Read: “The Paperboy”, by Pete Dexter

I picked up The Paperboy after reading about Pete Dexter’s most recent novel, Spooner, on The Paperboy tells the story of two brothers from the (apparently) fictional Moat County, Florida. About ten years apart in age, they’re also quite different people: Jack, the younger, has just been expelled from the University of Florida after being dropped from his swimming scholarship. Ward, the elder, has gone into the family business, and is a reporter with the Miami Times. As the book opens, Jack has moved home and taken a job working for his father at that Moat County paper. Ward, working in Miami, keeps to himself and is primarily concerned with getting the story “right”.

The Paperboy could be described as a newspaper procedural: on the surface it tells the story about getting a story; in this case a story exploring the trial of man convicted of murdering a local, racist sheriff, a trial which was, well, irregular. I suppose it makes sense: Dexter was a newspaper man before he was a novelist and screenwriter. But if The Paperboy were only about the news business, I doubt it would have kept my attention.

Throughout the book there are questions as theme: How well do you know the people you love? How well do you really want to? As the story progresses, Jack sees his brother working for what seems like the first time, he initially wonders what’s going on inside his head, and eventually decides that he really doesn’t need to know. That even if he did know, he probably wouldn’t understand. Ward’s approach to the story and to life stands in contrast: his need to get the story “right” goes beyond accuracy, to a compulsive desire for truth and completeness. These two characters drive the story forward in a way I found believable, engaging, and enjoyable.

Dexter [co-]wrote both Michael and Mulholland Falls; interesting combination.

date:2010-02-28 19:06:06
tags:1995, fiction, reading, sfpl

Six Word Memoir

I received an email from my ninth grade English teacher a few days ago. She emailed the alumni list, asking for help with a project they’re doing: six word memoirs. Of high school. I suppose this is where I make a joke about that being the appropriate length for a memoir about something like high school, something that seems so important at the time, and turns out (for me, at least) unimportant in the scheme of things. I was interested at first, but the guidelines fixed that:

The guidelines are simple: First, hyphenated words may count as one or two words. Second, include your name and class year. Don’t libel anyone, get too personal, or try to get revenge. Rather than saying “ All A’s except for Mrs. Hancock” say, “All A’s except for English 9”. The plan is to pick the best six-word memoirs and use them on the calendar’s monthly picture page.

It seems to me that the point of a memoir is to get personal, contemplate revenge, and come as close to libel as you can while remaining emotionally honest. I suppose that doesn’t play well on a calendar, though. So thinking about what high school feels like in retrospect, I offer my six word memoir of high school:

Alleged wish frustratingly fulfilled: left alone.

date:2010-02-24 20:58:26
category:my life
tags:Canterbury, high school, memoir, writing

Food Blogging: The Dutch Delight

Since moving to our new neighborhood, I’ve been cooking a lot more, particularly from the church cookbook I grew up with (see also, my post on Sugar Crème Küchen). Since this sort of food seems to be a little uncommon on the west coast, and has been well received by my friends, co-workers, and — importantly — Richard, I’ve decided to start blogging about it.

You can follow my (likely intermittent) progress at And because this is, you know, social, you can follow the progress on or twitter, as well.

date:2010-02-15 16:47:40
tags:cooking, projects, writing

Done with Citi-First-Greg-Apartments

A few days ago I published a post about CitiApartments and 400 Duboce that’s been flagged “private” since January 5. Why did I wait? I wanted my deposit back, and given their track record, didn’t want to give them any reason to hold onto it.

California law states that landlords have 21 days after you move out to refund your deposit, or provide you with an itemized statement listing deductions. As I might have expected, Citi did neither. Luckily for me, I date someone who deserves an honorary post graduate degree in information retrieval. He found the California Courts’ self help page, which includes a tool for writing deposit demand letters for your landlord.

Armed with that generated letter, I emailed my building accountant and Ed Singer, general counsel of the Lembi Group (the parent corporation of the many, varied LLCs that actually own the buildings; email him to say “I love you” at Less than an hour later, I received a reply promising my check would be cut that week. My cautious optimism turned to near giddy relief when I received the check on Thursday. On Friday I walked to their bank to cash the check1, and then nervously walked two blocks to my bank to deposit the take. Walking away from my bank, my hands were shaking as I held the deposit receipt: the sense of relief at being done was palpable.

It’s clear that I’m one of the lucky ones. Sure, the math on the statement doesn’t make any sense at all, but I only lost $30 of my deposit — and actually got them to credit the interest to my last month’s rent. But the contrast between my experience and Richard’s — he received his refund check less than a week after moving out — is dramatic and telling.

Take away lesson: renting from CitiApartments, First Apartments, or Greg Apartments is probably not in your best interest. Unless you have money to burn. In which case, I can help with that.

1 There were reports on SF Appeal of checks bouncing; the last thing I wanted to do was add a returned check fee to the tally.

date:2010-02-15 15:50:50
category:my life

Houston Connexions

I spent the first half of this week in Houston, Texas for the Connexions Consortium Meeting and Conference. What follows are my personal reflections.

Connexions ( is an online repository of learning materials — open educational resources (OER). Unlike many other OER repositories, Connexions has a few characteristics that work together to expand it’s reach and utility.

While it was founded by (and continues to be supported by) Rice University, the content in Connexions is larger in scope than a single university, and isn’t tied to a particular course the way, say, MIT OCW is. Attendees of the conference came from as far away as the Netherlands and Vietnam.

In addition to acting as a repository, Connexions is an authoring platform: content is organized into modules, which can then be re-arranged, re-purposed, and re-assembled into larger collections and works. This enables people to take content from many sources and assemble it into a single work that suits their particular needs; that derivative is also available for further remixing. At the authors’ panel at the conference, we heard about how some authors have used this to update or customize a work for the class they were teaching. [UPDATE 5 Feb 2010: See the Creative Commons blog for information on this, and thoughts from the authorDr. Chuck“ (Charles Severance), who was on the authors panel. ]

Finally, Connexions is an exemplar when it comes to licensing: if you want your material to be part of Connexions, the license is CC Attribution 3.0. While OER is enabled by CC licenses generally, this choice provides a lot of leverage to users. The remixing, re-organizing, and re-purposing enabled by the authoring platform is far simpler with no license compatibility to worry about. Certainly you can imagine a platform that handled some of the compatibility questions for you — and the idea of developing such a system based on linked data is intriguing to me personally — but the use of a single, extremely liberal license means that when it comes to being combined and re-purposed, all authors are equal, all content is equal.

This year was the second Connexions Conference, and from my perspective there were two themes: the consortium, and Rhaptos. The consortium is actually why I was in Houston. The Connexions Consortium is an, uh, consortium of organizations with a vested interest in Connexions: universities and colleges that are using it and companies that are using the content. And Creative Commons, who I was representing at the meeting. I’ve also been elected to the Technology Committee, a group of people representing consortium members who will provide guidance on technical issues to Connexions. During our meeting on Monday afternoon there was discussion of a variety of areas. One that we didn’t get to, but which is interesting to me, is how content in Rhaptos repositories can be made more discoverable, and how we can enable federated or aggregated search.

Rhaptos was the other prominent theme at the conference. Rhaptos is the code that runs Connexions: without the specific look and feel/branding. While the source code behind Connexions has always been available, in the past year they’ve invested time and resources to making it easy (or at least straight-forward) to deploy. Interestingly (to me) Rhaptos is a Plone (Zope 2) application, and the deployment process makes liberal use of buildout. It’s not clear to me exactly what the market is for Rhaptos. It’s definitely one of those “unsung” projects right now, with lots of potential, and one really high profile user. I think it’ll be interesting to see how the Consortium and Rhaptos interact: right now all of the members are either using the flagship site to author content, or the content from the site to augment their commercial offerings. One signifier of Rhaptos adoption would be consortium members who are primarily users of the software, and interested in supporting its development.

Overall it was a great trip; I got to hear about interesting projects and see a lot of people I don’t get to see that often. I’m looking forward to seeing how both the consortium and Rhaptos develop over the next year.

If needed, and the evidence to date is that the staff is more than competent. I expect we’ll act more as a sounding board, at least initially.

This is an area that’s aligned with work we’re doing at CC right now, so it’s something I’ll be paying attention to.

date:2010-02-04 22:15:06
tags:cc, cnx, IAH, oer, travel

Most Popular Erroneous Post

There are a few posts on my site that get the lion’s share of traffic. One of those is a one-off project I did to convert Maildir to Mbox. Today someone left a comment, saying that it didn’t work. And then I realized that somewhere along the line sys.argv[-1] had been converted to sys.argv[1]. Not really the same thing.

I’ve update the page, but it’s a little embarrassing to only realize 18 months (or more) after originally posting it that you’ve been giving out bum advice.

Eventually, I’ll be right.

date:2010-02-03 21:41:14
tags:analytics, mistake