Learning to Weld :)

I really like the feature that Amazon.com provides, where they send you emails about books you might be interested in, based upon other books you’ve purchased. It’s a great value add for me as a customer.

I recently received the following email from Amazon. Really made me smile. 🙂


In case the picture is too small to read on your browser, here’s the first sentence:

We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased or rated The Internet and Your Kids: Healthy Habits for a Safe Online Home have also purchased Learning to Weld on DVD.

I’m now left wondering what the connection could possibly be between the people who purchased both items… 🙂

Burger King — Most Valuable Bag?!

It’s Saturday night, I’m on the way home with approximately half of my kids, it’s late, I have no idea what to feed them once I get home, so I make a semi-irresponsible decision to buy burgers at the local fast food joint rather than whipping up something more nutritious and cost effective in my own kitchen.

This is when I hit pay dirt, and realize it’s been far too long since last I blogged. About anything.

I’m sitting with the kids, inhaling my Whopper Junior (trademark, copyright, patent pending), when I begin to read the brown paper bag that the food came in. Don’t ask. I’ve been a compulsive reader since I was first a reader, and I sort of read anything that passes before me, mostly out of instinct (and compulsion).

To assure you that I’m not making this up, I’ve included a photo of the side of said bag.

Most Valuable Bag


Huh? OK. I’m game. Let’s read on.

In football, the “twelfth man” is a crowd that helps a team to victory through cheer.

What the?! Yeah, I know what the “twelfth man” is, but “helps a team to victory through cheer”?! Who writes like this? Nobody that follows football. Now the “Valuable Bag” has my full attention.

This bag, emblazoned with a #12 on its bottom, is like the twelfth man of your lunch.

The twelfth man of my lunch?! Helping my lunch to victory through cheer, no doubt. Of course, this is dinner, but let’s not get too picky.

Because while you can’t actually eat it, the meal you are about to enjoy wouldn’t be possible without this MVB.

Um. OK. Several problems here. First of all, the dangling “it” leaves me wondering whether it’s the meal or the bag that I can’t actually eat. A few seconds of thought, plus one re-parsing of the sentence, leaves me with the inevitable conclusion that it’s the bag that I can’t actually eat.

But now, a logical fallacy has stopped me mid-Whopper (trademark, copyright, patent pending). This meal wouldn’t be possible without the bag?! What about the traditional “For here? Or to go?” question, which, if answered, “For here” would cause the food to be served on a plastic tray, rather than in a bag (valuable or not), thus providing an existence proof against the claim that the meal I am about to enjoy wouldn’t be possible without this MVB? Huh?! What about that, SmartBag?!

Still one thing sticking in my craw. The Most Valuable Bag claims that emblazoned on its own bottom is “#12”. This I gotta see…


Multiple problems. 1) Is this what you would really call “emblazoned”? 2) “12#”? Don’t you mean “#12”? I think “12#” would, strictly speaking, be read “twelve pounds,” which makes no sense whatsoever. 3) What the heck does “1-5” have to do with anything? Is this the snap count? An expression that evaluates to -4? The number of eligible receivers? 4) If “12#” is “emblazoned,” what do you call “1-5” which is similarly “emblazoned” on the bottom of the MVB, but in a font size twice as large?

What can all of this possibly mean?! I’m struggling with explanations.

I can only come up with one possible takeaway from this experience…

Whenever possible, don’t outsource your advertising campaign to non-native English speakers who don’t follow football, and have never actually ordered fast food from your establishment.

Second possible takeaway… During this Fall football season, the Most Valuable Blog recommends that you help your team to victory through cheer. Twelve pounds. Negative Four.

Cuil Internet Search Engine — Um… Not found?

My friend and former student John Jenkins alerted me to the following potentially embarrassing design flaw in the newest entry in the search engine wars. The challenger — Cuil (pronounced Cool), designed by former Google engineers and touted by them as a vastly superior search engine.

I’ll let John’s text from the email he sent me introduce the flaw:

First rule of creating an index of web pages to search: make sure to include your own web page.


iPhone screen capture

I haven’t blogged much about my iPhone. (OK, lately I haven’t blogged much about anything…) But the latest firmware release (2.0) to my iPhone provides me an amazingly slick and valuable tool — screen capture of the iPhone’s display.

First of all, doing it is amazingly simple. You hold down the home button for a second and then press the off/lock button (on the top right of the iPhone). The picture of the display is saved in the photos. From there you can do whatever you can already do with pictures on the iPhone, such as email them.

So why would I use this? I can imagine a number of situations. An obvious one is simply any situation in which you’d like to show someone how cool your iPhone looks when it does whatever. Very useful for bloggers, educators and obnoxious Apple aficionados of every ilk.

Another involves the really helpful utilities on the iPhone, like the built-in Google maps feature. Imagine you are on the road while your friend is trying to figure out how to get to your lunch meeting location (in this case Nicolitalia Pizzeria in Provo, Utah — possibly the best authentic Italian pizza place in the valley). Imagine further that your friend is not cool enough to have an iPhone with the built-in Google maps feature. You go to Google maps on your iPhone, type in the search string “Nicolitalia pizzeria, provo, utah,” find a map of the place. You find that the built-in Google maps pin places Nick’s in the middle of University Parkway. No problem, you drop a second pin yourself and drag it right into the parking lot in front of the destination. You now snap a picture, and email it to him from your phone. Your friend is momentarily enlightened. Lunch goes off without a hitch. He will be more consistently enlightened when he springs for his own iPhone and when he becomes a regular at Nick’s.

The attached photo is my live demo of how this actually works. Yes, I did in fact email this to myself from my iPhone. Yes, that is in fact Nicolitalia Pizzeria. Yes, they do in fact have the best authentic Italian thin crust pizza in the valley. And now you have a map to get there…

If you see me there, say “Hi.” 🙂

Nicolitalia Pizzeria

Blogging from the beach in Oregon

A year and a half ago I tried to blog from the beach in Oahu using just my Treo and failed pitifully. Tonight I’m sitting in my lawn chair on the beach in Waldport, Oregon waiting for Independence Day fireworks to start. Not as spectacular a beach, to be sure, but my iPhone holds more technical promise than my Treo ever did so I’m drawn to make the attempt.

My wife just accosted me and has dictated the following message: “My husband is an addict who can’t put down his pathetic electronic toys even though we’re sitting on the coast in Oregon to watch fireworks over the ocean, for Pete’s sake!”

My brother-in-law wants me to add the phrase, “with his very cool brother-in-law” but I won’t stand for that kind of irresponsible reporting.

It’s time to try and post this. It’s getting colder and I think it’s not just the weather.

Commencement Speech, ITT Technical Institute-Murray, June 7, 2008

I was honored to be the commencement speaker at the June 2008 graduation ceremony for ITT Technical Institute-Murray last Saturday, June 7 at the Hilton Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Here’s the speech:

Thank you Mr. Bowcutt. I’m humbled and honored to be with you today.

I understand that you’re a generally older crowd than I might find at a place like BYU or the UofU. In 1982 I was facing the prospect of beginning school at the University of Iowa as a 22-year-old freshman. I was expecting to graduate at age 26, which seemed at the time like completely over the hill. I shared my concerns with a friend, about how I’d be 26 when I finished my degree if I went to college. He looked at me and asked, “How old will you be in four years if you don’t go to college?” “Um… 26?”

In fact it was six years later that I graduated from BYU at age 28, by which time I was married and the father of two little girls. I finished my Masters Degree at BYU when I was 34 and we had five kids. I finished my Ph.D. in Computer Science from Oregon State University when I was 38 and we had six kids. I started my professorial career at BYU at age 40, which was 8 years ago. And I’ve still got 19 more years to retirement!

It is NEVER too late to finish your degree!!

You are to be commended for your efforts and your commitment. And your families are to be commended for their sacrifices in your behalf.

I want to begin by quoting the late Douglas Adams [1], who was the author of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

You are receiving Associates and Bachelors Degrees in various technology fields. All of which are extremely cool. Most of which were invented between when you were fifteen and when you will be (or in some of your cases, when you were) thirty-five. All of which will provide for you an endless stream of puzzle-solving satisfaction throughout your careers. And all of which will allow you to find yourself completely obsolete within the next five years.

If that terrifies anybody, just remember that I completed my Bachelors Degree in Computer Science 20 years ago this spring, and my doctorate in Computer Science more than 10 years ago, and I now know absolutely nothing about anything.

But… I have a degree, and I am tenured.

That’s only partially true. I do know one thing, and it turns out it makes all the difference. I know that I do not know, and I strive constantly to figure out both what I do not yet know, and what the answers are to the questions I have not yet asked.

Lest we wrap ourselves around our own axles too quickly, let me introduce you to the Laws of Ignorance as described by Dr. Philip Armour in his book “The Laws of Software Process” [2].

We’ll begin with zero, as we should in a technology friendly environment.

Zeroth Order Ignorance or Lack of Ignorance

I have Zeroth Order Ignorance when I know something, and I can demonstrate my lack of ignorance in some tangible form. Zeroth order ignorance is provable, simply by demonstrating that I know something.

How would I congratulate you in Italian? “Tanti Auguri!” This is just something I know.

First Order Ignorance or Lack of Knowledge

I have first order Ignorance when I do not know something and I can readily identify that fact.

How would I congratulate you in Etruscan? I have absolutely no idea. But I am aware that I do not know, and I’m quite confident that I could find out if I wanted to.

Second Order Ignorance or Lack of Awareness

I have Second Order Ignorance when I do not know that I do not know something.

In other words, not only am I ignorant of something, I am unaware of what it is I am ignorant about.

A few minutes ago some of you turned to your neighbor and said, “Is Etruscan a language?”

In order to give a definitive example of Second Order Ignorance I would have to describe something of which I am unaware, and this is obviously not possible.

Third Order Ignorance or Lack of Process

I have Third Order Ignorance when I do not know of a suitably efficient way to find out that I do not know that I do not know something.

In other words, I lack a suitable knowledge-gathering process that would move me to Second Order Ignorance (where I would learn that I didn’t know something) which would move me to First Order Ignorance (where I would learn just what it was that I didn’t know) and from there to Zeroth Order Ignorance (where I would obtain the answer to the question I became aware of at the previous level).

Sitting in front of the television is in general not a suitable knowledge-gathering process. Depending of course on the types of knowledge you’re interested in. For example, what Rosie O’Donnell said this week about her time on The View. Some of you are asking yourselves, “Who is Rosie O’Donnell, and what is The View?!” To you I say, “Tanti Auguri.”

Insufficient knowledge-gathering processes remind of the man who took a speed reading course, and read “War and Peace” in 20 minutes. When asked, what it’s about, he replied, “Russia.”

Fourth Order Ignorance or Meta Ignorance

I have Fourth Order Ignorance when I do not know about the Five Orders of Ignorance.

Now, let me tell you one more thing that you need to know to continue on successfully in your careers.

Throughout your education in grade school, high school, and college, you have been fed a very specific and dangerous lie. You have been told that the teachers and professors know what the answers are, and that your job as a student is to learn those answers so that when you encounter those questions, you can answer them.

But guess what? The first time you write software (for example), and somebody pays you to do it, it’s because nobody ever did it before. That’s why they’re paying you to do it. If someone else already did it, it’s much cheaper to buy it for $30 and drop the payroll by $100K.

As you move out of a Zeroth Order Ignorance mentality, in which you think your job is to know something, you come to realize that in fact, all of the knowledge you possess is transient and subject to obsolescence.

As you move out of a First Order Ignorance mentality, in which you think your job is to answer questions, you come to realize that in fact, all the questions are open to discussion. They might not be the right questions to be asking at all.

Your most productive professional time will be spent in Second and Third Order Ignorance. You need to constantly expose yourself to new avenues of learning, becoming increasingly aware every day of every year of your life until you are dead that there are significant fields of study — science, art, literature, technology — of which you have been completely ignorant your entire life. By building the habit of being an informational sponge, you equip yourself to discover important questions that you never imagined existed and to tie those into professional areas to which you never imagined they were connected.

Thomas Friedman, author of “The World is Flat,” said the following [3]:

The further we push the boundaries of knowledge and innovation, the more the next great value breakthroughs — that is, the next new hot-selling products and services — will come from putting together disparate things that you would not think of as going together.

In other words, every great innovation reflects a transition from Third Order Ignorance to Second Order Ignorance.

The big deliverable is the question, not the answer! Your value add to an organization must be something that can’t be outsourced to a call center in India.

To end, I want to help you understand your place as technologists in the history of the world.

Again, Dr. Armour:

There are have been, in the history of the Earth, five knowledge media:

1. DNA:

When a wildebeest calf is born on the grasslands of northern South Africa, it is able to stand and run away from predators within a few minutes of birth. How does it “know” how to do that? Where is the knowledge of running away stored?

2: Brains:

The human brain … can create and store knowledge that does not otherwise exist and has no recognizable analogue in the outside world.

The first two knowledge media were created by God (or by nature if you prefer). The next three were created by humans.

3. Hardware or Tools:

The real value of the hand axe as a tool is not in its material, but in the knowledge that went into its making.

4. Books or Written Records

People have been marking objects to retain images and information for a very long time. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts whose purpose seems to have been to store a visual image of some sort (as opposed to performing a physical function) that are tens of thousands of years old.

And finally the 5th knowledge medium in the history of the Earth.

5. Software:

All computer programs, and by inference the data on which they operate, are forms of stored knowledge. There are many differences in the nature of the five knowledge storage media, but the key characteristic of software is that it is executable. Software has the capability of running, of changing its state, of processing inputs and producing outputs, and of interacting with the outside world.

You have been prepared to labor and get paid to play in the coolest sandbox since Gutenberg invented the printing press. Or if you prefer, since Babbage invented the Difference Engine. Or if you prefer, since John Von Neumann stole the idea of a stored computer program from Echert and Mauchley of Iowa State University in 1945.

A warning: You will be frustrated your entire career with the rapid rate of change and your inability to keep up with a field that is both accelerating and expanding at the same time. What I can say is, “Enjoy the ride. You will never be bored professionally!”

I recommend that every six months you walk into the computer section of your favorite brick and mortar bookstore, and look for an entire shelf with dozens of books dedicated to a computer technology that you have never heard of.

Finally, I want to say, as passionately as I can: TENIN E TVRINES KIS FiLICS, which I actually don’t know what it means but I do know that it is Etruscan.

Good luck to all of you. God bless you. Thank you.

[1] Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt, Ballantine Books, 2003.

[2] Philip Armour, The Laws of Software Process, Auerbach, 2003.

[3] Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat, 2nd Edition, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Communities for Decency: 1st Annual Technology Summit, May 31, 2008

For those of you in Utah, Communities for Decency is sponsoring the 1st Annual Technology Summit on May 31, 2008. The conference will be held on BYU campus in 3228 Wilkinson Center. There’s no charge to attend, but they’d really like folks to register so they have an idea of how many to expect.

You can get full information at the Communities for Decency website.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the program:

8:30-8:50    Registration

8:50-9:00    Welcome: Cindy Moreno, President, Communities for Decency

9:00-9:30    Keynote: Fraser Bullock, Founder, Citizens against Pornography

9:30-10:15    Troy Rawlings, Davis County Attorney

10:15-10:30    Break and Refreshments

10:30-11:30    Charles Knutson, BYU Professor (yeah, that’s me)

11:30-12:30    Panel Discussion: Kyle Bullock (CFD Technology State Board Member), John Carosella (VP of Content Control, Blue Coat Systems), Dan Gray (Co-Founder and Clinical Director, LifeSTAR Network Program of Utah), Charles Knutson, Troy Rawlings, Jack Sunderlage (CEO, ContentWatch), Carl Wimmer (Utah State Representative)

Early reports suggest a pretty good turnout, which is great, especially considering this is the first year. Come spend half a day if you’re interested in understanding technology and how to protect your families. See you there!

Dan Fogelberg: 1951-2007

The current crop of college students probably have only a passing idea of who Dan Fogelberg was. Younger than that and they pretty much haven’t heard of him at all (unless they’ve been surfing their parents’ CD collections).

From the late 70’s through the mid 80’s, Fogelberg was one of the most influential singer-songwriters on the musical scene in any genre. I saw Dan in concert a couple times (once in Iowa City and once in Provo). I was frankly never blown away by the live experience. But the songs! Different story. And in both concert experiences I loved it when he dismissed the band and just sat at the piano or on a stool with his guitar.

Bottom line for me is that I sort of moved through young adulthood into marriage and young parenthood with Dan doing the background music. I fell in love at least a couple times with Dan on vocals. I’ve walked out into the falling snow in the middle of a scene of unrequited young adult angst and heard his signature piano play in my mind. It’s tough to survive unrequited young adult angst without proper mood music, and Dan always obliged.

Fogelberg died last month after a long battle with cancer. I don’t normally emote like this when someone I’ve seen but never met passes away, but this one is different. Fogelberg’s music really had a positive impact on my life, and I’m grateful for that.

So here’s my personal tribute. In honor of Dan’s passing, I’m serving up my personal top 10 Fogelberg songs of all-time:

10) “Forefathers” – The Wild Places (1990)

“Forefathers” is a somewhat obscure piece in the Fogelberg collection, and probably makes it onto very few personal top ten lists. Musically it’s fairly simple, and lyrically almost clumsily autobiographical. But it just nails the entire genre of family history and genealogy in a way that I’ve never seen attempted (let alone pulled off) in popular music.

And the sons become the fathers
And their daughters will be wives
As the torch is passed from hand to hand
And we struggle through our lives
Though the generations wander
The lineage survives
And all of us from dust to dust
We all become forefathers by and by

9) “Sweet Magnolia And The Traveling Salesman” – Windows and Walls (1984)

Another obscure Fogelberg classic. “Sweet Magnolia and the Traveling Salesman” is a classic angst-ridden lost love piece. (Hello! He’s a traveling salesman! You think he’s sticking around?!) Relatively simple piano backing and soulful vocals. Dan’s not just singing here, he’s really suffering! Maybe it was just that time in my life, but this song always gets me.

Then one day I flew
Far away from you
I never knew how I’d regret it
My sweet magnolia belle
You know I loved you well
Even if I never said it

8 ) “Looking for a Lady” – Home Free (1972)

“Looking for a Lady” is one of a pair of absolute classics from Dan’s first album (Home Free) in 1972. The guitar work is relatively simple (I can play it well — this should be an indication). The vocals are twangy in a patently classic country sort of way. And yet the angst is golden. More lost love (or love as yet unfound, almost the same thing).

Well I have a few in mind but none in particular
I have had ’em before but nothing that was for sure
And my feelings have grown rigid like a wooden post
And my love is like a curtain that has been drawn closed
And my life just isn’t going the way I thought it was supposed to
And I’m crying and I find myself
Looking for a lady to change my night to day

7) “The Power of Gold” – Twin Sons of Different Mothers (1978)

“The Power of Gold” was the only hit from the Tim Weisberg collaboration Twin Sons of Different Mothers. (17 years later Dan and Tim tried it again, this time as clean-shaven aging guys with haircuts, calling the album “No Resemblance Whatsoever.” Excellent self-referential humor.) “The Power of Gold” features Weisberg’s distinctive flute and classic Fogelberg rock and roll (a’ la “Part of the Plan”). But Dan being Dan, the song ends with a haunting bass and flute backdrop for mysterious repeating lyrics:

The women are lovely, the wine is superb
But there’s something about the song that disturbs you.

6) “Times Like These” – The Innocent Age (1981)

I love this song, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it appeared in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy (which I never saw anyway). For me this is the ultimate Fogelberg rock tune. Put down the acoustic guitar, walk away from the piano, strap on an electric guitar and hammer it. (Not Guns N’ Roses hammering it, you understand. This is still Dan.) This is the song that “Part of the Plan” wishes it had been. It never made the charts as a single, and I don’t care. It’s one of the best Fogelberg songs of all time.

Nothing before you, nothing behind
Thoughtlessly chasing the thunder.
Traveling lightly, traveling blind
Never detouring to wonder why

5) “The Reach” – The Innocent Age (1981)

“The Reach” is probably the most tender and inspiring song on the amazing double album “The Innocent Age” from 1981. It tells the tale of lobstermen taking their sons and their boats out into the water in search of the “catch of the day.” Sounds a bit pedestrian, or seafaring, or working class, and it is. But it’s so much more than that. The music is elaborate, orchestrated, and moving. The tone and the vocals are tender and moving. And of course, it wouldn’t be Dan if there wasn’t some rain.

I will take from the reach
All that she has to teach
To the depths of my soul

4) “To The Morning” – Home Free (1972)

“To the Morning” might be the most brilliant early and mostly undiscovered song in the entire Fogelberg portfolio. No single. No charts. Dan and his piano and his silky voice. It’s not just good music, and a great composition, but the fundamental message of the song is about hope and perseverance in the face of whatever.

And it’s going to be a day
There is really no way to say “No” to the morning.

3) “Rhythm of the Rain” – The Wild Places (1990)

“Rhythm of the Rain” is one of the few covers that Fogelberg recorded. The song was written by John Gummoe and recorded in 1963 by the Thundernotes (formerly the Cascades), whose original version hit #2 in the states and #1 in many places internationally. It was later recorded by artists including Lawrence Welk, Jan and Dean, Johnny Rivers, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Neil Sedaka. But Dan’s version kicks them all. The soulful vocals are classic, the sax solo about two-thirds through is classic Dan, and the slightly strange but smooth transition at the end to Lennon and McCartney’s “Rain” is, um, classic… for Dan. In 1990 when this song was released, Dan’s commercial appeal had already faded. But this song still moves me.

Rain please tell me now does that seem fair
For her to steal my heart away when she don’t care?
I can’t love another when my heart’s somewhere far away

2) “Hard to Say” – The Innocent Age (1981)

Back to 1981 for the finale. The Innocent Age was possibly the most amazing singer-songwriter accomplishment in musical history in terms of densely packed instant classics. Think MJ’s “Thriller” or Boston’s first album, except Dan with a guitar and a piano. My all-time #2 Fogelberg hit is “Hard to Say.” It’s got everything: cool guitar work (including a harmonic note transition created using the tuner, rather than distorting the string through fingering), classic Dan vocals (naturally), Glenn Frey of the Eagles on backup vocals (not making that up), angst-ridden lost love (of course), and both snow and rain. Why do you cry each time the sky begins to snow?! Not sure, but this song should help ease the pain anyway.

Lucky at love, well maybe so
There’s still a lot of things you’ll never know
Like why each time the sky begins to snow you cry

1) “Same Old Lang Syne” – The Innocent Age (1981)

Drumroll please… This is my number one Dan song of all time. I understand that your mileage may vary, but this is my list. I struggled a bit with this choice, but decided ultimately that it belonged here. The song starts with the opening notes of the “1812 Overture” (10 notes, followed in Tchaikovsky’s composition by cannons exploding) developed into a very cool but simple theme on the piano. Then starts the simple and beautiful autobiographical story, “Met my old lover in the grocery store. The snow was falling Christmas Eve.” To be quite frank, as in other biographical songs by Dan, the lyrics are sometimes a bit clumsy (“She went to hug me and she spilled her purse, and we laughed until we cried.”) But there’s just this honesty about the story telling, the honesty of vocal expression that was uniquely Dan (and ironically often not as well achieved in concert as in the studio). But the ending seals the deal. You’ve got Dan, his piano, an angst-filled encounter with a former girlfriend, a holiday, snow, rain, loneliness, and a saxophone. Say no more. In the Fogelberg portfolio this song brings almost every conceivable element of the Dan musical persona to bear.

Just for a moment I was back in school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain

That’s my list. My apologies to those of you going, “Where’s Longer?! Run for the Roses?! Leader of the Band?!” Sorry. My faves. My tribute.

But most of all, thank you Dan for the music that was such a huge part of my young adult years. It wouldn’t have been the same — breaking up, walking out into the snow, and that sax playing in my head while the snow turned into rain. Somehow the Fogelberg soundtrack in my head made it all a bit more tolerable.

Thanks Dan!

Low-tech fix for the PowerPoint autorecover problem

Back in July, I wrote about an unbelievably frustrating bug in PowerPoint 2004 for Mac. I got burned back in July and lost a very productive several hours of work. Tonight I’m banging away late at the office because I’m back in the classroom tomorrow at BYU and I’m not quite ready for prime time. For reasons that I’ll refrain from explaining fully, I needed to do some work on PowerPoint again. I started in, shocked anew at how inferior the Mac product is to PowerPoint for Windows (which I consider an excellent product, by the way), but that’s a side note. Just a little way into my renewed PowerPoint adventure, I remembered the painful episode of death from last summer, and decided to protect myself this time. The answer of course, is to manually save often, but my problem is that I get into flow and suddenly an hour or so has gone by and I haven’t saved anything.

The answer is my handy dandy Pyrex kitchen timer. I actually keep this thing in my office for various situations in which I want to manage my time, remind myself when some time period has passed, or wake myself up after an uncomfortable nap in my chair, whatever.

Pyrex timer

The Pyrex kitchen timer has one simple but cool feature that I’ve come to value. If you set it for a particular time (say 5 minutes), it will beep when the time runs out (naturally, so that’s not the cool part). If you press the “Start/Stop” button just one time, the timer will stop beeping and launch the timer again. So in practice, here’s what I did. I set the Pyrex timer for 5 minutes. As soon as it beeps, I press ‘Apple-S’ to save, and press the button on the timer. Then I keep working until it beeps again. Repeat until project complete. It turns out to have been fairly non-invasive in terms of my flow, and an emotional lift in terms of my sense of well-being while using PowerPoint for Mac.

Punch line: Just about 15 minutes ago, after spending a very productive hour working on some slides, and literally about 30 seconds after the last time I had manually saved, PowerPoint 2004 for Mac puked its guts out just like in July, offered to restart and fix everything, and then came back devoid of prior content, happy and lobotomized. Other than having to manually reopen the file (of which PowerPoint 2004 for Mac disavowed all knowledge), I’m back and productive… In a sort of “my software package hates me and wants to ruin my productivity” sort of way.

Injured? We will hunt down the guy who did it to you!

Some time in December I walked out of my favorite pizza place in Provo and found the Law Firm Hummer of Death parked intimidatingly next to a pitifully undersized normal car. I don’t know if you’ll find this funny, but there on the back of the Hummer is the classic ambulance chaser pitch: “Injured? call 888-…” Several thoughts go through my head as I see this. The first is, why on earth does a law firm need a Hummer to conduct business?! One possibility is that by affixing an ad for the law firm to the Hummer, the over-sized intimidating gas hog of the highway becomes a tax write-off. Getting closer. But then it dawned on me. “Injured? Call Us. If we can’t help you legally, we will personally hunt down the perpetrator and make him suffer. Contact the Law Firm Hummer of Death for more information.”


[Legal disclaimer: I have deliberately obscured the law firm name, the contact phone number, and the license plate from the Law Firm Hummer of Death. Heaven knows I don’t want to see this vehicle in the rear view mirror of my Hyundai any time soon.]