Monday, November 29, 2010

The Deathly Hallows Part 1 – a review

On Friday after Thanksgiving I went to see the latest Harry Potter movie, The Deathly Hallows Part 1. Let me say that I haven't read the book. I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, though I've seen all the movies. Lynda liked the books, having read them after our son gave her several of them, she read them and loved them, and has since bought the others and read them.

I enjoyed all the previous movies. I found them entertaining, well made, with great cinematography, and great acting. The special effects were good, of course, but I'm not a movie-goer who needs great special effects to like a movie.

This one I found to have great acting, good cinematography, and good special effects. But it failed from a story/plot standpoint. I left the movie feeling "What did I learn?" So the three student wizards are not back at Hogwarts for their final year. So they are in a protect-Harry mode, hanging out in remote places, finding ways to sneak here and there in hopes of finding the horcruxes the Dark Lord has used to assure his immortality. Near the end of the movie they learn what the deathly hallows actually are, and in the last scene the Dark Lord finds the one of the three that he is missing.

Presumably all this is faithful to the book. My son said that Harry, Ron, and Hermione didn't learn about the deathly hallows and what they were until the middle of the book, which should approximately correspond to the end of this movie. I just left it with a "so what" feeling.

To me, story and plot trump execution, art, and craft. This is true in writing also. I'd much rather read a book with a great plot that has some less than stellar writing than a book that is a masterpiece of writing yet does not entertain. That was the problem with TDH Pt 1: it didn't entertain me. I suppose Part 2, due out next July, will entertain me. It is said to be an action film all the way.

I don't need an action film to be entertained, but I need something more than what I saw last Friday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Market Mentalist: Guilty of Plagiarism/Copyright Infringement

Today I did a Google search for a couple of my articles at I found this article:

Market Cycles Defined

also posted verbatim at this link:

MarketMentalist theft of my article

The owner of the site has given no contact information, and the domain registration is hidden.

I'm posting this here so that Google--and hence the world--will soon know that Market Mentalist is a bunch of thieves. Or maybe just one thief.

ETA on Wednesday Dec 1, 2010: I changed the title of this post to better describe what the site did. I also want to report in-post, not just in the comments, that the site owner took down my article immediately upon my request. Good for him. However, today I looked for more articles, and found another one of mine stolen at Market Mentalist. He included my name as the author, but he never asked my permission to post it and I obviously never granted permission. Hence, I have sent a DCMA violation notice to the legal department of his web hosting site.

ETA on Friday Dec 3, 2010: I sent that DMCA violation notice to the legal department of the host. Yesterday I received a return e-mail from the legal department, saying they had contacted the owner of the web page and he had taken down the offending material. Again, good on him. It is all resolved without a major fuss. I can now go about looking for other instances of my copyright being infringed and go after them.

'Tis the season...not to write

Last night I put up the border wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom. As it turned out we didn't have enough. We had two 15 foot long packages, but with all the twists and turns, boxing out for shower and closet, we lacked about 8-9 feet. Oh well, it's a stock item at Wal-Mart. Lynda should be able to get some more.

Also last night we finished putting up our second Christmas tree, this one in the walk-out basement family room. This is the old artificial tree we replaced back in 2000 or thereabouts, and tried to sell at umpteen garage sales but it never would sell. Given the size of our house, and the fact that we'll probably hang out in the family room some while all the kids are all here. Unlike the tree upstairs, this one is not decorated with single color lights and thematic ornaments of two complementary colors. It has multi-colored lights and a hodge-podge of ornaments collected over the years. My kind of tree, bringing back memories of childhood.

To our normal Christmas decorations (which admittedly were a little sparse for our space) we added lights on the balcony, pre-lit garland along the fireplace and stairway upper walls, and the Christmas village on top of the buffet. It's beginning to look like Christmas at the Todd house.

We are decorating early due to having the family in for Thanksgiving, but not for Christmas. So we'll have the house decorated and do a low-key gift exchange, mainly for Ephraim. Ezra will also be there, but safely berthed in his mother's amniotic fluid. His grand entrance will be in March.

So for a few weeks I'm not going to do much writing. I have a proposal to for five articles, but only one or two will be due before Christmas. I will try to keep up with this blog, posting twice or three times a week. I have a series of political articles I'm thinking of writing for The Senescent Man blog, though we shall see how the time goes. As far as new creative writing goes, I'm not anticipating any. Oh, if time allows and inspiration rises, I might do a couple of articles for But otherwise, I'm not going to add writing to the stress of the holidays. It seems we have more parties and functions to go to than normal this year. Writing can mostly wait.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Roller-coaster Continues

My last post, on Thursday morning, spoke of how I'd had a great day on Wednesday. I should know better than to post something like that. Every time I do the next days are always losers. Actually, I don't have to post about the good days. The bad days always come. The bad items came more from work than writing, but

Thursday morning I received a letter from FEMA concerning my floodplain project in Centerton. After several submittals, with revisions to satisfy FEMA, I was expecting the letter to say approved. Instead it had one comment, saying the water surface profiles for the different storms crossed. They should not cross. Therefore FEMA wasn't approving it. I really lost it when this happened. The comment addressed something in my model since the very first submittal, but in 2009 sometime. And they are just making that comment now?

Also on Thursday, on my Bentonville floodplain project, I received an e-mail late, consequently got to a meeting late. The meeting was to coordinate with the City and another engineering company for where our two floodplain projects butt up to each other. As a result of my meeting, I will have to make adjustments to my computer model and the mapping before I can submit to FEMA.

While this was going on, I wasn't able to work on the floodplain project for the City of Rogers (next door to Bentonville). I'm supposed to be way far along with this project, but can't get to it because of these other two that never seem to end. I finally got an engineer assigned to me to help with it, but he'll be on vacation all next week. So how much will I be able to get done on it?

In writing, the bad news was not as big a deal, but it through me for just as big a loop. My e-mail to the art teacher concerning illustrating my poetry book bounced. I called the high school, and couldn't reach her. All day Thursday I heard nothing. Finally on Friday I saw an e-mail from her in my spam. They (she and the principle) want to read the book before they make a decision. That's good. I e-mailed it to her right away. The bad news on this was just the waiting. Could she see her spam? Did she get the message I left with her receptionist?

The other bad news concerning writing is just the lack of time to do any. With the kids coming in for Thanksgiving, and having Christmas with us at the same time, we have much to do around the house. Cleaning. Decorating. Finishing projects. Way too much to do. And with these floodplain projects stacking up, I really can't take any time off work to do the home projects so that I can squeeze an hour out of the evening to write.

Well, I know these bad times don't last forever. Eventually all the busyness will pass. My floodplains will be approved by FEMA. Projects at home will taper off. And I'll write again. But for now, I'll set it aside.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day(s) of Accomplishment

Some days are just better than others. Maybe it's a burst of energy, pent up from slackard days in between. Maybe it's biorhythms. I've never figured it out, but some days seem destined for accomplishment.

Yesterday was one of those. I'll just bullet a few items.
  • We received permission to begin some culvert construction in a floodplain here in Bentonville, based on a "no-rise certification" I prepared and submitted to the City. We had been anticipating a 3 month delay, so this was good. I told our project manager to tell the contractor we pulled a rabbit from our hat.
  • I made contact with a fellow genealogical researcher who is researching tangential to the Todd family. Turns out we can't help each other much, but just making the contact was good.
  • I e-mailed the art teacher at Gravette High School (the school district we live in) about making the illustration of my poetry book a class project. Just doing that, in a burst of energy lasting ten minutes, felt good. Of course, when I got home after church I learned the e-mail bounced. But it only bounced because the spam catcher caught it. I'll have to make a phone call today to see if they will accept my e-mail. I don't know if anything will come of this, but I've done nothing on this for almost a year until yesterday.
  • I received permission from Worcester Polytech to use some of their graphics in an article I wrote for Buildipedia based on some research they did. This turned out to be a major effort, as WPI had the wrong phone number on their web site, and I wasted a couple of days, phone calls, and e-mails on it, putting us right up against the deadline.
  • I completed what seemed like numerous minor tasks in the office, having finished the last floodplain study and not yet started the next. Invoices, filing, training records, soil borings ordered, and more. All done (or close to done), all checked off the list. One more day like this on the miscellaneous tasks and I'll almost be caught up.
  • I learned of a writers retreat in Orlando in February that begins the day after the erosion control conference I'll be presenting papers at, and contacted the hostess to learn more. I've never been to a writers retreat, only conferences. I don't know if this is something I'll do, but the successful research and making contact felt good.
  • The Christmas tree is up and almost all decorated. I don't like it up this early, but the kids, grandkid, and amniotic grandkid are coming for Thanksgiving, so we like to have it up for them. Only the tinsel and garland are left. It's so nice to have something done ahead of schedule. Now I can concentrate on making the Chex mix.
Today the article went live on Buildipedia. I know I'm biased, but I think it's one of my best. It had a good number of views as of 7:15 AM, so the headline on the Buildipedia home page must be creating interest. As it turns out the editor didn't use any of the WPI graphics. Go figure. Now I need to develop and pitch a follow-up article.

So what will today hold? So much energy spent yesterday on so many separate items. It's going to be hard to have as much accomplishment. If I can just get that reimbursement spreadsheet done, something I'm doing gratis for a client, and maybe get a few edits done on my Orlando papers and get them turned in (two weeks ahead of schedule), this will be a day of as much accomplishment as yesterday. Oh, and somehow get the e-mail through to the art teacher.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Peak Foliage Comes Late This Season

The autumn foliage in northwest Arkansas started out pretty poor this year. Maybe "pretty" isn't the best adjective: not as good as years past, not even close to memories of New England foliage, way below what I remember from 25 years ago in North Carolina. The maples and other in-town trees just didn't seem as pretty. Maybe it was the weather, or some kind of minor insect blight that kept the leaves from turning those nice fall colors.

I must describe a little for my readers outside of Arkansas. Our normal foliage here is not even close to as nice as other places. The locals ooh and aah over it, but it's bland. Oh, in the towns it's nice, where people have imported, planted, and cultivated non-native species that give color. But out in the country, in the hillsides above the farms, or where farmers haven't cleared, we have mainly oak forests. Oak leaves in these parts turn brown. Dull. Drab. You see an occasional birch, or something in that family, that turns yellow, but it is rarely a brilliant yellow. You have some hickory or other fruit trees that turn nice. They are beautiful to look at, and stand out among the drab oaks.

I try to tell people that they should imagine that one nice tree among a thousand, and what the hillside would look like if every tree on it were that color. Then they would know what the New England foliage is like. Actually, in New England it's a beautiful mix of colors, including some purple, and some evergreen trees among them. Just beautiful to look at at the right time, a mix of pastels and bolds.

The North Carolina foliage was different. When we lived in Bentonville, our neighbors had two large maple trees in the front yard that turned brilliant red, on fire. I told people to imagine driving the interstate and having both sides, every tree, just that color, mixed with an equal number of brilliant oranges. That's the North Carolina at peak foliage.

However, one thing we have going for us in the towns in the Ozarks is a more strung-out foliage season. Not all trees turn at the same time. Even the maples, in their different species, turn at different times. The oaks in their drabness trail most of the others. The late maples this year trailed the oaks. The Bradford pears, which are one of the preferred landscaping trees because of their early blooms, seem to trail the others. So part of our problem is the trees don't all turn close together. The colors, to whatever extent the trees give them, are spread out.

This year, the late turners have redeemed the foliage season, especially the late maples and the Bradford pears. They have been absolutely beautiful. Our commercial subdivision has beautiful, brilliant red maples on one side. Down every street in Bentonville and Bella Vista are lines of Bradford pears that are bright red mixed with orange, mixed with yellow, mixed with still green, all on the same tree. Beautiful. The oaks are brown as always, but as always the sun will catch those brown leaves and, for a brief time twice a day, make them appear an orange brown, and the oak hills turn beautiful.

Today it's raining, and I can officially say we are past peak foliage. Many leaves will fall. The color when I go out in an hour to go to the doctor will be not near as nice as it was yesterday when I went out for a meeting. But for the last two weeks, when it was supposed to be after the peak, it was the most beautiful.

Which gives me hope for a late blooming writer. Perhaps words cobbled together in a season many would think is past-peak can be found worthy to educate, entertain, inspire, and add a little beauty to drab lives. I hope so.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Stupidest Peace Treaty Ever?

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, formerly known as Armistice Day. That was the day World War 1 ended, November 11, 1918. Germany asked for an armistice from the allied powers; the terms were acceptable; and they signed it in a railroad car in Sedan, France. Eventually World War 2 eclipsed WW1 in terms of destruction, carnage, loss of life, length of fighting, and historical emphasis. WW1 slipped to minor emphasis in our history textbooks.

I've thought a lot about that war over the last ten years or so. Every now and then I pick up a book that has something in it about that war; or I brainstorm something I could write myself. At the moment I'm reading Mr. Baruch, and as coincidence would have it just last night I finished reading about his industrial board duties during WW1 and began reading about the Paris peace conference and his role in that.

The Paris peace conference. This is something I need to read more about, much more about. But I have in my ideas file a book to write about it. I might title the book The Stupidest Peace Treaty Ever. My reading on it so far is limited. I base my statements on the aftermath of the treaty. It is now close to 90 years old, and yet we still are picking up the pieces of the mistakes made.

Just look at how the map of the world changed, and how later wars were fought--and may yet be fought--over the idiotic borders. Yugoslavia was shear idiocy; the Iraq and Iran borders were madness; and the failure to provide an independent Kurdistan a major mistake. The draconian terms forced on Germany may well have led to the rise of Hitler. Historians disagree on this, of course, but I don't think it can be eliminated as a contributing cause, whether or not it was the main cause. The war in Yugoslavia and eventual breakup of that nation was one aftermath, about 70 years after. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 may have been a result of this. The Nato action in Kosovo in the 1990s might have been related.

As I say, I have much research to do. This book may be pie-in-the-sky stuff, something an historian should do, not an amateur writer. But it's fun to think about. Something to research in bits and pieces through the years, and to plan for retirement, which is only 7 years, 1 month, and 19 days away. No, wait, what was that news story over the last couple of days? The retirement age may go to 68? Better re-calculate.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Ephraim Factor

I'm in The Dungeon on a quiet Sunday afternoon, but not for long. After a good Sunday school hour and church service, we met our daughter and son-in-law for Mexican food, a party of six all together, including my mother-in-law and number 1 grandson, Ephraim. You see, he has been with us for the last few days. Sara and Richard were given a two night stay at a resort in northwest Oklahoma, which they took Friday-Saturday. Richard let his associate fill the pulpit this morning.

They came up Thursday, stayed a night with us, left Ephraim here and went on to their time away. Ephraim has been a delight. Two and a half years old on Thursday, he is gaining all the skills we expect of a child at that age. Motor skills, body strength, ability to play by himself, use of numbers for a purpose, not just as an exercise. Ability to put simple sentences together in correct context.

Yesterday he helped grandpa in the "woods", the vacant lot next to ours where I'm slowly cutting up a fallen tree. Mostly he played around, but he was with me. Last night it was great to see him play with new toys, watch a video (Dumbo), and hear stories read.

I just spent a wonderful hour of typing on the passage notes in my harmony of the gospels. The sounds of the house were ever in the background: a heater fan in the downstairs bathroom. Acorns hitting the deck or roof, somewhere way above me. Water running—perhaps Lynda starting a load of laundry, with many footsteps across the floor above. Richard getting up from his nap. Sara getting up from hers. Finally, there was the other expected sound. Not the pitter-patter of little feet, but the explosion of toddler energy in rapid footsteps accompanied by high-pitch cries. Ephraim is up from his nap!

Why am I still down here? I have only a few more hours with him. Eight o'clock, or maybe nine, and he'll go down for the night. Unfortunately, a very high workload means I have to follow a normal schedule tomorrow, or maybe even go to work early. I'll be drinking my second or third cup of coffee by the time someone peeks in his room and finds him happy and ready to get up.

So I shall leave writing for now, as I have all weekend. Ephraim is up. I will go play with him, and perhaps sing about lollipops and teddy bears and do the hokey-pokey one more time, or twice. His younger brother is making his cameo appearance at the house, safely in amniotic fluid, not expected to breathe on earth until March 19, 2011. It's good to see him in his bump. But I go and spend the time with Ephraim. Farewell to The Dungeon for the day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Almost all back together

Since October 1 I have been much engaged in doing the homeowner thing. By early October all repairs needed from the two water damage problems have been completed (I think the last was done Oct 12, but most done earlier). I worked on the upper deck during October, cleaning it, re-staining it, and replacing the much-damaged top rail. That still needs to be stained, but not till it has a few months for the preservative oils to cure. The last of that was completed last Sunday.

That left The Dungeon and the family room to put back together. No, wait, as long as we were all torn up we decided to re-do the downstairs bathroom: strip 20 year old wallpaper that was on the walls when be bought the house, but which we didn't like; paint; put up a border. It's all done but the border, and in a small room like a bathroom that's only a one evening task.

For all this work we had a deadline added. That's good. So often without a deadline you let things drag. Well, the deadline is today, when Richard, Sara, Ephraim, and grandson no. 2, halfway through his gestation period, visit us from Oklahoma City. We'll keep Ephraim, while the other three go off for a couple of days at a nearby resort, given to them by their church for pastor appreciation.

For their visit, we needed everything back in place. Major furniture was already in place, but book cases, books, and residuals from repair work were everywhere. So for the past week I have been moving book cases back where they need to be, after a good cleaning for dust, mold, and mildew. We decided to elevate the ones without a false bottom, which meant cutting and staining a 2x12.

Then we had to get all the books arranged. This was no small task. How do you sort them? Was the way we had it before the best way, or is there a better way? What about those that have never been inventoried? What about those few that were on a shelf in the downstairs bedroom? We're talking about a couple of thousand books.

Most of it is done, as of last night. We still have one bookcase mostly not loaded, and eight boxes of books and some more books on utility shelves in the store room to go. But these are all safely moved into the store room, out of sight for this weekend. The bedroom is back to normal, the bathroom is clean, the family room looks good, and The Dungeon--well, it's back to the normal clutter that accumulates when a wannabe writer and a stock trader work side by side.

During all of this, I haven't felt much like writing. I've done a few articles, and I've typed a little on the harmony of the gospels, but nothing creative. Nothing on my novel. Nothing on Bible studies (except some research). Nothing on market research or other non-writing tasks a writer must do. Maybe, after this weekend, I'll see my way clear to get back into it in a bitter way.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Biographies of Great Men

Biographies are almost always a great read. In part that's because they are of great people, men or women. Right now I'm reading a book titled Mr. Baruch. It's a biography of Bernard Baruch, who was a Wall Street speculator of humble origins, who eventually became an adviser to Democratic presidents and politicians. I'm reading that book because I found it among books we put up for sale at my mother-in-law's moving sale in January 2009. It was among many books I took from my dad's house after his death, lots of which we intend to sell. The name was familiar, but if what he did was covered in my history classes, I slept through it. I'm close to 1/4 through this 610 page scholarly biography. My conclusion to date: Whatever his politics, Baruch was a great man, a man of accomplishment.

At the same time, in our adult Life Group classes, we are studying Charles Swindoll's Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness. It's about the patriarch Joseph, and is a very good book. I'll blog about it eventually, but meanwhile I highly recommend it as either a small group study or even as an individual read. Joseph was a great man of the Bible, a great man in history, a man of accomplishment.

Do you find biographies of great people motivating or deflating? I find them somewhat deflating myself. And, since biographies are only written about great—or notorious—people, most biographies tend to do that to me.

What have I accomplished in life? Unpublished, except for a few articles; lots of work at it, little results. Third string in high school football. Third man in the mile, but barely so. Never rose above third trumpet in band. A generalist civil engineer not really recognized as an expert in anything. A hack home maintainer, barely squeaking by without having to call out a repair man for each little thing. Heck, even most of the water damage we had this summer, which we are still cleaning up from, would have been minimized if I had made the right "diagnosis" of the problem and closed a valve that first evening.

Sorry for the pity party. I just find it all very deflating. Maybe I should quit reading biographies. I've actually written three short biographies. Well, two of them are unfinished. The third is of Lynda's paternal great-grandfather: Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West. It's "finished", though whenever I run out of copies I always update it, adding newly found information, improving the illustrations and printing, etc. I have one copy left, so an upgrading will be coming soon. Of course, it's only about 40 book-sized pages of text, 15 of illustrations and pictures, and 60 or so of genealogy tables and data. It probably doesn't qualify as a real biography.

Well, I guess I'll keep plugging at it. The desire to do something great is too strong to suppress. I'd turn all this good energy to weight loss instead, which would be an accomplishment. But this morning when I weighed in, after a weekend of working my tail off around the house and being reasonably good with my eating, I had gained four pounds since Friday. I guess I'll need to go on my dad's diet: water only, and that just to wash in.