Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Form of Flattery

That's what they say about imitation--it's the sincerest form of flattery. That doesn't, however, extend to plagiarism and copyright theft. At, several people posted to the writers forum there today to say their articles had been stolen verbatim and posted at It has happened with at least two articles, possibly a dozen. One of the authors effected found that general-finance didn't get them directly from Suite, but from another, content-washing site which posted them all with a date one day before they were posted on Suite, making it appear that a dozen different Suite authors stole work from this other site. Yeah, right.

This didn't affect me, but it did make my get off my lazy cyber-butt and set up a few Google Alerts. This is a tool that helps you spot copyright theft automatically using their powerful search spiders. I set up three alerts: one for my name, and two for phrases in two of my articles. I set them up to report as an event was found. We'll see what happens. Nothing so far.

I set up one alert for my name. Then I decided to Google my name and see what I get. I do this from time to time, also for my Internet pseudonym, Norman D Gutter. Today I found at least five other David A. Todds: a doctor in California who writes about secretions from nipples; a welder in Texas who makes political contributions to the Republican party; an engineer in Texas; a civil engineer in Oklahoma City--with his own firm; and another I can't remember right now. Oh, now I remember: someone with a home for sale in Florissant, MO.

Several of the search hits were to my writings, including one that appeared in American Profile magazine, the Sunday newspaper insert that competes with Parade Magazine, in 2004. What I wrote and sent to them was:

America, settled by those who thought freedom more important than comfort, was forged to nationhood through the concept that men can govern themselves, if only they adopt excellent laws, then embrace them.

The best citizen puts ethics before law, law before gain, nation before self.

What they put in the magazine was:

The best citizen puts ethics before law, law before gain, nation before self.

That was close enough I didn't gripe about it. Now, as I Googled my name, I found this latter statement at a number of places, normally with attribution to me. Here are some of the links:

The News-Sun forums.


Yahoo Answers

MaybeNow Answers

Then I decided to do a Google search for a key phrase in my published quote, and found this site in addition. [If you go to the site, you have to scroll down to near the end to see my words, slightly modified.] So, I suppose I should be flattered to think that this young man saw my words, thought enough of them to post them as his own. I guess I'll let him get away with it for now. After all, I can easily prove they are my words if I ever have to.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Packing, Packing

Our corporate headquarters moves on Friday. The word from on high is that we must have everything in boxes and those boxes and all furniture marked before we leave the office on Thursday. I'm in pretty good shape. All the furniture I'm taking is marked. I have thirteen boxes packed, and I estimate about eight more boxes--maybe nine--should finish me up.

Yesterday I finished packing the library. I think I blogged about this effort before. First I spent a week organizing the library, which was in sad shape from almost nine years of neglect. Then I took a week to cull through the materials and eliminate duplicates and out-dated material. I probably discarded close to fifteen percent of the documents therein. Constantly I was fighting things dumped in the room by those too lazy to properly take care of things, such as: surplus office hardware such as staplers, three-hole punches, tape dispensers, filing/storage trays; empty notebooks; and library materials I asked to be brought back there a month ago.

I beat my expectations of when I would be done by a day. As I was preparing to leave the VP over Operations came by my office and said he didn't think I would have it done on time. I said to him, "Oh ye of little faith." Today I sent an e-mail to the coordinator of the move, with the title "put a fork in it". Ah, satisfaction.

The day remains dreary and my mood is better than last night. Have writers guild this evening, and need to decide what to take. I have nothing recently written to show them, so I'll probably take the next installment of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Kind of Day

The rain started yesterday, Sunday. Never heavy, and not steady. Just enough to make you not want to leave the house on a walk. Gloomy clouds; fresh north wind; temperatures falling. Just the kind of thing to perk me up from a gloomy mood.

Last night, after dark but while we were in the Dungeon at our computers with the night shut out, the heavier rain came. By this morning the heaviest rain was over, and we had steady drizzle through the day. No sun. Dark clouds. The north wind persisting and freshening.

I had a huge day of accomplishment at work, getting stuff done a day ahead of schedule, and surprising people in the office.

Then came the evening. As the rain ended my mood worsened and disappointments came. I guess I should just learn to be an engineer and not worry about being a writer.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Venture Out and Project Explorer

At, I've now been posting articles for four months. Posted my 56th article there last night, and have one in mind to whip out today. These average about 750 words each, so that's about 42,000 words, I figure. That productivity on my novel would have put me more than halfway through.

At Suite we have a forum--a message board--where writers, editors, and administrators interact about Suite, writing in general, and occasionally the competition. Some Suite writer will fairly regularly post something about "Oh, my revenues are so low!" Yet when they say what they've earned they are miles and miles ahead of me. I'll post how low my revenues are and tell them they are actually doing fairly well.

It seems I've selected to write in topics that simply don't generate much ad revenue: civil engineering, American history, poetry. I have a few articles in other topics, but most are in these. After my last post about low revenues, a friend on the board, Donald, presented a challenge to me, himself, and others with low revenue. Break outside of our boxes, he said. Find a new topic to write in. Write one article in it, track what happens for a month, and report weekly to the forum. He called it the "Venture Out and Project Explorer" challenge. Only three of us accepted it.

Searching for other categories/topics to post in, I decided maybe I could do something from my stock trading experience. I'm not trading now, leaving that to my better half to do, but I've taken a bunch of training and have traded off and on for five years, and we have a couple of books and other references I can use. Why not? Would articles on stock trading generate ad clicks? I figured it was worth trying.

I selected Bollinger Bands as my first topic in the VO&PE program. This is a technical indicator of the range a stock price is likely to trade in. I did my research in our technical analysis books. I checked Google Adsense to see how many monthly searches were made for that term and how much advertisers are willing to pay for ads for web pages with those key words, and determined both were high enough. I checked the Google Sandbox (don't ask me how it got that name), and found there were adequate numbers of ads ready to go for that kind of article. So I wrote the article and posted it on Wednesday, Oct 21, 2009.

Now, the statistics that Suite 101 give the writer does not include how much each article earns. We get: daily page views; page views accumulated for three months; daily revenue; accumulated revenue; page views per article; and details on how our articles were access (i.e. a search engine with the search term used, another web page, or Suite internal). So I'll never know whether my Bollinger Bands article earns a bunch of money or not. But what I can know is that Wednesday I had record page views, and I had a revenue spike to my second highest day so far.

Neither of these is definitive. It could be coincidence that the revenue went up. And the page views were not that much higher than the previous record, and they were down on Thursday. But, if the revenue stays up, maybe--just maybe--I've found something I can write on that will generate a little income. If I could earn every day the amount I earned on Wednesday, that would be almost twelve tanks of gas in a year.

And that would be fine.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Evening at the Writers Critique Group

Last night I attended the writer's critique group in Bella Vista. This is the group that I attended regularly from 2002 to 2007, quit for a while, then attended the another writer's group in more-distant Gravette until March of this year. I spent a few months without attending any writer's group at all, then decided to go back to the old one, and have been a regular since July.

Why did I leave this group in the first place? For one, I was the only person in the group who was trying to be published with a royalty publisher. Everyone else was satisfied with self-publishing. Now there's nothing wrong with self-publishing if it is done well. But obviously the threshold of excellence for royalty publishing is a whole lot higher than for self-publishing. the self-publishing company makes their money in charging set-up fees, not by selling books, so their writing goals tend not to be as high as mine.

But on-line fellowship is not the same as in-person, and I missed being with writers. So I went back to the old group. It meets only a little more than a mile from my house, so getting there and back is a snap. In fact, last night I fell asleep in my reading chair in the time before I needed to leave. Lynda woke me at one minute till seven and said, "Aren't you suppose to be at writers group about now?" I quickly went and was there well before they began sharing.

Some good and bad about the group, which goes by the name of Northwest Arkansas Writers Guild:
  • As I said, most in the group are not striving for royalty publishing, so the outlook on writing tends to be different.
  • I'm the only one in the group who is a serious poet. Two women in the guild write some poetry, but I don't think either studies the art or really works on her craft. One may; I can't tell for sure yet. I gave up bringing poetry to this group a long time before I left it.
  • The ladies all bring snacks to the meetings. This takes quite a bit of time to distribute around the table, with plates and napkins. We meet at an assisted living center, who provide us the meeting room and coffee. I'd prefer we didn't have snacks at all. Without the time given to snacks we could each read five pages instead of four.
  • We don't tend to stick to business. Too much chatting. I don't mind some of that--that's what fellowship's about. But we do too much of it.
  • At times members don't tend to say focused. I won't mention names, just in case one of them should wander in here (quite unlikely). But one has a habit of interrupting the reader with comments that have nothing at all with what is being read. This happens almost every week. Finally, one of the ladies called out the offender this week. She did it nicely, perhaps so nicely that the offender didn't even realize that she was being mildly chastised.
  • I'm the only man in the group. That's not so bad, except I'm the only non-retired person in the group. One woman works, but she rarely attends and will soon be moving away.
  • In general, everyone is polite; we never talk politics; everyone in the group seems to be a practicing Christian (though that's not a requirement); and we never have off-color material to read or listen to.
Well, that's the status of the group. I'll stick with it. It's the closest game in town, and fills a need in my life. Hopefully they find value in my contribution.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Busy Weekend, and I Learned Something

Yes, Friday-Saturday-Sunday was a busy time for me. I stayed late at work on Friday, continuing to work on preparations for our move. I finished culling duplicate materials out of the library on Friday, and began packing some boxes of things I'm sure we won't need. I'll continue that today, and hope to get about ten more boxes packed. Friday evening I kind of relaxed, reading in my current book from the pile and a little in a reference book. I went to the computer in the Dungeon and tried to work on a Suite101 article on floodplains, but couldn't concentrate.

Saturday was busy with things a married bachelor does on the day his wife is due back. Oh, I had kept the house fairly neat while Lynda was gone, but I had too many things out of place or waiting attention. So I folded laundry and put it away; I vacuumed the main traffic areas; I carried newly purchase furniture (book cases and folding tables from CEI) in their places. I went through a week's worth of accumulated mail while watching college football. I walked to the P.O. to mail something, about 1.3 miles total. And I read when I felt like it or napped when I was tired.

By the end of the day I had accomplished everything I wanted to do, except complete that Suite101 article. I started on it, and had it about 3/4 complete, but bogged down when I needed to research an item needed to complete it. Lynda arrived home about 10:30 PM and remarked how clean the house looked.

Sunday was the usual activities of church, life group, reading, resting, and writing. About 4 PM I decided I needed to finish that article, and went to the FEMA document I had already downloaded, found the info needed, and finished the article. In so doing I came to the conclusion that the main reason I fail to produce as much writing as I'd like to do is the research. I just don't want to research. I'd rather be writing. That revelation was kind of strange to me, as I thought I really do like to do research. At work I have to research frequently, so why wouldn't I want to do it for writing?

I have no answers for that, just a new insight into my solitary behavior. Perhaps just knowing this will help me conquer the problem. I have about six articles in mind for working on this week, all of which will require some amount of research. Let's see how the conqueror performs.

Friday, October 16, 2009

102,024 Page Views a Year

My writing at has, as I feared, taken up most of my creative writing time since I began writing for the site in late June. I'm up to 53 articles posted. My revenue is abysmal. So far I've earned $19.00 for about 43,000 words. Of course, since this is a revenue sharing site, if I never write another article, those I've already posted will continue to earn over time. Perhaps after a couple of years it will add up to a decent rate per word. At least I hope so.

But what's gratifying is the page views I'm getting. I don't know how I stack up against others at the site, but I'm pleased with mine. I track this on a spreadsheet, including a graph. Since daily page views fluctuate, I look more at 7-day page views, a rolling total of the number of total page views in the seven days ending on the latest day. For the seven days ending October 15, I had 1,962 page views, a record for me. And, that multiplied times 52 gives me 102,024 page views per year. This is the first time I've broken 100,000. The chart above shows this. Wish it were more readable, but it's just a screen capture of the spreadsheet graph. The blue line is the 7-day page views, magenta line the daily page views, and the black line is a trend line of the daily page views.

Now that is encouraging. My articles are being accessed 102 thousand times a year. That's with no growth, and no more articles published. I'm going to publish more articles, and the articles I have are all what they call "evergreen" articles; that is, they will be just as meaningful next month as they are this, next year as they are this. None are tied to seasonal things or current events such that they would drop in page views. Most of the page views are coming from search engine hits.

My latest article, The Intolerable Acts, in just two days had 69 page views and was my second best performing article. That leads me to believe maybe I'm getting the hang of this search engine optimization stuff, and my performance overall will improve at Suite.

Now, if only my revenue will take an upturn, I'll be a happy camper.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More Books to the Dumpster

Since I last posted on Monday, my work at the office has been a mixture of library organization and miscellaneous assistance to people who request help. Tuesday I began work on a small project, checking and recalculating something in the drainage system of a large subdivision designed under my supervision back in 2003. But the computer program has changed since then, and I have to re-key everything into the new program. Except the new program was bought out by AutoCAD, is no longer stand-alone, and I don't do AutoCAD. So today I need to find someone to help me with it.

The library is organized. Except for two shelves of old project documents I discovered yesterday, everything else is in its place. I haven't arranged the reference materials in a way that makes sense, but at least they are all together. Nor have I alphabetized the many project documents (specs, drainage reports, flood studies, master plans), but they are all together.

Yesterday I began the process of getting rid of duplicates. I started with the local regulations for the three nearby cities we do many projects in. This required checking manuals that were seemingly the same to make sure they really were the same, or if not to determine if one superseded the other and get rid of the old one. I found one manual of ordinances that had three packets of updates just stuck in the front rather than collated. So I did that. I think I freed-up close to two shelves.

Then I began doing the same thing to manufacturers' catalogs and data. I only did a little of this, yet freed-up at least two shelves there. Today will be the main work of catalog culling.

CEI is selling some surplus furniture: bookcases, folding tables, file cabinets, etc. I bought some and loaded them in the pick-up last night, took them home via Wednesday night church, and unloaded them into the garage. Consequently I was exhausted physically, which affected my mental state as well. I did no writing, spent a little time on Facebook, played some mindless computer games, and read in the book off the top of the reading pile.

Tonight promises more of the same, as the library work today will not doubt tire me again. I may, however, finally go to the link friend GB sent me months ago and watch Diary of a High School Bride, at least the critical scene an hour in, and re-live a college prank from freshman year. That's a good way to spend an evening while batching it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Books to the Dumpster

No, not my books, but some CEI books. We will be re-locating to a new building the end of this month, and I volunteered to take responsibility for the library. Before I can back it up I need to delete duplicate and out-dated materials. Before I can know what materials are duplicate and outdated I need to organize it, for materials are scattered due to a faulty systems of original organization and to ten or so years of neglect. Before I can organize it I need to reorganize it to correct the original faults.

Last week I spent parts of four days on it, and managed to pull all the manufacturer's catalogs and brochures together and alphabetize them. I say "all" because I'm still finding some hiding in places. The shelves the catalogs were on did not have enough space for them all, so I had to move them but first had to move some things to make room for them. Then I misjudged the extra space I'd need by about 40 percent. Hence I moved the catalogs beginning with "A" about five times. Last week I also mostly finished pulling all the Federal regulations together and the consensus standards.

Today I worked on State and local regulations and standards. These are the most difficult of all, for it was with these that the original filing system was faulty, IMHO. I won't go into how it was faulty, but it was. I'm probably only a little more than halfway through this task, even though I worked seven hours on it today. I should finish tomorrow and get on to reference materials and project documents.

But this post was about discarding books. Even though I'm not ready to discard duplicates and out-dateds (coined a word), I'm still discarding things. Means' construction cost data from 1999 is kind of meaningless now, so I'm tossing those in a barrel. Broken notebooks don't make sense to keep, so I'm taking them apart, recycling what I can, and discarding what I can't. A few other things are obviously unsuitable for keeping, so those are going. The discard barrel is close to full.

At noon today, instead of walking I decided to carry the 2004 Thomas Registers to the dumpster. I don't know the distant equivalent. It took me four trips from library to dumpster, with about as many books as it was possible to carry. At the end I felt that I'd had an adequate workout. Even though these books are outdated (we have 2008 and 2009 ones), I was sad to see them in a common morgue with the garbage from the break room and the pencil sharpener dumpings from individual trash baskets. These are books, and deserve a better fate than a common morgue followed by a common grave in a dry-bed landfill, to sit there for a hundred years barely decomposing due to lack of moisture.

But we can't keep everything. I'm almost thinking it's foolhardy to even have a library, in this digital age. Surely we can do better than to kill trees for things that become outdated in a year or two. Oh, well, tomorrow I'll begin carrying the barrel contents to the dumpster, before I begin crying over them. At least I get to keep all the textbooks.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

I worked till 6:30 PM yesterday. I had planned to work longer, reviewing a set of construction specifications before they went out for bids on Monday. But the design team did not get me the drawings, just the specs. I did what I could without having the drawings, but ran out of stuff to do and so packed up shop and plunged into the storm.

For those of you not in the lower mid west, we were (and still are) in the midst of a huge rain storm, some lightning and thunder too. On Tuesday they were predicting floods for Thursday and Friday, that's how sure they were of their computer models. It began raining lightly Wednesday night and continued off and on, then hit us hard mid-afternoon on Tuesday, but had periods of light rain sandwiched with downpours. At 6:30 PM it was light rain--or none--so I headed to the Bentonville library to do some research for an article for When I arrived at the library it was still barely raining, but the sky was darker than ever.

As I arrived at the library so did Scott, a friend from church. He rode up on his bicycle, which he rides everywhere. He has a car, but he prefers to go by bike. He rode his bike to church on Wednesday night. As we left church it looked like rain could start, and I offered him a ride. He said no, he thought he could get home before the rain hit. We went our separate ways and the rain hit a few minutes after we parted. No way could he have made the 5 mile ride home in the dry.

I went straight to the reference books I needed and Scott went straight to the computers. I could see him in my peripheral vision, his back towards me. Hard rain drummed the library roof. When I got up to get one last book to check one paragraph, Scott was gone. I finished my work, checked out a book, talked with the librarians a minute, and headed to the exit. I ran into Scott. He had been somewhere else in the library. I quickly said to load his bike up in the back of the pick-up and I'd take him home. He accepted this time, the rain coming down in buckets (sorry for the cliche).

The route to his place took us along a state highway currently under construction, being widened from two lanes to five. The drainage was not working and we were constantly driving in three inches of water. We got to his duplex subdivision and power was out. He got in to his house, and I headed the twelve miles home from there. The power was out all the way, and it was at my house too. Lynda is in Oklahoma City (drove there yesterday in a seam in the storm, praise the Lord), so I made my way through the dark house, found flashlights, and sat and read.

A most enjoyable time. But only for an hour. The power came on and stayed on, so it was off the to computer for my evening rituals, the dark drive and dark hour not forgotten, but pushed aside. I did all I wanted too then headed to my reading chair where I ate a very late supper and read for an hour under the glare of an electric light.

The dark and stormy night was quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A New Submittal

As I wrote in a post some time ago, we are in the fall submittal season for literary magazines connected with universities. I have not yet done the research needed to know what submittals to make, but I think I will have time to do this over the weekend. I'll hopefully submit my short story to three or four more magazines, and I'd like to submit poems to close to a dozen mags.

If I can do that, I will be up to 32 or so submittals for the year. I'm sitting at 17 right now, having made my 18th this morning. The results of those submittals so far are:

18 submittals
4 acceptances
7 rejections
7 not yet heard
0 withdrawn

I may have to come back and adjust those numbers. My submittal log is at home and I'm writing this from work, going from memory. Edited on 8 October, to put in the correct numbers.

This includes a couple of contest entries as well as a couple of engineering articles that were submitted and accepted or assigned and published. That's not a lot of submittals for someone who fancies himself a writer, but it's what I've been able to do this year. I suppose I could pad the numbers by saying each of my articles is a separate submission. Then I'd add 52 submittals and 52 acceptances to those numbers. Since each article is reviewed by an editor and could be disabled and eventually deleted if not up to snuff, it might be legitimate to includethem. But I'm counting Suite 101 as a single submission, my initial application.

Actually, my submission this morning was to Suite 101, suggesting a new category of article topics, and proposing that they promote me to Feature Writer over that category. I did some research into how many worldwide Google searches there are in a month for a number of keywords and keyword phrases associated with that category, and what is the typical rate for an ad associated with those keywords. I'm hopeful that the research will pay-off, as will the faithfulness I have shown at writing for Suite. I'm past the threshold number of articles you must have before you can be considered for a feature writer position.

Being a feature writer means: you must write a minimum of one article per week in your category; and you receive a 20 percent bonus on your revenue immediately and another 10 percent bonus when you hit 100 articles. I'm not bringing in much revenue right now, so the bonuses won't add up to much. But every little bit helps; and the promotion would look good on a writing resume.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2009

More on "East Of Eden"

As I wrote earlier today, East Of Eden is an enjoyable book, at least it was for me. It would most likely fall under the genre literary fiction, for it tells more about relationships than it provides action. If action adventures is what you are looking for, don't expect to find it in EoE.

What you will find, from beginning to end, is whorehouses and prostitutes. In every city, next to every army camp, where ever the characters are across America, a prostitute is sure to be in the scene. It seems that for Steinbeck the footsteps of all men eventually find their way into a whorehouse, at least once in their lives and most likely on a regular basis. This was not a particularly enjoyable part of the book, but Steinbeck actually handled it with tastefulness, not given us gratuitous sex scenes. The men were there, the prostitutes came, and the men indulged; details not included.

Maybe Steinbeck's world was like that. I know mine hasn't been, and so this was all something difficult to relate to. In the book, two men do not find their way to the ladies: the two main characters Samuel Hamilton and Adam Trask. Somehow these two heroes are not reduced to finding sexual gratification with prostitutes. Perhaps that is part of the story.

After taking a good chunk of the book for the characters to have their early lives and make their way to the Salinas Valley, the book sort of revolves around Trask's wayward wife, Cathy. She does not want to be a wife, monster that she is, and constantly tells Adam she will be leaving him after her child is born. He blows this off as pregnancy talk. When she gives birth to twins, as soon as she is able she packs a bag to leave. Adam prevents her, and she shoots him with his gun and leaves anyway. She only goes about fifty miles, to Salinas, largest city in the county, where she finds work in an established whorehouse, taking the name of Kate.

I don't want to say too much about the rest of the plot, in case someone who hasn't read it should stumble onto this blog and be searching for information before they read. The main characters are Hamilton, Trask and his wife, there twin sons Cal and Aron, and Lee, the American-Chinese servant of the Trask family. Lee is sort of the hero of the book: level-headed, hard working, intelligent, forward looking yet down to earth. When Adam Trask is in a ten year daze following his wife's departure, it is Lee who holds the family together, with a little help from Sam Hamilton.

One of the suspenseful parts of the book is whether the two boys will learn that their mother is not dead, as their dad said, but that she is really quite close and is not a nice person. When Adam Trask moves his small family from the remote farm to Salinas, you expect the boys to find out, somehow, even thought their dad won't tell them the truth.

I may write some more about this. A 601 page book deserves more than two posts, don't you think? For now I'll say this book is a keeper. I'm not sure I'll ever read it again. Maybe in a world where I don't have a reading pile fifteen deep, and shelves upon shelves of books in hand waiting to be read and thousands in stores waiting for me to buy. If you haven't read East Of Eden, I urge you to do so.

Book Review: "East Of Eden" by John Steinbeck

The only two things of John Steinbeck that I had read were The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. In 11th grade (I think) I was supposed to read The Grapes of Wrath but didn't, getting by with Cliff Notes. I later read it, once in college and again about thirty years ago, and found it to be a wonderful book, well deserving of its reputation. I read Of Mice And Men at some point during high school, and enjoyed it. This was my total experience with Steinbeck's work.

I picked up two other Steinbeck items at sales. One was East of Eden and the other was a criticism of his body of work. I looked at the criticism first, and it seemed to be a cobbled-up PhD thesis: difficult to read and quite negative of everything Steinbeck. I set that aside for another time, and put East of Eden in my reading pile. It finally came to the top and I began reading it August 27th, finishing it yesterday. Eighty pages on the last day. Whew!

It is probably silly of me to be writing a review of such a monumental work. That should be for the experts. But this is my practice: I read and I review. No reason to change now. I won't say I found the book interesting. I got in trouble in high school for saying things were interesting, and one of my friends still reminds me of that. Interesting is not a suitable word for including in a book review.

Rather, I found it enjoyable, intense, well written, important, and timeless. Steinbeck tells the stories of a couple of families, the Hamiltons and the Trasks, in the Salinas valley in California. This is where Steinbeck grew up. Somehow, in the brief introductory remarks in the book, I missed the statement that this was a novel about Steinbeck's own family. So I was half-way through the book when a Hamilton married a Steinbeck and I thought "Why does he use his own family name in the book?" Only after finishing last night did I go back and re-read the flaps and see that the book was about his family.

I assume "sort of" about his family. Was John one of the children in the Steinbeck family in the book? The time frame is about right, and the point of view is a first person narrator, with the narrator never actually doing anything in the book. Possibly the Steinbecks in EoE are meant to be cousins and not his immediate family. Or maybe it is his immediate family, and John is the narrator. Hard to tell.

EoE is the story of two men: Samuel Hamilton, an Irish immigrant to America who winds up on poor land in the Salinas valley and can barely eke out a living for his wife and nine children; and Adam Trask, of deeper American roots who inherited wealth, married poorly, went to the Salinas valley with his reluctant wife, and found good land. Both men were dreamers.

Hamilton was constantly inventing things, paying to have them patented, and somehow not making money from them. He read extensively in various philosophical/high-falutin' works. Despite the poverty of his land and the size of his family, he was rich in the things that count. Highly regarded throughout the valley, he makes friends easily.

Trask was forced into the army by his father, in the post-civil war era, despite the fact he wasn't suited for military service. After a couple of hitches he wanders back to Connecticut, learns his father has left him and his brother a significant inheritance (which he believes his father stole). One night a beat-up woman crawls up to their farmhouse door. Adam and his brother take her in, Adam falls in love with her, cares for her, marries her when she is still too weak and drugged to protest. Adam's brother recognizes something is wrong with the woman. In fact she is a prostitute who was beaten up by her pimp and left for dead. On their wedding night, Cathy drugs her new husband and sleeps with his brother. The narrator calls her "a monster".

I have much more to write about this, but fear the post is already too long. Stay tuned for additions to this of for follow-up posts.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October Goals

I'm not sure why, but I didn't accomplish much in September. A death in the family resulted in some time out of town and away from computer, but not enough to account for the lack of progress.
  1. Blog 12 times or more.
  2. Write 7 articles for
  3. Complete Chapter 7 of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People
  4. Make three freelance or literary magazine submittals.
  5. Make sure that appendix in my harmony of the gospels is finished.
  6. Organize the various Bible studies I've started. This includes listing them, and evaluating them to see if I want to take them further.
Let me see if I can made these modest goals. This is not a month for dreaming, scheming, and planning.

The September Report

September was not a good month. I made much less progress on writing projects in general, and I fear in the specific items I wanted to accomplish. Here's the results.

Blog at least 12 times. I think I blogged 13 times, so I achieved this goal.

Post at least 12 articles to Let me check at Suite...oh, only 6 articles. My mind didn't go dead, just my desire to write for them.

Finish chapter 7 in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People; start chapter 8 I worked one evening on this, getting a little farther in Chapter 7 but not completing it, and not working on Chapter 8.

Complete one appendix in the Harmony of the gospels >>> Hard to remember, but I think I got this one done. If I didn't actually finish it, I'm real close; probably everything except proof-reading and polishing.

Plan at least six lessons in Good King, Bad King series. By plan I mean something more than just a lesson title, something about the king and his life. >>> I did nothing on this, nothing at all. It just wasn't on my radar screen.

So there it is, a dismal month as far as writing goals. Now I'll plan for October. Given that I'm starting a day late, I'm not hopeful.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It's Amazing What You Learn...

...about yourself as you get older.

Take me, for instance. I was 45 years old when I learned that I was part black, through my mother. That secret was kept well hidden by my mother and her mother and her mother. As a boy I never thought about why there were no pictures of my grandmother's half-sisters in her house. At as 45 I found out. I know they kept this hidden to protect us, but it deprived us from knowing a wonderful family for decades.

Then, just today, for example, I went to a cardiologist for the follow-up to my echo-cardiogram and found out I'm missing two cusps on my aortic valve, a condition I was born with. At my annual physical last month, my new doctor didn't like something she saw on my EKG, something about the high peaks being where the low peaks should be and vice verse. I jokingly said I guess my heart is pumping backward, but she referred me for the echo.

Last week, as I was on the table watching the scope as the test was in progress, I mentioned to the tech that it looked strange the way something was flapping at the end of each beat. She agreed with me and seemed to study it for a long time. She said it looked abnormal and had me wait while she discussed it with the doc. He must not have been concerned, for he sent word I was to just come for my follow-up already scheduled.

As to symptoms of heart irregularity, I have none. Everything else from the echo looks good. The cusp-short valve is not leaking. Flow is good. Other valves look good. Dr. El Shafie said we could do an ultrasound (a trans-esophageal something-or-other), but said it wasn't necessary given no symptoms. He said come back for an annual echo and we'll watch it.

Now, I could easily have gone the next 7 years, 2 months, and 30 days until retirement without knowing this. And the however many years after that until I assume room temperature. But I now know. How will this affect my life? Not much I guess. Perhaps I'll find new impetus to lose the remaining weight I need to lose so that my single-cusp valve doesn't have as much body to supply. Perhaps I'll become a little more faithful in walking, and go for longer distances. Perhaps I'll finally give up a chips habit that I should have years ago.

Or not.

Time will tell. Well, I must be about other business now. I'll post the September report and October goals tomorrow--as long as the one-cusp wonder holds out till then.