Saturday, April 30, 2011


Here we are, on the final day of April, and the conclusion of the A-Z Challenge! It has been an interesting writing exercise, and I'm pleased to have been able to make it all the way to the end. I hope you've enjoyed my assorted posts, and will return for more in the coming months. While I may not post every single day, I will get out at least 4 per week (see the new "schedule" posted on the right of the blog's main page).

For the final post of the challenge, and the last Family "Saturday" column (the feature will henceforth return to Sundays), I'd like to mention an ancestor I discovered on my father's side of the family. Michael Zimmermann was born in 1546 in Wuerttemberg, Germany. He is my 13x great grandfather. His daughter Anna married Georg Mercklin on May 25, 1591, and the line goes down from there, eventually feeding into the Hires family during the latter part of the 18th century.

Not much is known about Michael, other than his name and place of origin. Considering how far back that is, there's no telling if additional information can be found. Really, how much does anyone know about an average man from over 400 years ago? Unless you're talking about a famous figure, such as one of the pilgrims or an aristocrat of some sort, odds are you won't find much more than a name, and you're lucky to have that.

Martin T. Ingham's cousin???

Of course, running into a Zimmermann allows me to wonder if I might be distantly related to Bob Dylan (whose real last name is Zimmerman). It isn't the most common name, and after all those centuries it is possible we are extremely extended cousins. It's yet another piece of the puzzle to explore someday.

It was certainly interesting to find a Zimmermann in the family, even one so far in the distant past.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yeager -An Autobiography (Review)

Last month, I had the chance to watch "The Right Stuff" for the first time. I know how odd it might seem that someone like me, a veritable space-nut, had never seen this film about the Mercury Astronauts and early rocket flight. The movie came out when I was only 3 years old, so it was something that had escaped my attention for all these years.

After I watched the movie (which was excellent, by the way), my father mentioned I might like to read Chuck Yeager's autobiography. He'd picked up a copy of it at a local used bookstore a while back, so there was no waiting or searching for it online. I was able to dig in the very next day.

Yeager's autobiography is an exciting account of his life, starting with his humble upbringing in West Virginia, continuing through his time as a fighter pilot in WWII, his breaking of the Sound Barrier in the X1, and onward until his retirement as a Brigadier General in 1975. It's an altogether amazing true-life story.

The book is told in a very informal manner. Most of it is like sitting down and listening to an old fighter pilot talk about his exploits. There are also little asides speckled throughout the book called "other voices," where someone important in Chuck's life (such as his wife Glennis, or old friend Bud Anderson) will add their perspective. This unusual format made this one of the most entertaining history books I've ever read.

If you have any interest in early rocket flight, WWII flyers, or just want to read about an exceptional American hero, you can't go wrong with Yeager's autobiography. It's a 5-star read all the way.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X-Men Memories

I read quite a few comic books growing up, and some of my favorites were the various X-Men titles. When I started reading them, they were well into the modern era (early 90's), so I missed out on what I later discovered to be the best stories from the series.

I was getting $5 a week allowance back in those days, and the comics were $1.00 each (for regular issues). The price jumped to $1.25 before too long, and then $1.50 & $1.95, all within a few years. Yet, even as the price rose, I continued to find ways to purchase the titles, and saved up enough for subscriptions to several of the titles. I was able to supplement my income with various jobs during the summer, and that allowed me to keep up with the many miniseries and spin-off titles which came out.

Most of the comic book-based video games of that era were crap, but there was one for the Sega Genesis which I really enjoyed. It was one of the few games I truly "mastered," and it got to the point where I could win it with ease. I still have it, so my kids will be able to play it someday, though they may find its 16-bit gameplay to be boring and antiquated.

As the years went by, and more money came my way, I started buying a lot of back-issues, and ended up snatching up most of them from the late 70's and 1980's, excluding a few exorbitantly-priced issues like Uncanny X-Men #248 (which was really high because it was the first issue Jim Lee illustrated). I never did fill some of those little holes, though I did spring for a copy of #266 (1st appearance of Gambit), though my father would have had a fit if he'd known how much I'd "wasted" on it. I generally went for XF or NM copies, as most of the shops I bought from sold nothing else.

The Uncanny X-Men #266
I really enjoyed those stories because of their fantastic nature. My favorite stories always had some element of science fiction or fantasy in them, and I appreciated that even when things were done in a serious manner, the tales were still fun and adventurous. That sadly began to fade toward the end of my reading period. I remember the big change across the broad spectrum of X-books back in 2001. Suddenly, the comics I had come to love shifted into a darker spectrum, and at times they became downright depressing. I know, a lot of people heralded the change as the greatest thing; a move that made the comics more "grown up," but I actually was grown up by then, and I didn't like what they were doing, so I stopped reading. After almost a decade of having a subscription to Uncanny X-Men, I let it lapse, and never renewed it. Thus, an era of my life came to an end.

I can't say I read too many comics these days. A few years ago, I picked up a few recent issues of Uncanny X-Men (because I saw the great Chris Claremont was once again writing the title), and I saw they'd started to shift back toward the type of adventures I recall from my youth, though I couldn't get back into it. Perhaps I'd grown up too much.

I still have all of the old X-Men issues I bought during my youth. I have big stacks of Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants/X-Force, Excalibur, Cable, Wolverine, X-Man, and various other titles sitting on different shelves, safely stored in polybags, many with backboards to boot. Maybe one of these days I'll feel like reading them again, and I'll most certainly share them with my kids when they're old enough to respect them.

What? That's it? But I didn't even get around to talking about the X-Men movies they made! Oh, well, I guess we'll get around to that with another blog post someday.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wanted: Dead or Alive (Review)

I'm not much for 50's television, though last summer I found the first season of this old Western series starring Steve McQueen sitting at Walmart for $5. I figured it wasn't much of an investment, and McQueen was a great actor, so I decided it was worth the limited expense.

For a half-hour, low budget television show made during the golden age of the medium, this show isn't too bad. The acting is halfway decent and the plots are generally interesting, if not always original. It was reminiscent of those short western movies John Wayne did in the 1930's.

There are some prop issues, one of which I couldn't let pass. McQueen uses a sawed-off 1892 Winchester as his weapon of choice, but his belt is full of big, menacing-looking cartridges (possibly .45-70 Govt., or 50-110 Express). This is not the ammo for his rifle. The '92 took short pistol cartridges (.25-20, .32-20, .38-40, or .44-40). It is annoying to any gun aficionado to see a character wielding an 1892 Winchester and lugging around rounds for an 1886 Winchester. It would be equivalent to someone pumping kerosene into a gasoline-powered car.

There is also the timeline issue. We have some episodes with events that seem to take place well before 1892, so the weapons being used aren't chronologically accurate. They should have given McQueen an 1873 Winchester (a rifle widely used throughout the Wild West days), or an 1876 if they wanted him to lug around bigger cartridges. Again, this is a typical flaw of a lot of "early" westerns. You see John Wayne carrying an 1894 Winchester in a lot of movies that take place in the 1870's! The people in Hollywood didn't know a thing about weaponry back in those days, and figured one lever action was the same as any other. For shame!

Wanted: Dead or Alive was one of the better shows of the 1950's that I've seen, but as I said, I'm not a big fan of those early programs. They were the prototypes, a raw and untested form of entertainment limited by funding and the cultural mindset of the day. I'll give this 3 out of 5 stars. It'll prove to be a fun diversion for those of you who enjoy the Western genre, though don't expect anything fancy or unexpected.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I'm very much a student of history. My father's side of the family is very academic, so it's really in my blood. I have always been fascinated with the past, and found some of the best stories lying in the truth of yesteryear.

With my new genealogical research, I can find relatives who fought on one side or another of every major American war, from the Revolution straight up through World War II. This merely adds an added bonus flavor when I reflect upon the wonders of historical events.

This year, we will be celebrating 66 years of freedom from fascist Nazi and Imperial Japanese oppression. My own grandfather was with the 8th Army Air Force, which helped to flatten Europe during the war, and assure the defeat of Hitler. I didn't know him all that well, though from what I've been told he rarely talked about his service. A lot of veterans are that way. War isn't so glorious for those who are thrust into the conflict as it is to look back at it as history.

During the war, there was a lot of promotional propaganda put out by the War Department and various governmental agencies, to help bolster morale during those dark times. Here are just a few scanned prints I was given by a friend some time ago.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Useless (Minstrel Mondays)

"Every successful writer has a stack of rejection letters this high... but so do all of the unsuccessful writers."

I've had more than my fair share of rejection letters in recent months, and it's dragging me down. It seems just when things were looking up, I'm back to square one in the publishing industry. I was on the right track last spring, with The Guns of Mars hitting the market, and sales of my self-published works on the uptick, but the vim and vigor of my career has now slid into a slump. I'm sure the crumbling economy is partly to blame, as people can't afford to buy books, though I can't help but feel this is simply a continuation of my own failed existence. At the very least, it's a reminder that I have a long way to go if I want to achieve anything, and nothing seems to be getting me very far as of late.

It comes down to luck, in a lot of ways. At least, it does for those of us with honed writing skills and quality stories to tell. It is no longer a question of whether I'm "ready" to enter the commercial marketplace, but when (or if) I'm going to get noticed. In the current world of publishing, there are plenty of talented people who get overlooked because there isn't enough room for everyone who is worthy of success.

This has nothing to do
with today's blog post,
but it is Easter Monday.

There is also the horde of amateurs to contend with, and this has a major impact on my self-published book sales. To be blunt, 90% of self-published manuscripts from unknown writers aren't ready for publication. I've heard other, more professional, people say the same thing, so don't bring out the ropes and pitch forks because I dare to speak the truth. Nine out of ten wannabe writers are just wasting the time of readers with rough drafts, so the quality works get drowned out in the sea of sludge.

Sitting back and sulking about the dystopia of my writing career, I threw together this little poetic piece. It might make a good folk song if anyone wants to drag out the acoustic guitar and strum a few chords.

Do what you want to do
See the world come flowing through
And you'll find the way it is
For all who try and live to lie
Is it any wonder
We're spinning in the mud?

How can you hope to advance
In a race where the winner finishes last
And the best of the worst are waiting in the wings?
Those pedantic little things

Weaving, working, worrying, wailing,
It all falls down in your hands
Sitting on the weathered end
Of your life's ambition

If I had any good sense
I'd throw it all out
Start a new day
Fresh without doubt
Forget the fantasies
That flow through my mind
And see the life that's waiting for me
To come alive
But where would that leave
My soul to drive?

I bust in
You bust out
We try to keep on going
In opposite routes
You'll never meet me
Halfway all my life
You only want the flashy flasher
Without a knife
Never trying for that profit venture
Hiding in plain sight

Whatever I do
Wherever I go
It all seems useless
To fight the status quo
Do the same old drudgery
Week in and week out
Can you really tell me
When they'll disprove my doubts?

Is something happening
And I'm just sitting bare
Aching for the next step
To get me out of here?
Why aren't I moving
Sitting on the curb of my life?
It's not the ditch anymore
But how much longer must I wait,
watching traffic go by?
Switch off the idle
And kick me into drive

But it seems useless
Every time I go
Out to make a difference
Writing witty prose
It's like fighting in the night
Nobody's listening to
The story of my plight
It lies in cobwebs,
Waiting for prescient sight
Don't leave me wanting
For a fading light

Can I let go?
Is there no one I remember?
Rusting away,
The days are getting longer
As the universe expands...
Destroying my plans...
And I'm left stuck with gibberish from
Unavenging angels, laughing at my life

It is useless, useless, useless
To try to make it alone
But nobody's offering
To get me to the throne
I guess I'll sit here
Wallowing in disgrace
Boldly going where everyone's gone before
In this metaphoric race

Won't someone help me
Get the hell out of this place?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tucker Time

This Family Saturday column, I'm going to talk briefly about a family line I've only begun to research. There are quite a few Tuckers on my father's side of the family, and I hope to uncover more about this particular branch someday, though time constraints currently make it a low priority.

The most recent Tucker in my family is Florella Amanda Tucker, born March 30, 1828 in Jackson, PA (about 30 miles north of Scranton). She was the daughter of Simeon Tucker and Lois Guile. She married Theodore Beza Gamble, and their daughter was my great-great grandmother, Mertie Florella Gamble, who married James Wilson Counts.

When I first ran into Tuckers in my family, I wondered if I might be related to Preston Tucker, the little-known car developer who was shafted by the "Big Three" auto makers in the late 1940's. He was a visionary in the field of car design, which is why the powers-that-be of the day fought to put him out of business. My father was very much a "car guy," so I learned a thing or two about Preston Tucker from an early age, though it wasn't until I saw the factual movie starring Jeff Bridges that I came to understand and respect his genius.

Well, as interesting as that may be, I haven't been able to trace any relation to Preston Tucker. His ancestors showed up in America a couple of hundred years after mine, so if we are distantly related, I'd have to trace his roots back into the 1500's, or perhaps even earlier. If that's even possible, I doubt it would be feasible to consider him a cousin at that point. Oh, well...

There are literally thousands of less distant cousins on my Tucker line, and as I said, I have yet to trace many of them. Simeon apparently had seven brothers and sisters, and his parents (both Tuckers, 3rd cousins once removed) had many siblings of their own. I really hope to put together a more comprehensive picture in the future, but at present most of my research has been vertical, as I sought to trace my own lineage.

Tucker Family
Coat of Arms

I've been able to trace the family line back to the 1400's in England, but the line could go centuries beyond that. There are apparently baptismal records for the ancient Tuckers going back almost to the Doomsday invasion of 1066. As impressive as that may be, there are a few lines of my family which can be traced even further (though I still have much work to do on them, so I won't go into detail just yet).

The first Tucker in my family who came to America was Robert Tucker (b. June 8, 1604 /died March 9, 1681). He came from Kent, England. He settled in Norfolk county Massachusetts sometime in the 1630's and married Elizabeth Allen in 1651. He may have had a previous wife, as his younger son, Benjamin, was born in 1646, while son Ephraim was born in 1653. Picking through various data, I have found mention of Robert being married to another woman named Susan Hyde, though information is limited, little more than a footnote. It is possible that Robert and Elizabeth had lived in sin for years and got married later, though it's a highly unlikely circumstance in the puritanical environment of early Massachusetts. Either way, one of the two sons I'm descended from was Elizabeth Allen's offspring.

Ephraim Tucker (b. August 27, 1653 /died October 1, 1736) married Hannah Gulliver on September 27, 1688 in Milton Massachusetts. Their son, Stephen Tucker Sr. (b. April 8, 1691) married Hannah Belcher on August 30, 1716 in Milton, MA. Their son, Stephen Tucker, Jr. (b. April 7, 1731 /died August 13, 1766) married Mary Brown in Preston City, Connecticut. Their son, James Tucker (b. October 29, 1762 /died September 18, 1841), was the father of Simeon.

Back to Robert Tucker's older son; Benjamin Tucker, Sr. (b. March 8, 1646 /died February 27, 1713) married Ann Payson in 1669 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Their son, Benjamin Tucker, Jr. (b. March 8, 1670 /died October 8, 1740), married Elizabeth Williams in 1696, also in Roxbury, MA. Their son, Benjamin Tucker III (b. March 5, 1703 /died January 20, 1761), married Mary Warren in 1729. Their son, Benjamin Tucker IV (b. January 23, 1734 /died September 13, 1806), married Martha Davis on December 14, 1760. Their daughter, Sarah Angell Tucker (b. November 29, 1769 /died January 8, 1842), was the mother of Simeon.

So, bringing us up to the cousins marrying, James Tucker married Sarah Angell Tucker on November 5, 1795 in Charlemont, Massachusetts. They moved to Halifax Center, in Windham county Vermont, which is about 10 miles north of their marriage place, and Simeon was born there in 1804.

It's not the most comprehensive posting I've made about my family research, but it's a good basis for further investigation. I hope you have found something of interest in it.

Friday, April 22, 2011


"The meek shall inherit the earth, but the shameless egomaniacs will buy it back at auction after the meek declare bankruptcy."

It seems like the natural way of things. Those who get ahead, more often than not, are arrogant and shameless in their self-promotion. It's a nice thing to think that the shy and quiet among us are more appealing, but somehow it doesn't ring true. If you don't get noticed, you don't go anywhere, and those who truly excel are really quite forward, though the best are crafty enough to disguise their personal ambition.

I am not one of those sneaky folks who'll pretend that I'm really this selfless humanitarian, while seeking to sell you salvation for $19.95+tax. I'll sell it to you straight, and hope you respect me for it.

Anyway, there are a lot of new faces following this blog, so I thought I'd take a post to introduce you to some of my available work. Although I'm sure you'll find this data entertaining and informative, it is really a blatant attempt at self-promotion, but how else is an emergent writer ever going to climb out of the primordial slime of the slush pile? I'm not nearly as shameless as a lot of people, so please bear with me.

The Guns of Mars: This is my latest release, published by Pill Hill Press in 2010. It's hard science fiction, with a bit of socio-political conjecture mixed into the plot. Following the libertine spirit of Heinlein, I crafted this work to be both an exciting tale of the fantastic, and a deeper think-piece for those who enjoy brainy stories.

The Rogue Investigations: Some of my bigger fans have called this my "best" work. To be honest, I'm not sure if that's the case, but it's certainly some of the most entertaining stuff I've produced. This is currently my most affordable work, so why not give it a try?

Rogue Investigations is something I self-published in late 2009, and I went that route with this one because I had a particular vision for it, and decided to get it out there as is. I don't want to sound arrogant, but I will say the text isn't riddled with the sort of typos and plot holes that you sometimes find in self-published (aka Indie) stuff. As Howie Carr likes to say, "You can trust me, I'm not like the others."

Virtual Wiles: This was the first book I had published. I wrote it in 2001, but didn't get it released until 2007, though the story isn't the sort that'll become obsolete anytime soon. It's a Science-Fiction story, but there are quite a few elements of Fantasy included, as much of the story takes place within a virtual computer simulation based on sword and sorcery. There is a lot of good stuff in here, and it introduces you to Morgan Asher, who reappears in both Prisoner of Time and The Guns of Mars.

Prisoner of Time: The sequel to Virtual Wiles, which takes us back to the virtual world of Fantasan. This book has a lot more traditional fantasy elements in it, and it has more action/adventure than the first volume in the series. With xenophobic elves, bloodthirsty monks, and a powerful sorceress out for revenge, you can't go wrong with this one! The events in this also set the stage for The Guns of Mars.

I hope some of you will take the time to check out these books. You can buy them from, and various other booksellers. Or, you could always buy signed copies directly from me (which are generally cheaper than retail).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rejections Come Late

Throughout my writing career, I've had the displeasure to receive my fair share of rejection letters. It's something that is never enjoyable, and it seldom provides any insight into why my work was rejected. Most often it simply "doesn't interest them" for whatever reason. I hardly ever receive constructive criticism, due to the swamp of slush that flows through the publishing pipeline. Big press, small press, big agent, little agent; it's all the same form letter.

I received a kind and considerate rejection note from Amy Boggs over at the Donald Maass Literary Agency earlier this week. It wouldn't have been anything of note, except for the fact that it was a year late. Apparently, there was some technical glitch with a server, so a batch of email didn't get found until recently. It was nice that she took the time to address those of us who queried her so long ago, even if it was just to say "no thank you."

It seems the longer it takes for me to get a response, the less likely it is I'll get an acceptance. I don't know if this is because my work sometimes gets set aside in the "maybe" pile, or I'm just hitting some really swamped editors (possibly both). Either way, the sales I've gotten have generally been swift and efficient, with editors responding within a few weeks of my initial submission. When it takes someone several months to get back to me, I can be assured of a negative reply. I once had a publisher take 18 months just to say "we're not interested."

I wonder if any other writers have encountered this sort of phenomenon. Is it common that acceptances are early and rejections take forever, or is it just me?

Well, I'm off to scour the internet for another Literary Agent who hasn't heard of me. It's actually quite hard to find agents who are interested in representing Science Fiction, so wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I is, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable of England's past monarchs. Her reign was full of controversy and political reform, and she was the first to bring any significant sort of religious tolerance to Britain. Without her leadership, and the influence of those backing her, the western world would likely still be ruled by Catholic monarchs. Though it was her father, Henry VIII who first defied the Catholic church and set the stage for future dissent against authority, he did not believe in freedom of belief for anyone but himself. If the Pope had given him a divorce when he'd asked for it, the protestant movement in England probably would have been quashed.

But, getting back to Queen Elizabeth I...

For those who would rather not pick through heavy historical tomes or bask in drab documentaries, there are two entertaining movies which dramatize Queen Elizabeth. Though historical purists may nitpick a few of the details depicted in the films, they are mostly accurate, and I highly recommend them. They both star Cate Blanchett in the lead role.

The first film shows Elizabeth's rise to power, and gives a very good historical overview of the politics of the time. We start out seeing the tyranny of her sister and predecessor, Queen Mary (aka Bloody Mary), who had heretics burned alive for daring to question Catholic doctrine. After Mary's natural death, Elizabeth takes the throne, and we see the underhanded and ruthless games played on both sides in the struggle for power, as well as some interesting insights into the queen's personal life.

In the sequel, we jump ahead over 20 years to the events leading up to the sinking of the Spanish Armada. This installment also stars Clive Owen (of King Arthur fame) as the charming pirate, Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh's relationship with Elizabeth is well known, though the extent of it remains questionable. Some suspect he may have been romantically involved with the queen, but there's no proof of that. Therefore, the film is careful, and does not depict the affair as sexual. Rather, Elizabeth is shown to be very interested in Raleigh, but unwilling to let herself be compromised.

I give Elizabeth a full 5 stars, and I give the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 4.5 stars. I only give The Golden Age a slightly lower rating because I feel the first film was more thorough. The sequel skims over some historical events, such as the battle of the Armada, due to time constraints. The subject matter needed more time to really come to life, but it is still enjoyable in the condensed format. They're both really great movies.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Putrid & Pungent Pork

This is the sort of story I'd like to have saved for a Family Saturday/Sunday post, but since I need a "P" column for the A-Z Challenge on Tuesday, it'll fit here just fine. The tale is a humorous tidbit involving my late-uncle, Stephen K. Alexander.

Back in the summer of 1997, Stephen was living across the street, in a house owned by my grandmother and her infamous lover Ed Lewis. My uncle was never the neatest person in the world, and going into the place was like walking into the bedroom of a rowdy teenager, with clothes and dirty dishes all over the place. The clutter made it easy to lose objects within the building.

The small house was hot and miserable in the summer months, but on top of the heat in '97, there arose a stench. The recognizable smell of rotting meat filled the air whenever you'd enter the building, and at first Stephen assumed there had to be a dead animal somewhere. A raccoon or porcupine had crawled into the walls and died, he presumed. But try as he may, the source of the putrid scent could not be discovered. It got so bad, he had to flee for several days, and slept on our guest bed during his exile.

The answer finally revealed itself to him one day, as he ventured back into the reeking house to pick through his belongings. There, in the corner of his bedroom, was a bag of groceries he'd set down a month ago. Inside was a pack of pork spareribs, all brown and festering in the most grotesque way imaginable. Thus, the mystery of the rotten smell was solved, and after a few days of open doors and windows, the house was once more livable.

Stephen K. Alexander
Circa 1989

In the aftermath of the horrific event, I remember him joking with my parents about what a great tidbit this event would make for a comedy show. He thought it was even worthy of Seinfeld, though I don't think he ever wrote to anyone about it. Just remember, if you ever see a scene in a movie or tv show about a slob leaving meat lying around to rot, my uncle could have been the source!

That was Stephen toward the end; careless and slovenly, though he was a highly-skilled Chiropractor, and remained extremely personable.  He was a charming sort, who could fit in anywhere and make friends with anyone, though the demons of his past haunted him to the end.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Of All Men (Minstrel Mondays)

Here's something I threw together when I was 19; a little philosophical conjecture about the way I saw things back then.

The man up high
is too high to care what is below.

The man down low
is too low to care about anything.

The man on the side
is out of reach.

The man down under
doesn't care.

The man up above
is too insulted to pay attention.

The common man
believes what he's told is truth.

The exceptional man
believes what he knows is truth.

The ignorant man
takes the truth of others and makes it his own.

The smart man
learns his own truth.

The self-righteous man
understands what life is supposed to be for him.

The atheistic man
won't accept anything but himself.

The imaginative man
can think of how things should, would, or could be.

The adventurous man
goes out and makes those things reality.

Of all men...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Names Not for My Sons

My wife and I planned early for our children. Even before we got married, we had a list of names picked out. The original criterion was simple. The names had to be acceptable to each of us, and neither of us could have personally known anyone with the names. This last bit might throw people a little, but we decided we wanted our kids to have names that, while normal enough, would be unique. We didn't want to burden them with the idea of being named after someone else.

While that worked well for our first daughter, we changed it a little when our son came along. We had a suitable first name picked out, but the middle name was iffy, so we decided to change it. Our daughter, Sylvia, actually picked it out for us. She kept saying "Name him Howie" (after Boston's famous radio show host and columnist, Howie Carr), so Wyatt Howard Ingham was so named.

Names are an important part of a child's identity, and while I'm not sure how big a part it plays in the development of their personality, it is a good idea to give them a decent moniker.

Thinking about future possibilities, I've come up with a list of names I would never give to a future son. Some of these are obvious, but others are simply predicated on my personal preference. If you happen to have one of these names, don't feel bad. I didn't give it to you.... er, uh, I mean there's nothing wrong with it, it's just not my cup of tea. No, put the pitchfork down! That's better. Okay, now, as I was saying, here are a few names I personally won't be giving to my sons.

1: Adolf. That one's pretty obvious. Why would anyone be psychotic enough to name their son after one of the most evil dictators in history? I don't care what your justification is; there is no excuse for anyone to be named Adolf these days. Millions of innocent lives paid to eliminate this name from the pool of acceptance! Lucifer would probably be more acceptable (though they might as well be one and the same). Really, Neo-Nazi losers, pick a different name for your kid.

2: Dweezil. Other than Frank Zappa, I don't think anyone else was wackier at naming his kids. This is a good example of a "weird" name you shouldn't curse upon your son. Of course, any time I've heard Dweezil Zappa, he's said stuff that was pretty Dweezilly (yeah, that's a word now). I wonder if his strange name has had an impact upon his personality, or if that's just a strange coincidence.

3: Uborg. I used to tease my wife that we could always call one of our sons "Uborg," just because it was so strange for an English speaker. Really, is there anyone in America named Uborg? If so, does he use it? "Hi, I am Uborg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile." Oh, my Trekoholism got the better of me there. But, yes, Uborg is definitely out of the question. It may be a cool name in Sweden or something, but not in the US of A.

4: Barney. Modern culture has destroyed this name in so many ways. Whether you think of Barney Fife the bumbling tv policeman, drunken Barney Gumble from the Simpsons, or Barney the purple Moronasaurus, this name has become synonymous with stupid. No offense to any real-life people named Barney; it's just not something I would use.

5: Tyson. I'm not sure when this became a "badass" name, but its fate was sealed by Mike Tyson, the disreputable boxer who liked to beat women and bite rivals in the ring. Today, it is the #1 name that drug dealers give their Pitbulls, so it's definitely on my no-name list. (There's also Tyson Chicken, which was a major polluter in Arkansas due to various environmental waivers they bought from a certain governor. So many rivers, so much chicken crap!)

6: Martin. Hey, there's nothing wrong with the name (it is mine, after all), though it's not one I'd want to recycle. Naming a child after yourself can be done as a sign of admiration and tradition, but it's not something I'm keen on doing. There will be no Martin Ingham Jr. Maybe I'm just greedy: "This is my name, get yer own!"

Okay, enough of this. There are six names that shall remain unused and unloved by yours truly. I hope you don't take it personally. If your name happens to be Barney Uborg Tyson III, please do not show up on my doorstep looking for blood. It's all in good fun.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mechanical Morass

I ran into a peculiar problem with my 1991 Ford Ranger pickup a few weeks ago. For a while, it had been running poorly, and from a previous malfunction I had some idea as to why. There was likely a problem with a sparkplug.

A couple of years ago, I changed the plugs in this thing, and the truck ran great for a few weeks. After that, it started to sputter and lurch, like it wasn't running on all six cylinders. Checking over each plug, I found one of them had cracked. When I went to buy a replacement plug, the mechanic said it was the sort of thing that could happen upon installation, if you cranked them down too tightly. While that may be possible, I didn't believe that was the case for me, for the plug hadn't cracked until several weeks after installation. I just figured it was one funky plug, and left it at that.

That Sparkplug Sucks!
 Bringing us back to today; I checked the sparkplugs after the engine started sputtering, and again I found a busted plug. This time, it was more than a simple crack in the insulation. The whole end of the plug looks like it exploded! My camera really can't do this thing justice, but maybe you can see some of what the naked eye reveals about the insidious sparker.

I don't know why a spark plug would blow up like this inside an engine. I'm inclined to think there is something defective about these particular plugs, though they are ACDelco plugs, which are generally high quality. Regardless, it is clear that this particular sparkplug sucks!

There have been warning signs before a plug fails. The truck will start rough and begin to lose power going up hills. When I ask a mechanic about this problem, they generally tell me the thing needs valve seals. That may be the case, as this is an old engine, but I don't see how that would cause the sparkplugs to crack. It's a curious thing, indeed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Library Brigades

Public libraries have always been an important aspect of a writer's success. Having a venue where people can read your books for little or no cost is a very useful tool for gaining fans. Although online displays and ebooks are supplementing this sort of low-risk exposure, the old fashioned brick-and-mortal repositories of printed tomes is still a major key to getting noticed.

That being said, it is increasingly difficult for a lesser-known author to get a book onto library shelves. With thousands of new books being released each year, libraries must be selective in the titles they purchase, for there is only so much space on the shelves. They have to find books that people will be checking out, and that means going for authors who already have a preexisting fan-base.

I've found the only way to get a book into a library, other than being famous, is customer requests. You need people who visit a library to request a particular book. In other words, there must be a demand for the title. If enough people ask for a book, the library will often order it, but the volume of requests varies. Another way to get books into libraries is through donations. This removes the financial burden on the library, though the matter of shelf space remains.

I have been actively seeking to get my books into libraries for years, though it is not an easy process, and one I cannot do alone. It isn't a matter of simply mailing free copies (which I paid for, mind you) to every library I can find. Most likely, such unsolicited donations will find their way into a discard bin (shelf space necessity). An unknown author asking the libraries to order copies of a book is also pointless. If they don't know you personally, there is zero chance of them responding to such a request.

This is where I need other people's help. I need you to be my proxies when submitting to libraries around the country and the world. Everyone has a local library, and anyone interested in reading visits theirs on occasion. There is an opportunity here for you to help me, yourself, and the reading community in your area. All it will take is a little leg work and minor chit-chat.

I am asking that you, the reader of this column, join my "Library Brigades," and help get my books into public libraries in your area. The next time you're at the library, ask a librarian if they'll be willing and able to order one of my books for you to read. It's not something every library can do, but it never hurts to ask, does it? If we get lucky, the librarian will be able to get the book, and you will then be able to read it for free (and so will anyone else who goes to that library).

If enough people do this, it will:
1: Help me expand my readership significantly, and facilitate increased demand for my various writings.
2: Help readers get their hands on my books at no cost to themselves, and discover that I'm worth their time.
3: Help you, for you'll also have access to the library book!
It's a win/win/win! Let's get these books circulating today!

Ask your librarian for one of these fine selections (each by Martin T. Ingham):
The Guns of Mars
The Rogue Investigations
Prisoner of Time
Virtual Wiles

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Killing Trust

America has come a long way in the area of child welfare. In this day and age, there are very few youths who do not have all that they need, and more. There are rare instances where children fall through the cracks and get abused, but let's be honest; it isn't the norm. It is a shocking news event to hear about a malnourished or neglected child in these United States, and that is progress.

That being said, I believe the government is getting too extreme with their policing of child welfare.

Back in the old days, children had no rights. They were essentially the property of their parents, and they could be beaten, starved, or abused in any way, and the government really didn't care. I've heard stories from old-timers about kids who were beaten with chains to "get the devil out of them." Some parents viewed their children as livestock, to be used however they saw fit, and discarded if they didn't measure up. Again, these were abnormal instances, but the incidents were far more frequent than they are today, for there was no social welfare structure in place to address the problem.

I recently read an interesting account of early child neglect due to poverty. Jackie Cochran, an early female flyer, grew up in a Florida shack with nothing. She didn't own a pair of shoes before she was 8, and her only clothing was a burlap sack. If she wanted to eat, she had to forage in the woods for weeds. Her adopted parents didn't really care for her, and there's no telling how they got her to begin with. They might have bought her for a pack of cigarettes or won her in a poker game. Kids weren't the government's responsibility back then. It was the parents' job to raise them however they saw fit.

It was because of this sort of abuse that the new "nanny state" of social workers was created. Today, the government takes a very proactive interest in the upbringing of children, and sometimes they go too far.

This Monday, my wife received a call from a social worker. The Department of Health and Human Services had received an "anonymous tip" that my kids were "dirty," so one of their agents showed up and spent 3 hours interrogating my entire family. In the end, all she could find is that my 7 year old daughter was wearing a pair of stained pants and "should take more showers." Now, Sylvia wasn't wallowing in filth, and was not wearing pants caked with crap, so was it really a case for DHHS? Is it really the government's job to make sure everyone's child is wearing a pressed and ironed shirt every morning?

When the "welfare of children" is involved, parental rights are quickly being thrown out the window, and the omnipresence of government is taking the place of mom and dad. It's one thing to make sure kids aren't being raped and tortured, and to set a standard of education, but the role of DHHS is going way beyond that. There is a growing assault on the family from high-up individuals who feel children should be the property of the State.

The most memorable case of DHHS malfeasance in modern Maine has to be the Logan Maher case, where a 5 year old girl was taken from her mother for questionable reasons and given to a foster mother who duct taped the little girl to a chair and suffocated her to death. This case caused outrage, and should have done more to restrain the heavy hand of DHHS. It has had some impact, but not nearly enough, and the system continues to expand and grow beyond its original intent.

We have a fine line to walk between Constitutional Rights and child welfare. We must be careful that we do not cede too much under the auspices of preventing neglect and abuse. Before you know it, we'll be locked into bondage, "for the children."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jojo Jelly Bean

I was at Mardens' the other day, and I came across a most menacing looking box of candy. Jojo Jelly Bean (no "s" on the box). From the Asian symbols on the front of the box, I could tell this was not a domestic candy, and it was just so bizarre I had to buy an example, so you could have a look at it.

The zombie-like clown feeding bug-eyed children with his tongue is downright creepy!

Now, I'm impartial on the whole "clown controversy." Yes, you know that whole "clowns are creepy and/or evil" belief that a lot of people seem to have these days (thank you, Stephen King). If this picture had an ordinary, friendly clown on it, I wouldn't really think much of it, but come on, that is one weird-looking sucker!

The box only cost me twenty-five cents (plus tax), so it wasn't a huge investment. The candy is made in China, so I'm not sure if I'll eat it. I don't really trust Chinese-made sweets (even though I love Chinese restaurant food). They may have slipped some lead or arsenic into these beans (it's been known to happen). Besides, I'm on a diet.

*For those of you who don't live in Maine, Mardens' is a chain of stores which sells surplus and salvage. Our current Governor used to run them, and it's a really great place to buy just about anything. Clothes, food, tools, hardware, furniture, flooring; you name it, they've got it, and generally much cheaper than anywhere else. Mind you, since they buy wholesale lots of stuff, they don't always have the same goods, and inventory shifts frequently. That's why their slogan is "I should have bought it when I saw it at Mardens."

Monday, April 11, 2011

It Hurts (Minstrel Mondays)

I didn't have the happiest childhood. My parents were both alcoholics when I was young, and though they took decent care of me, it wasn't the ideal "white picket fence" environment. Dysfunctional families are the norm these days, so it's nothing people haven't heard before.

This particular poem, which I wrote in my teens, expresses what I saw as a major ill of society from observing my drunken parents, as well as several High School friends who became addicted to drugs. It reflects modern attitudes toward alcoholism and drug abuse, and my own feelings on the matter. I realize this may disturb those of you who are firing up a morning doobie or drinking your breakfast, and if that's the case I ask that you examine the source of your discomfort. Is it because of me, or a problem deep within your own heart?

It feels so good.
That's what they say
when they try to explain why
they do the things they do.

The pain is pleasure
to those partaking of
the things that despoil.
Turning this world into nothing,
but a pit of muddy water,
with primates drinking all the while.

It feels good when it's happening.
Short term gain is easier to see,
and more enjoyable for those of little mind.
They don't know what they do,
to those of us who don't partake
in their degenerate practices.

But it hurts.
It hurts this Earth.
Perhaps they know and just don't care.
Or perhaps they don't,
and that's what really hurts.

Is it not their fault?
It never seems to be these days.
No one to blame when blame is due,
and the fun is at an end.
Why don't they learn to help themselves,
and fess up to their crimes?

They want more.
You want more,
but you can't have any more.
For you know that it is wrong.
You shouldn't have had it
in the first place,
because you deserve better,
as do we all.

It feels so good.
That's what they say
When they try to explain why
they do the things they do.
But it feels so bad for the rest of us;
we suffer to survive.

It hurts.
It hurts this Earth.
Perhaps they know and just don't care.
Or perhaps they don't,
and that's what really hurts.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hires and the Genesis of Root Beer

In this "Family Saturday" column, let me introduce you to a member of my extended family: Charles Elmer Hires, the man who is attributed to first marketing "Root Beer," and making a fortune doing it. Charles is my second cousin, six-times removed. His direct second cousin was Sarah Hires, my 4x great grandmother who married Benjamin Ballinger (as I discussed in last week's post).

The earliest "Hires" in America was Conrad Hoyer, who was born June 12, 1745 in Hannover, Germany. He arrived in New Jersey sometime in the 1760's and changed his name to "Hires," clearly seeking to Americanize himself. During the Revolution, he served in the New Jersey state Militia. He died around 1782.

Conrad married Christina Hitchner, the daughter of German immigrants John Jacob Hitchner and Magdalena Lottholtz. They had at least 7 children, the oldest being Daniel (my 6x great grandfather). One of their younger children, John, was the grandfather of Charles Hires.

Charles was born in 1851, and by the age of 12 he was working in a pharmacy. Back in those days, you didn't go to college to become a pharmacist. Instead, you apprenticed yourself to one, which is what Charles did.

The story behind the "creation" of root beer is not iron clad. The most common belief is that Charles was served a "root tea" during his honeymoon, from which he later formulated his beverage. However, I don't see how this can be true. Historical accounts state that Charles first marketed his "root beer" in 1866, but he didn't get married until 1875, so there is a major discrepancy somewhere. It's a convenient story to say he got the recipe from a little old lady who ran a hotel in New Jersey, while others claim the recipe originated with various Indian tribes. The fact of the matter is nobody can really say who first "invented" root beer, but it is certain that Charles Hires was the first one to market it in any major commercial manner.

The name root "beer" was a clever marketing ploy, used to appeal to the working class. Charles Hires was a Quaker and an active member of the Temperance Movement, so it is also clear that he picked this name so he could offer the drink as an alternative to alcoholic beer. At the 1876 Centennial Expo in Philadelphia, it was advertised as a health drink, among other things, and after that it began to catch on.

Charles Hires eventually made millions with his marketing of root beer, which is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of 19th century America. There are hundred (or perhaps even thousands) of people living today who can claim some sort of blood relation to Charles on the Hires side.

The Hires brand is currently owned by Cadbury-Schweppes, the same people who own Doctor Pepper & 7-Up. Perhaps it's just my neck of the woods, but I can't find a bottle of Hires Root Beer anywhere these days. That really irks me. The "original" root beer is nowhere to be found in Washington County. Somebody ought to have a talk with the distributor.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Giveaway Time!

The first book I had
published, way
back in 2007!
Yes, my friends, it is time at last. Yesterday, this blog reached 31 followers (on my birthday, no less). That means the free copy of Virtual Wiles shall be given away to one random blog follower. I have already placed the names in a hat and drawn the lucky winner, and I'll be announcing who that is once they get back to me.

I understand that some people may not want a free book. Strange, I know. Who wouldn't want a freebie? However, just in case our lucky winner doesn't want the book, I'm going to wait until they either send me their mailing address or officially turn down the offer before I make any announcement. If on the off-chance they don't want the book, I'll draw another name for the prize.

I'm hoping this goes off without a hitch, and our winner graciously accepts this book without question. In the future, I expect I'll run giveaways as I have in the past, where people must sign-up for the contest, rather than simply being entered as a blog follower. As the number of people visiting this blog increases, that makes more sense.

Either way, April's Magic Number giveaway is almost finished. Stay tuned and keep an eye out for future contests. You might just get lucky!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Finishing It

Today's my 31st Birthday. Bully for me!

There are so many things in my life which remain "works in progress," whether it's various books and stories which await my attention, different home improvement projects, or even the games I occasionally play, it seems I often leave things unfinished.

It may be an inherited trait, as my father also has a lot of stuff half-completed. My house is a good example of that. It's one he started to build about the time I was born, and there are sections of it which still need to be finished, even today. I grew up in it, and my kids are now being raised in it, so when I find the time and money, I continue to poke around at the rough spots.

This week, I started to get back into shape, preparing for the rigorous work season ahead. There's no better way to rebuild muscles than to pick up a shovel and dig, and there is this wing off the kitchen which has been waiting to be completed for years. To finish it, I need to remove several feet of clay which hasn't been disturbed since the last glacier scraped through here over ten thousand years ago. After I pick and chisel the clay out of the way, I'll be able to mix concrete and complete the little piece of foundation that's missing from this wing. It's nothing new for me.

I hope to have this part of the house dug out and completed before the physical work season kicks into high gear next month.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Excalibur (1981) -Review

Last week, I had the chance to watch "Excalibur" for the first time. It was a decent movie, though nothing particularly special. It may have been a great film in its day, but after 30 years it could probably benefit from an updated remake. The special effects were kind of weak, and the dialog wasn't all it could be.

The story does a decent job of following the King Arthur legend, and the acting is quite good, though there are times it seems a bit stilted. Most of the actors fit their parts pretty well, though "Merlin" looked a bit too young, in my opinion. Nichol Williamson did a decent job of portraying him as a creepy manipulative wizard with good intentions at heart, but they could have at least made his hair white.

There are also a few interesting appearances from actors "before they were famous." Most notably, we see Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard of Star Trek, The Next Generation), and Liam Neeson, both in supporting roles.

I'd say this is my second favorite movie based on the Arthur legend. First prize has to go to the more recent King Arthur,with Clive Owen in the lead role (though that is a totally different story, so it's a lot like comparing a Model-T to a 1965 Mustang). That one gets top marks for story, acting, and special effects.  I feel Excalibur's age has diminished its effectiveness, and thus it can't stand up to modern masterpieces.

Overall, I'll give Excalibur 3 stars. It's worth watching, but nothing really special.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Don't Forget Dial-Up

In this modern era, the days of dial-up internet are fading fast for most people. It seems that almost everyone has the high-speed these days, which lets them do incredible things online. It is a useful tool, and something I would like to get someday, but at present it is beyond my reach.

Yes, I still use dial-up. I expect that puts me in the minority (at least in the industrialized world), but there are several factors that keep me tied to the antiquated form of internet access.

The first issue is my location. There are no lines capable of delivering high-speed to my home, or my town. We are somewhat behind the times in sleepy little Robbinston. The cable lines end at the town line on either side, so we are a dead zone. That's not the worst of it. Even if someday this town gets high-speed lines, I'm half a mile off the main highway, so I suspect the company running the upgraded lines would skip me. It wouldn't be financially sound for them to run half a mile of line just for me.

There is satellite internet service, which gets me to my second factor: cost. Yes, it might be possible for me to have a satellite internet connection, but to do that I'd need to spend money, and at present I have limited funds. Not only would I need to upgrade my computer equipment, I would end up spending more than twice what I currently pay for the monthly service. If some book publisher showed up on my doorstep to hand me a nice, fat advance, I'd be able to upgrade. Or maybe some studio would like to turn The Rogue Investigations into a television series? Nah, I don't see that happening anytime soon. So, I'm stuck.

The third factor ties both of my first two factors together, and it's something I can't even know for certain until the day I spring for satellite internet. There are a lot of "dead zones" around here, where a connection to the satellite is impossible. There could be a hill or a patch of trees in the way that would block my ability to get high-speed. This possibility is another thing which dampens my eagerness to invest in new equipment. I might spend a bunch of money and find out it's of no use, after all.

Dial up is my gift and my curse. On the plus side, my system seems to be too slow to catch most of the modern viruses (or maybe I'm just lucky). On the downside, there are a lot of things I can't do. Downloads take forever, and don't even think about watching media. Youtube is impossible to access, and even audio stuff is tricky. Sites with a lot of graphics take a long time to load, and there are some I simply don't visit because of the insane amount of time it takes to view them. Even Facebook is trouble now and then.

Someday I will be liberated from the sluggishness of my internet connection, but not today. I hope somebody remembers those of us who have fallen through the cracks on the internet superhighway.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cynical Stupidity (Minstrel Mondays)

Picking through my collection of songs and poems starting with "C," I find very few. I don't have a lot of material starting with the third letter of the alphabet for some reason, but I did find this quirky little ditty I wrote down over ten years ago. It's weird and wacky, so don't expect to get much out of it.

One day when I was feeling mellow
I went to the beach and let out a bellow.
The sky was quite green and the sea it was yellow
just like some nice old jaundiced fellow.

Was that mellow yellow I saw there?
I didn't think to really care.
I had a head full of long, like hippy, hair
but I certainly swear, I was not bare.

I'm the kind of guy who screams
while in the middle of a mellow dream
just to liven up the scene.
Does it make me mean?

Just a touch of cynicism
mixed with moribund stupidity...

Next Monday, we'll be dealing with "I" and I have something much more poetic planned.  For sure, it'll make this look like roadkill.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ballingers of South Jersey

To coincide with April's "A to Z challenge," I'm moving my family heritage columns to Saturday. I'm planning to skip Sundays for this month, unless something particularly exciting hits my keyboard. Six columns each week should satisfy my more devoted readers, and still leave plenty for those of you who drop by less frequently.

This "Family Saturday" is all about Ballingers, or rather the Ballingers who are related to me. On my father's side, it seems I'm related to half of Cumberland County, NJ (however distantly), and today we're going to explore one of the principal lines in that relationship.

My research has taken me as far back as James Ballinger, born around 1800. He married Sarah Sutton and they had at least 2 sons, Benjamin (b. June 15, 1827) and William (b. October 1828).

William married Caroline Facemire on December 31, 1855, and together they had two daughters Harriet (b. 1858) and Ella (b. May 1864). William was working as a "waterman" in 1880 (according to the census), while Harriet was a milliner, a seller of ladies' hats. Ella was single and living at home in 1900. She probably never married.

In 1866, Caroline died, and William got remarried to a woman named Sarah Hider in 1867-68. Together, they had at least one daughter who grew to adulthood.

Benjamin Ballinger married Sarah Hires, a cousin of Charles Hires, future "inventor" of root beer (but that's a story for another day). Among other things, Benjamin was apparently a coal dealer, and in 1880 was listed as such on the census. Benjamin and Sarah had several children who died as infants, and for clarity I'll only name the three children who actually survived (that I know about). The oldest was Charles W. Ballinger (my great-great-great grandfather, born August 1853). The others were Amanda (b. December 10, 1855) and Joseph M. (b. November 18, 1862).

Amanda married Martin Rammel Pedrick in 1880. I don't know if they had any children.

Joseph M. Ballinger was working as a store clerk by age 17, though I'm not sure what else he did for a living. He married Lizzie Mickle, and they had at least 1 daughter (Maude M. Ballinger, b. April 1883).

Charles W. Ballinger married Rebecca Henderson (b. 1853) on September 2, 1874 in Bridgeton, NJ. It appears they only had one daughter, Nellie D. Ballinger (b. February 1876).

Things get a little interesting when we get to Nellie (my great-great grandmother). She married Joseph B. Robinson on October 24, 1895, and six months later their daughter, Effie K. Robinson, was born. It was apparently a shotgun wedding, and the marriage didn't last long. By 1900, Nellie and Effie were both living at home with Charles & Rebecca. Nellie never remarried, and was still living with her parents in the 1920s.

Effie Robinson married Raymond W. MacCain in 1917, and they had a son (Ray Jr.). Effie divorced MacCain sometime in the early 20s, and on March 2, 1926 she married Edward S. "Ned" Ingham, who adopted my grandfather and gave him the Ingham name.

So there's where I get my Ballinger heritage. I have to say, it seems there aren't that many descendants from this branch of my family. Are there other Ballinger cousins out there who I don't know about?

Friday, April 1, 2011


Long, long ago, I wove a short story about the end of the world. It was a time not so distant from now, and it followed a few survivors of the human race, hiding underground during those final years when the sun was entering a premature Red Giant phase. The protagonist was a cocky, jaded fellow, who was given the chance to escape, flying away on the final shuttle mission to a lunar base. During his flight, he ran into powerful aliens, the beings responsible for the Earth's destruction, and they set him straight on a few things, including humanity's true influence and understanding of the universe.

It wasn't the most original tale, and it's one I never completed to my satisfaction, so it still remains unmarketed and unpublished.

When I wrote the story, I was still in my teens; young and idealistic. I looked out at the world, and was discouraged by the arrogance exuded by people in general. Whether from religious radicals or arrogant scientists, it seemed there were a lot of people proclaiming the "end of days," and it's all mankind's fault. This is nothing new. Since the dawn of time, the world was going to end tomorrow, though today we have a lot of theories to justify our doomsday prophecies.

I don't see that humanity has omnipotence over his surroundings at this time, and any credible expert will tell you that there is still a lot we don't know about the universe. But, somehow, people don't want to believe it. Perhaps it is a natural evolution of our survival instincts which lead us to believe we have a far greater impact and importance than we really do. Recognizing that aspect of human nature is bound to make me a heretic among men. "He's a doomsday denier! Burn him!"

My advice to everyone is sleep easy. The sun will come up tomorrow, and the Earth will not be a flaming ball of greenhouse gasses or a radioactive cinder. Beware false prophets, both religious and scientific. Their data is often skewed to get them greater attention.

And remember; don't bring a pitchfork to a gunfight.