Man Versus Machine

I continue hearing that desktops, keyboards, and laptops will soon be a thing of the past. There was a time when I agreed with them.

As a person who began writing with a Sears portable typewriter back in the early ‘60s such a change could only bring positive results. So in the midst of my 2014 National Novel Writing Month Challenge – producing 50,000 meaningful words within the 30 days of November the middle finger of my left hand went sour. I had succeeded the year prior with 50,254 words in 27 days,) This year, however, switching from 10-finger to two-finger typing wasn’t going to cut it.. Rushing to my neighborhood Best Buy I purchased a Nexus 7 tablet with voice recognition.

My first surprise was to learn it didn’t speak English. It had to be taught. So I read a novel to it. When its vocabulary equaled mine I put the novel away and my 50,000 word challenge…sort of.

My second surprise came when I discovered I didn’t pronounce some words clearly. When this occurred the Nexus 7 ad libbed. The results were a disaster.

My third surprise came when it was time to edit. It was no longer man versus story. It was man versus machine. If you think I’m exaggerating, imagine a Bostonian and a Charlestonian sharing a voice recognition machine. I wasn’t writing a horror story, but that’s what I had.

I suppose if I had stuck with it I would have eventually developed a stilted lingo this machine could deal with, but fighting a two-front battle – a machine and a story – brought the words of either John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway into very sharp focus: The secret to good writing is effective editing. Those words caused me to learn two-finger typing on my Nexus 7.

Eventually, my finger healed enough where it will tolerate a couple of thousand words before sending me back to the tablet. So I alternate between the two.

Reflecting on my personal experience, I’ve concluded that the folks who are predicting the demise of the keyboard have never met a deadline head on. They’ve never tried what they preach

Where Did They Go?

This is msuĺi delivery at Pie Town, New Mexico during the late 1930s. The flat crates tied on the back are baby chicks traveling as parcel post, probably 60 to a box. As you can see, mail arrival was like a circus coming to town.

Before and during World War II my home was on a Missouri farm. Life was simple but effective. Our heat source was wood, our lights were kerosene lamps, our water came to the kitchen sink from a pitcher pump, and hot water came from a tea kettle. The needs we could not grow or manufacture we bought from Collier’s Mercantile – groceries, shoes, stocking, boots, and heavy work clothing. Everything else we ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog.

Anything and everything ca me from that source – baby chicks and ducks, mules, plows, tools, radios, phonographs, records, furniture, and more.

Baby chicks were delivered by the mail carrier. Heavy stuff like mules and plows, cars, and motorcycles traveled by rail. Sears had a system that worked.

But now Sears is going bust. Why? They invented the system. Basically, in my opinion, there is little different little difference between a paper catalog and a computer monitor. Sears made the transition from mail order  to brick and mortar.

Whatever became of the decedents of those creative people?

Love Letter to Myself

I’ve rebooted this.

Confessions of a Reborn Girl

Dear Jasminder,

I’d like to let you know that I’m supremely uncomfortable doing this. My insides are churning and I can’t bear the thought of my music quieting down enough that I can hear my thoughts. But I digress…

I know that you’re bitter. I know that you’re angry. I know that you’re afraid. You don’t have to hide it from me. I’m not here to tell you the right one will come and I’m not here to tell you to stay open to love.

I know that you’re tired of walking off the pain. Your mask keeps darkening by the day and it worries me. You keep saying that you only wear it for fun now, but I wonder if that’s really the truth.  Just promise me that you won’t give up on the person underneath.

I know that you’re afraid you’re broken for life. All those knives in the…

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DNA Memory

If what I’m about to write were any less scientific we would call it fiction. So I’m calling it conjecture.

A long time ago a four-year-old boy living in New England got up one morning speaking perfect German. His parent nor the child in question had ever set foot outside the borders or the United States.

I laughed it off.

A couple of years later an adult seemed to be aware of events and situations that were impossible for him to know. I considered it fake news, a good story. He claimed to have been a fighter pilot.

How could such things be possible. The brain dies and that’s the end of the line, as I know it.

A couple of years back I read a novel that was set on the Scottish Coast near a ruined castle. A young lady, a college student came there for the summer. She was drawn to the castle. After a time she began having flashbacks – names of people who lived in this castle during the 14th Century, a lover, a marriage on a bridge that crossed a stream. These fragments of knowledge dragged on much of the summer. Eventually, she visited a local, retired physician. After a brief examination he assured her she wasn’t losing her marbles. Instead, she was experiencing the effects of DNA Memory. Of course, having not heard this term mentioned, she questioned that diagnosis.

He agreed there was not much evidence backing it up, but he considered it, in many cases, true. He pointed out family traits handed down through generations in spite of there being no physical link to the past. “How can we account for a person inheriting given characteristics such as hair color, eyes, voice, dispositions, height, weight?” he asked.

The author’s explanation was so convincing I looked into it more thoroughly. And I’m convinced there is some truth to this theory.

One spring morning of 2017 I found my answer while observing house flies.

On this given day the humidity was extremely high, maybe a point or two short of rain. And the flies were terrible. Out of self-defense I located last year’s fly swatter. As soon as I picked it up the flies vanished.

Did they recognized the fly swatter? How? Not a solitary fly could have survived the winter and then drawn the 2017 youngsters into a huddle to pass along last year’s knowledge.

Is it DNA Memory, wisdom embedded in the eggs, and one fragment of that knowledge explains the fly swatters?

I’m asking.


meatloaf surprise


part two: the price of not failing

de bill, K7WXW

I make awesome hard boiled eggs. Seriously. People love my hard boiled eggs. I could have a website or a cookbook cover devoted to them. It was not always so. I have ruined uncountable eggs. Under-boiled. Over-boiled. Hard to peel. Mushy. Chalky. Rubbery. Whatever sort of badly made egg you have ever eaten, I promise you I made one (or two or ten) of the same kind. I am the king of bad eggs.

Early on I was taught that failure was the province of losers and fools. My schooling and professional life were grounded in that idea. Badly-made eggs were not tolerated, let alone eaten. Good jobs, promotions and stock options were the province of people that did not make mistakes, at least publicly. So, like many of my peers, I became a guy that had to know how something was going to turn out before I tried to make it happen.

This approach got me the stock options, paid for with a bland, cooking-to-eat world. I seemed to be rewarded in direct proportion to how often I said no. Being a winner was equated with avoiding failure, which is synonymic for not taking chances. It worked, in the sense that I looked like the kid with the cake, but little that I did – designing a new product, cooking a steak, making a new friend – meant much because I was always pretty sure how things would turn out before I started.

Figuring out how to make a reliably good egg – or almost anything else – involves making some bad ones first. You have to try things, take chances. But if you can’t abide failure, you don’t risk bad eggs and you either give up eating them or have someone who makes a good egg make them for you. You do eat and don’t fail but live a bland life.

When mistakes are okay, an untasty egg is a provocation. You bite into one and you think, egg, water, fire. How hard can it be? You give free rein to curiosity and think about why and how and when (does it make a difference that I use an electric stove? how fresh are the eggs? how big?). You might even ponder big questions, like how does Anthony Bourdain do it?

Curiosity, the ability to think about the big picture and the willingness to learn from others is what makes good eggs, elegant designs, and lyrical translations. If all your projects have good outcomes – if you are almost always that kid – it is highly likely your recipes require little or none of these three ingredients. As I learned, stock options or not, it isn’t a very tasty sort of winning.

Camping Itinerary: Colorado’s Pawnee National Grassland

Find a Friendly Rock

It’s always fun to compare your best-laid plans to reality. Here are the best-laid plans for RV Trip #2.  I wrote this while nervously eyeballing a foot of snow in the yard. But the weather app delivered: 70-degrees-and-sunny for a spring weekend on the Grasslands.

Trip Goals

  • Procure a meteor shower for my 4-year old, because she asked to “see a shooting star with Mama,” with total confidence that Mama could make that happen
  • Sandwich a little American History between our s’mores
  • Introduce my forest-dwelling cubs to a prairie ecosystem

General Plan

Two nights of boondocking on U.S. Forest Service land in Pawnee National Grasslands.

While camping reviews for the Grasslands range from “okay” to “meh,” I’m convinced we will make this memorable with proper research. And research is my jam.

Out and About

A prairie is not an amusement park. It’s simultaneously vast and subtle. I want my girls to acquire a sense of this: to open up, settle in, and contemplate some grasshoppers.

Trevor Pellerite, quoted 

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The Erie – Duck Down

[even the mule knows to duck]

Sometime in the late 1980s Barb and I renewed

our interest in bicycle riding. One thing led to another – strength, stamina, staying together – and we eventually bought a tandem bike – a bicycle built for two. I sat up front which made me the Captain. Barb rode behind which made her the Rear Admiral. With this new machine came a series of serious learning experiences, Those experiences are probably best left for other stories. The main thrust of this post is one of our travel quests.

A book by William Least Heat Moon, River Horse, introduced me to tow paths. Moon’s quest was an inland watercourse from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s not that he recommended such a trip on a bike. It was his comment of a bicycle in a single paragraph.

He was on the Erie Canal motoring westward. Progress was slow, waiting for locks to allow passage and other obstacles that have slipped my mind. These delays allowed him to gaze about and consider his situation. One thing that seemed to bother him was a lone bicycle rider pedaling along the tow path. Many times the bicycle passed him by. If the shores of the Pacific was this cyclist destination Moon feared he would most certainly lose the race.

As a result of this paragraph we set our sites on pedaling the Erie Canal. And how I wish we could have pulled it off. But obstacles also blocked our progress – not slowing us down, but preventing us from going at all. My yearn for this adventure caused me to conduct a mountain of Erie research. The history, politics, financing, and effort making Clinton’s Ditch a reality was mind-boggling.

In subsequent posts I shall address some of the numerous aspects I found worthy of passing along.

In this post, however, I’ve included a song written about the Erie:

The Erie Canal Song Lyrics

I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And every inch of the way we know
From Albany to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we’re coming to a town
And you’ll always know your neighbor
And you’ll always know your pal
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal

We’d better look ’round for a job old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
‘Cause you bet your life I’d never part with Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
Git up there mule, here comes a lock
We’ll make Rome ’bout six o’clock
One more trip and back we’ll go
Right back home to Buffalo


Oh, where would I be if I lost my pal?
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
Oh, I’d like to see a mule as good as Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
A friend of mine once got her sore
Now he’s got a busted jaw,
‘Cause she let fly with her iron toe,
And kicked him in to Buffalo.


Don’t have to call when I want my Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She trots from her stall like a good old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
I eat my meals with Sal each day
I eat beef and she eats hay
And she ain’t so slow if you want to know
She put the “Buff” in Buffalo


Author Information

Thomas S. Allen (1876-1919) was an early Tin Pan Alley composer with many popular songs not related to the canal life. His first major hit was Any Rags in 1903, only two years before that of the Erie Canal Song.


meatloaf surprise

part one: fulfillment and failure

de bill, K7WXW

The first birthday present I remember is a Betty Crocker cookbook. On the cover, two boys and one girl. The older boy, cake held high, is (of course) being admired by the girl. Her look says, he has done it again! He is triumph. I wanted to be that kid.

I remember cooking only one dish from it: Meatloaf Surprise, a ground beef encased hunk of ketchup-coated velveeta. Knowing my dad, who deeply disliked surprises, I am certain that my mom made a side of pork chops that night. I don’t remember rave reviews but I was quickly hooked on (sorry) the joy of cooking.bettyc_cookbook

I worked in kitchens in high school and college and owned a decent chef knife before furniture. Way before. Turning something (eggs, flour, water) into something else (bread) for people to eat was a big part of my life. A menu didn’t have to be complicated, or have fancy ingredients, or take five hours to prepare, to make me happy. A couple of well-scrambled eggs? Good enough!

Cooking taught me that making, transforming ideas into tangible reality, can be remarkably fulfilling. Cooking, photography, computer design, language translation, home brewing electronic gear; I fell in love with the process of turning ideas into stuff. I decided, what could be more awesome than that?

If the web is your guide, nothing. It is filled with triumphant boys showing off. Translations that sing, barbecue that falls off the bone, antennas that generate world spanning QSOs on five watts. It pictures a world in which stuff works. Amazingly well. On the first try. And if you come to believe this is representative of the process of making, you are going to be miserable.

I do not have one of those websites. Many of my meals are a reason for ordering take out. I have a zillion boring, blurry photographs, a resume with more than one spectacular product failure, and a junkbox of non-working homebrew gear. Stuff that works when I turn it on the first time is rare. Tasteless stew, overexposed photos and hundred foot long dummy loads are not. The truth? To be a maker is to be intimate with failure.

I can’t say that I learned this quickly or with any grace. I did not. For a long time, I let other people’s advertising determine the value of my making. I really wanted to be that kid, the one with the website who always got things right. Unable to abide the mistakes, screw ups, and disasters that are an inevitable part of cooking, designing, writing and so on, I turned it all into work and drudgery. I cooked to eat and made things when I was paid to do so but it certainly wasn’t fun, let alone awesome.

Meatloaf surprise? I don’t think so!


Bicycle Mobile Radio

Battery is mounted non the stem.

The HF radio is in the pouch hanging from the handlebar.

The ham stick is behind the seat by the flag.

I’ve been an amateur radio operator for a few years. My goal, back in 1989 when I first earned my license was to put a side-band station on the air that generated a kilowatt carrier. During those subsequent year I’ve tried many of the available digital modes. But none of them, with exception of Packet, caught my interest like that of the old tried and tested Morse code. Eventually, I abandoned my quest for the 1,000 Watt station and went the other way – low power, or QRP.

For a few years I concentrated on mobile radio, not with a car, but with a bicycle, and then a tricycle. I’m not a pioneer of this area, by any stretch. And I probably haven’t done as well as many others have. But I’ve had fun. A lot of fun.

One afternoon while pedaling around some Texas back roads with my five-Watt rig (about the same power required to light a Christmas tree lamp), I checked in with the Maritime Net. The net control was somewhere in Wisconsin, as I recall. I received a fair signal report – a home-run considering the power I was using.

I was preparing to sign when a Musher, a lady who drives sled dogs, broke in from North Dakota, stating she’d like to talk with a person on a bike.

That was my greatest distance with 5 Watts from the eat of a bicycle and a store-bought ham stick antenna.