On a recent drive home I heard a story about smoking on the local NPR affiliate, (KUAF. While the story wasn’t too memorable, it got me thinking about some of my time in the Boy Scouts. I was sill involved in my troop when I was 16. By that age I was one of the older scouts, so there were a lot of younger boys to make fun of and taunt. Often they didn’t deserve the mockery, but there were times when their actions introduced them to well-deserved rounds of derisive laughter.

Now, after hearing the article about teen smoking, I remembered one camp out in particular. One Saturday afternoon, after the lunch had been scarfed, the troop split up to go explore our surroundings. Well, some of us went back to our tent to relax and plan that night’s game of capture the flag. A small triad of younger scouts decided to explore their surroundings. As they grew closer to nature by hiking through the woods they came upon a small, round can of tobacco. A helluva find to say the least. They decided to sneak off somewhere to try it out, well away from us older scouts, and as far from the adults as possible.

After a bit of time our little group of older scouts decided that we should probably find out what the young’uns were doing. We were supposed to be leading them, right? Right. It didn’t take too long to follow the sounds of nervous laughter and paranoid hisses to keep the noise down. My grin was returned by my compatriots as we quietly crept up behind the boys. But for all of our well-practiced silence, we weren’t able to scare them as we had intended. You see, we busted out in laughter. The kind of laughter that literally knocks you to your knees and makes it hard to breath.

In front of us were the three boys, an empty can of Skoal and a notebook. In the hands of one of the boys was their ‘cigarette’. They had decided to roll the chewing tobacco in notebook paper so they could smoke it. One of them, who shall remain nameless was turning quite green, apparently he had been the first to take the first puff of the monster smoke.

That still make me laugh.

I wonder if any of them smoke now…


Well, my computer crashed really hard around 1 AM Sunday morning. So, I spent all of the day recovering and then backing up the system. I spent the evening wiping the drive clean and re-installing Windows XP. I get to spend the next night or two installing all of the various software packages once more and reconfiguring the options to ensure they are set up just right.

So, I may be slow in responding to communications for the next couple of days. If you need to reach me, you can always give me a ring at the same old cell number.

New Mexico's Ignition Interlock Law

The state of New Mexico has passed a bill that infringes upon the daily lives of each of its citizens in an attempt to curb the state’s high rate of DUI. Come 2008, every new car sold in the state will have to have an ignition interlock installed. The same device will have to be added to every used car sold the following year. According to the bill an ignition interlock is a “a device that regulates the operation of a motor vehicle by measuring an operator’s blood alcohol level before allowing the operator to start the vehicle and that periodically tests the operator’s blood alcohol level while he operates the vehicle”.

So every time a citizen of the state of New Mexico gets in their car they will take a brethalizer test. Every time. While they are driving they will be forced to take random brethalizers as well.

Now, let’s think about this for a second. Instead of solving the problem by penalizing the people who drive under the influence, the state has decided that its entire population must now submit to a test before they can even start their car in the morning. I sure hope no one in New Mexico has to rush to the hospital after January 1, 2008. After this fateful date, car-jackers, murderers and rapists will probably be nice enough to wait for their intended victims to take the test before they attempt to commit their crime, right?

To add some more fun to the issue, people will now get tested as they drive! As if the average driver doesn’t have enough distractions with other drivers, the weather, cell phones, screaming kids and pets, the state added one more. Utterly brilliant.

Boy, I would think that tougher DUI sentencing, revocation of the licenses of those convicted of DUI would be the intelligent direction to move. I guess the New Mexico State Legislature feels that all of their citizens are suspect and must be treated as if they have already endangered everyone else on the road.

Another sterling example of government creating a ludicrous solution for a very real problem.

It makes you wonder how many of these representatives count ignition interlock companies as donors to their re-election campaigns.

Stumbling Blocks

I tend to be pretty judgmental about art – on many levels. I am by no means an expert, as I hold to the old adage ‘I know what I like’, but I do have some specific expectations of art. It should cause me to pause, initiating reflection, both on the piece and how that piece affects me. As I am married to an artist I have a unique and expanded view of art. I have watched her process and her progress from the wink of an idea to the finished piece, watching each step – the technical and creative – along the way.

So I have expectations of art. It must have a purpose, being pretty doesn’t count, at that point it is decoration, not art. The purpose does not have to be complex, it can be as simple as causing the viewer to stop and reflect on the purpose behind it, the inner workings of the piece, or the subject matter.

Every so often I am struck by a piece or series that has an immediate impact, adding a new facet through which I view our world.

National Public Radio aired an amazing story this morning about an artist in Cologne, Germany who is memorializing the individuals persecuted by the Nazi’s during World War II. The artists, Gunter Demnig, researches the individual victims, (Jews, Gypsys, homosexuals, the disabled among others) and creates a brass plate which denotes the name of each individual, their date of birth and information about their deportation or murder. This small plate is then attached to a paving stone which is set into the pavement in front of the building where they used to live.

Whoa. This blows me away. Not only is it a moving tribute, but it goes far beyond what so many previous memorials present to the public (I mean no disrespect to the other holocaust memorials). The individual is brought to the forefront. Not only do you learn that this person was persecuted during the darkest period in history, you are given a glimpse into their daily life before that life was turned upside down.

As each year passes, and new generations are born, we lose more and more of those who experienced the events. People of my generation were lucky enough to hear some first-hand accounts, and there are some amazing documentaries and books covering the subject from every possible angle. But we don’t have those daily reminders. We need them.

Having a name, a birth date and the information as to how this person was deported, sent to Auschwitz or simply disappeared, brings their presence to our world; but unlike large memorials you see that this person lived in the building a few yards away.

The victims are not anonymous.

One day I hope to travel throughout Europe. I now have another reason to go to Germany. Another reason to remember our past.

More Information
Goethe-Institut: Stumbling over the Truth
The Hindu: Remembering the faceless

Finally: Star Wars on DVD

According to

After years of waiting, hype and hope, the rumors can at last be laid to rest: the holy grail of DVD will finally be released this September. Yes, it is the original Star Wars trilogy: Episodes IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (which many regard as the best in the series) and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

While a full press release has yet to be issued, both Lucasfilm and Fox Home Entertainment confirmed today that the trilogy will touch down on September 21st as a four-disc set, available in both anamorphic widescreen and full screen versions, containing the three films plus a bonus fourth disc with extras, a la the top-selling Adventures of Indiana Jones set released late last year.

The full story.

It’s about damn time.

Jeffrey Veen: Steps to Better Presentations

Jeffrey Veen has posted a great bit of advice titled Seven Steps to Better Presentations, which provides a cohesive wrapper for many recommendations I have heard over the years. While he touches on the subject of PowerPoint, he avoids the growing argument as to the detrimental effect of that presentation programming, instead focusing on the presenter. It’s good stuff.

I have a couple of extra tips to add to it:

1. Eye contact. Do not look over the audience’s collective head. Look different people in the eye throughout your presentation, shifting your focus to different parts of the audience. This will help to draw the audience into your presentation and keep them interested.

2. Use humor. Humor is invaluable when driving a point home, but it can be overused. Make sure that the humor matches the point currently being illustrated, fits into the presentation as a whole and doesn’t overpower the content you are presenting. Stay on-topic.

Sweet Speed

Mmmmm cable modem.

Listening to an Internet radio station from the UK.

Watching movie previews full screen.

Working on my Web site.

Working on a redesign of an A. G. Russell Web site.

Exchanging messages with friends via IM.

Keeping up on my RSS feeds.

Updating Mozilla, Firebird and Opera.

Happy happy Alex