Monday, December 31, 2007

East Coast Gives Me the Willies

In beautiful Oakland/San Francisco, as one approaches midnight PST on New Year's Eve, the PBS stations have some local retro celebration with Big Band music, and even the network affiliates find some mildly traditional venue for the countdown. But here there's nothing local, so you are left with Times Square and a mass of prancing scruffoids pawing their guitars to uniformly ill effect.

Also, there was Carson Daly. I stepped away. Hey, Grinch. If there's room in your bag, stuff New Year's Eve in the EST in there, too.

Am I Keeping my Eye on the Ball?

No. Mom only gets 20 cable channels, most of which feature loud preachers, Spanish telenovellas and local news, and all of those news stations concentrate on crime and weather.

So if they are playing football somewhere in the world, so far it's news to me.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

If You Know Her, This Brings a Tear. If Not, Enjoy the Music

Dinner with St. Andre

That evening with the religious folk during which my wife expected me to feign piety if cornered? No problem. The religious folk did what most people do when confronted with silence and a big smile: They talked about themselves.

Also, there was chocolate.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Paging M. Moliere

My mum-in-law was a missionary, but she does not proselytize her wayward daughter and her wayward daughter's wayward husband -- though I really should look up proselytize to see if it encompasses encouraging the wayward to return. I think proselytize has to do with getting people to change sides, not with encouraging those who have given up sides to choose yours.

Damn interesting thing is nuance.

Whatever the word is, my mum-in-law does not do it. I think my wife is the best person my mum-in-law knows; thus, an argument about a necessary connection between religion and virtue is a loser if you put my wife on the scales. My mum-in-law ain't stupid.

But the Mumster has one or two intrusively religious friends. Around one in particular, my wife has instructed me to evade, lie if necessary, so that mum-in-law is not embarassed. At first I was a little indignant, but my mother-in-law has never cornered me to talk about Jesus, so I choose to make her life easier rather than harder -- or, more to the point, to please my wife.

Also, I can play the double game of saying things that mean one thing to me and something else to the listener. Also, there is a Baptist church near us in Oakland of which we are fond -- fond from a distance -- because it was tossed out of whatever Baptist organization it belonged to because it embraced gays as full members of the communion. We can talk about that church, and its vision of What Would Jesus Do?

Perhaps, there will be fireworks yet, all in the context of the risen Christ.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Memories of Africa: They Flicker

Working Conditions

I Pose a Question: Should What Happens in Florida Stay in Florida? Nah.

Me mum-in-law has had a new toilet installed, what you might call a True Tall Toilet, a certifiable throne, what the builders of the Tower of Babel might have gone in for had their aims been more practical and less grandiose. (I would say had they been willing to start at the bottom but that would be Stoop Humor, wouldn't it?) For this is a toilet that rises to the skies, a veritable Pillar of Porcelain upon which if you happen to perch and the facility is in a prime location, you would be able to see two states away.

But that, of course, is not the point, nor are the toilets of Moms Landrith so located. The point is not the view. The point is ease of descent if you have back problems or other challenges to your mobility. Now, how practical this is in the case of my wife's mother I don't know, for I'm told -- but have not seen; but will accept the burden of seeing if required -- that she sort of perches on top of this Proud Tower, her little feet dangling. So I don't know if innovation was wisdom in this particular instance.

But I certainly enjoy the grandeur of using this new connivance. One gains perspective. The act becomes aloof. One feels somehow manly in new and startling ways, no matter what the actual intent and content of the moment is.

One feels somewhat elevated -- of course, literally but also figuratively -- though in the midst of low animal need and a general mild shame and ignominy.

One (dare I say it?) feels very nearly:


A Day in the Life of USF

Must have taken me three years to coax/bludgeon/manipulate the San Francisco Chronicle's own Brant Ward into coming to USF as an adjunct. But I really can't take credit for this audio slideshow that his photojournalism class put together this semester.

Okay, I will. I'm willing to play armchair general.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Mother-in-law has a plastic fence

I am washing it down with a solution of bleach and water because it's covered with green muck -- Muckis Floridiana. Then I'll pick up the spoiled oranges at the north end of the yard and then I'll "move the bark." I put that in quotes because it's on the list my wife gave me, but I have not personally seen the bark.

Yet why would she refer to it were it not there? So I will Move the Bark. No doubt. No irony.

Actually, it's good to have a list of things to do. At 96.5 years of age -- and, yes, we will have an observation when her age hits her body temperature -- my mother-in-law has quite a good memory for things past. She enjoys remembering them; thus, having remembered them and enjoyed them, she will remember them again. And possibly again. Oh, why not: Again!

My own mother does the same thing except she cries and wonders why nobody loves her, so my mum-in-law's *zest* in her memories is a welcome relief.

Still, it's nice to have a reason to go outside occasionally, even if it does involve rubber gloves and bleach.

Big Florida Fun

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Signal Fading

Sitting here in the backyard of my mother-in-law's house in Florida poaching a connection from an unsecured network. So much to say, much of it marvelous and probably of value to future generations.

But my wife has just called to say we need to go get mum's eye medicine. She is 96 and one-half. I believe all her parts need medicating during the course of each day. So certain discoveries of general interest and possible uninversal import must go unsaid.

Ain't that the way?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Highway in the Sky

My wife wanted to take her mother on a road trip today, so they drove from Winter Haven in central Florida to Tampa-St. Pete on the Gulf, the idea being they would eat at a bayside restaurant we had found when I did a seminar at the Poynter Institute ten years ago.

But my wife more or less got lost somewhere in Tampa. She called me on her cell and gave me the cross streets.

In about five minutes she was redirected toward where I thought the restaurant was. Five more minutes wandering around Google maps, and I caller her back with the name of the restaurant.

There is a degree of wonder in this directly proportional to one's age, a pride and sense of empowerment. Some things one does with a computer are merely flamboyant. One could do them just as well some other way. Perhaps (to be honest) one could do them better.

But playing eye in the sky from 2,500 miles away. I've done stories about remote viewing and the Psychic Friends Network. This is better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fun Facts

USF is running its employees through anti-harassment training, either in person or online. The time spent is something you gripe about, but on the other hand it is chilling to learn how your life can be destroyed by both what you do and what you let happen, the latter if you are a supervisor.

I will not be ironic about this. My wife has had grief in these areas and went to court about it and prevailed and (if I remember correctly) signed a form saying she would not talk about it afterward. I didn't sign anything, but I will not tempt fate, the law, Google's search engine.

I just completed part one of our our online course of study. It's all very serious, and I rather enjoyed it since you get to take all sorts of interactive quizzes, and one is always proud when one gets them all right. Which one finally does. But I will leave with a comment of a lighter nature: Apparently, it is not illegal to prefer a job candidate who has all her/his teeth over one that doesn't. They didn't cite the case law, which I would love to see.

Hillary at $55. McCain at $11.

Brother Pat Daugherty is now my window of choice when it comes to betting on the Democratic and Republican nominees for President.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Dog Called Hope (Michael Tola for President)

Another step forward. I put together the audio on Audacity and added that file to Photostory, which is really not much good for producing audio inside it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Midnight Ramblings

Last night I put Eydie on a redeye to Florida to spend the holidays with her 96.5-year-old mom. I'll be joining her shortly, and I know the planes are quite safe, probably safer than I was on the drive home.

Still, I worry and couldn't get to sleep. I wandered around the Net looking for a *free* program that would allow me to create pan-and-scan audio slideshows in the Ken Burns manner. I found something called Photostory 3, which is quite elementary -- I once played with Protools, baby -- but did the job.

Hence the following, roughly done -- the whole point is to do it quick and dirty, serving as an example for all those print students that I wish to dip a toe into multimedia.

There really is such a leaf lottery. And (sad to say) it certainly must be subject to tampering because I've never won.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Putting Music under Video is Fun

And when it's the music of Little Michael Koppy, the Oppaleechee Songbird, the results are irresistible.

I'm posting this on Facebook because the video quality seems to be better. Anyone know an even better site??

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Final Exam Today

Final exam in basic reporting, aka the baby step, the first hole pecked in the shell, the first stirring in the womb, whatever you want to call it as long as the description evokes the tentative, the unfocused, the growing conviction that signing up for this class was a bad move and that it's long past time to run for the bushes when the old man's back is turned.

Well, I don't blame them. Print reporting is certainly horse and buggy, and I hammer on them as if they were horseshoes. My pedagogical focus in basic reporting has changed over the years. We do the old favorites -- speech, press conference, meeting, face-to-face single-source interview -- but I have become increasingly fanatical about teaching the summary lead until they get it right.

News is "made," subjective, in no way inevitable or universal. Oh we know that. We are Media Studies sophisticates.

Well then please make it.

Decide which facts matter and who is worth listening to and cram all that into the first hundred words because that's really your only chance to get them reading, keep them sinking down into the intricacy, the texture, the dark and the cold, to keep them on the trail of that the great heavy mass of that gritty ball of facts you have laboriously gathered and so patiently and exhaustively wish to unroll.

And if quite rightly you find more than one point of view persuasive, spread those points of view out as a vendor in a bazaar might spread out his wares on the ground.

But somehow capture this complexity in the first hundred words and then go roaring and rolling on to your heart's content. It's called the hourglass structure, a small triangle balanced on its tip on a much larger triangle. You have a nice summary on top and then go back to the beginning of time and bring the story forward. I think this approach is useful, and underlines the theories of news they get elsewhere. I teach without shame and without mercy.


Today is final exam. I make my point about concision in the written intro to the exam and again in my spontaneous exhortation.


Half the class takes the great heap of information I have given them to write about and does two quick hundred-word stories and off they go. And go I let them. That was not quite the assignment. But for those who managed to write two tight cogent summary leads that could serve as a complete story in this day of contracting news hole -- or a first-page tease to cause you to click through on the Internet to a story as long as infinity -- more power to them.

It's a B, my friend. It's a B if you keep it tight, simple and focused.

Which is so much harder than it looks and thus the world curves away.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Protractor Party: A Cosine in Every Pot

Another hundred-plus visitors today who came to the blog only because an old post is linked to one of Google's marquee pictures of a protractor. I have altered that old post so that it now reads:

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Man Who Invented the Protractor is Running for President

Here is his first campaign commercial.

Some people would look at those hundreds of unsought visitors and say, "Why?"

Michael Tola and I say, "Why not?"

Daily Kos Catches a Fool

This media obsession with manly men, whether from Fineman, or from Chris Matthews, or from whoever, is both ridiculous and pathetic. What, would Obama have scored had he strode out in a wife-beater shirt, clocked his wife and pushed Oprah off the stage? Would that have salved their pathological craving for musky man-scent and testosterone?

These people are ridiculous.

Here's the rest.

Friday, December 07, 2007

This is What Some of the Top Bloggers Do. They Disclose.

Hey, look. As frequencies grow, higher my ears grow deafer. That's a hearing deficit, but I don't need a hearing aid, not yet. My students are just going to have to be patient.

The X's represent my left ear. May I suggest you address me from that side?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

How the Concrete Got Sawed

A Funny (Internet) Bubble Song

A very funny bubble song: "Babies blogging in the womb."

The High Life

That's our balcony: right wing of the hotel, second from the top.

My wife and I were married in downtown Detroit in the Wayne County Courthouse on November 27, 1965. I suppose it was technically an elopement. I had decided in the middle of the fall semester my senior year that it was time to for us to get married. The next step that I took will astonish you, you modern young people and also you old people, who have always been modern, now and back in the delirious Sixties.

I asked the Dean at the Bible college where I was a student and where my wife had been a student if it were all right if we wed. It never occurred to me not to ask permission. That is the culture from which I have spent my life trying to escape, and I'm not there yet.

Please, sir.

But he said no. He said it would be "unnatural" for us to be married and not be living together, for I had explained to him that She Who Must Be Loved was teaching kindergarten outside Detroit and living with her parents and would continue to do so, our wedded bliss consisting of 24 hours a day of being wedded but only occasional weekends of bliss.

Thinking back, I realize the gravity of his crime in saying no. He failed to pay me the respect of assuming that my "fiancee" was knocked up and that we damn well better get married, the sooner the better, the date on the wedding license backdated if possible.

In fact, she was not knocked up. The knocking of up did not figure in our calculation, either past or imminent. There was some trouble at home, and I wanted (in the context of that trouble) to be her husband, so we could stand together against the trouble.

But the Dean said no and -- suddenly indignant -- we got married anyway, in complete secrecy in downtown Detroit with only the judge's clerk and typist as our witnesses, and whatever support my wife derived from being my wife was personal, not general, for we kept it all secret until I graduated six months later.

So that part of it was fine. However, we were stuck with one of the more inconvenient of anniversary dates. Half the time our anniversary is on Thanksgiving -- or a day before or a day after. It is not just finding a place for an anniversary meal when the day falls on Thanksgiving, though when we were first married the only place in Durham, North Carolina, open for eating on Thanksgiving was the Holiday Inn, and the meal was just what we would have made at home, but not so good.

More to the point, over the years my wife has come to decide she likes to cook a big Thanksgiving meal for friends and thus, when our anniversary falls on Thanksgiving, that day is already quite festive enough, and if our anniversary is a day earlier or later, we are weighed down with the great meal or with anticipation of the great meal....

Also, let's be honest. Thanksgiving is already loaded up with thanks. An anniversary in proximity to Thanksgiving is more burden than joy. So our anniversary became a kind of afterthought -- until our 40th, which I knew deserved something more than a pan of dressing shaped like a heart. My first idea was that we would fly to San Diego and look at the zoo, assuming the zoo was open on Thanksgiving, or at least walk on the beach, assuming the beach was open.

But that seemed like so much trouble, running from work, negotiating a crowded airport, not to mention a midnight arrival at the hotel, all of which would probably add up to No Sex Please (We're Exhausted). That wouldn't do, I thought, because once you reach a certain age anniversaries are all about sex for, as you age, sex-by-appointment grows more important, and we all hate to miss an appointment.

I know I do.

Anyway, going to San Diego and back all seemed like an exercise in logistics, too much planning and too little playing, so I said let's take the BART train over to the Hyatt Regency, where we stayed when we first visited San Francisco in 1979 on a free press junket back in the day Eastern Airlines was still flying. (Coincidentally, the story I wrote about that trip got me my Chronicle job, and, coincidentally, my Chronicle job got me my USF job. Coincidentally.)

And that's the trip we took, from 12th St. Oakland to the Embarcadero station in SanFran. And it was wonderful. The atrium lobby of the Hyatt was filled with hundreds of strings of lights stretching down 15 stories. We rode streetcars along the waterfront. We ate a really good restaurant and tipped 20 percent. (Though not 20 percent of the bill plus the tax. At some point romance becomes foolishness.)

We were tourists without putting in the work that the poor dear tourists have to put in.

So: a success. This year is the third year we've done it, though we've moved the date to either the weekend before or the weekend after Thanksgiving because we do love to make the turkey and the big meal and have friends over. This year I even got an internet deal on a suite, which was probably a mistake because it was the nicest hotel room I have ever been in except for that villa in Tuscany back when the dollar was strong against the Euro. (It was a mistake because anything ever after is going to be a letdown.)

Oh my how self-indulgent. But we reconsidered while sitting on *our balcony stretching over the entire end of one wing of the hotel 16 floors up*. Our last vacation -- and I mean even a weekend trip with a night in a Motel 6 -- before this vacation was our last anniversary, so I guess we deserved it, however one makes that vain and self-interested assessment.

It was a good time. We even got off the streetcar this trip and walked around Fisherman's Wharf and looked at the tourists, so many of whom seemed to be working so very very hard at life, love and keeping the children from noticing the Hooter's poster.

My bad. Hooters must be plural.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

I finally learned how to record using Audacity and to lay what I recorded under a video. The results are really really bad. But I have no secrets from you.

The lesson, of course, is that mastering all these new technologies takes time. There is a level of detail in doing that can only be learned by many trials and many failures or through excellent teaching. And even then, some have aptitude and some don't. But let me fall back on the lessons of basic print journalism. It is craft, not art. Adequacy is within our reach if we only persevere. We live in a society that would move forward more smoothly -- or sink into the mire less rapidly -- if there were only more adequacy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I should have been grading stories this morning, but while rummaging among the debris behind my desk, where something had fallen, I found the old microphone that came with the "Learn Italian in 17 Minutes" box of electronic lessons I got for my wife years ago.

That mike in hand and my interest in the imperfections of my young journalists somewhere near ultimate zero, instead I downloaded Audacity, the free recording/editing software, and spent 45 minutes learning ...

1) That even a functional microphone doesn't work unless it's plugged into the correct aperture, an insight we will not advance to the status of a metaphor for life;

2) That even if you record yourself singing, don't mean a thing unless you remember to un-mute the sound on your laptop. Up-down goes the little blue wave pattern but all is still;

3) That it's almost eleven and I haven't graded a thing. But I have enhanced my ability to create a multimedia platform.

And that mantra should kill the next five years rather nicely.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pass It Forward

A friend writes that:

Sometimes something happens that makes you momentarily wish you blogged. Here goes:

Our department's academic adviser has been out for the past 10 days helping her seriously ill mom in another state, and I took over her duties.

A couple of days into it, a call to the adviser's line was forwarded to me.

"X," I said, per usual.

"Why am I speaking to you when I specifically asked for Irma Z?" the caller said, with a boatload of annoyance. "Did I not make myself clear?"

"Well," I said, using terms I rarely apply to myself unless seriously provoked, usually by clueless young people, which she was not, "this is Dr. X, the department chairman. Irma is away on leave and I am filling in for her. How can I help you?"

"You can help me," she said archly, "by just telling me when she will be back."

At that point a number of tempting possibilities ran through my mind. I finally settled for "Monday." But I delivered it with a boatload of terseness, I want you to know. After which, she hung up.

When I complained to a colleague about this little exchange, he suggested a far better response, should the situation ever repeat itself:

"Now that you've asked, I must tell you that the leave was to finish a series of operations. Before that, I was Irma, and I can assure you she will never be back."

There's something the French call esprit d'escalier, the wit of the staircase, referring to those things you wished you said. This is, indeed, an example. And it is also a powerful argument for blogging, our own little special staircase.