A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
Wendell Berry's book Hannah Coulter (Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004) is a lovely, lovely book, a gem of writing and evocation of a vanished rural life. Anyone who has grown up in the country, especially a few decades ago before small farms with horse power gave way to large farms with tractors, will love this book, and I would defy you not to shed more than a few tears along the way. Yet this book should appeal to anyone, rural background or not, for the very human and poignant story that it tells.
My long-time friend and book expert, Don Fossum, who manages the trade book section of the BYU bookstore, has long urged me to read the books of Wendell Berry. I don't know why I waited so long.
The book tells the story of Hannah Coulter, a widow in her late seventies who writes about the memories of her life. As the book jacket tells us, "Hannah offers her summation: her stories and her gratitude, for the membership in Port William, and for her whole life, a part of the great continuum of love and memory, grief and strength."
This book has so many touching and moving words. I would like to share just a few of those words with you:
When you are old you can look back and see yourself when you were young. It is almost like looking down from Heaven. And you see yourself as a young woman, just a big girl really, half awake to the world. You see yourself happy, holding in your arms a good, decent, gentle, beloved young man with the blood keen in his veins. . . (p. 31)
Looking at him, you knew he was a man who had not spared himself. He had the lean look, not of a young man or of a man at all maybe, but of an old timber after the sapwood has sloughed away. (p. 78)
What you won't see, but what I see always, is the pattern of our life here that made and kept it as you see it now, all the licks and steps and rounds of work, all the comings and goings, all the days and years. A lifetime's knowledge shimmers on the face of the land in the mind of a person who knows. The history of a place is the mind of an old man or an old woman who knows it, walking over it, and it is never fully handed on to anybody else, but has been mostly lost . . . And now the history of Nathan's and my life here is fading away. When I am gone, it too will be mostly gone. (p. 82)
Most people are looking for "a better place," which means that a lot of them will end up in a worse place. (p. 83)
Those thoughts come to me in the night, those thoughts and thoughts of becoming sick or helpless, of the nursing home, of lingering death. I gnaw again the old bones of fear of what is to come . . . Finally, as a gift, as a mercy. I remember to pray, "Thy will be done," and then again I am free and can go to sleep. (p. 83)
My mind, I think, has started to become, it is close to being, the room of love where the absent are present, the dead are alive, time is eternal, and all the creatures prosperous. The room of love is the love that holds us all . . . (p. 158)
And a final quote:
After she left, the house slowly filled with silence. Nathan's absence came into it and filled it. I suffered my hard joy, I gave my thanks, I cried my cry. And then I turned again to that other world I had taught myself to know, the world that is neither past or to come, the present world where we are alive together and love keeps us. (p. 166)
I will want to read this book once again in the not too distant future, and then read more of Wendell Berry. A reader would have to be hard hearted, indeed, and oblivious to human emotion not to be moved by this book.
I watched Larry King last night for awhile as he was interviewing several Republicans who were repeating the standard comments about how shy, incompetent, and inexperienced the hapless Democrats are. I learned that Demos are simply not capable of being Commander-in-Chief, and that they are big spenders (now there's a good one of the pot calling the kettle black), lovers of big government, etc., etc. Actually, I like the Commander-in-Chief title. I have informed my wife several times over the years that I am the Commander-in-Chief of this household. Somehow, she hasn't gotten the message. So how does a President of the United States become a Commander in Chief if others just sort of think that is a bit much? But knowing the standard comments of Republicans by heart, I didn't hear any new critiques so I turned my attention to Larry King's neat, gray suspenders. Actually, Larry King looks pretty good in suspenders.
I concluded, however, that I am not nearly as good looking as Larry King is, and not nearly as smart. So even though I now wear suspenders part of the time, I just don't have the same effect. I even went to Ace Hardware in St. George the last time I was there and bought a second pair, bright blue, for ten bucks. This pair definitely has spiced up my wardrobe and saved me from any public embarrassment from dropping and sagging drawers. As I mentioned earlier, my neighbor, a builder, informed me these were merely carpenter suspenders. I hadn't thought about it before, but I could quickly see that carpenters carry around 20-30 pounds of tools on their belts so if they didn't wear suspenders, they would be working with their pants and tools down around their ankles. And how would that look?
My current summation of analytical thought viz-a-viz suspenders is that they are still a royal pain. We geezers carry a high cost for not having big wide hips that will hold our drawers up without a horse harness to do so. However, my wife complains less about waiting for me to adjust my apparel every time we get out of the car or go through Wal*Mart or Costco, so that is probably worth something. Wearing suspenders just seems like one more blow to our egos to remind us that the life forces are continuing to wane, or as my son-in-law told me, maybe it's just gas.
I will keep all my world-wide readers who face this same dilemma posted on further revelations and developments in the suspenders department.
People seemed to like my Wanship outdoor junk art photo I posted the other day, so here are two more photos from that site. I just wish I knew something about the person or persons who conceived this project. Obviously it was not something done quickly. Perhaps you can see some possibilities for your own junk. Note the vintage, mint-condition Edsel.
In the middle of the other night, during a three or four bout of insomnia, I started thinking about recycling. Don't ask me why. I no longer have to think about my next lectures, making out an exam at the last minute, trying to get a nasty student diatribe about how unfair I am off my mind, or worrying about my next trip to my cardiologist. I can whip up a few hypochondriac related bumps, pains, and abnormalities and stay up the rest of the night worrying about making it until morning. But this night I started thinking about recycling. What I actually thought was, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could put people (at least some people, for heaven's sake) in one end of a recycling machine and have them come out the other end all spiffy, new, free of bad habits, ambitious, ready to learn, generally agreeable, and ready and capable to get to work on things that would make the world a better place to live in?" I thought this reformation process would be a big improvement over the time everybody got drowned for being nasty and wicked except Noah, his family, and a boatload of smelly animals. Just recycle people rather than getting rid of them. Of course, that's the route that Born Againers take, and, fortunately, many do see the light and turn their lives around.
Next, I wondered, "Why do we say that we should focus on renewable energy resources?" Instead, I asked myself, "Why don't we pay more attention to renewable human resources?" "Why don't we help make people healthier, better educated, smarter, more competent, and able to make a better contribution to homes, communities, and country?" After all, I reasoned, the resources that are theoretically renewable can't be actually renewed until someone with enough brains, ideas, technological smarts, public support, and money can make them renewable in an actual sense. Thus, I concluded, we need to pay more attention to people and renewing people as a resource first if we ever expect them to be able to come forth with the problem solutions that will affect our futures.
Just yapping about renewable resources and wind and shale oil (a dead and flopping duck 50 years ago, but who knows what someone will figure out), and solar power, and new fuel sources and new automobiles and energy from the ocean will not bring energy change about. And who knows whether someone will figure out how safely to get rid of nuclear waste and solve the problems of coal-fired power plants unless we have people who know how to solve these problems and produce the innovations needed to move us to the next level?
Why do we seem more worried about coal-fired power plants, nuclear energy, air and water pollution, buying oil from people who don't like us, maintaining control over oil flows from abroad at any cost, and related issues, than we seem worried about the people who must ultimately be responsible for necessary changes and innovations? Why is it such a struggle to get adequate health care, adequate educations, care for the elderly, for veterans, for the disabled? Why do questions of payments for the needs of people become bogged down in ideological and political swamps where they stay with the moss and the frogs for decade after decade while human tragedy after human tragedy accumulates into a shameful indictment of our lack of caring? Should we be concerned that Chinese students are studying physics and chemistry in the eighth grade? How can our country be a world-class country when it has only second-class and third-class concerns for the people who live in it?
I have now written my rant to myself. At least I got it off my brain, in part. When I was young, I honestly thought I wanted to be a politician. A seasoned veteran in the Wyoming Legislature, for whom I worked for several years, told me I didn't look like a politician. Besides, I had enough troubles trying to teach economics to the disbelievers. I remember hearing JFK speak in Cheyenne Frontier Park during his Presidential campaign. About all he said was "We need to get the country moving again." He did not, however, explain how he was going to do that. The same debate continues today. Pundits and voters continue to ask, "Just how are you going to bring about change?" I'm not sure how specific anyone can be because change is not a one-man show. Change requires the concerted efforts of a complex composite of legislators, courts, administrators, and people throughout the land. I've decided that it's more important to vote with one's feelings about who can actually bring about change than it is to worry about the nuts and bolts of how the change will come about.
Now I'll probably get back to short posts, photos, and ordinary gripes and complaints.
When I was very young, I never questioned the idea that I would somehow get a college education. I graduated from high school at 16, then left for the University of Wyoming a few months later with $75, no place to stay, no job, and not another cent from home for eight years of college. Yet I never thought finding jobs and places to stay were other than minor projects and I never doubted that I would be able to figure out how to finish college. Finishing three more graduate degrees was made possible by my wife working another four years while we accumulated four of our five children.
As I worked with thousands of college students over many years, some students faced what seemed like insurmountable odds to stay in college and finish their degrees. LDS students leaving for two-year missions just as their college program barely got underway often made focusing on college difficult while being concerned about where they would be sent and what they could expect. Some students, of course, never became converted to college and thought that college was just a waste of time. Particularly during the dot-com bubble years, and even after, precocious students who became skilled on all phases of computers were often tempted away for high-paying jobs before finishing their degrees.
I have written before about the shift in college attendance of married couples over the past several decades. When I was in school and students got married, wives quit school and "put their husbands through." Now, in my last years of teaching, married couples would trade baby carriers between classes and share baby tending and part-time job responsibilities so both could graduate.
My wife was a "put husband through" wife. She worked for four years while I pursued graduate school. When we were at Montana State working on my master's degree in agricultural economics, I came home after class to baby sit Russell while my wife went to her part-time job. We used her coat to cover him with at night, since we did not have an extra baby blanket. When we went to Michigan, we took our oldest son Russell and our three-week old son Ronald. We had virtually no money, and we had to scrounge for several weeks to find a place to live. And so it went. After eight years of college and four years of graduate school, we owed not one penny. We got not one penny of help from family or anyone else. We had no student loans, except for two or three very small loans at the University of Wyoming.
And then my wife decided she wanted a college degree. For years, she took classes at the University of Wyoming, Brigham Young University, Penn State, and Colorado State. She cleaned house and cooked and took care of five kids and a big house and worked part time and stayed up half the night doing her homework. At the age of 35, she received her degree in elementary education from the University of Wyoming.
I am probably recycling some of this information from earlier blogs, but no matter. My mother graduated from the University of Wyoming at age 57 after many, many years of correspondence courses, summer school, extension classes, and on-campus classes at UW. My wife's uncle Billy, long-time newspaperman with the Honolulu Advertiser and the Sacramento Bee, graduated from the University of Wyoming at age 74. A student at Colorado State asked me to help him one summer finish the last class he needed to graduate. I went to the infirmary to work with him. He graduated at the end of the summer and died a week later. His goal was to graduate.
I could write forever about students who overcame insurmountable obstacles, including brain tumors, dyslexia, cancer, recurring surgeries, pregnancies, and virtually every other obstacle and physical disability, and never gave up until they received their degree. I tutored a blind student in statistics at the University of Michigan who finished his Ph.D. and went on to a distinguished career.
Too often, we equate getting a degree with how much money we can make. It is easy to reason that if we can make a big income without graduating from college, we shouldn't waste our time in college. Some temptation remains to feel sorry for those still in college while some entrepreneurs are making huge sums of money. In general, higher incomes are positively correlated with college.
But here's the secret: We may want and need to to go college to make a better living, to become a teacher, an engineer, a lawyer, a doctor, or any one of thousands of other jobs. But if we go to college mainly to get rich, we are on the wrong boat. We go to college because we need to learn how to think, how to evaluate evidence, how to tear arguments apart, how to sort scientific information and figure out what we still need to know. We go to college because we need to focus outward from ourselves and think about how we can help others, in the classroom, on the athletic field, in the hospital room, in the counseling center, in the repair shop, on the police force, in the retail store, or wherever we end up working. Until we can use our knowledge for the betterment of our families, our communities, and our country, we have failed the educational test. We ultimately go to college to push the boundaries of what we know and how we can do things outward, upward, and in myriad new directions for the benefit of all mankind.
So many opportunities exist today for college educations. Home study and extension classes have grown meteorically. Computers and online classes make it possible to study anything anywhere in the world, within limits. One of my continuing education students called me from a drilling rig in the North Sea when he was stuck on one of my lessons. Learning is the most exciting activity of life. And the goal of a college degree should never be shunted aside with any excuse. Our family is now awaiting our daughter-in-law's completion of her college degree after being out of school for an untold number of years. She may graduate with her second-oldest daughter next spring. We keep asking her where she is going to work. She says she has no intention of working. She just couldn't feel right about things until she finished her degree.
Anyone can finish a college degree. If you are blind, you can learn. If you are 91, you can get a degree as a local Salt Lake lady achieved this year. If you have post-traumatic stress disorder, as one of my recent students had, you can get a degree. If you are poor, you can get a degree. If you are married and have a whole covey of kids, you can get a degree. If your life expectancy isn't all that generous, you can get a degree. If you don't understand English, you can learn English and get a degree. If you have any one of a dozen disabilities, you can get a degree. You can find tutors. You can find sympathetic supporters. As you embark on your learning odyssey, perhaps after many years' absence from school, perhaps with only a ninth grade high school education, perhaps while you are in drug rehab, perhaps after you have been told you are too slow, too dumb, too incapable of getting a degree, your life will change forever and the lives of those around you will change forever. Opening new doors, understanding things you have always wanted and yearned to understand, seeing where old ideas you have clung to may need to be overhauled, seeing where you, in turn, can reach out to others--seeking a college degree can be the beacon light that will save your life, restore your life, and provide a light that will shine on you for the rest of your life. Go to it.
The political conventions now underway provide an incredibly fascinating story of how people participate in the democracy we so highly prize. My wife and I have enjoyed watching all of the presidential primary debates of both parties, and are enjoying watching the Democratic convention. Then, we will watch the Republican convention when it begins. We both remain constantly puzzled over what people are thinking when they refuse to watch anything outside their own comfort zone of predetermined conclusions. Many refuse to watch anything at all, thinking all of it is lunacy. It is especially troubling to hear the word "hate" so often in terms of people they cannot stand, so to speak, and, therefore, refuse to watch or listen to them. Hatred is what has led to divisive conflicts throughout our history, and still contributes to various forms of bigotry, bias, and refusal to have open minds about the best course of action for all of our futures. Many people will watch only news channels with which they know ahead of time they already agree, or read only newspapers that will reinforce their strongly held beliefs, absolutely positive that they are right and everyone else is wrong.
After nearly a half century in academia, including eight years of college, and then four years in state and federal government, and working with thousands and thousands of students, I was left with one impression that remains most critical in my own mind. That impression is that the purpose of education is to learn to think critically, to evaluate evidence and the validity of evidence, and to try and estimate, as objectively as possible, the outcomes of alternative courses of action. Reliability of knowledge is the keystone of education. Such knowledge must be free of bias as humanly possible as it can be. Reliable knowledge is always viewed as tentative knowledge and must remain open to questioning and fine-tuning as further generations of critical thinkers continue to shed new light, free of ideological bias and dishonest slander. We must never hesitate to reexamine critically what we thought we already knew. We should never be surprised to discover just how many holes could be poked in this assumed knowledge that we had previously accepted as gospel truth. We do the best we can with a questioning mind, always seeking and asking information that has been left out, insights we should have recognized, laboratory tests we omitted in the rush to conclude a project, people we should have interviewed who may have provided the missing links that we needed. Knowledge is simply a whirlwind of ongoing thought, testing, questioning, and revising, done by people with open minds and the ability to think critically. That is why, contrary to what most college students often think, that many (not all) textbooks need to be frequently revised. Today's knowledge is often based on conjectural hypotheses, or tentative explanations, that are often based on incomplete information, albeit the best information available to us now. Today's findings mean we must have a new textbook tomorrow or be teaching and learning flawed and outdated information masking as "knowledge." It was a hard thing for me to learn that a textbook was not a permanent, reliable, repository of "knowledge" that would serve me for all time.
The two most significant things I learned in college were, first, from my first graduate course which was a course in reliable knowledge. I then taught graduate courses in research methodology at the master's and Ph.D. levels for many years. The second most significant thing I learned was from the first few pages of an economics text, where I learned the difference between positive economics (what is) and normative economics (what people think ought to be). The study of economics can never get anywhere if people focus only on value judgments. That is not to say that an economic system should not be rooted in, as is our democracy, basic strengths of free choice and human rights. But within our system, economics can only be of value as an analytical discipline if it is used to enlighten us about what we can most likely expect if we choose different courses of action within the system of values that we embrace.
The muddled confusion over ideology, which some feel should guide economic analysis, and positive economics, or objective recognition of what is happening, is often responsible for the gap between what politicians want people to think about economics, and what economists are more likely to objectively assess. Hence, the phrase "good economics is often not good politics."
All of the foregoing is meant to highlight the responsibility we have as citizens of this great land to be informed about what is going on. When we cherry-pick only a few of our favored politicians or newscasters, we continue with blinders on, not recognizing that other points of view exist, and that our favored point of view may, in fact, just simply be wrong or incomplete. Or, at the very least, broadening our information base may help us see more clearly why we believe what we already think we know and even, just possibly, see that the world is not black and white (I don't mean racially) and that people with other viewpoints are not all evil people who are hell bent on destroying our way of life.
Eight years have gone by since I have engaged in a discussion like this, even with myself. After more than 40 years studying and teaching government economic policy, public finance, and research methodology, it hurts when I hear that people, who certainly have their right of choice, guide their political choices on principles of hatred and bias. The great stage of democracy in action is a wonderful, frustrating, emotion generating stage. But this stage of democracy is how we decide our future. And the more we can learn about what is going on, the more likely we are to appreciate the fact that great ideas and great men can come from all directions and all parties and all ethnic backgrounds and all religions and that some of the giants of American political history are currently participating in that great drama of participatory democracy. Don't watch it if you can't stand it. But you are surely missing out on moments of history that will forever change our lives. I would rather be a small part of these events, even as a television viewer if nothing more, so that I can at least look back on these moments as milestones in our nation's history. There. I now feel better. These kind of discussions used to be fun. Now I can talk only to myself.
Since I am bereft of my current archive of photos, I stuck my little Canon in my pocket this morning and set out to see if anything worth photographing was out there. I ended up with over 100 photos, about 80 of which were worth keeping. At that rate, I can replace my 5,000 lost photos before I know it. Unfortunately, I just won't get back the photos I want. I always thought one could tell a story either with words or with a photograph, or, preferably, with both. A yellow leaf and some sunflowers tell us that summer is nearly over, that the chlorophyll will soon vanish from summer's greenery. A rose tells us how gorgeous mother nature is and helps us appreciate beauty in all of its myriad forms. A duck pond with a moss and algae covered bottom is a lesson in botany. Photos are always worth looking at for a moment, double-clicking to see the full details. I hate to move the cheerful zinnias that have rested atop my blog for weeks now, but it's time to tell them goodby and move on. Photos can lift our spirits, activate our memories, remind us of a myriad other times, places, and people, and give us hope. The photos I have posted here are a mirror of my life over the past nine months, of the things I have found, the details I have seen in nature that I otherwise would have ignored and passed by, and are a testament to the intricacies and beauties of the earth. So I will continue to see what I can find to photograph over the coming weeks and, hopefully, save the best of them on this blog before they disappear into cruel air vapor and vanish. May they also give you a moment of joy.
Harbinger of autumn. The rest of you will look just like me before you know it.
Did you realize just how good looking I am?
The bottom of the duck pond through clear water
The gorgeous sunflowers remind us again that we are in the waning days of summer.
See you next summer!
The Number One Worst Person in Utah, Actually: The possible person who probably started the grass fire near the east side of Draper which spread to pockets on the mountain side that are still burning.
Great Smoky Mountain
The Number Two Worst Idiot along the Jordan River Trail. What an ingenious way to get rid of one's junk. Just haul it out to the dumpster at 2:00 a.m. or so when the odds are no one will ever see you. Another member of that great burgeoning group of people who believe no rule was ever meant for them and who also believe no rule exists that cannot be broken.
The third worst person I met this morning, sadly, was a woman driving a minivan down a street near our home. When she went by, I said to myself, lady, slow it down, you're going too fast. Sure enough, I heard the car stop about a block behind me and turned around to see another lady with a dog on a leash trying to right a tipped over stroller with a child in it that she had to hurry to get out of the way of the speeding driver. Luckily, no one was hurt. But two women will be unnerved for a few hours and have something to think about and, blessedly, be thankful for. Will we ever learn?
And, to add a fourth, I continue to enroll the idiot dog owners as perennially worst persons and imbeciles who allow their mutts to foul the trail and give a special commendation to the privileged moron who runs his two big black dogs, unleashed, along the trail every morning. I don't remember seeing stupidity in the Constitution as an inalienable right.
On the sunshiny side, I met a young mother with five kids with twin boys in a stroller who were calling out "Hi grandpa" as soon as they saw me. All old geezers look like grandpas to little kids and I am always just tickled when they smile and call me grandpa. They were on their way to feed the ducks, who were extremely obnoxious and quacking their greedy heads off this morning. I told the ducks to dive for goodies on the bottom of the pond like everyone else and not expect a socialized handout of welfare. But then the little kids came along and saved them from starvation.
My loss of about 5,000 photos from my Mac computer was, by any stretch of the imagination, only a minor disaster compared to the real and major disasters of life that many people experience. Yet, losing a year's worth of photos, pared down from about a total of seven or eight thousand total photos taken, and losing the hundreds of hours spent editing and fixing these photos, was not a pleasant experience. After all else failed, and no one at Apple, the Mac Store, or other techies were able to help me, I called upon Google, asking "How do I recover deleted memory card photos?" Google informed me of several memory card recovery software programs. I tried four and purchased one, for twenty dollars (cardraider.com) which gave me back about 470 photos, including the photos from our July family reunion, the most valuable of the lost photos. For about 48 hours this past week, I thought I had lost all 20,000 of my photos, but, fortunately, 15,000 were backed up on a protected drive.
All of this misery and time led me to think about disaster recovery in general. A couple of years ago, I had written a 150 page weight loss manuscript, and accidentally deleted it. What to do? I sat down and rewrote it from scratch in three weeks. No one ever wanted to read it anyway, but at least I proved I could recover from this disaster.
Nearly 40 years ago, I was diagnosed with MS in a Denver hospital while I was still at the University of Wyoming. I was asked by the president of Utah State University to resign from the position to which I had just been appointed, chairman of the economics department at Utah State, in view of the prognosis of my illness. For a year, I continued to exhibit all the classic symptoms of MS and then, miraculously, everything went away except for neuropathy in my toes. I have never had any recurring symptoms since. At the time, this event seemed an irreparable disaster. I decided that I would not miss any days from class and, for many weeks, had to teach sitting down and could not write on the blackboard. That Christmas, my oldest son had to put the toys together and be Santa Claus because the extreme fatigue that goes along with this ailment allowed me only shortened days of activity. I thought about how fortunate I had been as I listened to Michelle Obama tell the story of her father who contracted MS at an age similar to my case, and then eventually had to get up an hour early each morning to dress and get ready for work.
My wife has had three hospital emergencies, two of which she was fortunate to escape with her life. And then we lost a stillborn son many years ago. I will never forget all of those interminably long trips down the hallway of Brackenridge Hospital in Austin Tx to visit my wife, who spent weeks in intensive care with pneumonia which was serious enough to shut everything down in her system. Then, one day, I was called by the doctors to come back to the hospital from my daughter's home since they had decided to do a tracheotomy, otherwise she could not continue breathing. The trache was scheduled for 11:00 a.m. I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more, not knowing what was happening. Then, about 4:00 p.m., a doctor came to find me with the news: "We don't know how this could possibly have happened, but beginning at 11:00 a.m., she started to rally, her body began to function again, and her life was spared."
What I learned from all of these experiences is that we somehow muster the courage to endure the disaster and make the best of it when we are actually confronted with it and become immersed in the middle of it. My oldest daughter says, in such circumstances, "What do you do?" The answer is, you just endure. But you don't give up. You don't ever, ever give up. We may feel sorry for ourselves for a bit, and we may even feel that we are better off if we let out a bit of emotion and whining. But these phases of our reaction to disaster, however natural and expected, cannot last long. Once we abandon hope, we have abandoned life. So we just keep going.
We live in two retirement communities. The depressing side of these residences is that we have continual news of medical emergencies of the most serious kind, and a few deaths a year in each community. Yet, when we see people, and ask how they are, everyone typically answers, "I'm fine". We may feel apprehensive about what is in store for us, particularly as we become older, but, somehow, as I watch my friends and neighbors, they adapt. They endure. They tell us about their new stent, their hip or knee replacement, their angioplasty and bypass surgery, their cancer treatments. And they go on with their daily lives. And they tell us they are fine.
I guess it's all a matter of perspective. Losing 5,000 photos wasn't a happy occurrence. But I can take 10,000 more in the next year, maybe some even better ones. That doesn't mean that I will ever trust my computer again, or any other technological wonder, for that matter. But I've fixed the problem the best I can, and am looking forward to the photos I can take tomorrow, and the next day, and the next months. If I get any good ones, I'll show them to you on my blog.
According to David Pogue, prolific author of intelligent and readable computer manuals (which, of course, never come with computers), only about four percent of computer users have a "complete, current, automated backup" (Pogue, Mac OSX Leopard: the Missing Manual, p. 233) In other words, "Everyone else is flying without a net . . . Despite a thousand warnings, articles, and cautionary tales a year . . ."
I thought I had an adequate backup on a Maxtor 2G hard drive, but I failed to see that if something disappeared from the main computer that this stuff would also die on the Maxtor unless it was locked in some where on it. Thus, when I lost over 5,000 photos on my Mac, they were also gone on my Maxtor. What I was too stupid to do was to activate the wonderful internal backup that comes with Leopard OSX called Time Machine, which backs up everything continually on an external drive. Don't ask me why Mac calls its new operating system Leopard. The old one was Tiger, and who knows what the next one will be. Ocelot? Lynx? Cougar? Who knows.
So after spending a week cleaning up my mess and restoring the 15,000 photos I did have safely backed up, and getting the two photo programs I have on the Mac, Aperture and iPhoto, restored, the next thing I did was go out and buy a new 500G Maxtor for $100. Storage is dirt cheap, folks. The other two Maxtors I have look like clunkers by comparison with the streamlined little new Maxtor super-duper drive. I paid $170 for my last Maxtor, a 200G, two years ago. You can buy a 1000G Maxtor for $200. Only a few external drives hook up to Macs with a fire wire, so I was limited to Maxtor. Then I hooked up my new technological wonder to my Mac, turned on Time Machine, and presto, two hours later all 90G of my hard drive was in never-never land. Now every new squiggle and dot is instantly backed up. If I had taken a few minutes to hook up Time Machine before, instead of stupidly thinking my occasional hap-hazard backing up procedure was reliable, I never would have had this disaster.
There are, of course, no wholly reliable back up methods since even external drives can crash, computers can crash, demons from radio talk channels can possess your computer, computers can be dropped, floods, rains, mud slides, lightening, electrical outages, and a thousand and one other disasters can occur. I think the key is to use multiple backup methods. First and most obvious is to have a large-capacity external drive, like the Maxtor 500G I just bought, and make sure everything is on there. If you are really paranoid, buy another one and back it up also and then put it in a safe place. Like in a vault on the top of Mount Nebo. Second, get a CD-DVD burner if you don't have one. These are relatively cheap now also. Burn your photo, document, and other valuable files at regular intervals, and put the discs in another safe place where even if your house ends up floating down the Virgin River in St. George in a flood you will still have your files. A big argument recently centered on burning gold discs which presumably would not corrupt over time, but lately no one pays that much attention to that argument since no one has really come up with evidence that even cheapo discs ever turn rotten. The key is to burn multiple discs, give copies to various people, and keep burning them. Since technology ten years from now will be vastly different than technology today, that means keeping up with changes and transferring data and files to any new medium that comes along.
My sister Ann, who knows stuff, cautions that flash drives are not the most reliable media storage device since any magnetic field will erase them. Besides, even an 8G flash drive, which is now very cheap, can hold only a limited amount of files. Ann uses Carbonite (Go to Carbonite.com) for backup, which for $49.95 per year, backs up unlimited amounts of PC files on external servers. Sorry, doesn't work for enlightened Mac users who are continually discriminated against.
I need to do a bit more research on backing up my blogs. The Curmudgeonly Professor is backed up on the TypePad external drives so, as long as I continue coughing up $149 per year, will always be there, at least as long as TypePad is in existence. The two Blogspot blogs, I need to figure out. My sister Ann has backed up and printed the Penrose Mornings blog, but that leaves Summer Mornings hanging out there.
I can promise you that life is much easier, your disposition is much sunnier, and you will waste precious little time fussing over your important files, photos, videos and other stuff if you take this little blog post to heart and do something about it. Today. What is the first thing that people say when they return to their flood-destroyed or fire-destroyed house? They mourn their photo books. Photos are our deeply-felt connections to who we are, to our past, to our families. We can rebuild our homes. We cannot restore our destroyed computer files or photograph albums. Please stop procrastinating. Save your valuable stuff. Today.
Two weeks without blogging. That's like two weeks at the North Pole, isolated from the world and all of its politicians, sins, evil doers, and all the morons on I-15. No connection to the blogosphere. The Curmudgeonly Professor nearly sank into oblivion, but not quite. The blog still averaged about 50 page views per day from people with nothing better to do but surf the net and dig into my archives. The most popular: Should I Wear Suspenders and Look Like Larry King? Dating versus Hanging Out. Work Today's Crossword Puzzle at any Cost. And the post on my sister's stack and whack quilt.
I learned several things from this experience. One, men around the world are faced with a tremendous problem in sagging drawers, frayed cuffs, and the expense of buying new pants every couple of months. Either that, or men around the world seriously want to look like Larry King. Can you imagine why? Any ideas? We're talking a universal, global issue here, with hits on this page coming from places where you would think suspenders would never be an issue.
Two, dating versus hanging out appears to hit a responsive chord, I presume among free loading males who can avoid spending anything on dates; either that, or among females who want to check out a larger contingent of males without having to tell any of them they are not going to get a kiss at the door. By hanging out, no one even needs to take any one home. That way no one gets trapped into getting married until they have exhausted their twenties and had a really, really, really good time. At little expense. To get serious about getting married, a young man usually has to spend time alone with a young woman.
Three, crossword puzzle nuts seem to be attracted to the notion of solving the New York Times puzzle at any cost. And, unless you are in the minority of brilliant crossword puzzle geniuses who have an encyclopedic memory, or like the character Morgan Freeman plays in the movie The Bucket List, you may spend days of frustration before you fill in the last letter and then throw the puzzle in the waste basket.
As far as stack and whack goes, apparently a cult of stackers and whackers exists around the world, since hits have come from many countries on that one. What is so unique, may I ask, about stack and whack, that it inspires interest above plain old quilting? I just stuck the picture of my sister Liz's stack and whack quilt on the blog to prove to her how ecumenical and broad minded I was, not having any idea that the mere name attracts viewers.
Thus, for two weeks, I was no longer married to my blog. Instead, I was chained to my computer, my computer manuals, my external hard drives, the telephone, and the wickedness of technological unreliability. I didn't even check my blog page views for two weeks to see if everything had died a merciful and blessed death. In a way, it was nice to reduce my OCB to a minimum by not fussing over page views and over who was visiting and checking how many times my sisters were on to see if they could find something they could instantly comment on. I had to contemplate the mysteries of life and the idea of whether I wanted to become chained once more to my blogs. But after suffering withdrawal symptoms, and after going through the stages of denial, hatred, anger, self-recrimination, advanced stupidity, nasty behavior, and other charming manifestations of my little disaster, I asked, "What else is there?" I can only spend so much time vacuuming the house, unloading the dishwasher, loading the dishwasher, going to the grocery store, and ordering new books, after all. So here I am, back again. I have spent my time thinking up a slew of stuff to unload on my viewing public. You can skip it all if you want. Meanwhile, I have to consider whether I need an entire new blog on sagging pants and suspenders; another one on dating versus hanging out; another one on self-punishment from working New York Times crossword puzzles. But stack and whack? That is foreign territory, and too risky for me. My quilting genius sisters can start that one up.
At last I feel somewhat safe in returning to my blogs. No, I did not pass away, so to speak, nor did I join the Republican Party. What I did was become a victim of modern technology. Blood's Law of Modern Technology, which I have stated before is as follows: (a) If anything works to start with, it will quit working. (b) If it quits working, no one can fix it.
Thus my love affair with my MacBook Pro came to a tumultuous end. One day, as I was loading photos into my iphoto library, the library disappeared. I loaded a few more photos into the library, and those photos disappeared. Alas, I said, I believe my photos are gone. Thus ensued about ten days of 10-12 hours a day frustration. I first tried everything I knew to retrieve them. Then I called the tech department at BYU where they still help retired faculty. They told me to call AppleCare, which could be renamed Apple? Who Cares? After waiting several 20 minute stretches on their automated phone system, I reached an eager techie who asked what I needed help with. I explained, and he said, I've never heard of that problem, let me connect you with someone who can help you. Another 20 minutes, another techie who never heard of that problem but knew someone else to pass the buck to so he could be taken off the hook, so to speak. A final, third techie who had no idea about such matters so I bid the vaunted Apple Care by-by. In between time, I went to the great Apple Store where the floor is populated with techies in tattered jeans waiting to pounce on someone who comes in the door so they can start the meter on charges. One of them listened to my plight, plugged in my computer, said "This is such a mess I have no idea where to start. Sorry, I can't help you. See you later."
I got on the internet and asked Google how to recover lost photos and was steered to a software that is supposed to retrieve deleted photos from memory cards. You would think Apple techies would at least know this much, but apparently that is expecting too much. I tried the software, and managed to retrieve about 500 photos I otherwise would have lost. About 300 of the photos I didn't care about, but about 200 were the photos from our June Blood family reunion, which I had thought were totally lost and was ready to think about swearing. In all, I lost about 4,500 photos with lots of flowers, cactus, family, scenery, mountains and who knows what else. I thought I was backed up on my Maxtor hard drive but failed to see that if stuff got deleted from the main computer and I didn't have the backup locked on the external hard drive, the external drive would just mimic what was on the main computer, thinking I no longer wanted to have it there.
Thus, I spent many long days restoring the 15,000 or so photos I did have in safe backup mode in two main photo libraries. That may sound easy, but if you are a technological idiot, and you get weary of two-sentence instructions in dumbbell computer manuals, you may spend days on something that someone who knows how to do it, such as a ten year old, could do in an hour or two.
I fell out of love with my Mac. It betrayed me, and no one can figure out why. I had several options, which I considered. One, was to chuck my Mac in the trash or kick it out the door and tell it never to bother me again. Two, was to swear never to get on a computer again or write another sentence on a blog again and spend the rest of my life watching Barney Fife, Hawkeye, Murder She Wrote, and Matlock reruns, and not answer the phone.
Instead, I devised a twenty-step recovery program, which I will tell you about later. I am only in phase two of this complex program, and there is no guarantee I will make it to step 5, let alone step 20.
Thank you for patiently watching to see if and when I would ever rise from the depths again to continue where I left off. Unfortunately, I am even more grouchy and curmudgeonly than I was before, but there is so much more to gripe and whine about.