way home. It is conveniently located at the interstate exit. It is conveniently empty of any clearance sale books of interest. I did not count the texts, but it seemed a store on the smallish side to house a million books. They could surprise you with an impressive storage area, so who knows.

Steak for dinner. It was salty somehow, but then so was the Caesar salad. It isn't my favorite ruffage, but sometimes the mood strikes and you want a very uniform dish of lettuce with a mystery sauce mix and too few croutons. The potato was good. I sat and happily read for a few minutes, it was nice.

The night grew quite. There was lightning off in the distance. For a while the wind blew so hard it sounded like it was raining. And then, suddenly it was raining. It's been a fine end to the night.

Tomorrow, a new adventure begins. Come back soon and see the latest!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I presented to a room full of high school journalists this afternoon. The topic focused on photojournalism, specifically making do with the equipment that you have. When I became a photojournalism expert -- it is probably the weakest, in terms of experience, aspect of my journalism -- I don't know, but there I was.

I started off with a simple slide show of photographs pulled from Flickr. There's a function that allows you to search by camera type. So I pulled good pictures from inexpensive cameras and bad pictures from inexpensive cameras and good work from expensive gear and lower quality efforts from those same, pricier cameras. The students had some fun with that, and demonstrated nice, critical eyes in their evaluation of the photographs.

So I talked about the most important things they could do. My five basic tips: actually read the instruction book, practice, experiment, take tons of photographs from a variety of angles and note what works and what doesn't. I answered questions some really strong questions. Almost none of these students had attended an earlier presentation on photo composition and since I have one of those just sitting on the cloud ready to be demonstrated we talked about the rule of thirds, action, lines, exposure, more angles and more practice.

They seemed to enjoy themselves. I enjoyed myself. It was a nice experience -- I have probably now talked more about photojournalism with various aspiring photographers than I've ever shot professionally -- and a fun afternoon.

At home I watched the second half of the last game of the basketball season. Earlier this weekend I found myself enthralled in an ESPN special where they sat down with Kobe Bryant and let him do the postmortem on a recent Lakers game. That was very interesting, otherwise my taste for basketball is minimal. It didn't take long tonight to remember why: Timeouts.

So I tuned out.

Elsewhere on television I faced a dilemma of epic proportions. Rocky II and Rocky Balboa were both on. I love them both, and no matter where I turned, "Getting Stronger" was proudly blaring. It is stuck in my head, put there as if by a big left uppercut from the champ himself.

This is going to make the gym a motivated, and potentially painful, experience in the morning.

And now, to spend the remainder of the evening calmly reading about postbellum Savannah. Sure, the last two activities are at odds with one another, but I'm a complex guy.

Hope your weekend has been great, and that next week starts out even better!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Woke up hard, slow and groggy this morning. Maybe, in retrospect, the television upgrades and the Facebook changes were just too much for one night.

Television, as you might have noticed from the many scare commercials you've been dutifully ignoring the last year or so, finally made the big switch from analog transmission to a digital system. This didn't effect you and me, as we both likely live in the 21st Century, but apparently some two million people were still thought to be using rabbit ears. How we could know this remains unclear. It isn't as if there's a sensor down at the station that measures how much of the broadcast signal is being sapped away as the transmission flows from east to west.

Here's the rule of thumb I go by on this. If my grandparents, one set of which lives in an area that refuses to allow for any neighborly growth, have had cable for years then we're OK to make the transition. Whenever we talk about cultural moments, generational experiences or technological shifts I think of grandparents. Can the septuagenarians come along?

They are an overlooked constituency for the most part. Even weather radios, which are made 14 times more confusing than they should be, are against the elderly. It seems obvious: When you make a complex product you should make a simplified version for all of our lovely grandparents.

Last night Facebook also caught up to Geocities and Tripod and even MySpace. That was just a little too much fun, wasn't it? Finally my string of nonsensical numbers has been replaced by a strand of representative letters. At least the transition was smooth, fast and easy. But this morning I felt partied out. So much excitement in one night!

So at the gym I did two-thirds of my normal weights and only rode 20 miles. It's a Saturday, a little slack deserved to be cut. Mostly I feared for my hamstring, which tightened up earlier than normal. All's well that ends with plenty of perspiration, so I'm fine with that.

It rained early, held off through part of the late morning and then rained again until close to noon. I went out seeking a haircut, but the first place was too crowded. I shopped instead, buying two pairs of jeans and two pairs of slacks for $52. The key is to go to the off-brand store and find their clearance rack.

The cashier noted as much, congratulating me on my good deal -- each pair of pants was originally more expensive than my purchase. I said I simply wanted them to continue to fit a while. She was having the same problem, apparently. My problem will now be to figure out what to wear with pinstripe slacks.

I made a few more stops, picking up a thing here, ignoring a thing there. Through all of this I made good time, visiting two stores and discovering that one of the local video rental centers had recently closed. I visited the library, making a few mental notes for a photojournalism workshop I'm delivering to high schoolers tomorrow. (The topic is making the most of the camera you've got.) I discovered an outdoor photography book with the most practical first chapter ever conceived: How to use your point and shoot like a pro. That pretty much wrote half of my presentation.

Finally found a place to cut my hair. The woman was fast, efficient and quiet. She did note that she was ready to go home. It was 4 p.m. and she had to stay until 6. I glanced down and, much like someone who's stranded on the side of a mountain, I learned I must never look down.

Here's why.

I spent the evening tinkering with ideas for tomorrow's presentation and then watched Milk:
Penn does his usual excellent work; Brolin is great. Surprisingly upbeat film.
The best way to watch this movie is with chocolate chip cookies.

That's it for tonight. Tomorrow's this talk with high school students, waiting out the rain, researching historic rainfall amounts for this time of year and working on a few web pages. You're in the right spot if that sounds like a fun afternoon.

What your day holds, I hope it is fun as well!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Weights, bike and weights. After 30 miles I still felt great, which should clearly be a signal that there is something wrong with me. In other news, my cardio has been improving, I've lost about 15 pounds since whenever we started this madness (only 20 or more improbably pounds to go!) and I do feel good for the rest of the day.

Also, I broke my previous pace of 1:47 per mile. The new personal best is 1:46. I still think 1:45 may be impossible. All of this, of course, is nice, flat, climate controlled and on medium and light resistance. Even still, I pedal like someone is chasing me. I shudder to think of how slow I'd be in something that mattered. One day I'll foolishly enter some race and find out.

Spent the afternoon on the Samford campus. I'm off for the summer, but I still have to visit once in a while for a few projects.

I enjoyed my favorite lunch the cafeteria has to offer, the two dollar kind. There was the traditional Friday fried chicken, lasagna, loads of vegetables and fruits and less students than normal.

I recycled a huge stack of newspapers. They were old editions that would only serve as kindling in the office. Everyone seems to have gotten their copies, the department got a handful and I stored some away as well, so the rest can begin the process anew and become Starbucks cups or french fry holders.

I wrote, rewrote and pared down the department's historical documentary I've been working on. If you got the impression that that was a huge undertaking, don't be mistaken. I should probably call it a mini-doc. Even still, it starts at the modern day, fades back to the 1850s, focuses on the 19teens, skips ahead to the post-war era, the 1970s and then comes back to now for a nice, tidy conclusion. Pending a few more rewrites I'll start producing the thing in the next month or so.

Also, I took over as the director of the digital video center today. In oversimplified terms I'll be the librarian of all the cameras and high tech gear. The students come to the DVC to check out video cameras, microphones and all sorts of media gear. It could be very useful as we work towards converging our news outlets. My boss and I will soon figure out what other roles the position will serve. Think of it as consolidating two jobs into one.

When I left campus to head to Pie Day it was 86 degrees, breezy and the weather stations were only registering 60 percent humidity. It felt a bit more. Just another pleasantly muggy afternoon. I got stuck behind an accident in traffic, but in the distance I could see the thunderstorms rolling through. In one moment a series of eight or 10 bolts all ravaged the same area. Have a TV shop? I bet several people in that neighborhood are looking for new sets.

So I'm sitting on this road, watching the lightning, reminded of three text messages I received yesterday. My friends in Savannah each got lightning bolt pictures on their cell phones. I'm very jealous. I have never, on any camera, caught a lightning bolt photograph. In the car today, wading through syrup-like traffic I have my camera leaned against the wheel (while behind red lights, no lectures needed) and sit, waiting for big bright bolts to arc through the sky.

I still have no lightning pictures. Sigh.

When I finally make it to Pie Day there's a line out the door (and into the drizzle). The two newest, youngest, most confused and excitable hostesses are working tonight. This could take a while. I walk in and get our group sat immediately. People had been waiting in the foyer for who knows how long; I'd been there eight seconds. Super Waiter Ward rules.

He also saved you a cheese biscuit. You'll have to order your own pie, however.

Our friend Jason, a recent graduate from the Alabama law school, returned to the Pie Day festivities. For all of my law firm friends, he's taking the bar soon and has proven himself a rainmaker and precedent-setter in his clerking jobs. You need to take a look at a promising young attorney ...

Brian, meanwhile was in a picture jacking mood. Speaking of which, Ward is a sneaky guy.

Soon thereafter the power blinked at the restaurant. The doors to the patio were bolted shut. Impressive winds shattered an outdoor ceiling fan and pulled some sort of exterior trimming from the side of the building. We were sitting by the windows, until they moved us, which allowed the group to pretend that we were weather refugees. The storm, though, lost its energy and moved on quickly.

Dodging raindrops to the car, there were a lot of them and I was hardly successful, I headed home and saw the most impressive lightning bolt I've ever seen. It started from the north, but bent back across the grain of the storm, covering the top right of my horizon, lashing across the sky, striking the bottom left corner. It is difficult to describe how impressive it was without sounding hyperbolic. I've seen bolts with much more light and bend and heard far more impressive thunderclaps. This was the longest connection of electrons and ions I've ever seen.

Of course, I have no photograph to document the occasion.

The last road I take to enter my neighborhood is lit in only one small space at night. The rest of the road is as dark as those roads where campfire horror stories take place. Also, the road can be treacherous after storms. There's run off, gravel, branches and so on. Tonight I met a car coming from the opposite direction which refused to try the low beams. I slowed down, blinded as I was by the encounter, and as soon as the other car passed I noticed a truck waiting to pull out of a driveway.

It was then that I noticed a tree that had fallen across my side of the road. The truck wasn't waiting for the traffic to clear -- no one was inside -- someone turned their headlights on the fallen foliage as a warning. So, thank you random high beam headlight person. You might have indirectly helped me avoid an embarrassing accident this evening.

Watched the last six minutes of the final game of the Stanley Cup tonight. High drama at the very end when the Red Wings pulled their goalie, that last minute dragged on forever and the Penguins' keeper had two big saves in the final seconds. They should just show the entire sequence as a recruiting video for new fans.

Speaking of new fans, my Facebook account is now as cool as my 1996 Tripod site. I have a username. Stop by and say "Hi."

And, finally, my random piece of Twitter advice that will go unfollowed: Looking around this evening I noticed that no local television stations are using Twitter for storm coverage.

Weather hero James Spann did his part on Twitter tonight, in addition to on air and his other online efforts. Jerry Tracey, his NBC counterpart did a bit as well. but there was no television presence on Twitter during the storm. (Or from @aldotcom, sadly. @Birmingham_News did a bit through their RSS feed.) It suggests that the stations think of Twitter as a PR tool and not as a news tool. Their news utilities -- breaking coverage, camera crews and storm tracker chasers -- were all pressed into service, but not their fastest, easiest tool for talking back and forth with their online audience.

There are many great search tools for Twitter that would make rounding up community coverage easy. Storms should create a re-tweetfest, but the stations aren't interested.

Maybe the next time a storm comes through, we'll have them convinced.

And now, on to the weekend. My looks like it might have a dozen Lilliputian errands. I hope yours is calm and restive. Come back soon!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A bit of history today: On this day in 1953, Samford University (then Howard College) broke ground on its Homewood campus. It was renamed in 1965 and then, just a short 43 years later, they hired me.

Clearly they were on a roll there for a while.

All this dovetails nicely with a current project. I was asked to write a little documentary script on the history of the journalism and mass communication program at Samford. One of our adjunct faculty members is a prominent media historian and she's been giving me details for a while and notes from presentations she's given on the subject. I have to distill it down into a smaller package.

I haven't written a documentary script in six years. The last two included a sports program, which was easy and wrote itself, and another on a tax referendum, which was not easy and most decidedly did not write itself. I spent hours on the phone with experts for that project, trying to put months of complicated tax law into sentences that could be understood. Still probably owe that guy a big steak dinner, and a consulting credit for his work. Fortunately I haven't forgotten how to do it. And fortunately it isn't a huge longform undertaking.

The beginning wrote itself today, though, and the end fell onto the keyboard as the sort of marketing saccharine that we all love so much. So there was a fair amount of writing today. And rewriting, which has been a bit better than my writing. Now I just have to polish up the details in between.

This afternoon The Yankee and I watched State of Play at the dollar theater:
A political conspiracy thriller wrapped in an anthropological glimpse of modern newspapers.
The traditional 12-word review doesn't fully capture the film, but the newspaper lament is clearly the underlying theme of the film anyway. Russell Crowe's character disses blogs, and then immediately consults blogs on the story that becomes the centerpiece of the movie. The movie's second theme is anti-private military contracting companies, making it at least the third major entertainment offering in the last three years to go with the "evil mercenaries are a threat" storyline. Previously this was a philosophy reserved for the fun loving, survivalist militia types, but it seems to be catching on in Hollywood as well.

The movie is really about what's happening to the newspaper industry -- there's the political sideshow and the corporate corruption conspiracy fun, but the best part is at the end, where you get a glimpse at how newspapers are produced. This will probably be the last movie that details the process, so see it while you still can. In a few years you might be able to buy your own press at a cut rate deal, however.

The best part were when Ben Affleck, the flawed but noble hero -- as opposed to Crowe's noble, but flawed hero -- tries to "act." In his most intense scene, where he's yelling at Crowe, the shot you see is of Crowe reacting, not the angst ridden face of the junior congressman from Pennsylvania. IMDb, incidentally, tells us that Ed Norton was originally slated to play Affleck's part. It would have been better that way. Brad Pitt was originally cast in Crowe's spot, so there's probably a trade off there, but overall the movie is pretty fun.

After dinner -- at Habanero's, where my glass went uncharacteristically empty for some time -- The Yankee and I visited the large red box store to go toy shopping. We'd earlier gone present shopping for adults, but that was a bust. Figuring you can't go wrong shopping for a toddler we thought it'd be a confidence booster.
I walked down one aisle where an entire row of motion sensor babies started crying. How anyone would ever want to have children after an experience like that is an open question.

We got a toy for a one-year-old, a toy for a three-year-old and a toy for a 30-something. We also forgot the star stickers which was the other reason for the trip. We get no gold stars for the effort there.

I consoled myself this evening with Two Mules for Sister Sara, one of my favorite Clint Eastwood westerns. I love it best for the Shirley MacLaine comedy bits, which always remind me of watching this as a child and laughing at it with my grandparents.

It was funny because she was a nun that smoked and drank, but the best part of all was that she couldn't get the mule to behave. Now it is funny to see MacLaine cast as a nun, even in disguise. Elizabeth Taylor almost had that role.

That's been pretty much it for the day. Tomorrow I'll hit the gym and then go to the office. I'm off for the summer, but there are a few projects to worry over.

Tough life, I know.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

At the gym this morning I did the new normal routine, which includes a preliminary set of weights, followed by a big bike ride leading to more weights.

A woman asked me if all I did was ride the bike. I said I had weights involved too. She wanted to know how I could get so sweaty just riding the bike. Thirty miles at a brisk sprint will do that to you. I told her I usually go home and whimper the day away.

For lunch The Yankee and I had the saltiest chicken ever at Zaxby's. It wasn't palatable. Do all of the above and you'll find you can eat most anything. Maybe not chicken fried in salt though. I stopped by the movie rental place ever so briefly, just to see if they were still open. The strip mall has lost it's anchor, a Food World. It was dirty feeling, dimly lit and over-priced anyway. I'd assumed that the new Publix within arm's reach would close the Food World, but they never got the chance. The Food World closed in the recent Bruno's shuffling.

We noticed a very poor excuse for an AT&T store had also closed, making three empty storefronts -- a delightful mom-and-pop ice cream shop shut down last year. Now the anchors are either a realtor, bad Mexican, McDonald's, CVS or AutoZone. Most of those may have staying power. I'm guessing the video store, a business model which has long had a deathly pallor, will go next.

I wanted to find Rome or Deadwood. They had some of both, but that hardly does the trick. Home, then, where I can pass the afternoon waiting for my evening class.

We had a bit of rain, but I waited it out and then drove in nice sunny conditions. In class tonight I learned that my newly purchased scientific calculator has a nonfunctioning "3" key and a broken "+" key. Guess where I'll be going tomorrow?

So I tried to follow along as best as possible.

Later in the class we ventured down to a computer lab where we had our first brush with SPSS. I sat in the back of the room, remembered the professor isn't so keen on large fonts and moved to the front.

For the next hour and change we discussed SPSS, the statistical software. She went through exercises, we followed along. I was sitting next to two delightful older, frightened ladies and so I was trying to learn how to do things and then teach it to them a nanosecond later.

At one point I said to one of the ladies And remember, she didn't want this to appear, so click that and --

The professor cuts me off. She will subtract points for that chart. She didn't want to see it because this is an exercise in how well we can follow instructions.

I'm mid-way through a doctoral program and have done pretty well in other aspects of life thus far. You'd think it'd be obvious that following instructions isn't exactly a weak link. Meanwhile I'm teaching this kind old lady how to double click the mouse while I'm simultaneously trying to teach her the vagaries of SPSS, which I'm also trying to learn as the professor just sits there and watch it all happen.

Good thing there isn't a test of patience in this class.

She couldn't leave until we were finished and -- wouldn't you know it? -- I was the last one out of the lab.

Tried a peach shake at Chick-fil-A. I was reading Saving Savannah (and the cashier's name was Savannah, coincidentally) so a peach treat seemed in order. It seems that they've pulverized a peach, put the remains in a caulk gun and then splat a little in the bottom of your cup, adding the regular vanilla shake and stirring a bit. My advice: Go to Clanton and get the real thing.

The war has just ended in the book. Up is down in Savannah, the interesting thing on display in the book is that it is a conquered, but not destroyed city that is dealing with a freshly torpedoed culture and the uncertainty of what is to come. Even before Sherman showed up in the suburbs up was sideways during the war, so the miseries of the time could only be amplified so much.

There's a line in there about how the policies put in place by the Union occupiers would remain unchanged for a century. That brings us up to somewhere in the second half of the 20th Century. The author, Jacqueline Jones, is more concerned with the cultural aspects, particularly the racial fundament. It'll be interesting to see, as the book progresses chronologically, what she means, and where it would change. Surely we can't give John Berendt that much credit for impacting the city.

Next week I'll be quizzed on the book, a gift from The Yankee's parents. I better read the rest of it quickly.

Pretty pictures: I have two lizards that live in the shrubs near my front door. As far as I can tell they've been there for years -- they are always there and there are never more than two, so I assume they are regulars. I spotted one of them warming up on the side of the house today and as I moved in to take a picture he leaped into the shrubbery.

After a moment I found him once again and very stealthily, leaned in for an Animal Kingdom shot. Even as he was staring at me I figured he most have not been too worried. Turns out he's just an excellent model. As soon as the shutter opened he dashed away, disappearing for good.

Meanwhile, this one is the perfect lady.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This is little more than a random collection of thoughts and pictures, essentially filling in the spaces of the last two days. Otherwise I'd be here telling you about the miracles of YouTube and all of the fascinating entertainment I watched all afternoon.

One: I took some nice photographs of the moon Sunday night. It was high and bright and full -- as opposed to almost full, low and dusky orange last night on my drive home. I was working at my desk, glanced to my left and so the most brilliant light in the sky.

I don't know how many warm, muggy and freezing nights I've shot the moon, but it never gets tiresome. Something about the cycle of opportunities keeps making it a fresh experience.

So there I was Sunday night, standing on the porch and looking up at this big glowing ball of white and thinking of friends. They'll have a child soon and he has a copy of his first book, Goodnight Moon, which he's waiting to read to his new daughter. This will be the last full moon before she is delivered and I'm wondering how cheesy it would be to make a print and send it to the little girl.

"This is from your uncle Kenny. He thought you might appreciate this one day. Weird, huh?"

Two: since we're on the photographic theme, another dear friend has had one of her photographs selected for an MSNBC reader's choice competition. If you would, go here, find the lighthouse and vote!

Three: There's a Twitter conference in Boston this August. I'll be in Boston in August for a different conference which, at first, made me wonder about whether I could swing both.

Then I realized I follow most of the conference's participants on Twitter anyway. I'll just save my $40. They're calling it Reinventing Journalism and Yourself: One Tweet, One Friend at a Time which is a great title if you don't mind the marketing overselling the thing a bit. Also, their website doesn't link to the panelists individual websites or Twitter feeds. I suppose they'll tell you how to do that at the conference as well.

I'm not sure what they'll discuss that can't be self-learned or discussed and linked to on Twitter. It could purely be marketing. "Noobs who can part with a few bucks because they've heard about this Twitter thing on teevee."

I'm sorry. The Twitter feed I read about this conference earlier was mistaken. It is $59. At the end of the day, and whatever the price settles at, these are well respected contributors who are, in this case, capitalizing on a buzzword while hoping you'll "become part of their social and intellectual networks."

I can do that from home, thanks.

Four: The Yankee and I had dinner with a fellow doctoral student and her husband tonight at Rojo. They're very sweet, and I'm not just saying that because they treated us. We talked about school and sports and jobs and food and travel and the secrets to good pasta. We'll have to return the favor one day soon and have them over for the spare ribs in sauce.

I had the tilapia tacos. Tasty stuff. Here's the very busy patio. I'm sure the waitress' hair is natural.

I heard a question at dinner no one has uttered since 1984: "Do you have a VCR?" Turns out very few people still do. I think I have one that works. I wonder if I could move it on ebay ...

Fifth, and finally: I finished the evening watching the second half of the Qatar-Australia World Cup qualifier. Qatar played well the first half, according to the commentators, but the Socceroos held things together for a draw in the hot middle eastern air. That eliminates, I believe, a Qatar team that is improving, but will send the Aussies to South Africa.

The commentators were also giving the guys in the truck a hard time. Late in the game when the substitutions began every graphic was wrong about who was coming in. Most of the names listed are of people that aren't even on the team. "He's back in Sydney" they said at one point.

I guess that's what the Raycom guys do during the offseason.

More importantly, I realized tonight that next year I'll be able to watch the entire tournament from start to finish. Summers are great!

Tomorrow: Back to the gym, back to class and more.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I'm going to tell a story, and then share a video. These two items alone will suffice for the day, really. All there is beyond the story and the video is a foiled attempt to work out this morning -- the gym was full -- and afternoon session of grass seeding -- the yard was not.

Odd thing, seeding the lawn. It is a process in which you purchase a product to throw on the ground in the hopes that, after delicate care and weeks of attentive watering, it will give you more work to do on the weekend.

But I digress. Besides, there's only so much you can talk about raking, watering and broadcasting. I might be able to get two or three paragraphs out of it, but not much more (see?) because ultimately it is fairly mindless, tedious and methodical work. Everyone appreciates the mental shift of gears from time to time, but it does not lend itself to creative writing.

Though there was the one moment where I was watering a patch of dirt and it reminded me of the field crews at baseball stadiums. So there I was, watering the third base island for my favorite club ...


I am taking three classes this semester, as you may know. One of them is an independent study with an incredible professor for whom I can't possibly say enough positive things. The two actual classes are in Gadsden, which is about an hour up the interstate. It is a nice ride with not much in the way of traffic and since I'm only doing it twice a week for two months the commute isn't that big of a deal.

The class is filled with education folks, teachers working on their post-graduate work. It is taught by one of the education department's faculty members. Everyone is very nice and the classes go by quickly.

One class, the Wednesday night class, is a stats class. There are harder, more challenging stats curricula out there, but it is important to consider that I haven't had a pure math class since my freshman year of undergrad. I haven't done anything much harder than balance a checkbook since 1996. I'm a word guy, despite what you might think by reading this. Fortunately I know a lot of stats-smart people who are very kind and waiting to assist and, if necessary, resuscitate.

The other class, the Monday night effort, is a qualitative class. Here we're learning all about, basically, how to write a paper. This is important stuff to know, though I've been fortunate enough to have a good grasp on this from years of writing papers and doing research and generally paying attention to the style. The upside, then, is that it shouldn't be challenging. I'm fine with that.

It is the same teacher as the stats class. She's a nice lady. She's very thorough in the syllabus, the sign of someone who's leaving neither wiggle room or ambiguity. This, you know from the beginning, is the way it will be. That's fine.

In the quantitative class we'll be writing a literature review for a proposed research project. We'll do a mini-review of three pages or so with a minimum of three sources. That's her "nip-it-in-the-bud" paper in case folks are citing improperly or plagiarizing; she wants to fix the problems early. That's thoughtful. The final project is a larger literature review, 10 pages minimum and with 10 sources (I remember how, at one time that would have seemed impossible).

Tonight I learned this little gem. We'll be turning in the literature review, obviously, with the various citations. And, of course, there will be the attached bibliography as well. This is the best part: In addition to the literature review and the references I must also turn in the actual studies I'm citing.

I asked for clarification on this. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I cite three studies that are each 30 pages long. You want me to print 90 pages? She grimaced at the withering rightness of my argument and then agreed. That's what she wants. Don't worry about the trees, but invest in paper and toner, as I will soon use a lot of both.

This offends me ecologically speaking and I'm not quite the biggest conservationist you know. Further it is troubling to me as a student. There's no need, other than laziness, to require such documentation. You want to check the work? Look it up. That's why there are citations. They can all be found online. If the university were a bit more ecologically sensitive -- I looked for a Going Green office, boss and czar this evening, but there is none -- I'd point this out. Instead it's just one more useless little hoop through which we all must jump.

And now for something completely different, here's a look at a train. Kids of all ages will delight:

Tomorrow: Well that's something of a mystery right now for both of us.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I am an insomniac's insomniac. At 4 a.m. I was still wide awake and enjoy the quality of programming that can only come on at that time of day. I know it to be poor -- I've watched it a few times before -- and I know people awake at that hour must be susceptible to every music CD, kitchen tool, adhesive drying magic weight loss tablet in the world. Why else would all the infomercials be on at that time.

Also, why does the 10-Minute Abs machine need a half-hour program? This would seem to be a serious misallocation of 20 additional minutes that, surely, Billy Mays or George Foreman could use to sell ... something.

I did see Duel again, which remains one of the best surprisingly spooky films I've ever seen. While I'm not a horror movie fan, I do enjoy the subtleties of the early greats from time to time and Duel uses some of those themes. The good guy, a humble commuting salesman, cuts off a truck driver, but the trucker has a big chip on his shoulder and a need to take out his revenge.

The movie's tagline is "Where a simple battle of wits is now a matter of life and death." It really starts here and after the better part of two hours of road rage and torment you find the ugly conclusion. The high suspense comes from never seeing the truck driver, only his angry machine, and a lot of tense acting by Dennis Weaver where there would usually be more dialogue.

At most any time of day this is a good movie, but it is a great movie at 4 a.m.

I changed the workout routine this morning. They say you have to do new things and change up routines, so I figured I'd add to mine. I've been riding the bike and then moving weights, but this morning I did all the weights first. Daredevil, I know. So lots of press, a fair amount of fly weights and then the back extender to start the day. Then I rode 30 miles. Then I did all the weights again. At the end of all of that I was tired and hungry, but I was already one of those things, so at least it made me tired.

I came home to see things like kids asking World War II veterans for autographs. Looks like we finally got that heroic ideal in the proper order.

The Military Channel, meanwhile, was running a D-Day marathon. I saw a program where a very spry D-Day veteran stood in the hedgerows of Normandy and told his grandson and a television crew about the day he earned the Medal of Honor. Here's Walter Ehlers' citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 9-10 June 1944, near Goville, France. S/Sgt. Ehlers, always acting as the spearhead of the attack, repeatedly led his men against heavily defended enemy strong points exposing himself to deadly hostile fire whenever the situation required heroic and courageous leadership. Without waiting for an order, S/Sgt. Ehlers, far ahead of his men, led his squad against a strongly defended enemy strong point, personally killing 4 of an enemy patrol who attacked him en route. Then crawling forward under withering machinegun fire, he pounced upon the guncrew and put it out of action. Turning his attention to 2 mortars protected by the crossfire of 2 machineguns, S/Sgt. Ehlers led his men through this hail of bullets to kill or put to flight the enemy of the mortar section, killing 3 men himself. After mopping up the mortar positions, he again advanced on a machinegun, his progress effectively covered by his squad. When he was almost on top of the gun he leaped to his feet and, although greatly outnumbered, he knocked out the position single-handed. The next day, having advanced deep into enemy territory, the platoon of which S/Sgt. Ehlers was a member, finding itself in an untenable position as the enemy brought increased mortar, machinegun, and small arms fire to bear on it, was ordered to withdraw. S/Sgt. Ehlers, after his squad had covered the withdrawal of the remainder of the platoon, stood up and by continuous fire at the semicircle of enemy placements, diverted the bulk of the heavy hostile fire on himself, thus permitting the members of his own squad to withdraw. At this point, though wounded himself, he carried his wounded automatic rifleman to safety and then returned fearlessly over the shell-swept field to retrieve the automatic rifle which he was unable to carry previously. After having his wound treated, he refused to be evacuated, and returned to lead his squad. The intrepid leadership, indomitable courage, and fearless aggressiveness displayed by S/Sgt. Ehlers in the face of overwhelming enemy forces serve as an inspiration to others.
The now much older, but still lively Ehlers stood in the lane where this happened, pointing here and there at this and that and downplaying what he'd done.

Later in the evening I talked with one of my professors, who has approved of my summer's independent study. This project will also go to a conference and dovetail nicely with two or three other things, so this is a great development and we'll no doubt all be full of it and then intrigued by it soon enough. Hopefully it'll stay interesting throughout the duration of the project too.

If not it'll surely mean more sleepless nights.

Friday, June 5, 2009

It was 64 degrees at mid-day. In June. In the Deep South. That's weird.

And so it is that today is a day of odd observations.

The local rural post office has changed their their Saturday hours. They'll now be open from 8 am until 9 am. That's not a typo. Previously they were open from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m. During the week the hours will remain the same, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., which means you better get there before 3:58 p.m. or they'll have already snapped the blinds shut and bolted the door.

My postal workers hang out with bankers.

They also have Simpson stamps now. At one point that would have been wrong to see such a satirical set of characters working hand-in-hand with such an establishment. But then the Simpsons have been diluted as an icon for years now. And perhaps the postal service is using the stamp as a cultural artifact. A decade ago this would have been a pop culture coup, one they're not likely interested in, but they're marketing it for historical purposes. "Get your stamps of the longest running animated show in television history."

I'm trying to imagine a serious stamp collector putting a self adhesive Bart Simpson next to some ancient piece of postal treasure. It is hard to conjure up the moment when someone would do such a thing. So filled with despair he must be. Surely it would only come about when the postal service collapsed in on itself over general disinterest. If Bart Simpson stamps couldn't save such a noble profession, what can?

Whoever invents a good way to control all the cables under my desk gets my nomination for a stamp. There's all the computer's energy intestines, the cable's cable, the router, a mixing board. They get more tangled each night and I think they're conspiring against me. This is how the digital revolution will be fought: with coax and power cords.

Had a long lunch with my college pal, Stephen. His wife is expecting a child in a few weeks and he just graduated from law school so we talked about kids and law and life. Interesting how conversations change as you get older. Some conversations stay the same. We discussed rockabilly (which, oddly, is listed in the blog's spell check) and football, school and the future. He's moving to New Orleans soon. Today was a catch up and a preparation for "see you next time" all in one, over barbecue.

Back home Highlander was on. A dreary afternoon outdoors and Highlander inside is a good combination as odd guilty pleasures go. Brian May should play the guitar solo in all the exciting moments of life. At least until Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez shows up. A Spaniard from Egypt, played by Sean Connery. That may be funny forever and needs no soundtrack.

In the evening there was wedding gift shopping, followed by gas shopping. The cheapest you can find on my side of town is now $2.35, meaning it is about time to start fretting about such things again.

At Pie Day Stevie Ray Vaughn and his fabulous Texas blues guitar bid you hello. There were happy, content people full of barbecue leaving. The pie was especially lemony, I managed to somehow have a little bit of everything left over for tomorrow.

I finished the night watching Saving Private Ryan. Tomorrow is the anniversary of D-Day of course. My great-grandfather served as a medic in the ETO shortly after the invasion. Primarily his service was in Belgium, but he was the type of man who preferred never to talk about his experience. Even his children learned what few details they know only after his death. I assume he was in the Ardennes or the Bulge, but I can't yet say for certain.

We sent away, at Christmas, for a few more details, even if only to learn what regiment in which he served. Unfortunately there was a fire in a records warehouse in the Midwest in the 1970s and his are among those details lost. The government is unable to provide any more information without other information, which is the information we're seeking.

So that's one of my projects for the summer. Stephen Ambrose, in a book The Yankee gave me, referenced another piece of research I'm hoping to soon study at a library downtown. The other night I -- the journalist, the historian, the researcher -- finally had the epiphany to look at the primary sources in his hometown. The next time I'm there I'll make friends with the microfilm machine.

But tomorrow is 65 years since D-Day. Probably D-Day entered my consciousness at the 40th anniversary, with Ronald Reagan's visit to Point Du Hoc. I wasn't even 10, then, and what I knew of the history of the event was from blurry black and white photographs and anomalous constructs of us and them, good and bad and that the us, the good, won the day. That was it and that's how it should always be.

Forty years seemed an awfully long time ago then. Sixty-five, today, doesn't seem so long ago. Even as the men, those heroes' heroes, are aging, withering and finding a greater peace 65 years doesn't seem so long ago now. Funny how that works.

Time passes quickly, I hope, on your way to the weekend. Now, maybe, it'll slow down for a nice long break. Hope yours is lovely!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What a day, what a day. You can really tell I'm getting into the summer swing of things. My day was cram packed and filled with tiny little things that could be done in a matter of moments but, because it is summertime, they can be stretched into a full day.

I pedaled 30 miles today in about an hour and then lifted weights for a while after that. After a shower I cleaned the house a bit, which should have required another shower, really.

When it came time to vacuum I made an interesting discovery. When I turn the machine on a little tuft of dust escapes, which is code for a full bag inside the machine. So I unzip the vinyl bag holding compartment of the upright vacuum to learn that the bag has disintegrated. It seems everything is just being held in place by the vinyl.

So I take the machine outside, which was the wisest part of this exercise, and empty the thing by hand. That was the grossest part of the exercise. Now there's dust everywhere. The porch, the door, the storm door, the stairs the handrails. After I empty the vacuum it has to be cleaned. And then the porch and steps have to be hosed down, lest I track in all the evidence. The storm door must be cleaned. There's no fun in this world like cleaning a full length two-sided sheet of glass on a warm day.

And when you get in a window cleaning mood, rare though they may be, there's just no stopping with one. So I cleaned other windows.

I noticed the dust has fingerprinted me, so the doorknob must also be wiped down. Same goes for everything I've touched inside since I began the project.

This took probably half an hour -- if you ever have the opportunity to do a chore like this, hire it out. Finally I could vacuum. There were dishes to be cleaned, dried and stored. Other things to put away or move to give a carefully calculated lived in look. It is the feng shui of the artifacts of life.

Met a pet sitter today. We discussed visiting options for cats, their food and playing and human bonding. One cat wants to be near, the other needs to be noticed. To one cat, humans exist to be the great provider of food. The other thinks of humans as the great provider of petting and contact.

As he said, dogs have owners, cats have staff.

Watched Frost/Nixon tonight:
A good movie dramatizing a play's revisionist history of a political footnote.
The late night phone call between the men is up for historical debate. The confession and contrition toward the end were hardly spontaneous. The movie was good fun, and there are a couple of great laughs in there, to say nothing of folk hero Oliver Platt.

This was a movie for two bucks via TiVo by way of Amazon. If you invite a friend it is the same low price as the dollar theater, without the musty smell.

On one of the music stations that has grown more into the habit of showing movies I watched the first few scenes of Purple Rain. That movie, which was never especially good, is not aging well. Morris Day, however, is Timeless.

When you're down to Morris Day puns you've got nothing. Tomorrow, though, we'll have pie day!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Took a trip down to the Alabama campus this morning. I'd hoped to meet a professor, but could not catch her in the office. Chatted with another professor, though, and got a few ideas from a few classmates.

Also delivered 1.5 pounds of pralines to classmates. Three of them wanted a fresh batch from the Savannah trip, and so they each got a portion. The Yankee, Skye (the real most interesting man alive) and I had lunch to discuss research ideas. Skye is more interesting than the guy in the commercial because he doesn't have to live vicariously through himself. He simply understands that we all appreciate the stories of his adventures.

I just checked out the most interesting man in the world's website. It is ... odd. And not especially interesting. Arm wrestling Churchill, however, was entertaining. (Told you it was odd.)

At home I fell asleep for precisely one hour this afternoon. Happily I woke up just in time to have a snack and then make my way to lovely Gadsden, Ala. for a night class.

The trip involved finding the address, gathering a textbook, notebook and GPS. The GPS is always an adventure near home because the database confuses the streets, the access points to the interstate and the shortest distance, straight line theorem. Fortunately I know my neighborhood well. (Can I be the next most interesting man alive?)

Fought the traffic up. Despite the sunny skies and the 3:30 departure everyone seemed to be driving as if it were raining, 5:15, there was a funeral procession in front of them and tire spikes in the right lane. It took a while, and patience, to make it to Gadsden.

The class tonight was statistics. Math, the professor mentioned. I'd like to mention that I haven't had a math class since pre-cal and trig in my freshman year of college. This is an education course because the Alabama communication program, in it's infinite wisdom, has not deemed it necessary to build their own stats class when they could send students off to study another curriculum.

It works out since I must take three classes in another program -- they will be three in education -- but it might not be the most thorough class for my needs. Or it may be. Time will tell. Tonight, we did 55 minutes on the introduction and syllabus and an hour on frequency distribution.

The class is scheduled to run from 5 until 9:30. We were out by 7, the professor shooing us away, telling us we likely won't ever stay past 8 or so. This class will meet six more times after tonight. At that point July will be over, I'll have two of my education courses out of the way and be nine hours (including this semester's independent study) closer to finishing the coursework.

At 7 p.m. the sun was golden as I left the classroom. This is all just down the street from downtown Gadsden, so I took a few photographs.

This is the ancient Pitman Theater. I hesitate to call it historic, but it does have a stately old story. Designed by Birmingham architect David O. Whilldin, it opened in 1947, truly a boom for the little city. The marquee still has the Air Conditioned sign, and why not? According to comments at that link there was no climate control inside as recently as January.

Mike Goodson's book Gadsden, City of Champions has several mentions of the old cinema house.
The competition between the managers of the Princess and the Pitman Theatres had reached an unbelievable pitch by 1963. The Pitman Theatre offered a kiddie show on Saturday mornings during the summer months and a full house was expected each week. These shows were sponsored by the Royal Crown Bottling Company, and admission to this kiddie show was six R.C. bottle caps.
That'd be 43 bottle caps today, counting for inflation. Local television hero Cousin Cliff Holman entertained at those shows. In April of 1963 the Pitman hosted a "Hollywood-type premier." The theater and city pulled out all the stops to welcome stars of the new movie To Kill a Mockingbird.

The theater thrived, despite the local competition, and was the last surviving cinema downtown. Drive-ins emerged. The mall came to Gadsden in the 1970s and brought a fancy two-cinema theater. The place stayed open on the weekends for a while, had the briefest of revivals in the early 1980s before being sold to the city in 1986. Some private and civic events are held there, along with the occasional movie, but the seating has been drastically reduced. Once it held 800, but it holds less than half of that now.

Gadsden's Kress building is still around. Most of the Kress buildings in the state went up in the 1930s, but no easily found definitive word on this particular store. There are private offices inside now.

Here's the inside of Crow's Barber Shop. They still have the barber pole out front and the tools of serious business inside.

There's also a hint about the kind of town and the kind of customers a place like this enjoys. There's a note on the door that says Edward Crow was hurt in a tractor accident. His hospital room and phone number are on the note. Hard to imagine that happening just anywhere, but I'd bet Mr. Crow has known those heads for decades, and they'd want to be able to check up on him when they got the word.

There's also a Texaco turned car shop. The gas pumps are gone and the stucco is crumbling, revealing a crumbling brick below. This window is just above the old service station's door. I'm not sure that I've ever noticed a glass gas sign before.

There are a few more pictures in the new June photo gallery.

Caught a bite of dinner, listening to the local accent of the children while I did homework. On the way home I chatted with Andre from the Terminal. Time flies on the freeway when you're brainstorming. Before long I hit the last interchange and was almost home.

I got there in time to watch the second half of the U.S.-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier. The U.S. was already down two goals to nil and playing on green asphalt with a random team and no one willing to play defense. The crowd was great and the ref was handing out cards like a blackjack dealer. Costa Rica scored a ridiculous unchallenged third goal, the U.S. got one back late on a penalty kick, but it was a thoroughly unsatisfying game.

So I watched the first half of a documentary on the new Dave Matthews Band's album. It was interesting to hear them talk about how the band was stagnating just as their record and concert prices soared. Every time they come to town now I'm proud I caught them when the tickets were still reasonable. Later this week the rest of the documentary will air -- on Fuse if you're interested.

I like music documentaries for reasons I don't understand. Watching artists describe their music making process -- something I do appreciate, even as I don't understand it -- is full of spirit. I can play maybe two simple songs, badly, on the piano. I can only imagine what it'd be like to create your own piece of art rather than simply repeating someone's notes. Ahh, to be really creative.

That's an easy lament to have, and the biggest worry of the day. Hope yours has been just as easy. Tomorrow: the gym, cleaning, meeting a pet watcher and more!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Returned to the gym this morning for the first time in too many days. Amidst the many trips and inconsistent schedule I've been enjoying of late I've discovered that I've crossed the workout threshold.

At some point you dread the next workout, but after some time has passed you find you don't hurt as much any more. In fact, you feel better. Soon thereafter, if you skip a few days, you can start feeling lousy by not taking part in your routine exercises. This happened, to me, in Chicago and also in Georgia this weekend.

And since I said last week that I was growing bored with bike sprints -- and by bored I meant frustrated with my inability to pedal a 1:45 mile -- I was going to add more miles. That's what good bike riders do, I'm told. I've determined they'll have to lump me into that category, even if I'm no good.

So I start pedaling. I do that for a while and everything feels just fine and dandy, thanks. I'm mentally looking forward to the adrenaline surges because I'm not struggling or hurting and I'm curious to see what happens at mile 13 with a rush and a good ride. Around mile 17, usually where I'm wearing out on the feel good spirits, I decide to plunge along.

Thirty miles it is, then. I get to 28 and I feel great, aside from one little strain and what I suspected was a blister below my big toe. (I was right. Big toe, big blister.) At mile 30 the idea that's been spinning around on the inside edge of the wheel takes hold.

I've developed this theory that you can do 10 miles on sheer willpower. Today I figured, why not? So I pedaled. The last few miles were a bit boring and felt slow, and increasingly more uncomfortable in the saddle, but I finished 40 miles in fairly strong fashion, improving on my previous best by 15 miles. All of it was done at a 1:56 per mile average.

So I wasn't very good with weights after that. I did some, but not the full slate. Figured I'd accomplished enough for one morning.

Caught up with my boss over the phone. I'm on summer break, but we're keeping in touch on a few running projects. I'd apologized, in an Email reply, for an uncharacteristically slow response. The first thing he said on the phone was "First of all. You're working on your summer break. Don't apologize for slow Email."

I have a great boss.

So I have to finish one project this week and begin another one next week. I'm looking forward to them both, happy to be known as the guy who works even when he's not here.

Lunch at Panera with The Yankee. Afterward she dropped me off at the dealership to pick up my car. As we pulled in I saw a minivan knock over a parked motorcycle. The driver was one of the dealership's employees. Turns out later that he just didn't see the thing in the unfamiliar blind spot of the minivan. The motorcycle wasn't parked in a parking space, so this is a little bit of everyone's fault. No one was hurt, the damage was minor and everyone laughed it off. Except for the motorcycle owner, but he was fairly relaxed, all things considered.

My car had a valve in the fuel injection system replaced. That was under warranty. They also fixed an air bag issue that was under recall. I like signing invoices with Amount Due: $00.00. I initialed and scribbled and exited before they decided a mistake had been made.

Visited Best Buy to pick up a calculator for a class. The professor, on her syllabus, has listed three calculator options. None others are acceptable. The flexibility of academicians means I have something like a half-dozen calculators in various boxes and storage. These are the things that drove me crazy at a younger age, now I just seem them as the hoops through which we must jump. Fortunately this was an inexpensive hoop. And it is solar powered too! It'll be good until the next time I have to upgrade my handheld calculating device.

I raced the afternoon storm home, getting inside before the sixth and seventh drop of rain hit the ground. I surfed, I read, I watched a bit of television with dinner. It's been a lovely evening.

Tomorrow I'll be on the Alabama campus to meet with a professor, have lunch with a research partner and for this and that and some other thing. Then I'll drove the approximate width of the state to begin my summer classes. The commute aside it isn't a bad day to spend a Wednesday. I hope yours will have plenty of simple joys as well.

Finally: No one write anything on the Internet. I'm caught up for a change.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Yankee and I made ourselves all legal-like, acquiring this morning a marriage license for Chatham County, Georgia. I did my part and hyperventilated only a little.

It is awfully romantic, the way those things are done. On one row of chairs sits a happy, optimistic couple, opposite them sit a pair of people who now hate one another, but are both somewhat relieved their divorce is finalized. Couldn't, for the sake of the people filling out paperwork, these two groups conduct their official business around different cubicle?

Georgia law says this paperwork must be obtained within 30 days of the big day. On the way inside I found myself wondering why we just didn't fill out the forms the week of the event. That would have saved us a trip, but prevented us the fun of the candy store above and the beach and the rest of the weekend's fun.

We visited the candy store to get pralines for friends. The candy seller overheard us discussing possible wedding treats and she volunteered to help. And by volunteering she meant she could do it for a fee. Seems they have a price structure for this sort of thing. They come in two sizes and two presentations. We got the numbers and priced them out over lunch at Boar's Head, one of the two best tourist trap restaurants on River Street.

After all of that fun -- the waiter laughed at my math skills -- we headed for home, fearing we'd get stuck in the Atlanta rush hour traffic. We made good time, though. Just as I said "What rush hour?" we caught our one slow-down, on I-20 at Six Flags. The trip was easy though.

On the way we played our favorite new travel game, Stump ChaCha.

Ask "Where am I?" and they admit they don't know "but keep asking ChaCha!" It seemed vaguely reminiscent of the Ovaltine decoder ring.

I asked ChaCha why they send two text messages replies when one will do. They freely admitted it was the advertising. They previously only sent one message, they said, but people need more ads. That may be. I'm only seeing a few dozen a minute while hurtling down the freeway. But why doesn't ChaCha -- and Google's SMS tool, for that matter -- send area code specific ads? They know what region I'm from simply by receiving the text, it'd seem easy from there. So easy, in fact, that I'm sure I'm missing some important element to the business model.

Here's another great business practice: Putting only water in the windshield cleaning tub at gas stations. I've noticed a trend here. Gone are the days of bubbles and froth. Usually you're lucky if you find a bin with a fluid that's slightly better than brown and tepid. Now it seems to be only water at a growing number of places. The gas station game must be on dire straights, indeed.

Inside the truck stop, however, there's plenty of places where they'd love for you to waste your money. Holographic "paintings" are the upscale bric-a-brac coming to a truck stop near you this season. Puppies, leopards and more in motion are destined to be a conversation piece in every home. If, that is, you can find space among the classics. Nothing says rustic class like wood and foil.

Caught a summer rain just before getting off the interstate. I can see nothing has changed here at home. The neighborhood kids have found a giant tarp and have created an improvised slip-n-slide. On the way up my road one of the kids threatened to spray the car with the water hose. I thought about coming out and returning fire with a wimpy little water gun, but I opted for the hose. My bluff was foiled by the dulcet ADD-inducing tones of the ice cream man. He's bested me again.

Mexican for dinner, served with the customary speed and skill we've come to expect from Habanero's. How any competing restaurant within 10 miles has remained open is beyond me.

Later in the evening, just before writing down the notes of the day, I swapped out my large -- and lately pink -- monitor for a smaller flat screen that's been sitting here on standby. I'd plugged it up the other day, but received an error message. I'd had this problem before with this monitor, but forgotten how to fix it. The solution came to me while on the road, and I have a new screen now in place. It is only showing me the internet through a 1024 x 768 screen, but it'll do until I'm finally forced to purchase a new machine altogether.

And, yes, I'm well aware of how ridiculous that would have sounded five years ago. "It is only 1024 x 768!" Consider that our journalism lab at Samford has the 1920 x 1200 iMac screen. I've become a bit spoiled.

At least the whites are white once again. And all because I was able to put a little green back into the computer monitor.

I gave away my free ad idea above, and I'd say this final idea should be bought, but if it were actually put into use it'd pay for itself. In reading a story on Sasha Cohen and Eminem at an MTV event I've noticed that the Associated Press, or one entertainment writer at least, has started citing Twitter trends for pop culture anchor points.

It occurs to me that those trends, AP, are really ours, seeing as how we made them. You're stealing our content, creativity and, let's face it, the people's credibility. Unlike the AP, I see no need to get litigious about information that is out there, accessible and now belong to the world. Instead we should trade, straight up, those cues for links. Do that and we can all help each other and free up lawyers for some other worthy cause. What do you think, AP?

A few more ideas and I can start calling myself a consultant. Right now I'll just call myself tired. Since my summer began I've already been on three trips and seen half-a-dozen states. I'm ready to rest and relax.

But, then, classes start this week too. It'd be a hard life, if it weren't so much fun!