Friday, July 25, 2008

Something Fun: The #1 Song On This Date in History

What was the #1 song on the day you were born? Find the hit song for your birthday or other significant dates at the #1 Song on This Date in History.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Et Ain't Jest Dem Furriners

Too many Americans are familiar with the frustration of talking to Customer Service or Technical Support agents who are located in other countries and don't speak American English well. I'm here to tell you that communication isn't a problem only because of outsourcing overseas.

In May and June, I went to Ft. Worth to see a couple of operas and on my way back, I stopped in another town to eat at a favorite restaurant of mine.

The first evening, I got turned around trying to get back to the Interstate and drove too far out of my way. The second evening, I asked the hostess standing outside if I could exit the shopping center's parking lot at the north exit and turn left onto Kemp through the break in the center medial strip, pointing to the exit and what I thought was the break to allow crossovers.

She said, "No."

Me: "Okay, what's the best way for me to get onto Kemp going east?"

She: "Where do you want to go?"

I told her the town.

She: "It's been several years since I've gone to Oklahoma. I think you'll want to take Kemp to Kell, then get on the Interstate and go north."

Me (again pointing to the north exit): "Yes, I know the route. My question is how do I get onto Kemp going toward the Interstate. Can I exit there and turn left?"

She (pointing to Kemp, the street nearest us, the street that the north exit is on): "That's Kemp. What you'll have to do is get on Kell and it'll take you right to the Interstate."

Me: "Okay. How do I get onto Kemp going east since I can't turn left when I exit the parking lot? If I go out the south exit, I won't be on Kemp and I don't want to end up going out of my way like I did the last time I was here."

She (pointing to the exact same exit and median break that I did the first and second times I asked): "All you have to do is exit over there and turn left at the crossover. I do it every night when I get off work."

My next encounter was with Customer Service in New Jersey. I had already spent over an hour on the phone one Monday trying to access an account that wasn't available. The fifth Customer Service agent recommended that I try again later because maybe the system was being updated.

Tuesday, I went through the automated telephone system to change my PIN that the fourth agent reset on Monday. Mind you, I didn't ask for my PIN to be reset. The fourth agent somehow decided that was what was needed to make my account available to me which, of course, didn't work. On Tuesday, once again, I got the message that my account wasn't available and was transferred to a Customer Service agent.

Agent: "How may I help you?"

Me: "I've been trying to access my account through the telephone, but the system says it isn't available and I'd like to know why."

Agent (typing sounds): "I can reset your PIN for you."

Me: "An agent already reset my PIN yesterday. The system says my account isn't available. Why isn't it available?"

Agent (more typing sounds): "I can't change your PIN. I'll have to reset your PIN and then you can use the automated system to change your PIN."

Me: "Yes, I know, but I can't change my PIN if my account isn't available and I don't know why it isn't available. Can you make it available?"

Agent: "Are you using the automated telephone system or the Internet?"

Me: "Telephone."

Agent: "Do you have access to the Internet?"

Me: "Not at this time."

Agent: "Okay, I can reset your PIN and then you can use the automated telephone system to change your PIN."

Me: "I want to talk to somebody else."

Sheesh. And I edited both encounters for brevity.

(The next agent immediately saw that my account was locked and unlocked it, but didn't know how it got locked or why. It would have been nice if I had gotten him on Monday.)

Genesis 11: 6. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I caught the end of the "Walker, Texas Ranger" episode in which Walker (Chuck Norris) and Gage (Judson Mills) are to fight "The Hammer" to the death. That is, to their deaths. "The Hammer" chooses to fight Gage first and promises Gage that he'll die slowly. He then promises Walker that he'll die even more slowly than Gage.

In the final shot, Walker and Gage turn away from the camera and walk out side-by-side, their back muscles rippling beneath their gleaming skin, looking good, and a sudden thought struck me:

Has Jet Li ever appeared in a movie topless without a shirt? What about Jackie Chan? Steven Seagal? Sonny Chiba? I'm pretty sure Bruce Lee did.


I'm thinking of signing up for NaNoWriMo.

The reason I'm thinking about joining is because a couple of characters in a story I'm plotting are trying to go off the reservation. At first, I thought I had a plot problem, but no, it's these people. They want to go off and do something that's going to land them in Federal prison if they get caught and I need a way to stop them.

Because they're the good guys.

Good guys aren't supposed to land in prison if a prison isn't part of the story. That's where the bad guys go when the story ends. Good guys aren't supposed to do really bad things at all unless it's against the bad guys, to stop them or in self-defense.

Everybody knows that. Yet, here are these two characters of mine who are headed straight for the pen if they don't straighten up and the bad guys haven't even made an appearance. Who's going to beat the bad guys if the good guys are in jail?

"What's that?" you say. "You're the author. You made them up. You can make them do whatever you want."

No, it isn't that simple. Sure, I created them, but as many authors can verify, some characters have a way of going off, doing their own thing, and the only thing the writer can do is watch and write down what happens.

In this case, however, these characters are trying to take off on their own at the start of the story. I've got them checking into a motel and they're planning on getting a good night's rest so they can go do something illegal tomorrow.


There are two ways to handle them. The first is for me to simply refuse to write about them until they decide to toe the line.

That method worked well with Cathy in "Personals 106," my first story since high school. She was created to be a romantic interest for the man of the story and the next thing I know, she's planning to involve him as the other man in a torrid adulterous affair.

I swear, I didn't know she was married!

There we were, figuratively duking it out. I folded my arms and simply refused to write. Eventually, Cathy decided to give up and go back to her husband, and I was able to conclude the story.

So, here I am again, refusing for the past month to let these characters do their own thing. This is where the [inter]National Novel Writing Month comes into play. I figure if they continue to refuse to let their story be plotted my way, on November 1, I'll start writing anyway.

That's the second method.

I'll let them arrive at their motel, check in, and go straight to jail if that's what they want to do. For all I'll care at that point, it'll serve them right. Hopefully, it'll purge their systems enough for them to let the bad guys do the bad things when I write the novel I intended for them.

Under NaNoWriMo rules, all I have to do is write at least 50,000 words from November 1 - 30. It could be the complete first draft for a short novel or a substantial amount for a longer one. Let's see:

50,000 words over 23 days (not 30 days because of Sundays, Thanksgiving, and an out-of-town day) = 2174 words a day.

At 40 words per minute because I'm slow, that's about 54 minutes of typing per day.

That looks do-able to me. With these characters, even if I'm not a NaNoWriMo winner, I'll win.

For those who don't finish writing the rough drafts of their novels in November, another website designated the month of December as National Novel Finishing Month. The month of March is designated as the National Novel Editing Month to give writers a rest and fresh eyes for editing their drafts.

If my troublemakers quit their shenanigans and allow me to plot the book during the next three months the way I've got it in my head, I'll be able to start writing on November 1 with plot notes in hand. If not, I can watch what becomes of them and if they land in jail for the entire month, that's what I'll write about.

Or, I could write another story I've been plotting...

As soon as I figure out from where the waitress came and what she's doing serving the woman a cold drink after her swim. I mean, I thought the man and woman were at his house. That's where I put them. The waitress, however, makes it look like a resort hotel which makes me wonder: Where are they? How did they get there? They aren't in Oklahoma, Texas, or Arizona. Is it Florida? Las Vegas? Southern California? Someplace more exotic like Hawaii or the Cote d'Azure?

As annoying as these characters can be, I gotta admit it's never a dull moment and the mental vacations are great.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

For Writers - The Pen Addict

Nothing is more important to anyone who writes than the instrument used for writing. While paper might be something on which we compromise by resorting to the backs of envelopes or napkins, a favorite pen is something we'll take time to hunt down if misplaced. How much it weighs, how it's balanced, how fine or broad the line, the color of the line, the smoothness and longevity of the line, as well as the way it feels in the hand, fat, medium, or thin; all contribute to a writer's obsession with pens.

Have you ever wondered what a particular pen is like before you buy it? For those not entranced by fountain pens, I highly recommend The Pen Addict who provides a valuable service by reviewing many pens available and provides links to other like-minded sites.

If you're new to fountain pens or are looking for tips about use, care, or suggestions for paper or other websites, I refer you, of course, to my own pen webpages (shameless plug). The page listing the Best Pens to Buy For Everyday Use has been updated.

For Readers - Book Darts

Book Darts - These great little doo-dads are the best. For several years, I've had the pleasure of using them to mark not only the page I'm reading, but the exact line where I left off. They are much better than bookmarks because they mark the precise line and don't fall out.

I also use Book Darts to mark passages in books that I don't want to damage by using a highlighter. They surpass sticky tabs and other reading tools because they don't damage books when used properly and they're less expensive than other similar devices I've found.

Just be sure it isn't tilted when you slide one on or it will dent the edge of the page.

Available in tins or in bulk from or by calling 1-800-366-2230.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My Latest Pen - Stypen Up

In 2004, BIC bought Stypen and is now shutting down production in its factory in Joigny, France. From Office Products International:

"Bic to close Stypen factory
15 April 2008 - Joigny, France

Bic has announced that it is to stop production at its Stypen factory in Joigny, France, at the end of July...."

Reading this in May motivated me to finally buy a Stypen Up. Other stylophiles had recommended the Stypen line of fountain pens several years ago, but I didn't get one because I prefer fine nibs. However, finally clued-in that Stypen's medium nibs are closer to fine than they are to broad, I decided to buy one since no one knew at that time if Bic is moving production or liquidating Stypen's fountain pen assets.

Even though I've since learned that production is being moved to Montévrain, I'm glad I bought it because it's a great pen that's no longer exported to the U. S.

The diameter measures close to .5 inch at the widest point. Capped, the pen measures 4-3/8 inches. Nib extended, with cap posted, it measures 5-1/8 inches. Without the cap, it measures 4-5/8 inches, still a comfortable length for writing without posting the cap. As you can tell, the retractable nib makes it shorter and easier to fit in a smaller purse or pocket. The pen is attractive, lightweight and comfortable to hold. The cap posts securely without making the pen top-heavy. The Up uses short international standard cartridges only and produces an average flow, not too dry and not too wet. The line is close to a European fine, slightly broader than that of a Platinum Preppy. As may be expected for a pen priced at $25 with a steel nib, the nib is stiff, but it's also smooth.

The only thing I don't like about it is that the twist-retractable nib is inconvenient and slower for intermittent writing, that is, when I write a little and pause for a long time like when reading and making notes or when shopping and crossing items off my list. For longer, continuous writing sessions, however, it's great.

I wish I had bought one sooner.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday, America!

You're 232 years old, now, still a young 'un compared to other countries.

Not yet potty-trained, you still have to learn how to deal with your own waste.

You still need to learn to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep in order to maintain good health.

You still need to learn how to lock your doors so that thieves don't sneak in and rob you of what's rightfully yours alone.

You still need to learn how to manage your money and to take better care of your natural resources because they are what sustain you and have enabled you to grow as much as you have.

But, even with these and the other negative things you need to grow through, you're still the country in which a lot of people want to live and few want to leave.

Although many celebrate the national holidays of other countries, they're celebrating them in the United States of America and not in those other nations. That, in itself, is a sign of your goodness because having big bashes themed on our cultural diversity is what we Americans do to remember from where we came and to joyously celebrate the freedom and the wealth we have in you.

Look at St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo, for example. St. Patrick's Day is a quiet, religious holiday in Ireland except where the Irish have learned the value of the American tourist dollar, not the boisterous day of parades and green beer that it is here, and Cinco de Mayo is mostly ignored even in the Mexican state of Puebla where the originating event occurred.

So, celebrate your birthday and have a good time doing it.

May God give you wisdom to grow on.

I love you!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

About Writers

Writing can seem to be an almost mystical journey. From where do the ideas spring? How does the writer settle on a particular word or turn of phrase?

Those who engage in writing find that one size does not fit all. It isn't a matter of simply turning on the computer and typing. Some have to perform preparatory rituals such as sharpening a dozen pencils or refilling their fountain pens. Some write best while listening to a certain style of music or in dead silence. Some writers take their laptops or pens and paper to coffee houses and sandwich shops because they need the bustle of business that doesn't concern them. One screenwriter in California writes on his portable manual typewriter at the beach or in a park because fresh air and sunshine make the words flow.

Some writers rent office space or lease a studio while others are okay with a converted bedroom or the space under the stairs. Some write before their families awake in the morning. Some write after the spouse goes off to work and the children to school. Some wait until everyone's asleep.

Agatha Christie plotted while soaking in her bathtub, eating apples.

The point is that a writer needs what that writer needs. Anything else, whether it's from ignorance, misguided good intentions, a misunderstanding, or presuming to know what a writer needs better than the writer does, is a hindrance, an obstacle, or downright sabotage. By the latter, I refer to reneged promises and assurances. I know people whose family and friends say they support their writers and wannabees, but what they actually do exposes them as unsupportive, self-centered, disloyal, liars.

For example:

The wife who said she'll keep the children quietly occupied elsewhere after dinner so he may write who then invited both next-door neighbors, with their children, over for dinner to socialize for the evening.

The parents who promised their unpublished adult son a laptop as a birthday gift, then bought a desktop computer that he still can't take to the library when he does research.

The mother who called her writing daughter several times during the day despite knowing that she was trying to finish a book while her young girls were at school because her agent already had a publisher lined up who was eager to see it. The writer insisted that her mother call only after 2:30 P.M. then quit answering the phone and let the answering machine take the calls when her mother persisted in interrupting her work just to chat.

The friend who wanted to go to lunch every day like they used to do when they were in college, who got angry when the writer said no, only once a week.

Please examine what you've been doing, not only to the creative people in your life, but to everyone you know. If what they're doing isn't illegal, immoral, or ungodly, what do you care how they live their lives and achieve their goals? It's their lives, their dreams, and their goals, not yours.

Go get your own.

John 21:22. Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.