Iraq: The faces of California’s War Dead

On this day in 2003, the United States, along with coalition forces primarily from the United Kingdom, initiates war on Iraq

CA War Dead, Iraq

The toll can be told partly in who they left be­hind: nearly 300 chil­dren, more than 200 spouses, 35 brides and two grooms who nev­er made it to the al­tar.

In cit­ies and towns across the state, me­mori­als can be found for the 483 Cali­for­ni­ans who have died dur­ing the con­flict in Ir­aq.

Their faces and stor­ies are re­cor­ded here:
Iraq: The faces of California’s War Dead – California’s War Dead – Los Angeles Times.

See my post Thoughts on the end of the war in Iraq.


Writing Well

WishingWellAdvice I’m following to write well

My writing stinks.

That’s what the negative voice inside my head tells me as I struggle to compose these blog posts.

Writing is such hard work. Having an angry, hypercritical perfectionist perched like a vulture in my brain doesn’t make it any easier. “You’re too boring and stupid to write,” the voice assures me. “No one wants to read your crap.”

Flinching from vicious self-criticism, I struggle to find my way, trip over tangled thoughts, stumble on senseless sentences, frantically toss words in and just as frantically toss them out.

I’m never happy with the results. “Proof you’re an idiot,” sneers my harsh Inner Critic, whom I imagine looks like Simon Cowell.

Simon Cowell

Steve, this post is idiotic 

You’re not a writer, never will be

Give up!

Just as I’m about to give up, conceding that my Inner Critic is right: I have absolutely no talent at all for writing, I come across wonderful examples of truly bad writing, and from people actually paid to write!

plan plan plan


Bad writers lift me up. To my abusive Inner Critic, that unrelenting voice in my head that delights in crushing any creative effort I attempt, I can smile and say, “See? I’m not that bad!”

The late Carlos Fuentes, Mexico’s most celebrated novelist, said that writing is a struggle against silence. I say writing is a struggle against my Inner Critic.

Where to get help if your Inner Critic won’t shut up…

Four Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic
by Marelisa Fabrega
“Our inner critic develops early in our lives, absorbing what we hear from others and what society expects from us. It’s not a voice that’s meant to go unchallenged, but rather a part of ourselves, which we can choose to ignore or confront. In addition, we can choose to listen to our inner critic only at the appropriate stage of the creative process.”

Writing A Draft? Silence That Inner Critic!
“Every writer I know or have ever heard of has an inner critic or inner editor that, if not silenced, at least while they are working on a rough draft, means nothing gets done. We need that voice that helps us edit our work, but not until we’ve got some work to edit.”

Why Your Inner Critic Is Your Best Friend
by Mark McGuinness
“If you think about it, you’d be in big trouble without an Inner Critic. Without some kind of internal quality filter, you’d be happy to churn out any old rubbish – and join the ranks of mediocrities. A finely honed critical faculty is one of the things that separates a creative professional from the legions of amateurs.”
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The Lazy Writer’s Way To Riches

Hey! I found a way to become a successful published author without having to knock my brains out writing or ever hear a peep from my caustic Inner Critic. My computer will do all the dirty work; I’ll rake in the cash and glory!

Patented Book Writing System Creates, Sells Hundreds of Thousands of Books On Amazon
A computer programmer has “written” 800,000 books using an algorithm, reports David J. Hill in this eye-opening post on Here’s an excerpt…

“Philip M. Parker, Professor of Marketing at INSEAD Business School, has had a side project for over 10 years. He’s created a computer system that can write books about specific subjects in about 20 minutes. The patented algorithm has so far generated hundreds of thousands of books. In fact, Amazon lists over 100,000 books attributed to Parker and over 700,000 works listed for his company, ICON Group International, Inc.

“Now these books aren’t your typical reading material. Common categories include specialized technical and business reports, language dictionaries bearing the “Webster’s” moniker (which is in the public domain), rare disease overviews, and even crossword puzzle books for learning foreign languages, but they all have the same thing in common: they are automatically generated by software.”

“Because digital ebooks and print-on-demand services have become commonplace, topics can be listed in Amazon without even being “written” yet.

“To be clear, this isn’t just software alone but a computer system designated to write for a specific genre. The system’s database is filled with genre-relevant content and specific templates coded to reflect domain knowledge, that is, to be written according to an expert in that particular field/genre. To avoid copyright infringement, the system is designed to avoid plagiarism, but the patent aims to create original but not necessarily creative works. In other words, if any kind of content can be broken down into a formula, then the system could package related, but different content in that same formula repeatedly ad infinitum.”

Sampling of books attributed to Parker:

– Webster’s Slovak – English Thesaurus Dictionary for $28.95

– The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats for $795

– The World Market for Rubber Sheath Contraceptives (Condoms): A 2007 Global Trade Perspective for $325

– Ellis-van Creveld Syndrome – A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients, and Genome Researchers for $28.95

– Webster’s English to Haitian Creole Crossword Puzzles: Level 1 for $14.95

So if it cost Parker, say, fifty cents to generate a book, even if he sells only a handful of copies, that’s a great profit! Parker and his company have more than 800,000 titles on Amazon… you do the math.

Here I am dreaming of writing a book that sells lots and lots of copies (“Never happen,” snaps my Inner Critic) while Phil Parker makes big bucks “writing” lots and lots of books and selling, at best, a few copies of each.

But it’s the last part of the article that really set my head spinning:

“So, what’s the next book genre Parker is targeting to have software produce? Romance novels.

“Although a novel is a work of fiction, it’s no secret that certain genres lend themselves to formulas, such as romance novels. That may not make these works rank high for their literary value, but they certainly do well for their entertainment value. Somewhat surprisingly, romance fiction has the largest share of the consumer book market with revenue of nearly $1.37 billion in 2011.”

Read the entire article here. Includes video of Parker explaining his process. 

I’ve heard about artificial intelligence, but artificial creativity? Artificial imagination? I doubt it.

Could Parker’s software really produce a novel in twenty minutes? Damn! I’ve been working on my mystery novel for seven years (thanks to the discouragement of my Inner Critic).

I can’t imagine the reading experience with a computer-generated novel. I could never get lost in the story. I’d always be aware that a non-human — a computer system – “wrote” what I’m reading.

Readers feel a close relationship with the author of a book they enjoy. You can’t have that warm, human connection with a cold, impersonal computer system. Author appearances? Autographed copies? Forget about it.

But I think I figured out how this could work.

Parker’s success is that he can compile, or customize, a book that fills a specific audience’s need or desire and do it super fast and super cheap. Doesn’t matter if that audience is really tiny – it could be just one person.

Parker could write  hundreds of thousands of custom romance novels.

Romance Novel CoverA reader who loves romance novels could customize a novel. She could pick the novel’s time period and location from a pull-down menu – medieval Britain,  Antebellum South, a modern-day village on the coast of Maine.  She could pick scorching sex (as in Fifty Shades of Gray), soft porn, or G-rated everyone-keeps-their-clothes-on (for the Christian evangelical market). Pick everything she enjoys in her romance novels. Even pick the central character’s name, which could be her name.

Parker’s program could generate a novel packed with the reader’s favorite elements and based on the tried-and-true formula all romance novels follow.  She’d have her customized romance novel e-book in less than half an hour.

Imagine ordering a novel as you would a pizza with your choice of toppings!

Up till now, Parker has been happy to go after tiny, underserved audiences (how many people want a English-to-Haitian Creole crossword puzzle book?). How his system will work in the highly competitive, billion-dollar-plus romance novel market is anyone’s guess.

Oh, the first novel written by a computer was published in Russia five years ago. And Parker himself has written three books the old-fashion way.
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Seven Writing Tips for Better Writing

from Stephen King’s On Writing

  • Get to the point
  • Write a draft. Then let it rest
  • Cut down your text
  • Be relatable and honest
  • Don´t care too much what others may think
  • Read a lot
  • Write a lot

I’d like to say I have these writing tips from Stephen King taped to my computer monitor or that I religiously follow them, but I don’t. As Mark Twain said, “The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on.”

“Here’s some good advice,” snarls my Inner Critic, “don’t publish this post. You’ll just embarrass yourself if you do.”
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Where I go for inspiration and to learn the mechanics of writing well 

See all my Writing Well posts. I’d love to hear your comments, unless you echo my Inner Critic.

Steve's Romance NovelNow, excuse me, I’m working on a list of what I want to see in the first romance novel I order from Phil Parker as soon as he has his system up and running.

Here’s my dream cover. I want a story where the hero — a young, handsome, talented writer named Steve — is persecuted by a sadistic critic but saved by the love of a beautiful, sex-starved blonde.

Unbelievable, Steve. You're hopeless!

Unbelievable.  You’re pathetic, Steve.

100,000 Dolphins Party Off Southern California Coast

Spotted off the coast of San Diego: an enormous swarm of short-beaked dolphins, about seven miles long and five miles wide. An estimated 100,000 dolphins swam together.

Why such an incredibly large group would show up in one location is a mystery.  Dolphins typically travel in groups of anywhere between 15 and 200, which are called pods — this is a “super mega pod.”

My guess is social media. Dolphins are social animals, communicate with one another with sounds and body language, and, who knows, maybe they have their own Internet. A dolphin tweeted, “Hey, a feast here & weather’s great! Let’s party!” and it went viral.

100,000 Dolphins Are Partying Without Us Off the Coast of California by Lindy West on Jezebel.

If the dolphins decide to come ashore, here’s what happens…

And there’s also this dolphin news…

Dolphin Approaches Hawaiian Divers For Help After Fishing Hook Embedded In Fin click link to see video

Life & Death


Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere

French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

First I find out I have heart disease and spend three days in the hospital. Then yesterday a big-ass asteroid nearly hits the earth, and at the same time a meteorite explodes over the Ural mountains in Russia injuring 1,000.

I go the pharmacy to pickup my new heart medications and I’m nearly hit walking across the parking lot by a guy in a BMW talking on his cell phone as he speeds along, oblivious to everything. I should have done a Ratso Rizzo on him: Hey! I’m walkin’ here!

I have to worry about my heart giving out, I have to dodge thoughtless drivers zipping through parking lots, and now I have to keep an eye on the sky for wayward meteors.

Trap-door-spider-catches-cricketDeath is nosing around, ready to jump out and snatch me away. I notice and begin to think about my own mortality. Something I’ve been avoiding. Who wants to think about their own demise, of The End?

Sure, I get a little paranoid. But now I’m really into this whole death thing. I’ve  already composed my last words: Wait a minute! I’m not done yet!

And I’ve come up with my preferred way to meet Death: At age 96, I’m shot in the back by a jealous husband as I walk home from my favorite bar.

Oh, just in case, my last thought is to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. My many sins washed away, I go straight to heaven. If there is no God, no harm done (see Pascal’s Wager).

We come from nothing, we are going back to nothing  — In the end what have we lost? Nothing!
Monty Python’s Graham Chapman

Chart compares the odds of dying in any given year from things like accidents, gun shot, choking, lightning, bee sting, fire…

death in america graphic

Oh, great. Heart disease is the number one cause of death — that’s the bullet I’m betting has my name on it.

Odds are also relatively good that one unlucky day an accident will get me — some asshole like that guy on the cell phone in the Walgreen’s parking lot will cause this horrific crash on the freeway, a scene right out of Red Asphalt, and I’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and air-expressed home to Jesus.

The least likely way I’ll be drop-kicked to heaven is by an asteroid or meteorite taking me out — the odds of that happening are about 75 million to one. See Death by Meteorite

montaigneAll our days travel toward death, and the last one reaches it.

Death of Ratso Rizzo Poor guy dies just as he realizes his dream of moving to Florida

Beer fans line up for the limited Pliny the Younger

Russian River Brewing Company host Alex McLaughlin, right (back to camera) handles a long line of patrons at the Russian River Brewing Company's brewpub in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, February 6, 2013. Pliny the Elder (and Pliny the Younger) - a beer so sought after, so mysterious, that Taylor's market doesn't even keep it in its cooler. They hide it in the back and you have to ask for it by name. Pliny the Younger is even more rare -- brewed only two weeks a year, setting off a mad rush to try it at the Santa Rosa brew pub. The pub opened at 11 a.m., and people lined up for hours for a chance to drink Pliny the Younger, which is available only two weeks a year.

Russian River Brewing Company host Alex McLaughlin, right (back to camera), handles a long line of patrons Wednesday, Feb. 6. The Santa Rosa brewpub opened at 11 a.m. and people lined up for hours for a chance to drink Pliny the Younger, a legendary India pale ale that’s available only two weeks a year. Photo by Randall Benton, Sacramento Bee

Great article in today’s The Sacramento Bee about incredible demand, and sheer madness, for a seasonal craft beer called Pliny the YoungerBeer fans line up for the limited Pliny the Younger – Food & Wine – The Sacramento Bee. Some beer connoisseurs call Pliny the Younger “the perfect beer.” The challenge is getting your hands on a glass of Pliny the Younger, or even the Russian River Brewing Co.’s other popular beer, Pliny the Elder (brewed year-round).

Here’s an excerpt…

You could be in and out of the Russian River Brewing Co. in an hour. Or you could wait, as many have, for up to seven hours, in a line that stretches down the sidewalk on Fourth Street, around the corner and into oblivion.

Due to the enthusiasm — no, the madness — that accompanies Pliny the Younger, an India pale ale that’s available for just two weeks at the beginning of February every year, the brewery has had to post a list of expectations and rules.

Here, for example, is No. 6: “If you have a compelling reason for not waiting like everyone else, you will have to take that up with the 300 folks in line BEHIND you. Good luck with that!”

A 10 oz. glass of Pliny the Younger beer at the Russian River Brewing Company's brewpub in Santa Rosa.

A 10 oz. glass of Pliny the Younger beer.

Beer aficionados know it as a triple IPA – meaning Pliny the Younger has triple the amount of hops in a regular IPA, which pushes the limits of flavor, intensity and alcohol content. The name Pliny refers to the Roman author and naturalist Gaius Plinius Secundus – Pliny the Elder – whom many credit with having a hand in creating the botanical name for hops, a key ingredient in beer. Pliny the Younger is his nephew.

The hype, the long waits, the obsession. It’s all very real and, in this case, makes perfect sense. Pliny the Younger is impossibly clean, crisp and smooth for a beer that’s 10.8 percent alcohol. The hops — a maestro’s blend of six kinds — offer a pleasing bitterness without being harsh or chewy. The beautifully balanced beer has an intense taste, but it’s also subtle. There’s a hint of fruitiness without being sweet.

The last day for the Pliny the Younger until 2014 is Thursday. If you miss it, the pub serves many other highly regarded beers with national reputations, several of which have provocative names like Sanctification, Perdition, Damnation and Consecration.

And for the diehards who wait too long to seek out the greatness and mystique of Pliny the Younger, there’s no more fitting name than a seasonal beer the pub will release soon: Procrastination.

Read the SacBee article by Blair Anthony Robertson here
Check out the Beertone (named for the color guide, Pantone).

Beertone features 200 different kinds of beer with a color swatch representing each variety. The color tabs are packed with particulars for the beer connoisseur, including brewery info, alcohol content, a flavor description, and detailed color information—think RGB, CMYK, HTML, and SRM (the beer color scale).

Created by the self-described “Swiss Guy” (Daniel Eugster) and “Brazilian Guy” (Alexander Michelbach), Beertone is currently offered for Swiss beers only, but it’s rumored Brazilian and German versions are on the horizon.

Source: Webdesigner Depot


World’s Longest Word, World’s Weirdest Words

Wandering around the Web, I came across what’s called the world’s longest word.

I believe this really is the world’s longest word, even though I haven’t seen it. Well, I haven’t seen the whole word end to end.

This word contains 189,819 letters. It’s so long that stretched out in one long line, it would be like looking down an arrow-straight desert highway that disappears into a distant horizon.

If I were to show this word to you here, you’d be scrolling and scrolling and scrolling for I don’t know how long before you got to the tail end, the last letter.

This word is so incredibly long it takes approximately three-and-a-half hours to pronounce.

Here’s how the word starts: Methionylalanylthreonylserylarginylglycylalanylserylarginylcysteinylproly…

Yeah, I’m disappointed too. This mile-long word is the chemical name for titan – a human protein that, as its name implies, is the largest known protein. [Titans were a race of giants in Greek mythology; various large things have been named after the Titans — RMS Titanic, for example].

So the word titan, spelled with five letters, and [insert world’s longest word here], spelled with 189,819 letters, mean basically the same thing? That’s crazy!

But in a way, it makes sense. The world’s longest word mimics the titanic protein it represents – a long, long, long string of molecules. It is what it is.

By the way, my favorite long, long, long word is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia noun fear of long words

Strange, Wondrous, Rarely Used Words

Outside of technical, scientific and medical terms, we rarely if ever use extra-long, multi-syllable words. Words like horbgorbling, mautuolypea, ozoamblyrosis just don’t come easily to mind. Spellcheckers don’t recognize them; most dictionaries don’t list them. These obscure words are difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to spell.

And if you should use such fancy, five-dollar words, only a tiny, tiny fraction of the population has the wide-ranging vocabulary to comprehend what you’re saying. Which in the case of ozoamblyrosis is too bad as that word means loss of sexual appetite because your partner has unpleasant body odor.  Ask someone you’ve just met socially if he or she has ever suffered from ozoamblyrosis – there’s a great conversation starter! (Though they may, against all odds, know what ozoamblyrosis means and complain that your question is not only rude and inappropriate but ostrobogulous as well).

Our quirky English language has plenty of words that are strange and wondrous in spelling – such as zenzizenzizenzic (meaning the eighth power of a number), and strange and wondrous in meaning: a retromingent is an animal that urinates backwards, as lions and raccoons do.

The strangest single word that I’m aware of is spangchew, which apparently means to throw a frog into the air, a concept so weird that you wonder why anyone would ever feel the need to coin a word for it.
Richard Watson Todd, Much Ado About English

Would you like to be a sesquipedalian (one who uses big words)? Check out – “Type in what you’re looking for and we’ll hook you up with the lengthiest words we can think of.” People will think you’re sooo smart ‘cause you use such BIG words! Why don’t you drop the pretense and get down here with us and watch Honey Boo Boo.

Short words get all the action – easy to say, easy to spell, instantly understandable. Short words are so handy they often have more than one meaning. The simple word set has 126 meanings as a verb, 58 as a noun, and 10 as a participal adjective. (Source: Bill Bryson, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words). Short words are broad and general in meaning; long words are pin-point precise and unique.

If obscure English words fascinate you – words like chankings, dishabillophobia, or philodox – may I suggest Charles Harrington Elster’s There’s A Word for It! A Grandiloquent Guide to Life.
chankings  food that you spit out, such as seeds and pits
dishabillophobia  fear of undressing in front of someone
philodox  someone in love with his or her own opinions

See & Hear the World’s Longest Word!

Want to see the world’s longest word in its entirety? You can download a 65KB text file of the word here.

Or you can watch this guy take three-and-a-half hours to read out loud the word in its entirety. Watch the flower bloom and wilt as he goes on and on, seemingly without a pause. You’ll see the guy’s beard grow as the pronunciation drones relentlessly pass an hour, two hours, three. You have to wonder if he was able to do this reading in one take!
Just click on the photo to view video and kill an entire afternoon. 

longest word video link

Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more     nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass 

Humpty-and-alice (1)

The purpose of language is to convey meanings.

We depend on words to carry a thought from our head and deliver it to someone else’s head.

But sometimes words fail: they don’t communicate the meaning we had in mind.

When words fail, either we misused a word or a word misused us.

Mr. Dumpty misuses words; the words he chooses to express his thoughts only confuse Alice.

I don’t know what you mean by “glory,” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.  ‘Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’       from Chapter 6, Through the Looking-Glass

On the other hand, the English language is as idiosyncratic and illogical as Humpty Dumpty. Many words in our quirky language delight in deceiving us, delivering an entirely different meaning than the one we intended.  These trickster words are called homonyms.

Homonyms are two or more words that share the same spelling, or the same pronunciation, or both, but have different meanings and origins.

So a word can look like duck, sound like duck, but not mean a web-footed swimming bird but something you do to dodge a blow or avoid an unpleasant task.

Mischievous homonyms can pull the pants down of the unwary writer, as seen in these newspaper headlines:
Prostitutes Appeal To Pope
Chicago Checking on Elderly in Heat
‘Bare Children in Mind’ Plea to Drivers [Sign seen on restaurant door: No Bear Feet Allowed]
Here’s How You Can Lick Doberman’s Leg Sores

Homonyms come in two flavors:

Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation but differ in meaning, such as ceiling and sealing, hours and ours, way and weigh.

Homographs share the same spelling, and sometimes the same sound, but have different meanings. Examples are close (to be near) and close (to shut), incense (a burnt aromatic) and incense (to make angry), and refuse (to deny) and refuse (garbage).

And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as biannual and biennial, immanent and imminent, insolate and insulate.
I straighten out these tangled words for you in the list below.

Some (homophone: sum) of my favorite homonyms, homophones and confusingly similar words:

allowed  permitted
aloud  in a spoken voice; not silently
Steve protested that reading aloud is not allowed in the library

altar  raised platform for worship or sacrifice
alter  to change

biannual  twice a year
biennial  once every two years
Steve’s curio shop, Bizarre Bazaar, has a biannual clearance sale and a biennial going-out-of-business sale

bole  stem or trunk of a tree
bowl  deep, round dish or basin
bowl  participate in a game of bowling

eminent  high in station or rank; prominent; distinguished
internal or inherent
imminent  likely to occur at any moment

faces  have a difficult event or situation in prospect: the defendant faces a maximum sentence of ten years
feces  waste matter eliminated from the bowels; excrement
Following the dog feces fracas, Steve faces eviction

gull  to deceive or trick
gull  seabird
Steve tried to gull the gull with a plastic minnow

insolate  exposure to the sun’s rays
insulate  using various materials to prevent the leakage of heat
Insolate to get warm and insulate to stay warm

quail  lose heart or courage in difficulty or danger
quail  bird
quail TimBentz

shoe-in  common misspelling of word below
shoo-in  a candidate, competitor, etc., regarded as certain to win

soar  to fly aloft or about; to rise to heights
sore  painful

straight  having no bends, turns, or twists
strait  narrow channel connecting two bodies of water

wine  fermented grape juice
whine  to cry in distress, or in a high-pitched, complaining manner
Wine, wine, wine the night; whine, whine, whine the morning
wine flu

See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words that I’ve posted to date.

Animal Homophones

I have two bird words in my selection of favorite homonyms, homophones & confusingly similar words: gull and quail.

I’m working on a list of words for animals that are homophones, such as horse and hoarseGull and quail don’t count because they’re homographs — they have the same spelling as the words I pair them with. I just brought up gull and quail because they’re animal words and remind me of this Nelsonlist I’m working on, a list of animal homophones (same sound, different spelling). It’s a very interesting list and I’m having fun putting it together and …

Oh, you’re laughing at me. I know what you’re thinking: Dude, what a life you’re having!

Hey, what are you working on, a cure for cancer?

Anyway, here’s my work-in-progress list of animal homophones:
flee/flea  (you’re right: an insect, not an animal. So sue me)
leech/leach  (leeches are worms, worms are animals, not insects)
lion/lyin’  (OK, I’m cheating a little bit here)
minks/minx  (a minx is a flirtatious girl; minks have beautiful fur)

Do any animal homophones occur to you? I’d appreciate suggestions, just use the comment box. Oh, the rule is, you can’t do a Google search. Has to come straight out of your own little head. Builds brain muscles that way, so you won’t get Al’s hemorrhoids when you’re old.