Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review: On The Incarnation

As I wrote in this post, C.S. Lewis advised us that the ancient books are not only for professionals. They can be understood by the modern reader, and "first-hand knowledge [from the ancient books] is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but it is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire."

So Lewis wrote in the Introduction to On The Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, by Saint Athanasius [St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, my copy is from 2002, ISBN 0-913836-40-0]. This Christian classic was written around 318 AD, when Athanasius was only 21 to 23 years old. I found it while foraging in a thrift store; it cost me either 25 or 50 cents. I bought it because I had reviewed a seminary paper my son-in-law wrote about De Incarnatione Verbi Dei [DIVD], and decided, years after reading the paper, that maybe I should read the source material. Little did I know that C.S. Lewis was about to tell me I was doing exactly the right thing.

DIVD was Athanasius' second major work, after Against the Heathens [Contra Gentes]. At that time Christianity was in search of orthodoxy. Constantine had recently converted to Christianity and brought the whole empire with him. The persecutions were over, but a greater calamity was about to befall the Church Universal: the influx of government influence, including huge numbers of new "converts" by virtue of the emperor's conversion, who had no background and no grounding in the faith. The Council of Nicaea would take place in 325 AD, and orthodoxy would be defined. How much of a role would this book play? Was it written...well, why was it written, and what does it tell us?

In the prefatory "Life of Athanasius, a scant eight pages long, the editors says DIVD "sets forth the positive content of the Christian faith, as [Athanasius] has himself receive it. ...It is not speculative, it is not original; is not even is a statement of traditional faith..., there is...nothing of Athanasius in it...." This may be true, but I cannot say so after one reading of DIVD and without reading many of it's antecedents.

What I can say is that the book is worth reading, though it is not an easy read, even in this modern translation. During the first three chapters I often found myself glossing over the text, reaching a stopping point and having little or no retention of what I had read. The fault is mine, not the book's. I believe I could re-read these pages now and grasp the meaning. The gist of Athanasius' argument: God had a dilemma in that mankind failed to relate to God, his creator, as God intended; God addressed (or solved) the problem by coming to man in the form of a man, Jesus Christ. Jesus was God, separate from the Father yet part of the Father—a mystery.

The later chapters were more understandable, especially those on Christ's death and resurrection. Athanasius' discussion on how this changes man's relation to death was excellent. I found many parallels to John Wesley's sermons on death. Might DIVD have been a direct source for Wesley? Or was the notion of death having been conquered by Christ and as a consequence man's facing down death so common that the language and concepts couldn't be anything but similar, even in works fourteen centuries apart? I'm not sure.

The later chapters, in which Athanasius refutes objections to the Incarnation, and the entire Christian faith, was less beneficial for doctrine but perhaps was so for history. It gives us a window into what opposing groups of the 4th Century were saying about Christianity. Appended to the book is a long letter Athanasius wrote to Marcellinus, about the Psalms. This too gives us insight into the era, and how Christians viewed and used the Psalms at that time.

I will re-read this book. Perhaps not right away, but soon. I'll like go through one other book on my reading pile than come back to this. I think full understanding is not beyond my grasp. I may have understood it better than I think. It is foundational to the Christian faith by one of its giants. Many others have written on the same subject, including modern works of incredible scholarship, but I'm with C.S. Lewis on this one. Read the original if you find it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Freelancing - Can this Rose Bloom Again?

It isn't all as bad as the title of this post sounds. Actually, my writing goes well. I had a conference call with the editor this afternoon, and he gave me another assignment. Don't know if it will be a $100 or $250 article, but I suspect the former. Ah well. But, with the articles already turned in and in the queue to publish, I've earned in the four figures there in just two months of publishing, three of writing. This new one and the one on asphalt pavement solar collectors will make it all the more. Can this continue? I hope so.

Unfortunately, does not go as well. Page views have recovered. They are up 46% in September over this time in August. September revenues, unfortunately, are barely ahead of August. I guess students clicking on my history and poetry articles don't click on ads. Oh, for the detestable flat belly ad to come back, and a bunch of anorexic high school girls viewing my poetry articles to click on it!

There's something I'm not getting about web writing for profit. For fun, yes; all my articles are enjoyable to write. But either I'm not getting the concept of search engine optimization, or writing to lead people to click ads, or finding profitable niches. The graph I've added to this article is a new stat I'm tracking, page views per article per day, for 2010. It's now below where this was in 2009.
I could accept this easier if my page views were strong and growing. But they are not. In this blog post I gave the same stat. Comparing the two graphs you can see I'm no where near the peaks I was at late last year. If I grasp for a silver lining to this cloud, it's that I'm about equal or a little ahead of last September based on page views per article per day. I guess I can get motivated for a while based on that.
The most disappointing aspect of freelancing is complete absence of any work other than these two gigs. The one I thought I had in March fell through. I find solace in that it wasn't for much money. I don't want to do more content writing. If I have to freelance to build a platform so that someday I can sell a novel or non-fiction book, I need more than what I've got. Why don't I have more? Mainly time, I suppose. Time to find and study markets. Time to formulate ideas geared to those markets. Time to prepare dynamite pitches. Could I get work—even print work—if I could find the time to pursue it? I think so, though of course I have no guarantees.
So maybe the bloom hasn't come off freelancing so much as it isn't reforming on life in general, as measured by time to do what I want to do. Not much I can do about that, I suppose, except to carry on and hope for a window, somewhere, sometime, that allows for a bit more of what is needed for a writing career.

Mediation Brings Mixed Results

Yesterday most of my work day was spent in a mediation of a construction dispute. This was my second one of these. The first, in December 2007 (or was it 08?), was for a client of ours that I had worked with. I started the project, got under construction, and turned it over to another engineer when I took our training position.

This one was not my client. Another engineer in our office handled this project. It wasn't even our design. We took over a few months after construction had begun, to help out a new client. But I was involved in helping that engineer make decisions throughout the project, was familiar with the issues, with construction in general, and with the mediation process, so he asked me to participate and the client agreed.

In the first one, the parties were $450,000 apart on a $2.3 million project. I thought no way could these two come together and a settlement be reached. It's going to court for sure, I thought. But the mediator's job it to help the two parties find some point in the middle where both feel it is worth not going to court if I can get or give that much.

A normal mediation session begins with everyone in the same room. Each side states their claims, and their response to the other's claims. Then the two parties go to separate rooms, and the mediator goes back of forth between them. His job is not to determine who is right and who is wrong. He doesn't reveal details of discussions in the other room. He does summarize the other sides arguments, and helps each side to see where the other might have a valid concern. He keeps pushing for a settlement. "What is it worth to you to avoid going to court?" he'll ask.

Last time the issues and amount involved were clear. The settlement was reached fairly easily. A lot of back and forth, but in the end our client didn't have to yield too much to avoid court. This time the issues were clear, but the dollar amount in dispute was not. It was about $300,000 on a $1.2 million project. So it was really a lot bigger than the last one as a percentage of the project. Since the parties had already had several meetings in an effort to resolve this, the mediator dispensed with the normal statements of positions and had us go immediately to separate rooms.

Since all involved in the mediation are subject to a confidentiality agreement, I can't reveal specific discussions. We took most of the morning just defining the amount of the claim. It turns out neither side had understood what the other side was really claiming. They started farther apart than we thought. Our side consisted of us two engineers, the client's chief executive, and the client's attorney. After a working lunch the mediator said the main problem on the other side's part was they were disputing a claim that some work was defective, a big chunk of the project, in fact. They admitted to one, smaller piece of defective work which they offered to fix, and wanted a certain number of dollars to change hands in their favor. It was still way far away from where we were at.

About 3:oo PM I concluded it would not be settled; we were headed to court. If that happened, both sides would sue the other. I felt that our client was in the right and would most likely win in court. But a jury is a crap shoot. They don't always side with the one in the right. We considered the likely success of lawsuits. The mediator finally asked the question: What is it worth to you to avoid going to court? Our client suggested what he was willing to do. He gave up much more than I would have had I been in his positions. The mediator shuffled back to the other room and was gone a long time. Had the other side refused the large concession?

When the mediator finally did come back, he had a typed agreement in hand. It needed one modification, but it basically ended. it. Well, not quite ended, since the clients board of directors has to approve it. But it's mostly over.

I would not describe either of these mediations as pleasant. But, they were probably better than being a witness at a trial. I've done that too, and it isn't always fun. Having been through two of these is better experience than just one. Hopefully I won't have another in the next 7 years, 3 months, and 2 days, but who knows? Construction can lead to disputes; disputes have to be resolved; meditation is cheaper than other remedies. So I guess bring it on if needed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Leaners Are Down

Some posts ago, earlier this year, I talked about a leaner tree that I was trying to bring down to the ground. This was at the back of our lot, actually on common POA property. There are three leaners there, or maybe only two since one was bifurcated right at the ground. I took out the smaller of these, about 7 inches diameter, early this year. The bigger one was 12-14 inches diameter. This is the one I wrote about earlier. I cut it all the way through except maybe a 1/4 inch. It fell a little, but a major branch kept it from going to the ground. I sawed on that major branch, but it's up high about at the end of my reach. Let me tell you, that's tough sawing. I had it sawed 3/4 of the way through but the branch gave way a little and close up the sawcut. At that time I just left it.

Why do I want that tree on the ground? It's far a way from the house, not even on my property (though easily visible from the house). My only half-way reasonable answer for that is I want it to come down in the way I want it to so that it doesn't take out a struggling pine tree on the way. We have so few pines around here, with the oaks taking over and crowding out everything, that I work to save the pines. The on-so-good answer is I just wanted to do it. It was my project—kind of like the stump in Shane. It's not that it needed to come down but that I wanted it to come down.

The third tree, a 10 incher that is leaning the other way from the bifurcated pair, can stay or not. I may saw on it through the fall and winter or I may not. It's not as if I don't have outdoor work without worrying about that.

Well, I looked out the back of the house last weekend and saw the leaner was on the ground. Or, not really on the ground, but fallen off its stump. It appears to be wedged between the pine and something, a few feet above the ground; I haven't yet gone down there to look. At least it appears to be at a point where I can say "mission accomplished", with the help of wind and rain.

That brings me to the leaner I haven't talked about, a 8 or 10 inch diameter oak on the wooded lot south of us, the lot that came up at auction but I was unavailable to bid on it that day. This tree was leaning towards our lot. I began sawing on it, got a third of the way through, or maybe half, then thought I'd better check and see if it was tall enough to reach the house when it came down. I used the various methods I learned in boy scouts for determining the height of a tree, and decided it was a little too short to miss the house. But, would it take out another tree on its way down, and that other tree hit the house? That I couldn't tell, so I decided to leave this tree alone for a while. To cut it higher up would take a ladder and much arm extension, and I wasn't interested.

Friday I noticed that this tree had come down as well, again thanks to wind and rain. And to vines, which had grown up the tree, choked it, and perhaps pulled it some. It did not split at my partial cut, but rather fell from the roots, as I feared. The top of the tree landed about eight feet from the house, and it took out a branch or two on the way down but not a tree. So I was right in my assessment. I spent a little time yesterday cutting the top of the tree away. How thick the vines were up there!

Widowmakers. That's what the folks in the Piedmont area of North Carolina called leaning trees. They treated them with respect, but never hesitated to take them down and use them for firewood. Our fireplaces don't burn wood, but I do cut the downed trees and stack them in a woodpile. It seems a worthy thing to do.

So that yard work is done. No, wait, on the lot north of us I see two more leaning trees that seemed straight before. Maybe that will be next year's needless project. Meantime, I shall keep writing my articles. From this blog I will go to MS Word and type the last article in the series of construction contract administration. Then, what? Maybe work on my novel a little. Or read some in a writing book. Or go to Absolute Write and critique a poem. So many paths to take.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Good Days and Bad Days

I have so many facets to my life that it's sometimes difficult to say, "Today was a good day," or "Today was a bad day." It might be good in one sense but not in another. Take yesterday for example. Was it a good day? Here's the things that suggest so:
  • My weight was down to the lowest it's been in months, back to that set-point weight I always bump against but can't seem to get through. I think I have motivation to break through it this time.
  • The mediation preparation in the morning went well, although I think the City (our client) is too willing to compromise. If they let the contractor sue them and they counter-sued, I think the City would win on 14 points out of 15. What some people do to avoid litigation.
  • I had a pleasant lunch with our Transportation department leader, after the mediation prep. He's leaving us in a couple of weeks, going back to Texas, so this was sort of our goodbye lunch. He's a good friend, and an excellent engineer. Hmmm, should this be on the good list or the bad?
  • I studied some floodplain issues I had been putting off studying, since our young engineers have been asking me questions about these issues. I'm aiming to give a training class on this within a month's time. And, I found I could probably get three articles for Suite101 out of my prep. Of course, the bad news part of this is that my Suite articles still aren't earning much.
  • The editor at Buildipedia e-mailed me, asking me if I wanted to write a certain article for publication in late October. I believe this is the first time that an editor has solicited me, which is a good feeling. Now I just have to see if I can write the article he wants.
  • I prepared a mailing to our former pastor, returning a book I borrowed from him. I included copies of the adult Life Group lessons I wrote from the book. To the P.O. today to mail. One more item checked off the to-do list.
  • I balanced the checkbook, an easy task this month. I had one $2 error, on the third-to-last entry. Took less than 1/2 an hour.
  • Even though I was tired in the evening, I went to the basement bathroom and did the trim work on the painting. I had finished the primer touch-up the night before, so this is the finished color, a nice lavender the wife picked out. In fact, she came down and helped me with some of it. I'm sure we'll need two coats, but it's looking quite nice. Progress in home improvements by inches and feet.
  • Went to bed at the time I wanted to, and fell right to sleep; slept well until 5:15 AM, when the arthritis pain woke me and let me sleep only fitfully thereafter.
But in other ways, it was a bad day.
  • After a morning without too much pain, my rheumatoid arthritis flared up by the end of the evening, and I went to bed in considerable pain in my right wrist and arm, the place of "Arther's" current interest. Woke up in the night with much stiffness (guess I said that already), and worse this morning. Typing is quite painful. Oh, wait, I can't put that on yesterday's good and bad list, can I?
  • My powers of concentration at work were poor. After the mediation prep took up the entire morning, I was not terribly productive. Yes, I did the floodplain issues study, but what should have taken me 2 hours took 4. I've got to recover my powers of concentration.
  • With the evening activities, I did almost no reading and no writing. The Suite floodplain article was 90 percent done, but I couldn't push myself to pull up the article editing screen and do the work. I have two Buildipedia articles under contract, but I couldn't push myself to spend even 15 minutes working on one of them.
  • I did nothing on stock trading. I had no trades on to take advantage of the recent market run-up. And I call myself a stock trader.
  • I missed my noon hour walk, although I walked 12 minutes in the evening, two laps around the circle plus up to the stop sign once. So maybe that wasn't all bad.
So was it a good day? I say yes, though in many ways it good have been better. Today, except for the arthritis, is starting well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Improvements to Body, Home, and Writing

The "hit by a bus feeling" I wrote about on Monday has ended. By bedtime on Monday I was much better. Woke up on Tuesday with the normal morning stiffness, but my right wrist and arm felt much, much better than it had for several days, perhaps even a week. When I weighed in at work on Tuesday I was down 5 pounds week over week, back on track for a net loss by the end of the year. Maybe the better eating, more exercise, and general level of activity did something positive.

Monday evening I was able to write an article for, the next in my series on stock trading. Tuesday noon I was able to finish the article on the Crystal Bridges Museum for and submit it. That leaves me two still under contract at Buildipedia, and of course as many as I want to write at Suite. The money at Buildipedia is nice, at Suite not so much, but I see little signs of improvement there. Perhaps these recent articles are generating ad clicks at a higher rate than some of my early ones.

Last night, instead of writing, I finished the primer coat in the downstairs bathroom. Well, almost finished. I found some places I missed on the trim, and other places I had failed to wipe away the dust of sanding. With wet paint in the room I didn't dust and paint those. So looks like tonight will include a little more painting, maybe no writing.

And on both Monday and Tuesday, as the day ended, I had enough energy and brain power to read a good amount in Athanasius. I really liked Monday's reading. It was in the place where Athanasius speaks about the Christian's attitude toward death, basically that he despises rather than fears death. This was so close to one of John Wesley's sermons on death that you know this is either a source work and derivative or the treatment of the subject hadn't changed much in the 1,450 years between the two. I found it interesting reading.

So what will today hold, in this adventure called life, juggling devotion to God, being a husband, being an empty-nest father and grandfather, an engineer, a writer, and trying to maintain a house and property? I'll be writing today, items needed for one of the papers I'll present in February. So that's good: any writing is worthwhile writing. I always feel good when I make progress in whatever I do.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Slogging Through Athanasius

I had a very busy weekend, it would seem, yet the amount of accomplishment I had, now that I look back on it, was not all that much. On Friday I learned I would have to teach our adult life group on Sunday, due to a death in the family of my co-teacher, who was scheduled to teach. So some time Friday and Saturday evenings went to that, actually close to three hours.

Saturday was a work day. We cleaned up the mess from our downstairs ceiling demolition, and the downstairs bathroom wall paper stripping and spackling. This turned out to be a good sized task. The plastic sheeting I put down to catch the demolition mess was old, old, old. It shredded in a lot of places, and much material went through to the carpet. Still, it caught a lot of the mess. I carried two of the four demolition trash bags up to the garage for setting out on trash day. We swept and vacuumed the carpet in the computer room and bathroom, and an hour later it all looked good. This carpet is coming out due to water damage in the family room, but we want to keep this undamaged part to make throw rugs or use in a storage room.

Then I tackled the primer trim in the bathroom. This went okay, but took me twice as long as it should have. I have a painful rheumatoid arthritis breakout in my right hand, wrist, and arm. I can grip a paint brush with it, but can’t twist my wrist as needed for brush work. At least, I can’t twist it very much. So I was stuck using my left hand even in places when my right hand would have made more sense. Laying on the floor around the toilet, stretching my left arm to places unseen by human eyes for years, was not my idea of a good time.

The trim is done, except for one place where I found some of the wallpaper not stripped. Tonight I’ll strip that, and maybe finish the trim. Don’t know about the rest of the primer yet. This morning I feel like I was hit by a bus, or how you feel after playing softball the first time in the spring. Muscle aches. Bone aches. General weariness. This kind of body function is ridiculous. I’m only 58. What’s it going to be like when I hit seventy?

Despite that, I managed to complete an article on construction contract administration for and submit it. In that series that makes four down, one to go. I did not get the article finished on the Crystal Bridges Museum, but that should be an early one for today. Nor did I work at all on my poetry. T'is the season for submittals, and while I’m not giving poetry much effort these days, I ought to submit a few to literary mags.

It’s very painful to type. I’m still working through my morning stiffness (it’s 8 AM), so maybe it will get better during the day. Blogspot is down right now, so I’m typing this in Word. I just remembered, however, that for some reason Blogspot has not allowed me to paste text in lately, so I’ll probably have to re-type this all, on my noon hour—assuming the site is up by then.

What, you wonder, does all this have to do with the title of my post? I managed to spend about an hour reading Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, my foray into original works by the early Christians. This is supposed to be one of the more accessible early works, but I found it hard going. Perhaps it was tiredness of the body which did not allow my brain to fully engage. I understood the words fine, but the overall message escaped me. I was really slogging, not rising above and conquering the book. We’ll see how it goes, in a time when mind and body are in sync and properly functioning.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Assignment – am I a glutton for punishment?

A couple of posts ago I wrote about how I was preparing (or maybe had already prepared) a pitch to for a long article about asphalt solar collectors (ASC). This was a bit of emerging technology I came upon, somehow, that looks to have a lot of potential. I began looking at it and saw some advantages and pitfalls. In three on-line articles, two on-line research summaries, and a press release by Worcester Polytech I didn't see any mention of the things I thought of. Immediately my mind said, "If you don't see an adequate article on-line, write your own."

So I made the pitch. This morning I had a call with the editor, and he assigned the article to me. A bit smaller at first than I planned for, but with two potential follow-up articles covering the other things I wanted to say. This will be a feature article, so for the better money they pay.

The research on ASCs (which, BTW, should really be APSC for asphalt pavement solar collectors, since it's the pavement that we're interested in) seems to be in its infancy. WPI has done computer modeling, and lab-scale tests, and larger-scale tests of the technology. They've determined the potential is there for significant energy recovery from asphalt pavement. But are ASCs economical? Or do they have the potential to be economical? That question has not been answered. Much research will be required, including a full size demonstration project with the asphalt under load and energy being used.

Given what I've written the last two days, with my work and home time about to be under a busyness siege, why would I take on such an assignment? Well, the article won't be published until November 4, and the due date will be October 21 (or 28th if I need that long). It fits in well with a theme they planned on for November. I need the money. I need the writing credit. I suppose I need the goal to keep me on the straight and narrow of time management. And I see considerable spin-off type articles coming from this, coming over several months or a year.

So, all things considered, I pitched the article and accepted the assignment. I don't have a contract to sign yet, but I should receive that on Monday. Looks like my writing career isn't dead. I just hope all this magazine article stuff someday pays off with creative writing assignments.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

At Sunset

At Sunset

On icy roads I drive with caution toward
my home, still seeing piles of work not done.
With traffic all around I can't afford
to look behind to see the setting sun.

I speed the mower recklessly along
the field and hope the dark holds off a bit
to let me cut it all. A sparrow's song
breaks through—oh, shoot, is that a rock I hit?

The fading light gives me so little time
to harvest luscious berries, blue and black.
I spent the day's best part in corporate climb.
It isn't fruit, but daylight hours I lack.

Oh Lord, you've blessed me much, but tell me when
I'll watch, in peace, an evening sky again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Under Siege Again

Yes, the siege has begun. It seems all areas of busyness come together in life. At work, I have almost missed a FEMA deadline and in the next two days need to rush a submittal to avoid having to re-pay a fee. At the same time, the next FEMA project is about to start. Well, I've started it, but have been waiting on CADD tech help to both do it better and save a bunch of hours. That help is about to arrive, and then I'll have to hit it quick.

Also at work, a fairly good sized water line relocation project got the go ahead yesterday. This one I will only be managing, not doing, but I'll be writing the specs for it and doing a few other things. It will consume hours.

The biggest hit of all will be having to do a large chunk of another man's work for some time. That won't start right away, but surely within a month, lasting for at least three months.

At home, we have about resolved all issued related to the water damage, other than completing an inventory of damaged books and furniture and sending it to the insurance company. We have pretty much shown there is no more water damage occurring above the fixed ceilings in the basement, so we need to proceed with getting that work done. Then we can get the carpet replaced, then put everything back in place. Four of the movable bookcases sit directly on the floor with no false bottom. Those I want to set on a board of some kind. I'll have to figure that out, buy the boards, and stain them. Not a major project, just symptomatic of the siege.

For sure work is going to be busier than home. I anticipate some extra hours, probably in mid-October for a couple of weeks, probably longer. My writing assignments and desires are not terribly burdensome at this time, so I should be able to maintain that work. This blog is the easiest thing to give up if the siege gets too great, but I hope to keep posting, maybe shorter pieces.

So, today is not earth shattering news; just an interim report, a diary entry, if you will. Let's see if I can do things more substantial over the next month.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Books or Old Books

Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding. The books of an older period will not fit this. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar" 1837

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. C.S. Lewis, Introduction to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius, 1944

So, two eminent scholars seem to disagree! Why am I not surprised. Emerson says read the modern books. The generation right before you, after they observed the world and digested it, shared the knowledge they had for my generation. C.S. Lewis says not so; read first the old books, then if you have time and inclination read the modern as well.

This came up because, at my last foraging in a thrift store, I found the Athanasius book. I might not have bothered with it except I have an interest in the early Christian writings, and thought this slim paperback would be a welcome addition to my reference library. Also, in 2005 I first read a seminary paper by my son-in-law on Athanasius' de Incarnatione Verbi Dei. I didn't understand it, put it down, picked it up again almost exactly a year later, didn't understand it, put it down again, etc., until finally I was able to glean enough from it to understand it (I think) the discussion and write a review. When I saw the book I thought, "I've read about this writing of Athanasius; now I have the chance to read it in modern translation."

When I got it home I read the Introduction. C.S. Lewis' words stood in stark contract to what I remembered reading in Emerson. "The American Scholar" is actually the only essay of RWE's I've gotten all the way through. Others I've picked up and put down, but that one I really liked. Emerson's words had seemed true to me. That's why every American generation writes another biography or two of George Washington, and why the shelves of our local libraries are constantly rotating books, selling off those more than fifty years old and replacing them with newer distillations of the same subject.

Lewis has more to say about this than does Emerson. He goes on to discuss the importance of reading the original sources. Commentaries on Plato are more confusing than Plato, he writes. Just read Plato. He's not so hard to understand in modern translation. Since that is exactly what I am attempting to do with the Athanasius book, I could understand Lewis' remarks. And, as a writer I'd better figure out how to write materials for the next generation while at the same time directing them to the old books.

We'll see how this goes. I've read about fifteen of the 95 pages of Athanasius, and sort of understand what he's saying. I haven't gotten to the meat of his argument yet. Of course, when he began by saying, "In our former book", I had to divert to various on-line sources to see what that book was and what it is all about. That led me to some letters he wrote. That led me to some biographical materials, and even a compilation of his works. The tentacles of research are at work.

It is taking me much concentration to read De Inarnatione. I can't do it while also watching television, or even while that noise is on in the house. I can't read it if I'm also thinking of articles to write or blog posts to post or bills to pay or work issues the morning will bring. So I may not finish it quickly, may even put it aside and go to some other book in my reading pile. We shall see. The experiment is on.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Writing writing writing

Well, my third article is up at, the second in my five part series on construction contract administration. These are shorter articles and pay $100 each. I have also submitted my second feature article but they haven't posted it yet. These are longer and pay $250 each. I'm quite pleased with the site, and hope they keep giving me assignments at a similar rate as now. I'm under contract to do three more contract admin articles, and one news article on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

I've also been preparing a longer article pitch (or could be three feature articles), on asphalt solar collectors. Not sure how I came across this concept, but I'm intrigued by it. Use existing and new asphalt pavement as solar collectors, with required retrofit. Worcester Polytech (the university I was accepted to but couldn't afford to attend) is doing some good research into this, though the data I found is about two years old. I hope to make this an interview article, as well as research and apply good old common sense and engineering judgment.

At work today I wrote also. Item 1 was to re-write a contract for a water transmission main relocation. We are already under contract for this, but since the Arkansas transportation department is paying the bill, we have to restructure our contract in accordance with how they want to see it. As I worked on that, I had to retype the whole thing because the electronic file mysteriously disappeared. And I found the description of the work to be performed very inadequate. Item 2 was also marketing related, a brief scope of work to go in a proposal for a major development in the Tulsa suburb of Catoosa. Naturally the developer wants to destroy a floodplain and wants us to assist him. I wrote the scope for the flood study portion of the project.

Ideas for articles for continue to flow into my head faster than I can capture them on paper. The Catoosa flood study has given me ideas for about three articles I could write—and that's before we do the study! The flood zone we will be working in is a Zone A, which has the least degree of attention to establishing it of all the regulatory flood zones. Consequently it is least written about of all the flood zones. I have an excellent FEMA manual on these zones, but it's a difficult read. I could see doing a Frequently Asked Questions type article, or the three I mentioned, and doing a real service to the regulated community, maybe even my wallet.

My other area of concentration at Suite is in stock trading articles. I have four or five planned, and maybe over the next week I can get a couple of them done. I feel good about these articles being better earners than my US history and Robert Frost poetry articles. The ads Google puts on the pages are all relevant and reasonably attractive. A couple of Suite veterans (I don't consider myself a veteran there yet) have said I ought to write about 20 trading articles and see if that makes a difference in my revenue. Since I earn less than 50 cents a day there on average, a hub of 20 articles should tell me something.

We, I'd better run and do some of that. Those articles don't get written when I practice Internet writing on this blog. Also better add the checkbook since I paid some bills tonight. And, St. Athanasius and a NatGeo issue are beckoning to me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Working Hard at Doing Nothing

I should go back and review the post I wrote on Friday, about looking forward to a holiday that was both productive and restful. I wonder exactly what I put down for the productive part. Whatever it was, I'm sure I didn't accomplish it.

On Friday afternoon neighbors offered us their spare tickets to the Saturday afternoon Northwest Arkansas Naturals game. They are the AA farm club of the Kansas City Royals. The stadium is only 30 miles from our house, but we haven't gone to a game in the few years they've been in the area. Part of that is busyness; part is hoarding of restricted recreational dollars; part is simply I've fallen out of love with baseball. That was the game of my early youth, till I played and became a fan of football. Then baseball progressively fell out of my favor as football's star rose. The 1993-94 major league strike ended baseball for me, though I was just looking for an excuse. The later NFL strike didn't impact my love of that game.

Don't get me wrong; baseball is a great game. It's just that football is a much better game for me, and so it gets my limited sports watching hours. But we decided that the diversion would be good, so we went. We had four tickets but had trouble finding anyone to go with us. Finally found one person. We both enjoyed the game. Fortunately our seats were just in the shade the whole game and we didn't have to fight the sun. The Naturals lost to the Tulsa Drillers, mainly because of a stupid handling between the pitcher and first baseman of a foul ball. It would have ended the first inning. Instead the Drillers went on to score three unearned runs, and eventually won the game 5-2.

The rest of the weekend was marred by minor physical ailments. Last week I was fighting a mild summer cold. I thought it was pretty much over Friday night, but it came back Sunday. Spent most of that day and Monday just resting to try to knock it out. Also on Monday my rheumatoid arthritis flared up. Well, some of it may be osteo as well, in my wrists. Monday morning it was all I could do to crawl out of bed to my reading chair in the living room or to the sun porch. The only physical exercise I got was a ten minute walk down and up the hill and around the block Monday evening. However, by the end of the day I felt pretty good. Cold symptoms gone; rheumatoid gone; osteo better; energy level up.

I finished The Adams Chronicles on Monday and wrote my book review about it. Also on Sunday-Monday I wrote my next article on contract administration for and sent it off. And I did research for and started writing my next stock trading article for I checked my reading pile for what I'm supposed to read next and decided I didn't want to read that right now. Rather than re-shuffle the pile, and not feeling like tackling the magazines and newsletters that are piling up again, I decided to try reading Athanasius' The Incarnation of the Word of God—in English of course. I got through a couple of chapters of it and kind of understand it. I'll have to finish it when my powers of concentration are at their greatest and distractions at their least; and not necessarily in consecutive sittings.

Tonight I hope to finish and post that Suite 101 article, and maybe get through a couple of mags and/or newsletters. And I'll take another look at my reading pile and see what looks good next.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Review: The Adams Chronicles: Four Generations of Greatness

I'm not quite sure where I picked up The Adams Chronicles: Four Generations of Greatness by Jack Shepherd [1975, Little, Brown and Company, ISBN 0-316-78497-4]. It cost me $2.00, whereas it sold new, at its second printing in 1976, for $17.50, and used at a previous time for $5.98. I bought it thinking it would be a good history read. It was, and I'm glad I parted with the two.

The book covers four generations of the Adams family, beginning with John, second president. he was the fourth generation of Adamses born in America, but the first we know anything about. For many years history regarded him as almost an accidental founding father—an elitist, a monarchist, a distruster of rule by the people. More recent scholarship has returned him to a place of prominence among the American revolutionaries.

Much of John Adams' writings fueled the Revolution. An example is his recording of James Otis' argument, in 1761, against the Writs of Assistance. Since Otis was later deranged and burned most of his personal papers, most of what we know of this opening salvo of rebellion against England comes from John Adam's notes. I was happy that Adams wrote an opinion about this event that accords with my own: "Independence was then and there born."

John Quincy Adams is treated fairly by the book. His diplomatic successes, his failed presidency, his later Congressional career, and his efforts against slavery and for the Union are all described. I knew less about him than I had about John, and this book went a long way toward filling my educational gap.

I knew even less about the next two generations, having heard of Charles Francis Adams but knowing nothing about him or his career or his sons. They are treated in the book in less depth than the two presidents, which I suppose should be expected. Charles Francis Adams and his four sons who lived to adulthood—John Quincy II, Charles Francis Jr, Henry, and Brooks—spent less and less time with politics and more with literary and business pursuits.

Charles Francis Adams had a diplomatic and political career, even being considered for nomination as presidential candidate once, but he also spent much time editing his grandparents' and father's writings. Charles Francis Jr. began as a journalist but went into railroads, becoming president of the Union Pacific Railroad until he was forced out just before the Panic of 1893. Henry Adams did mostly writing, primarily of history but also a couple of novels. John Quincy II had a political career, trying to rebuild the Democratic party after the Civil War. Brooks, the youngest, had the least paragraphs in the book. He led a quiet life of writing and described himself as "a crank, very few people can endure to have be near soon as I join a group of people they all melt away and disappear."

The author made a valid attempt to show the family's faults alongside their good qualities; yet I sense he was not neutral (duh; the subtitle tells me that). He generally likes the Adamses and sees them as a positive force in American history. The writing is good and captivating. It took me only fourteen sessions to get through the 452 pages, including the historo-babble filled Introduction by Daniel J. Boorstin. The book is well illustrated, and has an adequate index.

By 21st century standards, the book can be faulted for its lack of documentation. It has no footnotes. Thus it would be classified as a popular rather than a scholarly history. The bibliography implies the author relied primarily on original family writings. Some notes as to sources would have been nice.

While this is a good book, a worthwhile read, it is not a keeper. If I do any more study on the Adamses I would want to do it from the primary sources. As soon as I note a few things from the bibliography, off to the garage sale pile it goes.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Oh for a Holiday Weekend

Labor Day weekend is upon us. My supervisor, the CEO, usually comes around early afternoon and tells us we can leave early, somewhere around 3:00 or 3:30 PM. I usually don't, but might do so this time. While it's a holiday, with one extra day, I have much to accomplish. Here's a sampling.
  • We had a strong rainstorm last night, and one of the skylights leaks in our living room. It was a slow drip, but it followed the ceiling slope to the wall and then down the wall. We protected the carpet right away, but now I have to deal with this. Water in the living room, water in the basement. What's a homeowner to do?
  • Speaking of water in the basement, we are in a testing phase right now. Had the plumber out yesterday. He couldn't find any water, but wants us to watch it for a while before we do the ceiling re-installation and then the carpet installation. Another week at least with The Dungeon torn up.
  • Speaking of The Dungeon, I'm going to at least clean up the mess in it this weekend. We put down plastic sheets to catch the sheetrock and dust, but the sheets were so old that they kind of crumbled. Who knew? So I'll get them out and vacuum up all the stuff that fell through the sheet cuts.
  • Speaking of cuts, it would be nice if I could finish taking out that leaning tree this weekend. The cut I made through the large branch that is preventing the tree from falling is mostly through the branch, but it closed up under the weight and I've got to start a cut from the other side. Weather is supposed to be good this weekend for working outside.
  • Speaking of working outside, I'll have a little grass to weed-eat, and maybe I'll take out those two bushes Lynda wants taken out. That will take an hour. And a few other bushes need trimming. Another hour.
  • Otherwise, I have two Buildipedia articles under contract that I need to finish or at least work on. I have three others under contract that I should start on. And it would be nice to write two for Suite101. Ideas are on my mind; I need to help them find an outlet.
  • Otherwise, I plan on reading, reading, reading. 150 or more pages in the book I'm working on, three or four newsletters, one Geographic, and one Poets and Writers.
  • And last, it would be nice to begin work on the next Bible study that's on my mind. Actually, I started it last Sunday, but quickly saw it was a lot more work than I had envisioned, and so laid it aside.
That sounds like enough. I'll perhaps make a couple of posts to this blog, get a few walks in, play Scrabble with Lynda, and enjoy the weather on the deck.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Few New Words I've Learned Recently

With all the old stuff I read (18th and 19th century English stuff) you'd think I would run into new words regularly. But that's not the case. Those older documents tend to use the same words we do now, but with different shades of meaning. I'd have to go back another century to find large numbers of unknown words.

But I ran into four new ones in the last few days for my work, two in floodplain computer program manuals and two in technical magazines. The latter two first:

pollutograph – I didn't have to look this up. Surely this is someones attempt to say "this graph contains data plots related to pollution. I'm not sure we needed a new word for that, but I suppose it doesn't hurt anything.

sonication – This was used in the context of biofilms on surfaces, and how, in some study of biofilms as pollutants, after they scraped as much of the biofilm as they could from a concrete surface they removed more by sonication. Now that seemed if must have to do with applying sound waves as a means of dislodging a film from a surface. I did look this one up, and I was right from the context. So, I need to use these two in a sentence.

"The pollutograph was more accurate after they added the data generated from removing the biofilm by sonication." Not bad. Now, the two from the manuals.

thalweg – This one threw me. Given it was used in the manual of a computer program for analyzing floodplains, it obviously has something to do with water flow. I had to look it up: "1. a line, as drawn on a map, connecting the lowest points of a valley; 2. the middle of the main navigable channel of a waterway that serves as a boundary line between states." There's other definitions as well. Basically it's the low points of a valley/river from source to mouth.

dendritic – This one threw me worse than the last. The sentence I first saw it in was: "The Hydrologic Modeling System is designed to simulate the precipitation-runoff processes of dendritic watershed systems." The dictionary definitions include: "formed or marked like a dendrite; of a branching form, arborescent; any of the short, branched, threadlike extensions of a nerve cell, which conduct impulses toward the cell body." Well, what does that have to do with floodplains? It's used in the manual for the program that calculates runoff rates from precipitation. When you think of a watershed map, with only the boundaries shown and the flow channels all merging to one point, it kind of looks like a nerve cell. So I guess engineering has borrowed that from biology.

Time to use these last two in a sentence: "The dendritic watershed of the Mississippi River results in variable runoff, the forces from which are constantly modifying the thalweg of the river." Not a great sentence, but I'll stand by it.

All of which has very little to do with the main purpose this blog, my snail's-pace attempts to become a writer. I suppose learning new words are part of a writer's work, but I can't imagine using any of these words in any of my works now in progress or contemplated. No, not even Ronny Thompson, college education in agricultural engineering, is going to say to his less-educated dad, "Gee, Dad, did you ever notice how our farm resembles a nerve cell, dendritic as it is." Or "That big spring rain relocated the thalweg of our drainage ditch." AGH—ain't gonna happen.

But it's still fun to learn a few new words, especially work related, in contemporary documents.