Favorite contemporary authors

Fiction Writers

  • David Mitchell –  Clock Atlas, Black Swan Green, A Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Ghostwritten, The Bone Clocks
  • Marilynne Robinson – Gilead, Lila, Housekeeping
  • Alice McDermott – Someone:  A Novel
  • Kate Atkinson – When Will There be Good News, Case Histories, Started Early Took My Dog, One Good Turn, also Life after Life
  • Jonathan Franzen – Freedom, The Corrections
  • Richard Flanagan – The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  • Mark Halperin – A Soldier of the Great War

Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror Writers

  • Neil Gaiman –  American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book Neverwhere, Anansi Boys
  • Stephen King – 11/22/63, The Stand, Joyland, Mr. Mercedes, Finder’s Keepers
  • Dan Simmons – Hyperion Cantos series, Ilium series
  • Neal Stephenson – Reamde, Ananthem, Seventines, Snow Crash
  • Kim Stanley Robinson – 2312, Aurora
  • William Gibson – The Peripheral

Non Fiction Writers (emphasis on History and Biography)

  • Robert Caro:  The Years of Lyndon Johnson Series:  Means of Ascent, Master of the Senate, The Passage of Power
  • David McCullough:  The Wright Brothers, Truman, John Adams, 1776, The Greater Journey:  Americans in Paris
  • Doris Goodwin: Team of Rivals, No Ordinary Time, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream
  • Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything, A Walk in the Woods, the Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, One Summer, America, 1927
  • John McPhee: Coming into the Country, The Second John McPhee Reader, The Control of Nature
  • Edmund Morris: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex
  • Ron Chernow: Washington: A Life, Alexander Hamilton

Performance review comments that Dilbert would love

The following quotes were reportedly taken from actual employee performance evaluations:

“His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity.”

“Works well under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.”

“This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.”

“When his IQ reaches 50, he should sell.”

“He doesn’t have ulcers, but he’s a carrier.”

“If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he’s the other one.”

“Donated his brain to science before he was done using it.”

“If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean.”

“Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.”

“Some drink from the fountain of knowledge, she only gargled.”

“She brings joy whenever she leaves a room.”

“He would argue with a signpost.”

“Got a full six pack, but lacks the plastic thing to hold it all together.”

“She has a knack for making strangers immediately.”

Versatile Blogger Award

I’ve been nominated for the highly coveted Versatile Blogger Award. Many thanks to the very interesting Mushroomup for the unexpected recognition.

In the words of Caddyshack’s immortal groundskeeper Carl Spackler, “So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice”.

I will assume that I’ve won unless I hear otherwise and in that case I simply choose to ignore the result.

There are requirements associated with this nomination. First, I need to identify 15 other deserving sites and notify them. So I have commissioned an illustrious panel of blog experts from the far corners of the internet to generate a comprehensive list for my careful review. I hope to be able to present the final nominees in the near future.

And secondly, I need to share seven interesting facts about myself. This will likely be impossible to do. But with a nod to David Letterman’s Top Ten list, I’ll give it a shot:

Number 7:  Proud to announce that I’m a repeat finalist in the Publisher’s ClearingHouse sweepstakes.

Number 6:  Believe teenage children are Mother Nature’s way of showing who’s the boss.

Number 5:  Worried for the country after seeing grandmotherly, bookstore clerk sporting large snake tattoo on neck.

Number 4:  Convinced Neanderthal DNA is alive and well after recent experience in Wal-Mart tire shop.

Number 3:  Strong dislike for stop and go traffic. Interrupts daydreaming.

Number 2:  Until I turned fifty years old, I believed forty was the new thirty. Now I know it was the new twenty.

And the Number 1 fact about me:  Found out that I enjoy time travel though the jet lag is wicked.

Ant Trapper

Excitement crops up in the darndest ways at my house:

I returned home from work recently to the sound of loud stomping and my wife’s defiant hollering of “This is MY home! Get out!”  These declarations were quickly followed by the sound of more furious stomping and some ferocious, guttural verbalization that reminded me of a lioness protecting her territory.  With an insight honed from our many years of marriage, I instinctively thought, “Must be an ant.”

Ant traps are the most sure fired way I know of to ensure that no harm ever comes to an ant colony.  Conceptually, they appear to be an attractive way to eliminate these pests:  Simply place the trap along an observed ant path and pretty soon some unsuspecting ant will enter the trap, retrieve the irresistible “food” and happily deliver it to the colony, where it will be gladly consumed by all the little creatures resulting in their immediate extinction.

The problem is I have never seen them work. At all.  The ants don’t seem to be even remotely interested in entering a trap.  I know I’ve watched them for hours.  I think the problem is ants have been around for a very long time, something like, oh, a hundred million years. Somewhere along that path they evolved an anti ant trap gene.

Hammer of Thor!  Another loud stomp and the whole house reverberates.  Let’s see those pesky ants develop a gene for that.

Moron Detector

Sometimes the simplest chores can take the longest time to complete; especially on an empty stomach. Case in point:

A while ago, I had returned home after a long day at work where I had been trapped in an seemingly endless stream of meetings with little opportunity to eat.  To top it off, the commute home had been slowed by several traffic backups.  By the time I arrived home the loud grumbling in my stomach caused the dog to hide under the sofa.

I was also greeted by the sound of periodic beeping emanating from somewhere upstairs. My wife informed that she thought the sound originated from the smoke detector in our bedroom. She was pretty sure that it was an indication that the backup battery was getting weak. “Ok”, I thought, “I’m really hungry, but I can replace the battery before supper and get it out of the way.”

Nothing would turn out to be further from the truth.

The ceiling in our bedroom is high enough that the smoke detector can only be reached with a six foot ladder. We like to store the ladder conveniently in the basement behind a wall of unopened boxes from our move several years ago.  So after taking five minutes to move things out of the way, I gathered up the ladder and dragged it up two flights of stairs to our bedroom.

As soon as I started to climb up the ladder I occurred to me that having a replacement battery in hand would certainly expedite the closure of this chore.  I jumped off the ladder with a rumble in my stomach and headed to the battery bazaar that is housed in the bottom drawer of our living room desk.

We always have a pile of batteries in our home.  Their electrical status, well that’s a bit of an unsolved mystery.  We buy our batteries in those 32 count discount packages and our children are expert at mixing up the identically labeled good and bad batteries in their endless pursuit of a continuous Game Boy fix.

So I grabbed a good handful and headed back upstairs to the bedroom.  Soon I have climbed up the ladder and have preceded to remove the offending battery.  I replace it with one battery, then another and then a third, but none stop the periodically annoying beeping sound. Apparently my children have replaced all the working batteries with discarded ones.   Only one thing to do:   Travel to the local convenience store and purchase an exorbitantly priced nine volt battery. You pay for the convenience I suppose.

The new battery also failed to stop the periodic beeping.  Which, quite frankly, was really starting to get under my skin.  Ripping the detector out of the ceiling also appeared to have no effect.  My first though was that the detector was haunted.  Perplexed, my next thought was to throw the damn thing out of the nearest open window.

Till I noticed that the sound no longer seem to originate from the detector.   Glaring around I noticed a CO2 detector blinking red on the bedroom wall behind me.    The flashing red light synchronized nicely with the beeping.  Apparently my hearing works better on a full stomach too.

iPhone Facebook Photo Folly

I have decided that iPhones and alcohol don’t mix well.

My wife and I recently attended a family wedding at a lovely, lakeside inn.  We were having a great time at the reception when I got the wonderful idea of using my wife’s new iPhone to take some photos of the newlyweds.  All right maybe it was not an original idea, because about sixty other people were all ready doing the same thing.  But I, to demonstrated my unique technical genius, was going to take it one step further by immediately uploading the photos to Facebook via an application I had installed on the iPhone.


I had no problem using the built in camera, but I had difficulty getting the automatic upload to Facebook to work.  Consistently, the upload process would get hung up and fail.  Perhaps it was poor coverage and I didn’t have the advantage of all 3Gs in the network.


Being the technical genius that I am, I discovered that the inn had a free WiFi network and I figured out how to logon on to it.

But somehow I was still unable to get a single photo to upload.

About this time, I felt nature’s urging (I have a 2 beer limit these days) and proceeded to the men’s room to relieve myself.  Apparently, many other men have the same limit because I quickly found myself in line in the restroom with my wife’s iPhone.

So while I was waiting…

I thought this was as good time as any to trying uploading again.  “Let’s see, I thought, maybe there is a camera setting that I need to turn on first.  Hmm…”

The simulated shutter sound of the camera was surprising loud and, boy, do people stare when they think you may be taking photos in a public bathroom. Especially when it appears that the camera has been inadvertently focused in the direction of some occupied urinals.

Amazingly that darn Facebook upload application now worked like a charm. Before I could do anything about it, there is a photo of a man at an urinal posted on my wife’s Facebook page.


Maybe my limit is one beer.

(Postscript:  Thankfully, I was able to quickly remove the photo from my wife’s page.)

The WalMart IQ test

Did you know that WalMart gives prospective employees an IQ test?  Yup, because if you have an IQ you can’t work at WalMart.  

Sorry, I know that’s not a nice thing to write.  I’m venting today because of an extremely frustrating experience I had at my neighborhood Super WalMart. An abbreviated list of the highlights include several incorrectly programmed price tags, an inoperable debt card machine and a cashier with the apparent brain power of small reptile.  Accentuating the reptilian motif was her periodic Komodo dragon tongue action that drove both Jean and me to distraction. 

It took so long to get through the check out line, that my son Jack remarked that he thought he would miss high school.

It’s amazing what a person will put up with to buy cheaply made foreign goods.

Rules of the Jungle, Part 1

It has taken me most of my life to realize that there are some certain immutable laws of nature.  For the benefit of posterity, I have started jotting them down. Here’s the first two, perhaps you have some that you would like to share too.

1) Dunkin Donuts Coffee Cup Code:  This is a strictly enforced provision of the national building code and appears to apply to all construction workers.  It goes something like this:  Thou shall drink only Dunkin Donut’s coffee served in a Styrofoam cup and upon completion of thy beverage thou shall dispose of thus specified cup by arbitrarily throwing it on the ground of the construction site.  Optionally, any half drank coffee cup may be left in the framing of the new home construction to ensure that the future home owners will be greeted with a God awful rotting odor emanating from somewhere inside one of the walls of their lovely, new home.

2) The Law of Red Traffic Lights:  The number of red lights observed by a motorist is proportional to how hurried a state the driver is in.  A rushed, panic driver already late for an important business meeting will experience the maximum number of possible red light stops.  If no traffic lights are present along the route, a slow-pokey, elderly Volvo driver from Maine will mysteriously appear in front of the rushed driver.  I believe this is an universal truth from the Creator to shows us all that he has a little time on his hands. My iPod Corollary:  If Lee  would like just one red light so he could safely select select a different playlist on his iPod, he will hit only green lights.

New Math and the World Bank

Last week I attended a professional seminar on building and sustaining innovative teams.  Present at the course were over one hundred folks from all walks of industry, academia and government.  To illustrate how seemingly straight forward problems can be analyzed in unexpected ways, one of the course speakers asked the audience to solve the following problem:

A business man purchases a horse for $60 and later that same day sells it for $70.  The next morning he buys the same horse back for $80 and sells it later that same day for $90.  How much profit, if any, did the business man make in total?

Immediately I was sure that correct answer was $20 in profit.

However four other individuals at my table were convinced that no profit was made.  A fifth person that initially agreed with me was quickly swayed by the other four that zero was the correct answer.

Unconvinced, I asked them to explain their reasoning.  “It is obvious”, the man sitting to my immediate left confidently stated, “the business man loses his first $10 profit when he buys the horse back the following morning and only by selling it again at the end of the second day does he break even.”   

Undeterred, I tried to reason with my table mates that the fact that it was the same horse was inconsequential.  Instead, I argued, imagine that it were two separate horses, one sold for a $10 profit on day one, and another sold for an additional $10 profit on day two. 

They weren’t buying it.  “Clearly”, the same man informed me, “the fact that the horse is the same is a critical piece of information that we must include in the analysis”.  The others nodded in agreement and I could see in their eyes that they were starting to view me as the table dunce, so I just stopped trying to argue with them.

The speaker called the audience back to the presentation and asked for answers from the crowd.  After collecting responses that varied from losing $10 to making $20, the speaker quickly demonstrated that the correct answer, was indeed $20.  “In fact”, he pointed out, “the best way to see this is to ignore the fact that it is the same horse!”

As I looked around at the sheepish expressions from the others at my table, I realized from his name tag that the man to immediate left was from a little institution known as the World Bank.

Now I understand why we’re in such a terrible financial mess.

Startling revelations

One way to show my children that they’re always in my thoughts is to quietly watch them mesmerized by a suspenseful movie.  Then right at the scariest part, I sneak up behind them and give a little poke in the ribs with my index finger as I say “How’s the movie going?” 

As they accelerate upward towards Mach 3, I always get a response that sounds like the simultaneous exclamation of “Dad!” and “Argh!”.

For the rest of the movie, it’s cute to watch them track my every movement out of the corner of their little eyes.

On the other hand, I have learned to never, ever, startle my wife, Jean.  Especially if she has as cup of coffee in her hands.  That is, unless, you want to see a caffeinated reenactment of Old Faithful up close and personal.

Speaking of which, Jean rode along with her sister Amy as she went out to run a few errands recently.   Amy’s favorite sport is NASCAR, so if she breaks the land speed record while running errands, no big deal.  She also has the hair-trigger reactions of a squirrel.  On the other hand, Jean is a very, vocally active, safety conscious passenger, if you get my drift.

Somewhere along their route, Jean spots a pedestrian on the verge of entering an up ahead intersection. Perhaps this fellow hasn’t spotted the blur that is Amy’s vehicle or maybe he’s a thrill seeker trying to catch the sonic boom of her acceleration.  Either way, Jean feels compel to inform her sister of the situation through the relaxed scream of “Incoming pedestrian!”

Micro seconds later, a startled Amy has slammed on brakes and the vehicle has begun de-accelerating at several Gs resulting in a corresponding chain reaction of panicked drivers behind them.  No collisions occurred, but many travel mugs of coffee were probably spilt in this socially shared startling experience.