Monday, March 31, 2008

Wodehouse Quote

"At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies."

P. G. Wodehouse
British humorist & novelist in US (1881 - 1975)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Eleven years ago today I was fantastically fortunate enough to get married to the most wonderful woman in the whole world.

She, on the other hand, got stuck with me.

Babe, you are the best thing that ever happened to me. I am so thankful that fate brought us together and that you have been in my life these past 11 years.

Happy Anniversary, My Love.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Which Movie Should I See?

I'm thinking about going to see a movie this weekend, but I'm having difficulty deciding between "21" and "Superhero Movie." Which one do YOU think I should go see?

And don't suggest "Run, Fatboy, Run" because I have no interest in watching a movie about myself.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Little Child Inside The Man

I returned to the hotel yesterday to find my room phone flashing like the Batphone.

When I checked the voicemail message I found out Commissioner Gordon wasn't on the other end, but there was a package waiting for me at the front desk.

When I saw the box was from Amazon I knew that it was my anniversary gift from Cindy. We had already decided that we would get each other something from our respective Amazon Wishlists. She told me the other day that she was thinking of getting the Complete Captain America (every Captain America comic book published by Marvel Comics up to April of 2007) on CD for me, so when I saw the size of the box I thought, "That's bigger than it should be for that one item."

I raced up the three flights of stairs (Ok, OK, I slowly made my way up the three flights of stairs), got in the room and ripped (Ok, Ok, cut) open the box to find not only the Complete Captain America BUT also the Complete Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse DVD set. I haven't seen those cartoons since I was 7 or 8 years old.

Thanks, honey. And thanks for understanding the little child inside the man.

Back To The Future

The other day I watched Back to the Future III.

When I came to Louisiana I brought some DVD's I had not yet watched from home and the set containing all three of the BTTF movies was one of them. A couple of weeks ago I watched the first, last week the second and this week the third. But it was watching the third that brought back a nice memory.

Back in 1990 when BTTF III opened, theaters across the country decided it would be a good promotion to have marathons where they would play all three of the movies in order in one showing. A local science fiction/comic book store had a TV show on the local cable access channel and they had some contests to win tickets to the showing at the only theater in Orlando that was participating in the promotion. I was fortunate enough to win 2 tickets and got to spend a day enjoying the movies with someone.

Watching it the other day reminded me of how much I enjoyed that Saturday and it brought a bittersweet smile to my face.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Flood Warning In Baton Rouge

The area of East Baton Rouge (where I currently work and temporarily live) has been under a Flood Warning since last Sunday when it was issued by the National Weather Service.

The heavy snows up north and the flooding that has affected Missouri and closer states such as Arkansas has finally "rolled downhill" so to speak and cities along the Mississippi are keeping a close eye on the ever-increasing water level. Since the warning was issued, the river's level has risen about 6 inches per day, which means it should hit flood level stage here in Baton Rouge by tomorrow.

Fortunately, that is not as bad as it sounds because the Baton Rouge area has a good strong levee in place (remember those concrete steps you saw along the river in my Baton Rouge I Flickr set? If not, go look at it now, I'll wait...Back? Ok.) and flood level stage is where the water would crest the river's banks if the levee system was not in place. By the way, the water you see below the grassy area of the bank in that photo is now up to the second step from the bottom. The rising waters will curtail industrial activity along the river, but should not be a physical danger to people in the area unless it rises much, much more.

But our forecast DOES call for heavy rains tomorrow through Sunday, so if you hear me gurgling, you'll know what happened.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2007 Tax Return

I'm currently enduring one of my least-favorite annual tasks; working on our tax return.

You know what would be nice? If congress would just scrap the whole damn tax code and implement a flat rate income tax. No deductions, no exemptions, no loopholes to exploit and no little-known regulations to get caught in. Just a nice, simple, flat rate income tax.

It sure would make this mess easier.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cindy Hard At Work

Today, tomorrow and Thursday Cindy is working hard at a company-sponsored "retreat" being held in the award winning Mirbeau Inn & Spa located in upper New York state.

Here's a picture she snapped with her cellphone of the salt mines she'll be toiling at.

She's already had time today to indulge in a facial and guests are encouraged to roam the facilities in plush robes and slippers.


Scenes From Saturday

So, Saturday morning, as you already know if you read this post, I spent walking around downtown Baton Rouge taking pictures. When I returned to the street where I had parked the rental car, I was amused to find another gentleman across the street taking a picture of the same "Schlitz and Giggles" sign I had photographed a couple of hours earlier. Other than one man on a bicycle and a mother with her children (and of course the people at the State Capitol Building), I didn't really see any other people on foot until I spotted him. Apparently, downtown Baton Rouge is not a popular place on a Saturday morning.

Somehow, without my even planning it, Saturday turned out to be my "random acts of kindness" day.

On the way back to the hotel from downtown I stopped at CVS to pick up my prescription I had dropped off the night before. When I walked up to the pharmacy there was a middle-aged woman waiting at the counter. The clerk indicated I should come on up to pick up my order as the prescription for the woman waiting would not be ready for a few more minutes. I was swiping my debit card and entering my PIN, so I wasn't paying attention to the clerk as she rang up the 2 toiletry items I had with my prescription. As I looked up, she was holding a small plastic case that looked like (and turned out to be) one of those little repair kits for eyeglasses with the tiny screws and screwdriver and said, "I'll just put this in the prescription bag." I asked her what it was and she pulled it back out and I told her that was not mine. The woman who had been waiting said that it was hers and the clerk apologized and started to call a manager for approval to take it off my charge. I told the clerk, "Please don't bother" and took the case, handed it to the woman and said, "Here, my gift to you" and kind of chuckled. The woman's face lit up and she threw her arms around me exclaiming, "Thank you, that is so nice!" I told her it was my pleasure, then extricated myself from her grasp because I don't care to be touched by most people, especially strangers, and walked away with my items. I have no idea why that small act (it was a $3 item) caused such a more-than-necessary reaction from her, but apparently it made her happy. And it was certainly better than getting a "Screw you, I don't need your charity!" response, lol.

Later, when I returned to the hotel, there was a man taking a picture of his wife or girlfriend in front of the hotel under the sign. Assuming they were trying to have a keepsake photo of their trip to exciting(?) Baton Rouge I did something I seldom do and asked him if they'd like me to take their picture together. I was probably still in my "photography mode" from the photowalk, lol. Anyway, he said they would and thanked me very much afterward for taking a beautiful picture of them.

So, if an old curmudgeon like myself can practice random acts of kindness, you can too.

Practice Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Right Column Content

This will be of more interest to writers who may visit this blog, since I am attempting to make this a page about writing in general and my own writing in particular. Accordingly, I have been adding content that will pertain to writers and their interests.

Over in my right-hand column, I have added a feature that suggests writing prompts for those who may have hit that proverbial "writer's block" wall; a scrolling marquee of current and upcoming writing contests (I'm actually, seriously, maybe considering the possibility of submitting a short story entry in a Science Fiction and Fantasy contest); and an ad for a free subscription to "Blogger & Podcaster."

Please don't forget, if you plan to order something from Amazon (and who doesn't?), that if you'll go to Amazon via the ad in my right column, I'll get a few pennies as a referral fee that I can apply toward defraying the cost of this site.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Baton Rouge II Photos Up On Flickr

Amazingly, I've had another full weekend off.

I spent yesterday morning photowalking the northern part of downtown Baton Rouge in general and the State Capitol Building in particular.

After recalling what little I learned in school about Louisiana's history, I found it interesting to step into the lobby of the State Capitol Building where the late Huey P. "Kingfisher" Long was fatally shot on September 8, 1935. There is, apparently, some disagreement as to whether his assassin actually shot him, or whether he simply punched Long and Long was subsequently shot by a stray bullet from his bodyguards and state police, which had opened fire on the assailant and shot him some 30 times.

Anyway, if you're interested, there are about 108 photos in the Baton Rouge II collection on my Flickr page.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


If you like photography or seeing other people's photos...have I got a web-based application for you!

Flickrvision. Most people either use Flickr to put their photos on the web, or at least aware of what it is. Flickrvision allows you to see photos uploaded to Flickr from all over the world in real time.

The screen opens with a map of the globe and as you watch, newly uploaded photos pop up with a pointer indicating where they are originating from. If you see one that intrigues you, hover your mouse over the balloon and a larger version will appear.

It can become addicting.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Atlanta Tornado Photo

Last weekend, as an EF-2 tornado swept a path of destruction across downtown Atlanta, local photographer Shane Durrance was on the roof of his condominium building with his camera. Listening to the local news, he took the photo below just as the meteorologist from 11Alive news was giving out a tornado warning.

Later, Durrance sent the photo to 11Alive and said he believed he had missed capturing the tornado, but after the meteorologist reviewed the photo he assured Durrance that he had indeed gotten the shot he was seeking.

The picture shows a light-gray vertical strip of what looks like clouds connecting the cityscape to the larger clouds above. That is the actual tornado, according to 11Alive's weatherman. He said it didn't look like the usual sort of funnel cloud because it was embedded in rainshowers at the time of the photograph.

What a fantastic picture of both the beauty and fierceness of nature.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spam From Writing

I never thought my online writing would generate spam, but I guess these days ANY online presence will subject you to these unwanted e-mails.

What confused me, at first, with this one was the e-mail address I received it at and the sender referring to me by my full name rather than my initials, which are what I use in the e-mail address itself. I only use this particular address for writing assignments with reputable organizations. Then I realized it had come through my articles I had written for Suite101 last year. The site offers readers the opportunity to click and e-mail the writer without disclosing the writer's address to the sender.

This spam e-mail is a variation on those fun "Nigerian" inbox bloaters. The added twist is the writer is a female, possibly a princess and, in addition to the $8.5 million dollars she wants to deposit to my bank account, she wants to start a new life with me.

Wow, money AND the girl. It's like the perfect ending to a romance novel...or an episode of The Love Boat.

I wish I had the time to spare to have some fun with this by sending some replies and stringing the princess along like these people do; it would probably be very entertaining. You'll just have to settle for this initial contact, misspelled words and all, that she hopes "would not be thrown to the wind." No wind, princess, just the ether of cyberspace.

Deares Jeff Wetherington

This is Celine Milan, I thank God for this opportunity to get in touch with you, I pray that my decision to ask you for help would not be thrown to the wind. Introducing myself, I am Miss Ceiline Milan, the only daughter of Late Chief and Mrs.Sule Milan a businessman who based in Liberia and Abidjan Cote d'ivoire who sold Gold and exported Cocoa .My father was poisoned to death by his business associates on one of their business trips,

But before the death of my father on the 29th April 2004 in a private hospital here in Abidjan He secretly called me on his bed and told me that he has a sum of USD$8.5M (eight million five hundred thousand U.S) deposited in a Prime Bank here in Abidjan Cote D' Ivoire, that he used my name as his beloved duaghter for the next of kin in depositing the fund.

Now I have decided to invest these money in your country or anywhere safe enough outside Africa for security and political reasons.I want you to help me contact the bank inorder that they will pay the Money into your personal account in your country for investment purposes, after which you will make arrangment for me to travel out from here to come and Join with you in your country to start a NewLife with you.

Moreover,I am willing to offer you 25% of the total sum as compersation for your effort and input after the successful transfer of this fund into your nominated account overseas, I will be waiting to hear from you as soon as this email gets to you in good health.

I will give you more details of the transaction as soon as I hear from you.

Thanks and God bless you.


Ceiline Milan
Private Email:(

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A New Obsession?

Oh man, I love the night, I love abandoned structures and I love my camera. This may be a brand new obsession for me to pursue.

Oh, and there's an excellent interview with the photographer, Troy Paiva, here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, R.I.P.

Though not unexpected, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Arthur C. Clarke today at the age of 90 in his home in Sri Lanka. I had already been thinking about him, especially over the past few days as I was compiling a list of my top 10 favorite science fiction authors to post here, so it seemed even more serendipitous to hear of his death.

Despite his fame as a writer of science fiction, Clarke was also hailed as a visionary in the world of science, developing the concept of space satellites in 1945, years before they were created, and was regarded as an expert consultant in matters of study involving the future.

Somehow, it would not surprise me to learn that he was a time-traveler from that very future he let us peek into.

Flying Through Airport Security

Wired Magazine has a nice, illustrated little article in their latest newsstand issue and on their website with tips on how to make your trek through airport security a little easier.

Having to fly so often I've already incorporated all of these suggestions into my routine. Plus, when I was home in January I had my retinas scanned and was fingerprinted at the Clear office inside OIA. Recently my new Fly Clear biometric travel card arrived and I'm looking forward to using it the next time I fly out of Orlando and hopefully at other airports as they get added across the U.S.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Updates: FriendFeed And Twitter

Took some time last night to update the right column information, including the addition of FriendFeed and getting back on Twitter.

FriendFeed is a way to keep updated on different aspects of your friend's life including blog posts, Twitter feeds, DIGG feeds, FaceBook updates and many other web 2.0 applications. According to FriendFeed, none of my friends are using it, which may mean I'll be standing out here all by myself, lol. But if you take a look at it and like what it does to keep you up to date on friend's goings on, then get an account and let me know.

After I got my BlackBerry in December I failed to add Twitter to my smartphone, but that has been remedied now and I'll use it to make mini-posts when they are not large enough to post here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Anger Management for Dummies

I was in the bookstore last night picking out something to spend a gift card on (Thanks Kirk!) and as I was walking up to the checkout counter I passed a table full of different "Dummies" books that were under a discount sign and obviously on display to entice browsers to buy.

Under normal circumstances I would have paused to peruse the display in the hopes of finding a book that deals with my own particular kind of "Dummieness", but the store was putting on some kind of special presentation and program for kids and there were multitudes of the little ankle biters swarming all over the first floor. Kids are great, I love kids. It's the parents who never make their little cherubs behave that irritate me, and there were plenty of those in attendance.

So, to save my sanity and escape the screams, crying and whining of the collective future of our world, I hurried on my way past the display. But one title caught my eye and made me chuckle at the irony of both the current situation and the title's intended audience.

I mean, don't you think that someone who suffers from anger management issues would be set off by a title such as, "Anger Management For Dummies"?

Orange County Library System - Card Expiration

I just received an e-mail from the Orange County Library System informing me that my library card is about to expire and explaining how I can prevent it's imminent death.

To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I had no idea these things expired, like your drivers license or old meat and fruit. I've had an Orange County library card, off and on, for 26 years. It was one of the first things, along with registering to vote, that I did when I moved here. I would estimate I've had this one for 7 or 8 years straight now and this is the first I've heard of a need to renew it.

OCLS says the reason is; "Library cards expire so that we have the opportunity to review your card and make sure all contact information is correct and that the account is in good standing."

Somehow, that just doesn't ring quite true.

1. They have my record in their database and can review it at their leisure or necessity, as the case may be. They certainly don't need to renew my card to review my record. Hell, under the poorly-named Patriot Act, the federal government can demand to see my library records anytime they want without a warrant. Please don't try and tell me the library itself can't "review my card" anytime they please.

2. If contact information is incorrect, they'll find out either when they attempt to call, e-mail or deliver a book. Service will stop and the patron will either update it to retain service or not because they don't want it.

3. Same as number 1. Plus, they see if your account is in "good standing" every time you borrow materials. I know, I've watched them do it.

So, what is the REAL reason for this renewal?


I'm aggravated that I have to take the time to either call or go online to renew this library card. I love going to the library, I love checking out books, DVD's, etc. I love that Orange County provides this service to its residents. I love that over the years the library has added materials and services (like free delivery) to what they offer. But this is pretty ridiculous and to try and pass off the reasons above is insulting to me.

So, I ask again, what is the REAL reason for this renewal?

Frankly, since I'm traveling so much now and not able to use it except for the infrequent times I'm home, I'm sorely tempted to avoid the aggravation and simply let the damn thing "die." But this is one of the things my taxes pay for and I see no good reason why a library card, of all things, should expire. It's certainly not like a drivers license that requires a certain level of competence to use or a professional license that is regulated by an agency. It's just a library card!

After a quick Google search, it's obvious to me I'm spitting into the wind. It appears most public libraries have cards that expire at the 1 or 2 year mark, though some wisely only expire after a certain time period of non-use. That's the most sensible, but apparently NOT the one employed by most county library systems, course of action. Non-use means expiration. Continued use means all their co-called "reasons" above are met.

How did this happen? I've had public library cards since I was about 8 years old and, while admittedly my memory is fading at times, I don't ever remember having to renew a library card in any of the locales I've lived in over the years. Is it because of 9/11? Is it because of...? I can't even think of a plausible reason! Whatever the reason, it's aggravating and totally unnecessary. As people who know me will tell you, I don't suffer such things in my life lightly. This may well be the "expiration" of the Orange County Library System in my life.


Friday, March 14, 2008


It looks like I may actually get an entire weekend off! Of course I have laundry, writing, reading, researching and some record-keeping to keep me busy, but at least I can schedule those things as I wish and hopefully get in some relaxation. I really need to go to the exercise room and try and work out some of the kinks in my back and shoulders. That seems to be where all of my stress makes itself at home.

Hopefully I'll finish reading a book I'm reviewing for Athena either tonight or tomorrow and have the review written by Sunday. It helps that the book is about one of my favorite subjects.

I was supposed to try and make an appointment with a local lab for some blood work requested by my doctor because she was freaking out over my last test results, but that is going to wait for perhaps another week simply because I don't see the need for such hysterics. I'm still altering my diet in a positive way, walking and, as mentioned above, aside from the tightness in my back and shoulders from stress, feeling pretty darn good. Ok, I AM tired a lot, but that's due more to mental exhaustion and long working hours than the things the doctor is looking at.

Happy Pi Day 2008

Today, March 14, 2008, is Pi Day, celebrated by lovers of math and numbers each year on 3.14 in honor of Pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

More about it here.

As The Rock once said, "I love pi!"

Or...was that "pie"?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Grammar Help Online

Most writers typically have an editor look over their work before publication unless they are publishing themselves (such as a website, blog or newsletter) in order to spot any errors in grammar such as wording, punctuation, etc. Depending on the length of the piece and the writer's frequency of using such a service, the cost can range from minimal to a nice chunk of change. If you're publishing something that people will pay for, the cost is always worth it to insure that, whatever else it may be, your work will NOT be an offense to the grammatical sensibilities of your audience.

But, what if you have just a small article, proposal, letter, resume or even e-mail that you want to be perfect, as far as the grammar goes? If you have at least 24 hours to give before your writing must see the light of day, then Gramlee may be just what you need.

Gramlee is an online service that you can e-mail your writing to for review by a real editor or editors (depending on the length). Within 24 hours Gramlee will return your submission to you correctly edited and ready for you to use as needed. The cost is reasonable (starting at a little under a dollar for 150 words) and the first 100 words are FREE!

Additionally, Gramlee has a nice blog that contains posts about the sometimes vexing rules of grammar, such as the difference between "affect" and "effect" or just exactly how to show possessive nouns that end with the letter "s."

This will be an interesting site to watch and see how it develops.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Happy Birthday Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922 - October 21, 1969) would have been 86 years old today. Born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac was one of the most well-known members of The Beat Generation, along with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.

Although a novelist, writer, poet and artist, Kerouac is most famous for his seminal work "On The Road." Garrison Keillor describes its birth:

"He spent the next seven years hitchhiking around the United States and Mexico, and in 1949 he and his friend Neal Cassady drove a Cadillac limousine from California to Chicago, going over 100 miles an hour on two-lane roads until the speedometer broke. In 1951, he sat at his kitchen table, taped sheets of Chinese art paper together to make a long roll, and wrote the story of Cassady and their trips. It had no paragraphs and very little punctuation. Allen Ginsberg called it "a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself." It took him only three weeks to complete and became his novel On the Road (1957)."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Voice

Back in January, you may recall, I was in the Washington D.C. area for a week-long class relating to my work.

One of the things we had to do during the course of our instruction was to stand before the class behind a podium and give a short "speech" that dealt with the subject matter we were training for and studying.

Fortunately for me, though it is not my favorite thing to do, public speaking does not intimidate me.

When the late Bud Collyer was first hired to portray Superman on the radio back in 1940, he made a conscious decision to use a lighter, softer voice for Clark Kent and a deeper, stronger more baritone voice for the Man of Steel in order to differentiate the character in the minds of listeners.

My everyday conversational voice is, though not as high-pitched as Clark Kent's, much like his in that it is softer than my voice is when I am in a heated discussion, making a presentation or speaking in public. At those times my voice is deeper, more powerful and usually piercing enough in its strength to break through any inattention on the part of listeners and help me get my point across.

After my speech in class last January, my class members were critiquing my presentation and one young lady said, "You were like, THE voice" and several others echoed her words or nodded their heads in agreement. It was nice and then I promptly forgot about it, other than relating it to Cindy in a phone conversation.

The other day, I e-mailed another member of the class to see how he was doing and when he replied he told me he was with another member of the class who was in his office and he told him, "I just got an e-mail from Jeff" and the other person said, "Who?" and he replied, "You know, Jeff from class" and the other person said, "Oh, 'The Voice'."

So now, it appears I will have the nickname of "The Voice" among some of my co-workers.

Which is ok, I guess, but why couldn't I be known as "Face", like the guy from The A-Team?

Oh right, because I don't have the Face.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Saved By My Blackberry

Late Sunday afternoon I was trying to decide what I would eat for dinner. I didn't really want to go out to a sit down restaurant because that would entail at least showering and I was in a state of mind that just wanted to keep hanging out in the room reading, writing and relaxing after a strenuous week of work.

I really did not want to go to a fast food drive-thru either. I've been making a conscious effort to eat healthier (lots of fruits and vegetables this past week...too many I think, if you get my drift) as often as I can.

Across the street from the hotel is a Jason's Deli. If you've never been to one, they offer a healthy fare of food that's tasty and reasonably priced. I have dined there a few times since arriving in Baton Rouge, but as I said, was not in a frame of mind to sit in a restaurant (by the way, did you know "restaurant" is one of the 100 most misspelled words in the English language?).

Fortunately for me, Jason's offers customers the ability to place orders for pickup or delivery on their website. Since I was too cheap to spring for the $5 delivery charge when I could easily walk across the street myself, I placed an order for pickup and scheduled it for 6:45pm. In a few moments, I had a confirmation e-mail in my inbox. I love modern technology!

At the appointed time I strolled across to the restaurant and told the young lady behind the counter that I had an order for pickup and my name. I watched her look through orders that were waiting, then walk to the back to look at the orders that were in progress, then ask several people if they knew about my order. She walked back to me and asked when I called it in. I explained that I placed the order online and then pulled out my Blackberry, called up the e-mail confirmation and proudly showed her the screen with my confirmation number highlighted. She then went back to the in-progress area, located my order just as it was being completed, and brought it to me, piping hot.

Saved by my Blackberry.

I took an easy jaunt back to my room and enjoyed a delicious chicken wrap and fresh fruit bowl with unsweetened iced tea while watching "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut" on DVD.

Have I mentioned that I love modern technology?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Current Events Quiz

I am an admitted "news junkie" and have been for most of my life. I watch local, national and CNN news broadcasts, read USAToday (free from my hotel each weekday morning, thank you), pick up news magazines like Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report and The Economist (though usually only when I am flying, the rest of the time I read them online), and have RSS feeds and e-mail alerts delivered to my computer throughout the day.

This interest in what is happening in our country and the world, I tell myself these days, is because a writer, whether of fictional stories or non-fictional articles, must know of the world he or she lives in, in order to be precise, accurate and informed. The sadder truth is I have always suffered this "affliction", even in my youth (which probably says something revealing about me as a person, and I'm not quite sure it's all positive). What 7 year old boy enjoys sitting down in front of the TV at night and watching national news? <cough, cough as I slowly raise my hand> When I was that 7 year old child I revered Walter Cronkite, even though once in my ignorant youth I laughed at his supposed mispronunciation of "Australia" until my mother gently informed me that, yes, there was a country named "Austria." I adored him even more, then, for telling me something I did not know. And I learned not to make disparaging remarks until I was aware of the facts.

Plus, he reminded me of my maternal grandfather, whom I also adored and who also told me many things I did not know. In fact, it may well have been my grandfather who first shared with me Sir Francis Bacon's oft-quoted belief that "Knowledge is power" and thus sparked that endless thirst within me. Wherever it came from, it is still there, thankfully.

Which brings me to the point of today's post.

The Pew Research Center does polling on a number of subjects. One is to determine how well-informed people are. Every so often, they send their pollsters out into our population to administer a simple test of knowledge about current events and report on the results. Their most recent project yielded this sorry testimony to our national knowledge; only 50 percent of those polled correctly answered every question about current events. 50 percent!

I was fortunate enough to be included in that 50 percent, but admittedly I did hazard an educated guess on question number 4 because the subject has been so depressing to me that I had stopped taking notice of the numbers.

Ah, but how would you have done in this survey? That's the real question. Why don't you take the test and find out?

Let me know how you do!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Baton Rouge Photos Up On Flickr

Remember that little Photowalk I took a month ago in downtown Baton Rouge? Yeah, me either. But finally, the photos are uploaded to Flickr.

Here's a couple to start you off with.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hotel Safety Tips

Having been on the road for the last several months and making hotels my "home away from home", I have given more attention to hotel safety than was previously allotted to my meager mind. When you're in a new place you want to be ready should an unexpected event like a fire take place, in addition to watching out for your overall safety.

So I thought I'd point out a few safety tips I've picked up in my travels.

1. Try to choose a hotel with enclosed hallways and stairways. These are safer IF the hotel has exterior doors with key card access, thus, (theoretically) limiting usage to guests. Hotels with open or exterior hallways and stairways are just asking for any thug walking by to mug you. Better to be mugged by a fellow guest.

2. Try to choose a hotel where the room doors have several locks and a peephole. The best, of course, are the key card type locks as these codes are changed each time a guest checks in, but your door should also have a deadbolt and one of those little restricted access bars that prevent the door from opening more than 2-3 inches. A peephole is essential. This way you can see when the escort service...uh I mean pizza delivery, arrives.

3. When it comes to room location, if I have a choice I always choose a corner room on the top floor. This reduces the chances of being disturbed by neighbors banging their headboards against the wall at 3am (what IS it about hotel rooms that brings out the sex freak in people anyway?) since you'll only have at the most two rooms on connecting walls and, if you're lucky and the hotel is laid out like my current one, only one room on a connecting wall. Being on the top floor assures that you won't hear people walking (stomping) on your ceiling. If your hotel is especially safety-conscious you'll find that any window on rooms above the second floor will only open approximately 4-6 inches to keep children from falling from a open window...and people like me from throwing themselves out of it when they find they have to work 18 hours the next day.

4. Keep a flashlight beside your bed. I always travel with one of those little Maglite flashlights. They're small, but have a powerful beam of light. If there is a fire or a power outage, you'll appreciate having the flashlight to help navigate around unfamiliar surroundings. Plus it's nice to have the flashlight available in the middle of the night when you're sure some freaking murderer or rapist has been hiding in your closet for 3 days waiting for you to check in and fall asleep. Trust me.

5. In an emergency, use the stairs, NOT the elevator. Most interior stairways act as a firewall, at least temporarily, in the event of a fire. In any other emergency (power outage, flood, accidental release of Ricin by a guest) elevators are going to stop working. And anyway, it's much better to be trampled by a panicked crowd in a stairwell than be trapped in an elevator. Even if you are the strong, stoic type like me; if you have whiners or people who start losing it, you have to beat them into silence and that gets messy. Take the stairs.

6. Know the location of the fire alarms and fire extinguishers. Usually these will be in the hallway outside your room. This means that if you have a fire in your room from the stovetop causing the dishrag you left lying on the burner to burst into flame (not that I would know anything about THAT), you'll need to leave the room and get the fire extinguisher from the hallway. Here's another helpful hint: be sure to take your room key with you, otherwise you'll be locked out while your room is on fire (not that I would know anything about THAT). If this happens, now would be the time to put your knowledge of the fire alarm location to use to find it and pull it (not that I would know anything about THAT).

Experts recommend that you also know these locations by heart, (as well as how many steps there are in each floor's stairway) so that you can navigate to them in the dark or if the area is filled with smoke. For instance, in the hotel I'm currently in, to get to the fire extinguisher I exit my room, turn left, walk 6 steps, turn right, walk 4 steps and the extinguisher is on the wall to my left. If I need to go down the stairwell I exit my room, turn left, walk 30 steps, turn right and the stairwell door should be in front of me. For each floor there are 9 steps down, a landing where I turn left and walk 3 steps, then turn left and take another 9 steps and I'm on the third floor so I have to do that 3 times.

This is probably a bad time to bring up that I sucked at math all throughout school. I think I'm toast.

But in all seriousness and putting my pathetic attempts at humor aside, these are valid hotel safety tips. With any luck I'll never need to use them and neither will you. But if the unthinkable happens, it's best to be prepared. Stay safe, be safe.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

On Crack

Addictions, if practiced with temperance, can be fun, enjoyable and a learning experience. At least that's what I keep telling myself as my affection for my Blackberry continues to grow.

I can see why it has garnered the nickname "Crackberry." I would sooner forget my pants than to forget my sweet 8310. I've even tried leaving it in one room while I work in the other, but I can never leave it by itself (or is that leave me by myself?) for very long.

Someone the other day told me they had a Palm Treo and my unspoken thought was "Heh heh, that is SO yesterday."

I've added a 1GB data card and several helpful programs, and bookmarked the majority of web sites I frequent that are "mobile" formatted for ease of viewing on the 2x2 screen. I'm about to add an enhanced photo viewing program, receipt tracking program and the one I'm really curious about; the writing program.

Now, to be sure, there is a small utilitarian text program on my sweetiekins and I have used it for short note taking, but this program would allow me to do more; something I could use to write longer pieces with. The big bottleneck would still be the "thumb" keyboard on my baby, so I may have to also explore getting one of those folding or roll-up keyboards to plug into it so I don't get major thumb cramps.

I'm also hoping to get a program to integrate my Google Calendar into the appointment program of my love bunny. I think she gets jealous when I fire up the laptop to make calendar entries.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Obsolete Words And Phrases

I was toying with an idea for a "period piece" story the other day. Nothing so drastic as Prehistoric or Victorian times, just a short story that takes place in the late 1950's and early 1960's. And as I was putting things in place in my mind and thinking about how to word some passages, it occurred to me that quite a few of the things that were commonplace in those days, are entirely obsolete today.

Now, that's not a major brainstorm, I know, but it points out one of the things a writer must consider when writing about a time other than present-day. You have to ask yourself; what things were standard in the past that we have no recollection of today? And obviously the inverse is true if you're writing about the future; what things so common and useful today will be obsolete and/or unknown 50 years from now? 100 years from now?

When I was a teenager of driving age, I had an 8-track tape player in my car. Today, 35 years later, if you could find an 8-track tape you most likely could not find a player for it. Who has a rotary dial telephone (though isn't it odd that we still say we "dial" a number?) or a 45 record that they actually play, as opposed to those that are parts of a collection? Do you realize that anyone under the age of 25 would have no idea what you were talking about if you told them you had to adjust the horizontal or vertical on your TV screen? Or that you had to change the ribbon on your typewriter?

Fifty years from now, will computers and laptops as we know them be obsolete? Will we just wirelessly access a network through an implant in our hand to download data? Will cellphones no longer exist because the transceiver is implanted in our head?

It naturally follows; if the "thing" becomes obsolete, most likely the word or term will also. In the 40's 50's and 60's every TV had "rabbit ears"; movable (usually) telescoping antennas that you turned and twisted around or adjusted to get the best over the air signal you could to show on your TV screen. In this day of cable, if you told someone under 30 that you were "fiddling with the rabbit ears" it would garner you a strange look. Although the term "phone" is still attached to our mobile devices such as cellphone or Smartphone, 10 years from now the term will most likely be "mobile", which is coming more and more into usage every day, especially by our European neighbors.

Many words or phrases or terms become obsolete through simple attrition. No one, unless they're trying to be funny or recall the 70's, says "groovy" because it's a word that simply dropped out of usage. But if you were writing a story that took place in those drug-clouded days, you'd most likely have a character or two who would use the word and within the context of the time it would fit in.

Others become obsolete because they were improper to begin with and are replaced with words that were more appropriate. For instance. the common term used to be "Siamese twins" but, thankfully, today we use the more correct "conjoined twins" and with any luck in 20 years if anyone hears the term "Siamese twins" they'll think the speaker is referring to cats. Likewise, a person who could not speak was termed "dumb", but we came to realize their being mute had nothing to do with their intelligence.

These are things a writer must take into account when writing period pieces, to assure the story has the proper context and atmosphere of the time.

While you're thinking of some obsolete words or phrases from your own life, here's a fun site that discusses such things each day.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Some Days You're The Pigeon...

...other days you're the statue.

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