Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tell Your Story!

There's a web site that I'm building,, that lets me enjoy two of my favorite interests: software development and story telling.

It lets me enjoy software development
in that I'm using two technologies that I will gain experience with: the Google Web Toolkit (GWT) and Hibernate. The GWT is a great tool from Google that provides a framework for building AJAX-style applications. The framework includes the necessary pieces for client-side and server-side development, and manages the communication between the layers. Add in Hibernate and a data layer, and you have everything you need for easily building AJAX web sites.

Then there's the story-telling side.
When I was very little, we visited my great-uncle Henry Shoop, who was my father's mother's brother. He was born near Cherryville, Missouri, but his family moved to California when he was six. Uncle Henry was a friend, a beekeeper, and one of the great storytellers, and I hung on his every word as he instilled in me a love for a well-told story. He was one of the best.

Another favorite story-teller of mine was Earl Halbert, a family friend. You can see his picture here from National Geographic Magazine. He's the one on the left in the overalls. Earl was born in 1910 in rural Missouri, and lived through the Great Depression, Prohibition and numerous other hard times. He knew my great-grandfather Thomas Jefferson Branson, and had a few good stories to share about him as well.

Both of these men, shall we say, infected me with a love of a story told friend-to-friend, perhaps while sipping some sassafras tea, or around a campfire, or just hanging out in the living room. I miss both of them not just for their story-telling and their wit, but for their character as human beings.

Certainly the art of a well-told story has not been lost, but is changing over time. How many people nowadays have had the chance to hear stories of hard times in the Great Depression, friends lost, good times, and funny times, from "way back when"? I'd hate to lose those stories. So join me, won't you, and let's tell each other those stories, like we're sitting over a beer or around a campfire, and let's enjoy a good laugh together, savor tales of clever dealings with shysters, and the occasional twist ending.

Just head out to You're getting in early at a site that will someday, hopefully, have many stories that we have shared with each other. But it's your stories that will make the site great. If you have even one story to share, come on out and put it up there.

This site is in its early stages, but everything you need to add a story and read others' stories is already there. Since it's in its early stages, there's still a lot of work that I need to do add features. Some are pretty obvious - you can create a story, but can't edit the story to make corrections yet. I have a long list of features that I will add as the site grows. But the feature you want may not be on my list! So, click on the Contact Support link, or just send an email to, and give me a shout. Tell me what feature you want, and I'll add it to my list.

Let me reiterate - this site's success depends on people like you who have a story to tell. As you add your stories, others will visit the site just to read a great story. The stories are short. Don't feel like you have to write a novel. Just write it how you would share it with your friends over a beer.

Now, to get started, you have to register. For simplicity's sake, your email address is your user id, and you need to make up a password. Registration is quick and easy, and your email address will not be shared. If you still have questions or concerns, or if the site doesn't work right for you, use the Contact Support link and let me know!

Thanks, and hope to see you out there. Come tell your story!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

OT Trip Report - Bell Mountain to Council Bluff Lake

My friend James and I hiked Council Bluff Lake to Bell Mountain (reversed) March 22 and 23, in about 24 hours. It was our first hike of the year, and left me a little sore.

The view from Bell Mountain is a must-see, and is easy to get to on foot. It's pretty level all the way from the North Bell Trailhead. It'd make a fine afternoon hike, out and back.

Once you get past that, the rest of the trail has some pretty good hills, by our Midwest standards. There are long level parts along ridge-tops and in creek bottoms, but you'll have some climbs in the 200-400 foot range. There are some beautiful creeks along the way, too, so finding water was not a problem for us. Joes Creek is big enough that in wetter weather, it is probably hard to cross.

We heard from other hikers that there are feral pigs in the area, so we hung our food out of there reach overnight. We really saw very little animal life - a couple squirrels and birds along the whole trip. We saw lots of deer scat from last fall - many were full of persimmon seeds.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

AIG Bonus Scandal

Okay, I haven't been political yet, but here goes...

I've been thinking about the whole AIG bonus thing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but here's the way it looks to me. Congress rushed through this legislation. It's fairly complicated, and they were in a hurry to get this thing done. It seems like you can pick two of: complicated, fast, and right. They picked all three, and they screwed it up. The issue of bonuses was in the legislation in black and white, and they missed it because they voted on something without taking enough time to read it. To me, it really seems that simple.

Now as far as AIG's role, maybe the folks deserved the bonuses, maybe not. I've heard the argument that things would have been a lot worse without the work of the executives that got the bonuses. That may or may not be true. It's a real possibility, but without knowing the inside info, I can't say. But it seems clear that AIG was contractually obligated to pay those bonuses, with Congress' backing per the legislation. If they didn't pay the bonuses, they could have been sued, and lost the bonus money plus punitive damages and court costs. And they wouldn't have had a leg to stand on in court, so they probably would have lost.

AIG was between a rock and a hard place. Congress put the rock there, and now they're whining about it. Congress should man up (if there are any there) and say "We screwed up. We know what we did wrong this time, and we won't make that mistake next time." Since they're not owning the problem, they'll probably screw it up next time, too.

Don't misunderstand me - I am not defending AIG. But Congress is pretty quick to shift the blame here, because they know if we stop and think about it, we'll realize what idiots we've elected.

Now, as complicated as the bailout is, it pales in comparison to what's coming down the pike with health care. If they can't even get bailouts right, can they be trusted to get health care right? At this point, I don't think they collectively have the skills to lance a blister, much less to do their jobs well.