Dog Ear
Phased out (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 25 May 2017 00:00

t’s interesting (in a bittersweet way) to see how things change.

For some reason, this morning while getting ready for my bike ride in, I thought of World War One aviation. I think it was in response to the ideal of dawn patrol, of an early morning moment of getting ready for going somewhere few souls would dare traverse, kitting up, checking the crate, sniffing the wind, eyeing the sky. Yeah, it’s only a bike, but I’m a romantic.

It got me thinking to a book I’d read over and over as a kid, Goshawk Squadron, by Derrick Robertson. Needless to say, I’ll review that one sometime so there’s no point of doing it here. But it was a great book, a folly of youth forced to grow up into killers, of steel-gray skies and German offences and Pfalz fighters snarling about. All this came from a childhood reading everything the library had about WW1 planes. I remember reading The Unfeeling Sky series (Peter Saxon, I think was the author). And everything from Arch Whitehouse. In those long slow summers, my friends and I would play Richthofen’s War and Fight for the Skies. Oh, and Dogfight, with the plastic planes and the cards – fun. But the big take away was reading, reading, reading everything I could on planes of that day.

It’s funny now to look back at those times. Most bookracks (even in 7-11’s) would have a history book or two, usually WW2 but even WW1 (if I were lucky). The library had a whole shelf of fabric fighter thrillers, and every two years we’d move – another library to loot! It seemed there was a constant awareness of that era in history.

And that’s what I realized this morning. You don’t really see books about The Great War anymore. I don’t see novels about biplanes. I don’t see history books about canvas falcons. It’s just an awareness, I suppose – perhaps there still are but when I browse the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, they just aren’t there. Nobody seems to be writing tales of the times. What novels might be set in that era, it’s usually only background. What was once a dim memory of a terrible time just past has now sunk from cultural awareness. The world accelerates. The past fades.

Actually, I think it would amaze me now if something were to show up on the shelf, something about that time of wire-braced wings and chattering guns. I simply don’t see such a book coming out these days, in a world of internet and political infighting and global warming. So maybe I’ll holiday in some of my older books in the coming weeks, picking a biography or fast-paced aviation thriller out of my old shelves. It would be like going home, I suppose.

Watch for the review.


Last Updated on Thursday, 25 May 2017 06:52
Overtime (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 18 May 2017 00:00

don’t think I’ve ever gapped in posting my DOG EAR column (nor my book reviews, for that matter). Since 2012, I’ve been religiously posting up my observations on media, on writing, on techniques. I’ve talked about shows I’ve enjoyed (for TV and movies are just another form of storytelling). I’ve even talked about the societal changes to our reading habits (such as the impact of cellphones – people who know me are now going nooooooo! Say it isn’t so!)

I’ve written while sick, while tired. I’ve written in the middle of the night. I’ve written from work (shh!). I’ve even written on commuter trains (this is starting to sound like Green Eggs and Ham).

I even had the site queued up to spit out articles while I traveled across Europe and India. Strange to stroll through exotic ancient temples, their squat (and obscenely carved) columns cloaked in rustles of ivy, and think, “I guess that piece on sentence structure should be popping out about now.” It’s the world we live in.

But last week beat me.

We got caught with a surprise audit, surprising in that we did so badly in it. To my defense, if this was a ship, it wasn’t my part of the hull that failed. No, we had a dribble or two but the other side caved in with a total failure of everything and filled our compartments. The auditors demanded full records for a year back. A good friend of mine and a superior (in those nebulous corporate hierarchies that sometimes form) was tasked with meeting an impossible deadline. I rolled up my sleeves and helped.

It was brutal. While everyone else flounced off to a company picnic, we began organizing our methods – how would the data be collected? How would it be presented? Who would do what? Since it was bike to work day (and I had), I worked that first Friday until twilight fell and then bolted for home before the drunks came out. That weekend we worked until midnight each night, pulling data and being all heroic. The next week was pretty much full sixteen hour days. I’d work data, QA others’ results, and generally move us forward.

But I remember sometime midway through Wednesday, with the realization that I wouldn’t be going to the astronomy club that night (just as I’d given up on the train club two nights past) that I had no time and no idea for a DOG EAR piece. My mind was simply locked in construction and interpretation of sheet-after-sheet of data, numbers, dates, failure percentages.

I’ve always said (and you can check prior DOG EAR pieces for confirmation) that a writer can power through anything. Sickness, exhaustion, child-care. If a writer is a writer, he or she can push through any obstacle, even if it means getting up at 4am. There is always a drop of creativity in one’s soul, no matter the exterior circumstances.

Sod that for a game of soldiers.

I was tired, really really tired. Not since my days of data modeling flight simulators for GE was I this tired. And I had no idea what I could write about. I thought about something very much like this piece, detailing my exhaustion and all that, but in the end I just decided to let it go. Things were just too crazy. I went as far Wednesday as booting my computer at 12:30am and sat there squinting at the screen, knowing I had a million unanswered emails and a zillion Facebook rants awaiting my attention (as well as the usual ad-comments on my site that had to be weeded). No, I decided, I was going to bed. I’d count it as, I dunno, a holiday from the site.

On the good side, we made our impossible deadline. I went home Friday and slept the sleep of bricks.


Bikes and… Speaking (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 03 May 2017 22:31

’m not writing with a quill on parchment – I’m using one word processor (Word) or another (the Joomla editor).

I don’t write once, dust sand on it and blow-dry the beads of ink. I write something. I consider the flow and meter and meaning. I might break a longer sentence apart. I might glue two shorter ones together. I might decide I’m belaboring a point (now, perhaps?) or that I haven’t made my meaning clear.

But I’ll mess around with the sentences, meander through the paragraphs,  figuring out how to make it all work out so my prose gets to the point about the time I need to shut it down. Generally three or four standard paragraphs will do. Nothing major.

But my writing is controlled. I’ll read it over once or twice just to make sure the flow is there. Once I post it onto the site, I’ll read it again, looking at it with new eyes, seeing it actually in the blogsphere. Something that seemed to work in the editor might come off chunky in the official format. The flow might be too fast (add words and slow it down) to too slow (cut out words and toss in some periods). Generally by the end, it’s how I want it.

But speaking. No, that’s totally different. A week ago, Ben Lockett of the “Bikes and…” podcast interviewed me about commuting. To prep, I considered what I was going to say. I carefully typed out bullet points, the logical progression of items I wanted to make. I wrote facts and figures relevant to the talk (I didn’t want to suffer a brain fart at a critical juncture and forget the thread I was weaving).

I even lay in bed, thinking about what I would say, how I would say it. I listened to other cycle podcasts and realized that Mr. Fact-man would be out of place with a dynamic two-wheeler audience. I shouldn’t focus on idiot drivers. I should focus on the fun of cycling (for commuting). I had my voice, my tempo, everything figured out.

And then Ben contacted me and we started the interview.

I’m not sure what I said.

Yes, I remember making some of my points. But some of the other ones I wandered into new ground. I remember him asking what my bike’s name was and me explaining the scene in Wizards where I’d coped it from (blah blah blah). Man, I’m not sure how it sounds. I can only sit here and think about how goofy it might be and just sweat.

Hoo boy. Everyone knows I did the recording. Everyone wants to hear it.

But unlike writing (where I can consider every word), when you speak, you don’t get to edit. It all comes out. A lot of what I said should have been edited. And shortened. Did I sound too high-brow clever? Oh shit. What have I done?

So I’m waiting for my podcast to go live. And I’m thinking about leaving town.




Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 June 2017 19:16
The Great Train Bloggery (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 26 April 2017 22:49

t’s eleven at night. I’m driving home after eight hours of work, an hour’s commuting, two hours of dinner with the buddies and then three hours of model train operations. And now I need to blog about the latter.

To define – model train operation is where a group of train enthusiasts use their layout to simulate how a real railroad operates. There is a dispatcher controlling things by phones from a remote office. There is a yardmaster sorting inbound cuts to locals, and outbound strings for export. And there are the train crews, dozens of guys running freight, passenger and local trains, following switchlists, timetables and transmitted warrants to move hundreds of train cars from one end of our 40x60 layout to the other. It’s the great game, the largest and most complex cooperative effort you will ever be a part of. And it’s a load of fun.

And I always blog it.

Been doing this for years. Right after the session, no matter how tired I am, I log in and blog out, capturing the flavor of railroading and the humor of the debacles. Of course, in the latter, I can’t be too snarky. Some people go home saddened that they screwed up (the one time I got myself “killed” on a railroad, I was bummed for a week). So there is a fine balance between breathless-tabloidalsim and kind chiding. In some remarkable bonehead cases, I’ll skip it entirely.

Usually while I’m driving, I’m thinking how I want to break it. Will it be a cab-viewpoint recount of some interesting meet or event that I was part of, told in full fictionalization mode? Or will I step back and talk about the hobby from the 10,000 foot level? Or perhaps a discussion of an aspect of railroading I hadn’t considered until this session. All I know is that it has to be fresh and new and interesting and dynamic. I know that eventually all the guys will be reading it so I want to make it worth their while.

It’s funny – my blogging has actually become part of the session. People joke about what I’ll be blogging about. If a crew misspots a car or ends up on a wrong track, you’ll hear the quip “Looks like I made the blog!” I do remember one night where a cub dispatcher went through the wringer – he just couldn’t keep up with the demand of crews for warrants. End of the night, I’m rolling my last train home to Martin Yard on the authority of the final warrant and he comes out, white as a sheet. “I’m in the blog, right?” he weakly asked.

From a writer’s perspective, this is good training. Often writers are forced by deadlines to generate prose when they are tired and burned out. Some of the greatest literary works were pushed out to meet rabid publishing demands. Writers don’t always get to roll out of bed and sit before their computers, preparing to work with a fresh perspective a full night’s sleep affords. No, often it’s late, a deadline is looming and they need to produce NOW!

So for you out there playing at writing, get ready for long stretches of bleary-eyed creativity. It’s what this profession is about.

And BTW, the reason I wrote this is because I had a session yesterday. You can read about it HERE.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 22:54

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