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A writer of fiction currently concentrating on short stories, I also tweet/blog on writing, publishing, and social media.

Last Build Date: Tue, 13 Sep 2016 14:28:08 +0000


A Book Review: Stephen King's 'Doctor Sleep'

Tue, 19 Aug 2014 14:55:00 +0000

I feel a little like 'Welcome Back Kotter.'  'It has been a VERY long time since I posted on this blog.  I have been writing, however, just not on this blog.  I took a fiction writing class last summer, and have written two short stories so far. One of these is about ready to submit for publication, and the other I'm still in the edit/rewrite phase.   I also have been reading.  My Twitter activity has brought me in contact with some new authors, and I have been reading some of their works.  I've also been reading short story collectionsAs an old Stephen King fan, I eagerly awaited publication of 'Doctor Sleep' which is his sequel to 'The Shining.'   'Doctor Sleep' is indeed a fun read, but now that I'm writing fiction myself, I read fiction with a more critical-- and I hope better educated--eye.So, what better way to get back into the swing of blogging than to publish a plain old ordinary book review.   A Book Review: Stephen King's 'Doctor Sleep'One warm, clear fall afternoon in 1977 in the far northern ‘super boonies’ of Chicago, a friend—my next door neighbor—sat with me on my deck enjoying a beer.  One thing we had in common was that we both enjoyed reading, and so as we sat there relaxing we shared some of our tastes in books and authors.  As a boy, I always liked horror and science fiction, and cut my reading teeth on the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, and HP Lovecraft.  Then, as a young adult, I graduated to Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Fredric Brown and William Peter Blatty.  My friend inquired if I had ever read any books by a guy named Stephen King. No, I replied, Stephen King wasn’t familiar to me.  He spoke a little about Stephen King’s first book, ‘Carrie,’ and then launched into a glowing description of King’s then latest book ‘The Shining,’ which he had just finished.  He offered to lend me his copy.  I accepted, and thus began my on-again off- again relationship with the works of Stephen King that has lasted from 1977 to this present day. I liked ‘The Shining’ so much that I immediately started reading everything Stephen King I could get my hands on. That lasted for several years, until, in 1983, King published ‘Pet Sematary’, a book I did not enjoy at all.  After that I was more ‘off’ with Stephen King than I was on.  However, ‘The Shining’ along with ‘The Stand’ are the two Stephen King books that I enjoyed the most and consider to be his ‘best.’  I give those two books five stars.  Every other Stephen King book that I have read—including ‘Doctor Sleep’—will of necessity receive fewer stars from me than those two.‘Doctor Sleep’ is a ‘sequel’ to ‘The Shining’ in a narrow sense: the little boy Danny Torrance featured in the earlier book has grown up to be an, forty-something Dan Torrance, who is still psychically gifted, but is now carrying around a head full of haunting, scary memories and some very adult appurtenant problems.  ‘Doctor Sleep’ picks up many years after the end of the earlier book, and the story line and theme is entirely new.   King keeps the pace a little slow in the beginning of the book as he lays down the setup for the story.  We see little Danny Torrance back in the Overlook Hotel, where his father is going homicidally insane, and we briefly see his terrified mother Wendy and—oh yes—the malevolent spirits that inhabit the Overlook.  Then we jump to grownup Dan, haunted now by his past and his memories, drinking alcoholically in a vain effort to medicate them away .  After that we meet the True Knot, a group of flesh and blood but almost immortal psychic vampires who travel around in RV’s.  While these folk look like harmless retirees, most of them are actually hundreds of years old.  They avoid aging by preying on psychically gifted children whom they abduct, torture, and murder in order to release an[...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 16

Thu, 28 Mar 2013 18:46:00 +0000

Today Is The Last Official Day Of The Scintilla 2013 Series Today's Writing Prompts Are:1. What would it have been like if your life had turned out the way you wanted when you were a kid?2. We bet there was a story you wanted to tell that didn't line up with any of the prompts. Write it anyway - and use it to write a one or two sentence prompt that others could use to tell a good story of their own. Then, share it with us, if you're comfortable. For this last post of this series, I’m going to reach back to day 1 of Scintilla 2013 and write on the prompt I skipped that day:Tell a story set at your first job.BeginningsRoycroft Printing Press:  Photo via WikimediaI got my first job when I was sixteen years old. I was a junior in high school at the time, and had just gotten my driver’s license. my grandfather, who had been my ‘acting father’ since I was two years old, had passed away in January of that year. That left my grandmother, with whom I still lived at the time, without much money coming in, and she was worried about it. As a high school age kid, I needed some walking around money. Through the auspices of a friend of the family, I managed to get a part-time job working after school at one of the two weekly newspapers in our small Tennessee town.  Of course, I had no marketable skills. I was hired to do odd jobs around the small newspaper printing plant for the princely sum of fifty cents an hour.  It doesn’t seem like a lot of money now, and back in 1964, it wasn’t all that much, but fifty cents would buy a lot more than it will now.  Fifty cents back then is the equivalent of three dollars and seventy four cents today, or so says the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, which I used to compute that number. After all, I wasn’t trying to make a living wage, just a little pocket money.As it turned out, the work I was given to do was varied, and for the most part pretty interesting.  Back then, desktop publishing hadn’t been invented yet, and newspaper type was set by hand or setup on a Linotype machine.  Much of the printing they did at that plant was done on a letter press.  The metal (and some wooden)letter press type was separated by wooden spacers called riglets.  The type, arranged properly,along with the riglets was fastened into a frame which was attached to the letter press. Ink rollers inked the type, which the letter press brought into contact with paper so as to imprint each sheet.  After the printing job was finished, the type and the riglet spacers had to be disassembled and stored away in marked bins, ready for the next job. That became my job.  I still remember how the ink smelled, and all the curious colors the wooden riglets had picked up from years of use. Another job I was assigned to do was to update the newspaper’s mailing list.  The mailing list was kept on an old fashioned Addressograph machine, which used thin metal plates, with raised letters like those on a soldier’s dog tags.  Each of the plates was just large enough to hold one name and address.  These plates were run through the Addressograph machine to imprint the address information on labels.  The names and addresses were embossed into the metal plates using a device called a Graphotype machine.  The Graphotype had a keyboard like a typewriter. It was noisy, and if you made a mistake, you had to throw away the metal tag and start over. Updating address information was a tedious, slow, job that required great attention to detail.  Nobody liked doing that job, so they gave it to me.  Doing that work taught me that every job has some boring, tedious parts to it, and that you have to be able to handle those parts along with the stuff that is more interesting.  Since I had my drivers license, I was given the job of driving the newspaper’s company car around town each week to refill each of their several newspaper racks.   As luck would have it, their company car had a manual sti[...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 15

Wed, 27 Mar 2013 21:11:00 +0000

Today’s Scintilla Writing Prompts Are: 1. Tell the story of how you got the thing you are going to keep forever. Include an image in your post, if you can.2. Fears come in different sized packages. Tell the story of a time you had a face a fear, big or small.During Scintilla 2012, one of the prompts was about ‘firsts’ and I wrote about my first flying lesson.  Today, I’m going to write about prompt #2.Wind Beneath My WingsCockpit: Cessna 172   (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)That morning in the spring of 1995 it was a clear, sunny day. I met up with my flight instructor at seven in the morning.  Quickly, I put my stuff in the back seat of the four place Cessna 172, and while the instructor watched, I gassed up the airplane and preflighted the exterior.  Then I climbed in to the left seat.  Chris, the instructor, sat in the right seat. I ran the cockpit preflight list, audibly so he could hear me do it.    “What do you want me to do today?” I asked Chris.  I had started the engine, and the cabin was noisy. We spoke through our aviation headsets.“Let’s just do some touch and goes for right now,” he replied.  I started up the engine and radioed the tower to get taxi clearance.  At Palwaukee airport (today called Chicago Executive Airport), where I was flying there were two radio frequencies you had to use: ‘ground’, and the ‘tower.’  The ground controller gives you permission to taxi.  You can’t taxi an aircraft at a controlled field without ground’s permission.  Once you get your taxi underway, then ground tells you to contact ‘tower’ and gives you tower’s frequency.  You have to switch the frequencies on your radio, key up your mike, identify yourself to the tower, tell them what your intentions are, and wait for them to radio back your clearance.  I did all that, and tower cleared me for my ‘touch and goes.’‘Touch and goes’ are pretty much what they sound like. You take off from your assigned runway and then fly a rectangular pattern completely around the airfield.  When you get all the way around the pattern, you are headed in the same direction you took off from, but are now landing on the opposite end of the same runway from the one you departed from.  The tower controller clears you to land, and you do so.  As soon as you get your wheels rolling solidly on terra firma, the tower will clear you to take off again for your next flight around the pattern.  You have to move quickly.  Your airplane is still rolling, eating up the remainder of the runway length, and you must you reconfigure your controls for take off, open up your throttle to full power, hit your rotation airspeed, and lift off again, all without running off the end of the runway. This cycle is repeated as many times as you want and the tower clears you for. Because you never really leave the airport, communications with the the tower controller is critical.  They have to work in other flights that are landing or departing from the same runway that you are using. Needless to say they have to coordinate this very carefully. Touch and go maneuvers sound repetitive, and they are, usually.  You get in rhythm, and can be almost relaxing.  You have to stay on your toes, though.  Every now and then, tower may instruct you to do something out of the ordinary.  While flying touch and goes, I’ve been instructed to leave the pattern, fly away from the airport, and circle while the tower handled a heavier than usual volume of inbound or outbound traffic. Once, another student who was flying solo had the door of his airplane come unlatched—a not uncommon occurrence on small Cessnas—and I heard him on the radio with tower in a panic.  Tower sent me away from the field while they talked the guy through it, then called me back in to resume ‘flying the pattern.’To say that this is a little more complicated for a pilot than driving his [...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 14

Tue, 26 Mar 2013 18:38:00 +0000

Today’s Scintilla Writing Prompts Are: 1. Talk about a time when you were younger and you embarrassed your parents in public, the one that still shames you.2. We exert control over ourselves and others in many ways. Talk about a time when you lost that control. This can go beyond the obvious emotional control into things like willpower, tidiness, self-discipline, physical prowess - any time that you felt your autonomy slipping away.For today, I’m going to opt for prompt #2.Here at our house, we are big fans of HBO’s series ‘Game of Thrones,’ based on the ‘Song of Fire and Ice’ series of fantasy novels written by George R.R. Martin.  One of the tag lines the show has used in their teaser ads is this one: Winter is Coming.  Photo:  WikimediaAs a ‘senior, citizen’ I have been a member of AARP, the ‘American Association of Retired Persons,’ for ten years now, and I’m on their mailing list.  A few days back, I got an email from them that was an advertisement for a refresher driving course for seniors. Thinking back, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I turned sixteen, passed the driver’s test and got my license. Since then, I’ve driven a bunch of cars almost until their wheels came off.  Talk about driving experience?  There are over-the-road long haul truckers—gotta be honest here, they would be the young ones—who have driven fewer miles than me.  A driving refresher course?  Really?  Man, I should be teaching that, not taking it.  I don’t have blue hair.I went to the AARP web site and looked up these refresher courses. They had a series of multiple choice questions you could take to test your driving acumen.  First question:  where should you place your hands on the wheel? Think of the steering wheel as a clock face.  I answered ten o’clock, two o’clock.  Wrong answer!  The correct answer the web site says is eight o’clock and four o’clock respectively.  Why? Because you want to have your hands out of the way should your driver’s side air bag inflate.I thought about that one for a minute. When I was sixteen, air bags hadn’t been invented.  Or if they had, they certainly weren’t being installed in cars.  Neither were seat belts nor anti-lock brakes, just to name two more things.  A lot has happened in automotive technology in the 49 years since I passed that drivers test. And you can get a discount on your auto insurance if you take this course? Maybe that refresher course isn’t such a silly idea. Winter is coming.Last evening, we watched a documentary special entitled ‘Kings Point’ about a retirement community in Florida by the same name.  The program was short, and introduced us to some seniors, most of whom looked considerably older than Beth and I. Many were widows or widowers, and they danced, played cards and paired up boy-girl, girl-boy in that amusing but also somewhat incongruous way that elderly people do.  Most were from New York, and they talked about how they came to live in Florida at Kings Point in the first place, and about what life was like for them there.  One elderly lady said that while the residents are all friendly with each other, they never get really close, because what really drives them deep down in themselves is self preservation.  One guy named Frank who looked like he might be around my age who was a widower had paired up with a widowed lady named Bea.  Bea looked to be considerably older.  Frank and Bea danced, hugged, played cards, and kissed each other at midnight on New Year’s eve.  It was very obvious that Bea cared deeply for him, and Frank seemed to care about her too, but not to the same degree.  In one scene where Frank was on camera alone, he stated flat out that he wouldn’t commit to a permanent relationship with Bea because he had ‘already put one wife in the ground’ and didn’t want to have to go through [...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 13

Mon, 25 Mar 2013 17:45:00 +0000

Today’s Scintilla Prompts.1. Post a photo of yourself from before age 10. Write about what you remember of the day the photo was taken. It may not be a full story—it may just be flashes of event and emotion—but tap into the child you were as much as you can.2. The saying goes What you don't know won't hurt you, but sometimes the opposite is true. Talk about a time when you were hurt by something you didn't know.Today is the thirteenth day of Scintilla 2013. It could be its own hashtag:  scintilla1313.  Heh, at least its not Friday.I’m opting for prompt number 2.That We Know NotKnowledge vs. Ignorance (Photo:  Wkimedia Commons)George Bush’s first Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once famously opined in reference to the Iraq war that there was intelligence information that “we know that we know,” information that “we know we don’t know,” and other information that “we don’t know that we don’t know.”  And there also is an old, old proverb that goes like this:“He who knows and knows that he knowsis wise.  Follow him.He who knows not, and knows that he knows notis a child.  Teach him.He who knows not, and knows not that he knows notIs a fool.  Shun him."There is always stuff that we “don’t know that we don’t know” going on in our lives. Some of that stuff we don’t know we don’t know can prove deadly, like having a malignant brain tumor for example.  The tumor is there, its growing, it’s going to kill you eventually, but you don’t know it exists—until one fine day, you do know. A person can have AIDS for a long time-in a few documented instances for upwards of twenty years—with no symptoms.  And then one day, a blood test turns that unknown into a known.  Or how about this?  There can be a trusted person in your life—they could be a friend, or your next door neighbor, a priest or pastor, or even a blood relative—who, after years of appearing to be perfectly innocent and normal is one day suddenly unmasked as a sexual predator, or as a murderer, or an embezzler. Have I ever experienced having a trusted person in my life unmasked as untrustworthy?  Yes, I have. About twenty years ago, my family and I attended a church in a far northern suburb of Chicago. Imagine our shock and horror when, after attending that conservative, well heeled church for about eighteen months, the clean cut, articulate, almost charismatic youth minister who we knew and liked was exposed and charged as a sexual predator and subsequently convicted and imprisoned. Having someone you know and that you trust suddenly exposed as evil and untrustworthy is very unsettling.  Such an experience doesn’t simply undermine your trust, it destroys it.  I haven’t attended any church regularly since that experience.  I know that my experience was statistically improbable. I know that the ministers in most churches are sincere people with good morals who are law abiding and doing good work. But how can you be sure that your minister is ‘OK’?  How can you be sure that your friend, or your relative, or your co-worker is really deep down inside the fine upstanding person that they appear to be.What if in secret they really are not so good, not so upstanding? What if they secretly do really bad things?The reality is that you cannot rely on your ability to pick out the bad apples in a crowd.  That knowledge is a bit unsettling. I liked it better when I didn’t feel that way, when I still felt I could fully trust my ‘people radar.’ Unfortunately, those were the good old days, and as good old days tend to do, they fade away into the euphoric recall of past memory.  Nowadays, I try not to be cynical about people, but experience has taught me to remain just a wee bit skeptical. I still want to believe people that I know are good, upstanding people. In my dealings with them, I still assume that they are. However, [...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 12

Sun, 24 Mar 2013 23:40:00 +0000

It’s the second Sunday of Scintilla, and they only have one prompt for us today.  Those that went before us have walked paths that we may never fully understand. Talk about a time when you learned something important about your family history. Attempting to write in response to this prompt is going to get me in deep water really fast, so I’m going to take a pass on it.  Instead, I’m going to pick up a previous day’s prompt. My Prompt for Today: Tell a story about something interesting (anything!) that happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual (Step 1, Step 2, etc.).Last evening, my lovely bride and I went to see the final performance of a play which was produced by a college theater company.  The performance ran over three hours with  one intermission.  Nominated for a ‘Tony’ Award when it was produced on Broadway, this play was not standard community theater fare.  It was very artistic; you could even call it ‘avant garde.’ After we got back home, my wife Beth and I were discussing the performance. I told her that this play wasn’t really my cup of tea. There had been many parts of the play where I just didn’t ‘get it.’  Beth, from her comments obviously liked the play better and got much more out of it than I did.  She gently pointed out that accustomed as I am to seeing community theater productions like ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ ‘Lend Me A Tenor,’ and ‘Nana’s Naughty Knickers,’ that are designed to, as she says, ‘put butts in theater seats.’ I wasn’t really mentally prepared to see and appreciate an artistic production like this one.  I figure that my experience could happen to any one not accustomed to a higher application of the thespian arts.  So, following for your edification is a somewhat satirical, tongue-in-cheek instruction manual aimed at enhancing the experience of theatergoers attending your more edgy, experimental, artsy-fartsy productions.Tips for The Highbrow TheatergoerTheatre Company (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)1.  Be sure to eat a very light supper before the performance. Avoid heavy foods that could promote loud gastric rumblings or other less respectable emanations.  These may annoy your fellow theater patrons, and if allowed to progress too far could even get you ejected from the theater.   Eating a small lettuce salad over which a bottle of vinaigrette has been waved, along with one glass of a dry white wine will set you up nicely.2.  Wear comfortable clothes.  You will very likely be sitting for a long period of time that will seem even longer than it is watching and listening to actors performing lines you don’t understand with affected foreign accents.  You will be much more comfortable not trying to look like a fashion plate.  If the theater venue will allow it, a well padded seat cushion may be worth taking along.  You can always ask them if you can bring in a cot.  The management will probably refuse you, but it can’t hurt to ask.3.  A word on what may be a somewhat delicate subject for some.  Unless you are, and I speak frankly here, as foulmouthed as I am, you may not understand all the ‘colorful’ language that your more artistic plays are just chock full of.  Even I learned a thing or two.  Here is a suggestion that can help.  You can bone up on your risque language skills before going to the theater.  The late George Carlin was a master of filthy words, and you are almost guaranteed that Carlin can teach you a few new ones.  For those who want to stick to the basics of dirty language, Carlin’s ‘Seven Dirty Word’s’ comedy routine,available at the link, will cover most of the language that one tends to hear used in artsy-fartsy plays.  However, Carlin was probably the all time champion when it came to using bad language, and hi[...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 11

Sat, 23 Mar 2013 17:17:00 +0000

Our Scintilla Prompt for Saturday, March 23Ghost Ship (Photo: Wikimedia /Public Domain)Today's Prompt : Mr. IncredibleWrite about an experience you had that was so strange or incredible, it sounds like it could have been made up.Actually, two of my stories for this Scintilla series are based on real life experiences that fit this prompt.  My story ‘A Chance Encounter’ posted as Scintilla Number 6 on March 18, is a mini-screenplay about a man who meets a woman in a bar with somewhat creepy results.  While this story is definitely ‘fictionalized,’ it is based on a real-life experience I had thirty years ago, when I did actually strike up a conversation with a female stranger in a bar who demonstrated an uncanny—and creepy—knowledge of some personal information about me. That post I see has not had a lot of page views, perhaps due to the fact that its in screenplay format.  I just added the keywords ‘creepy’ and ‘strange’ to it, so we will see if that pulls in some more readers.The other story I wrote is ‘Just Routine’ that appeared as post number 4 on March 16.  This story, about a guy on a commercial flight that aborts its takeoff in a rather frightening way, is also based on a real life experience. When you fly as much as I did (in forty three years, I estimate I racked up something north of two million air miles) eventually you are going to end up on a flight where something out of the ordinary and maybe even scary happens. It is just the law of averages at work. I have been on several flights that had to abort takeoffs, landings, been hit by lightening, or even had to land unexpectedly due to a midair mechanical malfunction. While some of these incidents were unsettling at the time, and may make good fodder for my storytelling, fortunately none of them got me injured or killed.  I think flying is really pretty safe, or I wouldn’t have done it all those years, but every once in a while it has its unsettling and even frightening moments.Also, when you travel a lot, you meet interesting people.  I have had some fascinating characters sit next to me on flights: an elderly Scotsman who fought in both world wars, a government guy who did secret work, a guy who bragged that he had never ever paid the IRS any income taxes, a cancer researcher, a beautiful young woman studying to be a podiatrist, the travel editor of a well known magazine who was headed to Belfast to research his family tree, and a man who told me in all seriousness that his first cousin was a mafia hit man.  The list goes on and on.  Some of these characters were probably fictionalizing a bit—maybe a lot—about themselves, but all in all, they have given me a lot of memories and stories.Since being a road warrior has been such a large part of my life, it is not very remarkable that my travels yielded a long list of memorable incidents and people.  Had I been a steelworker or a bookkeeper or a minister for over forty years, those occupations might have yielded their own set of remarkable, and some likely strange and incredible experiences.  If you live long enough, eventually, one day, something truly out of the ordinary is going to happen to you, or around you.  Just remember:  what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, (and may be fodder for a good story or two). [...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 10

Fri, 22 Mar 2013 18:15:00 +0000

Our Scintilla Prompts for Today: 1.  Sometimes we wish we could hit the rewind button. Talk about an experience that you would do over if you could.2. Write about spending time with a baby or child under the age of two. The challenge: if you're a parent, do not talk about your own child.I can sit here and with a straight face (Ha! You can’t even see my face!) tell you that I’m so perfect I’ve never had a ‘do over’ in my entire life.  I’m sure you are going to believe that—not!    Today:  I Want A Do OverWriter's Square - Belfast, Ireland (Wikimedia Photo)Fom the time I was very young, I was a voracious reader.  By the time I was in high school, I was beginning to show some small promise as a writer, too.  I wrote a couple of short stories, and also tried my hand at poetry.  One of the poems won a contest and got published in the local newspaper.  I guess I was sixteen or so, when one of my English teachers wrote me a note on a paper that he had assigned.  His note said, as close as I can remember, ‘if you really are willing to work at it, you could be a professional writer’.  Later on when I got to college, as a freshmen required to take ‘English Composition’ classes, I literally aced all of those.  Not only that, but I saved some of my classmates from flunking out, at least temporarily. I recall sitting with one friend who was having trouble in English Comp, literally dictating a paper for him as he wrote it down. He subsequently turned that paper in, and received the grade of ‘B’ for it.  And, in college, I received encouraging feedback, with prof writing a note to me saying that she felt my paper was the best that anyone had ever turned in for her class. Looking back, it is obvious to me now that back then I had a ‘talent.’  Yes, some of my teachers noticed that I was showing signs of some natural writing ability and pointed that fact out to me.  As it turned out, I didn’t have the vision to see my way forward making my living as a writer. So instead, I became a business major.  And along the way, I discovered computer technology, and ended up spending many years working for corporations and drawing a salary rather than starving in a garret somewhere, trying to crank out a bestseller.  The trade-off I made back then wasn’t all bad.  I was steadily employed for almost my entire 43 year career, made good money, and saw a good deal of the world, albeit in the context of business trips. And I did write, but that writing was either technical and documentary in nature, or it was marketing related, as in ‘Statements of Direction,’ ‘White Papers,’ and the like.  When I think back on my career in the corporate world, my writing ability was integral to whatever success I had.   However, as I discovered after a few years on the corporate track, if you want to be CEO, you must either be brilliant and ruthless and you must be really adept at corporate ‘politics’ I was neither.I had two problems.  While I love technology, I’m not brilliant at it, not even close.  I did some good work during my corporate career, but I never had whatever kind of genius it is that a person has to have to found a new tech company.  And, I wasn’t good at ‘politicking’ either.  I get along with people, but I am most comfortable in small groups, not big ones.  Throwing parties and entertaining as you must do to move up in the corporate world wasn’t my cup of tea.  I always disliked meetings and attended them grudgingly. I didn’t look the part of an ‘executive’, either. For most of my career I worked places where everyone a coat and tie were expected attire. I conformed, but I mostly wore sports coats, matching ties, and dress slacks rather than three piece pin stripe [...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 9

Thu, 21 Mar 2013 15:47:00 +0000

Scintilla's Prompts for Today: 1. Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go?2. What is the longest thing you know by heart (for example, a prayer, speech, commercial jingle, etc.)? Why did you learn it?Since at my age, I can barely recite own name by heart any more, so I’m opting for prompt number 1.Lonely Road Lonely Road (Photo credit -Wikimedia Commons ) I’ve never been really, really lost.  In days of yesteryear when I traveled for a living, there were a couple of times when I parked my car in one of the multi-story airport parking lots, leave town for a few days, and then have to spend time hunting for the car for a while when I got back.  I wasn’t lost, but the car was.For the last several years, when we go out of town, to Los Angeles or to Seattle, or some other place we have never been we use a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit. As a matter of fact, are on our second Garmin ‘Nuvi’ as I write this, a model 50LM if anyone is interested.  GPS units are made for different purposes.  Ours is specifically designed for automotive use, and once you plug in a destination, the unit has a synthetic human voice that gives you turn-by turn directions.  We have only used the 50LM on one road trip to Los Angeles so far, but it worked flawlessly on that trip.  However, our previous Garmin unit had ‘issues.’  In a couple of occasions, it served up directions that proved to be wrong, wrong, wrong! About three or four years ago, when that unit was relatively new and its internal map was still up-to-date, at least per Garmin, my wife Beth and I took it on one of our vacation road trips to the Oregon Coast.  We were staying in Bandon-On-The-Sea, as the locals like to call the town, and we had decided to drive out to the light house on Cape Blanco,  which is a few miles bit south of Bandon. We had been to this lighthouse several years before, but it had been socked with fog in that day. With Cape Blanco, you never know what the weather will be until you get there.  And even then, because of the way the lighthouse is situated on the Pacific coast, the weather can change from clear and sunny to pea soup fog in a matter of minutes.We looked up the light house on the GPS unit’s ‘point of interest’ menu, selected it as our destination, pressed ‘go,’ and started driving.  We headed south on Highway 101 out of Bandon, and eventually, the GPS told us to turn right onto a road, which we did.  Right away, I noticed there was no sign stating something to the effect that the ‘light house-is-this-way’ or anything similar.  But, I figured the GPS knew a shortcut, so I followed the voice prompt.  On the little map that the GPS displays, all I could see was that we were on a squiggly looking road that was headed toward the ocean.  The road we were looking at with our eyes however, while paved, was definitely one of of the less traveled variety.  Eventually we met a farmer in a beat-up old pickup truck coming the other way, but we thought it very curious in a not-so-good-way that we seemed to be the only people headed out this road to see this very well known, picturesque lighthouse.As we drove along, we saw fields with lots of sheep grazing, and a few farm houses, but nothing indicating that the Point Blanco lighthouse might lie ahead.  After three or four miles, the paved road turned into gravel and narrowed.  We began to wonder out loud to each other if we were on the right road. The trouble was, we couldn’t really turn around without scratching the car in the bramble bushes growing that grew along the sides of the narrow, shoulder-less road. So we kept going. Finally, the road we were on widened out up and terminated in a circular gravele[...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 8

Wed, 20 Mar 2013 17:56:00 +0000

The Prompts For Today:1. Many of our fondest memories are associated with food. Describe a memorable experience that took place while preparing or eating food.2. Write about a time when a preconceived notion or opinion (about a person, place, thing, etc.) turned out to be wrong. What did it take to change your mind?For today, let's do both.Fond Memories Around FoodWhen I was a little boy, my Grandmother would cook fabulous Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.  A lot of our family would be around the table, and there would be lots of talking and laughing and catching up. My grandmother cooked everything—and I mean everything—from scratch, and her holiday meals were always delicious.  Also, I think that food back then was less processed and had fewer preservatives than most of it does now, so it tasted better. That may just be euphoric recall on my part, but I found corroboration in a somewhat unlikely place. I’m currently reading Stephen King’s novel ‘11/23/1963’ about a guy who finds a time portal that takes him back to 1958.  Interestingly, King’s protagonist in the book mentions a couple of times that the food in 1958 seems better to him than the food in 2011. King is the same age as me, so maybe he remembers food from back similar to the way I do. Today in 2013, my wife Beth is an excellent cook—and I can prepare a pretty mean breakfast meal—so we eat well all the time.  But both of us have family traditions of marking happy occasions as well as traditional holidays with a meal.  So if we get good news of some sort, we are likely to celebrate it by eating out.  Also, we have friends who regularly accompany us to see theatrical plays in Redding, and we almost always work in having a meal with them on those occasions.  To me, it is just a natural thing to do to combine fun times and social interaction with enjoying a nice meal.Shock, Awe And DisillusionmentYesterday was the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.  Back then, at a time much closer to the 9/11 horror than we are today, I was convinced that our country was in mortal danger that Saddam Hussein would give a weapon of mass destruction to terrorists to use against our country.  I believed everything that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and the rest of them were saying.  And the media certainly believed it too. I recall feeling angry at those in Congress who voted against that war.  But, a decade later, the truth as it usually does has come out for all to see:  what we the citizens of the USA were being told back then was literally dead wrong.  Four thousand plus of our young service men and women, and tens of thousands more who have come home with devastating physical and psychological wounds because our elected officials—the highest in the land—lied.  And to make matters worse, these same leaders didn’t even bother to budget for that war, which has added two to three trillion (thats trillion with a ‘t’) dollars to the debt.Back in 1968, I failed my Selective Service physical, with the result that I am not a Vietnam veteran. At the time, as an idealistic 19 year old who grew up around a bunch of World War II vets,  I had no doubt that it was my duty to serve.  If I hadn’t failed my physical, I would have served, too, because Selective Service—the draft—was knocking on my door.However, had I known then what I know now about the Vietnam war, I would never, ever have shown up to take that draft physical.  Nope, I would have hightailed it for Canada.  Fifty five thousand of my contemporaries came home from Vietnam dead, and many, many more came home blown to hell, physically and mentally.  And for what did they fight and die and then suffer being called a ‘baby killer’ or worse when t[...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 7

Tue, 19 Mar 2013 19:05:00 +0000

The prompts for today:1. Write about someone who was a mentor for you.2. What have been the event horizons of your life - the moments from which there is no turning back?Hmm. . .mentors or event horizons, which to choose.  Maybe I’ll write a little on both.Mentors IBM 7090/7094 Console circa approx 1960I have had mentors from my earliest years.  My mother and father divorced when I was two years old, and at the time my mother wasn’t well fixed for financial resources, so I went to live with her parents, my maternal grandparents.  Growing up, my granddad, who was fifty years old when I was born, served as ‘acting’ father to me.  He was really the first mentor in my life that I can recognize as such. During Scintilla 2012, I wrote some about him, and those posts are still up. I have felt his influence throughout my life, and he is still with me even to this present day.After going to live with my grandparents, I never lived day-to-day with my mother. But, she came to visit me often and I went to visit her.  When I think back, she never really tried to be a mother to me.  She didn’t do all those mother type of things:  nag me about my homework, or correct my behavior or my posture, or discipline me. She left that to her mother, my maternal grandmother. My grandmother more than compensated for my mother’s abdication of parental authority, but that is a story in its own right. Instead my mother mentored me, nurturing and cultivating interests in me in subjects like science and math and even chess that my grandparents did not.My mother never completed college, but she was born with a natural, God-given talent for mathematics.  She didn’t have to study and sweat over math like I did; it was as easy for her to comprehend math was as it was for her to walk or breathe.  She did study math for a time at the University of Tennessee, and went on to obtain work as a mathematician at the sprawling K-25 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Originally part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, the K-25 facility produced enriched uranium used in nuclear bombs. Her work was ‘classified’ by the government, and so my mother was required to have a security clearance, and could never speak in detail about her job.  However, she did tell me a little:  her work entailed developing and solving complex and secret math formulas, and it required her to work with ‘computers’ (a word I first heard her say). Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit my mother’s gift for mathematics, but she still influenced me a great deal.  It was she that impressed on me the notion that science and math was crucial to my education. Thanks to her, I embraced math and physics courses in high school and later in college.  When I started college, she gave me an engineering slide rule. Back then, slide rules were state-of-the-art.  They were considered an essential computing tool for engineers and math students, and my mother thoughtfully made sure that I had one to use in my classes. Today, slide rules are collected by people on eBay, having long ago been rendered obsolete by electronic calculators and computers.  Mine still is in pristine condition.  It has been with me tucked away in a desk drawer at every job I ever had over a forty three year career—a treasured reminder of the uniquely talented woman who gave birth to me and loved me.Points of No ReturnIn my life there have been a lot of these.  But, one of them stems directly from my mother’s mentoring.  Around 1967, long before my alma mater Tennessee Tech had a computer science curriculum, I took a course there that the college catalog called ‘Introduction to Data Processing.’  Tech had a computer in the engineer[...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 6

Mon, 18 Mar 2013 20:34:00 +0000

Our prompts:Our friends at Scintilla HQ have posed these 2 prompts for us to choose from today, and they are: 1. Describe a time when the content of your character was tested.2. Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.Wow!  So very many possible stories that could be told.  I choose Door Number 2 with a bit of Door Number 1 thrown in..Today: A Chance EncounterPhoto credit:  Wikimedia CommonsThe reader is reminded that I  write fiction—stories and plays. Some of my stories are auto-biographical, and some not so much.  Today, just for fun, I’m presenting a little story to you in the form of a mini-screenplay. Feedback is always welcome.  # # #1. INT. HOTEL BAR. NIGHT.People are seated at tables and at the bar.  The lighting is low with shadows, and the camera shows us glimpses of the bar’s patrons, and we can hear snippets of their conversations. A late thirties to early forties man dressed in a slightly rumpled business suit, his tie loosened, comes in and sits on a bar stool.  He catches the eye of the bartender, who comes over.BARTENDER:  What’ll you have?GEORGE:  Stoly on the rocks.  With an olive.BARTENDER:  Be right up.The bartender ices a glass, locates the bottle of Stolyichnaya vodka and pours.  He pops an olive in the glass and serves GEORGE.BARTENDER:  Here you go.GEORGE:  Thanks.GEORGE takes a sip.  The bartender has a moment to talk.BARTENDER: Here on business?GEORGE:  Yeah. I get here four or five times a year.BARTENDER: Where are you from?GEORGE looks at the bartender curiously, wondering what all the questions are about.GEORGE:  KC.  Why do you ask?BARTENDER:  Sorry.  No reason, just making conversation.  The bartender moves away to serve another customer.  GEORGE sits quietly, sipping his drink.  MYRA enters the bar.  She is older than GEORGE, but still kind of a looker..  She walks over and sits down at the bar, leaving a little space between her and GEORGE.  BARTENDER sees her and comes over.BARTENDER:  What’ll you have?MYRA:  Scotch on the rocks, twist of lemon.BARTENDER: Sure thing.He mixes up the drink and serves it, and walks to the other end of the bar, leaving GEORGE and MYRA alone.  There is a moment where they both sip their drinks, not acknowledging the other.  It is the woman who first breaks the silence. MYRA: I’m Myra.GEORGE:  George.  Nice to meet ya, Myra.Silence for a beat.MYRA:  I’ve never seen you in here before.GEORGE:  My first time staying here.  I usually stay at the Mariott, but they were full this time.MYRA: Oh so you are not from around here, then.GEORGE:  Nope.  Here on business. What about you?MYRA: I stop here for a drink after work sometimes.  It’s OK.GEORGE and MYRA continue talking, ad lib. A DISSOLVE shot conveys that time has passed and it is muchLATER:The bar has emptied out, and the BARTENDER is washing glasses and putting them away.  Several rounds of drinks later, GEORGE and MYRA are still at the bar, but they are sitting closer now, elbow to elbow, deep in conversation, their glasses almost empty.MYRA reaches over and touches GEORGE’S left hand, examining his ring finger.  We see a gold band there.  MYRA: (a bit tipsy now) You married?GEORGE: (takes his hand back) Uh, yeah.  I am.MYRA:  You happy?GEORGE:  Yeah, I am, reasonably so, anyway.  Pretty happy. (he starts to push his barstool back, as if to leave.)MYRA: (puts her hand back on his to stop him)  Whaddya say we have one more.  I want to ask you about something.GEORGE: (reluctantly sits back down): Sure.  OK.MYRA: (slurring just [...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 5

Sun, 17 Mar 2013 18:23:00 +0000

Today’s Scintilla prompt: What talent do you have that your usual blog readers don't know about? Talk about a time when you showed it to its best advantage.Since I have tended in my life to be a jack of all trades and master of none—in other words, I’m a generalist, not a specialist—I’m not sure about 'real talents.’  But here goes. Today:  Tooting My Own HornMy wife, the love of my life (and a very good writer in her own right, and also a Scintilla participant)loves theater and is also an accomplished actress with a substantial list of acting credits.  One of our common interests, besides writing, is theater, and a few years ago she persuaded me to audition a couple of times for roles in a local community theater in our area.I was reluctant to say the least, because I hadn’t been in a play since high school. But I auditioned for a local production of the all-male cast play ‘Twelve Angry Men’ (which we did in version with women cast members etitled 'Twelve Angry Citizens'), written by Reginald Rose. I was cast in the role of ‘Juror Number 3’, which character is the 'heavy' in this play.  Learning lines—and this role had a lot of them—was a pain in the butt for me, but Beth, my actress/wife, who had also won a role in the same play herself, coached and cajoled me along.  She explained that as an actor, you can’t act until you learn your lines fully and are ‘off book’ from the script. With her help running the lines, I got myself to that point.  And then the fun began, just like she said it would.Poster for 1957 Production‘Twelve Angry Citizens’ dates back to the fifties.  It was originally a Westinghouse Studio One teleplay in 1954 helmed by director Franklin Schaffner.  Then in 1957, it came to the big screen in a production directed by Sidney Lumet and William Friedken.  In its various incarnations, some A-list actors of the day had played my character, including Franchot Tone in the 1954 Studio One production, Lee J. Cobb in the 1957 big screen version, and then George C. Scott in a 1997 a made-for-TV version (which also featured James Gandolfini, who went on to star in the HBO hit, ‘The Sopranos.’) Both Cobb and Scott’s performances are available on DVD, so I had some good inspiration at my fingertips.It was cool to go out on stage to perform for an audience of people who had actually forked over hard earned cash to see us.  Each time we performed, I always was conscious of that as I said my first line.  The angry, embittered, bigoted, and borderline violent character of Juror Number 3 was so vastly different from the way I am in real life that I really had to get out of my comfort zone to play him. Our revival of ‘Twelve Angry Citizens’ ran for eight or nine performances, as I recall, and we received compliments from people who saw us perform. The experience was a lot of fun, and creatively rewarding.Later that same year, I played ‘Cheswick’ in a local production of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ which was written by Ken Kesey. Then, in early 2011, I wrote an adaption of Rudyard Kipling’s story, ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’ in the form of an audio play.  My audio play was produced and later broadcast both on the radio and streamed over the Internet, and went on to become a down-loadable pod-cast. Beth and I both voiced roles in it.  And then, last summer, we appeared together in a twenty second TV commercial for Redding station KRCR Channel 7, that ran during the 5 to 7 PM daily news programming.  More acting?  The answer is a definite maybe.  Combining writing and acting as I did in our radio play was a hell of a lot of fun to do. I would like to do more of[...]

Scintilla 2013, Post Number 4

Sat, 16 Mar 2013 19:54:00 +0000

Scintilla Prompt for Saturday, March 16 ScintillaHQ says only one writing prompt per day on weekends rather than two prompts per day weekdays.  Here is today’s prompt:Being trapped in a confined environment can turn an ordinary experience into a powder keg. Write about a thing that happened to you while you were using transportation; anything from your first school bus ride, to a train or plane, to being in the backseat of the car on a family road trip.                                                                        # # #I’m going to handle this prompt a little differently, writing in the third person rather than the first.  Is this story true or is it fiction. . .real or Memorex? I leave that to you to decide.Today:  Just RoutineThe check-in at the Memphis airport for the Ultimate Air flight from Memphis to Chicago O’Hare was routine.  He picked up his carry-on, and with boarding pass in hand sailed through the pre-9/11 security and headed down the concourse towards the gate.  One of his colleagues from the same company he worked for were also on the flight, and when he got to the gate, he sat down next to him as they waited for the flight to be called.  The colleague, Al, was a genial, middle aged man, with a sallow complexion. He wore a tired, gray business suit which draped loosely on him like it was a size too large, and sat with his tie loosened. “So, Al, did you get the boys at the plant back in line?” he asked.“Yeah, well I did the best I could,” laughed Al.  “I’m not sure anybody can get these guys in line.”  His face took on a more serious look.  “We made some good progress.  The quality is getting better, and the returns going down.  All in all, I’m happy.  How was your week?  Things going OK in the IT world?”“Fine,” he replied.  “This trip was pretty routine. Just a few issues. None of ‘em this time were too tough.”“I hope this flight won’t be real late,” said Al, looking at the latecomers who were now checking in with the Ultimate gate attendants. “Say, what seat are you in?”“14C,” he replied.  “You?”“14A,” said Al. “Doesn’t look too crowded for a Thursday.  Maybe we can keep that middle seat between us open.”“Yeah, really,” he answered.  “That would be nice.”The two of them fell silent for a moment.  The red LED sign that lit up when the gate was occupied showed the time as being five minutes past the boarding time preprinted on their boarding passes.  He saw one of the gate attendants pickup the phone and dial something, and begin to speak.“Ultimate Air flight six-four-six service from Memphis to Chicago’s O’Hare field now ready for boarding at Gate C20,” said the gate attendant.He and Al got up, showed their boarding passes, walked down the jet way, smiled at the flight attendant stationed at the airplane’s entrance, and found their seats. They didn’t talk much.  Al pulled out a Memphis newspaper and began to read. That was his clue to pull out a paperback book.  He enjoyed Tom Clancy.  More passengers came down the aisle, stowing their bags in the overhead, and finding their seats.  The open seat between he and Al fortunately remained unoccupied.  Eventually, a not-so-young female flight attendant clo[...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 3

Fri, 15 Mar 2013 19:21:00 +0000

Our Scintilla Prompts Of The Day Are:1. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Write about a time you taught someone a lesson you didn't want to teach.2. Talk about a time when you were driving and you sang in the car, all alone. Why do you remember this song and that stretch of road?Both of these prompts are interesting, so its difficult to choose.  I’ll do #1 now, and perhaps write on #2 later.I almost feel like I could write a whole book on teaching difficult lessons to people, and then turn around and write another book on what it is like to have someone else teaching me lessons I didn't like to have to learn.  The following story combines both elements.Today:  Cats and DogsIn high school, I was fairly tall, and not fat but decidedly unathletic, an overall bookish kind of boy.  I grew up in a little southern town in middle Tennessee.  There, our sports were primarily huntin’, fishin’, football, and basketball.  The huntin’ and fishin’ I got into well enough thanks to adult relatives and family friends. But I wasn’t big enough and I was physically too cowardly to go out for football, and I wasn’t tall enough or quick enough for varsity basketball.  However, as students, we were required to attend physical education—we called them ‘Fiz’ Ed or ‘PE’—classes.  There, we played basketball and ‘touch’ football, so named because we weren’t supposed to tackle each other.  And, we didn’t wear any protective football gear, because we weren’t supposed to need it.  I was never very good at either of these games even in the relaxed standards of ‘mandatory play’ that the ‘Fiz’ Ed classes offered. I just wasn’t well coordinated enough.  Back in the early sixties when I was in high school, I rubbed elbows with some rough kids.  In many ways, my experience was far tamer than what adolescent kids are up against today with street gangs and druggies. However, we had kids at my school who had grown up on farms and were physically strong and tough.  Some had rough if not a borderline abusive brothers and fathers.  A lot of people in that area were really poor back then. I went to elementary and high school with some kids who lived in homes that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing.  I remember one kid who came from a home which featured hard packed dirt for floors.  Despite pervasive, grinding poverty, being poor didn’t equate to being mean.  Most of the poorer kids were still good kids. Several of them were great friends to me as we grew up together.  But, where there are roses, there are also thorns. Early in my freshman year, out on the field playing touch football during Phys Ed, I encountered one particular kid who decided it would be a good day to hone his bullying skills with me as his target.Now this fellow—the kids called him Dawg (think southern pronunciation of the word ‘dog’ here, even though his real name was entirely different) was about my height.  But, unlike me, the Dawg had grown up on a farm plowing fields and picking strawberries, so he was, as we said back then, pretty stout. We didn’t know each other from elementary school, because in our county, there was one elementary school in town that us ‘townies’ went to, and there were several others that were dispersed around the county.  Some of these outlying schools were known to produce kids who were rough around the edges.  Dawg had gone to one of these tougher outlying schools.   We had divided into teams, and Dawg and I were on opposite sides.  The teacher who was supposed to be supervising us also served as on[...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 2

Thu, 14 Mar 2013 18:22:00 +0000

Today’s Scintilla prompts:1. What's the biggest lie you've ever told? Why? Would you tell the truth now, if you could?2. Tell a story about something interesting (anything!) that happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual (Step 1, Step 2, etc.).Having spent years doing technical writing in the form of software documentation, the instruction manual idea seems tedious to me, so I’m going to take a pass on it.  Which leaves me with prompt number #1 about lying.Lying and LiarsI detest lying and liars.  Of course I have told ‘white lies’ like ‘yes that’s a cute haircut’ or ‘no, I’ve got time to talk to you.  I’m not doing anything right now.’ Is it bad to do this?  I don’t really think so.  If a person says what they really think all the time then they become the most abrasive person you ever met or the biggest bore, and in the worst case, they are a bit of both.  So white lies are justified sometimes, at least that’s my story and for now I’m sticking to it. People lying is a pet peeve of mine.  If a person wants to lose my respect quickly, all they need do is let me catch them being deceptive about something that matters to me.  Being deceptive is more than overtly telling falsehoods.  Keeping silent or evading answering questions can be just as deceptive.  As is papering over subjects one would really rather not talk about by spouting a fountain of pseudo-facts and glowingly positive white lies in an effort to conceal the truth.  This latter activity, I refer to as ‘trying to blow sunshine up my ass,’ and while it may work in the short run, once I figure out a person is doing that with me, then I don’t trust anything they say afterward.In our society today, with our technology augmented social media not to mention 24 x 7 cable/satellite news, we are often being lied to on a grand scale by our leadership.  The tendency of politicians and governments to lie to people is hardly a new thing.  Nazi Germany had its master of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, and cold war communist regimes relied on propaganda heavily. And religion has done its share of progandizing too.  Today, in 2013, these bad old techniques from yesteryear are still alive and kicking, and being wielded with even greater effect because of the amplification effect of electronic social media.Propaganda is at its core a calculated effort to manipulate public opinion to one’s own ends through lies, distortions, half truths, gross over-simplifications, and concealment of the facts. Whether we like it or not, the use of propaganda in our world is pervasive, and the motivations for that use are legion. The best defense we have against being deceived is to develop the skill of critical thinking.  Critical thinking is not an ‘ability’; it can and should be taught to people.  Kids can be taught, as I was, to recognize propaganda techniques when we see them. There are patterns and when you know what to look for, they jump out at you.  One of the best techniques I learned is to examine suspect statements with an eye towards determining who benefits from that statement being accepted and believed.Social media today is a vast ‘echo chamber’ for propaganda. Some examples. The NRA says, “Obama wants to confiscate your guns” even though there is zero hard evidence to that effect, and social media amplifies that through tweets, comment threads, and Facebook posts.  On the other side, gun control advocates and numerous politicians are currently campaigning in knee jerk fashion to ban ‘assault weapons’ even though it is [...]

Scintilla 2013 Post Number 1

Wed, 13 Mar 2013 21:01:00 +0000

About ScintillaToday marks the first day of the two weeks of writing prompts that comprise the Scintilla Project.  My wife and I both participated in Scintilla last year, and it was so much fun that we decided to do it again.  Each day while the project is running, you get a different prompt to write about.  The prompts are aimed at getting you to tell a story about yourself, and as was the case today, normally there are a couple of different prompts to choose from.  You write your ‘story’ in response to the prompt, and post it on your blog, which you can enroll in Scintilla’s blogroll.  If you are on Twitter, you can follow Scintilla at @ScintillaHQ find Scintilla writers using the hashtag #scintilla13 That’s all there is to it, really.  The prompts give you topics to write about, and having you blog enrolled on Scintilla’s blogroll gives you new traffic and potentially new readers.  What’s not to like?                                                                     Scintilla:  Wednesday, March 13Today, for our first daily writing prompt of this years 2013 Scintilla Project, the Scintilla project leaders have given we participants a somewhat Hobbsian choice:1.  Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally able to do so.2.  Tell a story set at your first job.Since the first one appears to be a bit more “disclosing” of the writer, let’s take that one.                                                                               # # #I wasn’t a goody-two-shoes when I was young, and I did drink a little before I was twenty-one, which was the legal age back then, but all in all, my drinking career then was pretty tame.  I was the bookish type of guy when I was in college back at Tennessee Tech. Not a football player or basketball player, I spent most of my spare time in the college library studying.  Well, let’s be honest here.  I also spent time admiring and sometimes flirting with coeds that happened by.  Overall, though, I was a really quiet kind of guy who didn’t attract a lot of attention.In my second year at Tech, I was in some class—I don’t remember what the class was—when I got acquainted with a guy named Steve.  Steve was from East Tennessee, Alcoa/Maryville area.  He was a big guy, six-foot-six if he was an inch, and he had rusty colored, red hair.  Big as he was and being a redhead, he stood out from the crowd. But, he wore glasses, and it turned out that in personality he was on the bookish side himself, so we had something in common right there.  The details of how Steve and I struck up a friendship I don’t recall, but we did.  Steve lived in one of the men’s dorms, and I lived off campus, and we started to hang together in our spare time.  We would go sit and enviously watch the jocks giving co-eds rides aro[...]

Photo Tech: CamRanger

Tue, 29 Jan 2013 21:20:00 +0000

Goldfinches-Nikon D700 Wirelessly Triggered from iPad via CamRangerEven though I have spent my entire working life in the technology field, I am not an early adopter of new tech products.  This is probably due to my spending many, many nights and weekends babysitting computer systems, trying to coax some balky, prone-to-malfunction, and poorly documented application to process my employer’s inventory, or fiscal year end, or other such ‘mission critical’ task.  Four decades working in tech has imparted a healthy mistrust of it.  Tech products—hardware and software—are built and programmed by humans.  Humans, as we know, often mess up.One of my hobbies is photography. back in the early 2000’s I gradually started using digital cameras and over the last decade pretty much left film photography behind.  Today, I am on my third Nikon DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex), a Nikon D700.  I love my D700; it is the best all round camera I have ever owned.  One of its features is ‘Live View’, which I have never used much.  When you turn on Live View, you can see a ‘live’ image on the LCD screen of the image the lens is seeing, rather than looking through the viewfinder.  Being old school, I always used the optical through-the-lens viewfinder, which is very bright and shows approximately 100% of what will be in the shot to frame my images before I pressed the shutter release.  A couple of weeks ago, I read about a new tech device called CamRanger, a $299 device that allows you to wirelessly connect your Apple IOS iPad or iPhone to either a Nikon or a Canon DSLR. To work with CamRanger, your DSLR must support a ‘Live View’ (Nikon’s term, I’m not sure what Canon calls it) functionality.  My D700 has Live View functionality, and I have an iPad. (Android and Windows 8 fans take note:  CamRanger is iOS only at the moment, but says they are in development for apps for these additional platforms, and the currently have a beta version for Mac OSX.)The videos on the CamRanger web site explained everything.  The CamRanger creates a secure, ad-hoc Wi-Fi network.  Your camera connected to the CamRanger unit via a short USB cable, and your iPad or iPhone connects to the CamRanger’s Wi-Fi network.  Once connected, you launch a free CamRanger app that is downloaded from iTunes to your IOS device, and you can view your camera’s ‘Live View’ image untethered, from as far a 150 feet away.   The CamRanger also allows you to adjust focus, white balance, and exposure, and lets you trigger the camera’s shutter release from your iPad or iPhone, all over the Wi-Fi link the CamRanger provides. I may not be an ‘early adopter’ of consumer tech, but I know a better mousetrap when I see one. I like macro photography, which often requires you to place your camera low to the ground.  But, I’m not a fan of crawling around on my belly on the ground peering into a camera viewfinder.  However, without a device like CamRanger, if you want those kind of shots, you don’t have much choice.  Also, I have bird feeders in my backyard, and I had often thought about photographing the finches, hummingbirds, and other birds that come around.  The trouble was, I don’t own a really long telephoto lens, and the birds shy away from humans sitting on the back patio close to the feeders with camera in hand.  But CamRanger offered a solution for this. With CamRanger, I could set up my camera outside, and then take pictures of my feathered visitors while sitting out of their sig[...]

Zero Dark Thirty

Wed, 23 Jan 2013 19:39:00 +0000

I grew up around a lot of men who were World War II vets. Some were relatives, and some were neighbors, but all shared the burden of having served in the military and having fought in Europe.  At least one of these men was a Silver Star winner, and you don’t get one of those if you haven’t done something very significant in a combat situation.  Another—a distant cousin—I remember had been a tail gunner on a B-17.  He had been shot down while on a bombing raid over Germany. His war ended when the German Stalag prison camp he was in was liberated by the invading Allies after D-Day.  These men were very reticent about their service.  They had seen and done things during the war they didn’t want to talk about.  One man, a farmer and neighbor who became was a good friend and mentor during my adolescent years, had served during the war in North Africa, and then in Sicily and in Italy.  Of course, as a boy, I was full of questions and loved stories, but he would never tell me any details of his wartime experiences.  He would only ever say to me—and I’m paraphrasing something said to me over fifty years ago—that the more a man had actually done in combat, the more of a warrior he had really had to be, then the less likely he would be talk, much less boast about it.  Combat—placing oneself in a life or death situation that requires us to kill or be killed--is traumatic, at least for most people. Most of us don’t like to re-live trauma in our lives any more than absolutely necessary.                                                                     # # #“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” ~ George Orwell                                                                    # # #When I hit college English and literature back in 1965, this quote made quite an impression on me.  It had the ring of truth then, at the height of the Vietnam war, and I still believe it to be true.  However, it is a truth that a lot of people don't like, and would prefer if they could to sweep under the rug.  Orwell also wrote of people he labelled as 'pacifists' that “Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.”  I think this brings us to the heart of a lot of the criticism currently directed at the movie ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.I went to see the movie yesterday, partly because I liked Kathryn Bigelow’s previous film ‘The Hurt Locker’ a lot and partly because I’ve seen quite a number of op-ed pieces such as this example ‘Zero Dark Thirty’s Wrong and Dangerous Conclusion’ that appeared recently on the Huffington Post.   Indeed, some our elected Congress people have been saying they want to ‘investigate’ whether Bigelow and Mark Boal—the screenwriter of the film—had access to classified information.  And, even though the picture is at least as good as the Oscar winning 'Hurt Locker', it appears that is going to b[...]

One Comes Off The Bucket List

Sun, 21 Oct 2012 22:35:00 +0000

A few years ago, the movie “The Bucket List” came out and instantiated in our popular culture the notion of making a list of the things that we want to be sure we do before we die.  Last Saturday night, I got to check  off an item off my list.Thanks to my lovely and ever-ingenious bride, Beth, I had the pleasure of attending, with her on my arm, a concert at at the Power Balance Arena (the old Arco Arena) in Sacramento headlining my very favorite musician, Mark Knopfler, and also the legendary Bob Dylan. During his part of the show, Mark mostly played selections from his latest album, “Privateering,” although at the very end, he reached back to his second Dire Straits album in 1979 and he and his band played ‘Lady Writer.’  Dylan, I’ll talk about in a minute, because it was Mark Knopfler that I really wanted to see in person.Although I first heard and immediately loved ‘The Sultans of Swing’ back in the late seventies, I never really knew who Mark Knopfler was.  A few years ago, Beth's brother Jim and his wife Liz introduced me to Knopfler's music.  Jim and Liz know and love music as well as if not better than anyone else I know.  They are both pros at it, as music and high end sound reproduction play a very key role in their professional lives in the high end audio/video equipment business.Beth and I were visiting them a few years back at their home in Nashville, ‘Music City USA.’ One lazy Saturday afternoon, the four of us just kicked back and listened to music on their in-home high fidelity system, a system so ‘high-end’ that I was and always will be a little envious.  They played cuts from  artists who I had listened to over the years, selections from some of the best albums and artists that popular music and ‘rock and roll’ have to offer.  One of the cuts they happened to play was ‘Sultans’, and once they found out how much I loved it, they played several other Knopfler cuts as well.  That got me started.  Thanks to them, that afternoon I found an artist whose music speaks to me in a unique and special way.  Since that afternoon in Nashville, I have acquired and played the hell out of several of Mark’s albums, and Beth and I have followed his tour schedule on Mark  Seeing him perform in person last night was the culmination of several years of trying to make our schedule and his every-other-year US tour gigs here on the Left Coast match up.  The live performance of he and his band was just as musically entertaining and rewarding as I had hoped.  To my admittedly unsophisticated ears, Mark is the best guitarist I have ever heard, and he combines that with musical stylings that really resonate with me.  So chalk attending a Mark Knopfler concert off my bucket list.  Now, I’m already hoping for and looking forward to a ‘next time’.I said I would talk about Dylan.  Bob Dylan is certainly one of the most iconic figures in the rock and roll music business, and is still touring at the age of 71.  He’s got a new album out, called “Tempest.”  Once Mark and his guys left the stage and the roadies changed everything on stage over for Dylan and his act, Dylan got started, and the entire Arena audience stood up for the first number. Mark and his band were dressed really casually, but Dylan and his band were dressed up more.Not being a huge Dylan fan, I can’t tell you what his first number was, but I think it came from his new album. Unfortunately, to my ears,[...]

A Legacy In Its Own Time

Fri, 28 Sep 2012 17:53:00 +0000

Troubles In River CityHere is my tale of how my Apple iPad became a legacy device. More precisely, my Apple ‘iPad 1st Generation’. My first clue was when Steve—I had named my iPad ‘Steve’ in honor of his maker Steve Jobs, himself alive and running Apple at the time I purchased my iPad—suddenly starting acting up during a trip my wife Beth and I took back in August of this year. As I sat in a hotel room one morning, right in the middle of an application, iPad Steve decided for no apparent reason that he needed to restart himself. Yes, something had gone wrong there. Hmm, I wondered. After that unexpected restart, Steve came back up normally, and I resumed using the app with no further issues. However, in a day or so the uninvited restart thing happened again. And again. And yet again. Before our trip was finished, iPad Steve was having fits where he would restart, recover, and then restart again immediately, over and over again. Something was wrong with Steve. Very, very wrong. Things Get WorseAs soon as we got home, I got on the Apple support forums and found that some other iPad owners were experiencing similar symptoms. It was apparent from the posts that the only thing left for me to try with Steve was to connect him to iTunes and perform a ‘factory reset’. The iTunes factory reset reverts iPads back to the settings they had when they first shipped, and it scours all apps and content from the iPad’s flash memory. So, I reasoned, if the problem my Steve was experiencing was due to an errant app or some other software problem that had crept in, the factory reset should fix it. If the reset didn’t work, the forum posts said that was indicative of a hardware problem. Then there would be no choice but to take Steve to Apple. I was out of options. I connected Steve to my Dell desktop by the Apple-supplied white umbilical cable, and clicked the ‘reset’ option. I won’t go into all the gory details of how iPad Steve died that day. Actually, he kind of went into a coma. The reset started OK but failed to complete part way through, after all my the apps and content had been wiped out. I tried the reset several times, with the same result. iPad Steve was toast. It was repair or replace time. Reality BitesThinking replacement, I used my desktop computer to go to Apple’s Web site and view the ads for the new iPad 3s. Yes, a new high resolution ‘Retina’ display. Not one, but two built in cameras. Dual core processors with quad core graphics. Yes, sounds good! And, I could have newer, faster, 4G cellular capability. This new, hotter, better iPad sounded great. I could feel the urge to get out my credit card! An old man like me shouldn’t let himself get this excited. Maybe I should try talking to an empty chair. Then, as I sat there peering at the slick Apple ads, getting entranced with the idea of cool new iPad, I saw the price. For a hot sexy new iPad 3, tricked out with 64 gigabytes of flash memory and with 4G cell service from either AT&T or Verizon, it was going to set me back $829. Plus tax. When I am wanting to buy something expensive, my mind sometimes does sums and calculations, even when I really don’t want it to. My dead departed iPad Steve cost $829 when I purchased him two years ago at Best Buy. It's nice that the new iPad was still the same price, but—divided by two years my cost was $400 per year, and if I divided that by 365 days, it came out to over a dollar a day that it had cost me to own the th[...]

Interview With A Ghost Writer

Fri, 13 Jul 2012 14:00:00 +0000

Today I have the pleasure of providing Cat-E-Whompus readers with a 'first'--our first ever interview.  A little background first.  Over the past few months, your author has been increasingly active on social media —especially using Twitter—which is daily bringing me into contact with many interesting people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.  Karen Cole is one of these people.  Karen and I recently followed each other on Twitter and after a little time went by, I found that she is in an very interesting writing niche, that until now I knew very little about.  Karen is a professional ghostwriter, and as such she works for and with some very interesting people.  Karen graciously agreed to do a Q and A style interview with me so that Cat-E-Whompus readers can learn more about ghostwriting in general, and Karen and her firm, Ghost Writer, Inc. where she is Executive Director.  So let’s get started with the interview.Karen Cole, Ghost Writer Inc.Tony:   Hi Karen.  Thanks for agreeing to do this.  Could we please start out with your giving us a brief introduction of yourself for our readers?Karen:  I have been a ghost writer and editor on the Internet for over ten years, but have worked on and off as a freelance writer for some 30 years. I have a self-determined degree in journalism, creative writing and fine art, and have been measured as a genius on some creative writing tests. So I do know a good deal about ghost writing specifically and professional writing for other people in general.Tony:  I understand you work with a team of people. How many people are on your team, and generally what kind of services do you and your team provide?Karen:  We have over 100 writing-related workers on our ghost writing team, and a few sub-teams headed by special writers on our team as well. We provide full professional ghost writing services, including freelance writing and editing, and full book and screenplay marketing, promotions, sales and publishing or optioning assistance. We even provide ghost writing for Facebook and Twitter, as well as music ghost writing for rap, hip hop, rock and country. We do virtually all types of freelance writing and editing, too.Tony:  What can you tell our readers something about your clients? Are many of them writers, or do they come from other occupations? Karen:  We do get professional, published writers who want their work copy edited and proofread professionally, giving it a “second set of eyes” before publication, and we have writers on our team who have subbed for professional, well-known authors. But most of our clients are not professional authors or screenwriters. They simply have great ideas for books and scripts but don’t have the talent, the time or both in order to fully perform their projects by themselves. So they hire a ghost writer or editor, who finishes the work for them and who does a professional, saleable and marketable job on their beloved work.Tony:  I would imagine you get some well-known people asking you to write for them? I'm sure you have to keep things in confidence, but what can you tell us?Karen:  I can’t mention any names, but there have been some famous sports figures, politicians, celebrities and media figures that were in the news at some point in time that have come to us and our ghost writers needing work done on their books. We always sign an agreement with our clients guaranteeing full confidence, whenever[...]

Radio Plays Go Contemporary

Tue, 10 Jul 2012 18:11:00 +0000

New:  Available as a podcastCat-E-Whompus is going audio. This post appears here and as an audio podcast episode on Podbean. Some future posts may be be audio only. Click the 'play' (green arrow pointing right) on the player symbol to listen. Podcast Powered By Podbean Or you are welcome to visit the Cat-E-Whompus Podbean pageRadio plays--dramas, comedies, musicals, westerns, sci-fi, and variety shows--began back in the 1920s and prior to television in radio’s golden age were eagerly awaited and listened to in households across the land until the mid fifties when television usurped the listening public and transformed it into a watching public. While these shows are long gone from most of our nation’s airwaves, literally hundreds of them are still around and can be listened to as audio files on the Internet. For example, the Radio Lovers web site offers links where you can listen to many of these old shows. Yes, the recordings are old, the dialog and plots dated, and the sound tracks scratchy, but these shows deserve our respect.  After all, they were the prime source of day in and day out entertainment in American homes for more than forty years.While people my age remember hearing some of these shows when we were little. I spent my early childhood years listening to the ‘Gunsmoke’ radio show starring William  Conrad. When television came to my house, like millions of other kids, I shifted over from listening to radio in favor of watching TV shows like Howdy Doody, Wagon Train, Phil Silvers, and Peter Gunn.  Once TV came on the scene, I never looked—or listened—back. After the demise of radio plays, whole generations of Americans have come along who have never experienced how entertaining audio plays can be.  Sure, these younger people have probably heard snippets of old scratchy radio show sound tracks—and surely many of them have listened to Garrison Keillor’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ show on NPR. Or maybe they listened to broadcasts on a low powered AM or FM neighborhood station somewhere. But even so, when most Americans born after 1960  think about ‘radio,’ they are thinking talk or music or news, or some combination.But, driven by technology, these things are changing.Here in 2012, if we substitute the words ‘Internet’ and ‘Sirius/XM’ for ‘radio’, the words ‘audio play’ for ‘radio play’, and the words ‘pod cast’ for ‘broadcast’, we get a brand new medium--Internet based audio plays. Thanks to new consumer technology that has come ubiquitous in the last ten years—iPods, MP3 players, iPhones, Android phones, tablets, and so forth—that deliver a high fidelity stereo listening experience, we now have in place a new and powerful delivery mechanism to get audio entertainment content into the ears and minds of everyday people. The underlying and powerful driving force behind the revival of audio plays as an entertainment medium is the concept that a good audio play should create ‘cinema in the listener’s head’. Think about closing your physical eyes and watching in your mind’s eye the imagery and mood that can be created by a well written script, great sound effects, and well chosen music all woven together by a well thought out and creatively executed multi-channel sound design. Think exciting, engaging audio play scripts with contemporary dialog and story lines and with good acting and sound and music delivered the listene[...]

Audio Books

Mon, 25 Jun 2012 15:26:00 +0000

Several years ago while I was still working a corporate job, my manager asked his team of employees—all of us were software product managers—to commit to reading business books on a regular basis to help us broaden ourselves and ‘think outside the box.’  This was a problem for me because in addition to the hours required in the office just to do my job, I had an additional two hours of commuting each day.  With family and personal obligations outside of work, that didn’t leave much time for reading books, so I initially greeted the assignment less than enthusiastically.Or did it?  As I reflected, I did have a block of time each week that could be used—my ten hours in the car commuting. My vehicle had a CD player capable of playing both audio CD’s and MP3’s, so all I needed was to choose my first business book and get in audio form.  Since this extracurricular reading was a work assignment, the company was buying the books we read.  I asked my manager if he was up for buying books for me in audio format and he was, so I started listening to my first business book, ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins on my commute. The experience was just like listening to the radio, except instead of music or talk radio I was listening to Jim Collins’ case studies on how companies made the transition from just being good at what they did to being great at it.  Collins himself was the reader, and as I listened, I found myself enjoying my commute much more and getting educated at the same time.I listened to a few other business books, and eventually our extracurricular work related book readings came to and end, but my audio book habit did not. For the next two and a half years, my commute often featured listening to audio books, both fiction and non fiction.  One day while listening to ‘Tears in the Darkness:  The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath’ by Michael and Elizabeth Norman, I—a normally relatively unemotional and detached kind of guy—literally found myself so moved by the book that for a few moments I was driving down the road in tears.  On another occasion, I listened to the unabridged audio version of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men’, which was outstanding both in terms of McCarthy’s lean, muscular prose, and the grippingly fabulous audio performance of reader Tom Stechschulte. Audio book sales are climbing, and believe it or not have gained a lot of traction with the 18 to 24 year old demographic.  In addition to audio or mp3 cd format (audio cassette tapes are SO yesterday) audio books are readily available as downloads on both Apple iTunes and on  In fact, members average, according to Audible, 17 downloads per year.  Also, Sirius/XM satellite radio has a channel called SiriusXM Book Radio—SiriusXM channel 80—which features sample readings from audio books of all genres, as well as author interviews, publisher hosted programs, and indie produced audio drama programs.  All of these things together have moved audio books way beyond the ‘nursing home’and the sight-handicapped listeners who have historically been the main purchasers of audiobooks.As an avid audio book consumer, I would encourage authors to write with audio book performance and publication in mind.  Have someone read your work to you—or record yourself reading your own material—and then[...]

Twitter, Twitter, Little Star

Sun, 17 Jun 2012 14:00:00 +0000

As readers will note, my frequency of posting on this blog is way down from where it was, and my previous post on May 21st, A Note To Readers, explained why.

While I'm not actively blogging as much on Cat-E-Whompus lately, I'm still active on Twitter.  Facebook, at least in my world right now, is much more suitable for keeping up on and sharing personal news with friends and family.  LinkedIn is just 'kinda there' for me; I've an account and have given 'recommendations' to former colleagues who have asked me to, but I'm not looking for employment any more, so I'm not trying to connect with corporate recruiters or employers.

Twitter, on the other hand, is more like a blog--it is referred to many places as a 'micro-blog' after all-- that has an element of interactivity that goes beyond what I've ever been able to achieve with this blog.  The value of Twitter is that it can connect us with people who are interested in at least some of the same things that we are, but without all the personal 'goopy stufff' that comes with Facebook.  Many of these Twitter contacts also share information quite prolifically, so 'following' them provides a 24x7 feed of information, some of which is quite interesting. 

I get followers sometimes that I don't follow back; I only 'follow' people on Twitter now is because I think they will be communicating information that I will be interested in.  I'm not interested in how many followers they have; I'm interested in the quality of what they tweet.

For my part, the number of Twitter followers I have at any time is really not that important to me.  I figure that if my tweets are of value, then people who find those to be of value will find me eventually.  So, as I read, research, and contemplate on the topics that interest me--writing, digital imaging, self publishing, social media (mostly as it pertains to the arts), and general geekdom--I tweet links to the items that I think will be relevant and interesting to the followers I have. And, I look to follow people or organizations on Twitter who have a compatible mindset.

For now, Twitter is helping me identify and connect with people who are interested in at least some of the same things I am, and who have things to say that inform and inspire me both artistically and personally.  All I have to do now is to watch that I don't get to obsessed with and addicted to Twitter and social media, and that I devote sufficient time to the things I need to:  my wife, my home, and my art.

As they say, 'LOL!'