Q: Why is it a very bad idea to put the computer in the living room?

A: Noise pollution, noise pollution, noise pollution.

When Noah was born, we converted what was then the home office into his bedroom. The computer got relegated to the living room due to the fact that we were stupid. Well, that, and it’s also the only place where there was any space.

The living room wears its name well, because we live there. The kids play there, they bicker there, they tinker on the piano, and the TV is always on. Sometimes the Barbie stereo is on too. Yes, at the same time as the TV. The husband is always singing, or whistling, or playing his guitar. This all adds up to noise. Lots of it. And it is all compounded by the fact that when we installed tile flooring in the house a few years ago, we didn’t know we were investing in a high-end sound amplification device. I do love the sounds of a happy household, so this really isn’t so bad unless one is trying to, oh, say, concentrate.

I’m threatening to get a laptop and install a wireless network so I can go wherever in the house is quietest (relatively speaking) when I need to work. Kent says we can’t afford it, but right now it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a bigger house!

We are officially starting potty training now that Noah has moved to the “older” 2’s class at daycare, where they are more disciplined about such things. Is this the beginning of the end of diapers? Well, not quite yet. Not until Noah begins to view the potty as something other than one step closer to getting in the bathtub. Remember, this is the kid who loves baths. The last time my parents babysat, it wasn’t supposed to be a bath night, but Noah tricked my mom into it by asking to go potty, which she was only too happy to help with. That lasted for all of half a second. Once he enticed her to the bathroom, it was the old bait-and-switch. What he REALLY wanted was a bath. Sly little man! It worked, too. Grandmas are suckers for charmingly crafty two-year-olds. And I think the charmingly crafty two-year-old knows it!

In other growing up news, Maia is a big-shot first-grader now. This is the big time—first grade is hard! Textbooks, homework every night, and tests all over the place. Things sure have changed a lot since I was in first grade. I don’t remember it being so much work. But so far she loves it. Except today, because she bumped her head pretty hard on the playground. I asked if she cried, and she said yes, but only until she got to the school clinic because they have a “no whining” sign.

Whoa, stop the presses! Is that all it takes???? I am smacking myself on the head. Note to self: The “no whining” sign goes up in our house TONIGHT! Think it will work?

They want my article!!!

Talk about speedy! I submitted my article query via e-mail only yesterday (see yesterday’s post for details of that effort) and have already received a response. They liked my idea and want to publish my article! The editor said my topic “addresses an all-too-often overlooked professional practice.” I didn’t even know editors worked on Sundays and I NEVER expected to hear something so soon. Either my query letter and outline were really good, or they are desperate for submissions. Either way, I am seriously doing a major happy dance! I could not possibly be any more excited right now! And a little scared too, because now I have to write the thing. They want to know when I can have it ready. How in the world do I estimate that? This means the blogging may slow down again for a few weeks while I devote my attention to writing everything I know about design documents in 3500-5000 words. Wish me luck!

I’ve had an ambition of getting professionally published for a long time, and today I took my first very small baby step toward doing something about it. I just submitted a query letter to an e-learning journal that I’d like to write an article for. It has taken me the entire day to outline the article, research the correct query format, and write the letter. Halfway through, I realized I had too much information and needed to scale back the scope, which put me almost back to square one. It also required a lot of begging my kids for some peace and quiet (not always very nicely, for which I feel bad and will have to atone). Kent helped by taking them to the movies for a couple of hours. But the letter is finally done and sent, and I have what I think is a solid plan for the full article.

I have no idea if my proposal will be accepted, but I feel like I’ve taken the dream and finally found the motivation to do something about it. If it doesn’t pan out, I have other avenues to pursue. I’m lucky to have a professional acquaintance who is a freelance writer for several training publications. She’s offered to put me in contact with the editors she works with. If I need to, I will definitely take advantage of that offer.

You can be sure I’ll be chronicling my progress—or lack of it—in this blog.

Book Review: Wicked

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is a history of that villain we all love to hate from the L. Frank Baum children’s classic, The Wizard of Oz. I hate to write a completely negative review, so I’ll start with something good. I finished it. Even that is not saying so much, since I rarely abandon a book in mid-read.

My most lasting impression of Wicked is that it just doesn’t fit with the characters as I know them. In this book the Wizard is a corrupt tyrant; the Wicked Witch of the East is an (admittedly disliked) political leader and religious influence in Munchkinland; Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, cares more about fashion and society than true good works; and the central character, the Wicked Witch of the West, is not really wicked, nor is she technically even a witch, though she is still decidedly green. The lengthy philosophical discussions of politics, religion, animal rights, the nature of evil, and the presence or absence of souls felt empty and out of place with the colorful and imaginative Oz I love. Here, Oz seems dreary and unrecognizable. I don’t dislike philosophy, but I missed the fantasy. In author Gregory Maguire’s telling, life in Oz is bleak.

I had hoped this book would give me a new appreciation for why the witch (named Elphaba—a take on L. Frank Baum’s initials) is the way she is. What I got instead was a mostly uninteresting character whose story went nowhere. I admire the attempt to humanize a villainess, but presenting her as a (somewhat) complex and (somewhat) sympathetic character makes her actions against Dorothy, not all of which are documented here, so much the less believable. Sometimes the villain just needs to be a villain! Confusingly, Maguire has taken too many liberties with the original The Wizard of Oz, ignoring some key scenes and reinventing others to suit his purposes.

It’s nearly impossible to separate this book from its roots in the work upon which it purports to be based, but even as a stand-alone novel, it fails. Maguire hints at ideas and plot points that either never come together or are completely abandoned. The bottom line is that I love books I can’t put down. This one put me to sleep. Literally. I finished it, but only because I really wanted to like it and hoped for some redeeming conclusion. It simply did not live up to the potential of its intriguing premise.

Quotes I love

I haven’t much time for an original entry today, so instead I thought I’d share a few of my favorite quotes. Maybe one of these days I’ll write complete posts around some of these.

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
~Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)

“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend.”
~Albert Camus

“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.”
~Confucius

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
~Albert Einstein

“Wisdom begins in wonder.”
~Socrates

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
~George Eliot

“The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
~Les Miserables (the musical)

“Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused.”
~Anonymous

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
~Leo Tolstoy

“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.”
~Helen Keller

“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
~Anne Frank

“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.”
~Hodding Carter, Jr.

When I was a kid, one of the personal characteristics teachers could indicate for improvement on report cards was “striving for accuracy.” It’s funny what sticks with you, because I can’t remember anything else about those elementary school report cards except that I never wanted to be labeled as someone who wasn’t doing my personal best. I haven’t always done my personal best, but I have always learned from it, and still do, when I fall short. To this day I’m a perfectionist, more so all the time. (But please, Lord, don’t let me turn into one of those people in my old age—still a long way off—who finds fault with everything!) I take a lot of pride in my work and work hard to make everything I produce something to be proud of. “Good enough” just isn’t good enough. Or is it?

On the flip side, I’m guilty of spending way too much time overanalyzing to get that small increment of improvement that probably wasn’t worth the time I invested and probably was noticed by no one but me. I realize that there have to be compromises, especially when time and money are at stake. It’s a mistake to let “perfect” stand in the way of “good enough,” as a vice president at work is fond of saying.

There is some wisdom in those words, but danger too. Does such a statement indirectly give people permission to settle for less than they are capable of? Does it give license to accept mediocrity and just skate by? I can’t always achieve perfect and I don’t expect to all the time, but I can and do at least try. Why would anyone accept anything less from themselves?

Since I was out of town most of last week and haven’t been to the grocery store yet since I’ve been back, dinner grub in my house is in short supply. Kent had a meeting tonight, so I took the lazy way out. I took the kids to McDonald’s for dinner. And then I remembered why we don’t do this more often. The kids in the Play Place have lungs, and they use them! What was probably no more than 10 kids sounded like 30. I had a headache when we left, but I also really enjoyed watching them (my kids especially) have a great time. I need the reminder sometimes to appreciate the wonder—and energy?—of being a kid. They are growing up before my eyes, and I want to make sure they have lots of magical moments to remember. Like an unplanned trip to McDonald’s, and pulling out of the drive-thru line at the last minute to go inside for the Play Place instead. I was a minor hero tonight, which was more than worth the headache!

My company spent a good part of last year researching and selecting a new learning management system (LMS) with an integrated content authoring tool, to replace the extinct dinosaur we had been using to deliver e-learning courses. Our IT group hired a consultant to help us through the process and make sure all the bases were covered with technology, usability, SCORM conformance, and integration with current systems. So imagine my surprise today to learn that, less than a year later, the IT group is not satisfied, the LMS vendor is resistant to some of the requested interface and reporting customizations required to fit our business models, and the incremental costs have accumulated to rival those of another, more robust LMS that we had passed on because of, well, price. Weren’t these the things our “expert” consultant was supposed to identify and protect against? The IT group is ready to throw in the towel and start over, and I’ve been asked to yet again investigate third-party authoring tools for developing our online courses. I like the system we have. It has its limitations, to be sure, but my staff is trained on how to use it, and we’ve had excellent results. I don’t want to start over with a new tool and a new learning curve less than a year later. At this rate, our development efforts will never be profitable.

If there’s good news, it’s that I’ve already done the research once, and not too much has changed. If we have to go third-party, I’m prepared with a clear recommendation for which tool to choose and the arguments to back it up. It actually will give us more robust features and flexibility than we have now, better testing capabilities, better standards compliance, and more output options, but at the cost of a significantly steeper learning curve. What to do? Fortunately I’m an optimist, so I’ll make the best of whichever direction we end up taking. I’m not opposed to change if it’s for the better.

If you are reading this and you aren’t involved in e-learning, it’s probably all greek to you. I normally don’t blog about technical work-related things, but I’m frustrated to think that we have to go through this entire process again so soon.

I subscribe to dictionary.com’s Word of the Day, which I receive daily via e-mail. Today’s word is circumlocution, so I decided to take this opportunity to reflect on the diverse nature of my writing style, depending on what or to whom I am writing.

Dictionary.com defines circumlocution as “The use of unnecessarily wordy and indirect language.” My Merriam-Webster’s dictionary (my primary writing reference, along with The Chicago Manual of Style) defines it as “The use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea.” As any recipient of my long-winded, rambling, chatty personal e-mails can attest, I’m quite good at circumlocution, no matter whose definition you use!

Yet when I am writing for “real,” my writing style is very much the opposite. Strangely, or perhaps not, it takes much longer to write with fewer words, which is why I usually abandon the attempt when corresponding informally with friends. But good writing is clear, concise, and succinct, and this is what I strive for in most of what I create. It’s a must in training, where attention spans are short and literacy may be an issue. With my staff, whose work I edit, I’m always looking for ways to help them say more in fewer, more direct, simpler words. If any of them ever saw the stream-of-conscious circumlocution I am capable of, however, they’d never take my edits seriously again!

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