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Avocado Farm

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

About a week or ten days ago, Pippa started a new venture in experimental hydroponics: an avocado pit plantation. It began humbly enough — just two pits, one of which was a pretty poor excuse for an avocado from the outset, in two jam-jars on the kitchen counter. As you can see, her small-time start has blossomed into a modest industrial installation, soon to rival Del Monte or Monsanto or Archer Daniels Midland. In a few years, she’ll be holding the Super Bowl guacamole market hostage.

We’ll keep everyone apprised of the progress of the various pits. So far, three are cracking, and the one sad specimen (lower left) is not showing any prospect of vigor. The time to invest is now!

(Perhaps one can use avocados to power electrical devices, too.)

Strong Response, Weak Software

I think I remember with whom I was chatting the other day — I think I remember, but I won’t guess for the record — but one of my friends was trying to wrestle some appropriately-paginated footnotes out of Microsoft Word. I remember thinking, years and years ago, that I couldn’t believe that MSFT couldn’t make Word perform this simple task effectively; over the years, I’ve seen countless student papers and journal submissions whose footnotes were offset by a page in a way characteristic of Word. If my friend’s colorfully-expressed testimony provides reliable evidence, Microsoft still ships an expensive word processor that misplaces footnotes.

I don’t use Word, so I can’t speak from experience as a user, but as a reader and editor, I find that absolutely infuriating. There may well be a workaround, but users shouldn’’t have to figure that out. Word processors exist in order (among their very most brain-dead basic tasks) to place footnotes at the bottom of the page to which the notes pertain. If Microsoft can’t make the global standard word processor perform that function adequately, they should stop development on every other feature until they get that right.

Writing Better, More

The other day at the library book sale, I spotted a title that seemed to belong among my useful books about writing, Jefferson D. Bates’s Writing With Precision.

I only just looked it over yesterday, and saw with delight that Bates’s first principle of more effective writing is, “Prefer the active voice.” (Seabury students will moan inwardly as they read that advice.) He goes from that to advocate using strong, vivid verbs rather than inert “nominalized” forms, hewing to specific rather than vague expressions, and keeping related sentence elements near one another. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I still plump for Joseph Williams’s Style as my premier book on writing, but every reinforcement is welcome in the battle against empty, flaccid prose. Bates adds a section on outlining (absent from my second-hand copy, darn it, since I need someone to help me cultivate my outlining discipline) and exercises-and-answers that illustrate his principles of writing. Well done, more than worth the fifty cents I spent for it, and refreshing encouragement for my approach to writing.

Moderate Comments

When I reinstalled Moveable Type in the aftermath of the November Random Thought Meltdown, I was looking forward to the comment-handling capacities of the new version of MT. Even without Blacklist, which I expect I’ll install someday but haven’t gotten to yet, MT 3 promised to be a great deal more manageable realtive to unwelcome commercial comments than was MT 2. I’ve found my expectations amply fulfilled; it’s indescribably easier to find, select, and delete unwelcome comments.

There’s a cost, of course; the intervention of comment moderation probably damps the willingness of some visitors to leave comments (that was certainly what people said when SixApart introduced TypeKey), and I understand that. We’ve already seen visitors leave duplicate comments, since they weren’t sure that their original comment had been recorded. Moreover, I’m sure it’s frustrating to write a comment, only to see it disappear into a pending-moderation void. I wish I could conveniently pre-approve the regulars, so my friends could post directly, without awaiting moderation (presumably they could register with TypeKey, but let’s assume that they’ve already considered and declined that option). Commercial comment-bots would soon develop the capacity to spoof approved identities, anyway.

Short of a comprehensive solution to DigID problems (on which David has a cogent side-commentary at Worthwhile), we’re left with more or less satisfactory half-measures. So far, the frustrations that accompany comment-moderation don’t outweigh the ease with which the new version of MT fends off unwelcome commenters.

Merry Christmas

Star and Shadow

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

We slept well, rose late, enjoyed a pancake breakfast (apart from Margaret, whose gluten-free pancakes turned out disastrously), and eventually turned our attention to the packages surrounding the tree.

Beatrice started the gift portion of the day by tugging a stuffed critter from its wrapping. Plenty of warm clothes, a mechanical walking dinosaur (“for collectors not for children”!), a back-scratcher that Nate deployed as a universal prosthesis, Duke outerwear, and a relaxing day for all.

Merry Christmas!

Best — Oh, Dear

Evidently my membership in the union of “bibliobloggers” entangles me in Ed Cook’s idea that we share our personal “best of 2004”s. Here we go:

Best Fiction: Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson — though it’s probably the only fiction published in 20004 that I’ve read at all

Best non-fiction: Oddly, I’m not sure I read any “copyright-2004” non-fiction — apart, that is, from the collections of essays in which my writings appeared this year, which seems a bit of a cheat.

(This exercise reveals to me how little my reading patterns depend on what’s just been published.)

Best Film: The Incredibles wins, but I haven’t seen most of the movies that other people think rank among the year’s best.

Best TV programme: We don’t watch TV, sorry.

Best album: I think Blueberry Boat, with Get Up and A Grand Don’t Come For Free (as below). And I forgot to mention below My Endless Numbered Days, which still knocks me out (thanks, Simon!).

Best single: Tough call, among “Naked As We Came” (Iron & wine), “Such Great Heights” and “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” (the Postal Service), and “Straight Street” (Fiery Furnaces).

Best gig: I think I didn’t get to any gigs other than Open Mike night at Kafein.

Most missed: The time I might have spent reading, going to movies, and attending gigs?

Holiday Story

Once upon a time, there was a family getting ready for their Christmas celebrations. . . .

You know most of the background and circumstances; most recently, Margaret and I went to the emergency room at the local hospital so that they could do something about Margaret’s anxiety which, in the aftermath of her nuclear therapy, had grown and abounded to the point that Wednesday night was sleep-wrecked, and Thursday morning panicky and emotionally fragile. We put in phone calls to her doctors, but they were evidently busy — busy, can you imagine that, two days before Christmas? — and when we finally got through to one, he firmly suggested that we go the ER route to get the anxiety treatment we needed (as Margaret’s recent thyroid radiation put too many variables in play for over-the-phone assessment).

So we spent the afternoon and early evening in cubicle 8 of the ER, dealing with very earnest residents and crisis docs, and we came away with a prescription for short-term anti-anxiety meds (our original target) and urgent invitations to drop in again if anxiety was getting out of hand, perhaps even to drop in for a short stay and observation. Margaret politely declined the latter invitation, but we have their number and will be sure to contact them should occasion arise.

Everything’s in hand for now, and we’re very, very thankful for concerned friends, for an attentive medical team, for family solidarity that makes it possible for our young’uns to help one another, for the marvels of modern pharmaceutical technology, and for an unfathomable grace that reveals itself even in grim times.

You Must Remember This

I loved telegrams. One reason I never liked Federal Express (over and above the underplanned executives who needed overnight service on jobs that could have been done for a quarter the expense if someone had placed the order a few days earlier) was its displacement of real, exciting, exotic telegrams. Always the yellow paper, please, with all caps, no punctuation. That’s the same message a Carnegie might receive, or a Hepburn or Valentino!

So when I point to the link for Retro-Gram, which offers free emailed telegrams or moderately-priced mailed telegram replicas, it’s because nothing will ever replace the thrill of a uniformed courier knocking at your door, saying, “Telegram for Adam. . . .”

Top Whatever

I’m glad that I’m not the only one who’s wondered how Mike Skinner lost a sheath of bills amounting to a thousand pounds in a slot in his television. The reviewer at Pitchfork and I agree that it’s a terrific album (even if Pippa doesn’t like it), and I could understand if it were a check for £1000, but it sounds from the songs as though the sum really was in cash. Anyway, I thought that A Grand Don’t Come For Free was a terrific disc. Likewise the Fiery Furnaces’ Blueberry Boats and the Postal Service’s Give Up. I wasn’t swept away as many were by Franz Ferdinand, and don’t quite see the appeal of Morrissey (so You Are The Quarry drifted past me without making much of an impression). L liked what I heard of Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Like Bad News, but I haven’t listened to it thoroughly (same with A Ghost Is Born). I’m supposed to like both How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and Around The Sun, but I haven’t had enough time with them for them to grow on me.

Here, Tom Coates’s brilliant insight into the future of recorded music applies: there just isn’t enough time to listen, when you can listen to almost anything you want. I try to listen broadly to the recorded music I’ve collected, rather than focusing on this or that album; if a track or an album doesn’t win attention-share pretty promptly, it goes into a random shuffle with tens of thousands of other selections. That marks a fundamental change from a time in which a broadcast medium could focus my attention on a relatively few tracks repeatedly for an interval, where I could not choose to listen to just-any track at almost any time, where there was (indeed) no function for listening to random tracks — any track one listened to had been selected in one way or another.

The ecology of musical performance (and other modes, if they’re paying attention) has changed in a tremendously important way. It’s not clear what that entails — does music now have to be catchy in order to survive? What agency, whose ears, will help sort the vast ocean of recorded music into attention-worthy work and disposable work (and for whom)? (Nate and Si help me, but not everyone has teenage sons) — but in this new ecology, some dinosaurs will perish, and making laws to keep obsolescent institutions and practices alive in a new media environment will not work any better than would laws to keep polar bears alive on Mercury.

Top Five

Bob Carlton has been gently soliciting my participation in his “top five” posts for 2004 project, but I’ve been putting it off (by way of avoiding it altogether — looks like he’s offline for a while, so maybe this is too late). Then yesterday Tripp prodded me to post my top five, and as I wrote back about why I was resisting, I realized how dreadfully self-important I sounded: “I don’t think of my blogs as ‘better’ or ‘best,’ as though they were singles off a series of albums” — thus, as if I were a stuffy rocker whose Art couldn’t be sold by single downloads (though it can be broadcast in singles).

Anyway, I — chastened, humbled — have been trying to figure out which would count as my Top Five. Part of the problem, for me, is that I don’t remember the last year all that well! My final candidates aren’t especially “spiritual,” though they hold some lessons for emergent congregations, I suppose. Counting down from Number Five, I guess they’d be:

Number five might be the post that triggered a complex of ideas that will turn into my Winslow lecture next spring.

Then, for number four, I nominate “Why churches should have websites,” which at the time seemed to me to be just repeating stuff that Jordon et al. had been saying all along, but which caught a lot of attention anyway. If it helped people tune in to the value of putting up even a minimal web presence, then so much the better.

I’ll make number three my response to seeing The Passion of the Christ (and the follow-up “Passion and Postmodernism”).

Number two would be the Lessig Read-a-thon, which was covered by Doug Kaye’s IT Conversations, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and eventually turned into a series here, here whose fruits can most simply be retrieved via the Internet Archive.

And the obvious number one would be the InfoHighwayman series, recounting my [mis]adventures with wireless security law in Nantucket. It all begins here, and continues here, here, here, and here (with the image of the newspaper story here).

There were a bunch of sermons this past year — I don’t have the perspective to pick and cchoose among them for “best”-ness, but I’ll see about making a compendium post later.