Friday, September 28, 2018

Don't Mess Up My Do!

Thought for the day: I came; I saw; I conquered. [Julius Caesar]

[source: morguefile]

Well, good for ol' Julius, I say. Me? I'm more in the I came; I saw; I took a picture camp. I mean, the idea of climbing a mountain simply because it's there holds absolutely no appeal to me. Nada. Zilch. Zero. If that makes me a wimp, sobeit. At least, I'm still alive.

I also have no desire to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, be shot out of a cannon, tame a tiger or go swimming in a waterfall.

                                           Check out this short video of Niagara Falls:

 Horseshoe Falls, AKA the Canadian Falls, is the largest of the three waterfalls that make up the Niagara Falls, which lie on the border between Ontario and New York. It's 167 feet (51 m) high and 2700 feet (820 m) wide. Amazing, isn't it? So what do you think when you look at this massive amount of roaring water? Something along the lines of WOW? I mean it's breathtakingly beautiful, which is why it's been a favorite honeymoon destination for so many years. It's kinda humbling, too, to see such a powerful force on display.

So. How many of you look at it and think, I believe I'd like to conquer all that power? Come on... show of hands. Nobody? All right, then. At least I know I'm not the only wimp around here. Unlike us, people have been challenging the falls since the 1800s. Why? Um, because it's there, I suppose.

These old photos from Wikicommons show daredevil Charles Blondin, who, in 1859,  thought it'd be a fine idea to take a stroll across the Niagara Falls gorge on a tightrope. From one hundred sixty feet above the river gorge, to be precise, on a three-inch thick cable stretching 1100 feet. No safety equipment at all. Just his balancing pole. The dude was so sure of his success, he even offered to carry someone over on his back. (What a guy!) Alas, no one took him up on the offer. (Musta been a bunch of wimps like us.)

But that was just his first attempt. In subsequent crossings, he walked the tightrope while blindfolded, pushed a wheelbarrow, and yes... even carried someone across on his back. His agent. His brave... or crazy as a bedbug... agent. (I sure hope he got paid more than the standard 10% for that gig.)

After Blondin's feat, others replicated the gorge crossing... because they could, I suppose. But it wasn't until 2012 that someone actually walked the tightrope over the falls themselves.
                                                    The famous daredevil Nik Wallenda:

Not interested in taking a stroll on a tightrope, huh? Nah, me neither. Heck, I twisted my ankle just walking across the bedroom floor last week. .. no tightrope involved. For sure, my middle name isn't Grace, and with good reason. So if not a tightrope, how about a... barrel?

[source: wikipedia]
Would you believe the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel was... a woman?! Not that I think women are less courageous than men; it's more a matter of believing women are, shall we say... less rash. Not only was Annie Edison Taylor the very first person to make that plunge successfully, but she did it on her sixty-third birthday! (What did you do on your sixty-third birthday...?) What? Oh yeah, a lot of you haven't even hit 63 yet. Sorry about that. So what are the chances you might try something like this when you do hit 63? I don't remember what I did... but I can guaran-damn-tee ya, it was a far far cry from doing that.

In 1901, Annie, a widow fearful of ending up in the poorhouse, rode the barrel over the falls with the hope of gaining a better financial future. Her custom-made barrel of oak and iron was padded with a mattress, and after being tossed overboard from a boat, the river carried her barrel to and over Horseshoe Falls. She came through the ordeal relatively unscathed, with only a small cut on her head. Know what she said afterwards? If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat... I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Falls.

So. I guess it wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs, huh? What's more, her financial security was brief-lived. She earned a bit of money traveling around with her barrel and giving speeches, but her manager absconded with her barrel. The cad. She used her meager savings to track him and her barrel down, only to have him and the barrel disappear again. She lived out her life working as a clairvoyant and providing magnetic therapeutic treatments. (If she were a clairvoyant, I wonder why she couldn't find her barrel...?)

[source: wikipedia]
One last wackaddoodle daredevil. Bobby Leach was a circus performer and stuntman, who often bragged that anything Annie could do, he could do better. So in July of 1911, he took the plunge in his barrel, becoming the second person to succeed. He survived, but he also spent six months in the hospital recuperating from his many injuries, including two broken knees and a fractured jaw. And yet... and yet... he became quite famous, much much more so than poor Annie ever did. (Reminds me of a Virginia Wolfe quote: For most of history, anonymous was a woman.) At any rate, Leach made good money touring Canada, the U.S. and England, giving speeches about his death-defying plunge over the falls, showing off his barrel and posing for pictures. In a strange twist of fate, this self-aggrandizing stuntman and daredevil was killed, not by some death-defying act, but by a dastardly banana peel. While on a publicity tour in New Zealand in 1926, he slipped on said peel and injured his leg in the fall. The injury got infected, he got gangrene, and he succumbed two months later. Such irony. It wasn't the appeal of dangerous feats that did him in... it was a lowly peel.I'm sure there's a moral in that story somewhere.

He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. [Muhammed Ali]

 I say staying alive is a pretty darned good accomplishment

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Agreed. Kinda makes me think of the state of world politics right now. And just as I choose not to dive into Niagara Falls, I also choose to steer clear of talking politics these days. Rather than plunge into the chaotic roar, I'll wear a slicker and stand at a nice safe distance with the other tourists, where the mist may reach me, but I won't drown in negativity. Because, you know, I wouldn't want to mess up my do.

                           Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Artistry of War

Thought for the day: All warfare is based on deception. [Sun Tze, 545 BC-470 BC]

[image source: wikipedia]

The thought for the day comes from an ancient book, The Art of War, which was written many centuries ago by Sun Tze, a Chinese general, military strategist, philosopher and writer. That particular passage continues: Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

Deception. It can win wars, and the more clever the deception, the more effectively it works. I reckon everybody's familiar with the classic tale of the Trojan Horse, but have you ever heard of World War II's Ghost Army?

Nope, they weren't literally a group of deceased spirits looking after the soldiers, but their behind-the-scenes top secret missions sure did save a lot of lives. I guess you could say they were... weapons of mass deception. (Sorry.) Their mission: to deceive the enemy, and their work was done in complete anonymity and without acknowledgement. In fact, their fellow soldiers didn't even know their unit existed, let alone what they did... until 1996, when the U.S. government declassified the existence of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. AKA the Ghost Army. Some of their missions remain classified today.
[source: National Archives]

Looking at this photo, you might think these guys possessed some kind of super strength. But nope, they weren't super-strong. In fact, the 1100 men of this unit were recruited from places like art schools and ad agencies. What the government wanted... what they needed... were artists, illustrators, actors, sound specialists, and radio experts. People with good minds and an active sense of creativity. The ability to create illusions and to think outside the box. Because they used inflatable tanks, sound trucks, fake radio transmissions, and scripts that were worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille production.

[source: National Archives]

Staging more than twenty battlefield deceptions... that we know of... including the largest deception in military history, which they carried out on D-day, it's estimated that their ability to fool the Germans saved more than twenty thousand lives. With their hard work and ingenuity, their tactics made their small unit appear to be 30,000 strong.

[source: National Archives]

Here's one of their pieces of rubber artillery. Standard procedure was to inflate tanks, cannons, jeeps, trucks and airplanes and then camouflage them in such a way that German reconnaissance planes flying overhead could detect them. They created fake airfields, soldier bivouacs, (right down to laundry hanging on the clotheslines) motor pools, artillery batteries, and tank formations... all with a few hours notice.

On D-Day, their deception convinced the Germans that the attack was coming from Calais, which is about two hundred miles north of the actual attack site at Normandy.

[source: National Archives]

One of their fake planes.

[source: National Archives]

Even fake landing craft.

[source: National Archives]

Five hundred-pound speakers played an important part in their ruses, too. Prior to deploying to Europe, some Bell Labs engineers worked with a team from this unit to create state-of-the-art recordings of armored and infantry units at Fort Knox. Various mixtures of these sound effects would be blasted from these speakers to give the sonic deceptions they needed to create their auditory illusions.

They even transmitted what they called spoof radio. They conducted fake traffic nets, impersonating real operators from other units. Although Morse Code involves sending dots and dashes, each operator has a distinctive way of doing it, called his fist. These guys even knew how to impersonate an individual operators' fist, so the enemy wouldn't know the real operator... and his entire unit... were no longer in the area.

Lest you think I'm trying to romanticize war, I'm not. But what these guys did is remarkable, and now that part of their story has been told, I wanted to share it with you. What can I say? I'm a history nerd, and I thought this was a fascinating story. PBS did a documentary about them a few years, but I missed it. (Doggone it!) But here's a trailer for that show:

             Amazing story, isn't it? I wonder what else we don't know about World War II...?

                          Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality. [John McCain]

Wars are poor chisels for carving out a peaceful tomorrow. [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

If we don't end war, war will end us. [H.G. Wells]

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. [Dwight D. Eisenhower]

Hate war... but love and appreciate those who fight and sacrifice in them for our benefit. [me]

Friday, September 14, 2018

Know How to Play 'Em

Thought for the day: Never play poker with the world's fastest animal, because he's a cheetah.

[image courtesy of morguefile]
You like to play cards? It's been far too long since I've played, but I never met a card game I didn't enjoy. Before I started school, playing poker taught me how to count. (Took me a while to stop saying jack after ten, though... HA! Just kidding. Sorta.)

Tell ya what. We're going to play a virtual game of cards today, and what's more... we're all gonna win, because I'm dealing us all the same hand. We're going to consider five different things, and I'm gonna assign a value to each one. (Hey! My blog, my rules!)

The key to success is playing the hand you were dealt like it was the hand you wanted.

[image: wikipedia]
Recognize this flower? It's a lotus blossom. Gorgeous, isn't it? Can you imagine a building designed in the image of one of these beautiful flowers?

Imagine it no more, because I'm going to show you such a thing. It's the Wujen Lotus Conference Center in China. This breathtaking building rises above a two-story subterranean municipal facility that lies beneath a man-made lake. The lotus part of the building houses part of the city's planning bureau, as well as some meeting rooms and conference centers. I declare this building to be our ACE. Rather than show you a mere static shot of our top card, how about a short video?

Now for our KING: I reckon 75-year old John Brooker, of Norfolk, England, was getting a wee bit bored with life as a retiree. So he spent thirteen years shaping a one-hundred foot dragon from his ten-foot tall privet hedge. What a guy, huh? (He can trim our hedges any ol' time... and there's no need for anything fancy, either. I'm happy if they're more or less the the same height...)

[image: wikipedia, courtesy of Schwedde66]
And now for our QUEEN.

The Golden Bridge, near DaNang, Vietnam, which opened earlier this year, is a footbridge connecting a cable car station to the gardens at Ba Na Hill resort. Two giant stone hands rise from the ground, as though Mother Nature herself were supporting it.

Our fourth card is a TEN. For a pair of SHOES, you  might wonder? Nope, for the company that makes them. In March of this year, Adidas announced that it had sold its millionth pair of Ultraboost shoes. (AKA ten to the sixth power...) Big deal, you say? After all, look at all the mediocre burgers McD's has managed to sell, right? But there's something different about these shoes. Something special. Believe it or not, they're made of salvaged ocean trash. In 2016, Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans, a global network of researchers seeking ways to rescue our oceans, and each pair of Ultraboost shoes is made from eleven discarded plastic bottles that were removed from our oceans, beaches, and coastal communities. One shoe at a time, one step at a time, they're making a difference.

Our last card is a...JOKER. A wild card... but we can make it a jack to complete our winning royal flush.

It's the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, and it's the tallest unfinished skyscraper in the world. Shaped like a pyramid, this 105-story, 1080-foot behemoth was begun in 1987, with much fanfare, of course, but construction came to an abrupt halt in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Like a giant abandoned ghost, it loomed over the city without windows or any interior work until 2008, when an infusion of money from Egyptian Orascom Telecommunications enabled the construction to begin anew. The exterior was finally completed in 2011, and a partial grand opening was announced for 2013, but it never happened. Still hasn't happened. Still isn't finished. Mysteries linger over whether it will ever open, or if more than a handful of people will ever get a peek inside. It sits dark and ominous, with nothing but a single night light at its tips to alert airplane pilots to its lurking presence.

So there ya have it... our winning royal flush. Come to think of it, in a way, life is kinda like a card game. To win big, you have to stifle your fear and go all in every once in a while. Sure, there are times it'd be easier to give up, to simply fold rather than to play the hand you've been dealt, but you can't win if you don't play. Believe in yourself. Think life has been stacking the deck against you? Nah, life's no four flusher... it's not a cheetah. But when the chips are down, only you can decide if what you want is worth the effort. Maybe, instead of folding, you should up the ante and try even harder. As far as the future goes, it's full of wild cards, because we never know for sure what's coming, but we do have the power to make of it what we will. One thing for sure: as far as value goes, you guys are all blue chips. Every single one of you, and THAT... you can bet on!

                               Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the game. [Randy Pausch, professional poker player]

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Putting Pants on a Cat

Thought for the day:  Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen. [Ketrina Monroe]

Yep, you guessed it. It's that time again. Welcome to this month's edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group meeting... er, virtual meeting, that is. This, the first Wednesday of the month, is the time when writers all over the world post about the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the ins and outs... of writing. We celebrate... we complain... we commiserate. Whatever we need, this is the place to find it. Humble thanks and a jolly tip of the hat go to Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless ninja leader and the originator of this fine group, and thanks to all of the other folks who've pitched in to make this group such a rousing success. If you'd like to join (It's FREE!) or would like to read some of the other posts, please go HERE

[image courtesy of morguefile]

I think the love of storytelling is an intrinsic part of human nature, don't you? Long before the written word, ancient people recorded their stories with pictures drawn on cave walls. In many, if not all cultures, those individuals blessed with a talent for spinning imaginative verbal tales were highly esteemed, and the stories they told were passed down for generations. (However, alas, I betcha they rarely earned enough to put food on their humble rock table...) Various kinds of art, including interpretive dance, music, art, photos and films, as well as the written word, serve as outlets that continue to tell our stories today. It's how we communicate. How we relate. How we learn to understand each other, the world, and ourselves.

We can't help ourselves. Especially writers. Almost everything we see is subject to being interpreted through our writers' eyes as a possible story, as an avenue for pursuing another what if. In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel conducted an experiment designed to explore this phenomenon. Check out their video and see if your mind automatically creates a story from it.

        Pretty cool, huh? (Way cooler than a Rorschach inkblot.)

Time for this month's question:

What publishing path did you take, and why?

I'm tired of the anonymity of being an unpublished author. I crave the anonymity of being self-published. [Tristan Durie]

To be perfectly honest, I'm not familiar with Tristan Durie (Probably because he's still enjoying his anonymity...HA!) but I like that quote. 

Not that any concern about being anonymous played a part in my decision to self-publish. I went the normal route for a while... querying agents and jumping through their hoops... sending them synopses of their specifically designated length and the number of pages they wanted me to submit, blah, blah, blah. I even started a blog because so many of them told me to do so to establish a platform. (Now, that I don't regret! Not that I think of you guys as a platform... you've simply become friends.)

In between the querying, synopses and setting up a blog, I submitted a short story to a magazine, and it was accepted. Woo-HOO! Getting that check for eight hundred dollars gave me validation, and made me feel like I really was a writer, but as much as I appreciated getting that money, I hated the way the magazine edited my story.

Then it was back to waiting. Waiting for an agent to give me a green light, and then there would've probably been another interminable wait until said imaginary agent found a publisher willing to take a chance on me. With no advance, of course, because they've kinda gone the way of the dodo bird for unknown writers. Skimpy royalties, too. And if the book didn't do well within the first six months, it'd be pretty much relegated to obscurity. Publishing companies have no stomach for wasting time publicizing a new writer who isn't making money for them. It's sink or swim.

And I thought... Ya know what? I'm too old for this crap.I can relegate my books to obscurity all by myself.

(So far, so good.) 

Publishing can be tough. It can kill dreams. [Michael Stackpole]

Yep, constant rejections can cause those dreams to wilt a bit. The sheer number of years it can take before a book makes it into print, assuming one ever gets an agent or publisher willing to invest in your career, can be daunting for a young person, but for someone my age? Nope. For me, it was far better to take control of things myself. 

And BONUS: I never have to write a query or synopsis again!

The only rejection I stand to face is from readers, but even though the reviews have been scantier than I would've liked, there has only been one bad review. That, and a one-star rating from some dude in Morocco. (If he read Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade, I'll eat my hat... and yours, too.)

Self-editing a novel is like trying to put pants on a cat; yes, it's painful and time-consuming, but in the end, satisfying. [Robert Jack]

Hmmm, I doubt if the cat would agree.

At any rate, there ya have it. At this stage in my life, self-publishing is definitely the best choice for me. I have complete control over content, cover, and all the rest. And no high-pressure deadlines! 

Life is good.

                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.