Sunday, December 9, 2012

Decking the Halls

With the Christmas season upon us, I thought it would be a good idea to post something suitable for the holiday. In addition, since you have honored me by putting me over the 100 follower threshold that I promised would result in a book giveaway, one of you will receive an autographed copy of the book of your choice. I'll ask three questions at the end of this post and whoever is the first to answer all three correctly will win. The only caveat is you must be a registered follower, either through Google or Networked Blogs. So make sure you sign up if you haven't yet.

Christmas carols help to bring out the joy of the season. Religious and secular songs celebrating the birth of Christ or Rudolph's pre-GPS abilities can be heard on television and the radio as soon as the last scraps of Thanksgiving dinner are ground up in the garbage disposal. I haven't seen it in years, but when I was younger, groups of people would go door to door to give a mini concert to their neighbors. Hearing various people of different ages sing these songs over the years has shown me that, as I've pointed out in previous posts, they sometimes have no idea what they're actually singing.

Some of the songs end up being populated by people whom I have never associated with Christmas. Olive, Barney, and Jeff come to mind. I'm sure there are others, but this trio has always stuck with me. "Who are they?" you ask. Let me enlighten you.

We all know the song about the aforementioned Rudolph, and how he was treated before he came to the rescue. Well, of course, "Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names."

The beautiful carol, "The First Noel", provided some revisionist biblical history when I heard someone sing, "Barney's the King of Israel".

And I couldn't help but feel sorry for poor Jeff, and cringe when I heard about his plight in "The Christmas Song" - "Jeff's nuts roasting on an open fire". Ouch!

In "Jingle Bells", many years ago, a very young singer thought the lyrics were "Oh what fun it is to ride with one horse, soap, and sleigh". I can only assume the soap was used to bathe the horse.

And lastly, one intrepid singer was heard to belt out, "Get dressed ye merry gentlemen". Which is a good idea since gentlemen should not be running around naked on Christmas day. Especially merry ones.

Time for the contest. The registered follower who is the first to answer all three questions correctly will receive an autographed copy of his or her choice of the award-winning books Protecting the Cittern or The Ibex Trophy. If the winner has an infinite amount of patience Raw Umber should be available before the millennium is out. The answers to all three questions can be found in one of the blog posts. Search and ye shall find.

1) How many grandchildren do I have?

2) How many cups of tea did I (allegedly) drink?

3) What college did my daughter go to?

Very easy. Good luck!

I want to wish you all a very happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous 2013. Thanks for following my blog, and I'm looking forward to being in touch with all of you next year.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Remembering the Jersey Shore

I grew up in New Jersey. I lived there until 2007 when I moved to Florida and reinvented myself as a writer. This past week has brought out emotions in me about my home state that I didn't even realize were there. Hurricane Sandy, which had only a slight impact on Florida with tropical storm conditions from its outer bands, slammed into New Jersey with unprecedented force, causing monumental damage to its famed beaches. Lives were lost. People were left homeless, their houses turned into a pile of rubble. The damage extended far beyond New Jersey's shoreline. Flooding and heavy winds impacted many states in Sandy's path. New York was also hit hard, particularly Manhattan, Breezy Point, and Staten Island.

Seeing the photographs of Sandy's aftermath, and watching the benefit concert on Friday night, November 2, with storm footage shown between performances, I couldn't help but think about the time I spent "down the shore", and realize many of the things I most enjoyed about it were washed away. When I was a child, every Wednesday during the summer meant a day trip to Asbury Park. My father was a barber, and since his shop was open on Saturdays, he closed it on Wednesdays. We lived in Paterson in northern New Jersey, and Asbury Park was about a ninety-minute ride down the Garden State Parkway. It seemed like forever. You've probably heard of Asbury Park, even if you're not familiar with New Jersey. It's where Bruce Springsteen got his start, playing in the local clubs, particularly The Stone Pony.

I loved going on the rides that were on the boardwalk. It was a major achievement when I graduated from the kiddie rides to the "big kid" rides. Asbury Park's Convention Hall is also on the boardwalk. I remember walking into it with my sister, probably in 1965 - I would have been 13 and Silvana almost 15. We wandered into a free concert by The Temptations. At least I think it was free, nobody stopped us. Music was always a part of any trip down the shore. I would bring my transistor radio, prop it up against one of my sneakers that was holding down a corner of my beach blanket, and listen to WABC, the best radio station at the time. The first time I heard Light My Fire and A Whiter Shade of Pale was lying on that blanket, through that crappy speaker. Over the years the family trips expanded to include Sandy Hook and Beach Haven, the latter on beautiful Long Beach Island (LBI to the locals), with the Barnegat Lighthouse at its northern tip. I spent a lot of time in the ocean, swimming and body surfing back to shore on the waves.

When my friends and I finally got our driver's licenses we were able to go on our own. Seaside Heights was the place to go for us in the early '70s. Sometimes a few guys would go for a weekend, get a room at some fleabag motel and cram six of us in it. When we were able to untie our tongues and speak to a female, we'd actually have a date for the day. I have some fond memories of the few girls I dated during those years. We'd walk along the boardwalk, Grand Funk Railroad blaring from the arcades, and I would inevitably fail to win them prizes at those rigged games. But one of those girls became my wife, so fortunately my arcade skills weren't a factor.

My wife, Evelyn, and I have one daughter, Jennifer. The shore cycle began again, as we took her on the kiddie rides at Seaside Heights and watched her graduate to the big kid rides. Surprisingly, she also grew up and preferred going down the shore with her friends, rather than with me and my wife. She also ended up going to college in the area, Richard Stockton College to be exact, in Pomona near Atlantic City. Atlantic City's boardwalk was destroyed although the casinos got through the storm relatively unscathed. I'm not a gambler and only went to an Atlantic City casino once, when we were there for my daughter's graduation. One thing I learned - experienced gamblers do not like to play blackjack with an amateur.

As empty-nesters, Evelyn and I changed our beach-going routine and in the last ten or so years of living in New Jersey preferred Cape May, on the southern tip of the state. It was quieter, had cleaner beaches, a nice pedestrian mall with shops and restaurants, and I always managed to get a big bag of almonds at the Nut House.

A lot of great memories, many more than I want to bore you with, but you get the idea of how much the area meant to me, and to so many other people. It will take time - a lot of time - but I'm sure New Jersey will rebuild the areas into even better destinations. If your impression of the Jersey Shore is Snooki and her brain-dead friends, please don't believe it. The people there are wonderful. They are going through a difficult time, but they're resilient and will overcome this tragedy. You can't keep New Jerseyans down!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Naming Names

I was flipping through the channels a few days ago when I came across a station that shows real crime stories. They were showing a program about a drug dealer in California who kidnapped and murdered a former friend and "business associate" because of a $1,200 debt. The murderer's name was Jesse James Hollywood.

Now, some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths, and others with two strikes against them (sorry for the cliches to my writing friends). But why the heck would any parent with half a functioning brain start their kid off in life by hanging a name like that on him? He was born in 1980, so the parents obviously knew the original Jesse James's reputation. What kind of future did they hope their son was going to have? Accountant? CEO of Apple? His fate and career path were pretty much sealed when his name was put on his birth certificate. I can only imagine the look on the clerk's face at the Vital Statistics office when he was filling out the forms. They may as well have named him Adolf Hitler Hollywood!

Oh, wait. Some morons in New Jersey did exactly that. The self-proclaimed Nazis made headlines in January 2009 when a store refused to decorate a birthday cake for their then three-year-old son, Adolf Hitler Campbell. During the court battle stories of abuse emerged and young Adolf, along with his siblings JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, were taken into state custody.

It's bad enough when people on the fringes of society display a total lack of sense when naming their kids, but they're not alone. The unfortunately named Ima Hogg was the daughter of James Hogg, who was an Attorney General and a Governor of Texas in the 1880s and 1890s. The family became wealthy as a result of oil found on their property and Ima was a philanthropist the rest of her life. Unsurprisingly, to me at least, Ima never married. I can only imagine the introductions at society balls in Austin.

A gentleman approaches.
"Hello, miss. I'm Reginald Throckmorton III." He bows slightly.
"Hello, sir." She extends her hand. "Ima Hogg."
End of conversation.

I wonder how many times that happened. It could have been worse. Just think if blues musician John Lee Hooker decided to give his daughter the same name!

Don't forget the book giveaway when I reach 100 followers. It's very close, so if you're not already following this blog through Google or Networked Blogs, now is the time. You will need to be a follower to participate and win. I'll ask three simple questions whose answers can be found in the blog entries. The first follower to give the correct answers will receive their choice of autographed book.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Staying Away From Jimmy

As you may recall from two of my previous posts about language and word use, Writing Wrongs and Caring Less, I get annoyed very easily when I hear or see the English language being abused. I'm not talking about slipping into some regionalisms on occasion, or using slang when it makes sense. I'm talking about when people have absolutely no idea of how the language works. Ironically, many of the people I hear abusing English the worst are often the ones screaming loudest about making America an English-only country. They should take some remedial lessons before they open their mouths on the subject.

My focus today will be on pronouns. You know, those words that substitute for nouns, like I, me, she, they, and so on. Some of these words are subjective pronouns; they are doing the action in a sentence, like "I wish this stuff didn't annoy me so much" or "She should learn to speak properly before she says another annoying thing." Then there are the objective pronouns, that have the action done to them, like "Give the remedial English lesson book to her" or "I'm going to smack him in the head if he uses the wrong pronoun again". These are sentences I have said more than once.

I think the most common error is using I when me is called for. It seems like people were scared away from ever using the word me when they were kids and being constantly corrected for saying things like "Me and Jimmy are going to the liquor store" or "Me and Jimmy will be in the garage smoking a joint". First of all, stop worrying about the pronouns and get your kid away from Jimmy!

Now that Jimmy's in a Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, you can tell your child that me is the wrong word and that I is the correct subjective pronoun to use.  But since this is probably the most common incorrect use of me, and it gets drummed in constantly to use I instead, me has become a four-letter word. I can count, you know what I mean. So the result is people use I as both a subjective and an objective pronoun, because they are either afraid to say me, or because they sometimes feel using I sounds more sophisticated.

The mistake usually occurs when there are more than one objects in a sentence, so you'll hear something like "Give the money to Jimmy and I" (apparently said after a drug deal - Jimmy was released too early) instead of  "... Jimmy and me". The best way to get it right is to assume Jimmy isn't there (which he wouldn't be if the court system were any better). You wouldn't say "Give the money to I" so why would you use I just because Jimmy is involved? You know every time Jimmy's around something's going to go wrong!

Also, people use a phrase like "Jimmy and I" as if they were inseparable words and place them anywhere, as the subject, as the object, or in the absolutely worst usage I have ever heard, as a possessive. I have heard numerous people say something like "That is Jimmy and I's haul from the bank job". Again, how would you say it individually? "Jimmy's haul" and "my haul" so combined it would be "That is Jimmy's and my haul". Easy, right?

And for crying out loud, could someone please do something about Jimmy?

To be continued....

Don't forget, follow this blog through either Google or Networked Blogs and be eligible for a free autographed book when I reach 100 followers. Details are here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Turning Sixty

Before I tackle the monumental subject of aging—my aging in particular—I have a few announcements. First, you may have noticed that I surpassed the fifty followers I needed to award the prize of an autographed copy of one of my books. The winner is Christa Polkinhorn, who has chosen the award-winning Protecting the Cittern. Congratulations, Christa, your book is on its way.

I've been informed that some followers weren't showing up on my view of the blog, because they set themselves up as a "private" rather than a "public" follower. If you did that, check your settings and make the change, because you'll want to be included in my next giveaway. That's right, I'm doing it again. This time my goal is 100 followers, and when I reach that lofty number, I will ask three questions whose answers can be found in my blog posts. Don't worry, they'll be easy. The first person to answer all three questions correctly will receive his or her choice of book. All you have to do to add yourself as a follower is click on "Join This Site" by Google Friend Connect, or click on "Follow This Blog" by Networked Blogs. Both sections are on the right. Then follow the instructions.

Now, on to some serious business. Recently, July 24 to be exact, I reached a personal milestone—my 60th birthday. I don't know how that happened. I should have been paying more attention, but I turned my back for what seemed like only a few minutes and BOOM, there it was. Last I remembered I was graduating from college, got a job, got married, my daughter was born, then she got married and had two kids, and here I am. As quickly as it took to read that sentence, my life flashed before my eyes, thumbed its nose and said, "Hope you enjoyed it!"

I never gave much thought to aging as I reached each new round number. Thirty, forty, and fifty came and went without me batting an eye. For some reason this one is making me reflect a bit more than usual. I've been kidding my friends and family that I finally reached middle age, but obviously I know better. The odds of me reaching 120 are pretty remote, although I'll do my best to get there. But I'm fairly sure the truth is I'm closer to the end of the book than the beginning. I just hope the book is War and Peace and not The Old Man and The Sea!

I also have started wondering if I'm acting my age. This was never a concern of mine before, either. For example, I still listen to rock music, mostly the artists who were popular when I was younger. Some who are no longer recording, The Beatles are a good example, and some who continue to put out new music, like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Over the years I've added jazz and classical music to my listening rotation, but the music I loved as I was growing up will always be my favorite. Some artists have adjusted to their aging fans, some might say they sold out, but I wouldn't be so harsh. Rod Stewart has been doing fine with his last few albums of standards, but I'd rather hear him sing "Bad 'n' Ruin" with The Faces, or anything he did as a vocalist for Jeff Beck. I also still play a little air guitar during the introduction of "Layla" when no one is looking. Pretend you didn't read that!

Some countries have customs to honor people when they turn sixty, mostly Eastern cultures who revere their elders. Traditional Chinese calendars were organized in 60-year cycles, so on a person's sixtieth birthday the calendar turns over and they customarily celebrate their second birth. They receive symbolic presents, like long noodles to symbolize a long life. I received a card with "Over the Hill" in large type, and a box of adult diapers.

In Korea, guests at a 60th birthday party sit at a banquet table in order of age. Starting with the youngest, the children bow to their elders and pour them wine. Guests take part in activities to remind them of their youth, playing games and dressing up in silly clothing*. At my party we all played kick-the-can wearing tie-dyed t-shirts and bell-bottomed jeans.

Fortunately, there are two activities I participate in that I can continue for years to come. First, I play golf. Admittedly, I play golf badly, but I can play golf badly until I drop. And, of course, I write. That's my main source of activity and social contact. I'm inspired by writer friends I've come to know who are in their eighties and nineties and continue to write well and market their books, and participate in workshops to help novices. They helped me when I got started and I hope I am following their example. I think I can honestly say that because of them I now write much better than I play golf.

So for now, I just hope to be able to continue what I'm doing and derive as much pleasure as I can from it for as long as possible. And who knows? In another sixty years, if you sneak up on me, you may catch me playing air guitar while listening to Jimi Hendrix.

* Cultural information courtesy of

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hiring Snigdha Nandipati

To follow up from my previous post, we're halfway to someone being the lucky winner of an autographed book from me. There are now 25 people who have proudly declared themselves followers of this blog. When there are 50, a winner will be randomly selected. Simply add yourself as a follower using either Google Friend Connect (click on "Join This Site"), or Networked Blogs (click on "Follow This Blog"). Both sections are on the right.

Keep in mind there's a good possibility that when I'm gone an autographed copy of one of my books could get as much as $20 on e-Bay, and that's a conservative guess - it might reach $22 in a bidding frenzy. And this morning I woke up with the sniffles - you never know where that might lead. So become a follower before it's too late.

Every year Scripps sponsors a spelling bee which attracts contestants from the 50 states, D.C., all the U.S. territories, and Department of Defense schools around the world. This year's competition had 278 entrants. It was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, MD. The three-day event concluded on May 31, with 14-year-old Snigdha Nandipati of San Diego, California becoming the champion, spelling guetapens to outlast the other 277 competitors.

Guetapens??  This is a word? A word that a 14-year-old can spell? It looks to me like someone tossed a handful of Scrabble tiles in the air and this is what came up. If I had those letters in my Scrabble tray, I'd curse my bad luck at having no good letters, while it might be worth over 100 points if I could get a triple-word score. Apparently it's a French-derived word that means, trap, snare, or ambush. I know the few times I've needed to use one of the words, trap, snare, or ambush I've opted to use them, never realizing I had another option.

Young Ms. Nandipati's skills can be put to good use. There are countless examples of spelling errors in books, magazines, advertisements, and other places with high visibility that get past who knows how many proofreaders. Let's stick with our educational system for the purposes of this blog. In Maryland's Prince George's County - where the spelling bee was held - more than 8,000 graduates from 23 high schools received diplomas that read the grads had completed "an approved PROGAM of study". (Caps are mine for emphasis.) I'm sure Snigdha would have caught this error.

In 2011, the cover of Georgetown's commencement book, which was given to over 2,000 students, read "Commencement - 2011 - Georgetown UNIVERISTY" (Again, caps are mine.) Snighda, where were you when Georgetown needed you?

However, the most egregious example of an institution of higher learning needing some serious proofreading help from Ms. Nandipati comes from The University of Texas at Austin, whose graduates of one of the colleges were informed they had just received degrees from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of PUBIC Affairs.  See it here. What in heck are they studying there? And am I too old to matriculate? Get your mind out of the gutter, matriculate isn't what you think it is!

Anyway, there are so many more mistakes like this. Snighda, your future awaits.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Writing Wrongs

First, some blog business. To make this blog a bit more interactive I added the ability for you to subscribe to future posts and / or comments and to follow by email. Just enter your information in the areas to the right.

Also, I'm announcing a book giveaway. That's right, a free, autographed book from me to a lucky winner. There's one condition, though. You may notice that as of now there are only fourteen people who have proudly admitted they are following this blog. I know from the reports I get that there are millions, well, hundreds of people who read each post. There's nothing to be ashamed of! Become a follower. When I reach 50 followers I will have a drawing and someone will win his or her choice of a signed copy of either the award-winning Protecting the Cittern or The Ibex Trophy. If that person already has both books, and come to think of it, you all should have both books by now, then I will give my work in progress, Raw Umber, as soon as it is published. Unless hell freezes over by then.

Don't worry about security or privacy if you provide your email address or follow the blog. The information isn't used for anything but inflating my ego.

Now, back to the actual blog.

I went on a bit of a rant last time regarding improper use of certain phrases. Well, hide your children, because I'm not done yet. Here are a few, and believe me there are many more, spelling and / or usage errors that occur way too frequently by people who allegedly speak English as a main language, who don't think about what they're actually writing, and possibly don't own dictionaries or have Internet access.

First, I definitely know that definitely is not spelled definately. Who put that "a" in the middle? Don't people have spell check?

There is no such word as irregardless. Please, don't say it or write it. It's regardless. The "ir" implies the negative. For example something irrelevant is not relevant. Something irregular is not regular. Something irrational is not rational. Something ironic is not ... onic? Never mind, you get the point. And the "less" implies that something is missing. Hence, without regard to something. You don't need both.

During a thunderstorm, and we get some doozies here in Florida, I have no fear of ever being struck by lightening. Lightning, on the other hand, can do a lot of damage. Don't put that "e" in the middle. Unless you're talking about losing weight, thus lightening the load you carry around all day, or telling a joke during a tense situation, thus lightening the mood, leave out the "e". Maybe lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but lightening shows up way too often.

Sometimes what you hear sounds like what you write, but if you speak the language there's no excuse for these next two mistakes. Many people write things like "I was suppose to go to school today", or "I use to know that", omitting the "d" indicating past tense in supposed and used. Spoken, the "d" slurs with the "t" in "to" so it isn't heard, but the phrases appear correctly in enough places that you'd think people would figure it out.

In the same way, the contraction in phrases like "I should have done that" is "I should've done that", which sounds like "I should of done that". So they write what they hear, not what makes sense in the English language.

Don't even get me started on there, their, and they're!

Obviously I'm turning into a cranky curmudgeon. Time to go. I'm working outside and just saw a flash of lightening. Irregardless of the odds of me being hit, I definately should get inside. I should of gone they're earlier when I heard the thunder, but I was suppose to finish writing this blog.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Caring Less

My wife and I were having dinner in a restaurant a few weeks ago when I happened to overhear two couples at a nearby table speaking. One person said, in response to another's comment, "Well, I really could care less. Or is it I couldn't care less? I'm never sure." To which the first speaker replied, "Oh, it doesn't matter, they both mean the same thing."

Oh, really? One phrase says "could not" and the other says "could". The word "not" makes the two phrases completely opposite each other. In what world do they mean the same thing? I wanted to go over to that table and smack them all on the head, even the two people who weren't involved in that exchange just to make a point, but I remembered what happened the last time I smacked someone on the head in a restaurant. It wasn't pretty. So I refrained.

The problem is that many of us say things without actually analyzing what the words mean. If you say "I could care less", that means you care to some extent - maybe a little, maybe a lot, but you care -  so it's possible to tone down just how much you care and care less. What you want to say in a case like this, and the proper phrase is, "I couldn't care less", meaning you don't care at all for the subject at hand and it is impossible to care any less about it.

Of course, this made me think about other phrases that I've heard over the years from people who just say things without understanding what's coming out of their pie-holes. Take this as an example, "for all intensive purposes". What the heck does that mean? What they want to say is "for all intents and purposes", but again they don't bother to think about what they are actually saying.

"It's a doggy dog world", is another one I've heard more than once. It certainly sounds a lot friendlier than the correct phrase, "It's a dog-eat-dog world", which of course means people fighting each other to pursue their own goals and makes a lot more sense. It's kind of a shame that it's the correct phrase, though. It'd be nicer if we always patted each other on the back all the time, congratulating or consoling each other when it was appropriate.

Some people would say complaining about something I can't do anything about is a "mute point", but I'd have to smack them too, because it's a "moot point". Unless, of course, the point is unable to speak.

Another thing that annoys me every time I hear it, although it's not in the same category as these phrases, is when someone says the word "height" as if it ended with a "th". It ends with a hard "t" for crying out loud. Just because other words describing dimension, "length" and "width", are pronounced with the ending "th", "height" isn't.

Enough complaining for now. It doesn't impact me in any way if people speak without thinking. Come to think of it, I couldn't care less. Or could I?

I'd be interested to know of any phrase that you hear misspoken often. Add a comment below if you can think of any.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Going Digital

Encyclopedia Britannica recently announced they were ceasing publication of their long-revered, multi-volumed, term paper plagiarizing aide. I know, because we had a set in my house when I was growing up, and, just by changing a few words, the guilt of copying disappeared. My wife and I bought a set when our daughter was starting to write school reports, and we even got the annual updates, which provided crucial revisions to existing articles, and new entries for important events from that year. It was sad to read about New Kids on the Block breaking up.

The Britannica will be available exclusively online, through their website, at a cost to subscribers of $70 per year. Apparently, management at this institution of education and knowledge hasn't heard of Wikipedia, the online, and free, encyclopedia. Some people scoff at Wikipedia because of its open source nature, allowing anybody to update articles, putting its credibility in question. However they do a very good job of policing any inaccuracies. A while ago, in order to test their vigilance, I added my name to the list of British Prime Ministers. Right there between Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell where I was confident it wouldn't be noticed. But sure enough, it was almost immediately deleted, and my account was frozen. I use my wife's computer to do research for my books now.

This got me to thinking about the digitalization of everything, specifically music and books. Over the years I have amassed fairly large collections of records and books - music and reading being two of my passions. When I was young I bought many 45s (for you younger readers, under 40, these are the small records with one song on each side. It had a big hole in the middle and spun on the turntable at 45 revolutions per minute). You would buy the record for the hit, and on the other side was some piece-of-crap music that you never listened to. Then, because of The Beatles, I started buying albums. The Beatles raised the bar and the throwaway songs rapidly became non-existent, at least with bands that were serious about their music.

The LPs, or long-playing records, were the main way people bought music for a long time. A few alternatives came along over the years. Cassette tapes made a little dent in LP sales. Then somebody had a musical brain fart and gave us the 8-track tape. I sincerely hope the person who developed this monstrosity of a music delivery system has been exiled somewhere and is forced to listen to a continuous loop of Pat Boone music, along with his evil spawn Debby Boone. The tapes never changed tracks properly and you would hear one track in one speaker and another track, playing backwards, in the other. Then they would cut a longer song somewhere in the middle to continue it on the next track, due to space limitations.

In the late '80s, the LP had met its match with the introduction of the CD. The music sounded great and in the early days, when an album was released in both formats, the CD offered bonus tracks that the LP didn't have. The beginning of the end of the LP had come. The only drawback of the CD, for me, was the information that came with it: lyrics, liner notes, and other inserts that were found in the album sleeves were now miniaturized to fit in the CD case. It had most of the same information, but I had to do a lot of squinting to read it.

Today, the CD is about to die. Music is all digitized and we are back to buying individual songs (singles) the way we did with the 45s. But there's nothing to hold. We can download them on our computers, iPods, iPhones, iPads, iEverythings, and have thousands of songs in the palm of our hands. I had an iPod Nano that I got about seven years ago which was recently recalled by Apple because of some potential problems with the battery. I sent it to them to get a free replacement. When I received my package in the mail from them I had to call Apple to say they had sent me a battery by mistake and not the iPod. I was corrected by the Apple rep who told me the new model was much smaller. Not only was it smaller, but it had twice the capacity of the old one. The thing is so small it's a potential choking hazard for children. But now, with everything digitized and downloaded, there are no accompanying lyric sheets or liner notes. I miss them.

Closer to home, the same thing is happening to books. E-books are rapidly replacing paperbacks and hard cover books. My wife and I both have Kindles and quickly got used to them. We can carry our entire library wherever we go. A while ago, Amazon announced they were selling more e-books for their Kindle than paperbacks and hard covers combined. As an author, I know my books, (Protecting the Cittern and The Ibex Trophy, in case you forgot), have to be available in all formats, and the reality is that I do sell more e-books than regular books on line. At book signings I always used to stress that a benefit of getting the book directly from me was that it would be signed by the author. As of last week that argument has been taken away from me because I now can sign a book on Kindle. Digitally. You can look it up in Encyclopedia Britannica or Wikipedia.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Getting High in Peru

My wife, Evelyn, and I recently returned from a wonderful trip to South America, which included five days touring Peru, followed by a cruise taking us from Chile to Brazil. We sailed around Cape Horn and made several exciting stops along the way.

I want to concentrate on our time in Peru for this post. Visiting Machu Picchu has long been a dream of mine. It was on my bucket list long before that expression became a cliche. Although I was aware that it was perched high in the Andes, I learned more precisely it was at an altitude of nearly 7,900 feet. Nearby Cusco, which we also visited, is even higher at 11,150 feet.

At those altitudes, because of the decrease in oxygen, some people experience symptoms that at times can resemble the flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover. I've never had carbon monoxide poisoning, but I have had the flu, and I may have had a hangover once. Maybe twice. I forget. The point is I'd rather not experience any of them.

Peruvians combat this by chewing on coca leaves. That's coca, as in cocaine. I never got a good answer as to what coca does to alleviate the symptoms, but they chew on this stuff all the time. Now, mind you, it's not the kind that Tony Montana dove into in Scarface, but I would think if you chew it all day there's got to be some effect. Our tour guides, however, did not give us coca leaves to chew on. We were offered coca tea. I'm not normally a tea drinker, but I didn't want those symptoms, and besides, there was a bit of a living-on-the-edge rush knowing that I was ingesting something that could be turned into crack. So I had a cup. Then another. After seventeen cups I still didn't feel high. I didn't feel anything, although I really had to pee.

With a full bladder and a clear head I walked around various Incan ruins in the area and, most importantly, Machu Picchu. Besides the aforementioned altitude, the ruins themselves are constructed around multi-tiered terraces, intricately-carved boulders stacked on top of each other, and stairs. Lots of stairs. They reach high above the buildings. Did I mention I'm afraid of heights? It's called acrophobia. If I climb more than two rungs up a ladder I start shaking, which makes the ladder shake making it more dangerous causing me to shake even more. It's really pathetic. I have to climb down and have my wife change the ceiling light bulb.

The stairs around Machu Picchu are narrow rocks, and apparently the Incans didn't believe in handrails. Part of my height problem has to do with not having anything stable to hold onto, while climbing up to potentially treacherous heights, which would keep me from plummeting into the abyss and turning into a mangled, pulpy mess at the bottom. Sometimes I over think these things. But I was there, and I would most likely never come back. I wanted to climb to the top to see what is now the iconic, classic view of Machu Picchu. So I climbed. And I climbed. Holding onto any crevice in the rocks I could find. Leaning my weight forward so I wouldn't tumble backwards. You can overcome anything, even if only temporarily, if you have a strong enough motivation. I made it to the top, and here's the proof.

I know what you're thinking. "Nice hat." I don't care. The point is I made it. That's me, high in the Andes, high above Machu Picchu in spite of my fears, but not high on coca. We smuggled some of the tea leaves home. Maybe twenty cups will do the trick.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Plunging Into the Blogosphere

I've been avoiding writing a blog for a long time now. I'm a novelist, or so I keep telling myself. If I'm going to spend any time writing, I should be working on my book, Raw Umber, which will be my third if I ever get it finished. Writing a blog on a regular, or more likely semi-regular, mostly erratic basis, will only take time away from what I think I should be doing.

Many of my author friends have blogs. I've read them and they're all quite good. They tell me it's a great way to maintain name recognition and keep your fans engaged while they're waiting for the next magnum opus to spring forth from the inner depths of your soul. Fans? After my wife, mother, and I hope my daughter, I wasn't sure I had a fan base that was craving to read my musings on random subjects. Plus, my mother doesn't have a computer. I can just tell my wife and daughter what's on my mind and save us all a lot of time.

Then the obvious question, at least to me, is what am I going to write about that people will want to read? I decided I'd mostly limit it to things that I spend most of my time doing: writing, traveling, eating, and family, not necessarily in that order. But if something outside of those topics happens to get my attention and fill me with the need to spill my guts about it, you can count on seeing it here.

So, I set this blog up and the first thing I had to do was give it a name. John's Blog seemed a bit boring, and I thought it would give the impression that the content wouldn't be much better. The Amazing Ruminations of A Future Pulitzer Prize Winner was in the running for a while, but I felt it would put way too much pressure on me to write something important that might require a lot of research, and to make sure all the words were spelled correctly.

Then I came up with Thoughts From the Camel. I'm sure you're asking, "What does that mean?" If you're not, I'm going to tell you anyway. Camel was my nickname in high school and college. Many of my friends from those years still call me that. It's not because, as some people think, I had only had one hump during those years (although I did have a long dry spell). Obviously, it's short for my name, Cammalleri.

That's it for now. If you like this blog, please do the usual things: become a follower of it, tell your friends, send money, or better yet, buy my books, the award-winning Protecting the Cittern and The Ibex Trophy. I'll probably mention them occasionally, too.