Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Farewell, My Friend, Farewell

Monday, November 28, 2011

Never Try to Fool A Computer

A little humor to brighten everyone's day.

A man, a very tightfisted, miserly man, was suffering chronic headaches, but he didn't want to go to a big hospital because it was so expensive.  A friend told him of a new clinic in town that used computer-based diagnosis, and it would only cost him five dollars plus the cost of any medications.  This appealed to his penny-pinching nature, so he immediately went.

At the clinic, he was directed to provide a urine sample and put it in a receptacle attached to the computer, which he did.  After some whirring and clicking, the computer spit out a slip of paper; a prescription for some medication.  The total cost of the visit was twenty bucks.  He was pleased.  But, he was also a skeptic.  He refused to believe that a mere computer, no matter how economical or cheap, could be so smart.

The man decided to put the machine to the test.  He collected urine samples from his wife, his daughter, himself, and his dog; and, for good measure put in a small amount of water from the tap over his kitchen sink.  He went to the clinic, paid his five dollars and submitted the sample.

The computer took a bit longer this time, but in due course, it spit out a long slip of paper, which the man tore off and began reading.

"Your wife is pregnant," were the words on the slip of paper.  "Your daughter is an alcoholic, and your dog has ringworm.  The water in your home has too much sediment, so you need a filter.  You are healthy, but you are not the father of your daughter, or of your wife's unborn child, so if you don't want future headaches, get your daughter into rehabilitation, take your dog to the vet for treatment, and hire a good lawyer."

"The Last Dictator Standing"

This TV ad for Nandos fast food outlets is airing in South Africa and the UK.  There's a good chance it won't be airing in Zimbabwe any time soon.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Necessity Might be The Mother of Invention, But, Golf is It's Father

Necessity Might be The Mother of Invention, But, Golf is It's Father

6 Steps That Will Help You Generate Leads With LinkedIn

7 Neglected Social Media Generation Opportunities

Necessity Might be The Mother of Invention, But, Golf is It's Father

Necessity Might be The Mother of Invention, But, Golf is It's Father

Love Comes in Many Forms | Charles A. Ray | Blog Post | Red Room

Love Comes in Many Forms Charles A. Ray Blog Post Red Room

On Safari in Mana Pools - Zimbabwe | Charles A. Ray | Blog Post | Red Room

On Safari in Mana Pools - Zimbabwe Charles A. Ray Blog Post Red Room

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Note To All Writers - Making Your Writing Come Alive

Before I delve into the topic I’ve chosen to write about, I have to make a confession; I’m something of a traditionalist where grammar is concerned.  I find many of today’s coined words, phrases, and expressions empty of meaning and disruptive of the flow of comprehension when I try to read.  The doublespeak of a lot of communication, especially government communication, leaves me cold.
Now, that I have that off my chest, let’s talk about verbification and some of the other grammatical and linguistic conventions that we modern folk seem so enamored of.
What the heck is Verbification?
Verbification, or the process of converting words from one form to another, is a time-honored tradition.  It can be used to express simply what might otherwise take many words.  It is also sometimes a form of wordplay for amusement, as in Shakespeare’s King Richard, when the Duke of York says, “Grace me no graces, and uncle me no uncles.”
Now, that’s a funny phrase, but sometimes, it gets out of hand. Converting nouns to verbs does not always lead to clarity in communication.  Take the following sentence, for example:  “Let’s diarize the outcome of today’s meeting and interface tomorrow so that we can operationalize it.”
Does this make sense to you?  Perhaps after a second or third reading you might get it, but why bother.  Why not go for something simple:  “Let’s record the results of today’s meeting, and meet again tomorrow so that we can implement our plans.”  Isn’t this version better?  If you’re a traditionalist like me, it is.  The first sentence is what you are likely to read or hear in a bureaucratic setting, and while we become accustomed to such forms after a while, I prefer the simple statement. 
An Appeal for Simple, Clear English
I haven’t really figured out the attraction that some people have for inventing new words.  Take ‘dialogue’ for instance.  A perfectly nice noun that some people insist on using as a verb, as in the sentence, “Let’s dialogue on the issue.”  What’s wrong with ‘talk,’ pray tell?
In writing, verbs are the strongest words; the fuel of writing.  They give your writing, fiction or nonfiction, power and impact, and make it more interesting. They do, that is, until you start mucking around with converting nouns to verb, and then they add so much fog to what you write, you risk losing your readers.  Which brings me to another peeve of mine; the practice of turning verbs into nouns; for example, “Let’s conduct a review of the department’s plan for crisis management.”  In this case, the verb ‘review’ has been converted to a noun, and hidden in the sentence, leaving it with far less impact than “Let’s review the department’s plan for crisis management.”
When we convert verbs into nouns, we often need extra verbs in order for our sentence to make sense; turning a simple, short sentence into a rambling collection of words that can, if we’re not extremely careful, lead our readers astray.
None of this is meant to say that we, as writers, should never do this.  Shakespeare did it, and to great advantage.  It is a tradition that dates back to the beginning of the English language in fact.  In fiction, these forms can be used to delineate our characters and make them distinctive; it can add interesting color to what we write.  But, in nonfiction, where we’re striving for maximum understanding, my advice; my plea; is that we proceed cautiously – and, you’ll note here I didn’t say ‘proceed with caution.”  Try to write so that your words ‘live’ on the page; so that they jump out at your readers and engrave themselves in their minds.  Your readers will thank you for it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Overestimating a Person's Intelligence Can Be as Risky as Underestimating.

It is a matter of common knowledge that one of the worst things you can do when dealing with people is to underestimate their intelligence.  When you do this, it leaves you open to some nasty surprises.  You think that, because someone talks slowly, or has a slightly rustic accent, they don’t possess a sharp mind, and that will cause you to miscalculate more often than not.
So, that’s good advice – never underestimate people.  Of course, from sad personal experience, I’ve found it’s also dangerous to overestimate people.  It can be a big mistake to assume that just because a person has a college degree, or comes from a more or less privileged background, they will know the things you know – even things you think are as common as dirt.
Once, when I was the number two in a government organization operating in a difficult and often dangerous situation, I was charged with keeping everyone’s morale up and keeping them focused on our mission.  I often held pep talks with them; always encouraging them to persevere, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.  One of my favorite sayings was, “We don’t quit as long as we have a breath left in our bodies. Even when the forces arrayed against us are powerful and relentless, we will not roll over on our backs like a dog.”  Now, if you’ve had a dog as a pet, or you’re at all familiar with the habits of predators, you’ll know that in a fight, the weaker animal will submit by rolling up and exposing its throat and belly.  Everyone knows that, right?
That’s what I thought until two of my female employees came to me privately and complained that that sentence made them uncomfortable.  I was confused as to why that should be so, so I pressed them for an explanation, and finally, red-faced, they let me know that such specific sexual references were inappropriate in the office.  Now, it was my turn to be red-faced, and it took me a few moments to collect my wits and explain animal behavior to them.  We all had a good laugh, but I learned a valuable lesson.  Some people actually do grow up without ever having a pet, or observing animals in the wild – or even in a back alley, so what was common knowledge to me was completely unknown to two of my employees.
So, word to the wise – try to neither underestimate nor overestimate the people you work with; and good luck with that one.

What's With the Republican Party?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chapter One of a New Al Pennyback Mystery, "Deadly Intentions."

Following is the first chapter of my new Al Pennyback mystery, Deadly Intentions.  Look for it in my store in a few months.  Reader comments are welcome.


My friends Buster and Lum and I had managed to slip away from the ladies and had made our way to a cabin near a lake in the hills for a little fishing.

Buster is Buster Mayweather, a detective first class with the District of Colombia Metropolitan Police, reassigned from homicide to the gang task force. A former college football player, Buster is over six feet, two hundred twenty pounds, and the way he keeps his head shaven, has that angry black man look that helps him survive the dog-eat-dog world of the streets of the District where the gangs hold sway. I met Buster when he came to my house with two uniformed cops to tell me that my wife and son had been killed in an auto accident. I was thrown into turmoil by the news, and he’d stayed with me until I came to my senses. That night, sitting together in the morgue in northern Virginia, we’d formed a bond that only became stronger with each passing year.

Lum is Lum Kellum, sheriff of the West Virginia town of Middleboro. Buster and I’d met Lum when my girlfriend Sandra Winter and Buster’s wife Alma had been kidnapped by America for True Americans, a dumbass militia group that had once operated in the hills near town. He’d been instrumental in helping dismantle the group, and the three of us had been friends since. About five-eleven and portly, with fringes of brown hair on either side of a bald spot that extended from his brows to the back of his head, he looked older than his forty five years. He had faded blue eyes that had a tendency to look somewhat vacant and unfocused, and gave him the look of one of those yokel sheriffs of some backwater town you see on TV, and if you thought that you’d be fooled, because he had a sharp mind and a nearly photographic memory.

As for me, my name is Al Pennyback; Alfred Einstein Pennyback on my birth certificate; and, I’m a six-one, two hundred pound former Army Special Forces officer who became a private detective in Washington when I left the army after my family was killed. The people who know me well enough to know my full name, also know better than to call me anything other than Al, or Mister Pennyback if I’ve just met them; I was raised to be formal with strangers and am uncomfortable with people who start calling you by your first name as soon as they meet you. During twenty years in the army, I earned black belts in Taekwondo, Karate, and Jujitsu, and proficiency with more weapons than you could ever imagine. A botched operation in the Middle East that resulted in some innocent people being killed soured me on firearms and despite the popular image of the pistol-packing PI you see in the movies, I don’t carry or even own a gun.

We were sitting on a rickety wooden dock built out over the small lake in the hills above the town; had, in fact, been sitting there since sunrise, and it was just after nine in the morning. It was early March, and there was still a bit of a nip in the air. The morning mist off the surface of the lake was just clearing. We sat with our legs hanging over the edge of the dock, our feet just inches from the crystal blue water which shimmered in the morning sunlight. We hadn’t caught anything, but that hadn’t really been the objective of our fishing safari. We just wanted to get away for some male-bonding time. A cooler full of crushed ice, ham and cheese sandwiches and several cans of a local beer, Iron Mill, sat behind us, the lid ajar. We’d eaten half the sandwiches that Lum’s wife, Mary Ellen, who was also Middleboro’s mayor, had made for us, and the beer was about gone.

“Now, this is what life is all about,” Lum said, leaning back and fishing another can of beer from the cooler. He popped the tab and took a sip, smacking his lips, then leaned his head back and drained almost half the can. “Cold beer, and just sittin’ here fishing with friends; shucks, it don’t get no better than this.”

Buster took a sip of his beer. “Yeah, I guess I gotta agree with you,” he said. “I ain’t never been much for all this outdoor shit, but I gotta admit, this ain’t half bad. What about you, Al? You ain’t hardly said a word all morning.”

“When you’re with friends in a great environment,” I said. “There’s not really much need to say anything. It’s great just being able to sit here and not have to worry about having to deal with some scum bag who is trying to duck out on paying his bills.”

“Yeah, I guess you got a point,” he said. “It is kinda nice not having to worry about some gang banger trying to shiv me.” He turned to Lum. “Now, you got the perfect job. Bein’ sheriff of Mayberry here, all you got to worry about is some teenager joyriding in his daddy’s car, or the occasional lost cow.”

“Don’t forget,” I said. “He had that militia group up here.”

“Yeah, but we helped him get rid of that bunch of redneck fools,” Buster said.

Lum chuckled. “You fellas from the city think it’s all milk and honey out here in the sticks,” he said. ‘Well, now it is true we don’t have all the hustles and scams you have in the city, but if you think it’s all peace and quiet, I invite you to ride along with me for a week.”

“Aw, come on, man,” Buster said. “With that militia gone, what kinda crime you got up here in Middleboro?”

“You think down in the city’s the only place you gotta deal with a kid whacked out on crack or PCP?” Buster nodded in sympathy. “We get lots of break-ins,” Lum continued. “Mostly them same doped up kids trying to get money to buy the shit. Now and then, some wife gets tired of her husband coming home drunk and she conks him in the head with a skillet. Now, I know that don’t seem like much, but I’m a one-man office, and I gotta deal with it all myself.”

“Okay,” Buster said. “I admit, you ain’t got it all that easy either. Law enforcement is stressful even here in Mayberry. At least you ain’t gotta deal with a bunch of wanna be soldiers running ‘round scaring folks.”

“Well, now that you mention it,” Lum said. “I still got that problem.”

“I thought that group broke up when their leader died and the rest went to jail,” I said.

“Oh, it ain’t that America for True Americans bunch,” he said. “They were at least a bunch of local boys. No, a new group took over their property. Bunch of outsiders call themselves the True American Patriot Society. Can you believe it? TAPS, these guys got no imagination at all.”

“What is this bunch up to?” I asked.

“That’s my problem,” he said. “Like I said, they ain’t local, so there’s nobody to talk to like the ones before. All I know is the leader is some guy named Robert ‘Stonewall’ Jackson; can you believe it? He’s in a wheelchair and got a bunch of tough looking women as bodyguards; kinda like that crazy Arab guy. Hardly ever comes into town, and when they do, they never talk to nobody, and them women don’t let nobody get close to their boss.”

“Maybe it’s one of them cult outfits,” Buster said. “You know, some dude up in the hills with twenty or thirty wives.”

“I don’t think so,” Lum said. “These women don’t look like sex objects to me. They look tough and mean as snakes. I wouldn’t want to tangle with one of them, and he always travels with four of them.”

“So, they haven’t actually done anything?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “And, that’s what worries me about them. It’s just a feeling I have about ‘em, you know. I know they’re up to somethin’, but, I don’t know what. Kinda like waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“I know that feeling,” Buster said. “I don’t envy you having something like that on your doorstep. ‘Least, you ain’t havin’ to deal with dead bodies.”

“Not, yet, thank God,” Lum said.

Just then, the thrum of a car’s engine broke the morning quiet. We turned and could see a late model sedan, blue with white racing stripes, coming up the winding dirt road, kicking up a wake of dust as the driver tried to keep it in the ruts in the center.

“Who else would be coming up here this time on a Saturday morning?” Buster asked.

“I recognize that car,” Lum said. “That’s Bo Park; he’s a Korean real estate broker and lawyer. He and his brother were among the first Koreans to move up here. I think they came up from DC. Bought up a lot of vacant property and a lot of others came up after him. His brother Leonard runs most of the dry cleaning in the county. I never known him to cotton much to being outside town.”

“I don’t remember seeing any Koreas here,” Buster said.

“Oh, there weren’t any when you guys were up here before,” he said. “They’ve all arrived in the last six months or so. They pretty much stay to themselves. Built a little community on land the Parks bought. Even put up Korean signs. There’s been a little friction with the black community, especially since Cal Wilson, the leading black businessman in town, used to do all the dry cleaning, and they drove him out of business, but they sort of get along with everyone else.”

The car came to a halt near the little cabin, and when the dust settled, a figure emerged. Medium height, small build, the Korean man wore a dark blue suit, white shirt, and red tie. He dusted at the shoulder of his suit. He looked over to where we sitting and started our way. As he neared, I could see a scowl of anger on his face. He walked the ten feet out onto the dock and stopped facing down at Lum.

“Sheriff Kellum,” he said with only traces of an accent. “I went to your house looking for you. Your wife told me you were out here.”

Lum stood up and dusted off his trousers. “Yeah, Bo,” he said. “Me and my friends decided to do a little fishing. What causes you to be looking for me on a Saturday morning?”

“I must report a crime,” he said. “Someone kill my brother.”