Kenny Smith | blog

Friday, April 30, 2010

Hey! Blogger is shutting down the way this site works. Thanks, Blogger.

So I'm upgrading to Wordpress.

The archives should stay here.

The new URL for the blog is here. Adjust links and RSS feeds accordingly.

As always, thanks for visiting!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

May smiles always be showered down upon you.

May thumbtacks always be safely depressed into a cork board, and not into the palm of your hand.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Turned in my last paper of the term, meaning my semester as a student is over.

Today I finished that paper, having wrestled with it over the course of the semester, sometimes on paper, sometimes in my head and sometimes in conversation with classmates. I spent a great deal of time on it, all told, and at lunch today I finally had the a-ha moment.

The downside being that it was due by 6 p.m. this evening. The downside to that being I had to leave Samford by 5 p.m. to make it to Alabama by 6 p.m. So, really, the paper was due by 5 p.m.

I uploaded it to the professor at 5:10.

So that was done today. Also I taught today. Also there was an editorial board meeting, wherein the editors for next year's newspaper, yearbook and literary arts magazine were all selected.

It was a busy day.

And then there was class. On the last day of classes for the semester it ran almost two hours. Dropped off a few books at the Alabama library and then walked over to a restaurant for dinner with The Yankee and friends.

Now home, now this. I'm spent.

I'm so very fortunate to do these interesting, thought-provoking things at Samford and call them work. I'm fortunate to then have the opportunity, with the blessing of my employer, to take classes at Alabama at the same time. This is some kind of great deal I have, don't get me wrong. Don't think I don't appreciate it or realize how blessed and lucky I am. But I'm ready for a nap.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday evening on the Samford University campus, Birmingham, Ala.

It is a lovely place. The people are all nice. The quad is peaceful. The architecture is charming. Samford is a great place to be. (The trees and sky pictured here are the view from the west end of the quad, and my hasty effort at creating a two-layer high definition photograph.)

And so I'm here all day today. And all night, at this rate. Working, first. Writing a quiz, making phone calls, making things happen. And then teaching, another day of Dreamweaver. There are things the students like and things they dislike. That makes sense.

Their projects are coming along. I'm looking forward to seeing their final product. I hope they take our advice to heart and not let their sites end with the semester, but keep them going as a project and a new skill to learn.

I did that years ago. A grad student friend of mine who was big and loud and dynamic and funny and who'd been out into the world, making money and had come back> to school said to me one day "If you can build web pages you can add $10,000 to your annual salary!"

That part didn't happen, but the advice served me well.

I spent that summer tinkering around in HTML. I figured if I was going to pay rent on my place at college I may as well be living there. And I figured if I was going to live there I may as well take classes. And since none of my friends used this logic I had the three months to myself. I spent it trying to figure out how to make websites run.

I did it by hand back then. Hammered it into stone with a hammer and chisel. I still do. (Using the simplest text editor I can find.) I find it soothing somehow. There's a certain repetitiousness to it that is actually refreshing, at least when things work. There's a certain comfort in making minor changes and seeing them happen live that I enjoy.

When I say it like that it makes me think I should maybe redesign my site.

My internship dealt, in part, with building web pages. (Some of those pages still exist, I ran across two this weekend for one reason or another.) I found myself running stories on the air and on the website a few jobs into my career. Back then very few newsrooms thought this way.

And then I spent four-and-a-half great years at I learned more about writing pages than I thought possible. Some of the people there have forgotten more than I'll ever know.

Two years ago all of that brought me to Samford, where I've been fortunate to work with talented students and faculty and think and talk about journalism and broadcasting and newspapers and social media and call it work. They pay me for this.

That friend? He went on to get his PhD. He lectures at two colleges and works for the FDIC.

Moral: Find the smart people, take their advice. It can serve you well.

So aside from the teaching of Dreamweaver and this silly little trip down memory lane I'm still trying to wrap up this paper. It is due tomorrow evening. It has a way to go yet, so I'll stop write here and get back to it.

Tomorrow: More on this paper, and then I turn it in and move on to other projects. Everyone wins, especially if you are in such a nice place as this.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Full and busy day. This will be a week of them, it seems. You'll understand, and likely celebrate, the brevity here.

Overslept a bit this morning, which is a direct result of being wide awake, still, at some horrible hour of the a.m. that should not exist. It prompted an oddly random conversation from The Yankee, though, so there was at least a bit of redeeming value.

I settled in for the night, she reached over, touched my nose and we had this strange conversation. I vowed, then and there, to remember all of the details so I could ask her about it later "Did you really mean ... ?"

But sleep took most of it away. This morning I asked her if she remembered we'd talked.

"We talked?"

Yes. I was adjusting the pillow, you reached over, touched my nose and started talking about some thing or another. I don't remember the details, but here's the important part ...

She had no memory of this. It was a dream talk. We've all had them, all of them increasingly bizarre. Sometimes I laugh out loud in my sleep. I never know about it, or why, but that's what she tells me. At least the dreams I can't remember are funny.

On campus I learned that some of my research has now changed. I am getting ready to do an examination that deals with mobile news for my dissertation within the next year, thinking I'd be ahead of the curve, but it seems I might be right on time.

Oprah has gone mobile. My research, which will hopefully be useful and thoughtful, will now be applicable to the Oprah audience. When she puts the power of her many fans behind her we're no longer talking about cutting edge, early adopters, but about everyone.

So that's nice.

Taught Dreamweaver this afternoon. It is easy, except when it is not. And then it is maddening. Our students are putting together their personal web pages. They'll launch in a few weeks. It is a treat to watch them work, to try and guess where their imaginations and creativity will take them next. They all do nice jobs for just starting out with HTML and Dreamweaver.

Some of them are sailing along like they've been doing this for ages. That's nice to see.

They are amazed that I read all of the behind-the-scenes stuff in the coding and can make some sense of it. I am dismayed when I say out loud, and realize, I've been doing this for most of their lives. That's a long time.

Most people would interpret that to mean that they are getting old. I see it as a sign I've just been playing with interesting things longer than anyone should be able to.



The tays win ever time.

Spring and summer met at one happy place this evening and I was fortunate to be outside at the exact moment it happened.

Taking out the garbage I smelled honeysuckle on the way out. On the way back I heard katydids. Now if only I could have found the one place to stand and enjoy them both. I could sit all night, feeling the cool evening breeze. I'd listen and smell and roll the crisp new, leaves of an elm between my fingers. I'd be on to something.

On 24, Jack Bauer is on to something. Actually he knows in the most straight-forward way we've ever seen on the show. The president told him she's up to no good. Isn't it interesting how the politicians move through the shades of gray? This particular president has been viewed as a solid one, toothless at times, but well meaning. Now, thanks to the show's old friend Charles Logan, she's developing the ability to tack in the wind as it suits the cause.

The only problem with it being the changes she makes in real time are perceived to be over weeks. A decision from last week's episode stretched into tonight's show and lasted about 45 minutes. This is not viewed as a change on the decider's part, but rather a cover-up, and then a recant. If she changed again it'd be a cover-up, probably. But at least she has a rudder, even if she's lately confused by her compass.

On the ground Jack always knows the score. For a few seconds tonight, though, you thought that maybe they were going to veer this off into something else. Jack isn't thinking clearly. Jack's gone crazy. Jack's got a blood clot rushing to his brain because of all the abdominal trauma he's sufffered (and we've forgotten) in the last 18 hours.

Jack could come down with a case of post traumatic stress disorder, here. He'd certainly be allowed, if you consider everything he's endured. But, given the contemporary view of such things that might seem a weakness for a great character, which is a shame. But something could spin him out of control and we'd have all of that to consider, while the world collapses around him.

And this is the inherent weakness of the show, I think. We have built a super human, by virtue of the feats he's accomplished and the mental and physical anguish he's shrugged off. So, when Kiefer Sutherland must show us Jack's grief it rings a bit hollow. "He's Jack. He'll be smacking people around and sticking pens in people's eyeballs just as soon as he has that last final shudder. No biggie." And then he saves the day. His internal struggles with everything he's seen and done are minimalized.

The more interesting emotive ambiguity comes, then, from the president, who's character and motivation seems to be evolving as we watch. But, then, the people around her aren't shooting bad guys in the knee, so it is less entertaining, somehow.

Jack Bauer going crazy could be interesting. I'm not talking about a bout of PTSD, but just stark raving mad. That's how they could bring back President Dennis Haysbert. He could be a ghost, telling Jack what to do. It'd be a trippy way to end the series.

So long as they don't give it the St. Elsewhere, Bob Newhart, Life on Mars faux-ending I think we'd be satisfied. What will happen, though, is that Jack will get to the ultimate bad guy, there will be a largely unsatisfying finish to the fight and then he'll fade to black, either resting or suffering some trauma that he'll shrug off in time for the movie.

Which, apparently, won't be in real time.

OK. I'm done. Why babble here when I can babble in this paper I'm turning in this week? Hopefully it isn't babble, but at a certain point in any project you look at it and wonder what you're talking about. I usually take this as a good sign. And since I'm not there yet on this paper I should get back to it.

Tomorrow: We're counting down the final hours to the paper. And then we'll do it again Wednesday until it is turned in. Then I'll find house chores. I will babble about them here at great length.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

There was word last week that a column on changes at The Birmingham News, but that column quietly disappeared.

John Archibald, one of the stronger columnists left at the old lady, wrote the piece. I'll leave it to others to discuss the decision to not publish it, I wasn't there, but the column ultimately leaked to an unaffiliated journalist. He published it online. It is worth a read. You can see it here:
Today is a dark day at The News. It marks the last day not only for Ginny, but for health writer Anna Velasco. By May veteran political writer Tom Gordon -- with more stored memory than an iPad -- will be gone. So will young Erin Stock.

It's not just a News thing, it's a news thing. They tell us, in fact, that our readership is good and ad revenue is rebounding. But technology and economics have worn on profitability in all news operations. Ours is no exception.

But it hurts. In all, since buyouts were offered in 2008, The News has lost more than 500 years of reporting experience. Decorated reporter Dave Parks -- who pretty much discovered "Gulf War Syndrome" -- went. State Editor Glenn Stephens, who could pilot a newsroom through a storm with an even keel, is gone. Food writer Jo Ellen O'Hara left us, as did outdoor writer Mike Bolton.

We've lost 32 people in the newsroom. Twenty were reporters, the real workhorses.


Still, we mourn the losses to the News family. We mourn the loss to readers, to this community, to the republic.
That's a great deal of talent that the paper has lost in recent years, all listed in just a few paragraphs, and that's not everyone.

The interesting thing here is that the column did not run. It is not a hit piece. Archibald is not critical of his employer. It is, as he would later describe it, "funereal."

So why won't newspapers -- or television or any other news outlet for that matter -- cover themselves in this way? It is an issue of control. Newspapers are accustomed to it. They remember the days when they were flush with it. Now every loss is a another reminder of the bits of control they've ceded. Worse still, they are signals of what is left to come.

Just as important, just as uncertain, is what is to come in the absence of newspapers. The News is hardly disappearing anytime soon, but its contraction is unmistakable. There are fewer pages. The pages themselves are narrower. The staff has been cut, the quality has unfortunately decreased. Most big newsrooms have had these same symptoms. Some cities have seen their papers disappear altogether.

It shouldn't be about the newspapers, but the larger issue, as Archibald alludes to.

The paper, any paper, would cover layoffs at a big employer in their community. Journalists dislike covering their own shifting landscape, at least outside of the trades. It is a danger for the community. If the city doesn't know where the cuts are, isn't made aware of what coverage has been forsaken, the community suffers.

There's nothing positive about cuts at newspapers. The industry has been slow to evolve, and they're taking their lumps, but this is nothing to celebrate. We've been empowered by technology and our ability to easily and cheaply publish to the web, but Archibald is right. These are losses to the republic.

What comes next?

My friend Ike Pigott asked if the city was ready for an online-only outlet.
What hurdles still need to be cleared?
Can it happen bottom up, with writers still writing then merging effort? Or will it take top-down financing?
How long will it take to pull it off?
How long is the window for launch?
This isn't the first time this question has been asked. Hopefully it won't be the last. There's certainly the available talent in the community today. And the more coverage that is provided to the people the better we'll all be.

It becomes an interesting thought exercise. And the comments on Pigott's site only make it a more thoughtful experience.

The ideas range from private coverage, cooperative coverage, government subsidies, financial backers and most everything in between. Somewhere in there, or some combination of these and other elements will emerge to pick up the slack -- one hopes it is all of the slack; "some of the slack" is too depressing to contemplate.

It will happen on the web. Or in apps or other mobile platforms. We will see how far this democratization of the web will go. Some of the research The Yankee and I do look at this.

The other pressing issues in this brave new world are of trust, credibility and, ultimately, media literacy. I hope to study some of these as well.

This might all be a lot for a gorgeous spring Sunday. This is just a break from the paper that I'm preparing (in my head for now, but on paper tomorrow) on the motivations involved in journalism. I turn it in on Wednesday and then my semester as a student is over.

A few more weeks of teaching and then both semesters will be over. We'll be into the summer. Then the real research begins.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Did this all day. The cats helped from time to time.

The dew point was rising. The barometer was falling. Bad weather was appearing everywhere.

A tornado touched down in Louisiana and roared through that state and all of Mississippi. There were fatalities in Yazoo City. We watched the news on television and online. It was heartbreaking to watch people try to reach their families in Mississippi and to see the first images of damage roll in.

Later a tornado touched down to our northwest. It was dark by then, so we won't know the severity of the damage until tomorrow. In the northeast corner of the state there was more violent weather.

We had lots of rain. We were lucky.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I talked with a former Big Time television reporter today. Now he works in the PR world. He carries a great deal of gravitas. He says thoughtful things. His tone makes you want to listen to him more.

He tells the story of recently speaking to a classroom full of third and fourth graders:
"That really changes your level of communication, downward. The teacher had prepped them for questions and after my talked one little hand was raised."

'Who is the most important person you've ever interviewed,' one of the students ask.

"I've interviewed the President of the United States."

(He says this with great awe and wonder.)

'Whooooa,' say the children.

"His name was Gerald Ford."

Blank stares.

"Jimmy Carter?"
It is a cute story, but I told him not to worry. We have freshmen who don't recognize Dan Rather. He's been off network television for less than five years.

For a Friday, it was fairly busy. At least it felt that way.

It started at the bank, where a young man has mastered the art of being so pleasant as to be annoying. My bank has been ramping up the good spirits lately and it is paying off. A J.D. Power survey released just yesterday showed them has having the third best customer satisfaction in the region, which is a turnaround from just two years ago, a reputation they'd earned with few notable exceptions. The good nature and cheer started some time last year. I doubt this had anything to do with it. That'd be cynical; would domestic customers care what their bank did abroad if only the teller would be nice to them?

Anyway the guy said "It is a beautiful day and it is Friday!" You could tell he practiced that this morning while getting ready for work.

His manager was standing by the door, greeting and sending off customers into the day. They want you to have a really good day. If only they wanted to put more money into your account.

Had two buck lunch with a friend from the geography department. She does research in the Caribbean. Tough life she has there. Every year she takes a group of students down for reef research. She needs an extra chaperone/adult/diver. One day I'll convince her.

I graded things. I wrote thank you letters. I watched the afternoon zip right by.

I got stuck in traffic on the way home.

I found the only person in the world who likes to linger in a post office. She should stop there when the post office is open, they'll be happy to oblige her.

I picked up The Yankee and then we picked Wendy's mother who is up visiting from south Alabama. We had a long Pie Day for six -- sadly, Wendy was working -- with Brian and family. We closed the place down. Wonder Waiter Ward pulled up a chair and told jokes with us.

We had the coconut pie. It was very good. There were many laughs, just as as you'd expect from a Pie Day experience. You should join us next week!

(Oh, and duck the weather tomorrow.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I think we've all been there at one point or another.

I couldn't reach the Canon, so this is from the cell phone.

Since there's not a great deal of depth or detail: Her head is on my knee. This cat, who thinks humans exist solely as lounge items and cat petters, has a habit of wrapping her legs around me, like a hug. Here one is on each side of my leg.

It took a long time to convince her to move.

We've all had days like that, too.

That cat has it good.

Busy day today. Much more tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

First thing this morning I had a meeting with my doctoral committee adviser. He's a nice guy and it was a just-catching-up meeting, but it meant an hour's drive to campus. After that I had the final meeting of my pedagogy class.

When class was over I had a brief meeting with another professor to talk him into joining my dissertation committee. He said yes, meaning I have managed to get the four top scholars in our program on our committee. Worked out just as I'd planned.

Then there was the writing of three things, which filled about eight pages. All of that gets us to lunch. The Yankee, Andrew and I had Surin. I ordered the traditional chicken noodle bowl. I've been eating this for almost 10 years, wondering why it has the famous two chili peppers on the menu. For almost a decade, I have never noticed the first kick to the dish (and I am a spice wimp).

Today they took it upon themselves to resolve the problem. I had a decade's worth of spice in one bowl.

Some miles away our friend Brian was having the same dish at the same time.

After lunch I returned to Samford for a few meetings before teaching a class on Dreamweaver. This is only the second day these students have worked in the program and they are generally getting comfortable with the software. They can't find or fix every little thing yet, which is cause of some frustration. A few people are concerned that they can't find this one little thing and, when I come over, I go right to the issue and it is a simple fix.

And then I felt my age. "That may be, but I've been building websites for 15 years."

There aren't a lot of things over the autonomic functions I want to admit having done for 15 years, but there's yet another one to add to the list.

After that class it was back to Alabama, for another class. And then dinner with The Yankee and one of our professor friends. Then we drove home, wrapping up a 15-hour day. Three classes, a handful of meetings, four hours in the car and there's still a few more things to do this evening.

Is it Friday yet?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

There are two entrances to the cafeteria at Samford. At each door there's a nice lady who runs your card and lets you go eat. As in most anything people become creatures of habit, visiting at the same time and using the same door, often having the same small talk.

This afternoon Ms. Dot, a sweet old lady who's probably been doing this forever, welcomed me and said "I haven't seen you in a while!"

She hasn't. It has been more than a week since I've been in there. She has to see a thousand faces a day, all in eight second increments. Why Ms. Dot remembers me I don't know, but it's nice to be missed.

Taught another class about Dreamweaver today. One of our faculty members sat in the lab for a while. He followed along on his own computer, learning about choosing templates, creating pages and making links.

He's been teaching for as long as I've been alive. No pressure there.

Our students get three weeks of Dreamweaver. At the end of that time they'll have built a nice little portfolio website for themselves. Hopefully they'll keep up the page after the class is over and use it as a portfolio. That's the idea I'm trying to sell them on anyway.

After class I graded resum#&233;s. This feedback, too, will of course be important. Don't tell anybody, but I actually like grading these. They remind me of when I was trying to figure out the mysteries of this important document --- it took about 10 years -- and the little bit of help I got here, and the bit of help I got there. I like to think I can share the best of years of strategy offered to me over the years. (I've written more than my share of them after all.)

Tonight's a newspaper night. We're down to the last few of the semester, and they're putting them together much faster at this point. I'm still doing work and the student-journalists are wrapping up their evening.

And I still have things to write, and items to cross of the list. Back to it, then.

Hope you have a wonderful Wednesday. Mine will be ridiculously busy, but at least it will move quickly.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Yankee and my grandmother, last fall.

I had a dream about my grandmother this morning. It was one of those that took place right around that confluence of events that conspires to wake you up. That's good timing for me and dreams, because otherwise I won't remember them.

Not sure why that is. I know I have them. Biology demands. it. I've been told I talk in my sleep. I've laughed in my sleep. I dream. I just have no recollection of them when I wake up.

So this morning's three second mind snippet is the rarity. My grandmother was walking down a slight hill toward me. It was at her home, but not her home. She looked younger, the grandmother of my youth, or maybe a bit younger even than I remember her. Her hair was more evocative of a 1950s style, though everything else was about right. She was smiling. Energetic. There was a certain bounce in her step.

I called her this afternoon to check in. She knew we'd been traveling and would worry. Plus she'd been to see a doctor the week before, so I wanted to her the latest check up.

She sounded much better today than she did a week ago. Her voice was strong again. Her laugh had the little trill that defined parts of childhood and nurtured the class clown part of my personality. (I tell jokes from time to time.)

The doctor was changing her diet a bit. She'll switch to Canola oil for the first time. I'm trying to convince her that she won't notice much of a difference in taste while I'm wondering what about her diet needs to change. She's a very small woman, doesn't eat that much to start with.

She'll scoff at me if I tell her I'm writing all of this about her. She will look at me, set her jaw, toss her hand out at me in a dismissive way, say "Well!" and turn her head to the side and close her eyes in pretend dismay. She will do all of this in one motion.

It was nice to have that little moment in my head. I'd like to remember my dreams, but I wouldn't write about all of them here. Some people have grand dreams. Others have very normal dreams or frightening ones. I'd take these scrapbook types any time.

Back to work today, meeting with faculty and students. Taught a class this afternoon. We're taking two classes along something slightly more involved that a crash course in Dreamweaver.

I've been playing with it lately, it has a great many strengths, and a few weaknesses. Those are probably accounted for in the tools I haven't yet discovered. Last week I tried to write a page in Dreamweaver by hand -- I still churn out all of my own HTML; I like it -- for about an hour until I realized the magic of Dreamweaver's templates.

And then it was off to the races. Today I caught up with the class, which actually started this particular project while we were out in Las Vegas last week. We reviewed the overview, discussed some of the aesthetic Dos and Don'ts and then I should them Email, links, images and let them play.

Some of them take to it very easily. Others will stress a bit, but I've no doubt they'll all emerge with reasonable pages.

On Wednesday we start playing with colors!

At home we watched 24, where there are only hours left. And Jack Bauer is told, softly, by a disinterested nurse, that he has no time to mourn.

It has been a whirlwind day for Jack. So much has happened that he's forgotten the stabbing and the broken ribs. Now he's out for revenge. The president says he wants justice, but Jack says, "No. Just Ice." Remember? He was thirsty? And then his girlfriend got shot?

After that interminable period of seconds from wheeling her into the ER and being told she'd died he must now swallow his anger so he can chase it with the blood of those who've wronged him. Oh, there will be justice. And if there's any justice, it will be done with ice.

That's one of the problems with the show, for me. Aside from the repetitive "Mole in CTU!?!?!" type story arcs, they can make a good arch villain, but a round to the chest never seems good enough. If this must be Jack's last stand, I hope he takes out the final bad guy with the Colgate Clock across the river.

"There's no time!"

And then the minute hand cleaves the bad guy in two dorsally.

Then, and only then, can Jack eat something. And then he'll pick up the phone. It will be understood by the viewing audience that he has an afternoon of telling people off in front of him. He's deserved this catharsis for some time.

Ooop. Jack stole a helicopter. And the special effects budget has been lately slashed, as if by a gigantic minute hand. There is no time.

Dreams and seconds, all of these are fleeting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Soccer tournament in Hoover.

The daughter of one of our professors was playing in a soccer tournament this weekend. The weather this afternoon was gorgeous, mid-70s, sunny, pale blue skies and perfect for a few minutes at the park.

Our heroine here is the girl in the yellow shoes. She scored the first goal of the game -- we missed it -- and her team would go on to win three goals to two.

And then we went to Sam's, where there was no meat worth purchasing. But I bought a box of laundry detergent, because who doesn't need 180 loads in one knee-high box? We'll go back another time for the meats.

To make up for it we went to Publix, where the nice man who scanned our purchases told me he is lifelong friends with the head of human resources at Samford University. You never know where you'll meet someone on whom you should make a nice impression.

The rest of the evening I spent working on the photo gallery, which has Memphis, Las Vegas and girls soccer, to be brought up to date.

The photo editing movie of choice was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The traditional dozen word review is favorable:
A romanticized telling of a great character; Affleck is terrific, Pitt's acceptable.
It is ballad, valentine and psychoanalysis. The entry on IMDB says that there's an original four-hour cut of the movie. It has something of the slow, extravagantly deliberate style that has crossed from independent films and I'd really like to see that version of the movie to see how it all flows together.

None of this flows together, I'm sure. I've been traveling. Staring at the wall is about the best I can do. I blame the jetlag. Give me three or four weeks and I'll be back up to speed.

Have a happy start to your week!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

See ya, Las Vegas!

Got off the plane in Atlanta and I could breathe again. I held my head out of the car and drank the atmosphere all the way home.

And so we got home late, very late. The plane left late, but arrived on time. Seems there was a door sensor somewhere on the back of the plane fouled. The door was closed, but the light was red so we couldn't take off. Forty minutes of technical head scratching later and we were underway.

On the plane I played four games of trivia via the touchscreen set in the seat in front of me. I won three games against people like Bif and Boo. I lost the fourth game while dozing off between questions -- yes, that's what we'll blame, my sleepy eyes. Certainly wasn't the hard questions I couldn't answer.

I did have a panel presentation this afternoon, which meant finishing off the slide show for it and ironing this morning. The panel was on using web 2.0 technology in the classroom. One presenter discussed the history of networks and coding languages. Another talked about teaching programming. I gave my best practices spiel from the teaching journalism point of view. The moderator called me "cutting edge." He must have mistaken me for someone else.

We had nice questions from the audience.

This presentation was all off the cuff, but you can see the slideshow here. It won't mean much to you, but if you invite me to speak I'll tell you all about this if you buy me lunch.

As speakers go I'm pretty cheap.

Here are my slides from yesterday, if you're interested. First the one on citizen journalism and the SEC vs social media. Again, all it will take to learn the details is lunch. And not even an especially good lunch.

Lunch today was at the airport. We left the conference and headed directly there, worked our way through security and then found a Ruby's Diner. Never heard of them. They have restaurants in eight improbable states, but they do the stylized version of the 1940s just right.

The 1940s are alive at Rubys.

I was famished so the late-lunch burger was upgraded to delicious. Delicious for airport food, and also expensive for a burger, of course.

Vegas, as I said, is no longer cheap. The local economy is still hurting. Also it is in the desert and very dry. And that's pretty much Vegas.

It is great to be home.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Now that's good neon.

When you get away from the new kitsch and find the older things around Las Vegas you take on a scene with a bit more charm. I've no idea how old this place is -- does the Internet know? -- well, it dates back to at least the 1980s. That's where it shows up in the Google news archives first. It seems that more than a few people destined for the Las Vegas jail have decided to stay at Fun City first.

Wouldn't you?

And look at those rates!

On Trip Advisor it gets 3.5 stars.

The motel shares a parking lot with Chapel of the Bells, the first of the wedding chapels we'd noticed. A young couple were going in. We walked in, hoping to get to see the ceremony, but a humorless man behind a desk said these were private ceremonies.

So I wished the sweaty groom and his lovely bride -- who was wearing a delightful shade of nausea good luck. I'm sure the guy behind the desk was giving them a year, 18 months tops.

Oh, you want to hear about the conference? I had two presentations at the same time today. Being double booked is how you know you're wanted, which was nice.

I sat in the first session and talked for about 14 minutes on using citizen journalism in radio. They allowed me the chance to take questions, but none were offered. I take it to mean I was either thorough or uninteresting.

So I dashed down the hall to join the other session already in progress. The Yankee was presenting there. She was a late add to the panel after someone else had a last minute emergency this week. I didn't get to see her presentation, but I'm sure it was her normal, brilliant work.

This panel was about various Twitter topics. The Yankee talked about using it as a journalist. Tommy Booras another panelist did what he called the comic relief presentation, showing the history of stupid things athletes have done on Twitter.

And then I talked, answering the rhetorical question "Is the SEC banning social media?"

The answer is no. The question came from late last summer, when the moderator and I were discussing panel ideas. For about a week last August that seemed to be the case. We agreed on the topic, the SEC immediately walked back their problem and the topic never got changed in the program.

So I talked for 15 minutes about what the SEC did, what the reaction was, what came about because of it and the implications for journalists and public relations practitioners.

There weren't a lot of questions, so I asked a few of the handful of students in the room. At the end of the presentation we caught our shuttle back to the hotel. We changed clothes and headed out for the strip. We caught the monorail to the far end of town, saw the hotel above and the wedding chapel there and then made our way to the Stratosphere.

We went up there.

Bought our tickets to the roof, caught the two elevators to take us there and watched the last wisps of sunlight spend themselves across the valley. We watched the rides and took in the Big Shot. At 1,197 feet -- Wikipedia and the signs inside the casino are in disagreement -- it is considered the highest thrill ride in the world. Wikipedia says you pull 4Gs, which explains the grunt that escaped when I hit the top, juuuust before weightlessness.

I did this.

You can see forever up there, I took a picture from my cell phone at the peak. Darkness had fallen and there was no definition to the image, but the lights are waaaaay down below you. The view is vast, but you are still safely within the troposphere. One suspects the accurate name just didn't do as well in the focus group before they opened the place.

They have a new ride on the Stratosphere, it is a controlled descent drop, thought to be the longest in the world. It opens next week. We saw a test drop on our way in and you will just fall forever.

We were talking about it on the way down in the elevator with one of the casino chefs. He said he jumped that morning. I said I'd love to do it if I could find a sponsor -- they're charging $100 for the pleasure of flinging yourself 900 feet downward. He told me to come back tomorrow. He said he'd sponsor me. The Yankee said no. "You have a presentation to do tomorrow."

That's the first time she's ever done that.

Like I couldn't talk and jump in the same day.

After the Stratosphere we walked down the road a good bit to sample the local Thai. We met the brother of a friend yesterday and he told us about this place, where we found our first normally priced meal of the trip. And the food was delicious. Try the cashew chicken at Krung Thai.

And then we walked back to the monorail. We rode it up and down both directions so we could see the entire route. Really we were just trying to get our money's worth out of the tickets. OK, really we just wanted to sit down.

Then we called for the shuttle, which never picked us up. So we walked back to our hotel. Tomorrow I have to iron and finish preparing for my last presentation of the conference.

I just mapped our route this evening. We did 3.5 miles in bad dress shoes. And that doesn't count the excessive amount of walking inside the Stratosphere or what we did earlier in the day at the conference.

My feet would walk off without me if they could stand the strain.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Yankee watches the Bellagio Fountains.

Busy, full day at the BEA conference. Caught a few sessions, met some nice folks, heard a few war stories.

The Yankee presented in her sports symposium on research she did this spring. Most of the people she cited in her work were in the room. It is an odd thing to talk about these very large names who you read and discuss and admire. Now they are there, hopefully nodding along.

The Yankee is very good, and so there was much academic nodding.

At one point she got a little flustered. I gave her the take it easy motion. One of those big names was across the room giving her the thumbs up motion.

She won an award for this paper. She's a talented scholar. This was the first time she's been formally introduced as a professor at Auburn University. (She starts in the fall.) That was very cool.

After the conference wound down for the day we walked around down on the strip. We'd walked from the conference center to the hotel. We had the shuttle take us downtown. We walked through Caesar's Palace -- where Seinfeld, Jeff Dunham and Cher are performing, ahh, Rome ... -- and then through another casino. We were looking for food. We are cheap. Nothing in Las Vegas is cheap anymore. Don't believe the myth.

We finally found our way into a mall, where we found Trevi, offering Italian at a not ridiculously horrible price.

The Yankee had the gnocchi, I tried the rigatoni. Both were delicious.

And then we watched the fountains dance. Once from the side, to an symphonic instrumental piece I didn't recognize. The second show was to Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas." That was a fitting end.

We saw the look-a-likes -- the Blues Brothers, two Elvi and more -- and the other performance artists. We stared at the neon. It is all a bit much. I've decided that Las Vegas isn't my favorite city. Nothing is real. All of it is borrowed. The neon is just overdone, and I have a deep appreciation for neon. Everything you see of modern Las Vegas feels prefabricated. For me, I think it is because the city doesn't yet have a real history.

The city celebrates its centennial next year, but the Hoover Dam, built in 1935 and, of course, the legalization of gambling in 1931, are what started it all. The mafia made the old days, and the mafia, as history, does little to interest me. After that came Howard Hughes and then the big 1960s and onward boom.

When I was there on my previous visit my host noted that they could build a casino in a week, but it takes years to put up a school. Exaggeration aside, there's just something unseemly with what all comes with that notion.

On the upside, it has given me weeks of pictures for the top of this page. Beale Street has topped the blog for a week. Now neon from The Flamingo -- where Donnie and Marie Osmond are playing -- decorates the page. Next week I'll change it to some other glittery thing. I have several options from which to choose.

Also, and I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert. It is very dry and I don't especially feel great in the climate right now. It could be the allergens. I could be fighting something off. Either way, it will probably get pinned on the city somehow. Shame, too, because all of the people we've met have been nice.

We've figured out we brought the wrong shoes for walking in Las Vegas. We have learned there is a lot of walking to do. My dress shoes aren't up for this. Tomorrow night's adventures are going to hurt.

But, for now, I must iron. I have two presentations tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Step off the plane, gamble.

This man is gambling. In the airport. He might have a problem.

We're in Las Vegas.

Headed to Georgia this afternoon, had dinner at Meehan's, one of our favorite Atlanta restaurants, with our friend Dave and then piled ourselves into a full 757 and flew some 1,800 miles across the country.

How is it possible, by the way, that Delta sneakily reduces the size of their carry-on bag requirements (At precisely the same time that they began charging for checked luggage, but uttering such a thing makes you sound like a conspiracy theorist standing in the way of capitalism ... ) and yet there still isn't enough room in the passenger compartment for our things? Soon enough they'll figure out a reason to charge you for the carry-ons that have to be checked at the plane. This day may come before TSA insists we travel sans clothing at all.

Anyway. We're in Las Vegas. We finally made it to our hotel -- the shuttle dropped off people at the airport, but forgot to pick us up. We're not here to gamble. The thought doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. Even if it did, you'd need money to gamble, and as we have none, we're here to prove that there's no risk if there's no way to put anything on the table.

We're here for the Broadcast Education Association conference. It runs just after another conference called RTNDA and another one called NAB. Between the three most everyone -- who is a.) a broadcaster b.) can get out of town and c.) can afford it -- has been in Las Vegas the last few days.

I'm speaking at three invited panels. The Yankee is presenting some of her research to the sports symposium. All of the big sports researchers will be in the room. She's also presenting on one invited panel.

We're also going to see some of the city. She's never been here before. I visited once, years ago.

Tomorrow she presents at the sports symposium, I'll catch a few sessions and work on my presentations.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In my office rests a dusty old Mac that has been repurposed as a server. It is going away this summer. We have a HAL 9000 humming along elsewhere on campus that will tie everything together. This thing is grinding like a teenager trying to learn to drive a stick shift.

My office opens into the newsroom, which is where the common printer is. It works well enough, 90 percent of the time. It occasionally has a protest, and it is, of course, always during those times when you are printing with purpose. It'd be slightly less annoying if it revolted during the casual printing that happens from time to time, but the printer knows.

It knows.

So this morning I have a very nice young man come in to ask me questions about ads. I'm trying to convince the printer to keep working. I wanted to print something for him, too, but there's no luck.

The printer, it should be noted, is like the Mars Rover. The tech people on campus estimated that it was almost dead two years ago, but it is still chugging along somewhat. So, 90 percent of the time, this is a compliment to Hewlett Packard. Ten percent of the time I question their timing.

The student-journalists are putting their paper together this evening. I'm doing research on the presentations I have to give this weekend. We're all very productive.

And then I saw this, and now I'm completely taken out of my writing zone.

Trying out KFC's new Double Down "Sandwich"

I don't feel the need to rush out and order one of these, but I know these people. I used to work with that guy. I've had dinner with him and his wife. Played with his kids. I fear for his health.

And then I ate something healthy for dinner, hoping it would somehow balance out the dietary yen and yang.

Anyway, back to the writing. I have to go through some old columns to look for a point or two I want to recycle. This is always a risky proposition. You run across something and think "Brilliant." And then you see something else and wonder why it ever saw the light of day.

Tomorrow is a travel day, so it'll be light. The next few days may be even down to bullet points. Everything gets the tiniest bit less hectic after this weekend.

Take your victories where you can get them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Admire the tree blossoms while you can. The coming summer heat will soon melt away the flowers.

Back to it today. This being still the busy season. After making it back from Memphis yesterday work calls today.

Hit the gym this morning -- I'm sore already, always a good sign -- and then worked the day away.

I have a web page and three presentations to finish this week. Some of them will be finished tonight. The rest will get attention tomorrow.

This afternoon we took two classes to Luckie and Company, one of the trendier PR firms around. We met Mr. Luckie. The firm is named after his father, who started the business half a century ago.

Mr. Luckie is the personification of a Southern gentleman. He talked about the history of the firm, how the business has changed and how attitude and a willingness to work will get you a long way, anywhere.

And then one of his creatives joined the room. He was hip and edgy and showed off some of the work the agency does. We were in their conference room, but this being the digital age we did not take a physical tour. Instead we followed Lil Ace, a dummy who "works" for the agency give a walk around.

You can find it on the Luckie site which is a bit confusing your first time out. I can't embed it here, which is unfortunate. Just keep clicking the silver feature button until you see Lil Ace.

Find him? That was the tour.

We also heard from one of their top PR people, who is a Samford graduate. She said when an intern's resume crosses her desk she Googles the name right away. The students were surprised to hear this. And, one assumes, all rushed home to clean up their Facebook pages.

In the parking lot I helped a lady with a flat tire. I carry a portable air compressor, a Christmas gift from several years ago by my uncle and aunt. Handy little thing, and it saved her afternoon.

Good deed done, I returned to campus to do a little more work.

And then I went home to do a little more work, starting a web page tutorial program for later this week. Learning Dreamweaver is fun. Especially when you stop being stubborn about how you think it should work. When you get beyond that, as I did tonight, it can be a nice platform.

Then I watched 24. I think that by the time they made it to this point in the scripting and production they knew the show was done. From here on out it is just going to be one big mindless thing after another.

There's a dead body in the duct work, don't forget. Jack makes nice with the former FBI agent. And then, just because you never know, he meets a sniper who more or less sealed his own fate. Starbuck is still in custody. Benjamin Buford Blue -- people call him Brian Hastings, can you believe that? -- is out and Chloe is in at CTU.

Shame, both Mykelti Williamson and his character were better actors than Chloe. Mary Lynn Rajskub is a fine actress, but the character she plays has been annoying since ... well, since she Tasered that airport guy a few seasons back. The show has never written a female character well, if you think about it. Their all stunted or damaged or deranged or bad. Kim Bauer gets a pass because she was a kid. Her mother was the most normal women in the 24 universe and they killed her off, with a stunted, deranged and scheming woman.

Every cliche is here. The perfectly placed random, bad guy EMT, the scheming government officials (we aren't done there yet, oh no) and Charles Logan, who is going to remind us in the coming weeks that a little bit of Nixon-lite goes a long way. Speaking of heads of state, there's probably a big constitutional plot hole in appointing the dead president's wife a peace delegate. And there's probably an even more significant cultural plot hole in allowing a woman from that part of the world take the role. They didn't even mention it in passing.

I still think we're going to find out that Starbuck is Nina's sister.

One mindless thing after another.

Now I'm spending all night building a web site for my class. I'll put on some tunes and play in code and be happy to do it. When simple things like that are your way to wind down the evening you know life is good.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Goodbye, Memphis. So long, SSCA. See you next year in Little Rock.

Presented in a session early this morning. We actually had something of an audience -- always a shaky proposition for the 8 a.m. Sunday slot, as you might imagine.

This paper was a comparative analysis of The Daily Show, Hardball and The O'Reilly Factor. As I said last night on Twitter while collecting my notes from this paper: If we wrote this today we'd do it a lot differently. That's progress.

At presentations such as these there is a chairperson, who's job is to do the introductions, keep things on schedule and moderate the questions. There's also a respondent who tries to give some input and critique to the panelists while also engaging in the mental jujitsu of weaving different papers together under some sort of common theme. (This can be a difficult task.)

Our respondent this morning was nowhere to be found. Neither was the panelist. Like I said, 8 a.m. Sunday morning.

So there I sit alongside Skye, one of the workhorses of the Alabama program. His paper was very similar to the one I presented, swapping out Daily Show for the Colbert Report, so much so that we basically did them in tandem. And there was also a nice guy from Georgia who talked about conspiracy theories and the Internet, particularly the Loose Change crowd and their debunkers Screw Loose Change.

It was a fun topic, though it is best not to worry over the particulars too much. I did not realize, however, that the concept of conspiracy theories is a relatively new one, dating to the early 20th Century. In the 1960s the phrase's meaning took on its current form. Can't imagine why.

Anyway, we presented. We had a nice Q&A with the people that wandered in to hear us out. It turned into a wide ranging state of media conversation and, as I lately do a lot, I distilled everything down to issues of either control or credibility and media literacy. That'll give me something to think about all summer: How does one test issues of credibility and literacy with a news audience?

We hung around for a panel on Twitter. I wrote about it in staccato 140 character bursts. I met, in person, a nice lady whom I follow online. We congratulated everyone on a good conference and then checked out of our hotel and headed home.

When we decided that we were hungry. The problem being that leaving downtown Memphis and taking the route back toward Birmingham doesn't present you with a lot of dining options. We took the Elvis Presley Boulevard -- because why not? -- thinking there would be food there. The GPS gave us four options and failed us each time. I believe our database is outdated. So we drove down Elvis Presley Boulevard listening to Elvis Radio on the satellite feed.

We passed Elvis' plane, the Lisa Marie on the right and the Heartbreak Hotel, which was easily the moment of day and then turned to see Graceland on the left. As soon as I put away my cell phone after taking that picture a live version of Elvis singing Bridge Over Troubled Water came on.

The Yankee asked me if that was originally a Simon and Garfunkel song or an Elvis tune. I had to look it up. Paul Simon wrote it. Wikipedia tells us that Simon heard Elvis playing it in the summer of 1970 and is reported to have said "That's it, we might as well all give up now."

Is there any wonder?

We ended up eating at IHOP, because we could find little else. The Yankee tried to convince me that Elvis might have eaten at this IHOP. Perhaps at this table. She should not toy with my emotions.

The place was obviously not a 33-year old restaurant. Besides, there would have been a plaque or a picture or something.

And then the long drive home, where the car decided to run low on gas in one of the most sparsely populated regions of north Alabama. No gas stations around for miles and the little yellow warning light comes on.

I turned off the air. We got warm. We got quiet. I coasted down hills. We made it back into our county -- the state's most populated one -- and still there were no gas stations. You drive to Memphis on the not-yet-named I-22. This area may one day grow. Right now it is a beautiful trip through nice forested land, devoid of neon and billboards and, most unsettlingly, gas stations.

We cruised into a Chevron in Graysville, which is now my favorite town anywhere, ever. In appreciation of the timing of the little town of 2,300 I will now give it the honorary historical treatment as defined by a three minute search of the Internet.

The good people of Graysville will be thrilled by this attention, no doubt.

The city incorporated in 1945, possibly in part of the post-war white flight. On their web site the city calls itself Alabama's Most Progressive Town. They prove it by embedding a jazzy, big band version of the theme to the Andy Griffith Show on the front page.

One assumes they procured the appropriate licensing rights to do so.

In 1951 a Graysville police chief was killed in a gaming raid. You don't imagine things like that happen in a place so small. Gaming has become a controversial topic in the state again these days. There are plenty of places up and down the main highway that runs through Graysville sprinkled with (now closed) "bingo halls."

There's not a lot of readily available history for Graysville found online. Graysville's roots are in mining and, while it is near Birmingham, driving through the area you easily slip into the small town feel.

So there you go, Graysville in a nutshell: Quiet commuter town, nice people, conveniently placed gas stations.

Anyway. Took a nap at home. Had Chinese for dinner, wrote a bit and tried to zero in on the upcoming week's tasks. That's been the day, conferencing, traveling, praying for fumes in the gas tank. And Elvis.

Hope you have a great start to your week!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gobs of people line up to see this little lady and four of her friends walk 35 feet into an elevator.

All in good clean fun, but the attention the ducks at Peabody draws is bordering on the silly. There's standing, sitting and crouching room all consumed on the lobby floor. The mezzanine will be a solid wall of humanity stretching around the guard rail. All to see a few ducks walk.

Apparently, the duck master tells us in a nice little presentation before the ducks arrive and depart, this tradition started in the 1930s. Some of the higher ups in the hotel, fresh from a hunting trip in Arkansas, decided to bring their live duck decoys and leave them in the fountain late one night.

When they came back to the lobby the next morning they were surprised to see the ducks were still there. And a crowd had gathered.

The beginnings of a tradition were started. Every morning at 11 a.m. the ducks ride down from their rooftop home (they appear well cared for) and walk into the fountain. Every afternoon at 5 p.m. they reverse the trip. One man served as the duckmaster for 50 years before retiring. That's a lot of elevator rides with ducks.

And what must those rides be like? They but stairs next to the fountain -- which is beautiful -- and roll out a red carpet for the stars of the show. Then they just walk into an elevator and ride on up. I imagine the first time or two it is a ride of terror.

You have a sense of movement in an elevator and your higher brain explains to the rest of you that this is perfectly natural. You're in a cube moving up and down a cable to gain transportation and access to another dimension of the larger cube you are in. There will be food there. Perhaps a bed. Maybe an office or a party. You're brain accepts all of this information because, really, why would the higher brain lie to the more primitive, sensory parts?

Ducks have no concept of any of those things. There is a fountain, people, red carpet and then the "OHQUACKQUACKQUACK!" for 45 seconds until they gain the roof. They could fly off, one supposes, but they walk back to their little home.

We learned that the ducks stay on as Peabody ambassadors for three months and then they are returned to a private farm nearby. The duckmaster says there they have total freedom to come and go as they please.

You wonder what happens if, one day, they go out to get a new batch of ducks and none are on the grounds.

Today was supposedly this group's first duck march. The duckmaster said that anything can happen, particularly on the first march. So he asked that the onlookers make a solid wall, "Because the ducks are looking for daylight."

Which makes me wonder if they ever get bored of the fountain and wander, or make a break for it. Six hours a day, for three months in one little fountain?

So the ducks are cute. It is all a bit silly, but one of those things you have to see because you have to see it. Even if, at the end of the march, you've just watched a few ducks walk into the elevator.

I mean, really, ducks in an elevator? That must be terrifying. They give the guy a cane, but that might be as much for self defense as theater.

I delivered two presentations today. One this morning in the 8 a.m. slot on face-ism in the first days of President Obama's administration. I wrote about this here last year when I wrote the paper, but essentially it is an examination of how the president was represented in seven prominent news websites. Face-ism is a measure of one's power in photographs, based on facial prominence. The more face relative to the body, the more power in the picture. Men have higher face-ism scores than women. Whites have a higher score than blacks. Prominent, influential people have a higher score than the commonplace.

So this was a look at firsts. Obama, obviously, and then the online component. There have thus far only been three papers published with respect to face-ism online, and so here we are.

The study suggests that, despite the president in his first days in office and being now the most powerful man in the free world, has a low to average face-ism score.

I think this has to do more with the essence of the photojournalism trying to portray the grandeur of office more than anything -- wide shots of the inauguration, for example, mean a small president relative to the picture -- but it is still a curious finding.

The Yankee and I had lunch at Automatic Slim's (try the steak sandwich) with fellow Auburn grad Barbara Nixon, who has two presentations at the conference. She's on Twitter more than anyone I know, which is saying something. But then she might have more energy than anyone I know. She told us today that she's teaching 10 classes. Not this year, this semester. Also, she just moved her family. And she has four kids.

I can no longer complain about my schedule for fear that Barbara will make fun of me.

This afternoon I presented in a round table session on media mourning in the death of Congressman John Murtha. The Pennsylvania Democrat died in February, of course, so I looked at how he was portrayed in the newspapers of his district. This little study examined opinion pieces (editorials and so on) and also reader comments. The papers' pieces were fairly balanced, as you might expect. Comments from readers were anything but balanced.

But then Murtha was a no-apologies kind of guy who found himself in his share of controversy, so this isn't unusual.

This evening at a business meeting I was elected to an officer's position within one of the conference divisions. I'm now the vice chair elect of the political communication division. It is an evolving position, so next year I'll be the vice chair, and then the year after that the chair, and then, finally, the past chair. Four years of good vita material there.

Tonight we walked around for a good long while looking for some place to eat. Everywhere within walking distance was a bit too trendy (read: pricey) for our tastes, but we saw plenty of opportunities for fusion food, barbecue, Chinese and so on. We settled on Huey's, which is famous for its burgers.

And toothpicks. People use their straws as blow guns and stick their toothpicks in the ceiling. I'm all for kitsch and atmosphere (I liked, for example, that the walls are covered in graffiti) but the toothpick thing is a little gross.

It is all for a good cause. The menu says that every so often they pull all the toothpicks down -- how would you like that job? -- and count them in a big fundraiser. Apparently the family-owned restaurant has sent thousands to the Memphis Zoo through this gimmick.

The menu also says they've been voted Memphis' best burgers every year since 1986 in the local reader's choice awards. A quarter of a century of burger dominance. We'd heard good things about the place. (There was a wait at lunch today.) And the burgers are good. They'd probably make a best of list, but I don't think they are tops for me.

Naming the best burger you've ever had is tough, of course. There's plenty of opportunities to have a decent burger, pretty much anywhere in the country. How does one remember the standout burger?

We were trying to figure this out tonight and, because I remember eating there two years ago, I'll choose Pearl's Deluxe of San Francisco as my favorite burger of all time.

This conversation can only get me in trouble, but now there's the little idea in the back of my head that the best burgers must be researched, eaten and quantified. My arteries don't need this kind of pressure.

Now: Preparing another presentation for tomorrow morning, and then more ironing. How do clothes get so wrinkled in a garment bag spread flat in the trunk of a car, anyway?

Friday, April 9, 2010


Made it to Memphis to see the ducks. These being the famous foul of the Peabody Hotel, the host of the 2010 Southern States Communication Association annual conference.

We are not staying in the Peabody. Oh no. We're staying in the famous Hilton, one block away, just off Beale Street.

So after a frantic packing session, a little work, a bit of writing and some driving we made it to the gem of west Tennessee. We arrived in time to see the ducks in their penthouse suite -- they have it better than you. But more on the ducks tomorrow.

Tonight we caught a business meeting of the convention, ran into old friends and made some new ones.

And then we walked down Beale Street, which is something of a let down, honestly.

It is like a cleaner New Orleans, but much of the neon is too new -- yes, apparently you can have opinions on neon, apparently -- and thus felt less authentic somehow. I still took pictures of all of the neon signs, even the "Beale Street, Home of the Blues, Gift Shop" sign.

B.B. King's place fell into this trap. The Blues Hall did not.

There was a 5K autism awareness run kicking off as we got there. Miss Memphis, in impossibly high heels, sang the national anthem. Apparently that's required for races now. Everyone ran off in good spirits down the street, which otherwise had three kids doing handsprings for dollars, tourists like us and lots of new neon and loud music all fighting for your attention.

The Yankee and I had dinner a few blocks away at Charles Vergos' Rendezvous. You enter through an alley. Robert, one of the local panhandlers guided us there.

The PA system calling out names is busted. Hanging on the wall are pictures of the 1917 Tennessee law board and paintings of Paul Bryant. A huge set of elk antlers dominates an old ice cream sign. Rust has obscured the brand.

There's a 1987 editorial from Vergos that the New York Times published, suggesting the Navy use river barges as minesweepers to open shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf. It starts out tongue-in-cheek, but the farther into the piece you get there's a sense that he began to buy into the idea. There are plenty of barges on the Mississippi, he said.

Rendezvous might be the best barbecue you've ever put in your mouth. The ribs are a dry rub. No. The dry rub. That's apparently where it all started, in a dusty old coal shoot -- or elevator shaft, depending which story you prefer. That barbecue has been serving people for more than 60 years. They have a page on their site for people who've been working there for decades.

If you like the style you need to be at Rendezvous, a multi-leveled, dusty, cluttered place with an unassuming and timeless kitsch atmosphere, soon. We tried two styles of chicken, both with a slightly different appeal and both delicious.

Unfortunately, they did not have pie.

Saddest of all, Vergos died a week ago.

The party went right on at the restaurant. The people lined up and waiting in the alley probably had no idea.

Now, back in the room. I have to finish preparing tomorrow's morning presentation and iron. Always with the ironing.

Later: My struggles with the iron continue. I'd just been recently bragging on myself for seeming to get a little more efficient with the most tedious of chores, but the ironing sprites were just teasing. The Hilton has very short ironing boards.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Two meetings today. One with a professor, where we talked of networks, other meetings and respiratory health.

Later I met with the web editor. I gave him some M&M's and three tasks. Seemed an even trade. A meeting with the editor-in-chief was canceled.

So I read and prepped for class and for the weekend's conference presentations.

There's a lot of preparing to do.

And then my lovely grandmother called from a phone number I didn't recognize. The voice was clear, strong at the beginning of my name and then trailing off into a question in an elongated second syllable, as she's done it for years.

She just wanted to let me know that she had a cell phone. She'd recently had some car trouble and figured it was time. The grandchildren -- and probably her great grandchildren -- are in charge of programming the thing.

At home I washed dishes, did laundry and worked on presentations. I'll say this a lot in the next few days. It is great fun, but delivering is more enjoyable than preparing and lately I've learned far more about PowerPoint than I realized was possible.

But it all works out well. As I was told last night "You're too smart for your own good."

Smart alec, perhaps.


If we don't sing that, something is wrong.

Happy (early start to your) weekend!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The height of my powers.

Or that's what I would call this picture, if I felt the need to name my photographs for the blog. Or if I felt I had any powers.

I did, however manage to fill somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour on the strength of two pages of notes. This was the critical review of a book due for a class. It was to be critical, and so I was. Dates, it turns out, are very important for the book in question. But they weren't overtly included or otherwise discussed.

Beyond that, and the piddle paddle of what constitutes a true ethnography, the book was good. So, if you are into this sort of thing, rush right out and try Making Online News: The Ethnography of New Media Production. It is a nice read, worthy of a sociologist's attention, ready for an update and bold enough to serve as something of a standard bearer for a while.

I view this collection of essays as a temporal snapshot. As in all things electronic, something will come along soon and render the still timely parts moot. There's an app for that.

So I talked about it a lot in a room full of teachers, which makes the list as Life Rule No. 432: "Take teachers with you everywhere. They ask good questions."

Otherwise I spent the day writing, writing and writing.

Having turned in a paper this afternoon and wrapping up this paper tonight I look up to see the vista before me which is, six more presentations and one giant paper. And also 14 classes to teach between now and the end of the month.

This is all doable.

If I'm at the height of my powers.

(Which presupposes I have powers.)

(I do not.)

And now I'm going to go watch this week's 24 on my laptop. In bed. Can I stay awake? "There's no time!"

Have a marvelous, sunny day!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I wrote a lot of these today. All of this stack, in fact. I also had peach ice cream, visited with a friend, worked with students, studied and made a plan of attack for tomorrow.

It was a busy, great day.

Tomorrow will be another one!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Samford Hall, Auburn University, Ala.

Because I haven't put one up from this angle before.

This is going to be a very spare week, here. More than usual, I mean. The next two weeks will get me through the conference season, which leaves only two big projects left in the semester, which will take up the rest of the month. Thanks for your understanding.

Also, wish me luck in this busy season!

I hope you're enjoying the return to spring, and that your joy count is higher than your pollen count.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Someone, The Yankee or my mother-in-law, bought this at some point last week. It is 11 inches tall. Took me days to find it, sitting in a high traffic area.

The camouflage eggs I saw at the store, then, are entirely unnecessary.

Be sure you find the right things about the day, today.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Took my mother-in-law to the airport this morning. For some people this might be a relief, but not so here. I tried to get her to stay. She's a sweet lady -- though she did pick on me this trip.

She flew home early this morning. The Yankee and I came home to doze and work. I spent the morning writing on a presentation and took a brief nap.

After lunch we watched a little television and I wrote some more. The Yankee took a nap. I typed.

We took a walk this evening. We held hands.

And then we watched a little television this evening.

I wore shorts all day. (First time this year.)

I caught up with my boss at dusk to go over a few questions and ideas. His son had a baseball game today (he won) and my boss had a baseball draft this morning (he said it could have turned out better).

He's a really cool guy, my boss.

We got home in time for dinner. We got in one of those giggly moments where nothing was really funny, but everything was funny.

Don't make me laugh ... she said.

OK, then. What is unfunny? "I'll talk about laundry."


Even the laundry was funny.

I won't remember what started it tomorrow, but I always remember the giggles.

I wrote some more. I probably have a few more things to add to this presentation, in fact. A few of the points need polish, that will have to come later. For now the slides look fancy!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Nice, comfortable chatty Friday. Didn't get as much accomplished as I'd wanted, but a few key things were ticked off the list.

I sent a paper off to conference, worked with a few students, had lunch with faculty members and sat in the quiet of the afternoon reading and writing.

We had another first today, hosting a video from the Samford News Network on We have to streamline the process, but it is a nice sign of things to come.

We had a great conversation online today about the idea of embedded journalists, an idea offered by my friend (and recovering journalist) Ike Pigott:
The embeds of the future will work for the company, and be paid by the company to provide news about the company in a multitude of formats.


What is required is an internal producer who writes in external voice — like the neutral point-of-view so often described by Wikipedia. People can smell marketing and propaganda coming around the corner, and they know when the pitches and puff pieces are missing that edge of neutrality. An accurate and fair piece is accurate and fair, no matter who writes it.

The current newsrooms of record will find their roles specializing even further. Where they have already ceded the "hunt-and-gather" function, they will soon cede some of the writing function. Why bother spending the man-hours to reconstruct a perfectly balanced wheel? It rolls just the same, and since it was likely written by an Embedded Journalist (who just happens to be employed by the company or trade organization,) it will carry the style, tone and quality that news consumers expect.
The FDA does something similar, giving out the meat inspection responsibilities to people on the company payroll.

What Pigott, a talented media observer, envisions may come to pass in some way, but he's overextending himself here.

Embedding a journalist is going to open up plenty of questions of unscrupulous actors. There would be far too many opportunities to intimidate a reporter's job when the stories broke the wrong way. The temptation to turn the reporter into another mouthpiece against competition would be great.

In traditional media models we've long seen corporate sponsor pressures. You don't think that won't happen when Widget Inc. hires one or two reporters (if they're a really big company) and then suggests the story better make the Board members happy or else the reporter's family will be panhandling? If that happens the reporter is toothless, or fired. If so who does she go to as a whistle blower? Pigott suggests the remaining journalists working adrift of the embeds, but they're going to have their hands full and, aside from the trades, likely won't be interested in the story given everything else they must do.

Beyond that there are real issues of impartiality to consider -- ask anyone who's covered one sports team for a while. It is only human nature to develop an interest in people you deal with frequently. And so we come back to credibility concerns, which ruins Pigott's plan to my mind.

He's absolutely correct about this: "The remaining journalists will build their utility around curating, aggregating and delivery."

As we say "Do what you do best, link to the rest."

Best story of your day: It is the delightful tale of springtime, the school days' coming of age, typically pap, occasionally profoundly touching. It starts "I feel like a princess," and gets better from there. The Marietta Daily Journal reports:
Casey Carroll, dressed in a floral gown she bought days after being asked to the prom last summer in the midst of her uncontrollable excitement, smiled as she turned to her mother and said what most teenage girls have said to their mothers at least once: "Mom, stop. You're embarrassing me." But Casey Carroll was not like most girls at the Lassiter High School prom. She was not the prom queen, she was not looking forward to any big after-party, and she was ready to step out of her high heels before she even got into her limo. "When Casey was little, me and her father just thought she would probably never get to go to the prom, because we just weren't sure anyone would ask her," said Sue Ann Carroll, Casey Carroll's mother. "Not only is she getting to go, but she has two great dates. To see that, and to see her so happy, I can't tell you how much that means to us." That's because Casey Carroll, full of laughter, jokes and smiles, was born with Down Syndrome. And as much love as Casey Carroll gives, she receives even more.
A football player, Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn man, offered to take her to the prom. He had a concussion and didn't make the early pictures, but another family friend, on an hour's notice, became her escort. People in the community chipped in to book her a limo. Further proof that the person you are is often made of the people that surround you.
Casey Carroll will graduate in May, after which her parents said they will expect her to get a job and pay rent for her room at their home. "We've raised her just like we've raised our other three kids," Sue Ann Carroll said.
Sorta softens you up for the weekend, no?

Quiet evening at home. The Yankee's mother, who's spent a few days this week, made us pasta and meatballs tonight. The Yankee makes meat balls, but they aren't as good as her mother's. Tonight she learned the secret.

She leaves for home tomorrow. I'm trying to talk her into staying a few extra days.

I spent a great deal of the evening working on a research topic I am delivering next week. They say, at least I'm told they say, that a PowerPoint slide is typically about two minutes. I have 13 slides as of this writing. I've been asked to deliver a 20-minute presentation, but I've always been a bit long-winded.

Tomorrow I'll build another presentation. And soon after I'll build more.

(I love this stuff.)

Happy Easter weekend!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Two newspaper meetings to start the morning. A student meeting immediately following that.

I'd knocked out three meetings in 90 minutes. All necessary, all productive, nothing especially redundant. We've got this down as a well-oiled process now.

Now if I could just track down the campus locksmith. We've been playing phone tag for a month. He is the hardest working man on campus, I'm sure of it. I didn't know we had that many locks (there are quite a few Smiths, however) but the guy is always hard at work.

Today I also had the opportunity to help a student graduate on time. We also learned that a former student sold a column.

And I received a call that a potential student will not be joining us in the fall. Shame, too. Smart young lady, the department offered her a scholarship, and a very nice family. She just wanted to be a little closer to home.

I talked to her mother today, congratulated the parents, wished their daughter luck and said we look forward to hearing great things in the future. She wants to be a writer.

So these are exciting times for students and parents and I get to be a tiny little part of it just off to the side. It all feels very rewarding.

In the mass media class I'm co-teaching a group of students presented on advertising today. They did a nice job, one of them suggesting that tomorrow's app for the iPad will replace yesterday's blog in terms of importance. I hadn't thought of it that way, but it does suggest, yet again, the temporal nature of all of these technologies. I've been considering that a great deal lately.

Meanwhile there is the very real issue of advertising in traditional methods before the rapidly evolving online markets mature. Alan Mutter writes today that newspapers can gain some of their revenues by poaching Yellowbook. The reason? More and more people are abandoning the phone book and looking up numbers on the Internet.

Mutter is a keen analyst, but the revenue stream newspapers realize won't be what he envisions. To be clear, he isn't talking about stealing ads away, but rather adapting as services some of those things you once sought as a listing in Yellowbook:
If you are a newspaper publisher interested in diversifying away from print while building a valuable, defensible and sustainable digital revenue stream, then it’s time to think about the online directory and web-marketing business. How-to tips are coming up. First, here’s why I think the print YP business is ripe for the plucking:

About 43% of the 18 billion web searches conducted in the typical month are for products and services that consumers intend to buy from bricks-and-mortar providers, according to a study conducted by the Kelsey Group, a market research company. That comes to 7.7 billion shopping searches per month.


A fair number of the people who build websites – including folks at some newspapers – don’t know how to optimize the construction of a site so it gets included in the top results on Google. Poor search-engine optimization – or SEO, as the skill is called – results in an inferior position on Google. Since 95% of consumers never look past the first page of search listings, a business that doesn’t make the front page on Google is seriously out of luck.

Newspapers can take a whack at the YP piñata by becoming the unchallenged web-marketing experts in their communities. To do so, they first need to actually become experts.
Read the entire thing. Truly, if you're interested in media analysis you should always read Mutter. Today, however, I think he's asking a lot in the contemporary newspaper climate.

The becoming experts part will take a bit of time, particular against the already upstream current against which change must often swim in a news environment. Second, sites like About and EHow are already there. Have a question? There's Yahoo Answers, or Wiki.Answers.

Most importantly, there's the local guy who's already found the opportunity. Need to fix a toilet? Faucet? Television?

My mother-in-law has been visiting the last few days. Tonight she told us about a trip she took with her husband just before they got married. She doesn't remember much of the trip itself, thought the destination is one of those family-lore conversations.

About the trip, she said tonight, she only remembers hearing one song. She vaguely remembered the chorus. I knew it right away. The Yankee didn't know Charley Pride so I took her on a walk way down memory lane.

I hope that in a few decades I'll remember a song I heard from a trip I made once, way back when.

Right now I'm doing well to remember which key goes to what lock.

Wait. Where are those keys?