Sunday, March 20, 2022

Five items, free to good homes. See details below:
Item 1
Old wooden “school teacher’s” desk.
Probably an antique from the early-mid 1900s, but not original finish. The front, sides, and drawer fronts were “antiqued” (painted) in the 1970s, and the top surface was covered and edged with Formica. His desk is HEAVY, and very sturdy (you could dance on top of it with no worries). The Formica top is in like-new condition. 5 side drawers (bottom left is a double-depth filing drawer), one shallow center drawer. Each side has a pull-out shelf to increase surface area as needed. Pictures below were taken 3/19/22 in my garage.
Item 2
Bassett Brand Office Chair Lightly used but in like-new condition. No visible wear. Lift and tilt (recline) controls work perfectly.
Item 3
Tilt-top Easel Table The pictures tell the story. Excellent condition.
Item 4
Metal “typing” table with one drawer and two hinged, fold-up/down side wings. Very good condition.
Item 5
Japanese Pump Organ It was brought back from Japan in the late 1950s by my wife’s father, who was in the Navy at the time. Yes, it works. But it would need some adjustments (at least) or repairs to operate as designed. There are at least two keys that do not “sound” properly when pressed. I have NO information about it other than the “Sicher” name above the keys, and the tag (pictured below) in the back near the bottom, but it is obviously used, with some wear, and over 60 years old. Comes with the matching stool, pictured.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Show, Don't Tell

Occasionally I get to work with writers who feel they need to tell the reader how a character feels about a statement from another, or an event.  I usually advise them to “Show, don’t tell.”

Nothing new there... except many seem to have a hard time with the concept.  Oh, they GET it.  It’s just hard to know how to DO it.

I like to take a tip from songwriters.  Some of them can show me an entire story occurring over several years using just three or four short verses.  Here’s what I sometimes use as an example.  Are you familiar with the George Strait song “I Can Still Make Cheyenne?”   


Her telephone rang 'bout a quarter to nine
She heard his voice on the other end of the line
She wondered what was wrong this time
She never knew what his calls might bring
With a cowboy like him it could be anything
And she always expected the worst in the back of her mind.

He said, "It's cold out here and I'm all alone,
I didn't make the short go again and I'm coming home.
I know I've been away too long.
I never got a chance to write or call
And I know this rodeo has been hard on us all
But I'll be home soon and honey is there something wrong?"

She said, "Don't bother comin' home.
By the time you get here I'll be long gone.
There's somebody new and he sure ain't no rodeo man."
He said, "I'm sorry it's come down to this.
There's so much about you that I'm gonna miss.
But it's alright baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne.
Gotta go now baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne.

He left that phone danglin' off the hook
Then slowly turned around and gave it one last look
Then he just walked away
He aimed his truck toward that Wyoming line
With a little luck he could still get there in time
And in that Cheyenne wind he could still hear her say.


If you want to hear it, here’s a link:

The first stanza sets the scene.  I figure that in paragraph form it would be written in three sentences, punctuated like this:

Her telephone rang 'bout a quarter to nine.  She heard his voice on the other end of the line; she wondered what was wrong this time.  She never knew what his calls might bring—
with a cowboy like him it could be anything—and she always expected the worst in the back of her mind.

In those three sentences we know that the two are apart, that his infrequent calls often mean “something’s wrong” since she thinks, “this time.”  We learn he’s a cowboy, thus it could be “anything,” and we gather that it’s usually bad since she always expects the worst.  In just those three sentences, we are “shown” a lot, but the hook is set.  We want to know what “it” is this time.  We assume it’s evening, and the tension is palpable.

But look at what we learn from the next three sentences; all dialogue from him:

He said, "It's cold out here and I'm all alone; I didn't make the short go again and I'm coming home.  I know I've been away too long.  I never got a chance to write or call,
and I know this rodeo has been hard on us all, but I'll be home soon... and Honey, is there something wrong?"

We’re immediately in his head.  From his three sentences we learn that he’s down and out.  He wants her to know that he’s alone, so he mentions it almost first thing.  Why?  Out of guilt?  Has he been alone all along, or just now?  Why does he feel the need to tell her; shouldn’t she assume he’s been alone?  Hmmm.  Cold and alone?  Looking for sympathy. He’s trying to work her. “... didn’t make the short go again.”  Translation: he’s about out of money, so he’s heading back to Mama.  He’s feeling guilty, and his guilt forces an admission: “I know I’ve been away too long.  I never got a chance to write or call.  I know this rodeo’s been hard on us all...”  Wow.  We can see him humble, cowering, almost crawling.  He says, “I know...” twice, trying to convince her he can change.  And he says, “...hard on us all.”  There’s a family here, not just a man and a woman.  He’s left her with the kid(s) to do his own thing.  He knows who it’s been hardest on.

“But I’ll be home soon...”  He’s hopeful, wanting to end on a positive.  But when he doesn’t get his hoped-for reprieve (we assume there’s only silence), he tries to sound concerned, “...and Honey” (Oooo, a pet name!  THAT oughta make her feel better!) “ there something wrong?”  What could possibly be wrong?  I’ve apologized, I’m coming home soon and everything will be fine.  We can almost hear him teetering between hope and desperation, figuring out what he needs to say next to get her to come around.

She lowers the boom.  No gentle build up, no hope of reprieve.  It’s a done deal. 

She said, "Don't bother comin' home.  By the time you get here, I'll be long gone.
There's somebody new, and he sure ain't no rodeo man."  Three short sentences.  You can hear the finality and the disgust.  She’s made her plans and is on her way out of there tonight, or tomorrow for sure.  She sums up his sins and his shortcomings and their incompatibility in her final words, “...he sure ain’t no rodeo man.”  Just six words.  She knows what he is, and she will have no further part of it.  Whatever they had, it’s over.  And that’s all she has to say.

But do we need a description of his countenance, mood, attitude, emotions to “see” him?  No.  His simple response in dialogue without any descriptors paints the clearest of pictures.

He said, "I'm sorry it's come down to this.  There's so much about you that I'm gonna miss.
But it's alright baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne.  Gotta go now baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne.”  You can hear the resignation mixed with relief in those words.  He knew!  He knew it was over, but they hadn’t admitted it to each other so it didn’t seem real.  Now it’s real, and his path forward is clear.  There’s no need to argue, plead, cajole or deny. 
“I’m sorry... I’ll miss you... But it’s alright, because now I can do what I want to do without so much guilt.” 

So few words, almost no adjectives or adverbs, yet we get such a clear picture.  That’s showing, not telling.

As for the rest; why didn’t he hang up the phone?  Then, he gave it one last look before walking away to his truck.  I think it’s because we are being SHOWN that he was torn; he didn’t want to be the one to sever the connection they had once had.  He remembered how good it used to be, but his rodeo addiction was too strong and he knew he was giving in to it despite being tugged toward her. 

Here you could say we are being told as much as shown:

He left that phone danglin' off the hook,
Then slowly turned around and gave it one last look.
Then he just walked away.
He aimed his truck toward that Wyoming line;
With a little luck he could still get there in time.
And in that Cheyenne wind he could still hear her say...

But I think this is also showing.  We are told of his actions, and thoughts, but they give us more insight into his real feelings and emotions which are shown by his actions. 

Okay, enough. Clearly this song is a favorite of mine.  In those few verses we get enough hints of the man’s life before and after this one phone call that a novel, or a movie screenplay could be written. 

I love songs that do that.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Internet Permanence

Statement:  Nothing you post on the internet ever goes away.
Proof of Statement:
Fact 1.  In 2001 Carol and I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa.  I posted a journal of the trip, with pictures, in a blog.
Fact 2.  At that time, Raid bug killer used the slogan, “Kills Bugs Dead.”
Fact 3.  The Swahili word for “bug” is “dudu.”
Fact 4.  On my trip I saw (and took a picture of) a huge billboard outside of Nairobi, Kenya, that said...  Well, here’s the picture:

Fact 5.  Today, 13 years later, I received the following email:
I was going through photographs online and came across your blog that mentions you took a photo of a billboard in Nairobi that said 'kills all dudus dead.'
I'm an entomologist working with Nature Kenya and would like to use this photo in a presentation on the conservation and importance of insects.
If you could share the photo by email I would appreciate it - and will credit you for its use of course.
With thanks
Kind regards
Dr. Dino J. Martins
Insect Committee of Nature Kenya
The East Africa Natural History Society & Turkana Basin Institute, Kenya
I rest my case.
(Yes, I sent him the picture and received a nice acknowledgement.  And yes, I'm pretty sure he's legit.  Check this link: )

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Shopping Carts with Square Wheels

1. The Problem

Ever notice the high percentage of shopping carts having one or more wheels with flat spots? Ever found it annoying? 

How often do you grab a cart, hear and feel the familiar "clunk, clunk, clunk," leave it there and grab another? Or if you DO decide to go ahead and put up with the noise, once you start loading canned goods and other items in the steel basket, the banging of your cart will seem amplified across the aisles until half the store can hear you. Of course, you can also hear others from half the store away. Does this bother anyone else? Or is it just me? 

I think it bothers most of us because I sure hear others complaining about “square wheels.” It just makes the trip to the store a negative experience—something I don’t think corporate management folks would like... if they even knew about the problem... which I doubt.

2. The Cause

Next time your cart starts galumping across the smooth linoleum floor, look closely at the problem wheel (or wheels). It will ALWAYS be one of the back wheels, never the front. 

Ever wonder how the flat spot gets there? When the wheels are rolling they don’t get flat spots. But I’ve never pushed a cart that didn’t have both back wheels turning pretty freely. At least they weren’t dragging along the floor like a car with a locked brake. And even if they did drag a bit, the floors in most retail stores are smooth and polished. I became convinced that it wasn’t customers who were creating the flat spots, so who could it be? And why is it always the rear wheels?

Then I watched an employee gathering carts in the parking lot and bringing them back to the store entrance. He’d get about 20-30 carts in a train-like “stack” jammed together, and push from the rear of the stack. No problem...until he had to turn the stack. Then he would shove the back end of the stack sideways to get lined up in the direction he wanted to go, and then start pushing forward again. That sideways shove is when the rear wheels of several carts near the tail-end of the stack get scrubbed across the rough asphalt parking lot, causing the flat spots!

Why not the front wheels? Well, because they’re on casters to allow them to roll in whatever direction the cart is moving. Thus they never slide sideways across any surface, and always stay nice and round.

3. My Solution

a) I thought of several improvements or solutions to the cart retrieval process, but rejected each because it would cost money. One example: Tell employees to bring in no more the 4-5 carts at a time so there’s no need to push the back end a long stack sideways. (Nope—inefficient and would require assigning more employees to cart-retrieval duties. Labor is expensive.)

b) Without going through all the others and their various negatives, here’s the winner:

Use the customers! Make them feel good about helping, and reward them at no net cost to the store.  I call it the "Cart Angel Program."

Customers walk from the parking lot right past carts that are either loose (and in the way) or in the cart collection areas. Promote the program with signs like this at the store entrances:

Dislike carts with flat spots on their wheels? So do we! Help us prevent them.

BE A CART ANGEL! (Cartoon picture of a halo over a person pushing a cart.)

1. Grab ONE CART (ONLY) from the parking lot on your way in.

2. Bring ONE CART (ONLY) to the Archangel station at the door.

3. Receive your Angel Award (and our thanks) from the Archangel.

4. Shop with a cart with round wheels!

Fine print: You may bring more than one cart, but only one at a time please (to save the round wheels!)

Limit of one Angel Award per person, per day.


At each entrance, or at a single designated entrance, station an employee (who would otherwise be out gathering and retrieving carts) wearing a halo-hat or sparkling vest identifying him/her as a Cart Archangel. 

Assign the Archangel to either:

(a) Give to each customer who brings in a cart an “Angel Award” coupon good for X% off on certain (marked) items in the store (that would otherwise be marked down for quick sale), or

(b) Let each Angel (customer) register for a free drawing of an item of some value. Daily, weekly, and monthly drawings are all possible. 

Use some of the money now being spent replacing cart wheels to pay (at cost!) for the items given out.

BONUS: Archangels’ jobs could readily be filled by hiring people with mobility challenging (or other) disabilities, and this “Hiring the Disabled” effort promoted in ads and articles.

Bottom line: It takes almost no appreciable effort to grab a cart on the way from the parking lot to the store’s entrance. I do it now even without any “reward,” just to help prevent flat cart wheels. I think customers would do it for a chance to win free merchandise. It saves the store money, makes the shopping experience more pleasant without clunking cart wheels, and offers good PR for the store.

If you agree, share this to pass it on. Also email a copy to the General Manager of stores where you shop and sometimes get a clunking cart.

Comment with alternate ideas or enhancements.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fireworks and Things

Fireworks and Things

You know how it goes.

You’re talking with someone. The subject doesn't matter, but the Other Person says, “Say, you know that thing we were talking about earlier? Have you thought about it any further?”

Happens to me all the time. I look at OP, blank expression.

OP says, “I have. What if we used Velcro?”

More blank expression from me.

OP continues, “It would work. The thing wouldn't be too heavy, and we could sew one side of the Velcro to the fabric and use stick-on Velcro on the... thing.” Big smile.

Me: “What are we talking about?”

OP: “You know, Velcro?”

Me: “No. What is the “thing” you want to use Velcro on?”

OP, exasperated expression: “We were just talking about this earlier. You know, the thing we used in the camper.”

OP is clearly noun-challenged. Well, that’s not fair—actually OP has a wonderful vocabulary. OP knows exactly what object OP’s thinking and speaking about. OP can visualize it in three dimensions and in color. OP just begins speaking before remembering its name. Discussions similar to this one but on varying topics occur just about daily.

I have a fairly short fuse with the word “thing.” OP knows this. I have asked numerous times for OP to use any other word, and I mean any (I've suggested “item,” “device,” “object,” etc.), but somehow it’s always “thing.” My fuse is now lit.

I ask, “When were we talking about this?”

OP: “You know, the other day.”

Me, fuse almost burned down: “Give me a hint what we're talking about.”

The fireworks begin. Oh, nothing dramatic. No explosions, or skyrockets, or even pinwheels. No, it’s just a sparkler I’m holding that my short fuse has ignited. It’s pretty, with colored sparks that fly out about six inches before dying.

OP, eyes narrowed: “Don't make fun of me.”

I plead, “Just tell me what you're asking me about.”

Silence. I try again (20-questions style), “Is it bigger than a breadbox? What color is it? What’s it made of? Help me out here.” With a smile, I wiggle the sparkler about.

I notice that OP’s fuse is now exposed, out in the open, and the sparks from my sparkler are getting very close to igniting it. I know from experience that OP’s fuse IS connected to some serious pyrotechnics, and they are NOT pretty. So I stamp out my sparkler.

“I’m sorry. Really. I was just thinking about other stuff, and our earlier conversation got jumbled up with that. Tell me again your idea about the Velcro?”

OP: “I know. I get it. You're just giving me a hard time about saying ‘thing.’” (Searching...) “Oh, you know, the... white... plastic... uh—”

Me, with enthusiasm: “The fence posts! To use as spacers, right? You think Velcro might work?”

OP, fuse snuffed out and cold: “Well, yes. I know they're kind of heavy, but we could always double up on the Velcro. I think it would work!”

Another fireworks show avoided.

But more work needed on “things.”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bird Activity

Three siblings have left the nest leaving just two behind. One of those two is clearly ready to fledge, but just can't seem to take the plunge. Papa continues to feed the remaining two, and both parents remain nearby. Today we saw several visits to the nest by an adolescent bird, probably a sibling of the two.

Papa says, "Breakfast, you two.  Here.  Don't be greedy, you have to share."

"Daddy!  Come back!"

Then the older brother shows up.

"Brother!  Are you coming back to the nest?"
"Nah.  It's too crowded, and it's more fun out here."

"C'mon!  Fly with me!  You'll like it!"

"I'm too big for this nest.  I'm leaving!"

"Do I do it like THIS?"

"Or like THIS?"
"PLEEEEEASE don't leave me"

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Backyard Drama

One nice thing about retirement is the ability to sit at the kitchen counter at lunch time staring out into the back yard.  Yesterday, thus occupied, I noticed a sparrow-sized bird of dull tan coloring checking out each small gap between the patio roof rafters.  She was obviously seeking a nesting site.

Every spring I’ve seen sparrows do the same, but they quickly move on and I’ve never had a bird nest in that area.  The “nesting surface” is only three inches wide, and there’s no way to secure a nest there.  The first strong gust of wind will blow it out onto the concrete patio below.

This gal was an optimist.  She selected her spot, commenced gathering building supplies, and soon had a small pile of grass, trigs and leaves up there.  The breeze promptly blew most of them down.  Undaunted, she continued bringing materials.  Her pile grew, but now she was spending more time weaving them together before venturing off for a new beak-full.  The wind was no longer stealing her collection.

 About that time I also noticed a similar sized bird with a bright red-orange head and throat.  He would perch in a small, potted bougainvillea about 15 feet away from the nesting female and just sing and sing.  I looked him up in our Birds of Texas Handbook and learned that he was a male House Finch.  I took a picture of him.  I had to do so through a window and it’s fuzzy, but this will give you an idea:



THEN I noticed that every time the nest-builder flew off to gather materials, he followed in the same direction.  And every time she returned, he was right back singing on his perch.  I got it!  They were mates, and he was letting her do the building while he just advised her on the selection of materials.  Typical male, right?  At least he was smart enough to get out of the way while she was doing the skilled work.

After about a dozen round trips together my suspicion was confirmed.  She was arranging her materials as the nest was taking shape, and a sparrow flew up to the adjacent spot as if to consider its own nest there.  (See picture below.)


 Well, Mr. Redhead was having none of that!  In a flash he flew up to that sparrow, fluttered and squawked aggressively until the sparrow flew to the ground.  Not satisfied with that, this alpha male followed the sparrow down and confronted him there!  The sparrow, clearly a pacifist, opted to depart the area.  Mr. Redhead strutted a bit, looked all around, flew up to the nesting spot to ensure all was okay, and then resumed his perch in the bougainvillea, singing loudly.

 Late in the afternoon she had just about completed her work.  Whenever I went outside with the camera both birds flew off, so here’s another shot of the nest, with bird in residence, taken through a screened window:


Hopefully she has the nest secured sufficiently that the wind will leave it alone until eggs are produced, hatched, and the little ones can fly.  I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

You don't see a baby moose every day

This came to me today in a forwarded email, so I can't verify its authenticity.  But hey, the pictures are sure cute!
A baby moose was in distress in a creek.  A man got him out of the creek; tried to find the mother and send him on his way, but eventually the moose stumbled back into the creek and was rescued again.
The baby moose followed the man home.  The man has only a small cabin so he took the moose to another neighbor, who took these photos. They took the moose the next day to a woman who looks after wild animals and she put it in a pen with a rescued fawn.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Joys of Medicare

This isn’t a rant, although it’s tempting.  No, this is just a few curiosities about the inner workings of the Medicare system as I attempt to interact with them.

I opted into Medicare part B later than most, after retiring in my 67th year.  But I had been covered by my employer’s plan until then so all was fine.  About 10 months later I was scheduled for a routine physical exam, including a couple of tests.  Medicare promptly declined payment for the exam and the tests.

I phoned the Medicare 800 number, fought through prompts and a lengthy hold before being connected to a very articulate and well-informed representative.  After review he informed me that the problem was all in the coding of the claim.  The doctor had submitted the claim as a “routine physical exam,” but under Medicare I was not eligible for that code until I had been in part B for 12 months.  Then the representative brightly informed me that if the claim were resubmitted as a “welcome to Medicare” visit, it would be covered.

Okay.  How about the tests?

The answer, also delivered brightly, was that those would also be covered if resubmitted under a different code.  I asked which code he would suggest.  He said he was precluded from making suggestions for fraud prevention reasons, but assured me that “any code would do, other than the one that was used.”

Okay.  Gee, that sounded like very effective fraud prevention, wouldn’t you agree?  (Sarcasm font needed.)

Then last Tuesday I went to a dermatologist for a routine screening.  He found a small mole on my back that he wanted to biopsy, telling me it was probably benign but he thought he detected a color change and “better safe than sorry.”  I readily agreed.  (Duh!  That’s why I go see the guy!)

The phone call came yesterday that I had a BCC (“basal cell carcinoma”).  These are fairly innocent little skin cancers that rarely spread (metastasize), and are almost always successfully treated by removal of all the affected tissue.  Especially after early detection.  (Note to reader:  Routine dermatological screenings are a GOOD IDEA!)  The doctor wanted to schedule me for a return appointment to remove surrounding tissue to ensure complete removal of all affected cells.  This is typically done in the office (outpatient) under local anesthesia by freezing or burning around the biopsied area.

I was offered May 14 for an appointment, and of course agreed.  In the interest of getting rid of the cancerous cells as quickly as possible, I mentioned that I would be available all of the week prior to the 14th if there were an opening.  I was told, “Oh, we can’t schedule you any earlier because Medicare requires a waiting period.”

Excuse me?  More fraud prevention?

As I wrote at the beginning, this is not a rant.  But if the diagnosis had been a melanoma or something more serious, it would be!

Maybe there’s a (good?) reason.  But I’m curious, and plan to do a little more research to see if I can find it, and the “logic” behind it.  I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

More violence

The mass stabbing attack at a Houston-area community college this morning just keeps rattling around in my head. 

I’ll confess that my first impulse was a desire to post a sarcastic comment about the need for outlawing “assault knives” and for background checks prior to the legal purchase of sharp objects.  But that would trivialize both the serious nature of the event and the thoughtful calls for action by people on BOTH SIDES of the gun-control arguments.

 I could already hear dismissive responses along the lines of, “Sure, 14 are injured following the stabbing attack, but 20 people DIED in Newtown!”

 My response to that line of thought is that it trivializes the violence done in the stabbings!  Think about it: how much violence is permissible?  I mean, if no one actually dies, does that make it okay?  Of course not.  If only one or two dies, is that better than 20?  “Better” becomes difficult to define.

 So is there a balance of any kind here? 

I think the vast majority would agree that an end to violent attacks against groups of relatively innocent and vulnerable people should stop.  And there’s little question that automatic-fire weapons with a very short delay to reload (large magazines) are a much more efficient method of causing maximum carnage than most others.  Well, excluding Weapons of Mass Destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological).  And truck bombs (Oklahoma City).  And car bombs and suicide bombs of all kinds.  And hijacking planeloads of people and crashing them into area where lots of people are.  And derailing high-speed passenger trains.  Or maybe stealing a tank truck full of flammable liquid (I’m getting really out there) and spraying it over a large crowd with ignition sources around.  And on, and on. 

But yes, guns are good at killing.  So . . . we can demonize the weapons and pass laws to make them more difficult to obtain.  But will that stop their use?  People will always find ways to circumvent the laws, if that’s their mindset.

 Is our culture of violence, from video games to Hollywood to literature, the problem?  If so, can it be changed?  Human history (millennia of it) tells me that rare is the culture that successfully avoids violent responses to certain acts, and that culture does not last very long.

 I’m left with the belief that we are not going to stop these acts of senseless violence, and there are limits to what we can do to protect citizens, whether children or not.  Although I believe we should (and will) do what we can with the resources we have, the bottom line is we’re going to have killings.

 I’d love to hear of a solution that we could all (literally) live with.