Ben Crowder

Archive: Blogging, Page 2

Six quickies

My mind is a bit slow at the moment, so instead of struggling to pull together a coherent post, here are a few really short tidbits:

  1. For the statistically minded, this is my 1,011th post, and as of right now there are 2,990 comments on this blog. My guess, though, is that nobody cares about this but me. :)

  2. Interesting post on The Storytellers about why comedians are quick.

  3. I’m racking my memory trying to see if I have any stories that can compare to toilet paper crystals, but alas, my childhood must have been rather uneventful.

  4. I’ve found that when I wake up in the morning (at, say, 5 or so) and then go back to sleep, it’s always in that separated hour that I have the most vivid dreams. I’m almost tempted to set a second alarm early just for that purpose — you know, story ideas and such — but I have a feeling my roommate would kill me. (Incidentally, I’m blessed in that I don’t really have nightmares, but I feel for those who do.)

  5. Confidence matters.

  6. Also from Fire & Knowledge, an thought-provoking line from Wendell Berry: “You cannot lose your land and remain free; if you keep your land, you cannot be enslaved.” I don’t really think about land. Maybe I should.

Coming down and climbing up

This may sound weird, but after posting something every single day since November 1, I’m finding that it’s almost harder not to post each day. I need help. :P

Anyway, I saw BYU’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream tonight. Really well done and really funny. (I know I’ve said this before, but I still keep forgetting how funny Shakespeare can be.) I loved the brilliant set design, with the characters climbing up from panels in the floor. I’ve got to use something like that in one of my plays someday…

Since I seem to be changing topics with each paragraph, I think I’m coming down with something. Actually, nix that “I think” — I have come down with something (a cough is all it is at the moment), with the only question being how far down I’m coming, and for how long. Hopefully it’s just visiting. (It really is bad timing for me to get sick — I’ve got to train seven new students at work next week. If I’m going to get sick, why can’t I at least schedule it? ~sigh~)

I’m addicted to italics and parentheses, I’ve noticed. ~bigger sigh~

End-of-year ramblings

Everyone seems to be doing end-of-the-world posts. I mean end-of-the-year. And I was planning to write one, but I was thinking it would be part of my beginning-of-the-year post tomorrow. Hmm. Maybe not.

Well, for my time zone the contractions have begun, dilated to a 9, and it won’t be long before 2008 pops out. (My question, though, is this: who’s pushing?)

Ahem. This is why I don’t write end-of-the-year posts. And I’m not the one who came up with the whole new year = baby analogy, so point those fingers elsewhere, please.

I think I’ll just wait till tomorrow. Which makes this a no-point post. (Both purpose and score.) No, I can’t do that — the obsessive blogging demon within won’t allow it. So I need to find something to say. Something meaningful. Profound. Witty.

Now that I’ve put it that way, though, the windows of heaven have gotten shut and bolted and boarded up. ~sigh~

So, end of the year. I liked 2007. Lots of change — graduation, job, career, pretty much everything except gender and religion :P — but change is good. I like change. And I like, um, non-change. So it works out pretty well for me.

Tomorrow I’ll review all those resolutions I haven’t looked at since the other bookend of this year (I probably should start reviewing them monthly…) and set new ones. Some I’ll hit; others will languish, which is sadly what happened with NaBoMoReMo for me — I’m only at the end of Alma. Well, you win some, you lose some. And it’s not like I haven’t finished the Book of Mormon before. :) (I still feel guilty, though.)

Four more hours. I haven’t been a New Year’s Eve person for seven or eight years, so I’ll do the socially unacceptable thing (no, not that socially unacceptable thing) and go to bed in an hour or two. Boring, yes. I have no good excuses. But I’m tired. Goodbye, 2007.

P.S. If you see someone dancing on the rooftops with tambourines tied to his hands and feet, it isn’t me. :P

By any other name

Came across an interesting post on Design Observer today:

In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare wrote a “rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” suggesting the meaning of something is more important than what it is called. By extension, the content of a blog post or comment is more significant than the signature of the poster (or postee), which provides something of a rationale for the surfeit of pseudonymous and anonymous postings on most blogs. Alas, my dear Montague, I beg to differ. A rose is a rose, and a real name at the end of a blog post is an indication that the person who authored the statement is taking responsibility, indeed ownership of the words — it is a simple act of honesty. For too long bloggers have been given license that is not tolerated in letters-to-the-editor columns of newspapers and magazines (except in extraordinary circumstances). If one is willing to expound, exclaim, or critique it should be done under a real name and with links to a valid email or website address. If transparency on the web is the new black, then there should be no secrets.

What think ye?

The power of comments

Chris Brogan on The Power of Comments:

Today’s Social Media 100 post is 100% inside the comments, and YOU are going to help write it. Click the comments button and let’s write a collaborative post.

I think the comments are where the most interesting stuff happens in the blogosphere. It’s where the monologue becomes a dialogue (a polylogue? :P), where the original perspective of the post is broadened and deepened by adding more minds to it, where shortsightedness gets to visit the optometrist.

The second comment, from Joanna Young, hits on a key point:

[There are] many, many blog site owners who don’t reply to comments that people make. Including those who might reply to people who comment early doors, but not those who are maybe 12 - 24 hours after the post has gone up. What’s that all about? Are comments only valuable if they’re from readers who are hanging on your every breath? Anyway, that’s my take as far as being a blog commenter goes. Please reply to my comments! As a blog owner, I love comments and do everything I can to encourage them — by leaving posts a little open, by replying to everyone, trying to get to know people a bit, being human and friendly — you know the score.

I’m the same way. If you’ve got a blog, please reply to the comments people leave. It’s common courtesy. That’s where the magic happens. Sure, it does take time, but don’t forget that it took time for your readers to comment, too.

If I comment on a blog but don’t get a response from the writer, I rarely go back to leave comments again. I’ll still read the blog (if it’s worth reading :)), but they’ve shown that they don’t care about comments, and I’m not going to waste my time throwing energy into a black hole.

Hmm, that sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it. :) Lots of bloggers do reply to comments, and that’s a wonderful thing. Let’s have some more of it. :)

Using new media

From ldsWebguy, earlier today I found a talk Elder Ballard gave today at BYU-Hawaii, Using New Media to Support the Work of the Church:

While you studied here at BYU-Hawaii, you no doubt came to understand the power of words. Words create conversations, and conversations create understanding. There is truth in the old adage that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” In many cases, it is with words that you will accomplish the great things that you will now set out to do. And it’s principally about ways to share those words that I want to talk to you today.

Being a writer, I of course got rather giddy at this point. :) But it gets even better:

Now some of these tools — like any tool in an unpracticed or undisciplined hand — can be dangerous. The Internet can be used to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and can just as easily be used to market the filth and sleaze of pornography. iTunes can be used to download uplifting and stirring music or the worst kind of anti-social lyrics, full of profanity. Social networks on the Web can be used to expand healthy friendships as easily as they can be used by predators trying to trap the unwary. That is no different from how people choose to use television or movies or even a library. Satan is always quick to exploit the negative power of new inventions, to spoil and degrade and to neutralize any effect for good. Make sure that the choices you make in the use of new media are choices that expand your mind, increase your opportunities, and feed your soul.

Exactly. The Internet — and most of the tools on it — is neutral. Not evil. I think the newer generation understands that, but there’s still a large segment of older folk who see the bad that’s on the Internet and think we should boycott the web entirely. Which is folly.

That word conversation is important. There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.

And that’s one of the (many) reasons I blog. :)

Now, to you who are graduating today, along with the other students at this wonderful university, may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet, particularly the New Media, to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration.

If you didn’t catch it, that’s an official endorsement of blogging (and Facebook et al.) by an apostle. :) Granted, he’s specifically talking about missionary work, but I don’t think that means every post you write has to be straight from Preach My Gospel. If we’re true to who we are, the gospel will shine through us even when we’re talking about non-Church topics. There are many, many ways to share the gospel. (And by saying that I don’t mean that we should avoid talking about the gospel directly. I just mean that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to that. After all, the gospel does touch every aspect of life, not just theology.)

So, if you haven’t already got a blog, what are you waiting for? ;) (I’ve got some instructions on how to get started at the bottom of my What’s a blog page.) And if you don’t quite feel ready to start your own just yet, at least join the conversation by commenting on the blogs you read. You really can make a difference.

Speaking of that generation gap I mentioned earlier, it’s kind of funny that this talk comes from an 80-year-old man. :)

The end of an era

Well, as soon as I hit the “Publish” button, NaBloPoMo will be over for me. Can I get an alleluia?!

Just kidding. :) (About the alleluia, not about finishing.) Well, it’s been quite the month, now, hasn’t it. One feature-length novel to go, check. A side of blog posts every day, check. What next? NaBoMoReMo, and then…New Year’s Resolutions, I guess. Somewhere in there I’ll take a break.

But not from blogging. I don’t know how to stop, nor would I want to. And, you know, since this is the month of the turkey, can I just say thanks for all of you readers out there? Some we hear from in the comments, most we don’t, but I appreciate every last one of you who reads Top of the Mountains (however obsessively or once-in-a-blue-moonily you follow along ;)). This blog wouldn’t be what it is without you. And I’m not just saying that. Sure, it’s easy to say, but it’s also true. You really do have a large influence on what happens here, not just in the comments but also in the posts themselves. I wish I knew who all y’all were, so I could thank you individually, but this group thing will have to suffice.

Speaking of resolutions, I probably ought to sneak a peek at mine from January to see if I’m anywhere near accomplishing them… (Note to self: in the future, if you really do want to meet your goals, you probably need to review them before November 30. Just an idea.)

Powers of extreme uncoolness

I’ve started trying to keep up better with my blog reading (and yes, I’ll be weeding down the list of feeds I’m subscribed to so it’ll be manageable), and as a result, I’ve come across some goodies to share.

First, today’s Dilbert:

Dilbert (11.29.07)

Second, Darren Barefoot has an excellent post on giving presentations called Everything I Know About Presentations, I Learned in Theatre School. There are seventeen tips in all, and they’re good. The fourth one under Content particularly rang true for me:

4. Dialogue Starts on the Page. I find my talks are much more cogent and compelling when I’ve written them as informal essays first. Then I try to commit as much of it as I can to memory, and write out the key points on index cards. Too many speakers seem to think they’ve prepared a talk by creating some slides. The slides should come last.

For the last talk I gave in church, a few weeks ago, I did basically just that — wrote it out as an informal essay. And it made a world of difference. Where before I was mostly meandering around, now I had focus. (You were right, Liz. ~sigh~) Planning the talk didn’t make it any more difficult to speak by the Spirit; I could still deviate from the plan if so inspired. The same idea holds true for writing a novel, I’ve found — I can just wing it and write by the seat of my pants, but things generally went much smoother if I planned it in advance. And outlining it didn’t mean I couldn’t discover things along the way, make minor detours, sometimes even scrap the whole plan and go in a different direction. But major changes are usually rare.

Third, I came across Matt Haughey’s post today on 43 Folders, Adventures in $40 eyeglasses. My glasses are old, and for that matter, I don’t think I’ve gotten a new prescription for my contacts in around 3.5 years. So, when I do get a new prescription, I’m thinking I’ll probably buy my glasses online, as Matt describes. Saves a heap of money.

Finally, Matt Wood’s written a rather nice post on 43 Folders called Sink or Swim: Managing RSS Feeds with Better Groups. The idea is that instead of grouping your feeds by topic in Google Reader (or your aggregator of choice), you group them by how often you read them, or how you read them. When I get some time later today I’m going to try this out, because I have a feeling that it’ll work way better than my current system (by topic). For me, I think organizing them by how often I read them (daily, weekly, once in a while, rarely) will be most effective. In a few weeks I’ll post an update on how it’s going.

Spirits in bondage

Usually I have no problem coming up with something to blog about. Tonight is not one of those nights.

But that’s not quite accurate, I suppose — I do have two ideas, both written down on a yellow post-it note on my desk, but when I tried to start writing each one, the words just didn’t flow. And so I’m trying to angle my way in from the side, pretending to myself that I’m writing about something else, and then before my subconscious knows it I’ll start writing about those two topics. You’ve got to be tricky sometimes. :P

So, last night I had a nice little chat with the eleven-year-old daughter of one of the counselors in my stake presidency, and while I love talking with people my age (and those over the hill ;)), there’s something really refreshing about talking with kids. Not all of them are like this, of course, but many (hopefully most?) are so down-to-earth and real. No calculations. No pretentions. No façades. No double-thinking or double-talking. They’re who they are, and that’s that. I seem to have grown out of that — most adults do, I think — but I now see that it was a mistake, and I’m aching to put it back on. Masks just get in the way of living.

Switching gears, in our C.S. Lewis Society meeting tonight, we were discussing one of Lewis’s poems (in Spirits in Bondage) and one of the members said something that struck me: we’ve lost the mystery of distance. Way back when, there seems to have been a mystique that accompanied far-off, unexplored regions. But now? We’ve mapped the globe a hundred times over, we have satellites updating our data by the hour, we can fly across the globe in a day, and we can chat with people anywhere on Earth pretty much instantaneously. Far is the new near. Heck, even the solar system is old hat — we have to get out beyond that to find any of the old romance of distance.

Or do we? While I agree that our scale for distance has multiplied exponentially, I can’t help but recall something Lewis said — that people desperately search for excitement in far-off places, but they wouldn’t find it unless they were the sort who could find it in their own backyard. (I’m paraphrasing. :)) In other words, mystery isn’t a function of place, it’s a function of perspective. And that’s just cool.

You see, what that means is that the whole world can become new to us if we just have the eyes to see it. I’ve tried to capture some of that with my photography, using the super macro mode on my camera to see familiar things so up close that it’s like I’ve never seen them before. We can train our imaginations to wipe off the burned-in image that has been on our windows for years, so we can finally see what’s really out there, not just what we think we see.

Ninety percent of finishing a blog post (or any other piece of writing, for that matter) is starting it. :)

True love and high adventure

Drat, I forgot that I hadn’t blogged today. I also haven’t written my 2,000 words on the novel yet. (It’s getting harder and harder. But I will conquer! Just not today. ~sigh~)

I don’t really have anything to say, except I’m now halfway through The Princess Bride and already it’s affecting almost everything I write. Oh well — at least I’m not being influenced by dry, boring textbooks. And it’s sad that such a great post title has to be followed by such a disappointing little post. Maybe I’ll reuse the title later for a post worthy of the name. But right now I’m going to bed.

Pencil sharpening

I’ve been posting a lot lately. While NaBloPoMo is why I haven’t missed a day this month, there’ve been several days with more than one post (like today), and I just realized why: I’m avoiding working on my novel. Blogging is easy writing, but fiction is hard — dang hard — and so I try to procrastinate it for as long as possible. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve careened to the edge of giving up, looked down over it, and then found my resolve and returned to safety.

And so here I am filling up your blog reader. :) (Those of you who subscribe via e-mail are luckier in that regard, since you just get a longer e-mail instead of one for each post.) But don’t worry, I already wrote my 2,000 words today, finishing off Chapter Five. (I was going to write this post before I put in my time, but that seemed just a little too to-the-point. :P)

I’ve really got to start doing my writing in the morning instead of last thing of the day, because fatigue is a hard enemy to overcome. And I have the time in the morning, just waiting there for me. We’ll see. At any rate, I’m almost a quarter of the way through this novel (23%, to be precise), which has never, ever happened before. It’s exhilarating in one way and utterly, terrifyingly frightening in another. I’ve never written the middle of a novel before. I don’t know how to get to the end. But who cares? All I have to do is write 2,000 words a day until the end of the month, and after I finish I can pick up all the pieces and try to work them into a coherent story, one with a proper beginning, middle, and end. But for now I’m all about the quota. (The scary thing is that the story is actually turning out better than the sludge it ought to be. And so my expectations for it are rising, but I must keep them down, keep them low. For now.)

And I promise I’ll try to write some non-NaNoWriMo posts this month, too. :P

Egyptian dress codes

Yes, yes, I know, three posts in one day is a bit much. But I read Katherine’s post a few minutes ago and realized it had been a while since I last checked to see what keywords bring people here, so here we go:

  • evils of facebook
  • premarital osculation (hee hee)
  • guys wearing chapstick when kissing (um…)
  • lds mormon dating holding hands kissing -gay (that last part is important…why?)
  • signs that a girl “isn’t interested” (is there a reason the last two words are in quotes?)
  • folded paper high heel (I think I’m missing something here)
  • “literary crushes” (no, Virginia, they’re not real)
  • why do i swallow when i’m nervous (I wish I knew…)
  • all my socks have holes (we should be friends)
  • lds belt buckle (CTR belt buckles, anyone?)
  • lds scriptures latex (they’ve found a new material to print them on)
  • is faxing dying (yup, you’d better go give it the last rites)
  • how do i unwrinkle clothes that are forgotten in the dryer (hey, maybe that post was good for something after all)
  • “how can i increase my faith” lds (I wish I knew who you were…)
  • “egyptian dress code” (um…what?)

And we’ve got a special edition of Mountains ‘R’ Us as well:

  • best wheelbarrows for mountains
  • is there mountains in rome
  • the reason why cold fronts cant get past mountains
  • what is the mountains for arabian
  • why are there no trees on the top of some mountains
  • why it is so cold on top of mountains
  • mountains mattered

I’ve gotten some good post ideas from all these… ~rubs hands~ ;)

College will change

Enter NaBloPoMo. Along with Janssen and Katherine (and if you’re going to do it, too, leave a comment with a link to your blog), I’ll be posting every day in November. Granted, I pretty much do that anyway, but this month there’ll be nary a gap.

So, as the semi-official kickoff, I read Paul Graham’s recent essay on startups this morning. Now, business does not run in my veins. It’s like a foreign virus, and whenever I come in contact with it (in an entrepreneurial sense), my immune system generates antibodies which slaughter it quickly and cleanly. I don’t do business. (Except I do, with my freelance design work. Three cheers for paradoxes. ~sigh~)

Anyway, Graham’s essay was mildly interesting to me at first, being mostly about business — which I still try to read up about on the off-chance that someday my anti-business gene will flip and I’ll become some rabid entrepreneur — but it wasn’t until point 8 that my interest got caught:

8. College Will Change If the best hackers start their own companies after college instead of getting jobs, that will change what happens in college. […] One change will be in the meaning of “after college,” which will switch from when one graduates from college to when one leaves it. If you’re starting your own company, why do you need a degree? […] I grew up in a time where college degrees seemed really important, so I’m alarmed to be saying things like this, but there’s nothing magical about a degree. There’s nothing that magically changes after you take that last exam. The importance of degrees is due solely to the administrative needs of large organizations. These can certainly affect your life—it’s hard to get into grad school, or to get a work visa in the US, without an undergraduate degree—but tests like this will matter less and less. As well as mattering less whether students get degrees, it will also start to matter less where they go to college. In a startup you’re judged by users, and they don’t care where you went to college. So in a world of startups, elite universities will play less of a role as gatekeepers. In the US it’s a national scandal how easily children of rich parents game college admissions. But the way this problem ultimately gets solved may not be by reforming the universities but by going around them. We in the technology world are used to that sort of solution: you don’t beat the incumbents; you redefine the problem to make them irrelevant. The greatest value of universities is not the brand name or perhaps even the classes so much as the people you meet. If it becomes common to start a startup after college, students may start trying to maximize this. Instead of focusing on getting internships at companies they want to work for, they may start to focus on working with other students they want as cofounders. What students do in their classes will change too. Instead of trying to get good grades to impress future employers, students will try to learn things. We’re talking about some pretty dramatic changes here.

A few years ago I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but wow, I really agree. Yes, getting an education is important, but that’s different from getting a degree. One has real value; the other is only valuable because of “the administrative needs of large organizations.” What really matters is whether you can do the work. For example, as I mentioned earlier, I do freelance graphic/book design. I don’t have a degree in either, but that hasn’t stopped me from being relatively successful with it. (Yes, getting a degree in graphic design would make me a better designer, but that’s because of things I would learn, not the degree itself. And I could still learn those things outside of a degree program, were I determined enough.)

I’m not planning on dropping out of my MLS program, of course, but the idea of blazing my own path — as a designer, artist, writer, programmer — and creating a custom-fit job that fills my needs perfectly (or pretty darn close) is getting rather tasty. More and more I’m seeing myself go that route in the long run. Does that mean no more librarianship for Ben? Not necessarily. In my ideal world (at least so far as I’ve got it figured out), I’d spend the rest of my life doing half my time at a library and half on my own projects. I don’t know if I can pull that off, but we’ll see. (After all, I make two to five times as much on design projects as I do at the library. Not that I’m doing any of this for the money — if I were, I’d become a doctor :) — but money does figure into it, seeing as I have to make a living, and someday support a family.)

But maybe I just feel this way because I’ve got a looming midterm due tomorrow. :P

A quickie

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t started blogging again as frequently as before. I think it’s because of a few projects that have been pressing on my time lately, but in the past I somehow always found time for blogging even then. Anyway, I’ve got a writeup on the Orson Scott Card lecture coming soon, and no, I don’t intend to stay in this lull of hibernation. (I think the other factor is that I’ve gotten very little sleep over the past two weeks and it’s a miracle I’m not deathly ill yet.) I’ll have a real blog post tomorrow. Even as I say that, though, I’m thinking of all the things I have to get done and wondering how I’ll fit it all in. But I will. Somehow. And I’ll reply to all y’all’s comments, too. Fear not, I haven’t abandoned them. :)

Things to come

Consider this a teaser trailer. One of the reasons I’ve been blogging less frequently the past couple of weeks is a writing project I’ve been working on, and while I think it’s probably safe to announce it now, I’ll wait until I hear the final ultimatum tomorrow morning.

Even beyond that, though, I’ve been really, really busy lately, which is why it’s taking me forever to reply to comments. And it’s already way past my bedtime. (Which has been a common thing these past few weeks, and which is also the reason why I keep falling asleep in meetings. :))

Dirt-caked treasures

I’m short on time so I’m not going to blog about my MLS experience in Vegas just yet. In fact, right now I have no clue what this post will be about. That’s often how writing seems to go for me — I just start spewing verbiage until some kind of underlying structure reveals itself, and only then do I uncover it and follow its path till I find the end. Occasionally I’ll know the end before I begin, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily a better way to write — at least for me. My favorite part of writing is uncovering something along the way that I didn’t know was there — dirt-caked treasures that glow when you brush them off. They’re the one thing you can’t seek out, since they pop up precisely when you’re not looking. It’s like at twilight, where you can’t see someone in the distance unless you’re not looking directly at them. Same with the sun. And apparently marriage is often the same way. (I had to find some way to tie marriage into this. :P)

When in Rome…

I’m halfway through my trip to Vegas for these MLS classes, but I’m not going to blog about that till I’m back and the whole thing’s over and done. (The face-to-face part, that is; the rest of the semester we’ll be doing the class online. And I’m rather looking forward to it. But more about that on Tuesday.)

Instead, I’m going to beef about Vegas roads. Why on earth did they choose to use bumps instead of painted lines for the lanes? I mean, I’m sure they thought they had a good reason for it, but they are so hard to see. It’s like having someone poking you in the eye the whole way along — and then when you get to some real painted lines, they feel so good and smooth and right. Heck, I almost want to just donate the paint to the city.

The traffic doesn’t bother me too much; in fact, it reminds me of my days as a missionary, driving in Bangkok. I probably have fewer angels protecting me now, though. Almost sideswiped a white hummer yesterday, but don’t tell my mom. The sunrises and sunsets are pretty beautiful, though, I’ve got to say, which kind of makes up for the dragon-breath heat. (Incidentally, it’s so hot here that in some places you can see where the asphalt melted and the tires left new tracks.) I don’t understand why anyone would want to live here. Why suffer? Why endure such a harsh, grueling climate unfit for humans? There’s plenty of land elsewhere. Me, if I don’t end up in Utah long-term, I’m going to move to either the East Coast or to Seattle or to England. Somewhere green, with as much rain as I can get. No desert, please, I’m on a diet. :P

An interlude

I leave in an hour or two for MLS seminar in Vegas (as I’ve recently mentioned). I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for blogging (or if I’ll even really have access to the Internet), so you may end up blessed with silence from this corner of the universe. At least until Tuesday when I get back. ;)

Comment issues

Hmm, WordPress marked three recent comments of y’all’s as spam, and I’m not sure why, seeing as there weren’t any links in them. They’re back up now, but until I figure out why it’s doing this, take this as a general rule: if you don’t see your comment up within a few hours (unless you posted it at night and I’m asleep :)), e-mail me and let me know so I can pull it out of the spam drain. Don’t worry, I’m not censoring anyone’s comments. :)

As a side note, I’m leaving for Vegas tomorrow to begin my master’s degree, and I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for Internet between then and Monday at midnight when I get back. (It’s an introductory seminar; the rest of my MLS is online.) If I do have time, I’ll make comment rescue operations my top priority so we don’t end up with severely disjointed threads. :)

The last time I was in Vegas was a year ago for my roommate’s wedding reception. (One of the few I’ve gone to. :)) And at the end of next month my sister’s having an open house there, after the main reception here at home. I really ought to just find a girl down there and head over to the Chapel O’ Love and end my season of singleness. Anyone know where the Vegas singles’ ward meets? :P

Beyond science fiction

One of my friends once said to me, “You know, chick flicks are more science fiction than science fiction.” In a way, it’s true. But let’s not forget that science fiction often becomes reality after a few decades. :) (Yes, yes, I realize that my argument holds no water.)

In other news, I’ve been updating the Blogs I Read page, and while it’s still not completely updated, I recommend swinging by there and visiting some of the blogs listed.

And tonight I’m going to go to bed early. (Lately it’s been exceedingly hard to get to bed before 11:30, which means I’ve been a walking zombie all week. Not good.)

Oh, wait, one last little tidbit: I’ve started digitizing the Joseph Smith as Scientist book (by John A. Widtsoe), and since it’s only 173 pages I don’t think it’ll take too long to clean up the text and then typeset it all nice an’ purty. I’ll put the text/HTML up on Riverglen Press too, and submit the text to Project Gutenberg.

End of the line

This’ll be really short. Everything’s hectic, wringing every last drop out of me like a clothesline in a tornado, and I’ve got three major projects to finish before tomorrow night when I leave for my family reunion. It’s times like this when I remember that “spread too thin” actually does mean something. Physically, I’m fizzled, getting nowhere near enough sleep. Mentally, my brain is creaking with all the stuff that has to get done, frantically trying to sort and re-sort my schedule to keep everything from falling through the cracks. Emotionally, I’m a guy, so I have no emotions. :P Just kidding. Spiritually, I just read John the Beloved’s account of the Crucifixion, and I remembered once again how much I love the New Testament, and I’m good. And I’m planning on studying Biblical Hebrew on the 15-hour drive to this reunion. And hopefully writing a play. (A play! I went to the New Play Project’s performance last night and it was brilliant! I left with my mind abuzz, so excited I was. But more on that later.) Right now I’m burning the midnight oil trying to finish typesetting a family cookbook in time to get it printed tomorrow before we leave. At least I’ll be able to catch up on my sleep on the long ride there.

And just for the record, if it looks like I’m complaining in any of this, I’m not; I’m just blabbing a description of what’s up in my life right now, kind of as an excuse for the more sporadic schedule of my posts lately. And because two full days without posting would be…well…so unlike me. :P

Flood the hood

[N.B. I originally started writing this intending for it to be precisely one line long. I got carried away. ~sigh~]

I’ll try to keep this post short, But brief I’m mostly not; Longwinded — that’s my true sort; Of words I have a lot.

This meter is psychotic, It’s driving me insane; Conveyor belt robotic Spewing words on every lane.

I’m like a fire hydrant Run amuck, I flood the hood; Benevolent word tyrant, Fill the world with verb’age good.

What I fear most is silence, Empty spaces, not a sound. The lesson learned from science Is that humans must resound!

Speak forth with participles past And gerunds not a few! The curtain’s down, your verbal cast Has work cut out to do.

Just say the words, your voice be heard, Or write them down — a verb! a noun! A waterfall at beck and call, And in your wake, a new wordquake!

Courting the muse

It’s 10:18 p.m. (late for me) and I’m sitting here at my keyboard, trying to think of something to blog about. Not that there’s a shortage of anything to write about — my list of blog post ideas on my personal wiki runs 218 items long right now. And there are a few I haven’t even added yet. Like a diatribe against modern fashion. Or how nature abhors a vacuum, and I abhor blank walls in my apartment. Or how Einstein’s e=mc2 paper is only a page long. Or about flicktion over on Flickr. Or how reading is like dreaming awake. Or about how much I loathe commercial advertising. Or how my favorite parts of the scriptures are the images and metaphors. Or how the wooden board I got for doing woodcuts looks like a scotcheroo (rice krispie treat with chocolate caramel on top) and I have to restrain myself from eating it. Or how difficult dating is when one doesn’t have a car, as is my case. Or how I got banned as a spammer by Gmail a few months ago, but only for a day. Or how I used to throw blankets on the ground as a kid and transform them into islands in my imagination, using them as battlefields and exploration grounds for my toys. Or how I write to-do lists on my hand. Or how good it feels to pull my socks up after they’ve wriggled down into wrinkles around my ankles. Or how missionaries have infiltrated the expletive “fetch” into Mexican society. Or how I can’t flirt with girls on campus for the rest of the summer because too many of the 14-year-old EFY girls look like they’re 22. Or how I just forgot to send in the rebate for my monitor and ended up paying $50 more than I needed to.

So now I’m wondering if I can cross all of those items off my list, or if any of them deserve a full post’s worth of verbiage. :)

Stream of subconsciousness

It’s one of those days where I’m not really sure what to write. I have a running list of dozens upon dozens of post ideas, of course, but usually one or two topics will push their way to the surface, begging for attention. Today, there’s nothing. Nothing sticks out as I skim over my list. Nothing is sitting on the edge of my mind, dangling its feet, growing heavier and heavier until I finally blog about it and free it to fly away to wherever ideas go once they’re born.

Instead, I stand on the rim of a void, a hungry abyss, and I have nothing to feed it. The lights are still out. No flicker, no candle, no flashlight to point me in the right direction, or even in the wrong direction. And so I crawl about in the tunnels of my mind, clawing out clods of sentences and hucking them up to the surface, distractedly hoping they make sense, imagining that someone panning them might find gold.

Deeper and deeper I go. I stopped by the botany pond on my way up to campus, sat on a bench, pulled out an Agatha Christie. It’s been over a decade since I last read one of her books. As soon as I began, however, a mental switch flipped: where before I had peace, now I knew there was something wrong, off-kilter, not quite right. That’s the assumption when you read a mystery, after all. It billowed out of the book and enveloped my real life, making me wonder when the thing — the ghastly, horribly wrong thing — would emerge and make itself visible. Dire possibility teetered on my mind.

And now I think I’m just tired and hungry. Luckily nothing bizarre has happened…yet. ;) I’ve come up with an idea for Script Frenzy, though, and I’ll be outlining it this week. And then come Friday, the frenzy will begin.

Line of sight

Every so often on campus I’ll see the surveying classes out on the quad south of the SWKT (Kimball Tower), doing their thing with the yellow tripods and notebooks. And every time I walk through the quad, I wonder two things: (1) are there lasers going through my head right now? and (2) doesn’t it mess things up when people walk through their line of sight?

Enter Ben’s world: these “surveyors” are actually intelligence agents doing brain scans of the BYU population, recording our memories and selling them to Madagascar. Because, as everyone knows, Madagascar is dangerous. Really dangerous. Last I heard they were in cahoots with Papua New Guinea, with some plan to take over Oceania and then work their way up to India and China. And when they have them, it’s all over for the rest of us. Two billion fighters. Pick up some nukes in Iran as they move towards Europe, and bing-ba-da-bing, please take your seats because Armageddon will be starting in a few minutes. There will be no intermission.

Okay, I obviously need some sleep. :) In the meantime, here’s a (hopefully rather disturbing) model from a 3D image I’ve been working on in Blender:

Surrounded Spider

I took the idea from Whimsy, and so far I’ve blocked out the scene (and this particular image is from a separate file used for modeling the spider/alien creatures, not the actual thing) and have begun modeling the bad guys. In fact, here’s a (really) quick render of the scene itself:


Very rough, as you can see. The scene has ended up going from whimsical to dark, so I’ve changed the title to “Surrounded.” I should be able to finish it within a week or two. Working in 3D is a lot of fun.

And now I’ve got to run home, as I’m going horseback riding in an hour.

The cardinal rule of blogging

With a number of readers starting up their own blogs lately, I’ve been thinking about what advice I could give. After all, it’s really easy to lose motivation if you don’t have many people reading or leaving comments. So, here’s what I consider to be the cardinal rule of blogging — the most important bit of advice I can give, and I think it’s what pushes bloggers off of the fragile beginning steps onto a solid foundation. It is this:

Write the blog you want to read.

In other words, what kind of blog would you most want to read? What posts are you interested in reading? What topics excite you? What style of writing hooks you and leaves you hungry for more? How often do you like to see new posts show up? How long do you like blog posts to be?

Take your answers to all those questions and make your blog like that. It’s got to come naturally, as part of who you are, or else you’ll lose interest and give up. It’s as simple as that.

But isn’t this an insincere, contrived way of going about it? Not really. It’s the way to stay true to yourself. For example, I’m often tempted to blog about things that will generate lots of comments — controversial warheads that will obviously erupt — even if I’m not necessarily interested in the topic. Do not sell out! It’s hard, true, but if you’re not interested in something, don’t write about it. Only write what interests you. If you do this, writing your blog will be a joy, a delightful hobby you’ll return to again and again as it satisfies a need deep inside of you. If you let others dictate your agenda, you’ll feel empty, shallow, and exhausted. To thine own self be true…

I don’t mean that you ought to neglect your audience, of course. But the most important thing really is to write what you want to read. If you’re just pandering to the crowd, it’ll be painfully obvious. Be yourself, and your audience will find you. It may be small at first, but keep at it and eventually it will blossom beyond your expectations. Don’t give up!

(For more blogging tips, see “Ben’s Bylaws of Blogging” and “The Royal Road to Readership”. And if you’d like to get started, head on over to “What’s a Blog?” and scroll down to the bottom.)

A birthday party

Top of the Mountains turns two years old today. It’s come a long way, I think, from those first baby-step posts to where we are now, with over eighty readers. Thanks, everyone! It wouldn’t be the same without you. :)

As befits a nostalgic post like this one, I thought I’d go through some of my posts over these past two years and bring ’em back to life. Not every month is represented, and some months have far more than others. Oh well. :) Here goes:

First post, March 18, 2005: Germanic languages.

May 2005: Elder Oaks’ talk on dating. In Bookworms Anonymous I said I found it hard to make time to read. Well, since then I’m happy to report I’ve fixed the problem. If anything I’ve gone too far in the opposite direction. ;)

September 19, 2005: my decision to become a librarian.

October 2005: Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled.

November 2005: my first (and last) vlog post.

January 2006: LibraryThing, watching the Joseph Smith movie for the first time, and what I want most.

February 2006: Poisons and Paradise, about entertainment choices.

March 2006: why I dress the way I do, my stake president’s counsel to avoid MySpace and Facebook, and how my laptop died (and I still haven’t gotten a new one, almost a year later :)).

April 2006: Orson Scott Card’s essay on homosexuality, and a link to my Beyond project (genealogy software), which has been hibernating for a while now but once I graduate I’ll have time to resurrect it.

May 2006: heavenly autographs, censorship, Sabbath sports, passion, dating, and seven reasons to study the classics.

June 2006: fairy stories, War in Heaven, my decision not to kiss till the altar, blogging advice, my encounter with President Hinckley, and an ode to Taco Bell.

July 2006: why I’m not an English major, the law of consecration, reading Grimm in German, Jane Austen, and infatuation.

August 2006: more on blogging, modesty, evolution, classics, cooking, leaps of faith, conspiracy theories, and my reader’s edition of the Book of Mormon,

September 2006: attraction, optimism (this one was actually about a girl), random observations, and Mormon literature.

October 2006: our refined heavenly home, awkward moments, more on dating, the campaign for real beauty, search terms people found my blog with, and the beginning of my photography career.

November 2006: languages, mythopoeia, photography, freeing the OED, Richard Dutcher’s apostasy, invisible children, the origin of my surname, and Santa Claus.

December 2006: Here, There Be Dragons, excellence in school, and the digital divide.

January 2007: food storage, being educated, homeschooling myths, the third installment of My Favorite Things, black Mormons, and photobooks.

February 2007: memorizing the Lady of Shalott, the Word of Wisdom, and the digital revolution.

And we’ll leave it at that, since this month’s posts are still fresh.

Email subscriptions

For those of you who don’t use a feedreader (and if you haven’t ever used one, I recommend trying Google Reader), you can now subscribe to this blog via e-mail. Just enter your e-mail address in the textbox in the sidebar (as you can see in the picture below) and hit “Subscribe.”


Voila! Thanks to Feedburner for this e-mail subscription service.

A slightly boring post

Ho, hum, what shall I write today? It doesn’t really matter — I just have to get that last post off the top of the page. Well, it’s President’s Day. I spent the morning reading through a bunch of books on 3D art and matte painting. Then I trekked up here to the library and have been doing homework. And cloth simulation in Blender. And replying to a few e-mails here and there.

Wait, that’s a journal entry, not a blog post. :P Hmm, let me think of something poignant to say, something earthshaking, something that will change every soul who reads it. Not that I’m putting undue pressure on myself or anything. :)

Forget it. I can’t think of anything else to say right now (well, I can, but my sister’s picking me up in a few minutes and there’s not enough time to give any topic due coverage). You can go look at my latest photos, I guess. I’ll have dozens more up tomorrow once I get to the lab and Photoshop them into submission.

Here’s a stapler:


The digital revolution

We’re in the middle of a revolution. You may have noticed it going on, but do you realize how important it is? I’m talking about the democratization of the media.

Traditionally, the media have been authoritative, top-down beasts — newspapers, radio stations, television networks, movie studios, book publishers, and so on. They’re still there, but no longer do they have a monopoly. The people now have a voice.

For example, where in the past you had to get published through a publisher or a newspaper, now you can start writing a blog immediately, for free, and you’re in complete control of what you say. Radio? Try podcasts. Television and movies? Try YouTube. Books? Try Lulu and Blurb.

I don’t think that the old media will go away anytime soon. Polish and professionalism are good things. But the new media — us — has a voice that grows louder with each new blog and podcast and home video and photobook. It’s a wonderful new world out there, where people can express themselves creatively through a wide variety of options that were out of reach for most people even just five years ago.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Let your voice be heard.

Only one

You know it’s been cold when you think 23 degrees is warm. :) It has been warmer lately, especially during the day, and it’s lovely. Soon I’ll be able to downgrade from my heavy winter coat back to my usual jacket, and then eventually I won’t need even that. That will be in September. :P

I started reading A Tale of Two Cities this afternoon at the recommendation of a friend. And I just checked out Gilead, which also looks to be quite good. (I hope you’re reading this, Anna. :)) I’ll still keep going with Pickwick, though, mainly because I learned today that it was Dickens’ first novel and he was only 24. Twenty-four! I’m almost twenty-four. Where’s my first novel? Hmm, yes, back to the drawing board. It’s exhilarating to realize that young authors — Mary Shelley was only nineteen when she penned Frankenstein — can write works of such depth. It’s also a call to action, at least for me. Writing in this blog is nice, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon, but it’s more of a scratchpad. In contrast, I feel like I need to start writing more “real” pieces — polished, revised, and solid. You know — essays, stories, poetry, things I could get published.

Anyway, I only got five hours of sleep last night, and only three guys showed up to the elders quorum genealogy lesson I taught this morning, and only one…hmm…there’s got to be something that there’s only one of. Only one obstacle remains. Only one can take the ring back to Mordor. Only one more semester. Only one ever pulled it off. Only one hope survived. Bah, forget it.

I think I really need sleep. :)

In the beginning

Reading and writing are my lifeblood. I keep forgetting that, but over the past few days I’ve realized just how much I need them. It’s when I read that I often feel truly alive, for example. I don’t think that living needs to be done in books, but reading somehow wakes me out of my reverie and opens my eyes, preparing me to live fully. It’s a very real difference. And when I read, I get more excited about life in general, have more confidence, and find myself looking for the magic in life. (It’s there, if you’re looking for it.)

Writing has a similar effect on me. I don’t think I can adequately describe how lovely it is to craft sentences. I can’t not write. And while I’m still not terrifically good, I’m sure that with another decade or two of practice, I’ll be good. Writing letters is one of the most fun things I do. (And no, I don’t know why I often take forever to reply to e-mails. It’s a paradoxical mystery and I haven’t yet found the solution. But I’m still looking.) Almost always I emerge from an hour or two’s worth of replying to letters feeling invigorated and alive. It’s great.

Summing all this up both in one word, we arrive at: books. Books are my life. (Well, after God and the Savior and my religion and my family and my friends and such.) It’s as if I were made for books, and they for me. It’s only when I read (and read a lot) that I feel fully in line with who I need to be. It’s only when I write that I understand myself and my relation to God. In the beginning was the Word. I can’t live without the Word.

Rats, this prose is anything but sparkling. But I’ve got to run (lots of Latin to translate before tomorrow), so let me wrap things up really quickly, and apologies for the rather bland post this time. The next one will be spicier. I hope. :)

The Blank Slate Network

It’s funny how the stuff you write years ago can become so embarrassing. I’ve been going through Blank Slate, sweeping the dust under the (lush oriental) rug, tidying the front hallway so it doesn’t look like the shambles it’s become, and it’s almost painful to read what I wrote way back then. So…cheesy. ~sigh~ Quite embarrassing, really. Yet another reason why I really need to revamp the whole site, and soon. I’d planned on doing it over this break, but I’ve ended up spending most of my free time reading (and it’s been wonderful!), so it’ll either have to wait till midterms :) or till I graduate in April. Considering that it’s been nine months since I did much of anything with the site, April might not be such a long ways away after all.

Upon further inspection, I see that I put a link to my resume (er, résumé) on the front page, which resume happens to have my phone number and address. Maybe that’s not such a good idea… (But so far only one person has contacted me because of it, and he was trying to offer me a job. No stalkers yet. And don’t even think about it.) I wish ours was a world in which we didn’t have to worry about identity theft and all that, but it is. (Speaking of which, I have a fairly, um, extensive online presence. Someone could do a masterful job at pretending to be me, based on the online Ben corpus. But I should stop giving people ideas. ~sigh~)

Anyway, I’m going to try to pull my(web)self together and figure out what my (too many) websites’ roles should be. Here’s kind of what I have so far:

Blank Slate. My first website (since July 2000), and my only one till about two years ago. Right now it’s a hodge-podge assortment of my writing, my art, my music, my etexts, and links, all of it several years old at best. I still call it my personal website, but since I rarely update it, Top of the Mountains is the one I give out instead. Option A would be to really make it my personal website, making Top of the Mountains an LDS/Mormon-themed blog instead of my catch-all. It would then become a blog. The art will move to no matter what; the writing and music would probably stay. The etexts would move to Riverglen Press. Option B would be to make this a creativity blog, turning Top of the Mountains into my real personal website (and moving the writing and music and such over there). I don’t care so much about the links anymore — especially since most of them are no doubt stale by now — and so they could go.

Top of the Mountains. My main blog. Thus far it’s been about everything except art/design, genealogy, and coding. See above for possible changes. My art/graphic design blog. I need to move my gallery over from Blank Slate (and include my latest work).

Riverglen Press. My bookmaking venture. It’ll stay, of course, but I’ll probably move my etexts from Blank Slate to here, since it’s more fitting. Any of my graphic design work that ends up as PDF will go here as well, though I’ll probably include images in the gallery.

Beyond. My genealogy software R&D blog. It’s staying the way it is.

Footprints from the Past. My own genealogy research. I see it as more of a family site, but considering that a number of other people are stumbling across it, it’s a good way to collaborate on genealogy. (Not ideal, but still good.)

Outside the Box. Considering how often I (don’t) write about coding, this blog is getting close to the guillotine. I have too many sites as it is; one more only makes things more hectic. This one will probably disappear. But I do plan on starting a library-themed blog when I start library school. Will this blogmaking never end?!? ;)

As a whole, I’ve been working on a logo for the five main sites — Top of the Mountains,, Blank Slate, Riverglen Press, and Beyond — that unifies them somewhat. (Footprints from the Past is more peripheral.) I’m using hacker emblem, which is a glider from Conway’s Game of Life. (Which, incidentally, was a favorite pastime of mine when I was younger.) Here’s the general idea, with only two of the individual site logos in place (though I reserve the right to change them at will :)):

Blank Slate Network

It still needs a lot of work, though.

Anyway, don’t feel bad if most of this post is tremendously boring. :)

There, Here Be Dragons

I need to be more careful what I write.

Ten days ago I blogged about Here, There Be Dragons when I was a third of the way through the book, and then two days later again when I finished it. Originally I said I liked it, then decided I didn’t like it quite as much as I’d thought.

And then last night the author left a comment on the first post.

Suddenly I feel bad about my critique in the second post. Not that the problems evaporated instantly or anything, but now there’s a real, live person attached to the book, whereas it was just a name before. It’s interesting how I’ve found myself re-evaluating my stance on the book, trying to find some way to like it. Very interesting. (Just kidding about the needing to be more careful, by the way. I needed a catchy opening line. :))

Having authors on the loose in the blogosphere does make for a new dynamic, you know — the things I write suddenly seem terribly transparent and exposed — but that’s a good thing. And it is an honor to have the author comment on one’s blog. (I bet the Harry Potter fans among us would have a heart attack for joy if J.K. Rowling left a comment on their blog. :P) It’s also good to think of these authors as real, breathing humans rather than just names, because authors are people too. :) I suppose the reason it’s hard for me is that most of the authors I read are already dead. If you mostly read contemporary lit, however, it’s likely to not be a problem.

Anyway, here’s my re-evaluation of the book in light of this experience. You’ll notice a shift in attitude. Or maybe you wouldn’t have, but now that I’ve said it, you will. :)

Problem #1 — no depth — remains. Granted, there was a lot of ground to cover plotwise, and it’s not like there wasn’t any character development at all, but I’d hoped for more. And with any luck that’ll start to happen in the second book. I do remember reading somewhere that Mr. Owen said we oughtn’t judge the characters based on this book alone because things will change.

As for problem #2 — tone — I finished Charmed Life (by Diana Wynne Jones, a British author) last night and loved it. Towards the end of the book I had one of those metamoments where I realized I liked the tone, and I thought back to HTBD, and then to other books, and I’m left wondering if I really do have an extremely strong predilection toward British authors. (Mr. Owen is American, by the way.) If this is indeed the case, then problem #2 is probably more a matter of my personal taste rather than any defect in the book itself. Perhaps I’m expecting a British tone — because of my own favorites — when that’s not really fair to the book or the author. (And yes, I’m quite aware that this could mean I won’t like my own books. :P)

Problem #3 — the physical appearance of the book — is Simon and Schuster more than Mr. Owen, so I’ll discard that for now.

This whole thing reminds me of a story I read a few days ago in Meridian Magazine:

The story is told of a woman that loved to read. From her earliest childhood memories, she loved books and reading. As a young woman she had made an oath with herself that she would finish any book she began; she would read it cover to cover. One afternoon she settled into her favorite chair with a book from an author she had never read before. Before the hour was up she knew she did not like the book. Perhaps the worst book she had ever read. Vowing to keep her oath, she labored the next several days to finish. Once done, she shoved the volume on a high shelf in her library declaring it trite, silly and very boring; without purpose or merit. Indeed the worst book she had ever read. A short time later she found herself at a fashionable social gathering. The finest in the community were in attendance. She soon found herself in a conversation with a man she had never met before. She found him amusing, articulate, well read and very interesting. Perhaps one of the finest persons she had ever met. Sometime into the conversation he asked if she had ever read the book she had recently dismissed as nearly unreadable. Measuring her words carefully she answered yes, she had. With delight he introduced himself as the author, then devoted the remainder of the conversation to her and her life pursuits. That night she went home and rescued his book from the dust and clutter of the top shelf and began to read. The beauty of the prose, the depth of the characters and the wisdom of the story quickly took her in. She read through the night, unable to stop. She finished reading as the light of morning broke through her windows. She found a prominent space in the library and placed the book in it; then declared, that without a doubt, that this was the finest book she had ever read.

While I certainly don’t think Here, There Be Dragons was the worst book I ever read — not even close — I do think that perhaps I need to give it a second chance. If any of you have read it (or start reading it), leave your comments below.

And goodness, this post ended up being a lot longer than I intended. :)

Ten days of Christmas

I just finished my last paper of the semester. All that’s left is a final in my Middle English class tomorrow afternoon. And considering that the midterm took me ten minutes, I’m not too worried. :)

Here’s a hodgepodge smattering of items I’ve been meaning to blog about:

  1. Whenever I use a photocopier and have more than one document to copy, I find myself driven to try to put the next document in before the motor dies down. If I fail, it’s almost like I’ve lost the Olympics. Okay, not really. But there is some kind of small joy when I’m fast enough to press “Start” just as the last sheet of the previous document comes out.

  2. Lately I’ve been wearing boots because of the ice — my dress shoes have zero traction — but I’ve not exactly been a fan. The boots are heavy and give me blisters, and my socks always slip down and get all crumpled up underneath my feet as I walk. (I’m the type of person who likes his socks pulled up all the way.) But today I decided to throw caution to the wind and wear my shoes anyway. It’s still pretty slippery outside, but the penguin waddle is serving me well.

  3. It’s interesting how “going through the temple” and “going to the temple” have different meanings to us Latter-day Saints. (The first means receiving one’s own endowment; the second means everything else.)

  4. Speaking of the Church, I’m thinking about making Blank Slate my personal blog, and turning this one into an LDS/Mormon-themed blog. If any of you oddly happen to have an opinion about this, let me know. :)

  5. Again speaking of the Church, I’ve run across the Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon blog a few times in the past, but it wasn’t till now that I subscribed. It’s great. I recommend reading the post on how it all got started. I’d like to do something like this, but there are admittedly few opportunities here at BYU. Smith’s is about the only place I go where I’d have a chance…

  6. I’m taking Latin poetry next semester, and we’ll be reading Vergil’s Aeneid, so I ordered my copy online and it came a few days ago. And I’ve started reading it. Mmm, it’s good. :) (And erk, my Latin’s really rusty.)

  7. Monday morning at 1:00 a.m., my roommate came in the room and closed the door but left the lights off. I promptly sat up, propped myself on my elbow, scrambled to find my glasses, pulled my Bible off the desk, and began “reading” Isaiah. I was half asleep, mind you, although my eyes were open. After a couple of minutes of this I realized that my roommate was still standing near the door, just standing there. “And just what do you think you’re doing?” I said in an extremely snobby voice (or at least that’s my recollection of it from my dreamlike state). “I was just trying to see if you were awake or not.” “Of course I am,” I replied, “I do this every night.” And then I put the Bible back and took off my glasses and fell asleep again. The crazy thing (well, the whole thing’s kind of crazy) is that I honestly thought I was making sense of reading, even though all I could see was the amorphous blob of a page. Add sleepreading to my repertoire.

  8. Speaking of my roommate, something bizarre has gotten into him and he’s growing a mustache. It honestly looks like a caterpillar crawled up on his face and died there. Mustaches are so 80s. What’s with this drive to grow facial hair out whenever there’s a break from school?

  9. Delegation is a good thing, right? So why should I feel guilty when I delegate something to a future me? ;)

  10. For that last paper I mentioned at the beginning, I read Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest.” (Rats, do I use quotes or italics for plays? I can never remember…) It’s interesting. I haven’t read many plays lately, but I’m going to head to the library later and start, because I like ’em a lot.

Light at the end of the tunnel

It’s that time of the year again. Brimful of stress, pounding headache, welcome to panic mode. :) That was a sardonic smiley-face, by the way. ~sigh~ I’ll probably still blog regularly, as it’s a nice outlet, but I can’t guarantee anything. The next two weeks will be rough riding. I can’t wait for the end. :)

Over Christmas break I’m planning on gutting and remodeling all of my websites from the ground up. Quality will increase. Life will be good. I’ve just got to survive till the end of finals…


I made a cursory attempt to upgrade to WordPress 2.0.5 earlier this morning. Failed. It would get stuck loading the front page, randomly, and so I decided to leave it as-is for now. (Though the interesting thing is that the little sparkline plugin for the stats went haywire and started pumping error messages into the logfile at about one megabyte per second. I naturally started getting worried, because it wouldn’t take long for all my server space to fill up. I removed the logfile and yet it kept growing. So, I SSHed in, ran “ps ax” to get a process list, and found seven processes (“/usr/bin/php wsparkstats.php”) still going. Killed them all and the übergrowth stopped and life is good. But I digress.)

On second thought, however, I’ve been planning on migrating to Mephisto anyway, so it would almost be a waste of time to worry about upgrading WordPress. I just need to set aside a day for pulling it all together. Why Mephisto? It’s on Rails, and it’s lightweight and nice. And let’s not forget customizability. (Which is one of the reasons I want a CMS that uses Rails instead of PHP; I’d much rather code in Ruby. :)) Mephisto has come along far enough that there really isn’t any reason not to switch.

Silent smile

Today seems to be a blogging day. :) (I have yet one more post I wanted to write today, but I’ll save it till tomorrow.)

Two things. First, the BYU forum on Tuesday will be about C.S. Lewis (Jean Bethke Elshtain is speaking), and I’ll be giving the closing prayer. 11:05 a.m., and you can watch it at the BYUTV website.

Second, every once in a while I’ll skim through the server logs and chuckle at the searches that land people here. For example (and these are verbatim!):

  • “peanut butter and jelly” sustain OR survive
  • kissing feels different to me lips awkward
  • what does an “itchy elbow” mean
  • two ideas about weightlifting that persist to the day
  • I wear a shirt and tie all the time

Popular searches? “byu date ideas” (or “byu dating ideas” or “provo date ideas”) comes up a lot. Maybe I should put dating ideas on here. :) “horse food” is also popular, for reasons quite unknown to me.

It’s intriguing to try to reconstruct the story behind some of the searches. “painting of a man on top of a mountain with hair” was probably from a bald chap. “experts opinion eating rice and beans everyday” indicates that someone is planning a trip to South America. With “how to sing in msn with gmail” we have an American Idol wannabe. “general conference we thank thee oh god for a prophet” is, in my estimation, someone looking for an account of the Sunday afternoon session of general gonference, where everyone stood up during the song and wept.

More funny searches (parenthetical comments in italics):

  • weirdness and absurdity (fitting, somehow :))
  • good accomplishments with soup
  • how to draw a the curves of a mountain with photoshop?
  • tarzan having kissing jane
  • “lollipop gang” photo
  • literary crushes (you mean it’s not only me? ;))
  • devotion apple eye women’s
  • stone soup lesson plans with jelly beans
  • does soup stone really exists (yes, Virginia, it does)
  • leon and “amy kass” married name (huh?)
  • silent smile (I just found the title for this post :))
  • ode to taco bell
  • enchirito not the same
  • what does a mullet haircut look like
  • what is on the top of mountains (I am!) (In a less joking way, there’s a lot of deeper truth in those two words…)
  • What kind of weather is on top of the mountains?
  • what started the war in heaven
  • why did man evolve from apes
  • oddities woman with cook
  • why does stomach grumble (static interference from nuclear power plants, probably)
  • Pet Tarantula Tapping on Glass
  • granted that participle (come again?)
  • bathroom floor black slug insects (maybe this is a more common thing than I expected)
  • baby slugs bathroom
  • lds belt buckle
  • osculation sin
  • people should censor fatal attraction
  • the prophets opinion on Stick it a pg-13 rated movie
  • twenty four foot truck (what if it’s only 23 feet?)
  • what makes your microphone make no sound anywhere in cs
  • semantic web of the story Tarzan

Warm fuzzies and some not-so-funny searches:

  • goodbye to an old friend
  • what it means when a guy and girl hold hands
  • lds anger management
  • boyfriend kissing lds make sure spirit
  • pre marriage advice for lds couples
  • what does Gordon B. Hinckley say about Myspace?
  • what is appropriate to do on the Sabbath
  • why your spouse would kiss someone else
  • what to do in awkward moments
  • “be attracted to my wife”
  • what to do about insecurities
  • good spiritual apologies to a women for hurting them
  • inappropriate kissing between father and daughters
  • Reporting sexual abuse of spouse in lds church


I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who reads this blog, especially those who comment. Writing it is deliciously fun. In fact, it’s so fun that I struggle each day with the temptation to just write, write, and write some more, instead of doing homework. And it’s a delight to see new comments pop up here and there.

Moral of this post: blogs are fun. You can have fun too. If you don’t have a blog yet, start one! (Check out or Blogger.) Let me know if you do. :)

Anyway, I need to make my way home and go to bed, because I’ve been falling asleep in class for the past few days. Buh-bye for today.

Google Reader

Google released a new version of Google Reader yesterday. Since I’ve been somewhat less than satisfied with Bloglines lately (for some of my folders it refuses to show new articles unless I open the whole folder, and I’ve never really liked the look), I decided to try Google Reader out.

Google Reader

It’s prettier than I expected! :) Definitely aesthetic enough to not grate on my nerves (at least not too much). More importantly, it works quite well, and (of course) it fits in with the rest of the Googleverse. The keyboard shortcuts are there, and you can star and tag and share posts, and overall I’m impressed.

Granted, I’ve only been playing around with it for fifteen or twenty minutes, but I’m liking it. Goodbye, Bloglines. And yes, there are a few things about Google Reader that clashed with my previous conceptions of how an aggregator should act, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now; perhaps their way is better. (They were right about Gmail’s searching v. folders, I’ll say!)

So for all of you who’ve been using Bloglines (or haven’t been using an aggregator yet), try Google Reader!

Nine for mortal men

I find that when I’m not quite sure what to post about, I decide to write a string with several beads of topics on it. And that’s what I’ll do today. :)

  1. Writing in this blog, or writing e-mails for that matter, is a lot more fun than doing homework. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. :) Oh, that reminds me — there’s something tremendously satisfying about writing e-mails (including handwritten letters as well) that isn’t quite present when blogging. Perhaps it’s because I have a clearer picture of my audience, or because I don’t feel the need to be quite so careful about what I say (since private letters aren’t archived by Google for all the world to read), or because there’s more back-and-forth (though you get some of that through comments).

  2. Dr. Bruce L. Edwards spoke to us today (a Nan Osmond Grass lecture), and it was quite good. The more I learn about Lewis and Tolkien and the rest, the more I feel like they’re kindred spirits, like I would’ve gotten along just fine with them were I alive back then. WHY DID I HAVE TO BE BORN SO LATE?!?!? ;) No, really, one of the things Dr. Edwards said that stuck with me (among the many) was that Lewis said to Tolkien something like, “Well, the stories we like to read aren’t being written, so we’ll have to write them ourselves.” That’s what I ought to start doing…

  3. Speaking of writing, I keep trying to write poetry and songs but I’m failing miserably. And I think I know why: I haven’t been reading any poetry or studying any songs. If I’m not immersed in the form, I’m going to run into trouble trying to create within it. I don’t think it always holds true, but I sense that’s the reason why. So, I’ll start gulping down large draughts of Wordsworth and company and see if that helps.

  4. Going along with the writing theme, I was reading The Art of Fiction last night and stumbled across a passage where Gardner basically says that the third-person limited point of view is a bad choice (along with everything other than third-person omniscient). Looking back on the fiction I’ve written, most of it has been either first-person or 3rd-limited. Hmm. I’ll try 3rd-omniscient in my next story and see how it turns out.

  5. For my forensic linguistics class, we have to read some trial transcripts, and I decided to read the transcripts from the DOJ v. Microsoft case (so far just the cross-examination of Gosling). Fascinating stuff, really. I’ve never really read court transcripts before but I think I’ve found a new hobby. :)

  6. In the same class, the professor talked about the reason why talking on a cell phone while driving is more dangerous than talking with someone who’s in the car with you: apparently your brain subconsciously tries to construct a second reality of the speaker, based on the various auditory clues you get from them. I think it’s true, too; we try to imagine what the other person is doing, their facial expressions and body language (which we can’t get from the phone alone). Constructing this internal video stream takes processor power, so to speak. :)

  7. Every week I put together a “Dating Corner” for my ward, listing what’s going on each night of the week (Monday through Saturday) that are possible date activities — plays, concerts, sporting events, etc. I’m starting to get requests from people out of the ward, and so I’m thinking about throwing together a little website to host them (it’ll be for Provo/Orem, of course), complete with e-mail notifications, RSS feeds, and user submissions. We’ll see. :)

  8. After reading Edward Tufte’s book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, I wanted to read his other two books (Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations). Naturally, I checked on my university library’s website. “Due date: 11/24/2006.” Darn, I thought to myself, some professor’s got ’em. This was back in June or July. A little over a month ago, I decided to put them on hold. Imagine my glee when I got a notice saying they’d come in (having been recalled from the prof). So I picked them up but hadn’t really started reading them. Then, last week, I got an e-mail saying they’d been recalled and I’d have to return them by the 27th! The war was on. :) Actually, being somewhat of the peaceful type, I read them both by the 27th and returned them on time. But I’m really, really tempted to recall them again. :)

  9. I think I’m getting sick. ~sigh~ My roommate’s been sick, as have two co-workers and a few classmates. Let’s just hope it’s nothing long and worn out. (But if it is, hooray for long days of reading ahead! ;P)

And no, I don’t think I’m doomed to die, at least not yet.

Social capital

I’m watching Robert Putnam give a forum address on social capital right now — how social networks benefit not only those in the network but also those outside it. He’s using choral societies and bowling groups and barbeque parties and such as examples of social networks, and I can’t help but wonder how much of this extends to social networks on the Internet. What kind of social capital arises out of Flickr and MySpace and and the rest?

I’d write more but I want to get back to listening. :)

Give me a mullet, please

I’ve finally gotten around to implementing a mullet-style layout on the front page and a long-tail archive. Here’s what the mullet looks like, as you can also see by going to the main page:


What it does is display the full text of the first five articles, then display short 30-word excerpts for the next 20. That’s an extra 15 articles on the front page, taking up the same amount of space (probably less!).

Extending the same idea to the archive:

Long-Tail Archive

Thanks to Jonathan Boutelle for the original idea, Kapil Mohan for the mullet code, and Gopalarathnam for the long-tail archive code.

And just for the record, I’d never wear a mullet-style haircut. Ever. :)

The sidebar groove

As you may’ve noticed if you read the blog directly instead of through an aggregator, I’ve been messing around with the sidebar. It’s still way too long, though, but a thorough fix will have to wait till I redo the entire design. (And possibly switch to Mephisto.) I’m thinking of moving both the Archives and the Categories lists into dropdown boxes, which will save a ton of space. I’m debating the merits of having Contact Me, My Sites, New Bookmarks, Flickr, and LibraryThing on the sidebar — they really could go in an About Me page or something like that. Hmm… Oh, I’ve also bumped up the number of recent comments displayed to 10 (from seven).

At least now the sidebar looks the same on both Firefox and Internet Explorer, which wasn’t the case before. (IE didn’t support the special list bullets.) The new look sort of reminds me of Subtraction, though I certainly wasn’t thinking of Khoi’s site when I put this together.


Today I want to talk about change. Two cents, to be precise. Or non cents, depending on your perspective.

But really, I’m in the middle of a passionate love/hate relationship with Change. On the one hand, I loathe it, since I’m very much a creature of habit (as y’all may have noticed), and it’s nice for my snug little world to stay just the way it is. I don’t like goodbyes. (Unless we get to sing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” :P) Sticking with my current job is saving me from a lot of goodbyes, and life will stay roughly the same for the next school year. At least that’s the plan. :) I love my current calling (executive secretary) and would love to keep it till I get married and move out of the ward. (I’ve decided that the only thing that’ll get me to move out is marriage. I’ll probably be here a while. ;))

On the other hand, though (and you’ll have to tell me whether it’s the right or the left, or maybe even the big; the small got broken last week), I love change. I thrive on meeting new people, adapting to new situations and technologies, and carving different pathways. Change is exciting, fun, and challenging. If there’s something better out there, I’m usually all for switching. With computers, for example, I was originally a DOS/Windows guy, then I switched to Linux for eight years, and a year and a half ago I converted to Mac. And I would get bored if I never started reading new books.

I think change is one of those waves of life where it’s good and healthy to go back and forth between loving it and hating it. Of course, that in and of itself is change.

Okay, so today I guess I’m struggling to come up with something good to write about. Sorry. :) Thanks for all the comments lately, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to reply to most of them. Incidentally, the total number of comments exceeded the number of posts not too long ago (491 to 465 as of this post). Shall we try to hit 1000 by the end of the year? ;)

Anyway, my talk went well. Usually before public speaking or anything like unto it, my heartrate quadruples and I have to swallow a lot and I get a semi-queasy feeling. But the last few times I’ve spoken in church, I’ve felt surprisingly calm. But only in church. (Though admittedly my throat dries up about ten seconds after I start talking — I need to start requesting cups of water… :)) And I have to have a podium to hide behind. If it’s just me up there, I feel awfully vulnerable. Not that I really expect anyone to start chucking fruit at me, nor would I need to begin practicing dodging flaming arrows. (But that would be a pretty darn cool story. Someday…)

Finally, when I mentioned my Book of Mormon project to a girl at church today, she said, “Every time I talk with you I feel sooooo unproductive.” I don’t think she meant it in a bad way, but it got me thinking. I certainly hope I don’t give anyone guilt trips from reading this — on the contrary, I hope y’all can catch some of the zest and excitement and go off and do amazing things. I wish no one felt unproductive. If I inadvertently cause that, I’m sorry. (The best way to cure that is for you to go do something productive, I guess. :P) I must admit, though, that a healthy drive akin to obsessive compulsion does help out a bit. :)

That’s enough for today. I’m going up to my family’s for dinner. (Yes, real food. Mmm. :))

My bed and me

Last night I watched Persuasion and rather enjoyed it — very real (crumbs on the table, convincing character traits, etc.). But the latter half was more of a struggle to get through, as I realized I was starting to feel queasy. “You’re just tired,” I told myself. “Be a man.” So I made it through the rest of the movie, feeling ready to throw up at any moment, and walked home.

Went to bed immediately, as there’s no point in staying up when you know your next action may very well be to empty the contents of your stomach all over the place. And then, at 1:45 a.m., I woke up and went you-know-where and did just that (except that “all over the place” happened to be merely “inside the toilet”).

I don’t want to get into too much detail, but the one thing I hate about it is the lack of control, how it keeps coming right when you need to breathe. If it weren’t for that part, I wouldn’t mind it so much. Okay, enough of that. I never really thought I’d be blogging about this. :)

Following my little escapade, I returned to my boudoir :) and promptly fell asleep. Woke up dozens of times over the next few hours, finally giving up at 8 a.m.

And now I’m trying to figure out if I really am sick and should stay in bed, or at least at home, or if I’m well enough to go up to work and try to finish the Thai hymnbooks and Project Cumorah. If only I had my laptop, this would be a moot point. ~sigh~ If I am sick, it’s not the end of the world — twelve hours of reading lie ahead :) ~drool~ — but it would be nice to make some headway on those projects, and my five-year high school reunion is this evening.

Even if I am sick, I’m not going to stay bedridden like I did for a week this past April. It drove me crazy. I can’t stand it.

Well, at least I don’t have leprosy or ebola. :)

A call to arms

From the More Good Foundation blog, I found this e-mail from Larry Richman. He’s the project manager for Excellent. :)

I have started a blog at to share information with Webmasters of LDS sites and other interested people about changes on Church Web sites. It will also contain general information about the Web and ideas on how individuals can appropriately use the Internet to share the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I intend to blog about technology as well as practical examples of how to use the Web. This blog is not an official publication of the Church. I bear sole responsibility for the information and opinions expressed in this blog. I welcome you to visit the blog, leave your comments on the various posts, subscribe to it, or link to its posts. Larry Richman, Director Internet Coordination Group

On his post Why Use The Internet?, Larry raises some good questions that all members should be asking themselves. How are we using the Internet to further the work of the Lord? I’ve been asking myself that for several years now. Sure, I’ve done various things to help, but I’m sure there’s more. I want there to be more.

One girl found my testimony on Blank Slate several years ago and started investigating the gospel. After corresponding with me for a few months, she started meeting with the missionaries and got baptized about six months later. I left on my mission a while after that and didn’t hear from her for some time, until one day I got her wedding invitation — she was getting married in the Cardston Temple. :)

There’s so much filth out there on the Internet, but each of us can build on the mountain of good, standing for truth and goodness and love and hope and everything we cherish.