Scanners and shepherds

Lousy day at work today. I won’t elaborate except to say I wrote a story about something which I thought was fair and accurate, and someone wasn’t happy with it. My normal modus operandi in a situation like this is that I dwell on it, second-guessing myself (even though I know I was in the right) and worrying about the consequences in any case. Such is the lot of the reporter.

After work, I went to see my father. One computer accessory I’ve never owned is a scanner. A few weeks back, while his computer was broken, he had to come over here and use mine. When he noticed that I had no flatbed scanner, he mentioned that he had an extra one. He bought himself one of those snazzy printer/copier/scanner/fax jobbies a while back, and his old scanner had literally been sitting in a little storage shed in the back yard. I went to pick it up today.

I put the scanner in my front seat and headed home. While on a side street, a German shepherd trotted out in front of my car and I had to stop hard. The scanner slid into the floor, and I worried that it might be damaged. But I got it home and it seems to be none the worse for wear.

I had to find a power cord for it — the one part Dad had misplaced — and then I had to download a new driver, as the driver CD he handed me didn’t work with Windows XP. Everything seems to work great now, with one exception. When I first power up the computer, Windows XP keeps telling me I have a new device and offering to set it up. I have the scanner running on the parallel printer port, because it wouldn’t work if I installed the SCSI driver. But Windows keeps finding a SCSI scanner and offering to set it up for me. The “Install New Hardware Wizard” pops up about six or eight times before it finally gives up — and yet, if I actually try to use the wizard, it won’t work.

It’s just a nuisance, as far as I can tell. The scanner works well — I grabbed a handful of snapshots from my snapshot drawer and found one of my two brothers playing Battleship many, many years ago. I immediately scanned it and e-mailed it to the family. (Being the tactful guy that I am, I will refrain from posting it here.)

Batman don’t begin

While watching the Super Bowl tonight, I saw a bumper (“brought to you by …”) which mentioned the upcoming movie “Batman Begins.” I kept my eyes peeled for an actual coming-attractions ad for the movie, but I must have missed it somehow. Figures — the one Super Bowl ad I really wanted to see, and I managed not to see it! And since the movie won’t actually be released until this summer, it’s not likely that the ad will run again any time soon. Perhaps they’ll post it to the movie’s official web site.

UPDATE: They did post it to the web site, although I had to watch it in a postage-stamp-sized screen due to my dial-up connection.

Super Sunday

I’ve never been a knowledgeable or fanatical sports fan* but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching sports from time to time. In my high school and college years, I rooted for the Tom Landry-coached Dallas Cowboys, but when the Cowboys fired Landry in a particularly ham-handed and disrespectful manner during the 1980s I completely soured on them. I never really had a favorite team after that, until the Houston Oilers moved to my state and became the Tennessee Titans. I’m not fanatical about following the Titans but I do root for them.

I discovered that once you have a local team, the Super Bowl becomes much more important on the rare occasions when your team happens to make it that far, and somewhat less important in other years. I’ll probably watch, but since neither of the teams is the Titans, I don’t really care that much about the outcome.

Of course, as everyone points out this time of the year, the Super Bowl is more than a football game; it’s sort of a national festival. More people can tell you what happened in last year’s halftime show than can tell you which teams were playing or who won. And TV ads — which are considered a skippable nusiance the other 364 days of the year — become a national obsession during the big game.

I’ve actually only been to one NFL game in person, during the awkward transition period when the “Tennessee Oilers” were playing in Vanderbilt Stadium. They were playing the San Diego Chargers, which was fun for me because the Chargers’ kicker at the time was named John Carney. I toured The Coliseum while it was under construction, but the only event I’ve attended there was a Billy Graham Crusade. Two of the four nights, I sat at a press table down on the field, which was covered with large rubber tiles to protect the turf. One other night, I sat with members of the church I was attending at the time — we were way up in the nosebleed seats. If I recall correctly, I missed the last night for some reason.


*Yes, I realize that “fanatical fan” is a tautology. But I think you understood what I meant; the term “sports fan,” in common usage, could mean anyone who keeps up with sports, while adding the modifier “fanatical” indicates someone who paints their face in team colors, names their son after a favorite player, or what have you.

He put the biscuit in the basket

Earlier this week, I weighed in on a tempest-in-a-teacup between MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann and followers of Dr. James Dobson.

For someone who’s in the journalism business, I really don’t watch a whole lot of TV news when I get home in the evenings. But one show I do check out frequently is “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” which airs at 8 Eastern / 7 Central on MSNBC. I’ve been a fan of Olbermann’s for years, and this show is the perfect forum for him. He’s opinionated — the program makes no pretense of being a straight newscast; it’s more like the TV equivalent of “Paul Harvey News and Comment,” a newscast filtered through a particular commentator’s sensibilities. And yet, in a world filled with screechy commentators at either end of the spectrum, Olbermann is a sort of opinionated moderate — neither far right nor far left. What he is, is wry, and funny, and one heck of a good writer.

Olbermann first gained fame as a sportscaster. I’m not a regular watcher of ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” but I first became aware of Olbermann during the years when he was happily paired with Dan Patrick. Olbermann became famous for some of his catch phrases, but — unlike the many Olbermann wannabes who have followed — he had the knowledge and reporting skills to back up the flip attitude. During the “Spongebob” brouhaha this week, he wrote this at his blog:

[I]f I’ve ever gotten any direct instructions from my maker, they were that I’ll be judged by whether I tried to help other people, or hurt them. Also, that true belief should not be worn like a policeman’s club, nor used like one. And, finally, that I’m in big trouble for helping to introduce funny catchphrases into sportscasting.

A web site called “The Sports Center Altar” has a search engine for catch phrases made popular by SportsCenter anchors. Because of the way the database is set up, I can’t link directly to Olbermann’s page, but here are some of my favorite catch phrases listed there:

“He pulled a groin — his own, we hope!”
“From way downtown … BANG!”
“It’s deep, and I don’t think it’s playable.”
“I can read his lips, and he is not praying.”

Olbermann and Patrick had great success at ESPN; they even published a book, “The Big Show.” But Olbermann never got along with his bosses there. I recall seeing him guest on “The Daily Show,” which was hosted at the time by one of Olbermann’s former “SportsCenter” colleagues, Craig Kilborn. Olbermann made a comment about Bristol, Connecticut (where ESPN is located) being the most godforsaken place on earth. It turned out that Olbermann had violated policy by appearing on another cable network without prior permission. He was suspended for a week or two, and left the network soon thereafter.

He next ended up at MSNBC, which I couldn’t see at the time, hosting “The Big Show with Keith Olbermann,” a news program. But that was at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Olbermann resented his bosses’ insistence that he focus on the story almost exclusively. So he left MSNBC and went to Fox Sports, which was trying to compete head-to-head with “SportsCenter.” That didn’t work out either, and Fox took him off the air. The rumors began to fly that Olbermann was difficult to work with, practically unemployable.

When 9/11 struck, Olbermann — who was living in New York — began filing freelance reports on the catastrophe for a Los Angeles radio station, and it seemed to have reinvigorated him. Soon, he was on ABC radio, doing daily commentaries under titles made famous by Howard Cosell: “Speaking of Sports” and “Speaking of Everything.” (He even filled in for Paul Harvey.)

NBC Sports, for which he’d worked before ESPN, came calling, and wanted him to serve as the cable anchor for the Athens Olympics. He began making preparations. Then, Jerry Nachman, who had been hosting a show on MSNBC, took sick, and Olbermann had his agent ask whether he had burned his bridges or whether they might be interested in having him fill in, at least on an interim basis. It turns out they were glad to have him back. He went on the air with a show entitled “Countdown” during the countdown to the Iraq war; after that, it shifted to its current format, a countdown of five stories which Olbermann believes viewers will be talking about the next day, interspersed with a few other daily features.

Soon, the “unemployable” Olbermann had been on the air a year, and on his anniversary he gleefully read off a long list of previous MSNBC hosts who had failed to make 12 months in the 8 p.m. slot. As the Athens Olympics — and the presidential election — approached, the higher-ups at NBC decided it would be better to leave him on “Countdown” than to send him to Athens for weeks of preparation and broadcast. He’s still there, approaching his second anniversary and as ornery as ever.

My day

I normally don’t talk shop in this space, but I have to touch on work in order to explain my day. I don’t think anything I’ll say reflects badly on my paper or my co-workers, so I’ll risk it.

I interviewed Mim Eichler Rivas yesterday. Her book was released today, and I was really excited about and proud of my story, which ran in today’s newspaper.

Sort of.

Due to an innocent production mistake, the first 3,600 copies — about half our press run — were missing a big chunk of the story. The continuation of the story on page 2 picked up at the wrong place, because of two paragraphs that happened to begin with the same words.

When I returned from an interview (more about that later), I noticed the mistake. To my co-workers’ credit, the presses were stopped immediately and the mistake was corrected. But the 3,600 papers had to go out. We are running an editor’s note tomorrow, and I have posted the full text of the story at the T-G web site for those who have Internet access and want to read it.

After leaving work, I went to Wal-Mart and bought an SD card for my new Palm color PDA. The SD card is so that I can use the PDA as an MP3 player. On my way out of Wal-Mart, I set off the theft detector. I only had to stand there a few seconds while the Wal-Mart greeter filled out some paperwork, but it rattled me. Even though I’d put money on my Wal-Mart gift card to buy gas at the pumps outside, I drove off without doing so.

I got home and tried out the SD card. It works fine — but I discovered that I have to use RealPlayer to download songs from my computer onto the Palm. Everything I’ve ripped in the past, and all of the songs I’ve downloaded, are in Windows Media. Technically, RealPlayer will play them, but in practice the rights management features won’t match up. So I had to re-rip some of my CDs in RealPlayer’s format. So far, so good — except that the headphones from my old MP3 player won’t fit the headphone jack on the Palm, as I had been hoping. I’ll have to buy new headphones at some point.

The county government meeting I had to cover for the newspaper this evening ran long, and so I’m ahead on my work hours but I’m not sure exactly when I can squeeze out some comp time this week.

There was one bright spot to the day. We publish a “Heart Month” special section each February, and to that end I went to interview a man at one of our local factories who had a heart transplant last spring. He was delightful, and credits much of his recovery to the prayers and support of his co-workers. The members of his department prayed for him, not only individually, but as a group. I mentioned one of my mission trips in passing, and the heart patient followed me out of the building when I got ready to leave, so that he could privately tell me how much he appreciated the fact that I did mission work.

Customer service

After I posted about trying to decide whether to wear my tie-dyed African shirt while layspeaking on Sunday (I didn’t), Georganna at Writer’s Edge commented that she wanted to see pictures.

Well, this blog is nothing if not dedicated to customer service.

My African shirt

Normally, LEAMIS has a team T-shirt made up for its foreign mission teams. But Grace Mbithi, the wife of Pastor Paul Mbithi, has a clothing business, and so Gail and Debra decided for the Kenya trip that LEAMIS would purchase a shirt for each team member from Grace. We had a suspicion of what was coming when, during our week in Kenya, someone came around one day with a tape measure and measured each of us. But we didn’t know for sure until the last day of the trip — after our debrief, when we had returned to the Mbithis’ home for a few hours before heading to the airport. Each of us was presented with an African shirt. Each shirt was different: different necklines, different stiching, pockets or no pockets.

The hat in this photo is one I bought at the Masai market in Nairobi; it’s made of fibers from the baobab tree.

Go get ‘em, Keith!

Keith Olbermann, one of my favorite commentators — one who’s neither far right nor far left — has now become a target of “Focus On The Family.” God bless him, he’s fighting back and refusing to be labeled as a heathen just because he dares to disagree with Dobson.

A question of attire

While I was at church last night helping cook the annual steak dinner (a fund-raiser for our men’s club), I got a call from my parents.

Dr. Beryl West, a psychology professor, Baptist preacher, and close friend of my father’s, has laryngitis. Could I speak at his church Sunday morning? Dr. West (who has been on numerous mission trips to China) let my father know that it would be OK for me to talk about my mission experiences rather than try to prepare a sermon on such short notice. I happily agreed.

Last night, I had all but decided to wear my African tie-dyed shirt — hand made for me by Grace Mbithi’s clothing shop — as a conversation piece. But this morning, not knowing anything about Dr. West’s church, I have chickened out and decided that I need to wear a suit.