The World Is Too Much With Us

I’ve never been an outdoorsy kind of guy, but something about these first few lines from William Wordsworth’s poem resonates with me.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. …

The poem was written sometime around 1806, so Wordsworth had plenty to complain about, what with the Industrial Revolution and all. But, he spent most of his life in the Lake District of England, which was still positively bucolic when I visited the place nearly 200 years later.

When I read this poem last night, I had a “back in my day” reaction, but in reverse. Seriously, how much “getting and spending” could the guy have seen back then in lovely Grasmere? I’d like to drop Wordsworth into the middle of New York City now and see what he thinks. And yet, the poem makes me wonder about the fever pitch of today’s commerce and marketing and advertising and technology and communication. In another 200 years, will the breakneck pace of our lives look more like a gentle stroll through a quaint village?

Posted in language | 3 Comments

Goodbye, Edgar

It all happened much more quickly than Sara and I had expected. We put our 1993 Volvo 240 Wagon on Craigs List last week, and within two hours it was sold. In addition to the guy who bought the car, three others called to ask if they could check it out. It got me wondering about the psychology of selling. What is the right amount of time or effort for the sale of something like a car? If it sells too quickly, you think you’ve priced it too low. If it sells too slowly, you’ve priced it too high. But what is too quick and what is too slow? I don’t know, but I bet some economist does.

What I do know is that I also seriously underestimated the effect the sale would have on our kids. When Edgar—that’s the car’s name, of course—pulled out of the driveway for the last time, the kids cried. They cried hard. They cried for 15 minutes until we managed to stop them with the bribe of watching a video during dinner.

Edgar the Volvo

Sara has been sad about Edgar’s departure, too, with good reason. It was a very cool car—the last of the boxy Volvo station wagons, with a third seat that faced the back. Sara drove that car a lot and didn’t seem to mind much that one door handle broke off so that nobody could open it from the outside and another door couldn’t be opened from the inside and the CD player didn’t work when the weather was cold and the driver’s side speaker was sitting, unattached, in the front passenger’s seat and the cruise control was busted and the air conditioner didn’t work and the engine was weak and the car shook at high speeds. It was still, believe it or not, a fun car to drive.

I wish I had been more aware of the rest of the family’s attachment to the car. We needed to get rid of it, regardless, but I regret not realizing that I needed to prepare the kids for it. Next time we sell a car, I’ll approach it as if we’re putting a dog to sleep. Maybe that way I’ll act with enough sensitivity.

Posted in family | 7 Comments

XyliChew Mints

A big box of mints arrived at my doorstep last week. But they weren’t just ordinary mints. No, they were XyliChew Mints with 100% Xylitol! I’ve been a big fan of XyliChew and its dusty purple cousin Ricochet for a couple years now, but their great taste is only one small reason for my affection.

The thing I like most about XyliChew is its marketing. First of all, the name is brilliant because the mints aren’t chewy at all (nor are they xyley). Next, they claim that the mints are “100% Xylotol” in the upper left corner on the front of the package, while on the back in fine print the ingredients are listed as “Xylitol, Gum Arabic, Magnesium Stearate, Natural Flavor, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax.” Maybe they’re just giving 110 percent.

My favorite example of marketing sleight of hand has to be the “DOUBLE BONUS: ORIGINAL FORMULA. MORE MINTS.” Fine. I can see how getting more mints would be a bonus. But how in the world can anyone claim that not changing something is a bonus? It’s like saying, “Hey, everyone, we’re going to pay you the same this year as we did last year. Bonus!”

Did I mention they’re made in Finland? Triple Bonus!

XyliChew Mints
Posted in miscellany | 1 Comment

Paper Airplanes

Last Sunday at one in the afternoon, a local Grand Rapids guy named Rob Bliss and a handful of friends started to dump paper airplanes off of downtown buildings. By the time they finished, one hundred thousand planes had descended on the nearly 20,000 people crowding the streets below. While the planes were raining down, loudspeakers blared a refrain from “Olsen Olsen,” a song by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Some of the people in the crowd hummed along; others played the tune on instruments that they had brought for the event.

The plane launch was part of Grand Rapids ArtPrize, an “open art contest” offering nearly half a million dollars in prizes to the most popular entrants as determined by public vote. Sara, the kids, and I have been loving ArtPrize, discussing what we like and don’t like, what effect certain pieces have on us, and even how we should, or wish to, define art. The contest has provoked a lot of discussion among friends and neighbors, too. Some people seem almost offended by it, as if it demeans art in some way, while others are reveling in the “anything goes” nature of the competition.

There is a lot more I could say about both the paper-airplane stunt and ArtPrize in general, but I haven’t fully formulated my thoughts about them, so I’m going to hold off for now. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of downtown Grand Rapids last Sunday. Click on the thumbnails to get larger versions (without leaving the page).

Posted in friends and neighbors, photography | 3 Comments


I started writing this thing a month ago with some lame generalization about how kids behave radically differently from one minute to the next while they all pretty much look their age. But I couldn’t sustain the thought, and I’m not even sure I believe it, so I’m just going to relate a little anecdote about Ben and Sara that occurred earlier this summer.

apple corer

Ben eats an apple every night before bed. He never misses a night. Never. And who ends up cutting the apple for him? Sara. So one night, Sara told him that she was going to buy an apple corer and teach him how to use it.

Sara: Ben, I’m going to buy an apple corer so you can cut these things yourself. Do you know what that is?

Ben: What?

Sara: You know, an apple corer?

Ben: Yeah, I know an apple corer. I mean, I’m not best friends with it, but I’m “familiar” with it. [he actually did the air quotes.]

Sara: Oh, Ben. You’re such a wiseguy!

Ben: [still riffing] I also know the muffin man. Do you know the muffin man?

That’s often how conversations devolve in our household–with one person getting sillier and sillier until the other one gives up. Of course, I’m never the silly one.

Posted in family | 4 Comments

Happy Anniversary

Some people like to propose marriage in a public way—a banner pulled by an airplane, a radio call-in request, an electronic marquee at a ball game. When I asked Sara to marry me nineteen years ago, I chose a more private setting: the front steps of the dormitory where we had first met. The actual proposal was merely a formality anyway, since we had discussed getting married for the previous eight months or so.


My attitudes about self-revelation have changed quite a bit over the years, and the change, I admit, has coincided with the Internet Age and its ubiquity of online information about everything and everyone. But here is one thing I know I’d want to shout from the rooftop of my house if I didn’t have this virtual rooftop:

Sara, marrying you eighteen years ago was the best thing I’ve ever done. I love you now more than ever. Happy anniversary.

Posted in family | 10 Comments

A few baby names you might want to avoid

Our dear friends are expecting a baby, and they think it’s going to be a boy. When they were in town a couple weeks ago, we chatted a bit about possible names for the kid. And that made me wonder: What are some boy names that parents should avoid? Here are a few that I came up with after almost no reflection on the matter:

  1. Adolf
  2. Lucifer
  3. Goliath
  4. Genghis
  5. Onan

Did I miss any obvious ones? Let me know in the comments. Who knows? If we get enough of a list going, it could be a real public service.

In other news, I finally updated the rickety old blog software that runs this site. It was a painstaking process, and I’m not sure it was completely successful, so if you run into any problems, please let me know. For now the site is using a barely modified canned theme for its design. It feels a bit too “corporate” for my taste, but I wanted to make sure things worked before I started trying to dress it up again.

Posted in friends and neighbors | 7 Comments

Music I Like: Josh Rouse

For the past couple years I’ve been meaning to write a roundup of music that I’ve been listening to and particularly enjoy, but as is painfully clear, I never got around to it. So, instead of coming up with a huge list, I thought I’d post little bite-size morsels.

The first musician in my series of “Music I Like” is Josh Rouse. I’ve never met a Josh Rouse album that I didn’t like, but my favorites are “Nashville” and “Subtitulo.” He’s an amazing songwriter with a smooth voice and pop hooks that are extraordinary for how close they come to being cheesy without crossing that line.

Here are the Josh Rouse albums I listen to regularly, in rough order of preference:

Nashville Subtitulo Dressed Up Like Nebraska Country Mouse City House Home

Posted in music | 5 Comments

Crickets and Cobwebs

This little blog has been terribly quiet lately, some parts of it more than others. The writing guide section has been the most neglected, not having seen a new entry in two and a half years. A few of the entries have been fairly active with comments—some related to the entries, some not—but I haven’t had any time to respond to the comments or answer questions or do anything else with it. So I shut it down. The entries are still available, but I’m not going to write any more and I’m no longer allowing comments from others.

I’m still debating whether to shut down the word of the day officially or to keep it going with a random new word from time to time as guilt overtakes me.

The site as a whole feels like an old jalopy to me now. Most of it is running on an old, outdated version of a blog publishing platform that hasn’t kept up with the times. I’ll probably update the software within the next month or two, rather than switch to a snazzier new engine, because I’m afraid I’d lose most of what’s already here. Regardless, things will break, even if I stick with the same software and just do a version upgrade. Things always break. Once I have the infrastructure in place, I’ll start thinking about a new design. I’d like to say that I’ll start posting entries more regularly, too, but I don’t want to set unreasonable goals for myself.

In Other News

Learning jQuery 1.3 book cover

Lately, when I’m not contemplating the sorry state of this blog, I’m usually immersed in web development work of one form or another, much to the chagrin of my non-technical Facebook Friends who have suffered the onslaught of my esoteric Twitter posts, which are then automatically posted to my Facebook status, where they are invariably mocked, but all in good fun, I’m sure. My buddy Jonathan and I just had the second edition of our book published. The publisher gave it a new title, just to confuse people. It’s now called Learning jQuery 1.3. Overall, I’m very pleased with the way it turned out, and I’m quite relieved by the first few reviews of it on, which seem just as complimentary as those of the first book. In May I’ll be conducting a three-day training workshop on jQuery, which should be fun and stressful.

So much for getting a good night’s sleep tonight. If I had a brain, I would have stopped this nonsense hours ago. But I knew if I didn’t finish this and post it tonight, it would probably sit in draft mode for another couple months (like the seven or eight other entries I’ve started but haven’t finished). Good night.

Posted in technology | 2 Comments

Monday through Thursday

When I put myself on a diet two years ago this month, I had no idea I’d still be on it today. In fact, the only thing I cared about was making it to the weekend. It’s all I’ve cared about ever since. The place where I was working had bowls full of chocolates everywhere I turned. Each time I passed by them, I felt obliged to stuff my face with at least one. No willpower.

So, I made up a rule for myself: No eating sweets, Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays I could eat whatever I wanted. And I did. And I do. Surprisingly, though, I don’t eat any more junk food on the weekends than I did pre-diet.

Admittedly, it’s not much of a diet, and it’s not about losing weight, which is a good thing, because I haven’t lost any. It’s not even about willpower, though. Maybe it was in the beginning, but now it’s more about something else.

Did I mention I have a sweet tooth?

This little non-diet is ultimately about having one less decision to occupy my mind four days of the week. Before two years ago, the mere sight of candy would spark an internal battle. And I’d usually lose. Or win, depending on how you look at it. But however I looked at it, I ate the stupid candy.

Now there is no struggle because there is no decision to be made. Every Monday through Thursday the decision has already been made. And it’s a huge relief. The other relief comes each Friday when I can eat whatever I want without perseverating over it or feeling guilty about it. If I didn’t have the eat-free weekends, I wouldn’t have made it past week two.

Sure, I’ve “cheated” a few times, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m not a slave to it and I can still count the number of times I’ve “cheated” on my fingers. Also, holidays (the ones I celebrate) and vacations are exempt from the M-Th rule, as they should be. Otherwise, it’s four days on, three days off. Rinse and repeat.

Something there is inside me that doesn’t love a variable, which is why at least 200 out of the 365 days of the year I eat the same Clif Bar for breakfast, the same mix of nuts and raisins for snack, and the same turkey sandwich for lunch. And it’s why my brain feels just a little less cluttered when sweets are out of the equation.

Who knows how much longer this will last? I don’t. But I don’t feel the need to stop any time soon.

Posted in self-indulgence | 2 Comments