Remember, THINK

I have a file where I keep a collection of pithy quotes that I want to remember. One of my favorites is:

THINK before you speak. Ask:

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

I spent a few minutes tonight trying to determine where it came from. Several sites attributed a shorter criteria to the Buddha. “Before you speak be sure that what you say is True, Needful, and Kind.” I suppose that just about covers it. It is nice if what you say is helpful and inspiring. It is critical that it is true, needful, and kind.

So many situations in life would be improved by remembering these things. So often we talk as if we were talking to ourselves. We don’t stop to think that others don’t have the benefit of our perspective. Words are such a treacherous medium. It is extremely hard to say exactly what we mean and just as easy to mean one thing and say it in such a way that it can be misconstrued. And in my experience, anything that can be misconstrued, will be.

The other side of the coin is to listen carefully to what people say. Try to see if they really mean what they said or if they were trying to communicate something else and misspoke. Don’t assume malice when ineptitude might explain what was said. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification before you allow their words to hurt you. And, if you discover that the hurt was intended, be quick to forgive.

That is the advice that I aspire to follow. I often fall short of that aspiration. But I acknowledge my failings and resolve to do better the next time.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Things I Learned (TIL)

I’ve learned a lot about web sites and Content Management Systems (CMS) today. Not that I didn’t already know a good bit about them. I just learned that there is an almost infinite number of variations on the whole CMS theme.

For instance, WordPress, the software that I use to publish this blog is a CMS. It is an extremely flexible CMS. Another popular CMS is called Drupal. I have played with Drupal several years ago which means that I  have very little idea how it works in its present incarnation. Both of these packages are primarily intended for use by bloggers.

Another CMS is the XWiki package that I’ve been talking about a good bit of late. It adds the added feature of acting like a Wiki. If I’m not mistaken, WordPress has a wiki plugin but I haven’t investigated it yet. Drupal may have one as well. The difference being, I suppose, that XWiki comes with the Wiki functionality built in as a primary feature.

Dave Winer has written a number of CMSs starting with Frontier and ending up with his latest, They are good products. They are based on his wonderful outliner software. They are fairly minimalistic in their formatting capability out of the box. To get flashy pages you have to be a web developer and understand what he is doing to render the content. That is in no way a criticism. It is how the product works and it is a great product.

What I’m looking for is a flexible framework for building a web site that is maintainable by any number of people, most of which having little or no experience with html, css, or any other web development technology. So far, I have to say, out of the box XWiki is the most capable. It is also the easiest for an honest to goodness web developer to extend in such a way that the content is still maintainable by mere mortals.

Now for the hard part. I have to put together a plan for migrating to XWiki. That includes a schedule. I am not good with schedules. Especially considering that I am dealing with a technology that I’ve only known existed for about a week. The good news is that there is not much to the web site that I am “porting” to XWiki. I’m not sure what the bad news might be. That’s the thing about the unknown. It sneaks up on you and says “Boo!”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.


I am a big fan of Penn & Teller. I like their magic. I like their documentaries. And, as I have discovered recently, I like Penn’s writing. I have been reading his latest book, Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales. It is an entertaining story of how with the help of Ray Cronise, a character in his own right, he sheds over 100 pounds by going against common weight loss wisdom.

I have come to a lot of the same conclusions as CrayRay, as Penn so colorfully calls him, about how the human body works. I may try his radical diet at some point but first I’m going to read the rest of Penn’s book and then see if I can get my hands on Ray’s book. I looked on Amazon and Google and was unable to find anything.

I used a phrase the other day, “seeing the elephant.” It was a phrase that my mother used on occasion. She explained it to me as meaning realizing your mortality. I looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered that it had a much broader and varied meaning.

It has been in use for over a hundred years and the connotation associated with it has varied from excited at the prospect of a new adventure. To disappointment associated with an experience that one had expected to be exciting.

A speculation that was advanced in the Wikipedia article suggested that it might have derived from a story of a farmer that, while driving his wagon to town to see the circus, ran into the circus parade. His horses were spooked by the elephants and overturned his wagon full of produce. The farmer said “I don’t give a hang! I have seen the elephant.”

It is as good an explanation as any. It certainly broadens my understanding of the phrase. I intend to keep it close at hand in case it is appropriate in something I am writing.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Wiki Obsession Afflicts Web Developer, Film at 11

There’s nothing like the smell of a brand new notebook, blank and waiting for the first thing to be written in it. It is no secret that I have a fondness for stationery. There is a similar feeling that comes when you try a new application for the first time. I have discovered a new application called XWiki that fills that bill perfectly. It is a bundle of software that makes creating and maintaining a web site as easy as shopping on Amazon.

It takes its inspiration from Ward Cunningham’s revolutionary Wikiwiki software. I’d link to his original Wikiwikiweb site but it seems to be down at present. That is probably due to the fact that Ward has moved on to a new evolution of his software that he calls Smallest Federated Wiki (SFW).

Back to XWiki, it is a magnificently flexible framework upon which can be built just about any sort of web site that you can imagine. And the great thing about it is that you edit the web site, on the web, using typical everyday web forms. You don’t have to mess with html or css or any of those arcane web developer technologies in order to build a beautiful full featured web site. If you want to tweak the underlying pieces, you can but you don’t have to.

I discovered this gem when I was looking for a solution to a problem that my manager at work had posed to me. Our department has a web site on the company intranet. It showcases our capabilities to other parts of the company. Lately it has become rather severely out of date. Every time this happens, someone is tasked with bringing it up to date. This usually entails a bunch of work collecting the updated information and then wrestling it into submission. The latter task often entails finding someone experienced in web development.

By migrating the site to a wiki based Content Management System (CMS), I can make the site so easy to update that anyone that can use a word processor (or the web) can update it. This should encourage the various content owners, as the people contributing information to the web site are called, to update their own content incrementally as it changes. As a result, the site doesn’t become stale and everyone is happy.

I installed the software on my home computer and I am extremely pleased. I am going to start the ball rolling to get it approved at work next week.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

And Now For Something More Mundane :-)

Thank you patient readers, those of you that are still reading this blog. I don’t know if this is where the story of the Star Ship Beagle ends, but it is where it ends for now. You have witnessed the “publication” of the first draft of a story. It needs work. It definitely needs editing and parts of it may need rewriting. In the process it may change and evolve, for the better I hope.

I am planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo as it’s know to it’s friends) next month. I have done it twice before, once unsuccessfully, and once successfully. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. To do so, you have to hit an average of around 1700 words per day. When you finish you have a rough draft of a novel and a lot more confidence in your ability to write something on that scale.

On my first attempt, I caught the flue about ten days in and missed enough days that I never caught up. I’m not sure that I had enough story plotted for that first one to ever have been finished.

On the second attempt, I wrote a story that I  had been plotting off and on for years. It took turns that I never expected and was far different than anything I had imagined before hand. But at the end of the month, I had a fifty thousand word first draft in hand. My computer died the December after that (the next month) and all I have is a backup of the original draft. I intend to go back to it and read it to see if it is salvageable sometime soon.

I will blog during the month of November but I don’t think I’ll write much fiction during that time. I expect it will be essays for the most part. I may give poetry another shot if I can figure out how to format it so that it survives the trip to Facebook.

I have been bitten by the writing bug hard. At this point, I know that I will write the rest of my life. I may not ever publish anything as such but I will blog and write things for my own amusement. I have an ambition to write for a local public radio station podcast called The Writer’s Corner. I may post that to my blog as well..

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

A Moral Delima

We ran the last hundred meters to the bridge. The hatch was open and there was a man I didn’t recognize, a large bird, and a woman that looked like a tree in the center of the room. The XO and Ellen were off to one side. The helmsman was sitting at his post at the helm. The captain was about to speak when all of a sudden I heard Janice’s voice in my head.

“Captain, may I present the patriarch of this planet.” The man bowed slightly from the waist and extended his hand to shake. The captain stared for a minute and then took his hand.

“I’m Captain Jack Armstrong. This is the Starship Beagle. Welcome.”

The old one smiled. “I have had many names. I am the avatar of my people. I should explain. I have taken this form to better understand your people as your crew member, Janice Fletcher has taken the form of my people. It is temporary I assure you. We have much to talk about, captain.”

“Are you hurt?” The captain asked the tree woman.

“Captain, you were speaking to the one called the mother of the forest. I am the bird over here.” Janice’s voice in my head held a hint of amusement as she waved the tip of one wing at the captain.

“Sorry. I’m pleased to meat you,” the captain said to the mother of the forest.

She nodded at him and we heard an old woman’s voice in our heads say, “As am I, sir.”

The captain turned to Janice. “What is going on here? Your mother will kill me if you are hurt.”

Janice replied with the same calm voice in our head, “We have a quandry. These fine folk are very reclusive. They have technology the like of which we have never dreamed. They have explored this universe and more. But now they want to be left alone. They realize that there are those of our species that would never leave them alone if we reported their existence. They have offered to remove all memory of our contact with them from our minds. It is the only way they will let us leave here.”

The captain reached for his sidearm. It wasn’t there. The old one said, “You disappoint me sir. I had thought you wouldn’t resort to violence.”

“You kidnap one of my crew, transform them into an alien creature, invade my ship, and you are disappointed in me? You are a condescending, self centered snob. Transform Janice back to the way she was and get off of my ship!”

Janice spoke in our heads again, “Captain. One of their young shot at our ship. That was what pierced cartography. They wanted to make amends. They were not aware how young a race humans are. They didn’t realize the panic that teleporting me to their holy place would cause you. They only want to live in peace and quiet and contemplate their existence without having to constantly deal with people that wanted to steal their technology.”

“But what right do they have to manipulate others to suit their whim?,” the captain said. “They may have the power to force us but that doesn’t make it right.”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Seeing Things Their Way

I followed the old one down a path through the forest. The mother of the forest followed right behind me. We came to a small clearing and the old one ducked into a cave to one side. I followed him but it was dark inside. After a moment, my eyes began to become acclimated to the dark. There were florescent stones on either side of the path back into the cave. They glowed in various shades of pink, green, blue, and yellow.

We walked for a few minutes and then the cave opened up into a large chamber. There was a long stone table in the center of the room. The old one gestured to me to sit. The mother of the forest went around the table and sat opposite of me. There was a gong at the head of the table and the old one picked up a mallet and struck the gong making one clear tone. Then he sat at the head of the table.

We sat listening to the gong reverberate. It sounded for what seemed to be a long time. As it was finally dying down, three creatures that looked like very thin, very tall monkeys entered from the rear of the cave. They each carried a covered tray. They set one in front of each of us. The old one nodded and a monkey took the cover off the mother of the forest’s dish. It appeared to be a pile of dirt.

The next monkey uncovered my dish. It was covered in various types of seeds and grains. I watched each of the others looking for a cue to proceed. The last monkey took the cover off the old one’s dish. It was what looked like a steak and baked potato. It smelled like one too. The others just stared at their food. I followed suit.

After a few minutes of this, I noticed that I was starring at the mother of the forest. In the dim light it was hard to be sure but it seemed to me her face was becoming wrinkled like the bark on a tree. It also seemed like she was taller than I remembered her being.

The old one had grown taller and no longer had wings on his back. His head had become more round in shape and his beak had become a nose. He had a mouth and two ears. And where his wings had been he had two arms. By now, he was starting to look like a human male.

I looked down at myself. My arms had disappeared and my legs had gotten extremely short with talons instead of feat. I know the drill. If you look like an animal, you are treated with precautions. The old one spoke out loud. “Do you appreciate my concerns better now, my friend? I certainly understand yours.”

Before I could speak, he nodded his head and I suddenly found myself on the bridge of the ship. The old one in his human form was with me. I found I couldn’t speak but my thoughts were audible to anyone in the room with me.I could understand everything that was being said.

The XO was standing there with Ellen. They were looking at a tablet. They looked up and the XO stepped in front of Ellen. The helmsman hit the intercom. “Captain, you’re needed on the bridge!”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Secrets Shared

The intercom chimed insistently. I started awake. I must have fallen asleep scanning the pictures from the surface below. It was the captain. “Can I come in?” I looked around but Ellen was not in the room.

“Yes sir.” I opened the hatch and the captain entered. I closed the hatch behind him. “Ellen and I were scanning the photographs of the surface for signs of a civilization that might have abducted Janice. I must have nodded off. I’m not sure where Ellen is now.”

“That was a concise report. It’s more than I’m getting from anyone else lately. Don’t worry, Ellen is discussing something she found with the XO. She said you passed out around 0400 and she didn’t have the heart to wake you. I came down to let you know and to talk to you about something else.”

“Yes sir. What can I do for you?” I asked. I felt a little bit apprehensive.

“Well, I need you to hold what I’m about to tell you in strictest confidence.”

“Of course, sir. I will take it to my grave.”

“It’s not quite that serious. It would be uncomfortable for me and Janice if anyone else were to find out.”

“Oh, I see. Like I said, I’ll keep your confidence.” I could see where this was going.

“You see, Janice is my sisters youngest daughter. She’s my niece. She didn’t want anyone to know because she wants to be treated like any other crew member. You and Janice seem close and quite frankly, I’m about to go nuts trying to find her. If anything happens to her I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

“I see. I need to ask you to return the favor, keep a secret that is. Janice told me you were her uncle and swore me to secrecy. I suspect she won’t hold me accountable for telling you, especially since you just told me but I don’t want to mess things up between us.” The captain sighed deeply.

“I’m glad to hear that. Well, shall we go hear what Ellen’s theory is and whether the XO thinks it is plausible.” The captain put a hand on my shoulder in a fatherly fashion as we headed for the bridge.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

First Summit

The sunrise was glorious. I stood and stretched the stiffness from my arms and legs. I rolled my head and then I decided to give my hosts a demonstration of Earth culture. I did T’ai Chi in the green space in front of the venerable one. I hoped that it demonstrated some of the aesthetic beauty the human form is capable of.

The mother of the forest watched with quiet interest until I finished. Then she beckoned me with her mind. “Come now, little one. Let us sing the colors of your being for the old one.” With that she turned and addressed the old bird on the perch. “Dear one, hear is the young mother from the starship above.”

“Is it true you come from a distant star to taste the song of our being?” the old one spoke to her mind in the same way the mother of the forest had.

I spoke my answer out loud since I didn’t trust myself to think the answer clearly. “Our race is curious by nature. We travel the universe looking for others to learn from and trade with.”

“Your race has a history of violence against each other and other species. You almost destroyed your world on several occasions. How can we know that you will not bring such sorrow to our nest?” the old one paced back and forth on his perch as he spoke to her with his thoughts. He made a clicking noise with his beak.

“If you know of our history you must have also seen that we have not had a war among our own people in almost two hundred years. We have not started a war with any other race in that time but we have defended ourselves when others have attacked us. We prefer peaceful interactions to violent ones but we will not be victims.” Janice trembled a little bit as she spoke. She had never had any official training for first contact.

The old one paced for several minutes. Then he answered, “I believe that your song is bright. If there is darkness in your race it is hidden from your heart. We do not wish to be known to others in the universe. We have long since explored the universe as far as we have appetite to see. We have turned inward and spend our time exploring the landscapes of our shared soul. It is a far vaster place than the expanses of these physical dimensions. We have taken great pains to not be known by anyone that visits this planet. The hard thing is that our fledgling attacked your ship while in the process of becoming an adult. It is his right of passage if I understand your culture. We did not mean for him to damage your ship but we also do not want our presence here known.”

“I see your predicament.” I said. “We must report what we found here. I would be happy to respect your wishes but there are eighty individuals on our ship. I can not speak for all of them. I can tell you that I have been missed and when I return to the ship I will be asked many questions.”

“I see your predicament as well.” the old one answered. “Eat with us that we may recognize the bonds of our friendship together and we will consider one another’s problems together.”

“As you wish.” I answered.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Meanwhile, Back on the Ship

“Hello, bridge?” I said into the intercom. “This is David Mathews. I just wanted to know if you have found Janice Fletcher yet.”

“No, no one has seen her. We are searching the ship compartment by compartment. Just a second, the captain just came in.” I could hear the voices in the background on the bridge for a second and then whoever I had been talking let go of the talk button. I looked at Ellen. We had torn the room apart. Janice definitely wasn’t here.

“What did you mean when you said you thought Janice might be making first contact?” I asked.

“Well, I read a lot of science fiction, especially the really old ones from before we became a spacefaring race. There was one writer, Arthur C. Clark that once wrote that: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Since Janice disappeared as if by magic, I posit that there is probably a sufficiently advanced technology involved. In which case, Janice is probably experiencing first contact right now. Unless, well, I’d rather not speculate about any other scenarios right now.” Ellen said.

“Oh. Well where do you think she is then?”

“My best guess, and it is only a guess, is that she was teleported to the planet surface. Or whatever other means that they may have for instantaneous transportation. If they could do that I suppose she could be just about anywhere. On the planet surface, in a ship somewhere, or maybe in some parallel universe. I don’t really know. That’s why I haven’t said anything more about it until now. I just didn’t think it would be useful.”

“We’re both pretty worried, aren’t we? Perhaps we should take a few deep breaths and see if we can find any likely candidates for places that a highly advanced race might transport Janice to on the surface.” Ellen nodded.

“That’s a good idea. At least it would beat sitting here doing nothing. I wish they had taken us all. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about her.” Ellen pulled up a chair and I pulled up the pictures of the planet’s surface on the tablet. After a while Ellen said, “Let me get my tablet. I think I can run the scan myself. That way we can cover twice the area in the same time.”

“Good idea. Here’s the directory name. You start with the most recent pictures and work your way back. I started with the oldest pictures and am working my way forward. We’re looking for … I don’t know what we’re looking for. Look for anything that looks out of place.” I said.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.