Sunday, December 25, 2011

Compendium of Links #22

Why is it that the only time I post anymore is when I’m sending up a plateful of links? Maybe because it’s Christmas, ergo, I actually have a life. Weird. And even the compendium is a little late! But enjoy the links on this fantastic celebratory day!

The best bosses lead by failing—in other words, “humble leaders who embrace their failures are more effective and better liked, according to a new study.” No, duh. And why was this a study in the first place? Yes, I understand the importance of trust-but-verify. But this sort of thing seems like it should be left to philosophers, not social scientists.

A quarter of Europe has never used the Internet. Never. Ever. I wonder what that stat’s like in the U.S.? It’s probably higher than you think. The internet doesn’t have much relevance if you’re poor in Kentucky, after all.

If you need to write a sympathy card and have no idea what to say—and I’m with ya there—this guide might help. (Via Challies.)

What was the world Googling in 2011? That link, pointing to the newest Google Zeitgeist (German for “spirit of the age”), is the answer. I’ve seen this billed as “what the world was thinking about,” but I at least know that what I think of and what I Google are two different things. Sometimes they intersect, but more often than not, they don’t. So what do stats like these say?

Norad tracks Santa and gives kids lots of little online games to play. Oh dear. I’m not sure I really want a bunch of kids rotting their brains playing Santa games….. of course, I’m not a fan of much of any other game either…

Except for this one, Circle the Cat. One of the local high school teachers lets her students play this to help them develop their mathematical/logical thinking skills. It’s a little addicting, but I beat it in about five minutes. (And I just beat it again on first try. Sweet.)

I saw this on NPR a few days ago: A mugging victim offers the thief his coat, ends up treating him to dinner and receives his wallet back, out only the price of the meal. An interesting anecdote regarding human behavior and mercy.

And now, from my favorite a cappella group: Not a song.

An… interesting rendition of the poem!

Breaking news archives

What would it have been like to write about the birth of Jesus in AP style?

BETHLEHEM, Judea—Rumors about a baby’s birth in a stable have been confirmed. Jesus, son of Joseph son of Jacob and his betrothed Mary, was born early yesterday morning in a stable-turned-lodging in the city, according to the stable’s owner and census officials who stopped there mid-morning today. The couple journeyed here from Nazareth in Galilee to comply with Caesar Augustus’ census.

Still unconfirmed are rumors that heavenly beings appeared to shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem. No other witnesses to the event have been found, but several sheep were discovered unattended late last night and their shepherds eventually located in the vicinity of the stable. They claim to have been sent there by the angels.

The baby is destined to become the Jewish savior, according to his father Joseph. The royal priests and prophets were unavailable for comment.

It is also unknown whether the bright star first noticed at the first hour of the morning yesterday was related to the baby’s birth, caused by some other event or simply another unexplained astronomical phenomenon.



Saturday, December 10, 2011

Compendium of Links #21

I’m writing this on Friday, after a good week at work: I’ve been working on improving the articles I write and realized I’d made some progress! Now just to maintain that progress… but in the meantime, here’s some intriguing links from the week:

How rich are you? Really? This data is why I have never, ever been able to take the Occupy movement seriously.

Janie B. Cheaney over at WORLD Magazine ponders the effects of telling every large-scale story from the launchpad of a personal tale.

Is it racism? Tell the story of Reconstruction-era blacks through the experience of one woman (Beloved). Is it capitalism? Sketch the sweep of the Russian revolution through the tempestuous relationship of a single couple (Reds). Multiculturalism? Show one of the most brutal battles of World War II from the perspective of two soldiers—on the other side (Letters from Iwo Jima). This is a valid approach: the inductive method of starting from a single example and drawing larger conclusions from it. But the problem with a lot of contemporary inductive storytelling is that there may be no larger conclusion to draw.

I hadn’t thought of stories that started with the personal and never got around to drawing the larger conclusion. The good stories are the ones that combine the personal and the universal, after all. It hadn’t entered my mind that a story could be personal without having universal conclusions in it. (And for what it’s worth, I see a lot of news articles that begin with a vignette, the personal story of someone who’s caused or been affected by whatever newsworthy phenomenon is the subject.)

Matt @ The Church of No People described the two elements that make the Perfect Romantic Comedy: a man that acts like a woman and a woman that acts like a man, at least in some respects. Figures. The sarcastic tone highlights the dangerous absurdity of a lot of modern chick flicks. (And he highlights one of my favorite older chick flicks, It Happened One Night. He’s right—Gregory Peck is the ultimate chick flick hero!)

One thing I’ve discovered in my new adult life is that there just isn’t nearly enough time to read! Not as much as I’d like, anyway. (At least there’s more time now for reading than I had in college.) So I’m not sure I’ll be able to take this guy’s advice to diversify my reading. I’ll be doing good to read what I need to improve my writing and grow more spiritually. But he’s right that a varied reading habit is healthier than a predictable one.

Robert Niles at the Online Journalism Review (one of my preferred journalism thought websites) lists five more ways we might be able to get journalism right in a convergent media world. I sent this to my editor and she said “yes! yes! LOCAL is what I’ve been saying!” On another journalism note, bloggers aren’t covered by journalists’ shield laws, or at least not yet. I’m extremely curious how the court is going to differentiate between the “mere” citizen-blogger and the established journalist… it’s a different world now. And thirdly, I totally want to do this program to go reporting in Latin America (or the Caribbean). (English version here.) Since applications are received until the end of January I just might apply this year…

Indiana’s trying to foster a good business climate, and that goes beyond one-time tax breaks. Russ Pulliam at WORLD describes the latest reforms and draws conclusions based on the data in the Rich States, Poor States index. I might have to ask somebody in my little town what they think.

Let’s compare the TV tastes of Democrats and Republicans! I find this stuff fascinating. But my favorite show—Doctor Who—didn’t make any of the lists. Sigh. (Via Gene Veith.)

Is mediated communication just catering to self-centeredness and the innate desire for control? Maybe it is. Maybe that’s why half the people I know have engaged in some form of The Facebook Fast more often than “real” fasting. Maybe that’s why I’m not getting internet at my apartment. (Via Challies.)

Just found this today (Friday): There’s a difference between iconography and art, as Joi Weaver at the Evangelical Outpost explains. Wow, that makes a lot of sense:

Ms. Fernandez is welcome to her opinions, and to like or dislike the work as she pleases. However, she has made a very significant error: art is not iconography. The two fields are informed and influenced by each other, but they are distinct. Iconography is created to invite contemplation of spiritual truths, to guide meditation and prayer. Art is, in Fernandez’ own words, “to convey meaning and express beauty.”

And it just might be important to remember the distinction.

LOL: I love Jon Acuff’s “Leg dropping elves” Christmas classic. Sooo hilarious.

Since I used up the one video I actually found this week… here’s one from  my favorite YouTube channel, WhatYouOughtToKnow:

Math is cool. Humor is cool. Both together are awesome.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Philosophy as gainful employment

What in the world did philosophers do to put food on the table? It’s not as if many people will pay you to sit and think, think tanks notwithstanding.

I suppose that’s why they had mistresses—to cover the living expenses.

The six-month school of small-town journalism

About halfway through November, I finished six months at my first job after college, and the first job in my field. Here’s what my first six months of news reporting taught me:

1. Sunshine laws. There are lots of things government entities can’t do in their meetings… for instance, they can’t hold impromptu meetings, except if a dire situation demands it and only then after notifying all the local media. And any quorum of a government body in the same place, discussing business, constitutes a meeting—so elected officials can’t get out of this by getting together for morning coffee and accidentally talking about what-have-you. There’s a whole book on the open meeting and public records laws—and the state will send it to you free, if you want to learn about them.

2. Local government operations. I had no idea before I took this job how many branches there were of just a small city government—how many subcommittees a city council has, for instance. I’d only been to a couple city council meetings before, so I didn’t know what a city council was even supposed to do. Nor did I know much about state budgeting or how that affected the local governments. And I definitely had no idea why a city board of health was established. Do you?

3. Schools. Just being in a classroom doesn’t make anyone an expert on schools. I’ve learned more than I thought possible about state and federal hoops that schools have to jump through, just because I’ve been covering a couple local school boards. And I’ve learned about the extra work that comes with state and federal grant funds. School administrators speak a lingo all their own that’s taken me months to understand, too—stuff like IEPs and House Bill pick-a-number. I’m still deciphering some of it.

4. Contact info. I’ve learned to save every business card I’ve ever touched—the oddest was when I needed the cemetery manager’s phone number—and to write down the name and number of everyone I’ve ever called, even the random woman connected to a military moms’ support group. I’ve also learned that most people’s e-mail signatures contain all the contact info you could ever need. Once I’ve got e-mails, business cards and scraps of paper with lots of names and phone numbers, I enter the info into the computerized address book—which is searchable. “Searchable” is music to my ears when I want some bit of information instantly.

5. Organization. The notes I now deal with are way more voluminous and complicated than anything I ever wrote in college. So, I’ve learned to stay on top of my filing, putting all my notes for a story with that story and all my related stories in their file and all the related files (local government, local organizations, county stuff) in their respective hanging folders in the file drawer. If I don’t do it quickly, it’ll overwhelm me! And I label every CD I use as soon as it leaves the disk drive, even if I plan to throw it away. I label with information as detailed as will possibly fit on a CD face; I can’t have umpteen disks lying around that all say “photos.” All my story ideas are kept on index cards in a green box so I don’t lose track of them, too.

6. Practical clothing. I was once sent to a firefighting simulation site wearing flip-flops and went slipping around in the fine gravel. Since then I’ve either worn durable shoes or kept a pair in the car. I never know if I’ll get sent out to some site piled with dirt or debris—I can’t be wearing pretty heels then. I also dress in layers—especially blazers—so I can get comfortable whether I’m outside in the freezing cold (or sweltering heat, in the summer) or inside where the temperature’s drastically different.

7. Attitude. The kind of story I get out of an interview or event depends greatly on the attitude I take toward it. If I go to a meeting that I assume will be boring, the story I write will be boring. If I think the photo op I’m sent to is ho-hum, I’ll get a decent photo with an uninteresting cutline (caption), not the full story that’s lurking beneath the annual potluck announcement. If I enjoy the topic I’m writing about, I’ll pay attention, ask more questions and be able to write a better story.

8. Integrity. I’ve learned I should just be honest with people, no sugarcoating, no empty promises. To say the same thing to people who want opposite answers, and to admit flat out that I just don’t know. It’s simple, but not easy—for example, sometimes I forget what I’ve told people I’d do for them, like drop off a few extra copies of a newspaper, and that becomes an empty promise. So I try to make up for where I’ve fallen short. And in a small town, that makes a huge difference. People will let each other know who’s trustworthy and who’s not.

9. How to improve. Just doing journalism has taught me a lot, sure, but I learn even more when I take the time to read good books about writing and to read good newswriting. When I read one of my favorite newsmagazines, I study what made a given article so interesting or so authoritative. After I notice those things, I imitate them. Humility is a must here—the guts to admit you don’t have everything perfect.

10. Humanity. City managers, state senators, chamber presidents and school superintendents are people, no more, no less—just like me. They’re not to be feared nor stereotyped, but rather deserve to be treated decently. After all, they can appreciate a joke and make a mistake as easily as I can. And they might be just as intimidated by the journalist as the journalist is by them.

I’ve been at this job a whopping six months. There’s plenty more to learn, and I look forward to the next half a year’s education.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

I just can’t wait…

Tim Challies had this on his blog this morning. Oh my goodness, it’s the funniest video I’ve seen yet this winter.

Yes, yes, I’m looking for a Mormon disco ball. The joke’s on me more than it’s on you.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What 50,015 words taught me

Last month, I learned I can write 2,000 words of fiction in an hour and a half if I don’t think too hard. It’s not good fiction, but it’s grammatically correct.

I also learned that if I quit watching movies, reading novels and surfing the Internet, I can write a 50,000-word novella in one month, start to finish.

This year I participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for the second time in my life. It comes every November and the goal is to write 50,000 words in one month just for the sake of writing. The first time I participated, I was a sophomore in college with nothing better to do besides watch YouTube videos. This time, I had an apartment and a full-time job. I even had to cook for myself. Was this really a good idea?

So I made a bargain. If I could manage it, great. If I started to get overwhelmed, if I lost sleep or if my concentration at work started to suffer, I would give it up immediately without the guilt of quitting.

But I hate to quit.

I’m just about convinced that the reason I actually finished NaNoWriMo was because I don’t have a family to care for, unlike most people I know; heck, I don’t even have a boyfriend to text endlessly. Yeah, I had to put off writing for several days over Thanksgiving, but the weekend after—when most people were traveling and I’d already done my road trip—I doubled up the writing (with the help of multiple naps and chick flicks) to recover the ground I’d lost.

Another big reason is that I don’t have Internet at home, so it was easy to limit my Internet usage: I made about 75 percent fewer trips to the library. (That also helped limit the number of movies I watched!) A laptop without internet is boring—or, not distracting, so I could write profusely in a comparatively short time.

So this is what I did: If I wasn’t out of town or completely exhausted, I tried to write 2,000 words every night (and double that the last weekend). That’s about an hour and a half to two hours of work, depending how much writer’s block I experienced. I’m not a fiction writer, so it might have taken other people less time.

In order to find that extra… 45-plus hours of time in the month, I quit watching movies almost entirely (well, I did watch five all month) and quit reading books, too, besides cutting down my time on the Internet. I put off dishes until the sink overflowed (not recommended) and simply skipped most cleaning (not that big a deal; I’m not an incredibly messy person to start with).

It’s not a lifestyle I could maintain indefinitely. But for a month, for the bragging rights and the chance to see how much free time I really have… it’s worth it. I wrote the 50,015th word at 6:50 p.m. Nov. 30, 2011. I am a NaNoWriMo Winner.

Top ten reasons Thanksgiving is better than Christmas

10. If you’re born on Thanksgiving, you don’t have to suffer sharing your birthday with a major holiday every single year, world without end, Amen.

9. You can celebrate in October and nobody looks at you funny. Or if people do, you can tell them you’re Canadian. Visiting family overseas gets so much simpler.

8. It’s more fun to whoop like an Indian for the class play than to pretend you’re scared of a short angel in the Christmas pageant.

7. Sometimes it’s actually warmer than 45 degrees on Thanksgiving. On Christmas, the best you can hope for is snow to go along with the freezing temperature.

6. It’s always a Thursday, so you’re practically guaranteed a five-day weekend. This year, Christmas is on a Sunday. Try figuring out your holiday then!

5. The point of the holiday isn’t lost in the commercials.

4. TURKEY STUFFING. Even better than hot cider.

3. Nobody’s afraid to tell me to have a happy one.

2. No gifts = no gift drama.

1. People all over the country stop to thank their family, their friends and God for the blessings they usually take for granted.

That being said—do you agree? Which holiday is your favorite?

Compendium of Links #20

Unfortunately my mom’s van died this evening as she was driving home from my little town’s Christmas celebrations. As she was driving. So, she pulled into the parking lot of a township garage and called me for a ride the rest of the way home. I figured that, since I’m back at my parents’ house anyway, I’d take advantage of the wi-fi there!

Tim Challies wrote a loooong blog post about how to go about reading Scripture for a congregation, be it a congregation of five or fifty thousand. He’s got a lot of good stuff to say. One of my pet peeves is hearing Scripture read without any inflection.

Challies also put me onto this article about how modern church growth strategies (ones based on sentimentality and pragmatism) flies in the face of the Gospel’s true call to churches.

Sentimentality and pragmatism are the one-two punch which has the American Church on the ropes, while a generation of church leaders acquiesces to the demands of our consumer culture. The demands are simple: tell me something that will make me feel better (sentimentality for the churchgoer), and tell me something that will work (pragmatism for the church leader). Yet it is not clear how either one of those are part of what it means to be the church.

….The fundamental problem with the one-two punch of sentimentality and pragmatism is, of course, the church's job is not to affirm people's lives, but to allow the gospel to continually call our lives into question.

My little town has a community chorus that’s performing Handel’s “The Messiah” tomorrow—and I’m in it, too! I’m using CyberBass’s online MIDI files to practice since they  have each part highlighted in separate files as well as the general files with all the parts at equal volume.

Speaking of “The Messiah…” this is how not to do it. (HT: Challies again… apparently his posts are all the online reading I’ve been able to get to lately!)

And for your video this week: First, background information…. this guy flew through the Alps for 11 hours in a glider, without a motor. James Fallows discusses how. The video below shows the beautiful mountains the guy saw. (The video text appears to be in Italian and it sounds like that’s what he’s speaking. I was proud to be able to make out a little, based on what I know of Spanish.) About ten minutes into the video is the only shot that isn’t taken straight on from the plane’s cockpit. A map at the end of the vid shows the flight path.

Ohhhhhhhh my. I would like to see the Alps myself, someday. Actually I think it’s already on my bucket list.