My site objective is for those who have never met me (including my future progeny) to get to know me. I mean, to really get to know me. What is my worldview? What are my beliefs regarding life, death, religion/philosophy, art, science, and the future of humanity? Fiction writers call these beliefs my “lens” through which I interpret life and make decisions. We all have a lens, formed by our propensities, experiences, education, and knowledge. Want to look through my lens. Come closer … take a look.



Cactus Cover

Catus Cage-sm

For seven years I’ve been taking care of a Christmas cactus. I take it with me back and forth from my winter home in Florida. The cactus was grown from a start taken from the plant my mother took care of when she was alive. Taking care of the plant reminds me of the good times I shared when her. It’s only a cactus but I want to keep it alive as long as I can.

This year I’m not taking the cactus back north with me. I now have a place to plant it in Florida. I’m hoping it will do well but since I planted it there have been problems. The primary one is that the rabbits like to chew off the new growth. In the photo you can see that the cactus is struggling (it was full and gorgeous with several blooms when we brought it down in November). What also appears in the photo is the new wire cover (cage) I built to keep the rabbits and other animals from chewing on it. Now that the cover is in place I am optimistic the plant will thrive.

As seen in the photo, the chicken wire cover I made is not a work of art. It is simple, functional, and inexpensive. I initially searched online for a suitable cage, but was disappointed to find a basic wire cage sells for $25 plus shipping. So I purchased $8 worth of chicken wire at the local hardware store and in an hour or so produced the resulting cage. I make this point because years ago I worked with chicken wire to make papier-mâché structures as a teenager. With this background I had no concerns as to whether or not I could make a simple cage with modest time and effort. One never knows when a little knowledge from one’s experiences will come in handy.

I also learned a new word in this process. The word cloche refers to a small cover for protecting a plant and also refers to a woman’s bell-shaped hat. I suppose I could say I made a wire cloche for the cactus. Only, if I said that who would know what I was talking about?







Dazzle with Brilliance

Some people are blessed with good oratory skills. They can speak eloquently in public as if they were talking on the phone. When I worked for a living I had to give presentations from time to time. Since I had no innate oratory skills or gift, I learned techniques to improve my public speaking. In essence, this meant preparing and practicing several hours or more to deliver a logical, well flowing speech. This was true even when I used charts to aid in my presentation. I also had to be prepared to field questions which meant I needed to really know my subject matter.

It is this last point that I want to talk more on. Of all the laws in our land, I know of no law that requires a speaker or orator to know what they are talking about. Even if such laws existed they would surely be hard to enforce. Good oratory is often a quality found in preachers and other religious, political, or community leaders who are espousing beliefs. Since beliefs and facts need not be the same thing, these speakers may be more compelling sounding like they know what they are talking about rather than actually knowing.

Years ago I heard the saying, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance then baffle them with bullshit.” Brilliance usually requires some form of insight, especially regarding something that others have missed. This is not always possible. As a fallback, sticking with the facts is a safe, solid strategy. On the other hand, the strategy of baffling with bullshit relies on sounding like one knows what s/he is talking about.

Unquestionably, I personally prefer that speakers know what they’re talking about when they speak. After listening to prevailing political and economic speeches and commentary, however, my observation is that I must be in the small minority.

The Two Happiest Days …



Everyone has heard the old joke “the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it.” Like so many snippets of conventional wisdom the humor obscures subtle truths. The day the boat is purchased is a day of promise: the promise of good times on the water and all manner of fun (fishing, tubing, boating, racing, etc.). The day the boat is sold marks one or more of the following: 1) the achievement of the promised good times, 2) a time to move on to another (bigger/faster/safer/different) boat, 3) the admission that the boat is damaged/ruined beyond the point of repair, or 4) the recognition that some boats can drain bank accounts and suck the dreams out of people.

Like so many pastimes in life, boats are memory generators. Whether the memories are mostly good or mostly bad says a lot about the owner’s frame of mind the day the boat is sold. Unlike cars, boats don’t necessarily make life any easier. If nothing else, cars offer a lot of convenience. Unless you live on an island and need a boat to get to the mainland, boats don’t offer much convenience. Like cars, boats require maintenance and upkeep. Derelict cars are much like derelict boats: their owners have decided they are more trouble than they are worth. Even so, the owner has the obligation to take the car or boat to salvage so it does not become someone else’s problem.

Larger boats have more in common with recreational vehicles, especially so-called “land yachts.” RV’s offer the promise of at least a taste of adventure. So do larger boats. For some reason, though, you don’t hear the same joke being made about owners who buy and sell RV’s. I think I may know the main reason for this. RV’s do offer added convenience over a car in that the owner can take his personal “home” along with him. On the other hand, most boat owners are doubly inconvenienced because they don’t live on the water, and may even have to store their boat at a storage site. Thus, they not only have the inconvenience of having to pick up the boat at the storage site, but they then have to haul it to the lake. Even for those boat owners who keep their boats in a slip at the water, if they have to drive to get to it that increases inconvenience.

For a long time I’ve held the view that I would not own a large boat if I could not keep it at a dock at my house. Otherwise it’s simply too inconvenient. Inconvenience leads to less usage which inevitably leads to the question, “Why am I keeping this thing?”





Left Them Better than Found Them

In college I took several philosophy classes. The required reading in one class included a book that evaluated a host of religions and philosophies. The author sought a universal philosophy that would benefit everyone. His conclusion was simple: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Of course, this is the golden rule and it is a philosophy that anyone can follow, regardless of education or intelligence. Years ago I came to realize that implementing the golden rule didn’t entail much more than simply showing people respect and consideration. I don’t have to like everyone I encounter, nor do I have to agree with them. However, if I show enough respect to give them their space, listen to what they say, and keep a level head, then everyone seems to get along without much pain. This approach is akin to another, more broadly defined philosophy: live and let live.

Having lived for over seven decades, I can say that I’ve encountered another golden rule: leave them better than you found them. I don’t think nearly as many people embrace this view as the more well-known one, but it is worth remembering, especially whenever there is give and take in a relationship (uh, like always!). As an example, I’ve never sold a home that wasn’t in much better condition than when I bought it. The reason for this isn’t simply because I’m something of a handyman, nor is it because I’m looking for a good price (although it sure helps). It’s because I want the new owners to get as much (if not more) joy out of the house as it brought to me. I want a win-win for everyone.

Another good example of this rule is when people divorce. Leaving an ex- better off than how you found them is the noble thing to do.

My bigger hope is that the leaders of countries would adopt this philosophy. I admit, though, that even if they do, it is really tough to make assessments of how well they did. For example, is the USA better off when a new president is inaugurated? How about a few years later? Or many years later when the president is out of office and historians try to assess any lasting effects of the presidency. It is so hard to accurately attribute which actions caused what effects and whether those effects were enduring or short-lived. This is one thing that makes the US so resilient as a country.

Economist have known for years that when presidents and congress give big tax cuts, like they did last month, somewhere down the line someone has to pay for it. The only other thing for sure about tax cuts is that the rich benefit the most from them. So, it seems safe to say that the present administration is indeed leaving them better than they found them. By them, of course, I’m referring to the rich.

Aqui Esta Drive

In the Florida town where I spend most winters there are more than a few unusual street names. One example is FORTRAN Drive. Those with an engineering background will recognize FORTRAN as the scientific programming language originally developed in the 1960’s. It is still in use but has long since been eclipsed by many other languages. Another street name example is BURNT STORE Road. One can imagine that long ago this road must have led to a store that burned down and the name stuck. Other atypical street names include OLIPHANT Lane and MARLYMPIA Way.

In my view, one of the most interesting street names in this town is AQUI ESTA Drive. Anyone with exposure to the Spanish language will recognize this Spanish phrase as, “here it is.” My guess is that the person naming the street either had a sense of humor, or simply wanted to acknowledge the notable Latin American influence in the area. In any case, the name is significant for several reasons. First, the street is a major thoroughfare in the town thus the name is spoken often. The second is that many people with little or no exposure to Spanish pronounce it as if it were an English phrase, which comes out sounding something like ack-kwee-es-ta. If you put the street name into something like Google Maps and select voice directions, what you hear is pretty close to this pronunciation.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken any languages classes. One general rule I do remember, though, is that proper names should be pronounced in their native language if possible. It is possible to put a Spanish pronunciation to my name (Jack) but it sure sounds a lot different than the English version because of the “J.” If someone called my name in Spanish I likely would not respond, or even know I was being called.

To me, the strangest thing of all is that folks insist on calling AQUI ESTA by the English version even though they clearly recognize that this word phrase doesn’t look the least bit English.

The Hook


If you say the word hook to a fiction writer they immediately think you’re referring to the situation or event early in the story that grabs the reader’s attention. The hook is intended to impact the reader in a way that makes them want to read further. It makes them want to, well … uh, buy your book!

The origins of the word hook harkens back to physical implements like the two hooks shown in the picture. These are actually the same two hooks except the one on the left is covered with a rubber hose and then the ends were epoxied shut. The reason for doing this is that the hook, while big enough and strong enough to meet my boating application, has a zinc coating. In a saltwater environment the zinc coating will totally rust over in a year or less. Thus, by putting the rubber hose over it and sealing it I’ve delayed the rusting by many years. Of course, had I been able to buy this hook in stainless steel I could have avoided having to add the covering.

Fortunately, the hooks we use in fiction writing don’t rust. However, like the hooks in the photo they do have to be strong enough to do the intended job. Some authors, if they have a sufficient fan base, can get away with a weak hook. I’m not one of those, nor are most of the writers I know. So I’m all for a nice, strong hook.





AI and Mankind?

There are two schools of thought on the future of Artificial Intelligence (AI). One school believes that AI is a great danger to mankind’s existence. These people believe that intelligent machines will rise up and subdue humans, even destroy us. These machines will be intelligent enough to make more machines of even greater intelligence and there will be no need to maintain a human population. The other school of thought believes that man will maintain control of intelligent machines no matter how smart they get. Machines don’t have wants like humans do so machines will never want to take over the world and control humans.

As contrasting as these two views are, I believe both of them are close to being right. I do believe that man will make AIs far more intelligent than humans are today. I don’t really see this as a danger, however, but more as our “manifest destiny.” That is, humans take too long to evolve (tens of thousands of years) whereas we can build new, more capable machines within a timeframe of months or a few years. We already use machines to handle processes too complex or intricate for humans to run. As technologies become increasing involved, only machine “minds” will have the memory, the speed, and the range of capabilities to keep things straight.

AIs show promise to solve many of our current engineering, mathematical, and scientific problems. Perhaps even more important, however, is their potential to solve the biggest problems facing mankind: our inability to stop lying to, cheating on, and killing one another.

I don’t think AIs will eventually raise up and smash humans and take over the world.  Instead, I think human populations around the globe will become so fed up with their inept, corrupt governments that they will cajole scientists into making future AIs available to run the world’s government(s). Just as bitcoin could be a universal cash-equivalent, AIs could become a universal government-equivalent.

If all this turns out to be true, what will happen to mankind? I think we will eventually die out. Not because the AIs smashed us, but because of just plain boredom.

Then we will have fulfilled our manifest destiny.



Tongue in Cheek Short Stories

There are certain forms of short story that present facts mixed with rather preposterous circumstances or situations. The net result is a rather humorous story, especially if the reader quickly catches on to its underlying farcical nature. Like most all short stories, the ending is intended to be a surprise. Further, the ending should amuse, typically by playing on an idiom or using a bastardized twist to a well-known phrase or bromide. I call these Tongue-In-Cheek, or TIC, short stories. I do so because their only reason for being is to insight laughter (maybe even guffaws for the exceptionally good one). These types of stories seem to be especially common in the science fiction genre. I’ve observed over the years that many SF fans have a dry sense of humor, so I suppose it all fits.

I recently read one of these stories which is what prompted this post. The story differs from my description above in one notable way: it was a novelette rather than a short story. Being of longer length I found myself disappointed in the ending. Not that the ending lacked humor. It would have been just fine had the story been half as long or less. In my opinion, a novelette is too long a piece for a TIC story. Why? Because when I put the kind of time needed into reading a novelette I’m looking for something more than just a punch line at the end.

The author is a professional and did a great job of using what I would describe as an “old English” style narrative that seemed to fit another time and place (supposedly far in the future). I would also say the story was as much fantasy as it was what I consider SF.

Many publications still pay based on word count. Maybe the author got more money for his efforts, but for sure he got no guffaws from me. Not even a heart-felt chuckle.


FICWA Regroup



In my most recent post (September 29, 2017) I introduced the concept of FICWA (Fiction Inline Commentary Writing Approach). My plan was to continue posting on this method as I demonstrate how it can be used. Unfortunately, the FICWA write-up requires several MSWord features, primarily line numbering, that WordPress does not support. In order to get my Sept. 29 post loaded into my blog I used a very cumbersome and time-consuming work-around. Consequently, I’ve decided that I will develop a separate booklet for the FICWA material rather than try to post it. Once I’m far enough along in writing the booklet I’ll have a downloadable version available.

Exploring fiction writing methods has been a major interest of mine since I took my first fiction writing seminar years ago. I’ve read many of the recommended books on the subject and I still feel there is much useful research to be done. Every writer tries different approaches as they develop their skills and discover what things work best for them. During one writing seminar I attended the speaker made a profound observation. Although he was primarily a science fiction author, he stated that, “All fiction books are mysteries.”  I immediately understood what he was getting at; we read stories to find out what happens. If we knew what happened our motivation for reading the story would diminish.

A very popular storytelling technique these days is to start by showing a glimpse of the ending scene of the story and then go back to the beginning. I say a glimpse because enough of the ending is shown to tantalize us and pique our interest, but no so much as to give away the ending. In other words, the mystery is still there to goad us into doing the reading.

My point is that mysteries naturally lead to questions like: who did it, or what happened, or who won, or when or where did an event take place, or just plain why? The core concept of FICWA revolves around the questions the story generates and the answers it gives. I’m thinking that’s key to it all.

Inline Commentary Fiction Writing

In this post I’m going to introduce a possible method for fiction story writing. I got the idea while attending a fiction writing seminar where the speaker offered this tip: “I like to write sentences that beget other sentences.” I’d never heard this expression before but it seemed worth a closer look. I understood what the speaker was getting at: write a sentence that refers to, or alludes to, things that require further elucidation. Then, in subsequent sentences the writer has some idea of what to write more about — those things needing elucidation. (Clearly this is more suited for those of us who are pantsers).

As an example, consider the following sentence:

line 1

Notice two things about this sentence. First, it has a line number on the left (more about this later). Second, this sentence raises a number of questions. Assuming it is the starting sentence of a story, then: 1) who is “I,” 2) who is Mark, 3) why would I think he wanted to kill me, and 4) what did he do that shocked me? Also, 5) we know nothing about the scene these two characters are in, nor 6) the timeframe of the scene. There are also the 7) inevitable situational aspects we don’t know about.

In subsequent paragraphs we start filling in this information, mindful that in so doing we can allude to still more things that require elucidation. For now, which of the above questions do we address first? Well, let’s just draft an arbitrary sample of a plausible next paragraph and see what we find.



This paragraph addresses questions Q3 and Q4 above, but that’s about it. Further, it adds to our list of questions: 8) who is ringing the doorbell, 9) what do “fraudulent baseline” and “fair-dare mean, 10a) why did Mark kill himself, and 10b) why did Mark jump instead of putting his gun to his head and pulling the trigger? Of these questions it seems to me we first need to address Q8 – who is ringing the doorbell. It is human nature to respond to an incessantly sounding notification, be it doorbell or phone. Anyway, the “I” in the story can’t do anything for the guy who went over the planter so he may as well answer the door.




Now we have a partial answer to Q1 and Q2. We know that “I” is Jeff Bailor and that Mark is Mark Wye, an accountant. However, before going further it is evident that we could use some help in tracking all these questions and answers. Below is a simple table that may do the job. This is where the line numbers come in handy. In MSWord these numbers can be readily added on any selected text. However, I don’t think it necessary to be too precise in referring to them. The idea is they help us refer back to the general area in the text where the question or answer was presented. For example, the line number could just as easily refer to the paragraph containing the question or answer. Also, note the line column to the left of the addresses column refers to the line (or paragraph) that gives an answer to the question. Note that the line numbers in this post apply only to story lines. Also note that many answers are not complete answers; that is, we can expect more complete information later on.  For this reason the column on the right is titled Addresses meaning the entry may not be the complete answer. Cells in the table that are left blank mean no entry has been identified for them yet. Thus we see, for instance, that I have not yet addressed Q6 – the timeframe of the scene.


1 1 – who is “I,” 40 Jeff Bailor
1 2 – who is Mark 40 Mark Wye, accountant
1 3 – why would I think he would want to kill me 2 Mark was brandishing a gun at him, threating to shoot
1 4 – what did he do that shocked me 8 Ran out to the balcony and jumped over the planter, plunging to his death
1 5 – we know nothing about the scene these two characters are in 47 In Mark Wye’s apartment on the 7th floor
1 6 – the timeframe of the scene
1 7 – inevitable situational aspects we don’t know about.
1 7a – what is the relationship between the two men 35 Mark was Jeff’s accountant
1 7b – what brought them to be together at this time and place
5 8 – what did Mark mean by “fraudulent baseline” and “fair-dare”
19 9 – what caused the two cops to come to the door, especially with guns drawn


This is a lot to take in in one post, so I’ll end it here and continue the discussion in a subsequent post. I’m not sure if this method has been identified by others; I can only say that I came up with it on my own from the inspirational tip mentioned in the beginning. For lack of a better term I’d call this method the Fiction Inline Commentary Writing Approach, or FICWA. If I had to define it in a few sentences I would describe it as: a writing tool consisting of original numbered-line fiction text interspersed with inline commentary. The later focuses on the identification and accounting of explicit, implicit, or anticipated questions and answers raised in the fiction text. A simple table method is used to facilitate Q/A tracking. The table need not be embedded inline and in fact is more easily used if in a separate window (assuming a computer is used).