Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

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Location: Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me

Just make sure nobody tells my father-in-law’s lady-friend about this …

Oh, yeah, time for cake and celebration – and preparing for NaNoWriMo. Yes, I have a birthday of unusual character. I don’t believe in astrology, but for people who do, I’m a scary individual. I’ve run the numbers. My sun, moon, and ascendant are all Scorpio, as well as about half of my planets. My 13th and 39th birthdays were on blue moons. Yes, my birthday is Halloween, and just to add spice to the package, my mother was born on the 13th of another month.

As far as I’m concerned, these are all just interesting numerical coincidences. On the other hand, my husband’s father’s lady-friend is a strong believer in the supernatural, as well as being a bit paranoid. She’s sure the neighbors are witches, and she has specific ways of warding off evil, such as keeping a radio turned on and tuned to a Christian evangelical station all night. If she ever found out about my horoscope, I would probably never be welcome in that house again.

Meanwhile, I’m theoretically getting ready for NaNo. I finally got the Wizards to a point at which they will let me take a break and do something else. It was hard – I ended up doing more than 28,000 words in 23 days. I’m hoping that will give me momentum as I move on to my NaNo project, since now I have less than 24 hours to do the planning, character sketches, and outlining I was going to spend most of a month doing.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Strange Coincidence

Some people are just good at hitting the numbers – even if they’re not so lucky otherwise

I know I said I wasn’t going to look at the site visit count until I got to 1000, but this coincidence was too good to ignore. After a week’s absence from cyberspace, nbk came back to become visitor number 900.

For more about his absence, check out his blog, Write to Say It – the link’s over there on the left – where his most recent post is “Oops, I underestimated Hurricane Wilma.”

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 3

The plot thickens.
What do you call it when you have sailing, and fantasy, and maybe, perhaps, some romance?
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 3
I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. None of this could really be happening. It had to be all a dream. There was no such thing as supernatural power, no magic, no evil Others, none of it. “All I want to do now is go home,” I said. “I’m no superhero, and I never will be.”
“Leaving here now would be a very bad idea,” Runyon said. “But if you must go, will you at least allow one of us to accompany you at all times?”
“At all times? But I live alone, and I like it that way. How about if someone just goes with me whenever I leave my apartment?”
“The Others can get to you anywhere. You need someone with you even at home. Pierre can be your escort for now.”
Oh, great, I thought. I’m the world’s quietest introvert, and I was going to share my life with someone whose mouth seldom stopped running? Well, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping up a conversation; Pierre could do that all by himself.
Gradually, the sailors’ cave returned to the tavern, which materialized out of the shadows. Soon, everything looked normal again, including my check for a beer and a grilled-cheese sandwich. I paid my tab and set out for my apartment, with Pierre at my side. “This seems like such a farce,” I said as we headed for the door.
Pierre leaned close and whispered into my ear – the first time I’d ever had a clue he could actually lower his voice. “Ssshhh. In the back of the tavern, when we recede, we’re relatively safe. But it’s best not to mention such things in the open.”
I whispered back, “Let me guess, we don’t know who might be listening.”
“You’re catching on.” Pierre finished that remark with a kiss – a quick peck on the cheek, but a kiss nonetheless. I was startled and let out a squeaky little giggle. “That’s it,” Pierre said. “Lovers in love, the perfect cover.” I was furious, but with some effort I kept my mouth shut, and I even managed to return Janice’s conspiratorial wink as we shut the door behind us. Arm in arm, we walked to my apartment.
My apartment was not large, even by student standards. It was a small studio, just one room, with a kitchenette in one corner and a bathroom in another. I had a couple of windows, but no view, unless a back alley and just enough sky to tell what the weather was counts as a view. Fortunately, I had equipped it with one luxury, thanks to a great deal I spotted at a yard sale. While many studio apartments have a single piece of furniture that is a sofa by day and converts to a bed at night, I actually had a separate sofa. It was threadbare, and a little bit smelly, but at least Pierre would have someplace other than the floor to sleep.
“It’s not much, I know,” I said as I let us in the door. “But it’s home sweet home for now.”
“Nice,” Pierre said, looking the place over and taking a peek out of the windows. “You don’t do much entertaining here, do you?”
“Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had a dinner guest here, let alone an overnight.”
“Always his place, huh?”
“Whose place?”
“The guy’s, of course – or are you …”
“No, it’s not like that. It’s just –”
A sheepish look came over Pierre’s face, and he blushed. “You mean you’ve never …”
“That’s right, I’ve never.”
“Sheesh. Um, how old are you?”
“Under normal circumstances, I’d consider that a personal question, but since these aren’t normal circumstances … I’m twenty-two.”
“Well, at least that’s a relief. If I’m supposed to be sleeping with you, it wouldn’t do to get accused of statutory rape.”
“You’re supposed to what?”
“No, no, that’s just the cover story.” He plumped up a couple of the sofa cushions and then sat down. “I can watch you just fine from here.” Then his nose wrinkled. “Faugh, maybe not,” he added as he sniffed at the arm of the sofa. “Where did this thing come from, a cattery?”
“Sorry. But the bed’s mine. The sofa’s yours.”
“The sacrifices I make for the cause.”
The next morning I was awakened by a knocking on the door. When I peeked out the peephole, I saw my landlady. Mrs. Bullfinch was a nice old lady, and she had only ten apartments to tend, mostly occupied by students. She took it upon herself to be a mother hen to us all, and especially to me, since my parents had died in a car accident while I was still in high school and I had gone from foster care to this apartment when I entered college. “Sarah, are you all right? Somebody said they saw you take a man to your apartment last night, and I just couldn’t believe it. You never have men. So I had to see that you weren’t – Oh!”
I had opened the door, and Pierre had come up behind me, with pants but without shirt. I had to admit, he did have a good body. He was a short guy – I had a couple of inches on him – but he was all lean, rock-hard muscle; he’d been sailing skiffs for longer than I had been alive, and every single muscle from the waist up (and, I’m sure, also lower than that, although those weren’t visible) had been developed hauling on halyards, pulling sheets, and sometimes becoming part of the rigging, keeping control of sails that were exerting hundreds of pounds of pressure in high winds.
Mrs. Bullfinch’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes bulged. After a moment, she regained control. “Good heavens, I knew you’d have to discover men at some time, but I never imagined it would be the dirtiest dirty old man on the bay! Why, he’s twice your age!”
“Well, actually,” Pierre corrected her, smiling, “more than twice her age, but let’s not get into that.”
“Well, really!” Mrs. Bullfinch had to gather her thoughts again. “But, Sarah, you can’t be serious? You’re so … so … um, innocent, and he’s been … um, around. He tricked you into this!”
“No, I didn’t,” Pierre responded. “It’s just that we got to talking last night, and, uh … um, er …”
“And we discovered that we have a whole lot in common,” I completed.
“Yes, that’s right, way more in common than you could ever guess.”
“Well, now, maybe that’s so,” Mrs. Bullfinch allowed. “The way you both go careening all over the bay in those little boats, you might be twins. But, Sarah, watch yourself.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. B, I will.”
“She’s safe with me,” Pierre added, with so much sincerity in his voice that Mrs. Bullfinch’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Good heavens, you sound like you mean it!” she exclaimed.
After Mrs. Bullfinch left, Pierre turned toward me. “Great save,” he said, “that bit about having a lot in common.”
“Well, it is true, although not necessarily in the way Mrs. B would understand.” I looked out a window. “We’ve got a great day for sailing, and I’m still on break. Let’s hit the water.”
“Yes, let’s.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Update: Spam Control

Alas, I had to do it …

Not too long ago, the comment-spammers finally pushed me over the edge. I didn’t want to do this, but I had to: On one post, the first five comments, all of which arrived shortly after the post was posted, were spam; three of them were sexually oriented, and one of those was for child pornography.

I now have the comments set up so that commenters have to prove they’re human. At the bottom of the comment window is a set of random letters, distorted so that a machine can’t read them. In order for a comment to go through, the commenter has to type that set of letters in a blank.

Unfortunately, that verification step is at the very bottom of the window, so it’s easy to miss. It is an inconvenience, but I decided it was better to inconvenience commenters than to allow posting of links that are totally inappropriate to the decorum of this place.

Since they forced me to change the way I do things, does this mean the spammers have won?

Poetry Corner: William Blake

Caution: Gut-wrenching irony ahead

It’s been a while since I’ve had a Poetry Corner, so I decided it’s about time. This time around, we’ll look at William Blake, and we’ll get two poems for the price of one.

Blake was a religious mystic, and he was also highly critical of the social injustices of his day. While many people, especially cat lovers, are familiar with such poems as “The Tyger,” Blake wrote many poems that involved social ills. Here, we see two poems, both with the same title, and both with the same subject: children from the workhouse attending religious services on Holy Thursday.

Holy Thursday
from Songs of Innocence

'Twas on a holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two, in red, and blue, and green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames waters flow.

O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among:
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.


Holy Thursday
from Songs of Experience

Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land, -
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns,
It is eternal winter there.

For where'er the sun does shine,
And where'er the rain does fall,
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appal.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Revenge of the Absent-Minded Professor

Don’t think you’re pulling the wool over our eyes.

My late-night Monday/Wednesday class can be a frustrating one to teach. It has a higher percentage of traditional straight-out-of-high-school students than most night classes, and a couple of those are a real handful. This evening, the class had its weekly hour in the computer lab, during which I was showing the class the research resources available to them through the college’s library system, as well as giving instructions about how to cite research sources in order to avoid plagiarism. While my earlier evening class had paid rapt attention to the same presentation, most of the members of this class did not.

Afterward, a couple of the computer lab people asked me whether I had a problem with the students’ inattention. Well, I did, but I felt that at that time in the classroom, it would be a losing battle. It’s going to be far more instructive for those students when they get a failing grade on their next essay because they weren’t paying attention to the instructions on how to do it.

This is the same bunch that earlier got zeroes on their first essay of the term because they didn’t follow the instructions for formatting their essays. I’m not going to babysit and re-feed (regurgitate?) them material that I went over thoroughly in class. I provided the course content, and I know the problem isn’t my delivery, because my other class absorbed it just fine.

To the students who goof off instead of paying attention, I ask, do you think I don’t notice? Do you think I don’t care? Do you think you’re going to get away with not paying attention, just because I don’t choose to call you out in front of the class?

Believe you me, I do notice. And you’d be wise to mend your ways.

As illustration, I offer the following story. I have been told that it’s absolutely true, and that the professor and the classroom do exist. It smacks of urban legend, but there’s so much about it that is the same as I have experienced (including the clock’s reaction to the eraser), that I’m pretty sure it IS, indeed, true.

On some college campus, somewhere in the United States, there was a history professor who was well known for his absent-minded ways. In particular, he was known for losing track of time – his watch, if he ever bothered to wear one, was always either stopped or so completely off that it wasn’t worth anything.

His students had discovered that they could take advantage of this shortcoming. In the classroom where he taught, the clock was quite susceptible to shock, and if a chalkboard eraser was tossed against the clock, the minute hand would jump ahead a few minutes. So the students got into the habit of, whenever they thought the professor wasn’t looking, flinging the eraser up at the clock to speed up the time. Every day, class would get out much earlier than it should have, because the students jumped the clock ahead. Behind the professor’s back, they gloated over how they were getting the better of him.

Then came the day of the final exam. The professor handed out the blue books and the essay exam questions. “Your exam consists of ten short-essay questions,” he told the class. “For each half-century of the past 500 years, you must write a short essay describing the most significant developments. It is now 9 a.m. You have until 11:30 to finish your exam.”

The professor then calmly turned to the chalkboard, picked up the eraser, and proceeded to fling the eraser repeatedly at the clock, until it read 11:10. “Good luck,” he said.

Two hunting parties, two different situations

It’s not who you know, it’s who you ARE.

Recently, in Laguna Vista, the neighborhood where Five O’Clock Somewhere is located, there have been a couple of incidents involving hunting.

Just within the past week or so, there has been a rash of incidents in which the gate has been left open, either by people who are too lazy to shut it behind them, or by people who actually wish to allow unauthorized people in. Two mutilated elk carcasses have been found in the neighborhood, as well as the remains of a hunting camp. The hunters involved have violated a number of rules, regulations, and laws:

  • Hunting is not permitted in Laguna Vista.

  • Discharging a firearm within 300 feet of an occupied dwelling is not permitted in Rio Arriba County.

  • Hunting on private property without the consent of the property owner is prohibited by state game laws.

  • Hunters may kill a bull elk only with a permit and antler tag, and a hunter may not kill more than one bull elk in a season.

  • Even hunters with permits may kill an elk only during the designated season for the region in which the hunter is hunting.

  • Hunters must not leave carcasses behind; if a hunter wants only the head, the hunter is still responsible for taking care of the rest of the carcass.

On the other hand, about a month before, a solo hunter brought down a large mule deer in the neighborhood. This particular hunter, while not obeying the laws about permits and seasons, did make the kill without using a firearm, and the hunter also made use of the entire carcass. Felis concolor, also known as mountain lion, puma, panther, cougar, and several other names, is welcome to hunt in Laguna Vista. She knows what hunting is really all about.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 2

The adventure in fiction continues.
I actually have the story up to ten chapters now, so even if I take a break from it for NaNo, I can still put up an episode a week to keep the clamoring fans happy. (OK, fans, now clamor, darn you!) I just wish the story would LET me take a break!
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 2
“Material?”
“You can be trusted. You’re honest. And you have talent.”
“Talent?” I knew that over the past two years, since I’d taken up sailing, I had taken great joy in learning to handle my little skiff, and I was getting to feel confident in handling it – even in weather that was a bit rough, I reveled in the feeling of skimming over the waves, as one with my little craft. But I’d never considered myself talented, as much as my skills had developed.
“You may not realize it, but in just two years, you’ve become the fastest dinghy in the bay. But that’s not the only talent we’re looking for. We’ve been watching you, and we’ve seen something more.”
“More?”
“Call it ESP, magic, psychic ability, whatever. You don’t know it, but we’ve been testing you, and you have it.”
“No. That stuff doesn’t exist.”
“Yes, it does, but the world has no way of proving it. And we want to keep it that way. Our talents are secret, and we can best make use of them if nobody knows about them. All the world sees is the fakes, the hucksters out to make money by pretending, and convincing others, that their skills are real. So long as all of the examples the world sees are fakes, those of us whose talents are real can escape notice.”
While Runyon was speaking with me, the sailing conversations around us had continued, with a great deal of conviviality. Even though Janice had disappeared along with the rest of the tavern, all of the pitchers on the table had remained full of beer. Well, not exactly that, I noticed. Whenever a pitcher became empty, the next time I looked at it, it was full again. I never actually saw it fill up, but clearly something was happening to keep the beer flowing. A plate containing a grilled-cheese sandwich and French fries had also appeared in front of me at some point, and I realized I had been munching on the sandwich for quite a while.
Suddenly, the room fell silent, and everybody was looking around apprehensively, especially near the tops of the walls, glancing tensely up into the corners. “Seeyeffarray,” someone whispered. “Jaydeeyemdee,” another said. “Deecuwempee.” “Ellayowell.” The tension in the room increased, and the group stood up and began moving together in a knot, with me at the center. I could feel emotional vibrations of apprehension, not quite fear, but definitely uncomfortable. It felt like there was a ringing in my ears, but when I listened to it, I couldn’t hear it any more, just the group, still whispering out meaningless combinations of letters. “Yooarrdoubleyouemm.” “Peeyiveeyo.” I could feel the muscles in my back and neck tense up, and my palms turned clammy with sweat. I was surprised to notice that I was shaking all over.
Everyone stood, gathered tightly together, for several minutes in silence. I felt, rather than heard, a low-pitched humming filling the room. Then the tension relaxed, like a shoelace coming untied with a pull on the loose end. As one, the group relaxed with a sigh. I realized I’d been holding my breath, and I exhaled deeply, letting go of the tension of the past few minutes.
“What was that about?” I asked.
“That was the Others,” Runyon replied. “They test us all the time. We can’t let our guard down. If they ever caught us unprepared, we’d be worse than dead.”
“And that alphabet stuff?”
“We each have our protection code, which we learn during our training. You’ll get yours when the time comes. When you know your code, you will be able to block the Others’ attempts to get at you.”
“But if I don’t know my code?”
“You’re in the most dangerous state. You have been found, but you have no training yet, and no code. That was why it was essential for us all to come together and protect you. Your training will show you how to know when the Others approach, and how to use your code. Then you will learn your code. Until then, you will need protection.”
“So if I get the training and the code, I will be safe from all attacks?”
“No, but your code and the knowledge of its use will protect you from the most common attacks. The Others have stronger attacks, and resisting those requires a group effort and especially strong codes. But those codes are dangerous to use, and only a few of us are strong enough to use them safely.”
“You seem to assume that I’m already a member of your group. But what if I don’t want to join?”
“Really, you have no choice. You have been discovered by us, and if you remain unprotected, you will be discovered by the Others.”
“Who are these Others, anyway? Why should I be afraid of them?”
“In this world, no force is truly neutral. Some forces act for good, for freedom and the benefit of humankind, and nature, too. Other forces are selfish forces, seeking gain at the expense of a loss on the part of humanity or the planet as a whole. We must always guard against the Others, to keep them from destroying what cannot be replaced.”
“This is getting to sound more and more hokey the longer I listen to it. I’m not out to save the planet. I just want to live in peace and sail my boat.”
“That’s not a choice any more. You can stay with us and let us protect you and teach you. Or you can refuse our help and be at the mercy of the Others.”
“Why should the Others be dangerous to me, if I’m not getting into the battle?”
“They will either use you or destroy you. You will be a helpless pawn, enslaved for the power you hold, or you will be killed. I know you felt the danger as they attacked the group this evening.”
“The power I hold? I don’t have any power.”
“Oh, but you do. We’ve been feeling it for a long time. We’ve been shielding you from the Others, so they have not learned of your existence yet. But when they do …” Runyon’s voice trailed off.
“Why would the Others be so interested in just another magical individual – assuming I really am one?”
“But you’re not just another magical individual. Your talent goes beyond anything we’ve seen before. We have to protect you until you can develop it.”
“And if I don’t want to go along with you?”
“We can’t force you. That’s not our way. But the Others can force you, and we have to keep them from getting control of your power. We’d have to destroy you to keep you out of their hands.”
“That sounds like a threat.”
“It isn’t. It’s just the way things are.”

How to Protect your Computer from Feline Attacks

Now you’ll never need to say, “The cat erased my homework.”

As I have mentioned before in this blog, one of the serious hazards to computing in this household is of the feline type. Dulce, when she wants attention, can make her presence very obtrusive, and Tres has learned such devious tricks as shutting the computer down.

But there is help, in the form of a computer program that detects “cat-like typing” and disables the keyboard until a password is entered, while also using the computer’s speakers to produce a sound that cats find unpleasant, in order to deter the feline typist. PawSense is such a great invention that it has even earned an Ig Nobel Prize.

Check it out at http://www.bitboost.com/pawsense/

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Aggressive Rodents and Paul Bunyan's Axe

It’s about football.

If you’re paying attention to college football, you’re aware that many teams choose mascots for the image of great strength or irresistible force – thus, we have Tigers, Bulldogs, Hurricanes, and the like. However, in the Big Ten conference we have three teams named for … rodents. Admittedly wolverines, badgers, and even gophers are aggressive. The movie Caddyshack isn’t exaggerating all that much when it depicts gophers as ruthless and practically indestructible foes.

Still, I wonder if it might give teams an image problem to be identified with a tiny critter whose main accomplishment is causing destruction to lawns and gardens while looking cute.

Meanwhile, two of those rodent teams were playing against each other today, in one of the most long-standing rivalries in college football. I had the privilege of watching the Wisconsin-Minnesota game in a bar while seated near a heavy-duty Wisconsin fan and a heavy-duty Minnesota fan.

There’s more at stake in this game than just conference standings. For the past 115 years, the winner of the Wisconsin-Minnesota game has taken home a very special trophy: Paul Bunyan’s axe. OK, it’s not a real axe, and as far as anyone knows, Paul Bunyan never existed. But this big, wooden axe goes home every year with the team that wins the game, and the winner’s name is engraved on the axe handle.

This year, it looked like the Gophers were going to take the axe home. With only three minutes left in the game, they were leading the Badgers by 10 points. They worked hard at running the clock down, so as not to allow their opponents an opportunity to score.

But suddenly, the Badgers broke through the Gophers’ defense and scored a touchdown, cutting the lead to three points. On the Gophers’ next possession, the Badgers’ defense held fast, forcing the Gophers to punt from inside their own 20-yard line. The snap was botched, the kicker went scrambling for the ball, and then, instead of falling on it, which would have been the smart thing to do, he still tried to punt it. It bounced around all over the place, until finally a Wisconsin player grabbed hold of it in the end zone. With 30 seconds left, the Badgers had the lead. On the following kickoff, Minnesota fumbled the ball, Wisconsin recovered it, and the game was over. The Badgers got the axe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 1

An adventure in fiction.
Consider this a warmup for NaNoWriMo. I had a dream, in which the senior members of the Rio Grande Sailing Club turned out to be, not merely highly accomplished sailors, but also individuals possessed of supernatural talents. In the wake of the dream, to prevent myself from forgetting it, I had to write it down, thus rendering it ineligible for NaNo, which permits outlining, character sketches, and research, but no actual writing until Nov. 1. This piece also has a problem that, in its current state, some of the sailing club members are too recognizable (and in one case given negative personality characteristics that the original character doesn’t have). Before this goes to widespread publication, I’m going to have to do some major revision.
But meanwhile, I’ll offer this adventure up in serial format, much as my esteemed brother has done with some eels.
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 1
“I want to go to France,” I heard myself saying, “to turn the Communists.”

It had all started with an extraordinary experience about three months ago, while I was on Spring Break; it was my senior year in college, and it had been a tough term so far. At the beginning of the day, I had no idea it would end so weirdly. I had been getting a much needed break from the grind of studying and was out sailing in my skiff; it was a lovely, sunny day with a breeze that was lively, but not too lively. I scooted along, all over the bay, sending up plumes of spray from the bow, with great swishing sounds of rushing water as I brought the boat about on a new tack. The tingle of the salty water on my face was invigorating, and it dampened my short-cut hair as the wind lifted it.
After a good day’s sail, a girl needs a good drink, and a bite to eat. After securing the skiff in its slip, alongside many others used by fun-seekers, I headed up to the tavern at the head of the pier. As I entered, I saw many familiar faces: Runyon, an old salt who’d been sailing boats of all sizes for decades and who was regarded as something of an elder statesman in the sailing community; Pierre, a volatile, auburn-haired fellow with the fastest mouth in the world; Randolph, a quiet, middle-aged man who always looked like he knew more than he was letting on; Sylvia, a younger woman whose cherubic face belied a cunning and competitive spirit that came out whenever she was at the helm of a racing boat; and many others, regulars at the tavern and on the water, together in the name of sailing and fellowship.
Slipping out of my damp jacket and quickly running my fingers through my salt-stiffened hair to give it a semblance of tidiness, I joined the group. “The usual?” Janice, the waitress, asked, while drawing a foamy, deep-amber liquid from a tap into a frosted pint glass. I nodded, and she brought the glass of ale out to the table. “Your grilled cheese will be out in a few minutes,” she said. I sipped my beer; the cool liquid soothed my dry tongue, washing away the salt with a malted-grain taste, bitter without being harsh, emphasized by the strong influence of hops.
The conversation at the table was about freaky weather, and other incidents. “Were you here at that one time when the squall line came right through the racing fleet right at the finish?” Pierre asked. “Man, that was scary. I was afraid I was going to get blown right off of my boat! One minute, everything was great, and I was going to get right by the committee boat, then bam! I didn’t even know what hit me. All of a sudden, I was heeled way over, my spreaders were in the water, I was going sideways, not forward, and I had to drop my main just to keep from going over and just coasted over the line.”
Runyon had a story to add. “I was out there one day, and there was a fellow in a dinghy, and he was in trouble. Bad trouble. He’d capsized, and the water was so cold, he was freezing. I had my big boat, and I had to climb over the transom to get down to him, and, I mean, he was soaking wet, and beginning to turn blue, and I had to hold onto the boat with one hand and grab him with the other, and all that water made him so heavy, I mean, he was hard to pull up. He was hypothermic, and if he’d been in the water just a few minutes longer, he’d of died.”
As the conversation continued, the sun had set over the bay, and the tavern began to take on a cave-like feel. The light grew dim through most of the room, but with a golden glow in the back end of the room where we were. The room almost seemed to grow longer, with our group gradually sinking backwards from the front of the room. The other patrons faded out, becoming silent shadows. No, it wasn’t my imagination; the room really was growing, the front entrance receding into darkness. Our group continued to talk convivially about sailing and disasters and near-disasters while the rest of the tavern just faded away.
Runyon noticed my look of confusion, and he stopped his story to explain what was going on. “We have a secret, and we’ve decided it’s time to let you in,” he said. “You’ve been around long enough now that we know you are the sort of material we need.”

Friday, October 07, 2005

Why I teach night classes

It’s not just because I don’t do mornings.

This week, John Rosemond’s Parenting column (which is syndicated in many newspapers nationwide, and which you can find at http://www.rosemond.com/) discusses kids who, even though they may have reached adult age, are still children in other ways. Primarily, they have a sense of entitlement – they believe that whatever they want, they should get.

Rosemond blames parents. Certainly, that’s where a lot of the blame lies. Many parents have taught their children (mostly without intending to) that they are entitled to whatever they want, and that they don’t have to earn anything. When these children reach college, they are still children, and not young adults, and they don’t understand the concept of having to work to earn a passing grade.

But I don’t think it’s just parents. Much of the blame must also be distributed to the public schools that the students come from. It’s not just the parents, but also the educational system, that places more importance on students’ self-esteem than upon actual academic accomplishment. Under this belief system, it is wrong to tell a student that his or her level of accomplishment isn’t enough – that might cause the student to devalue him- or herself. And if the student devalues him- or herself, the student may give up on life.

Poppycock!

The best way to get a student to feel good about him- or herself is to give the student a challenge that stretches the student’s ability – something that, at first glance, looks like it will be too much for that student, but it’s within reach if the student just works harder. I tell the student that he or she can do it. Almost always, the student does.

The major reason I teach evening classes is that I don’t like to be faced with a classroom full of straight-out-of-high-school students who have been indoctrinated all of their lives with the idea that they don’t actually have to do much of anything and life will still hand them everything they want. In the evening classes, I get the students who have learned that life isn’t all a free handout. Either they didn’t graduate from high school, or they graduated without learning anything, but they’ve been out in the world, and they’ve discovered that the real world isn’t a free ride, and that they really do need to learn more. Sometimes, they made bad decisions in the past, such as becoming a parent as a teenager, or getting involved with an abusive partner.

With the straight-out-of-high-school set, I have to deal with the attitude of entitlement. Some of these students just don’t seem to understand that I don’t GIVE grades; rather, the students EARN grades. If a student’s paper got a failing grade, that student EARNED it. With the non-traditional students in my evening classes, I don’t even have to explain myself. Those students understand the difference between being given something and earning it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

National Novel Writing Month

We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done. We got a long way to go, and a short time to get there … .

For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a program that pushes writers to get something done. Participants spend the month of November writing, as much as possible, whenever possible. The goal is to come up with 50,000 words in 30 days.

The goal here is quantity, not quality. The incentive here isn’t to produce Pulitzer-Prize-winning stuff; it’s to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper (or into a computer file). Why? Because almost everybody has said at some point, “I could write a book about that.” But almost nobody ever gets around to writing that book. NaNo is, at the very least, an opportunity to get around to writing. No more excuses; from here on, you are going to crank out the words.

Lately, I’ve been reading Irving Stone’s 1938 biography, Jack London: Sailor on Horseback. One of the methods London used to keep his output going was to force himself to write at least 1000 words a day. When times were tight and he needed money desperately, he would go up to 1500 or even 2000 – definite NaNo territory. He did acknowledge that when he produced a greater quantity, the quality went down. But simply cranking the words out onto the paper was what counted. And that’s how NaNo is, too. We can deal with quality issues later. If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I can write a book,” but you’ve never found the motivation to get started on it, NaNo is your opportunity to give yourself a kick in the butt and get to it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

New poll: What to do with comment spam

What to do when the First Amendment collides with … the First Amendment

Just when I thought comment spam had gone away, it reared its ugly head, big-time. When I first looked at this blog this evening and saw the number of comments I got, I thought, gee, that bit about Christmas catalogs must have really hit a chord with my readers.

Nope. It attracted comment spam offering such things as payday loans and get-rich-quick schemes. Even without the spam, I despise such businesses, which prey upon the already disadvantaged. I have seen the devastation caused by payday loans among my students. I would never, ever, for a second, wish such a business to have an advertising link on my blog.

Sure, those businesses might argue, they have a First Amendment right to say what they want to say, so long as it’s truthful (of which I have my doubts).

Well, that’s true in the public sector. In the private sector, which includes this blog, I have the right of censorship. So when one of those businesses uses an automated system to put an unwanted message on my blog, I will delete it as soon as I see it.

But even though this is the private sector, I still want free speech. I really do believe in the First Amendment, and I believe that the best way for ideas to be tried, and for decisions to be made, is through the freedom to express ideas and listen to opposing ideas and form a synthesis. Thus, while I want to protect my blog from spam, I also don’t want to impose undue hardship upon those who wish to comment.

Right now, what I do is delete the spam as soon as I see it. But the volume of spam is becoming greater, and at times I feel overwhelmed. Blogger offers me several options to reduce the amount of spam.

First is a verification step. Under that option, anyone could still post a comment, but before the comment gets posted, the poster has to look at a bit of distorted text that a machine can’t decipher but a human eye can, and enter that text as a password. This would still allow free speech, but would entail an extra burden on commenters.

Two other options are restricting posting only to people who are registered with Blogger, or to people whom I have invited to comment. I don’t like either of those options, because I really want to get comments from more than just a predetermined set of selected individuals.

The final choice, and one I would probably shut my blog down before selecting, would be not permitting any commenting at all. If there are no comments, there’s no point in having a blog.

So now there’s a new poll; go and vote.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Best Christmas Wish Book

Without Sears and Ward’s, what’s left?

Yes, it’s October, the time of year when, in days of yore, the Sears and Montgomery Ward’s Christmas catalogs would arrive, and children could spend days poring through the pages of wonderful toys and other fabulous gifts, making wish lists that could be passed on to Santa (or, after a certain age, to Mom and Dad) in hopes of seeing some of those fantastic things, eventually, under the Christmas tree.

Alas, Ward’s is no longer in business, and Sears doesn’t do catalogs except for certain specialized lines of merchandise. What is left for people who yearn for that sense of possibilities and fabulous delight that used to come from those compendia?

Here in Rio Arriba County, it’s the Cabela’s Christmas Catalog. Maybe it’s not as fat as the old Sears and Ward’s Wish Books, but it’s still full of wondrous toys, for people who like fishin’ and huntin’, and for those who used to go fishin’ and huntin’, and for those who just plain like the outdoorsy, rustic lifestyle. For hunters and fishermen, there are all sorts of nifty widgets and gadgets, and the latest high-tech equipment, and tools to convert the catch into food, and clothes to wear while fishin’ and huntin’ to protect from cold, wet, sun, or whatever other hazards may exist. Hunters with enough money can even buy a trophy elk-huntin’ trip in Rio Arriba County. For those who like the taste of wild food, there are gift packages of dried meat from all sorts of game and fish. And in home décor and furnishings, the catalog has everything from cute things to put on the wall, to major furniture, featuring images of deer, elk, fish, game birds, and more.

Camouflage is hugely popular. Some of the more modern camouflage patterns are strikingly realistic, and a hunter who chooses an appropriate pattern for the type of vegetation he or she is hunting in can really become invisible. And these patterns are available in many different weights of clothing to deal with all weather conditions, and in sizes to fit the whole family, including infants. People who like a particular camouflage pattern can also decorate their homes with it – custom-upholstered furniture for the living room, wallpaper for the whole house, tea-towels and oven mitts for the kitchen, bath mats and shower curtains for the bathroom, bedding and curtains for the bedroom, including baby’s.

I just wonder what happens when someone dresses the baby in a camouflage romper, and then the baby gets loose in a camouflage house.