Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas thoughts

It is Christmas morning and all the presents have been opened. The living room resembles a house ransacked with gifts and bright paper wrappings strewn about. The kids are gone to text or call their friends about their gifts. I am left alone in the midst of chaos. It is peaceful.

Each Christmas is different. Time changes everything. The kids are older now, Hannah is twenty two and Will is sixteen. The innocence of youth is long gone. The excitement of youth is replaced by a more mature approach to the mysteries of life. The peels of joy that once accompanied the unwrapping of each gift is now a studied and muted "thank you". And left alone with my thoughts, what I see now on a snowy Christmas morning is solitude. My children have grown. Their interests have moved on from family to friends. Still, love and happiness surround me. I keep this moment for myself.

Merry Christmas to one and all. I like Sara McLaughlin better, but Joni Mitchell is still classic.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

chris brogan

I came across Chris Brogan's site today and wanted to make a mental note to myself to check it out. Who is Chris Brogan? The site is put together well and has some good advice. I will come back to it in time.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Okay, I get it. We are all tired of having to learn something new. Why can't we just stick with the tried and true? The good old days were good enough, why change a gosh darn thing? To this, I say, "Hog wash!"

In Shakespeare's King Lear, the king says, "Nothing can come of nothing" to his daughter Cordelia, meaning that as long as she says nothing to flatter him, she will receive nothing from him. Later, Lear nearly repeats the line, saying, "Nothing can be made out of nothing" (Act 1.1 and Act 1.4 respectively).

One can get a lot out of Shakespeare. King Lear is a play about a foolish old man, who having created a kingdom worth possessing, wants to give it all away and retire to the life of a thoughtful recluse. So, having three daughters, King Lear gives away his kingdom to his "worthy" daughters in the hopes that they will continue his wise rule. All he asks is the comfort of his children in his dotage. The third daughter, Cordelia, refuses to be drawn into the game of praising an old fool, gets nothing. But, there is now fool like an old fool. Lear does not understand that the fidelity of Cordelia is the true test of filial devotion. The empty promises of his other two daughters soon turn to scorn and Lear is left without a kingdom, without respect and without the love of his daughters, excepting Cordelia, who he has dispossessed.

Yesterday, I asked my daughter for help. She told me to do it myself. It is not bad advice. Still, I could not feel a little bit like King Lear, helpless and alone in the world. My sister keep telling me she doesn't want to learn anything new. My wife tells me I am never satisfied with anything. My son tells me that I am the old fool that King Lear became.

So be it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

the carpenters

Forty years after siblings Richard and Karen Carpenter signed with A&M Records, Richard Carpenter releases a 40th-anniversary compilation CD, Carpenters: 40/40. Listen to Terri Gross and Richard Carpenter on the Fresh Air podcast - Richard's take on the duo's rise to fame. Hats off to Burt Bacharoff and Herb Alpert, but the Carpenters were their own gig. If you like music, and how it is made, this is a must listen to. Learn about dubbing, four part harmonies and melodies.

Can you hear the difference?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

old barn redux

This is the same old barn where the hue and saturation have been increased. The brightness was kept the same. The effect is again done with the filters tool in fireworks or photoshop.

There is a good tutorial on hue and saturation at

Here is a second photograph of a railroad track heading east toward Emporia. Again, I used the filter tool to adjust the brightness and contrast of the whole image. The washed out sky is then selected with the magic wand and again with the filter select hue, saturation, and brightness. I took the brightness all the way down to zero to create a black sky.

an old barn west of emporia

While waiting for my son while he played in a soccer tournament, I shot this photo of an old barn just west of Emporia, off highway 50. The day was cool and overcast.

This is the change that takes place by adding filters to an image. In Fireworks or Photoshop select filter and then choose brightness and contrast. First, I applied the brightness and contrast to the entire image. I lowered the brightness and raised the contrast. The grass became greener, the barn and trees darker. I used the magic wand to select the sky and applied the filter to the selected area.

The second photograph is without life.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

off the beaten path

So, what is this photograph all about?

Well, if you live in the Flint Hills of Kansas, you will recognize the image as the Chase County Courthouse, built in 1873, which is located in Cottonwood Falls, south of Emporia, north of Wichita, on Highway 77, almost dead center in the Flint Hills and near nothing else.

I took the photograph Saturday, late afternoon, while returning from Emporia to Wichita with my son Will. The courthouse is the oldest courthouse in Kansas in continuous use. It is a great example of a French Renaissance style building. Coincidentally, it looks like my grandmother's house in Graffigny-Chemin.

But, I digress. The photograph is altered, just look at the trees on the right of the courthouse. Use the magic wand to delete the sky. Then, use the magic wand again in the tree branches of the top layer to delete additional pixels to improve the image. I have added in a new sky with a new layer which is below the courthouse using fireworks. Not perfect, but good enough.

To do this, you need to create a new layer in fireworks. The process is easier in photoshop, but I am working in fireworks, so deal with it. There are two images. The top layer is the courthouse and the second image and second layer is the sky background. In the top layer, the courthouse, use the use the magic wand tool to highlight the grey sky. Delete or clear the selected pixels. Now, go to the second image and copy this image into a second layer. If you have the courthouse as the top layer you are done.

I still need to work on the trees.

Friday, November 13, 2009

your're not sorry

Songs express our emotions more clearly than words. Here is Taylor Swift in You're Not Sorry.

I tried to extend a helping hand to someone and hired a young girl to work. This was her first real job out of college. I hired her because of her exuberance, curiosity, and intelligence. She was excited to work, she said, but never showed up. It was one excuse after another. And every excuse began with "sorry". Need I say more?

Lyrics to You're Not Sorry :
All this time I was wasting hoping you would come around
I’ve been giving out chances everytime and all you do is let me down
And its taking me this long but baby I figured you out
And you think it will be fine again but not this time around

You don’t have to call anymore
I won’t pick up the phone
This is the last straw
Don’t want to hurt anymore
And you can tell me that you’re sorry
But I won’t believe you baby like I did before
You’re not sorry no more, no more, no

Lookin’ so innocent
I might believe you if I didn’t know
Could’a loved you all my life
If you hadn’t left me waiting in the cold
And you got your share of secrets
And I’m tired of being last to know
And now you’re asking me to listen
Cuz its worked each time before

lyrics from lyricsmania

Three times and counting she had an excuse for not being at work. First, "Sorry, I was confused on the starting day." Second, "Sorry, my grandmother died." Third, "Sorry, I really need more time to sort things out." For my part, I have put in seven emails and two phone calls. She emails that she will be there, but never returns a phone call.

Often, I go back in thought to that sappy line from Love Story, the one where Ryan O'Neill says to Ali McGraw, "Love means never having to say you're sorry. "Love" is just another word for commitment, dedication, support - a willingness to be there for someone else.The true test of any relationship - be it family, friendship, or work - is the test of being there, of showing up.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

life goes on

I had an email from an important person who was "Angry in H." It seems she was fed up with the mounds of work at the office, endless meetings, and no end in site. She sends me a youtube video of a classic Beatles song Help! (Watch the video while you read the rest of this.) Now I don't know what you see when you watch this video; I see four smiling faces. I feel young again in a far happier time. I hear an upbeat song that sends out a message of hope. "Open up the door."

We are not alone, it only seems that way. Everyone struggles with work, family, and the meaning of life. All you have to do is take a note, pun intended, from others - look for the silver linings in those gray clouds. Follow the Help! video with the Beatles Obla Di Obla Da video. Life goes on. Ya.

Now if you don't think we all struggle with demons, read Madhatter's comment to the video.

... When I bought "Anthology 3" back in Oct. of 1996 (day it came out), I was BLOWN AWAY by how good the outtake version was of this song. I was like, "What the heck was wrong with this one?" If you've ever read "The Beatles' Complete Recording Sessions" you might know that Paul just about drove everyone insane with trying to get this song the way he wanted it. He wasn't even satisfied with THIS version and attempted a THIRD remake of it.

By the way, my teeth look like Paul's.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why anything?

Lady Gaga shows off her newest body art. The curling script on her left arm comes from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

"In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?"


Did I ever tell the story of being overwhelmed at sea.

The story is not terribly dramatic. The family, Robin and I with Hannah and Will, were vacationing in Cinque Terre, Italy. We were staying in Monterosso. The coast line is rocky and rugged, and aside from a few vineyards on the steep hills, the main industry is catering to the thousands of tourists who flock to the coast to get away from the heat of the interior and the crowded cities.

The area is called Cinque Terre because of the five villages spaced at intervals of a few miles along the coastline. Today, the villages are connected by a railroad carved through the mountains, but once it wa just a steep and winding path along the coast. Still, there is no road to connect the towns. One either walks the path, takes the train, or goes by boat.

I decided to swim from Monterossa to Vernazza, the next village, maybe a distance of a mile or so. I wasn't rested - we had arrived just the day before - still, I was off on a swim down the coast line. A third of the way there, I was out of the harbor and away form any houses or help. The path on the hillside had wound its way up the hill so that I was on my own. Never before have I had a leg cramp while swimming. But, all of the sudden my left calf cramped. The feeling is awful. There is an intense pain that grabs you, like a shark grabbing a hold of your leg. I stop swimming and try to massage the calf muscle with my arms. I am kept afloat with my remaining right leg. All of the sudden the right calf muscle chooses to cramp and there I am at sea 250 feet from the shore and overwhelmed with pain.

What do you do when you are overwhelmed? What do you do when the situation is something you can't handle? In somewhat of a surreal sensation, I had a fleeting thought that this was it and said my goodbyes to my family - kind of hard to do when you are flailing about in pain. Next, I assessed the situation, realized that I could not massage two legs at the same time and hope to remain afloat. So, I thought back to those life saving classes my parents made me take when I was twelve. Turn over, arch your back, and try to remain calm. Eventually, the cramps subsided and I was able, by the slow movement of my arms and without my legs, to make my way to shore.

Maybe, I am over dramatizing the sense of being overwhelmed at sea. The point is that sometimes we can't physically overcome an obstacle. Instead, it takes a calm appreciation of the situation. Time and patience will present a clearer picture of the challenges we face. And then, and only then, can we make our way to a safe harbor.

Photo Rolf Hickerson photography.


My sister and I are learning how to blog. Here is her list of excuses as to why she doesn't keep up.

Sorry.....I really have been swamped!!!!!!

Here is my list of bad excuses:
1. Leave house at 7:30.
2. Get home at 7:00.
3. Continue to work on lessons until I get a bite to eat.
4. Try to spend some quality time with my husband.
5. Just overwhelmed ...!!!!!

Tips for dealing with excuses.

My sister is a teacher of middle school English. English is a critical skill. In fact it is the single most important skill that a student needs to learn to become a functioning and successful adult. And middle school students, I recognize, are the hardest students to teach, being caught in that strange transition from compliant youths into a rebellious, hormone-filled young adults. Sports, dating, and the internet are higher on a students' list of preferred activities than learning rules of grammar and the art of composition. So, God bless her, my sister who tackles the challenge of educating today's youth for tomorrow's challenges.

Lately, she has felt overwhelmed. I know the feeling well, don't we all. Daily, we are confronted with life's burdens - multiple projects to get done and not enough time; or, managing kids and work; or, trying to console a spouse who is his or herself troubled at the office, while you have your own set of worries. Don't we all just want to say, "Enough, time out!"

I know that I have been accused of being insensitive. I should understand that it is hard to learn a new skill set, that it is hard to take on thirty new students, create a lesson plan, and continue to be super mom and wife at home. Okay already. I apologize for being a hard taskmaster. But, the taskmasters of the world get the tasks done. And, after all, isn't that what teachers do - cajole, plead, ask, and bully, in order to get the very best out of their students? Get the job done.

As Popeye famously said, "I am who I y'am."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Jon and Kate

Is there anyone else out there who suspects that the recent Jon and Kate break-up is an elaborate publicity hoax to keep up ratings and extract more money from a gullible public?

Pick a random couple with kids out of the entire U.S. population and make a show about their difficulties in raising their children. Sounds dull to me, but most of America can't get enough of Jon and Kate Gosselin. Google "Jon and Kate" and you get "Results 1 - 10 of about 36,600,000 for jon and kate".

Since their break-up, they are now news.

News results for jon and kate

New York Daily News
Kate Gosselin: Jon took $230K from account‎ - 19 minutes ago
Jon Gosselin virtually cleaned out the account that Kate said contains all their liquid assets last week after TLC announced that it would continue filming ... - 177 related articles »
Kate Set Up Jon!‎ - E! Online - 1078 related articles »

If Jon is as concerned as he says he is about publicity, why doesn't he just resume a normal life and quit "cold turkey" the daily and nightly appearances on the talk show circuit? America, wake up and let's move on to the next reality wonder.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

la trouver anglo-saxon

Un Anglais trouve tresor. en anglais, "treasure trove". Il se cherche en se promenant à travers les champs du comté de Staffordshire avec un détecteur de métaux anciens. L'État anglais revendique la trouver pour lui-même. L'archéologue amateur recevra une récompense de taille.

La découverte est vaste et important. Il y a plus de mille articles, datant du VIIe siècle.
Une pièce d'or (en photo) est inscrite avec des mots à partir de Livre des Nombres et lit: «Surge Domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant Qui oderunt te a facie tua», ou «Lève-toi, ô Seigneur, et mai tes ennemis soient dispersés, et leur faire qui te haïssent, fuient devant ta face ».

the scream

The Scream (painted 1893?) by expressionist painter and Norwegian Edvard Munch, depicts an agonized gender-neutral figure transfixed against a blood red sky. Munch's own thoughts on the painting were:

I was walking along a path with two friends—the sun was setting—suddenly the sky turned blood red—I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence—there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city—my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety—and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Diary headed Nice 22.01.1892. Source Wikipedia.

The most likely inspiration for the painting are the northern lights displays that appear over Norway in late autumn and early spring. Another real life inspiration might have been the volcanic explosion of Krakatoa in 1883. And, of course, it may have been a combination of the two natural phenomena - the volcanic explosion released elements into the atmosphere that affected both the color of the northern lights and the extent of their display.

The painting and the figure it displays have become iconic, expressing humankind struggle to adapt to a world gone mad. The gender-neutral figure suggests a universal appeal. Not coincidentally was the artist's manic-depressive sister admitted as a patient in a mental instituition at the time of the painting. Moreover, the struggle is a solitary one. The figure screams while his two normal looking and uncaring companions accompany him/her.

The painting expresses our daily struggle to make sense of who we are and what we are doing here. How can a world of beauty co-exist with ugliness? How can a God who is infinitely wise create men and women who are cruel and inhuman beyond human understanding? And, can we understand our pupose in such a world gone mad? Our scream for sanity, recognition, or help go unheard.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

leave those kids alone

Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall expresses the feeling of many kids that teachers are often more interested in keeping kids quiet than teaching. Thus, education becomes a means of "thought control".

Roger Waters, who wrote the song, was a product of the English public schools. And, one of his main ideas was to describe the "walls" that people put up in order to protect themselves. But another subtext was the failure of an English education system that stresses uniformity over education. Hey, we are not making bricks here, are we? Simply put, it is a system that fails to account for either the diversity of, or the needs of - students.

Waters' experience in the school system is not unique. One only has to read of Roald Dahl in Boy:Tales of Childhood or Stephen King in On Writing to see that the experience is not isolated. Teaching is sometimes taught like an Al Qaeda training camp - rigorous, unrelenting, and brutal. Fortunately, positive experiences ate the norm. They are the result of dedicated teachers who teach with passion and understanding.

What makes for outstanding teachers? I am sure that we all have a memory of an outstanding teacher. One who "made a difference" in our lives. The "qualities" of that teacher are not unique. They vary with the needs of each student. But, one universal quality is the ability to impart a new way of seeing the world, of opening eyes and ears and pouring knowledge into a mind. Outstanding teachers "see" the world with the same youthful enthusiasm of their students. They make lesson plans interesting, informative, and relevant. And, being youthful, these outstanding teachers embrace the new technology of their students in a positive way.

"Knowledge is power" says famed management specialist Peter Drucker. And education is the key to opportunities, says our President when addressing community colleges. They are both right. Teachers serve a critical role in spreading knowledge and creating knowledge, so that students don't become just another "brick in the wall".

Sunday, September 20, 2009

don't shoot the teacher

"Shooting the messenger" describes the act of lashing out at the bearer of unwanted or bad news.

See Shakespeare in Henry IV, part 2

In ancient times, messages were delivered in person. In war a messenger was sent from the enemy camp. On receiving such an overture, the opposition vented anger on the deliverer of the unpopular message, avoiding both the truth of the message and its true author - thus literally killing the messenger. Today, the expression refers to punishment meted out to the person bearing unwanted news, but is ironic as well.

Teachers are the messengers of knowledge. And the message they deliver is one of education. Why is education important?" The answer is that, more than ever, education, and the knowledge it imparts especially computer knowledge, provides opportunities for students which are not as widespread to those without that knowledge. Teachers deliver this message every day to their students - global communication through computer technology is the key to success. One only has to look at the relative advancement of computer based technologies over traditional manufacturing based industries to understand the significance of the computer on everyday life.

But new technologies are not without their detractors. And the messenger of this new technology will bear the frustration and anger of those who do not want to hear the message. One only has to think back to Socrates to be reminded that the punishment is often swift and severe. Yet, the teacher labors on in the pursuit of truth, mindful of the consequences and focused on the task at hand.

We are all teachers of a sort. Whether as parents, spouses, businessmen and women, or simply as good citizens, we interact with others each and every day. We try to teach our children the important and unimportant lessons of life. We support and mentor our spouses through both the happy and difficult periods of life. We are challenged at work. We deal with neighbors and strangers, keeping in mind the lesson that "one should do unto others as you would have them do unto you." And yet, we know that in spite of our efforts, the effort will not always be returned in kind.

New methods of teaching are always slow to come. Like the rain with a storm it begins. First, there are a few drops of those who advance the cause of knowledge, then, the sprinkles become steady as the knowledge is spread and understood, and, finally, their is a torrent of rain as the new technology of learning becomes the standard of education. Today, sitting with my son at Panera, eating breakfast and working at our laptop on a Sunday morning, I felt and saw one of those early rain drops. She was a teacher in her thirties with her laptop open. As I walked by, I saw that she was typing a lesson plan for her students. She typed for 20 or 30 minutes while we ate breakfast, and having finished her work, she closed her laptop and left, smiling at my son and I as she noticed, that we too, were working at our laptop while we ate breakfast.

Encouraged by her example, I finished with my son. And when we walked outside, it began to rain.


The teacher must:

a) keep the discussion focused

b) keep the discussion intellectually responsible

c) stimulate the discussion with questions

d) summarize what has and has not been dealt with and/or resolved

e) draw as many students as possible into the discussion.

Advice from the Lone Star State

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The road not taken by Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Every fall this poem by Robert Frost comes to mind. And every time that I reread it, I struggle with the meaning of his last line, "I took the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference." Was Frost's choice random? Does life come down to the flip of a coin, a random chance? Where does the meaning of our choices derive from; if it is not a conscious decision determined by the circumstances of our life and its events then what meaning can there be?

I, like Frost, prefer the road less traveled. But, my choice is meaningful - to experience the new and different. The same drive and urge that pushed Columbus across the ocean blue when others questioned his wisdom. It is only through new challenges that we grow as human beings.

Oh, the picture has significance - it is a path that my French forebearers traveled many times in their lives. It is a path that led on to other journeys. It is a path less traveled, but one that brings me to where I am.

Monday, September 7, 2009

driving miss daisy

My son's sixteenth birthday will occur this November. Nevertheless, in the state of Kansas, one can get a learner's permit at the age of 15 that allows a youthful driver to drive to and from work or school. It is not a particularly smart law to allow 15 -year- olds on the highway, but the legislature has given its approval because Kansas is still a primarily rural state and a little extra help around the farm is always needed. Moreover, busy parents don't always have the time to drive their kids from the family farm to a school miles away. Finally, here in Kansas, we simply don't have the traffic congestion that one finds in Chicago, L.A., or New York City.

As I say, it is not a particularly smart law and needs to be changed. So with more towns, cars, and people, there are more accidents involving youthful drivers. In recognition of this, Kansas is raising the minimum age for a driver to sixteen. It is still too young, mind you if safety is the question, then the minimum driving age for girls should be twenty-five and for boys thirty.

The terms "work and school" to which a youth can drive to and from, are left rather inexact in their definition. Left up to the fifteen-year-old, these two words work and school encompass the known universe. For instance, driving to a football or soccer game at school is driving to school. And by extension, passing by your school to visit friend from school, and then mentioning school becomes okay. The same with work, stopping off on the way home from work or going to work is really just going to and coming from work.

This morning my son had a soccer game at another school ten miles from home. Naturally, he wanted to drive by himself. Armed with the law of the land, he argued that he should be entitled to drive. He would be safe and buckle up. He would keep his speed down. He would not allow any other kids in the car. But parents must be parents and regardless of the law and the plaintiff appeals of a fifteen-year-old, parents must err on the side of caution and wisdom. The car after all, is over ten years old and a clunker that looks better in a demolition derby than on the highway.

And so, like the character who drives Miss Daisy in the movie, I drove my son to his soccer game. And like the driver, I took the verbal abuse. I listened to how life isn't fair. I heard many things that are unrepeatable, but like the driver, I was doing my job.