Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Accessorizing Wages

Through circumstances too complex to recount, I became acquainted with a glass mosaic artist in Binghamton (whose website you can check out here). The substrate upon which she and her students create their mosaics is MDF--medium density fiberboard. My educated guess is that it's composed of sawdust from mills that has been pressed together with light glue. (When one applies a motorized blade to it, the sawdust created is a very fine powder.)

Occasionally this artist's students take on projects whose size exceeds her normal MDF resources. And in the past when she's had to farm out for bigger MDF frames, she has ordered from Rochester or points farther away. But in conversation one day she discovered that I do a little tinkering in the wood shop, and asked if I would be able to craft larger-than-standard frames from MDF for her students. Excited about the idea of the challenge, I told her I would.

Thus over the last year and a half I've done a couple of odd jobs making MDF frames for mosaic art. In doing so I've had to learn how to use a router, and specifically how to rout both a straight line and a (near) perfect circle. I also had to figure out how to transport a 3-foot-by-5-foot frame in a vehicle clearly not designed for the transport of large pieces of art.

It's another diversion from the beaten path, and I end up with some handy scraps of MDF when I'm done. Thanks to Bobby for letting me use the shop, and to Mike for tolerating my sawdust!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Back to Basics

In high school our English teacher taught us what he purported to be the basics of journalism: answer the questions "Who?" "What?" "When?" "Where?" "Why?" and "How?" Doing so, by observation or by interview of witnesses, will accomplish the goal of the reporter. This seemed simple enough to me at the time, and I have held on to these questions as the approach I expect from reporters, journalists, and interviewers I encounter in the media today.

However, I am becoming increasingly convinced that something else supplants these five questions for many of those reporting the news to us at present. In my experience journalists, reporters, and interviewers are asking the question, "Will you (the data, the interviewee, the witness) verify the answers I want for who, what, when, where, why, and how?" The distinction between this question and the ones I received in high school looks stark on this page, but in practice the nuance can be difficult to resolve. And so the exchange of one for the other can take place slowly and subtly. At last we find, if we are paying attention, that the six basic questions have been removed entirely from the field of view, and we are being offered only the attempts of one person to verify her or his notions.

Once in a while, however, the gap between what a reporter is doing and the basic calling of his or her profession appears with stunning clarity. I noticed one incidence of it two weeks ago in a radio interview.

The host interviewed an engineer who had worked on the Mars landing craft. The following exchange took place on the air. (Note well: I have placed these lines as if verbatim for the sake of illustration, but this is a paraphrase; the facts cited by the speakers are not relevant and are not transcribed.)

Host: Now, tell us about the transmitter on this piece of equipment. I understand that it's a lightweight piece of metal, very thin, with a long antenna that extends more than ten times the width of the transmitter. And because of its design it can receive signals from more than two million miles away. Isn't that correct?

Guest Engineer: That's correct.

Host: Fascinating. Now, how did the team come up with this design . . . .

Did you catch it? The question we heard from the host contained a fully-researched (or so we hope), well-detailed description of the answer it sought. The guest had nothing left to add. The interviewer--I'd like to say "unconsciously" or at least without recognition of the impact of this approach--replaced whatever answer the engineer might have given with his own response. How might the engineer's description have differed from the host's? Among other effects, this changes the journalist from being one who draws out information from witnesses or experts to one who tells the source what to say.

At worst--and at odds with the principal goal of the journalist--this puts the guest in the position of having to validate or refute the apparent expert testimony of the journalist.

Less stark examples arise with "leading questions." The several times I have watched snippets from Nancy Grace, to choose one exemplary show, I heard groups of questions whose framing expects a certain answer from the guest. At worst these questions turn out not to be questions at all but thinly-veiled summons for repentance, whether or not we (the viewers) might agree with the hostess' demand for it. The question often fits into the format of, "Why did you do this thing that you did when clearly it was wrong and our last guest said that anyone who engaged in such behavior is clearly an idiot?"

What do we expect the guest to say? What would we ourselves say when faced with a judge masquerading as a reporter? I found myself feeling sorry for the guest, which I'm sure is not one of the goals of investigative reporting.

Or is it?

My guess is that interviewers, reporters, and journalists who frame their questions in this manner are doing so not because they want to be Brutus to our Caesar. They do it, I am hypothesizing, because in its lust for "investigative reporting" the public has discovered a greater lust for judgmental reporting. We want to see every reporter get into it like Judge Judy gets into it with her plaintiffs and defendants. In short, we want blood. In a pinch, of course, sweat and tears will do; but we want someone to suffer for our entertainment.

But true reporters only report blood when they see it; they don't draw it for sale. Their only tool ought to be a microphone, not a black robe.

Who are the fools here? Wouldn't it be easy for me to say that we can blame the journalist professions for leading us astray? (Note my leading question there.) But if I did that, wouldn't I be hiding the fact that we still choose to watch them? (I'm still leading. Watch out.) So as not to play the fool, too, perhaps I should start asking some important questions of every interview I hear, article I read, and talk show I see.

Who in this conversation is guiding the answers being given?
What is the interviewer trying to get from the interviewee?
When do I hear the tone of a journalist's questions become anxious or combative?
Where does the expert disagree with the interpretation of the reporter?
Why did this journalist choose this person to interview or report?
How am I called to evaluate the information with which I have been presented?

~ emrys

Monday, September 28, 2009

Morning Music

Gwendolyn and I have a new morning routine. When she decides she's had enough time in the crib--these days before the sun's up--I go and fetch her and we head downstairs so that her mother can sleep a little longer. She's usually not hungry right away, but she won't be left alone, either. So we sit down on the living room floor and I get out the guitar.

Unlike her response to other toys, when I start strumming she makes a beeline--all right, it's more of a waddling-army-crawl-line--for my lap. Her fingers immediately start reaching for the strings.

She's not quite at the level of Joe Satriani yet. Her touch on the strings resembles more a vise-grip. Once she has a firm hold on the fretboard (often complemented by a firm bite), she looks up at me quizzically, as if wondering why the music stopped. Eventually she lets go, then I strum some more, and she clamps on again. Not the best circumstances for improving my technique; then again, I think her peals of joy are finer music than I'm producing, anyway.

And who knows? Perhaps somewhere deep in that baby-brain we're inspiring a future garage band!

~ emrys

You know you're tired when...

the lunch conversation after church sounds like this:

SJ to E: You look like you could use a nap this afternoon too.
E: Yeah, after last night I probably could
SJ: G was only up once, at 11 then she slept until 6. It wasn't that bad.
E: She was up at 3.
SJ: 3? No, she didn't get up at 3 did she?
E: Yup.
SJ: Did I get up at 3?
E: Yup.
SJ: Really? Are you sure? I really don't remember being up at 3.
E: Yup, I'm sure.
SJ: Really?
E: Yup.

No wonder I was to tired. And I just thought it was from the craft fair.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Texting Is The New Cocaine

Two days ago I heard a broadcast on NPR about the dangers of texting on a cell phone while driving. The centerpiece of the story was a 19-year-old woman who had had a near-lethal car accident because she had been texting behind the wheel.

When the host asked her about whether the accident stopped her from texting while driving, the young woman said that at first it did.

First she only texted while the car was stopped. Then, however, she began texting again while moving, but "only really rarely, like every five minutes." At last, she admitted, she was back to her old ways. "Texting," she said, "is, like, so addictive."

A short time later she got into another accident for the same reason.

Now, says this angelically-protected addict, she's going to be first in line to buy a new electronic product that blocks texting by phones in a moving vehicle.

Purchasing a new technology in order to stop yourself from using one that you already pay money for?

If this is the car of reality, then pull over and let me out.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Checking out the Pumpkins

Hmmm. What's this for?
Teething, obviously!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Photographic Proof

that one's experience in an airport doesn't have to be all bad:

(SJ & Gwendolyn Hope in LAX, August 2009)


Monday, September 14, 2009

Blog Book #2

I just published the summary of our 2005 blog entries. Check it out:


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Blast from the Past, Again

Having had a disastrous run of it in my junior year, I decided to try the prom again my senior year. But this time I did it on my terms.

My girlfriend, two guy friends, and I rented Renaissance-era costumes and went together to the prom in a horse-drawn carriage. Here we are in my mom's front lawn, decked out in 17th-century splendor:

I don't remember anything of the prom itself. I think I had much more fun getting the costume together and hanging out with these three on the way to the event. I'm glad we decided to take the funky route to finish my high school career.


Blast from the Past

(Note well: racy photos follow. Sensitive eyes may wish to seek protection.)

Occasionally the job of sifting through my dad's belongings yields memories that are not heavy with grief or the sobriety of lost eras. Sometimes what appears is just funny.

Take these photos for example, from my first year at McGill University (1994-95). At the insistence of the gal who moved in across the hall from my dorm room, I joined the rowing team (the McGill Crew) as a novice. Here's what resulted.

In this photo we're hauling kiester (or at least it felt like it, being novices; but we might have been going about three miles an hour for all I know) in an 8-man boat. I'm in 6-seat, the furthest on the left. The coxswain (almost always a tiny woman) is probably saying nasty things about our mothers to keep us motivated:

In this one we're setting a 4-man boat in the water. Behind you can see the buildings that accompany the Montreal Olympic Rowing Basin, afforded to the city of Montreal by the 1976 Olympics. We were blessed to be the only crew in eastern Canada with an actual basin, free from the normal currents and tides of rivers and lakes:

Of course if you're going to row, especially as a first-year, you've got to be able to look cool while standing on the dock:

Alas, however cool one looks in repose on the dock, there's no hiding the atrocity of one's legs on the way out to the pier:

I can't finish with that. Here's a shot of half our crew (we almost always rowed in an 8) trying out a 4.

Ahh, university life. When the world was just one big oyster waiting to be opened, and we didn't care what we looked like in spandex shorts.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Big Girl

I thought I'd throw this out to hold everyone over until I can get my act together on the pictures we got in California :)

She's up to 4 teeth and getting around like a pro! Not technically crawling on all fours, but her toes and elbows work just great for scooting around the house :)

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Between spilling tea on my laptop on Friday and my errant attempts to clean it, my laptop keyboard is totally fried. I had panicked when I realized it, for you see my laptop runs my life. (Maybe there's a lesson here.) A friend graciously lent me a keyboard and USB adapter, but as I went to plug it in, I realized that I don't need a keyboard! When Sara bought this computer for me in 2005, she invested in a special treat. It's a "tablet PC," which means I can write on the screen with my stylus. No keyboard required! Now I'm not totally lost until my new keyboard arrives. Thank God for technology, for generous friends, and for thoughtful wives. (This entry was composed entirely without the aid of a keyboard. Only one was harmed to make it.)
~ emrys

Friday, September 04, 2009


I spilled tea on my keyboard today.

Do you have any idea the size of dust bunny that will fit under your "Shift" key?


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Book Review

Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

The tastefully chosen deep gold of the cover has a mellow attractiveness that makes one want to reach out and snatch it out of the hands of its current reader. The high-contrast gold-on-black formatting of the spine print summons the wandering eye like a visual clarion cry.

This volume has enough heft to present ample resistance to the fingers and arms--not so flimsy that it is tossed with every jerk of the arm--yet is light enough to be maveuvered even by the most delicate frame. The flexibility of the cover presents an enjoyable challenge to one's digits, but the text has enough pages that its thickness is easily grasped.

The complex interplay of its smooth glossy cover and the firm edges of its thick matte pages provides a delight to the palms and the tongue. The binding and spine hold up to the rigors of predental mastication.

In this reviewer's estimation, an excellent book.

Side Effect

of using a piece of luan plywood to remove excess paint from a brush between coats of primer and paint for the pellet shed:

~ emrys