This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

September 25, 2002 - Linux

Three weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to trying to move from my Macintosh operating system (9.2) to something called Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system. I mentioned two reasons for this attempt: first, Linux is free (if you download it from the Internet) or cheap (a typical CD-ROM installation costs about $30).

Second, Linux now runs a variety of office applications -- spreadsheets, word processors, browsers, email, and the like. They, too, are free.

But I won't lie. The past 21 days have been tough. Very tough. Linux is NOT easy to set up. If you're not computer literate, or more stubborn than is good for you, take my advice: get somebody experienced to do it for you.

On the other hand, once you do get it set up, it isn't any harder to use than anything else. That is, the stuff you do on the computer (answer email, compose various documents, etc.) is the same. The way you do that is pretty much the same, too. One graphical word processor is much like another.

Three things were actually better. The first was Internet browsing. Web pages, on the same speed connection I was using before, displayed at least three times faster.

The second was the ease of sharing documents. One of my personality quirks is that I ran a Microsoft-free zone on my Macintosh -- no Microsoft products at all. But I was alone; the rest of the library ran both Windows and Microsoft Office. Why not? Thanks to Microsoft marketing muscle, Office document formats are now international standards.

For me, that meant that every time somebody sent me a document (which happens fairly often), I had to go through a translation process. Sometimes, that translation process didn't work very well.

Under Linux and Open Office, that's changed. Now when I get email with an attachment, I click on it and it opens. I'm still a Microsoft-free zone, but now I work with other people's files, no matter how heavily formatted or marked up -- and they work with mine -- seamlessly.

The third thing was that the computer just won't crash. I've done some incredibly stupid things to it. Sometimes I can kill an application (not often, but I've done it). But then all I have to do is start it up again. Not the computer, just the program.

What does all this mean?

The reason I'm doing all this experimentation is not just to explore new technologies (although it's worked pretty well for that). I'm looking to save the library some money. I've found a way to do that. Take my advice, and you'll save money, too.

Here it is: download the program (from www.openoffice.org) or buy the Open Office CD (information at the same site).

Before you object that you don't use Linux, ponder this: Open Office also runs on Windows. If you're willing to fiddle with the Mac's new Darwin system, you can run it under OS X, too.

Bottom line: even if you're a Windows user, you can save the cost of Microsoft Office on every computer in your shop (or at your home). The programs look the same, act the same, and work the same. You can copy it onto as many computers as you like, and it's perfectly legal.

This one step can buy you a whole year or more of working with very powerful software on your computer, making your own files, and confidently exchanging them with others.

Nonetheless, bye and bye, Windows users still might want to move to Linux. Next week, I'll tell you why. You won't like it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

September 18, 2002 - Poison Oak

On Labor Day weekend, I took my 8 year old son to Salida. It's a lovely town.

We went to the enormous covered pool (fed by local hot springs). We played catch in the park. We drove up a dirt spiral drive to the top of Salida's famous "S" Mountain. We strolled through the historic downtown and declaimed from the stage of a riverside park.

And we took a walk along the Arkansas River.

The river was lovely. Alternately swift and lazy, it winded beneath an azure sky. We had a wonderful time hurling enormous boulders into the current, and skipping stones in the calm spots.

Dressed in shorts and sandals, we jumped along the rocks and the sand until we found ourselves facing nothing but water.

So we backtracked a little. Then we bushwhacked through a swatch of willowy bushes back up to the bank.

That's when I saw it.

At first, it was just a flash at the corner of my eye ... something shaped a little different. It swished against my waistline and left thigh.

From a distance, I took a closer look. It was like an oak tree, but very small. Not a scrub oak. A sort of three-leafed oakish bush, trimmed in yellow.

God, I thought, I hope that's not a poison oak. But then I thought, heck, I've never had an allergic reaction to a plant.

So Perry and I went on. We met some local celebrities for lunch and had a swell time.

All afternoon, we plunged back into the big hot springs.

But that night, I had little red dots all over my belly. By next morning, I had a sort of gash to the right of my navel.

That day, we drove back to Castle Rock. I had vague little itches, which I scratched absentmindedly. My thigh. My forehead. My knee. My ankle. But we enjoyed listening to our library tapes (recommended: Daniel Pinkwater's hilarious "Borgel").

When I woke up the next day, oh my.

When I say "oh my," I mean that for the next 10 days I have had five angry red wounds that "wept" and "suppurated." I'm not sure which of those words is the grosser. But neither is gross enough.

These wounds oozed a clear but (when mopped up with a paper towel) yellowish liquid. A scant 24 hours after I got home, I looked like a burn victim.

I tried to struggle along with my life, but it involved not only my dutiful and daily washings (of pants, pillow cases, pj's and socks), but the discovery that no matter what I did, I could guarantee myself no more than 4 hours of relief.

The best: hot baths. Really hot. I mean hot so hot you actually scream when you get into them. I sprinkled some kind of oatmeal concoction into it, which helped.

I also enjoyed the pinetar poison ivy soap, which is exquisitely and maddeningly close to sandpaper.

Then a variety of creams. I tried several: calamine (good!), benadryl (good), and (at the advice of a local pharmacist) a cortisone cream (very, very bad).

Here's why, as a doctor I later ran across took pains to tell me: cortisone stops inflammation. But inflammation is how the poison works itself out. Since it can't go out, it goes ... sideways. In other words, it spreads. Up along your thighs. Both of them. Higher and higher ...

I got that straightened out (JUST in time). But for the past week or so, I look like I'm doing a bad Gorbachev imitation (the huge red splotch on my ever-higher forehead). Every night, I wake up five or six times with my fingernails lurching toward my abused skin.

I admit it. There were times when my iron discipline has faltered. And I have SCRATCHED.

Why am I telling you this? Well, mainly because I've been remarkably goodnatured about the ordeal so far, and I'VE HAD IT. Sleeping in socks in claustrophobic. I'm cranky. I can't sleep.

And I've reached an important conclusion that I feel a strong need to share. Here it is.

Nature is dangerous. Really. So is exercise. From now on, I plan to just lay around in air-conditioned buildings and not do anything riskier to my skin than read.

I recommend you do the same.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

September 11, 2002 - Spellbinders Storytelling

Today is a day of remembrance. Today is a day when we tell stories, and try to understand the meaning of events both large and small.

The story of 9/11 is well known now, a defining memory for all who witnessed it, like the assassination of JFK, or the moon walk.

The meaning of the events of Sept. 11 is still clouded, however, in part because the story isn't finished.

According to the provocative writings of William Strauss and Neil Howe ("Generations," and "The Fourth Turning: an American Prophecy (What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with History)," there are moments of secular crisis when the whole national character changes, realigning almost overnight to a new configuration of focus and effort. Pearl Harbor was one example of that.

I thought 9/11 would be another one. For various reasons, it wasn't. There is, I think, a deeper sense of national identity. I know that in the past year I have thought long and hard about what it means to be an American, and discovered in myself a surprising depth of patriotism.

But according to Strauss and Howe, the generational line-up isn't quite right yet for truly unified action. We're still caught in the culture wars, the partisanship, the squabbling among ourselves.

That may be a good thing. Once before in American history a configuration of generational types very much like what we have today went to war. But we fought each other. And the Civil War, while it preserved the Union, was also a period of great tragedy, with an aftermath quite different from that of World War II.

But back to storytelling. I'm pleased to announce a collaborative effort of the Douglas County School District and the Douglas Public Library District. We're forming a chapter of Spellbinders.

What's that? Spellbinders are volunteer storytellers. The idea of the program is to identify seniors (ages 55 or older) who want to learn how to tell stories to children.

To teach some of the skills of storytelling, humankind's oldest art form, volunteers will attend an eight-hour workshop this fall, right here in Douglas County. The teacher is the library's own Priscilla Queen, a storyteller of some renown, and a certified Spellbinder trainer.

The training will focus on techniques, practice exercises, and resources for folk tales and fairy tales. Priscilla will also help participants learn how to turn their own life stories into "tellable" tales.

After the training, we'll send out our Spellbinders to school rooms, libraries, and other settings where we can bring together two generations who have a lot to give each other.

For more information, or to request a Spellbinders volunteer application, call Debby Novotny, coordinator for School/Community Partnerships for Douglas County School District, at 303-814-5272.

Why? Storytelling is not only a way to build community, it's a way to make a difference in young people's lives by discovering how many great stories are inside you to tell.

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

September 4, 2002 - Labor Day

I was saddened to read that Denver canceled its Labor Day parade this year. According to various spokesmen, there just wasn't enough interest.

The Post ran a picture of the heyday of Labor Day parades. Not so long ago, those parades filled the streets, side to side, and as far back as the camera could reach.

The first Labor Day parade took place in New York City, in 1882. In 1887, Oregon become the first state to make Labor Day a legal holiday. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill to make it nation-wide.

Today, Labor Day reaches far beyond the United States; Puerto Rico and Canada celebrate it on the same day we do. In Australia, it's known as "Eight Hour Day," for the achievement (after great struggle) of shorter working hours. In Europe, Labor Day is observed on May 1.

In my mind, the day and the parade are linked with the post-war economic boom I grew up in.

Most of the men in my neighborhood were blue collar union workers. Here's what I remember: they had good if modest homes they could afford, a new car every five years or so, and employment that lasted for a solid twenty years with a single company. In their later, retired years, they had what now seem astonishing health benefits.

"It" -- meaning the system of collective bargaining -- worked, and worked well.

Over the past decade, however, union membership, particularly as a percentage of the work force, has fallen. There are several reasons. One is the historical connection between the labor movement and socialism. Following World War II, socialism and communism were the targets of paranoid McCarthyites. Later came the Cold War.

And the United States changed. The conditions of office workers simply weren't as fraught with obvious peril as those of workers in coal, iron, and steel.

In today's world, the followers of Marx suffer a different stigma: that of irrelevance, of demonstrable national failure (excepting, of course, the intriguing history of the Scandinavian countries).

But despite the politics of labor and the evolution of economies, a few things remain.

First, human labor, when performed with persistence and intelligence, has fundamental dignity. That labor may involve backbreaking agricultural work. It may involve the repetitive motions of industrial work. It may consist of office or library work.

It might even involve management. You don't think looking after the well-being and productivity of other people ISN'T work? Sure, there is also the occasional joy of seeing people grow and proper. Let's put it this way: have you ever been a parent?

Second, work deserves to be recognized, rewarded and valued. Most Americans still have jobs; too many people have lost them. Work is good, often essential to self-respect. It is certainly essential to the plain necessities of living. People still deserve livable wages.

Third, we all need a day off. It may seem contrary to reward labor with leisure. But this is my belief: productive labor is one of the key meanings of life. One of its chief rewards is ... idleness.

Sometimes, there is great satisfaction to be found simply in contemplating the works of humanity: our monuments, our institutions of learning, our factories, our recreational sites, our homes.

Sometimes, there is even greater satisfaction just to sit back and watch the mountains and trees, to listen to the wind and the waters, to truly appreciate all the beauty that our labor has purchased us the time and the insight to enjoy.

To all the workers of Douglas County, the library offers its thanks, its respect, and its sincere best wishes. There should be a parade.